Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Information Literacy: Potential, Practice, and Promise @WILUconference #WILU2024

Photo by Sheila Webber of ships in Vancouver Canada in May 2024

I am liveblogging from the WILU conference In Vancouver, Canada at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. The conference started with Dr. Heidi Julien (Professor in the Department of Information Science at the University at Buffalo, USA) on Information Literacy: Potential, Practice, and Promise. As usual, I warn that this is my impression of the talk as it happened, and I won't have captured all the content and nuance.

Julien started with the image of a dumpster on fire, to represent her view of the current situation. She characterised our time as one of anti-intellctualism and a refusal to acknowledge expertise. Additionally there is less trust in the media, and an emphasis on emotion, rather than thought. Julien identified that misinformation certainly isn't new. She mentioned how we do tend to live in our filter bubbles and echo chambers (avoiding the media we know we will disagree with, for example).
There is research showing things such as: some leaders thrive on misinformation, false news spreads faster than true information. A European Commission survey showed that 83% of people think that misinformation threatens democracy, and that people come across it most days. Pew Research reports also reveal concerns of people in North America.
As we know there are manipulation strategies e.g. discrediting news, trolling, using symbols of expertise to fool us. Julien talked about the problem of social media, with its focus on maximising engagement. She thought that Meta/Facebook was particularly to blame in not stepping up to the problem. Then AI has introduced further challenges, making verification of content even more difficult.
Altogther, that leads to a crisis for democracy, health etc. Firstly she felt that the term Information should be dumped. She saw librarians using information literacy and the rest of the world using a variety of terms such as digital literacy.
As an example she used British Columbia's Post Secondary Digital Literacy Framework, which doesn't mention librarians or information literacy. Going on to define Digital Literacy, she then identified challenges, for example: People overestimating their digital literacy. Their are also information behaviour challenges, with people socially and cultirally situated, wanting to belong, finding it difficult to counter misinformation. People are irrational, with confirmation bias. Research has shown that we can become more embedded in our own beliefs, with strong emotions surfaced, when they are challenged. We prefer to defend our own views, rather than being willing to critique them. Trust in information is affected therefore by emotion, the desire to fit with our social group etc. All this means it isn't easy to teach people how to evaluate information.
Yet further challenges include the fact that people librarians work with are themselves not digitally literate. Julien discussed the possibilities of automatic content moderation - highlighting the drawbacks (given that information is socially constructed).
Solutions include librarians being taught to teach, and advocating for and teaching digital literacy. Also Julien advocated changing people's attitudes and behaviour - trust in science, opposing dogmatism, encouraging leaders. She talked about "prebunking" and effective debunking, innoculations, antigens (e.g. being aware of microtargetting, innoculating friends and family, incentivising accuracy). Julien urged librarans to teach people to "think like scientists" in their engagement with information, and to use strategies like lateral reading. She urged librarians to advocate and educate.
Julien then gave some information from her 2016 survey of Canadian librarians. A few findings are: only a third of institutions have full time IL educators; student learning and programme evaluation is mostly informal. Lack of time was the most frequent barrier to progress, and there are also various structural issues and problems to do with low status on campus. Julien and colleagues have carried out this survey several times over the years. Trends include that there is now less focus on challenging librarian/faculty relationships, but otherwise barriers have remained pretty much the same over time (also the Canadian picture is similar to that in the USA). Julien saw some signs hope in, for example, the innovative work done by librarians in teaching IL.
Julien made a call to action and as part of this, urged people to partner with faculty, school teachers and policy makers. Taking action and facing the challenges will help put out the dumpster fires!
Photo by Sheila Webber: Vancouver, Canada, May 2024

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