Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Paul Zurkowski @ #ecil2013

Paul Zurkowski is famous as being the person who coined the term "information literates" in his much-cited paper, written as President of the Information Industry Association (IIA). He was the first keynote speaker at the ECIL speaking on Towards Universal Information Literacy: The Economic and Social Building Blocks.
I show him surrounded by his fans at the start of the session ;-)
He started by talking about the time when he wrote the famous paper - he reminded us that at that time there were no mobile phones, desk top computers etc. He pointed out that in those early days there were new information products, but "trained incapacity to use those products". Learning to use information products, becoming information literate, seemed a way to help economic and international growth. Since then IL has advanced, and he acknowledged all the work done since then. Zurkowski talked about his experience of meeting young people who were learning about IL, and how excited they were by it: he felt that there were generations of young people who had missed out on this. He said that IL when fully realised "is indeed a work of art".

Zurkowski noted that there were about 50 types of literacy mentioned on the programme and there were different varieties of IL: like an IL genome project, you could see different ideas of IL mapped out in the presentations. At that point he asked for questions, which included my own about whether there was anything from the pioneer spirit of the early days of the online information industry that he thought we might miss today (I was speaking as someone involved in the early days of the UK online information industry). He said that he felt librarians could rekindle that pioneer spirit, with information literacy.

Moving into the second part of the paper he felt that we (the people at the conference) should be helping people meet the current economic and social challenges, and challenge disuptive forces of economic inequality. As the IIA was an early adapter to technological change, he saw information literacy people as being early adapters who could meet the current changes. Zurkowski talked about William Tyndale as an early hero who challenged those who had control of how information was published and distributed. He also talked about more current issues on information and democracy in the USA.

Zurkowski talked about a plan to form a commission of information literacy professionals to support citizens: referring to Benjamin Franklin's society for useful knowledge, with practical committees to discuss what to do about specific issues. He noted that politics are local, so under this plan each library or community association would need a "hunter" to address their local concerns. The commission would provide some quality check and endorsement about the verity or lack of bias in the information gathered. The culture of pampheteering (in digital form) could be copied from Franklin's commisson. He has met with a regional library in the USA who is going to do a beta test of this idea. In this way he saw the pioneering spirit rekindled.

There was a further question session, but my netbook's battery is about to die, so I will finish at this point. I certainly found it fascinating to hear this keynote talk.

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