For many years librarians themselves have seen their role as being around collection building and knowledge organization, often based upon books. However, in the digital age we need to be curators of information and knowledge in all its forms. Books are simply a format in which human knowledge and endeavour can be recorded. But libraries are not merely repositories of information, collected for posterity. Libraries have a fundamental role in providing access to information and knowledge, to enable it to be used and communicated to others. In essence, libraries – whether they are public or academic libraries, school libraries or in the workplace – facilitate learning. Learning enables research and research brings about transformation and progress. Rethinking Information Literacy therefore positions libraries, librarians and information literacy at the heart of the development of society. In the digital age, the librarian must take a more central role in providing access to knowledge and information, and to recognize their role as a facilitator of learning.
And what of the role of the teacher in the age of disintermediated access to an unprecedented volume of information? Knowledge contained in books used to be a scarce commodity only available to a privileged few in universities with access to large libraries. However, technological developments, alongside movements such as open education and open access publishing, are changing this. We are also seeing the rise of the ‘digital scholar’ (Weller, 2011) as social media allows us all to interchange between being creators, curators and consumers of information. In this new information landscape some writers (e.g. Godin, 2011) recognize the role of the librarian as important, trusted guides and libraries as trusted sources of information. The more traditional view of libraries as ‘walled gardens’ often seems unhelpful, elitist and out of step with the open education and open access agenda. While librarians may no longer be gatekeepers of knowledge, they can be valuable trusted guides and through information literacy initiatives they can help learners become autonomous and able to make their own informed judgements. None of us knows what the future is for libraries: it is only through research such as this we might develop an understanding and plan appropriately.
The changes urged in Rethinking Information Literacy are quite subtle and do not require radically changing everything that we do, but in rethinking information literacy we must recognize that librarians are not islands in the education sphere. Neither are they the owners of ‘information literacy’. That may be seen by some as revolutionary, but if we are truly committed to information literacy we will recognize that it is too important to remain the preserve of the library. We must seek out partnerships to work interprofessionally in our schools, colleges and universities. We must ensure that the new curriculum for information literacy has support at the highest level in our organizations. And we must lobby policy makers to ensure that governments recognize the central importance of information literacy in learning. Only then can we work towards the shared ambition of developing autonomous, lifelong learners who are able to use information effectively in their academic studies and in their personal and professional lives.
This is an extract from the introduction of Rethinking Information Literacy edited by Jane Secker and Emma Coonan.