Competency A

Demonstrate awareness of the ethics, values, and foundational principles of one of the information professions, and discuss the importance of intellectual freedom within that profession.

Competency Definition

As a field of study, Library and Information Science (LIS) can be operationally defined as a science concerned with human recorded information, focused on the aspects of human behavior in communication, organization, and retrieval of information (Bawden & Robinson, 2012). Yet information is a shared concept across all disciplines and it is given varying treatments to how it is conceptualized. LIS has a unique perspective on the information landscape, built upon interdisciplinary foundations and a rich integrated history that parallels the development of technology. Information professionals today see that information, users’ information needs, and information access and use are no longer bound by the traditional physical library building (Hirsh, 2015). Information seeking happens everywhere. A recent Pew Research Center survey reports the following “information-engagement typology” of Americans’ views towards new information and their information seeking tendencies (Horrigan, 2017):

Image retrieved from Pew Research Center Internet and Technology. Used here for academic purposes only.

From these observations, one can see that there is no “typical” information consumer and no “one size fits all” approach to information literacy instruction (ILI), as people engage with information from a variety of perspectives, which involve interest, trust in sources, and eagerness to develop new information-related skills (Horrigan, 2017). At the iSchool, I have focused my courses and discussions in light of the recommendations of the Information Intermediation and Instruction career pathway, from a desire to understand how users seek information, help them define and fulfill their information needs, and do so using various information tools and applications (“Information intermediation and instruction,” 2017). [I discuss this career pathway conceptualization further in the Introduction.]

Yet ILI will only be as good as the access that users have to information and to the Internet. The typologies in the chart above are influenced by the technological and access issue known as the Digital Divide. The Digital Divide refers to the disparity in Internet access, stemming from socioeconomic inequalities that are further exacerbated by other factors of gender, race and ethnicity, education, geography, age, ability, language, and especially availability and quality of access (Jaeger, Bertot, Thompson, Katz, & DeCoster, 2012; Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). The divide between those who are able to pay for, access, and effectively use digital resources grows with each new ICT development (Kinney, 2010; Bawden & Robinson, 2012). To begin bridging this divide at the federal level, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified high-speed Internet in 2015 as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act to ensure that broadband networks are “fast, fair, and open,” ensuring that Internet service providers (ISPs) would not block, throttle access to, or establish paid priority access to any kind of legal content (Office of Chairman Wheeler, 2015; Free Press, 2017). These rules comprise what open Internet advocates call “Net Neutrality.” Ensuring this access allows individuals and communities to collaborate together to address challenges that are uniquely pressing to them, which especially benefits historically disadvantaged, vulnerable, and underserved populations (IFLA, 2017).

Libraries, especially public libraries, have played an historical and important community role as “unofficial,” free providers of Internet access and assistance to users in decisions regarding what information users can trust (Horrigan, 2016; Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015; IFLA, 2017). But public libraries, especially rural ones, are facing an “infrastructure plateau,” in only having a few computer workstations and slow broadband connection speeds that cannot support many users, along with other issues such as insufficient funding, technical support, and staffing (Real, Bertot, & Jaeger, 2014). Yet libraries continue to provide “point-of-need” access to their users, which helps users gain trust and confidence in their abilities to search for information to meet their needs (Horrigan, 2017; IFLA, 2017).

Information professionals need to brand themselves as ILI providers that teach best practices in information searching, online privacy, and security, as well as vanguards that protect users’ access to information. Information organizations must prioritize access to basic information communication technologies (ICTs), which is necessary to ensure an individual’s rights to intellectual freedom of speech, sharing of ideas, and personal agency in decision making (Hirsh, 2015). Thus, ILI is essential to help users gain the skills necessary to navigate effectively, stay safe in today’s digital information landscape, and promote intellectual freedom of expression.

Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence

Evidence: INFO 254 and INFO 246 Discussion Posts Narrative

Throughout my coursework here at the iSchool, I engaged in critical discussion of various topics with my peers through Canvas discussion posts and other means of communication. Though information professionals are not necessarily teachers, they are called upon to teach basic IL skills across various contexts and situations. The following is a synthesis of thoughts from discussion posts created initially for INFO 254: Information Literacy and Learning and INFO 246: Web 2.0 and Social Media (an advanced topic in Information Technology Tools and Applications) that are relevant to the discussion of principles related to information intermediation and instruction. For INFO 246 in particular, I engaged with my peers on VoiceThread, Twitter, and other social media applications per the course requirements. [An optional VoiceThread compilation track from all nine posts throughout the semester is available here.]

For one discussion in INFO 254, I was tasked to provide my observations of a video by McMichael (2016) about modeling as a form of teaching in library instruction. Combined with what I learned from that week’s course lecture video and readings, I discussed how conducting IL sessions are a time intensive, mentally intensive, high risk/high reward process. Many librarians today, such as those in academic libraries, only have a “one-shot” session to work with to convey general or discipline-specific database navigation tutorials. A high level of planning is required to convey as much relevant material as possible, even prior to and beyond the session. Yet as McMichael (2016) argues, there is a distinct difference between librarians teaching predetermined steps to searching and modeling the critical thinking process that is required when navigating through databases and determining and finding support in the literature for research topics. Critical thinking promotes creative problem solving, while passive following leads to a binary conception of right versus wrong ways of doing research. Modeling also helps instructors gain experience for instruction and allows the instructor to learn from her/his own mistakes. Both the instructor and the student have the opportunity to engage in critical thinking about the research process, and this can generate insights for students into their own thinking processes. Librarians engaging in ILI need to change students’ thinking first before their associated information seeking behaviors can change – if presented with techniques as something that must be followed step by step in order to get to the “right” answer, then librarians will be restricting students’ development of their critical thinking on the process and potentially in other aspects of research (McMichael, 2016). Engagement in IL sessions then helps students develop the procedural knowledge of the research process, and not necessarily its declarative knowledge (Spievak & Hayes-Bohanan, 2013). But there is also a balance too: academic librarians only get one 75-minute shot students per course to convey all the necessary information and techniques to students and figure out ways to delegate content instruction outside of the session through deliverables such as handouts and narrated screencasts, which in their own right are also time intensive and require lots of long-term, forward thinking. Information professionals providing ILI then must also be able to engage and help develop students’ and other patrons’ critical thinking when searching for information. This instruction also includes at some level safe online navigation practices and the development of critical thinking when considering other issues such as online education options, processing “fake news,” and protecting one’s online presence and data.

Online education is expanding, as instruction is gradually moving online due to its accessibility and cost-effectiveness to be able to reach a wide variety of users. With today’s online learning opportunities, anyone can be a student now, and this promotes the lifelong learning that we as information professionals in the LIS profession talk about as a goal of ILI. As I discussed in INFO 246, before I started my MLIS coursework at the iSchool, I took some Coursera and Udemy courses, and I enjoyed the self-paced instruction. These MOOCs (massive open online courses) were for my personal enrichment and not for academic credit. But with this level of open instruction, anyone can be a teacher now, raising some credibility and authority issues: What makes a person qualified to teach a particular kind of material? There can be professors at established, accredited higher education institutions offering these courses, but the adage of “buyer beware” still applies, especially in paid instructional content offered by Udemy, StackSkills, and other similar sites. There are also issues of sustaining motivation to learn: from the student side, there are issues of inattentiveness and social media distractions; from the teacher side, boring and static delivery of lectures and instructional content. But I do see a future in online education, or at least a hybrid version of it that comprises in-person and online interactions, much like what academic librarians are forced into when providing one-shot ILI.

