Teens and Information Literacy

Earlier this month, Wired magazine ran an article by Clive Thompson that discusses how students today lack reliable Internet search skills despite being digital natives. He points to a study conducted by the College of Charleston where a group of students were asked to look up the answers to several questions. Most of the students used Google and selected the web pages at the top of the list, not knowing that the order had been changed to include less reliable sources as a part of the experiment. The study concluded that the students placed too much faith in the search engine-generated results than in their own abilities to assess information.

Why are students who are so adept at navigating the digital world so unskilled when it comes to selecting what’s reliable and accurate? Perhaps public libraries may be able to help bridge the gap between students’ tech savvy and their search skills. By partnering with our local schools, librarians can work with educators to develop programs that foster students’ critical thinking skills, creating more knowledgeable and wary consumers of information. While information literacy may not be at the forefront of teen programs at the library, it can become an intrinsic and valuable part of programming that supports the efforts of our counterparts in public education. If the public library’s mission is to provide an environment where lifelong learning can thrive, then it’s imperative that we assist in the digital education of our teen customers.

If your library offers information literacy programs for teens, please share your experiences with the readers. What worked? What hasn’t? Perhaps through our combined efforts we can make a difference in how students search for and use information, one library at a time.

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One Comment

  1. A few things come to mind on the topic of teens and search/research.

    First, my experience in schools and public libraries is that the best way to help teens learn to think critically about this kind of thing is to give them meaningful opportunities to use the skills required as a part of information literacy. If I do a workshop at a public library called “How to Search: A Workshop for Teens” that doesn’t really work. But, if I do a workshop on creating manga and as a part of that have teens research manga and talk about what they found and how they found it, then that is something teens will not only attend but learn from. And, in this way, I think that public librarians do focus on information literacy all the time, it’s just not something they articulate in marketing of programs.

    Second, within that meaningful context, the more we can give teens the opportunity to research topics that mean something to them, the better the opportunities to understand what good searching is all about. For example, I often find that teens don’t use good research skills, or even critical thinking skills, when they aren’t interested in the topic they have to research. But, have that same teen research something he or she is passionate about, it changes. He or she can tell you how they searched, why they searched that way, how they selected results and so on. I don’t think this is so different than adults. If I have to research something I have no interest in I am much less inclined to do an excellent search.

    Third, public librarians do have to get better at articulating and understanding that they are embedding information literacy in what they do all the time. It probably isn’t something to talk about with teens. But, when talking with funders, administrators, colleagues, etc. why not say, “You know, in that program on manga I had teens searching for information on the web and we got to have great discussions about how to be successful searchers.” That way others in the community realize while the manga program is fun, there is a lot more to it than that.

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