Blog task 3: Information Literacy is more than a set of skills

The question of whether information literacy (IL) is more than a set of skills is an important one, as it sets the philosophical basis that informs the approach that an institution and its administrators, teachers and teacher librarians (TL) take in the design and implementation of a program.

IL can probably thought as occurring along a continuum of proficiency, dependent on a number of factors including but not limited to:

  • Age / developmental stage of the student (Brown, 2004; Miller, 2011)
  • Psychological, attitudinal and motivational factors including resilience, persistence, ability to deal with ambiguity, complexity and emotion (American Association for School Librarians, 2007; Kuhlthau & Maniotes, 2010)
  • Aptitudes such as prior knowledge, comprehension, interpretation and connection seeking (Herring & Bush, 2011)
  • Social, linguistic and cultural context (Dorner & Gorman, 2012)

Drawing on my interest in language acquisition and particularly the field of bilingualism, I think an argument can be made for comparing IL and bilingualism. Cummins (1998, 2001, 2003) distinguishes between Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Students who have BICS appear to be fluent in the language, however, although they have developed the surface skills of speaking and listening, they lack the ability to succeed in cognitively demanding context-reduced academic tasks. Research indicated that BICS could be acquired in a couple of years, while CALP took five to seven years. Similarly it could be argued that the superficial skills of IL could be acquired reasonably rapidly within context embedded, concrete tasks that are sufficiently scaffolded by the teacher or TL. However, researchers have observed the sometimes elusive ability of students to internalise information literacy instruction, and employ or transfer it across different learning contexts, depending on assumptions made by the learning community (Herring, 2011) even if IL instruction occurs embedded in Guided Inquiry (GI) (Thomas, Crow, & Franklin, 2011). In any event, it would appear that this internalization and transfer of skills did not occur until the high school years – indicating that it is a process that occurs over time and as a result of repeated exposure to and use of IL skills in increasingly complex and abstract learning tasks.

It can be posited that one could look at the students coming out of an institution and employ a retroactive deduction on whether their institution considers IL to merely be a set of skills rather than considering its aspects of transformational process (Abilock, 2004), a learning practice (Lloyd, 2007, 2010 cited in Herring, 2011) or a construct that goes beyond personal learning of content or concept but also encompasses aspects of digital citizenship (Waters, 2012) and the participatory culture of knowledge (O’Connell, 2012).

To conclude, I still have many questions in the context of school based instruction and acquisition of IL. Does it become self-limiting by the assumptions and process by which it is taught? How far does the school system allow students to progress? If one treats IL as a skill – what would motivate a student to go beyond superficial skill acquisition and apparent information fluency and by going through the motions of pre-determined scaffolds and questions to the point of internalization and deeper learning?


Abilock, D. (2004). Information literacy: An overview of design, process and outcomes. Retrieved from

American Association for School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. AASL. Retrieved from

Brown, A. (2004). Reference services for children: information needs and wants in the public library. The Australian Library Journal, 53(3), 261–274.

Cummins, J. (1998). Immersion education for the millennium: What have we learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion? In M. R. Childs & R. M. Bostwick (Eds.), Learning through two languages: Research and practice (pp. 34–47). Katoh Gakuen, Japan.

Cummins, J. (2001). Bilingual Children’s Mother Tongue: Why Is It Important for Education? Retrieved May 27, 2014, from

Cummins, J. (2003). Putting Language Proficiency in Its Place: Responding to Critiques of the Conversational – Academic Language Distinction. Retrieved May 27, 2014, from

Dorner, D. G., & Gorman, G. E. (2012). Developing Contextual Perceptions of Information Literacy and Information Literacy Education in the Asian Region. In A. Spink & D. Singh (Eds.), Library and information science trends and research Asia-Oceania (pp. 151–172). Bingley, U.K.: Emerald. Retrieved from

Herring, J. E. (2011). Assumptions, Information Literacy and Transfer in High Schools. Teacher Librarian, 38(3), 32–36.

Herring, J. E., & Bush, S. J. (2011). Information literacy and transfer in schools: implications for teacher librarians. Australian Library Journal, 60(2), 123–132.

Kuhlthau, C. C., & Maniotes, L. K. (2010). Building Guided Inquiry Teams for 21st-Century Learners. School Library Monthly, 26(5), 18.

Miller, P., H. (2011). Piaget’s Theory Past, Present, and Future. In U. C. Goswami (Ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood cognitive development (pp. 649–672). Chichester; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

O’Connell, J. (2012). Change has arrived at an iSchool library near you. In Information literacy beyond library 2.0 (pp. 215–228). London: Facet.

Thomas, N. P., Crow, S. R., & Franklin, L. L. (2011). The Information Search Process – Kuhlthau’s Legacy. In Information literacy and information skills instruction: applying research to practice in the 21st century school library (3rd ed., pp. 33–58). Santa Barbara, Calif: Libraries Unlimited.

Waters, J. K. (2012, September 4). Turning Students into Good Digital Citizens. Retrieved January 2, 2015, from


2 thoughts on “Blog task 3: Information Literacy is more than a set of skills

  1. Nadine, great extension of reading and practice to consider IL from different perspectives. Seek out some more of Lloyd’s work – her research has focused on workplace IL with strong indication that school-based, academic IL processes do not transfer to the workplace. Her current research is on IL practices of young refugees – fascinating – but not yet finished. Jennie


  2. Hi Jennie
    In fact one of the reasons this interests me is that we find some bilingual students who have not fully developed either / any language to a CALP level have considerable difficulty in the type of abstract thinking and metacognitive demands of the IB. This is not something that more or better IL teaching is going to overcome.


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