Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who You Gunna Call?

Last time I promised to give you my thoughts on Information Literacy (IL). IL has become a big deal in the library biz. It is mostly the concern of academic libraries but IL has now also become an issue in public libraries. IL boils down to the ability of an individual to document whatever information source he/she is using and to do so correctly. There are a number of other concerns surrounding this concept but for this post I’ll stick to just two.

In middle school, high school or college when you wrote a paper or gave a presentation you might have used footnotes or a bibliography to provide the reader with a documented accounting of how you came up with whatever it was you were writing or talking about. You did so in a format that allowed the reader to check up on your sources. The same idea still hold true today. In the past we used sources that were in a physical form. This is no longer the case. You can easily do all the research you need now through different virtual mediums. Some of those mediums use pdfs or the scanning of physical journals, books etc. However, it is now possible to use a completely virtual source that has never actually been in a physical form. One source may have more clout than another. But to dismiss a source because of its virtual nature is a mistake. It not only implies a preconceive notion of what is being produced but it can also restrict the researcher from the newest discoveries in a field. In this case the medium may or may not be the message. There are peer reviewed journals that only exist in a virtual form. There is information concerning the output and proceedings of academic, literary, professional and scientific conferences that only exist in a virtual form.

What is important is your ability to verify the source of these virtual formats. And that includes two important players in the field of IL: websites as sources and search engines. Another corollary on this statement is the use of wikis as a viable information source, most notably wickipedia. With the advent of web based information sources and the ease with which anyone can run a search the importance of IL has come to the forefront. It is not important that you are using a web site as an information source. What is important is that you do some background checking and homework to verify the information found on the website. The responsibility of verifying a source now falls squarely on the individual using that source.

When you use a database aggregator of journal articles to gather information for whatever it is you are writing or talking about that company has taken on the responsibility of verifying the pedigree of the information source. When you use a general out-there-in-the-virtual-world website, search engine or wiki for information gathering and dispersal you take on the responsibility of verifying that source. I do not mean to imply that these sources are not valid. What I do mean to say is that it is now up to you to validate that source. And to tell the truth I don’t think that is a bad idea at all. Not only do you become a more informed consumer of information but you also become more rigorous in your selection of information sources. In short, you end up having to work a little harder and think a whole lot deeper. Neither of which are bad skills to possess. And remember, if you need a little help sorting all this out send me an email or give me a call.

See you at the Library,

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