Information literacy – a holy cow?

I`ve been reading some older texts about information literacy today. I read Stanley Wilders “infamous” essay in Chonicals of Higher Education from 2005, and some of the texts and comments that appeared afterwords. Even though the essay and the comments were written six years ago, many of the ideas still apply.

Basically, Wilder was saying that information literacy was the wrong solution to the wrong problem. He was saying that librarians cling to information literacy like it would save them from the threat of the Internet, but that they make a lot of wrong assumtions about the students and their needs. Students don`t want our help searching for information, Wilder says, because they think they can find it themselves. Besides, many students manage their studies very well without libraries and librarians. What do they need the library for when there is such a thing as Google?

Many of the comments I`ve read either side completely with Wilder, praising him for the courage of “saying it like it is”, or completely bash all his remarks and try to discredit Wilder`s competence and knowledge. Clearly, this is an area where it is easy to step on some toes.

I think Wilder gave many librarians some real food for thought. I found it a very refreshing point of view in the many debates concerning this field. I can understand that teaching librarians found his essay offensive. It is never nice to hear that what you put your heart and soul into is pointless. I agree with Wilder when he speaks about librarians putting way to much emphasis on teaching “mechanical” skills of searching, trying to reach all the enrolled students. And I don`t think we spend enough time being tutors for smaller groups of students. However, since Wilder doesn`t cite any sources, it`s hard to know what he is basing his statements on. So, when he claims that informtion literacy is making the wrong assumptions, he is actually making assumptions himself.

I do think it is time we stopped using the phrase, but everywhere I turn, I see the term and I have to be on my guard not to get entangled. It is so easy to see why librarians talk about information literacy like it is an “it” and why they get very protective when I try to “trash” the term. I am afraid that “information literacy” has become the holy cow of the academic library world.

I recommend reading the text yourselves and be the judge whether Wilder is talking nonsense or absolute sense – or if you, like me, concludes that there is a little bit of both in there..


Wilder, S. (2005). Information literacy makes all the wrong assumtions. The Chronical of Higher Education, 51(18, January 7), B13.

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