Why We Should Talk About Media and Information Literacy

Roughly six and a half years ago, I was introduced to the concept of media and information literacy through a Mass Media and Society course I took as an undergraduate elective. Between our discussions about the different media available to us, who essentially monopolizes and influences media outlets, the ethics, laws, and politics that govern them, how changes in media have influenced how we communicate with one another, and the ways we can healthfully navigate the constant influx of content that surrounds us to avoid feeling overwhelmed by it all; our discussions about the importance of media and information literacy are among what I most took from that class. Now, fast forward to now as I start the second year of my MLIS program and I feel media and information literacy is more important than ever for everyone to cultivate as we collectively navigate our global informational landscape.

     Observably, media and information literacy is generally defined by someone’s ability to critically review, evaluate, verify, and engage with different information sources across various formats; with one of the most popular formats currently being social media. Some days, it almost seems like social media is everywhere, from our homes to our workplaces and other community spaces. So, it is necessary for us to acknowledge and discuss this as this part of our lives becomes increasingly more intertwined with others. It is obvious that this topic has been heavily discussed online to date with one of the most thorough topical resources being the Center for Media Literacy; while multiple other resources exist online to provide educators and information professionals with the tools to incorporate media and information literacy into their curriculum and programming.

     However, I acknowledge that this is no easy feat. As information professionals, while it is our job to ensure that all points of view and information sources are available and recognized, where do we draw the line between being inclusive of all perspectives and enabling dangerous misinformation? Also, how can we decrease, if not entirely eliminate, bias from the information sources we provide our patrons so they are given the opportunity to form their own opinions on the topics they seek information on? It is an incredibly fine line that we must walk in our physical and online collections, resources, and services so that no perspective is completely omitted from our libraries, but our patrons are protected against any dangerous misinformation that should have no place in our spaces; especially when it negatively impacts the health, well-being, and livelihood of our more historically-marginalized patrons.

     Thus, as new information sources continue to be established and proclaim their trustworthiness all while contributing to the confusion caused by misinformation, we need to consider how we can best inform our patrons and selves so we know which information sources to trust as we navigate the global informational landscape. In our technologically-oriented age, we are all constantly subjected to “fake news” and “alternative facts” in some capacity on the Internet and in real life; which often distracts from the evidence-based information sources and data we all should be paying more attention to. However, this is complicated by the fact that being media literate is more of a luxury for a wide variety of reasons, including but not limited to one’s socioeconomic status, level of education, and age. So, how do we as librarians and information professionals help increase our communities’ collective media and information literacy? I have a few ideas that may help based on my experience:

    First, we can help each other create and circulate simple checklists that we all can incorporate into our information-seeking behaviors and processes. For example, we can encourage the double-checking of website URLs for misspelled words or incorrect domain names, among encouraging other more critical practices like those outlined in the CRAAP Test. The CRAAP test was created by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico and is an excellent resource to reference while conducting research. This is one resource I have referenced a lot in my graduate studies since learning about it during my orientation into my program and I encourage others to check it out.

     Secondly, we can encourage the review of information sources for consistency, transparency, and sound reasoning. For example, in interacting with people online, I have encountered many different information sources, one of the most memorable being one webpage on a website that cited itself as a source. When you clicked on the hyperlink embedded within the text, it refreshed that same webpage and did not redirect you to another within that website or another. So, to help our patrons and selves avoid similar situations, we need to not only encourage our patrons to identify which information sources are credible and conduct themselves professionally and ethically through practice, but we as librarians need to also practice these ideals on our own.

     Thirdly, I feel many will agree that identifying bias is an incredibly important skill for everyone to cultivate as we all navigate the wealth of information sources available to us daily. Thus, we need to encourage our patrons and selves to critically review who funds and/or supports the information sources we utilize, the perspectives they present, and the evidence they reference to support their views, if any. We need to also encourage comparison between our primary information sources to others to corroborate their facts and identify core information sources within different fields so we all can inform our opinions with the best evidence-based information sources available.

     In closing, while I acknowledge that my recommendations are in no way comprehensive since the concept of media and information literacy is far more complex and adjustable as new trends emerge within our field, I feel they are still a good way to further discussions on media and information literacy within our communities and work environments. If you have any other recommendations you would like to contribute to this discussion, feel free to post them to the comments section.

Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash

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