Original publication: June 2016
Author: Frank HUYSMANS
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The concepts of media literacy and information literacy were developed in the 1960s70s at a time when the growing importance of mass media and information in everyday life started to make educators wonder whether basic literacy skills (reading and writing) would suffice for youngsters to assess themselves later in life. Librarians and library researchers were playing a crucial part in developing programs to enhance information literacy, and only later became involved in media literacy promotion when concerns rose in the 1990s and beginning 2000s over ‘digital divides’ between those with the resources and skills to use digital media for their own personal and professional development and those without.

 

There is a wide diversity in concepts/definitions of media literacy and information literacy among scholars and educators. An influential definition of information literacy states that it is the ability to recognize when information is needed and to locate, evaluate and effectively use the needed information (American Library Association 1989). Media literacy has recently been defined as all the technical, cognitive, social, civic and creative capacities that allow us to access and have a critical understanding of and interact with both traditional and new forms of media (Council of the European Union 2016).

Promoting Media and Information Literacy in Libraries

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Public libraries are gradually transforming into all-round media and information-rich learning environments, while reading and borrowing books remains important for supporting ‘reading and writing literacy’. By introducing media labs and so-called makerspaces, and organizing/hosting hackathons, they try to strike a balance between a defensive, protectionist stance to media literacy (protect children from harm, prevent elderly from becoming isolated) and an offensive, empowering one (assist people in improving their faculties and support their creative talents). A gradual change in perspective on the role of the public library in the community, from uniquely offering access to information toward a philosophy and culture of sharing of information and knowledge can be observed.

Since the turn of the millennium, the European Commission and the OECD have signalled the importance of information and knowledge for the employed and citizens in general, for the economy and society as a whole. Organizations like UNESCO and IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and institutions) have stressed the importance of media and information literacy for the social and cultural development of individuals, communities and societies. UNESCO and IFLA have introduced a unitary framework for ‘media and information literacy’ (MIL) and are working together to support librarians in working out practical programmes aimed at furthering MIL development of their patrons.

As yet, the scarcely available research does not yet allow the conclusion that media and information literacy programmes in public libraries can be called effective in general; more systematic research is needed. A wealth of studies in information behaviour provides insights into the way people are dealing with information. Research into the effectiveness of media education in general (mainly outside of public libraries) is mixed. However, many practitioners and researchers find that media literacy programs can successfully change attitudes and, sometimes, behaviours, which is supported by a recent meta-analysis of 51 quantitative studies. The Global Media and Information Literacy Assessment Framework developed by UNESCO, a combination of assessment tools, methodology and guidelines for data collection for the assessment of media and information literacy, might prove useful in helping public libraries demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs in a systematic manner. Children, youth, adults and elderly people of all social backgrounds will be better equipped to face the challenges – and grasp the opportunities – of living in a society saturated with information and media.

In order for this to become a reality, the following recommendations are put forward:

  • In the Education and Training 2020 Framework, recognize the full potential of libraries, particularly public and school libraries, in supporting formal, non-formal and informal learning in all aspects of literacy: reading and writing, information literacy and media literacy.
  • Public libraries have suffered severe budget cuts in several EU Member States in recent years, forcing them to cut down on qualified personnel (particularly younger librarians) and opening hours, and even to close library branches. In order to realize their full potential in increasing media and information literacy, it is crucial that public libraries be supported, both in a political and economic sense, to transform themselves into community learning centres with extended opening hours and a professional staff that mirrors the community’s demographic composition.
  • Continue to work, in collaboration with other international organizations and with library organizations, towards a unified conceptual framework of media and information literacy, including ‘digital/ICT skills’, geared at developing knowledge, critical awareness, competencies (passive/receptive and active/creative) in handling today’s ubiquitous media and information landscape to one’s own advantage.
  • Work towards a research program, preferably within Horizon 2020, aimed at discovering strengths and weaknesses in current media and information literacy programs, in order to enhance the effectiveness of such programs. If possible, use UNESCO’s Assessment Framework in evaluation studies.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/573-454

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Further reading:

The New Role of Public Libraries in Local Communities

E-lending: Challenges and Opportunities


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