Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scientia potentia est

The transitory and provisional nature of any definition of information literacy can lead many such as Williams (2001) to see that "information literacy (as) an often-used but dangerously ambiguous concept" (Williams, D. (2001). Information literacy and learning on-line, In SCROLLA Networked Learning Symposium, University of Glasgow, 14 November 2001 Retrieved May 16, 2011 from

So why wrangle with the concept at all? Why turn the collective intelligence to defining it?

Whether it was Sir Francis Bacon or Thomas Hobbes that is attributed with saying the Latin maxim scientia potentia est - knowledge is power, matters naught. But the idea is a seductive one. And if we accept the premise to be true - isn't this an important starting point to then defend, develop and define the whole notion of information literacy.

In the current context that we all find ourselves - a information rich landscapes which is highly stimulating - often distracting and discombobulating - we all know that information is easily accessed. Yet information remains just that - information, unless it is effectively harnessed for some purpose. Information can be almost useless, mainly irrelevant, quite interesting, but merely diverting, if it does not have an aim. Information needs to be converted into knowledge, and at this point, the individual is then empowered.

I see the endeavours of educators to equip their charges with information literacy to be one at the heart of social justice and a fundamental human right. In order to be empowered, to not be assigned to the life-long circumstance of disadvantage, unemployment, poor health, poverty and lack of dignity, an individual needs information literacy in their armoury. And Chris Sidoti would agree.
Sidoti, Chris. (2001). Literacy and lifelong learning: social justice for all? In ACAL Forum Sydney, 15 June 2001. Retrieved May 16, 2011 from

Whilst Sidoti focused on the right of adults in this article from the point of view of a human rights lawyer, he strongly advocated that knowledge, information and skills are the base requirements for an individual to reach "their fullest potential as a person and a citizen" p 4 Isn't that the point of information literacy? Isn't that the end point all of us working in education are working towards?

Information literacy is predicated on the notion that an individual is literate - those who have poor literacy/numeracy aren't going to be successful information literate citizens as they will not be able to easily access the meaning of the resources in front of them. But it would be hoped that this essential prerequisite will be afforded to everyone through the universal and free public education - which so many countries agreed is a human right that is enshrined in International Conventions. Ergo, public education systems have been established all around the world to meet this fundamental human right where education must be:

  • available

  • accessible

  • affordable

  • acceptable

  • and adaptable (p 5/6)

“Fundamental education” is seen as separate from primary or secondary education, which are also components of the general right. It includes essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. " (p 8)

So information literacy is part of this "fundamental education" and that is why it is important to wrestle the unwieldy beast. The constantly shifting context impact on the manner in which the purpose will be undertaken. It is no longer enough to be able to read and write, but to ask the right questions, successfully navigate multiple platforms, successfully organise and manipulate information into that all powerful knowledge. Easier said than done.

But with such important concepts lying at the heart of information literacy - human rights and social justice - I think it is a worthwhile endeavour - even if the end goal may never be achieved in any agreed, definitive and definable manner.

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