The educational reform reports of the 1980's were remarkable for their lack of mention of the heralded arrival of the Information Age, information technology, or even libraries. In response to this Columbia University and the University of Colorado entered into a one-time collaboration to bring together leaders from higher education and librarianship to explore the question: How can meaningful educational reform take place without consideration of the Information Society in which current and future generations of students would live and work?
One of the attendees at the conference was incoming ALA President, Margaret Chishom. Margaret felt that the dialog initiated from the latter event needed to continue and be expanded to include K-12 leaders. It was she who established the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy which resulted in a report that was released at a national press conference held during ALA mid-winter in Washington, D.C., in January 1989.
Later that year the National Forum on Information Literacy was created as an outgrowth of the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Final Report. The Forum's focus is on the need to promote individual empowerment within the information society. Now the Forum's broadly-based membership of over 75 national (and recently international) organizations has a combined membership in their organizations of over 5,000,000. The Forum defines information literacy as an individual's ability to know when they need information, to identify information that can help them address the issue or problem at hand, and to locate, evaluate, and use that information effectively.
Only recently have other groups such as the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) also acknowledged the need for people empowerment in using information technology. GKP is made up of representatives from governments, UNESCO organizations, banks, foundations, etc. GKP is "committed to sharing information, experiences and resources to promote broad access to, and effective use of, knowledge and information as tools of sustainable, equitable development."
As other countries have realized the need for a lifelong learning workforce, increasing attention is being paid to information literacy. Indeed some countries are ahead of the United States in linking information literacy to economic development. Other countries are also having national conferences on information literacy, but to date there is no equivalent to the National Forum Information Literacy, which regularly brings together leaders from education, business and government (See attached list of current members.) to network with library organizations around this important issue.
The National Forum on Information Literacy, in fact, serves as a valuable link to non-library organizations primarily through its three times a year meetings in Washington, D.C. Forum members focus on major issues of concern to their memberships, wherein individual and corporate empowerment inherent in information literacy abilities can foster success. Usually this presents opportunities for members from library-based organizations to become involved with programming, writing and sometimes joint undertakings with non-library organizations. Librarians and libraries become part of the "answer" to larger-than-libraries challenges.
The broad-based Forum membership also provides a high credibility base when issues such as teacher accreditation standards are addressed, and the Forum has become a focal point (primarily through word-of-mouth by its members and its web page at infolit.org) for inquiries regarding information literacy.
The following highlights recent Forum activities:
Recent Progress Report
The 1989 national report on information literacy lists five challenges to be met. Progress has been made in some of these areas over the last year.
Recommendation 1: Forum members should encourage and champion the growing support of accrediting agencies.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has become the second regional accrediting agency to join the Forum. The current restructuring of its accrediting process includes information literacy expectations and support.
Recommendation 2: Teacher education and performance expectations need to include information literacy skills.
With leadership from Forum members (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Librarians, American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association, the Forum was successful in getting information literacy into the new National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education standards for teacher preparation and will now be addressing NCATE standards for Professional Development Schools.
Recommendation 3: Librarian education and performance expectations need to include information literacy.
Pru Dalrymple who represents Association for Library and Information Science Education on the Forum had an open discussion regarding information literacy at the last ALISE meeting, and based upon questions and concerns raised will feature programming at the 2001 ALISE conference.
Recommendation 4: Forum members need to identify ways to illustrate to business leaders the benefits of fostering an information literate workforce.
As part of its efforts to deepen Forum members' understanding of information literacy, the first hour of each meeting is now devoted to an in-depth discussion of information literacy in regard to some important issue; recent topics have linked information literacy to consumer rights, economic development and health care. This provides an opportunity for raising the awareness of other leaders to the potential value of information literacy to their fields.
Recommendation 5: There needs to be more research and demonstration projects related to information literacy and its use.
The Institute for Museums and Library Services (a Forum member) lists information literacy as a priority area. A program highlighting information literacy projects funding in its first year of grant will be from the Association of College and Research Libraries which will take place from March 15 - 18, 2001.
It is clear, however, that with the exception of the K-12 level that the United States is producing very little research regarding the practice or benefits of information literacy efforts. It is to be hoped the endorsement of AAHE (a Forum member) of the ACRL (a Forum member) information literacy standards will foster more research at the higher education level. However, leadership for research of information literacy in the workforce remains with countries like Australia and Singapore.
There is increasing interest by Forum members and others to undertake a major effort to raise awareness of the importance of information literacy with policy makers both here and abroad. The rationale for such thinking is that across the globe, the rapid development and expansion of information technology is impacting on the well being of nations and individuals. Huge sums are being expended for network and computer technology in the hope of economic improvement, better education and enhanced quality of life. To date, the results-while making many new millionaires-has not paid off for the economically and socially at-risk nor for the poorer countries of the world. Indeed, the result of our high tech world is a growing digital divide between the information haves and have-nots.
The National Forum on Information Literacy will partner with other key organizations to sponsor this event. The projected outcomes for this effort will be to raise awareness of the importance of information literacy, to identify public policy and other aides to promoting information literacy and ultimately to close the gap between the information haves and have-nots.
The effort will be the major focus for cooperative Forum activities for the coming five years and will further progress in the priority areas designated above.
For further information contact:
Patricia Senn Breivik, Dean
San Jose State University Library
One Washington Square
San Jose, CA 95192-0028
(408) 924-2800 (fax)