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The Challenge of Information Literacy in a time of Social Media and Pervasive Information by Neil Krasnoff

As part of National Information Literacy Awareness Month, we are excited to feature guest posts from leaders in the field. We are honored to have Neil Krasnoff from Dallas ISD contribute.

Recently, I heard Lee Rainie of Pew Research Center speak at a Librarians Expo in Plano, Texas. One phrase from his highly engaging talk that stuck in my mind was the idea of information as a “third skin.” Rainie is referring to the networked teen or young adult that lives in a universe of near-continual connectivity and social media.

This new development of humanity necessitates an even greater urgency to emphasize information literacy skills in high school and college education, and it challenges librarians to adapt their instruction to the brave new world of social media.

Librarians have waged the battle against unreliable, unsourced information on the Internet since the beginning of the World Wide Web. With the help of tools like EasyBib, we have demanded students compile their sources in a methodical manner, evaluating each before adding it to their bibliography. The skill is mainly useful in an academic environment where students can be held accountable for their behavior.

The challenge of social media with respect to information literacy is that networked individuals are continually bombarded with information. Thus, information literacy’s importance must make the leap from the academic world, where purposeful information search is the norm, to “real life,” where information continually competes for the audience.

Social media upend traditional notions of credibility. Information literacy education has long emphasized notions such as authority and currency when instructing students on how to find credible and current information. On social media, influence has largely replaced credibility as savvy individuals have marketed themselves to prominence over slower moving institutions that have long been gatekeepers of reliable information. Influential individuals on social media have earned their influence by promoting themselves effectively, and this is entirely separate from any credibility they may have as experts in any given field.

The notion of currency on social media is also completely reversed in terms of its relationship to credibility. In the traditional information world, current articles, those published within the last several years, are rightly regarded as better sources than older ones that may be out of date. On fast-moving microblogs, the information just posted is likely to be completely unreliable, and a series of forthcoming tweets may dispel that one from minutes ago. Furthermore, individuals that continually post on social media are likely rewarded with greater influence because prolific contributors generally have greater followings.

In the fast-paced world of social information, the ability to quickly sort out bad information from good information will be ever more critical. Habits of triangulation and continually questioning the validity of information and the credibility of sources will make the difference between success and failure.  Can we rise to the challenge of promoting these habits?

Neil Krasnoff Neil Krasnoff is the Technology Manager and Media Specialist at Dallas ISD. Krasnoff is a member of the EasyBib/ResearchReady Advisory Board. He is currently interested in social media as a learning and research tool, marketing books and library services with digital signage and teaching meta-cognitive skills related to research and project-based learning.

  • Debra Gottsleben

    Neil I enjoyed reading your post. Lots to think about.

  • Neal Taparia

    It would be a fun exercise for a student to look at a social media feed, and analyze posts from an information literacy perspective.

    • Neil Krasnoff (@txlibraryguy)

      Thanks Debra and Neal. There are so many possible activities with evaluating people and information on Twitter. I recently did a role-play with students Tweeting as fictional characters. We also asked the question, “Is Twitter Fiction or Non Fiction?” I also recommend having students classify Tweets into categories. There never is enough time devoted to activities suited to social media, but when you find a topic that works, it can be a meaningful learning experience. So far, I’ve done only two good lessons, but I hope to do more soon.

  • Eli Rothschild

    Excellent Article Neil! It’s always a pleasure hearing your thoughts on utilizing social media for educational purposes. Hope all is well!