ILI is also necessary in regards to respond to the “fake news”/“clickbait” social media epidemic that came about with the last election cycle. As I discussed in INFO 254, it takes time to dissect whether a piece of information is credible, and even then, people are exposed to content based on their social media preferences and friend circles, which also can play into their inherent biases. Misinformation perpetuates because people pass it along to others before evaluating sources, especially if it confirms pre-existing beliefs prior to encountering a piece of potentially disconfirming information (Tiffany, 2016). I related this to what I saw in a NBC Nightly News segment about the Minnesota measles outbreak, which reported how measles is resurfacing now for children that have not received vaccinations because of previous years’ false claims that vaccinations are related to autism. I found it sad to hear that a) it is a minority group that is being hit the hardest (a community of Somali immigrants), and b) the information spread out of fear and stayed longer since they are a tightly knit community that absorbed the anti-vaccine propaganda more strongly since it was spread around by word of mouth (which was more credible to this community than online information). It is quite personally disheartening that there were no community-built systems to place such bold claims in check. From an outsider’s perspective, it also makes one question the authority by which these anti-vaccine groups are making their claims. It falls upon information professionals then to educate others about fake news and engage in critical thinking about the nature and quality of information. Professional development and vigilance regarding the ever-changing landscape of online information will be necessary moving forward, though some argue that by college, it may be too late for students to truly learn to allow information to challenge their pre-existing beliefs (Jazynka, 2017). Nevertheless, being able to differentiate between good and bad sources and how to retrieve them effectively will always be hallmarks of being information and media literate. Now more than ever, information professionals have to recognize and teach how information has social dimensions, in its creation and its use.

ILI also entails awareness and best practices for online navigation, to protect one’s privacy and data online. In one of my Twitter posts for INFO 246, I succinctly discuss the awareness of Google search tracking that everyone must have when interacting online.

INFO 246 Twitter Post Week 6

In their opportunities for ILI, information professionals need to educate their users and patrons regarding how Google and other applications can track their searches and activity. Google’s suggested searches are the result of other people’s related searches, adding to the Big Data of usage analytics that Google actively collects. Such user statistics are needed for developers to handle bugs (I see this in video games, with sizeable “day one” patches that address issues from pre-release beta testing periods), but there are also anonymous user statistics generated from daily app use (this option cannot be disabled in some situations). Numerous other applications operate on similar principles. We live in a world that runs on updates; gone are the days in which an app can stand alone from “day one” of deployment into the user market. Our own efforts at protecting ourselves online can only go so far, such as the advice to delete Google history in article that I linked in my Twitter post, but they do mean something at some level in many situations. Knowing what the technology and apps that one uses can and cannot do for you in terms of security and privacy is crucial in navigating our ever-growing interconnected world.

Yet, as I also discussed in an INFO 246 VoiceThread entry, information professionals and information organizations such as libraries are in a position to use Big Data effectively in ways that also maintain users’ privacy. Social media analytics is one method that allows for social media data to be visualized into node maps, to uncover useful information such as an online community’s prominent members, cliques that emerged based on interactions, and hashtag frequencies. Information professionals are tasked to provide quality relevant resources to our users. Using big data then helps information professionals see relevant usage and interaction data in such a way that maintains privacy. The effectiveness of social media analysis, like any kind of research, is dependent on the kinds of questions that you want to and are able to ask. [For more how I learned about and applied social media analytics, see Competency N.]

Information professionals are in a position to provide quality ILI, in modeling critical thinking when navigating and searching for information online. Though time consuming and taxing, ILI is a valuable service that information professionals provide, reinforcing their commitment to educate their users and help facilitate their information seeking processes, in light of fake news and privacy and security concerns. Yet even with quality ILI, as I briefly discuss in my final Twitter post for INFO 246, emotions will always influence our online interactions, even in a future of potential and possibility for technological advancement and social media growth.

