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Information Literacy as a Form of Identity Development

July 9, 2022

I have been thinking a lot about how information consumption and information literacy (IL) are part of a larger identity development process. This line of inquiry pulls together information literacy instruction, cultural norming, and psychology. While this question applies to all users, because I am an instruction librarian at a state university, I have been thinking about it as work with college students. College can be a transformative moment where students learn about worlds outside of their own, consider new ideas, and meet people outside of their normal circle. College students are in a pivotal developmental stage of life, where they are experiencing autonomy and experimenting with their adult identity. As JJ Arnett (2000, 2014) highlighted, this stage of human development is extremely focused on identity development and exploration. This reframes how I think about IL for my students—it can frame how they evaluate new information before it assimilates into their prior knowledge, how they define expertise, and how they evolve from a novice to an expert in their field.

When ALA and ACRL proposed a threshold model for information literacy, it positioned information literacy as a cognitive process with dispositions – or “valuing dimension of learning”— and practices—the behavioral “demonstrations” of learning (8). As information consumers develop IL skills, the way learning shapes their values and affects, which in turn shapes their identity. As a framework of threshold concepts, IL shifts a concrete checklist of actions to a process to integrate new information that impacts identity.

This is where my cultural studies interest comes into play. The basic premise of cultural studies is that as individuals create cultural artifacts (information) they put their own meaning into it (encoding). That information is assimilated into this larger information ecosystem that is all connected then other individuals consume those artifacts that are full of diverse information and assimilate it into their own vales and meaning making (decoding). This cultural process can clearly be framed within IL— how individuals relate to information, how they evaluate information, and how they create new information incorporating prior knowledge and connected information.

The cultural and cognitive components of IL have led me to another key question- how information consumption and creation impacts the individual and their identity.  I found some interesting ideas in Psychology: self-concept and fusion. Self-concept is “broadly defined as a person’s perceptions of himself or herself” through fusion which outlines how an individual processes their identity development by integrating “constructs,” or information, into their self-concept (Williams 2017vii). Constructs can be: “a person’s thoughts … beliefs … opinions …arguments … … and values,” all of which are direct outcomes of information literacy process (3). Interestingly, like information literacy and research, fusion is an iterative journey to self-concept- “the more one perceives a construct as fused, the more the construct is included within the knowledge structures of the self” (Hatvany et al. 2017). The more an individual evaluates and uses ideas and information that agree as they follow different lines of inquiry, the more they connect with the associated concepts and shape their identity.

As I have read more about information consumption, cultural constructions of identity, and fusion with constructs to shape self-concept, I see clearly that all of these processes lead back to how people learn to find, evaluate, organize, use, and communicate information on a regular basis. Now, when I teach I am aware that the ways I model evaluation, the ways my students develop and research their topics, and the information literacy skills they learn all shape how they see themselves and construct their identity. I am still wrestling with the relationship between these ideas, and how it informs my teaching practice, but they offer an interesting perspective on the stakes of information literacy and its impact on our students.  

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469–480.

Arnett, J. J. (2014). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. Oxford University Press.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from

Hatvany, T, Burkley, E, Curtis, J. Becoming part of me: Examining when objects, thoughts, goals, and people become fused with the self-concept. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2018; 12:e12369.

Williams, M. (2017). Self-concept: Perceptions, cultural influences, and gender differences. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

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