information fluency versus information literacy: what is the difference?

Back in the Spring of 2009 I created a Google alert for the phrase information fluency. At that time the phrase was being thrown around left and right. The alert helped me stay abreast of what people were posting in regards to the term. Until about March 2011, the alerts came daily often indicating upwards to 5 mentions across certain segments of the web. Not long after that I started to notice a slight downturn in the number of alerts. Often seeing a one or two day gap. Since that time I’ve seen a steady downward trend of alerts to where now there are significant gaps between the alerts.

definition of fluencyWhat does this mean? Does it mean no one is focusing on information fluency any more? Google alerts certainly are not going to really answer that question; I am under no illusion that everything posted on the web is caught in a Google alert. However, based on my limited analysis of the alerts I did receive, it is clear information fluency was a buzz phrase easily to throw around in education circles. While at the same time, many people were struggling to clearly define what exactly the phrase meant and represented.

Here it is 2014 and I don’t think anyone is any closer to creating a definition that is clearly accepted by the many groups that want to promote the idea of information fluency. In my own professional circles where many of us have built careers off of the concept of information literacy, the phrase information fluency just became another way to talk about information literacy. Many people started talking about transliteracy or metaliteracy as a mechanism to combine all possible literacies. I actually disagree with that sentiment and trend. What has happened is that every potential knowledge domain now has its own literacy. How does that help anyone? All we have now is a list of literacies that one needs to check off to deem oneself a capable, informed, and engaged citizen.

It is not unknown that I am not a fan of word literacy when it comes to describing the type of teaching we librarians are doing (or at least should be doing) in higher education. Once students reach our doors we should be focusing on much more than rudimentary ways in which students can interact with information; fortunately many of us are. The newly published 2014 Horizon Report: Higher Education edition  is a clear indication that the learning environment has gone way past the traditional practice where students sit in a room being lectured to. Higher education is moving towards supporting environments that encourage and foster knowledge creation rather than knowledge consumption. As a profession, we also need to be thinking in those terms.definition of literacy

How do we define information fluency? I believe we need to step back and truly acknowledge that everything around us is information regardless of platform or format. Not so long ago we could clearly separate tools and information. Where the two were linked was that specific tools allowed access to specific information. In our current more ubiquitous communicative environment, the tools used to find and access information are less relevant. Today, fluency is represented in the quality and ability of discourse, methods of interaction, willingness to learn, and avenues of creation. It is not an umbrella for different literacies. As information professionals we need to be thinking about how we help students achieve these higher order aspects and concepts that define and represent fluency.

In the mindset that information fluency is just another phrase for information literacy, I often hear people say that what I describe above is implied in the current ACRL standards and definition of information literacy. I don’t think implied intent is a good model, particularly when it comes to teaching and learning. Fortunately, an ACRL Task Force is working to revise the current information literacy standards and from the reports I’ve read really rethinking the overall approach. My concern is that the phrase information literacy will remain. It is not that I don’t support the efforts of my talented colleagues; I am happy the current standards are being evaluated and revised. My concern is that by using the same label there will be confusion and increased reluctance to consider anything new. I can’t honestly say information fluency is a better phrase.  What is tough about information fluency (as well as information literacy) is the abstractness of it and that no one really “owns” it like the traditional knowledge domains we’ve created in higher education. For academic librarians, we do need to think carefully about the language we use as a means to communicate our intent and goals for advancing student learning.

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5 Responses to information fluency versus information literacy: what is the difference?

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  5. Lourense Das says:

    Since I discovered the term ‘Information Literacy’ and learned the real meaning of it, I’ve been surprised by the way people use or even misuse the term. Not only in the English language but in other languages too. To rephrase Hamlet, ‘what’s in a term’? There are thousands of concepts, items or even ideas that have evolved over the years. Think of cars: the electric cars we have now are totally different from the ones produced > 100 years ago, and still we call them cars.
    Information is hot business and it seems to me that lots of “information” related terms have been hijacked by smart people trying to develop a business around it. Well, at least in my country.
    I like your post: lots of food for thought. But I do wish that information (oh, here is that word again) professionals will be able to join forces and hijack it back to ensure information literacy or fluency or whatever we want to call it, is not a business case but a basic part of education.

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