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Does Information Literacy Make “All the Wrong Assumptions?”

October 13, 2015

Ten years ago Stanley Wilder wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “Information Literacy Makes All the Wrong Assumptions.” At that time he was the associate dean of the River Campus libraries at the University of Rochester. There was quite a buzz about this article and Mr. Wilder went on a speaking tour afterwards to further explain his position. In fact, he was the keynote speaker at PaLA CRD’s annual spring workshop in 2005, “Information Literacy: One Size May Not Fit All.” In his article, he makes outlandish statements like “information literacy…should be discarded” and “information literacy would have librarians teach students to be more like them.”

In 2013, Wilder, who at the time was the University Librarian at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, reaffirms his position in that article, “A Reconsideration of Information Literacy,” which was published in a special issue[1] of Communications in Information Literacy dedicated to “Reflecting on the Standards.” His article is included as one of those that are “peer-reviewed.” I’m not quite sure how he managed that give all the references to himself (me, my, I) in the article.

I never was able to buy-in to what Wilder said and every now and then would mull over his statements. Therefore, I am happy to share with you two blog posts that do a good job of rebutting his position.

In Rule Number One: A Library Blog, Kevin Michael Klipfel, Head of Research, Teaching & Learning at California State University-Chico’s Meriam Library, turns Wilder’s thesis around in his blog post, Stanley Wilder Makes All The Wrong Assumptions About Information Literacy. He compares Wilder’s original piece to that of an undergraduate essay that lacks clarity.[2] He then critiques its central argument. He notes that the empirical research is overwhelmingly against Wilder’s hypothesis, citing a study by Project Information Literacy called “How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College.” Klipfel’s point is “that any way you interpret it…Wilder’s main argument against information literacy is demonstrably false.”

Amanda Hovious, a librarian with a Master’s in Instructional Design and Technology, blogs about instructional design and technology in libraries in Designer Librarian. In her post, A Response to Stanley Wilder’s, “A Reconsideration of Information Literacy,” she manages to reconcile Wilder’s “vertical and horizontal functions of library instruction.” I think most librarians who provide instruction will agree with her that, “The reality is, we need both discipline-based information literacy and general information literacy instruction. Both play a role in the development of information literacy skills in college students.”

[1] Jacobson and Mackey’s article, “Proposing a Metaliteracy Model to Redefine Information Literacy,” appears in this same issue.

[2] Kevin was an instructor of philosophy, prior to getting his M.S.L.S.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Narda Tafuri permalink
    October 13, 2015 8:37 pm

    Great observations and analysis, Bonnie!

  2. October 15, 2015 9:50 pm

    Bonnie,
    I’ve never heard of Wilder’s piece until now, and I guess there’s a good reason for that! I could have guessed that Kevin has a background in philosophy :) What a logically awesome response.

    I agree with Amanda that general instruction is important–however, I can also see where Wilder is coming from in the sense that it needs to be contextual in order for students to understand its relevance/necessity (in my experience, it can be hard to apply context in gen ed courses that don’t have much of a research component or assignment at hand). It kind of makes me wonder about Wilder’s personal experiences with instruction (assuming he has some) and what kinds of situations he’s encountered that have contributed to such a unique perspective.

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