on information literacy

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As I have may before mentioned, I am my friends’ go-to Research Girl.  When anyone has a question about something, be it who was in a movie (which I often don’t even need to look up, being prone to storing entire imdb entries in my head recreationally) or how you get from one place to another or if there are certain types of restaurants in a certain area, I am the one they call to look it up.  Some of them have smart phones.  Some of them have done this when they are actually at their own houses with access to their own computers.  But still, I’m the one who looks things up.

This used to make me sort of cranky (mostly because I didn’t like the implication that, oh sure, it’s just me, I’m at home/school/wherever with my laptop, I’m not doing anything important and can drop anything to do your research) but I’m beginning to think now that it is actually a compliment of sorts.  Maybe they don’t really think of it that way.  Maybe they do just think it’s easier.  But in this “just Google it world” that is discussed in the article on In the Library With the Lead Pipe, I have never been comfortable taking advice from just anywhere.

Sure, I’ll take my movie trivia from imdb, because it is well-maintained and reputable.  I’ll take directions from Google, because it is a service intended to give you appropriate directions.  (Sometimes even those don’t work, but that’s trial and error and has led to some adventures anyway.)  Sure, I use Wikipedia for things, usually not particularly serious ones (looking up the genres that music I have on my iPod falls into for example; I can’t stand to just leave on the “Alternative” or “Rock” or “Singer/Songwriter” labels that iTunes assigns) but still.  But I know that just because the internet says it, that doesn’t mean it’s true.  If I’m looking up proper facts, I cross-reference.  I verify.

The article says that librarians and library information searches are designed to do just that.  As a fiction writer of sorts, I have more than once looked up something that is very specifically factual: the side effects of a concussion, for example.  I didn’t just trust the first link that Google gave me, I kept on searching, trying to make sure I was using “high quality sources,” as the article describes them, for the information.  I was looking up spinal cord injuries yesterday and had to weed through five or six pages before I found one that wasn’t just speculation or patient discussion but was actual medical fact.

“Librarians, using the tool of an in-depth reference interview, can guide their patrons towards this and other useful resources,” the article says.  Interviews I have done this week with a public librarian and a medical librarian have verified that this is in fact one of their roles: the role of helping people sort through information to figure out what is and is not relevant and true.  Hearing that, hearing how useful these librarians have been to people in their quest for information literacy, reading articles like this: it all makes me feel sure that yes, this is what I want to do with myself.  This is good and useful work and needs to continue to be available to people.

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