The crisis of information literacy, a familiar issue within the library community, is getting some wider attention. In this month’s Wired, Clive Thompson cites a recent study that reveals the paucity of search skills among so-called digital natives at both high school and college levels. Importantly he gets to the vital role school librarians play in fostering information literacy, including the critical approach to content, dubbed “crap detection” by Howard Rheingold.
Consider the efforts of Frances Harris, librarian at the magnet University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois. (Librarians are our national leaders in this fight; they’re the main ones trying to teach search skills to kids today.) Harris educates eighth and ninth graders in how to format nuanced queries using Boolean logic and advanced settings. She steers them away from raw Google searches and has them use academic and news databases, too.
But, crucially, she also trains students to assess the credibility of what they find online. For example, she teaches them to analyze the tone of a web page to judge whether it was created by an academic, an advocacy group, or a hobbyist. Students quickly gain the ability to detect if a top-ranked page about Martin Luther King Jr. was actually posted by white supremacists.
“I see them start to get really paranoid,” Harris says. “The big thing in assessing search results is authorship—who put it there and why have they put it there?” Or, as pioneering librarian Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School near Atlanta says, “This is learning how to learn.”