Information literacy is defined as being able to recognize a need for information, engage in information seeking behavior, access the information, interact with the information, and evaluate the results (Grassian and Kaplowitz, 2001, p. 6). The librarian needs to teach information literacy to her community in order to enable the learner to utilize the information that is available to him. Western society is awash in information – to the point of overload. However, without training in information literacy, that information is useless to the learner. Critical thinking and being an active learner is vital to a healthy society.
Patrons, particularly older patrons between the ages of thirty and sixty, have little tolerance for anything they consider irrelevant. These patrons have information needs but also have “real lives” and typically do not have the time to master research processes. It is important in training these patrons in information literacy that one does not spend a lot of time teaching theory, but simplify information literacy into basic steps the learner can follow in order to find the answers to their research problem. Whether or not a patron is involved with higher education, training in how to utilize tools, especially digital ones, that are available is critical. The librarian must be equipped to perform this important teaching task.
Reaching the patron is more important than the librarian’s skill in imparting the knowledge. One patron, for example, might be very content with receiving a card listing steps for researching an online database or utilizing Web 2.0 tools and “self-teaching” from the card. However, another patron with equal intelligence but a different learning style might require a different approach. For example, if he is visual, perhaps he might need the librarian to demonstrate the skill while he watches. If he is a hands-on learner, he might prefer that the librarian sit down next to him at the computer and walk him through the steps one at a time. If the desire truly is to create life-long learners in our information literacy instruction, it is very important that we meet the student exactly where he is and go from there. In addition, some might require repetition or further clarification. It is important not to become impatient with the patron, since our mission is to serve the patron and not have the patron serve the needs of the librarian.
Along that same thought, it must be kept in mind that some patrons will require more remedial computer instruction, and computer “kindergarten” training should be provided when required.
In closing, as librarians, it is important to ensure that Ranganathan’s laws of library science apply to this age group. The library’s information literacy program should help to fulfill them:
- The digital databases and other collection materials are for the use of the older adult patron. Making it easier for this age group to use them should be a priority of the information literacy program.
- Every older adult has his own information needs. The demographics of this age group are quite diverse, and the public library must endeavor to provide the information needs to each user. The library can’t assume that it knows what the information needs are of the individual patron standing at the reference desk.
- Every library material purchased for the older adult must have its own user. Staff needs to remember that their job is to serve the patron and not the collection. When looking at digital database subscriptions, remember that there is a wide range of information needs to be addressed.
- Save the time of the older adult’s search for information. In general, this population hates to waste time and needs the required information in order to utilize it in “real life.” Information literacy training should be succinct and to the point. Unless the patron indicates an interest, don’t waste time on too much information.
- The library is a growing organism – and as the needs of the older adult evolve, so must the library evolve to meet those needs. As the librarians observe the patron and how he approaches the digital tools available to him, it is important to be available to answer questions and clarify areas where he experiences any difficulty.
Ranganathan understood the mission of the public library and every program, including information literacy programs, should be evaluated in light of his five laws, to help the library to keep its focus.
Grassian, E.S. and Kaplowitz, J.R. Information literacy instruction: theory and practice. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2001.