Information Literacy In An Age Of Networked Knowledge

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online

From SXSW Ogilvy notes

I love this visual note from a Howard Rheingold presentation at SXSW. He was launching his new book called Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. From just looking at the note, these seem like things librarians can or should be teaching and discussing (curation, crap detection, triangulation, consumption v. creation).

I also just finished reading David Weinberger’s new book Too Big To Know. It’s about how “knowledge and expertise are becoming networks, and are taking on the properties of networks” in this age of abundant and hyperlinked information. In the book he touches on things like echo chambers, the changing nature of authority, the unsettled nature of knowledge, and information overload. I know that this book is definitely going to change the way that I discuss research and information literacy concepts with students.

In his final chapter he makes several recommendations about how we can best move forward now that knowledge is changing and becoming networked. Among them is teaching young people and students “how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference (pg. 192).”

These types of literacies that Rheingold and Weinberger mention are important, but I don’t know if they get discussed many places. Librarians address some of them such as evaluating information and crap detection, but we don’t teach a lot about consumption vs. creation, loving and seeking out difference, curating/filtering information, or attention/distraction.

I agree with Rheingold and Weinberger that these are skills that our students as citizens of the web should have, but I’m not sure where they should be discussed. We often get trapped into thinking that we’re simply helping students with their research. But we’re not just trying to teach students to become successful academic researchers. We are trying to help them become sophisticated consumers and creators of information. This is a much bigger view that encompasses student’s critical thinking skills, lifelong learning and the future of the web.

Are there lessons or ways that you address some of these skills in your information literacy instruction? How do you talk about curation, loving difference, or distraction? Are there places or instances in which you see these conversations taking place? Are these topics we should be talking about with students?

Andy Burkhardt


  1. In a word, Yes, these are definitely topics we should be talking about with students. Our professional understanding of what information literacy is *today* (or rather, what it looks like, how it plays out in practice–the performance indicator/outcome level of the ACRL Standards) needs revision. In practice for many (most? I can only speak for what I observe in my own library and also in the professional literature), info lit = research skills, usually to be applied to the academic paper. This is definitely an important thing to teach, and we need to keep teaching it. But the “ah ha” moments for both me and my students come from when the critical thinking we’re practicing during our research classes is applied to everyday information seeking and lifelong learning as well, making *both* far more relevant and useful. In short, I agree 🙂 Also, thanks for linking to the two books in your post–definitely gonna pick those up for my library.

  2. Donna, thanks for your great comment. I agree, and I see a lot of places equating information literacy with research skills. Except the stuff we need to be teaching needs to be applicable to everyday life, their careers, and, like you said, lifelong learning.

    The lesson we do at Champlain that I am most excited about (and probably is most exciting to students) is one on filter bubbles where we are talking about loving difference and thinking about getting out of our own personal echo chambers. I’d love to do more lessons like that and think that that is the stuff students really need to succeed after college.

  3. On the issue of distraction, I have assigned The Atlantic’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. Students post comments in an online forum before class, we dissect the article’s thesis and evidence in class, and then students write a 1-2 page response paper. This is in a 2-unit Information Fluency course. The article is provocative but well-argued, and usually generates good discussion in class. I think it has challenged some assumptions and encouraged some meta-cognition, which makes it a keeper in my book!

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