Teaching Information Privilege

As the Assistant Director for Information Literacy at Davidson, I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to teach students information literacy.  In my experience, our students and faculty often equate information literacy with the ability to write research papers, so our librarians frequently are asked to teach skills and concepts that will help students succeed on specific academic assignments.  We value this important educational role, but we also know that an information literate person is able to do more than use library databases to write well-researched papers.

The Association of College and Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education defines information literacy as

“…the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”

The Framework also describes six concepts central to information literacy.  One of these is “Information Has Value”:

“The value of information is manifested in various contexts, including publishing practices, information access, the commodification of personal information, and intellectual property laws…Experts understand that value may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices.  However, value may be leveraged by individuals and organizations to effect change and may be leveraged for civic, economic, social, or personal gains…”

For the Information Literacy team, it’s important that students learn about the issues associated with the value of information.  We want them to understand that their affiliation with Davidson affords them information privilege; we hope that they will think critically about that privilege and work to counter it during their time at Davidson and after they graduate.

We do our best to teach information privilege in our regular instruction sessions, but it can be difficult to have a sustained dialogue about this important issue when there is often pressure to promote only the use of peer-reviewed sources from traditional journals.  Our librarians have begun exploring other instructional opportunities to teach critical components of information literacy.  I plan to write more about some of our ideas in future blog posts, but I want to mention one initiative we have taken this semester:  promoting Open Access Week (October 19-25, 2015).  We hope that these events will begin dialogue about the value of information and about what we as a campus community can do to combat information privilege.  We hope you will join us at them!

Panel on Ethics in Information Access
Tuesday, October 20
C. Shaw Smith 900 Room

Information Literacy Librarians Cara Evanson and Sarah Crissinger and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kevin Smith will present a panel on ethics in information access.  At Davidson College, we have a great deal of information privilege. Our access to thousands of books and articles enables us to read and utilize information most of the world will never see. In addition, we make intentional decisions about how our own work is distributed. This session will explore why information access is not just an economic issue but also a social justice issue. Panel members will facilitate a conversation about the information sharing avenues that better allow us, the Davidson community, to create a disproportionate impact.

Screening of Aaron Swartz’s Story:  Internet Activism, Open Access, and Social Justice
Monday, October 19
Union Room 209


Thursday, October 22
C. Shaw Smith 900 Room

Aaron Swartz was a computer programmer, activist, hacker, and political organizer. A co-founder of Reddit and the Creative Commons movement, he worked tirelessly to overthrow information privilege and make knowledge available to all, regardless of socioeconomic status. After facing serious legal repercussions for attempting to download large amounts of JSTOR articles and data, Aaron took his own life at the age of 26.

Please join us for a free screening of The Internet’s Own Boy, a documentary about Aaron’s life, which will be accompanied by an optional discussion about hacking, open access to research, and internet activism afterward. Food and refreshments will be provided by the E.H. Little Library.