Introduction to Information Literacy in the K12 Classroom/Chapter 1.1
Background Information on Information Literacy
A Brief History of Literacy
Before we consider the current definitions of information literacy and their ramifications on classroom pedagogy, we should take a look at the historical context of information literacy and of literacy, in general. In 1965, Ernest Roe spoke of "'promoting the efficient use' of resources" in The Australian Journal of Education. The term "information literacy" was first coined by Paul Zurkowski in 1974 in a report entitled The Information Service Environment, Relationships and Priorities (Bundy, 2004, p. 45). The present-day definition of "information literacy" comes from the 1989 Presidential Committee on Information Literacy's Final Report. This report states that "[t]o be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association, para. 17).
The concept of literacy, however, existed long before Ernest Roe and Paul Zurkowski began speaking of information literacy. Literacy has been defined as the ability to sign one's own name, to read and write, both in a rudimentary or in an advanced manner, and has even been limited to the ability to read and write in Latin (Davis, n.d., para. 1; Stroup, 2001, para. 1). The concepts of literacy versus functional literacy are stilled argued today. In ancient times, literacy rates are estimated to have been no more that 15% and that no more that 5% of the population engaged in advanced studies (Davis, n.d., para. 1). In the Middle Ages, literacy was generally associated with the ability to speak, read, and write Latin, regardless of the ability to speak, read, and write in one's own vernacular (Stroup, para 1). According to Stroup, "[b]y the 16th century, the invention and advancement of printing technology in Europe, and the growing use of languages other than Latin, resulted in an explosion in literacy levels, extending even to people of traditionally lower social classes, such as peasants and merchants" (2001, para. 1).
In the United States, Kenneth Lockridge estimates that, by the late 1700s, over 80% of New England males could sign their wills and that over half of the rest could read (Schudson, 1978, p. 39). In Massachusetts, the "Old Deluder Act" of 1647 required that each town establish a grammar school. Students in these schools were taught reading from the New England Primer, which contained, among other things, a pictorial alphabet. The entry for "A" reads: "In Adam's Fall, We Sinned all" (Newman, 2002).
In the mid-1800s, William Holmes McGuffey, a lifelong educator with an interest in promoting public education, developed his Eclectic Readers. McGuffey thought that education and religion went hand in hand and his Readers reflected those beliefs (National Park Service). As you can see, literacy during these times was directly related to business and religion.
The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has defined and redefined the concept of literacy. In 1951, it defined a literate person as one "who can with understanding both read and write a short, simple statement on his every day life" and, in 1978, revised it to mean one's ability to "engage in all...activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing, and calculation for his own and community's development" (Stroup, para. 2). This revision reflected a movement towards functional literacy, including mathematics and other methods of communication as adequate for literate individuals.
Today, we view literacy in many lights. Rather than looking at literacy as an all-encompassing concept, we acknowledge multiple literacies including, but not limited to, media, computer, visual, and, of course, information literacies. We no longer focus so much on one's ability to read and write but on one's ability to use those skills to function as a member of their community.
American Library Association. (1989). American library association presidential committee on information literacy: Final report. Chicago: Author.
Bundy, A. (Ed.). (2004). Australian and New Zealand information literacy framework: principles, standards and practice (2nd ed.). Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy.
Davis, L. (n.d.). Literacy and the ancient novel. Retrieved June 21, 2008 from http://people.uncw.edu/deagona/ancientnovel/leslie.htm
National Park Service. (1993). William Holmes McGuffey and his readers. The museum gazette. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.
Schudson, M. (1978). Discovering the news: A social history of American newspapers. New York: Basic Books.
Stroup, S. (2001). Parent support of early literacy development. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.