INFO 246 Twitter Post Week 10

Social media, a place where many connect, communicate, and consume information, has become a “marketplace for evoking, feeling, displaying and profiting off the gooey human emotion of empathy” (Margonelli, 2017). Fake news and clickbait play on our emotions, existing alongside actual news stories and information that rightfully should warrant our emotions and a sense of call-to-action. Sadly, empathy has become “weaponized” by Internet “trolls,” who manipulate their victims’ emotions in order to get a point across (Margonelli, 2017); this can lead a user to false information, an advertisement, or worse, a link to identity-compromising viruses or malware. It is a responsibility of information professionals then to engage their users’ development of critical thinking skills so that users recognize what they are seeing and experiencing online when searching for information, so they can act with knowledge of reputable information and remain fully cognizant of the implications of their online interactions.

Future Directions

Though LIS is continually shifting field, information professionals stand at a unique vantage point to observe, influence, and be shaped by the language and understanding of information across disciplines. I found that my discussions in INFO 254 and INFO 246 provided me insight into the principles motivating information professionals to provide ILI, which in turn is contingent on the quality and availability of information access. The LIS profession is already moving towards facilitating learning and communication, even for users who are not accessing information through libraries and other information organizations (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015).

I see that information professionals who are information mediators and instructors are proponents for ILI and Net Neutrality. ILI is necessary to help users survive in today’s ever-growing information landscape, in being able to find, evaluate, and use information effectively to meet information needs (Cunningham & Rosenblatt, 2015). Yet ILI is highly contingent on the ubiquity of access to information. One response to address this issue is open access, the movement to make research freely accessible and available to everyone. [I go into further discussion about open access in Competency F.] Yet such efforts may prove futile if Internet access is throttled by ISPs, which would further widen the Digital Divide. There are threats to Net Neutrality from the current FCC administration, which wants to weaken the Title II “strong rules” into “voluntary conditions” for ISP operations (Free Press, 2017). These proposed changes would damage the future of the Internet as a medium for innovation, stymying the potential of smaller entities who want to enter the market compared to the established businesses and corporations, and the rights to free speech and information access, silencing people who post their opinions online that may be contrary to ISPs and big corporations (Wozniak & Copps, 2017). The goals of Net Neutrality represent more than providing people with Internet access: it is about “leveling the playing field in regards to information diffusion. The Internet is such a prominent utility in peoples’ lives that we, as a society, cannot afford for citizens to go without” (Cohron, 2015, p. 84). Net Neutrality ensures that the democratic voice and creative spirit of the Internet is not stopped by ISPs, especially for underserved, vulnerable, and marginalized populations (Free Press, 2017). The proposed changes to Net Neutrality will destroy the way how we communicate and access information freely, paving the way to information monopolization that will hurt everyone. Information access is a right associated with intellectual freedom, interdependent with the ability to create, use, understand, and share information, alongside other human rights (IFLA, 2017); it is not a privilege only for those who can afford access and not an opportunity for control by corporations. In essence, “Broadband consumers should have access to lawful content without ISP interference. That means no censorship or fast lanes” and making Internet service more affordable and ubiquitous (Wozniak & Copps, 2017). Fighting for Net Neutrality is a serious concern for the LIS profession, especially with the information and Internet access that libraries provide to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status and other factors.

I will admit that I took a political stance in the conclusion of this competency (but arguably, this issue transcends political divisions). As a future information professional, I see the need to meet users where they are, fighting for Net Neutrality where possible and continue bridging the Digital Divide for vulnerable populations in the process. There is always potential with emerging technology and social media to ensure that intellectual freedom will always be maintained. As I discussed in a video for my final VoiceThread entry for INFO 246, I see that the future of social media will match the next technological breakthrough, something that could possibly revolutionize the ways how we use our phones. Social media is very mobile-based now, and it will stay relevant to everyone's lives and communications. I believe that the next new social media app will take advantage of another need that has not already been addressed by current apps, or from the spirit of innovation, create a new need. The future is very close, and in some aspects it is already here, only limited by current hardware and our imaginations. Information professionals engaging in information intermediation and instruction then need to recognize the contexts in which information is created and consumed, which in turn informs the awareness of the influences that technology, the Internet, and social media have on our everyday lives, as well as the ILI they provide that gives users ways to navigate through online information effectively and safely.


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