Literacy in the age of information

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette A student research consultant waits to help library goers find the information they need.

HOUGHTON — In the information age, being information literate is increasingly relevant. Area libraries are working to teach the necessary skills and thought processes.

So what is information literacy?

“The way we define it and talk about it here at the university is essentially the skills that go into defining what your information need is, being able to recognize what sort of outside information you need,” said Jenn Sams, instruction and learning team leader and student engagement coordinator at the J. Robert Van Pelt Library on the Michigan Tech campus.

“It’s a treasure hunt in a lot of ways,” Sams explained.

Looking for information, building on what you find, and knowing how to analyze what you discover are all part of that hunt.

The library provides guidance for students and community members to help them learn that process. In offering classes, one on one instruction, consultations and stand alone workshops, there’s a lot of variety.

How you find information and analyze it varies based on the subject, but there are a few consistent elements, Sams explained.

The first is properly defining what you need.

“Sit down and think about it for a few minutes, it can really help,” Sams said. “I think (it) is critical to investigating any kind of question at all…Knowing a little bit about what you need and then having the skills at your fingertips to be able to find information that is timely, relevant and accurate.”

With first-year students, Sams often works on teaching source evaluation. Key questions are, is it relevant, can it be corroborated in other places, what is it citing and who is the author.

One element many people don’t consider is the reputation of the publication itself, Sams added. A certain publication may be more trustworthy than another based on history. A publication with a tradition of fact checking carries more weight, though that can be difficult to know for beginners in a topic.

Another key element is search terms. Experts may use different language and to find related information it’s key to use that lexicon, Sams explained. Which is also tricky to work out in the beginning of research.

“If you’re looking for something that’s more complex, that’s not a yes or no answer, being sure to go beyond the first two results,” said Sams. “You want to read a wide range of things to develop a full picture.”

Sams also mentioned that the library is not just for Tech students.

“Community members can get a community card here at the library so that they can check out resources and they can actually use most of our databases and subscription resources you can use here in the building,” said Sams. “That is really handy for folks that are doing some advanced research that maybe aren’t members of the Michigan Tech community. We’re here. We can always answer questions along with the librarians”

Student research consultants are also available to answer questions and help in information searches.