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New Literacy Laws

By Administrator | 6 April 2017

Literacy has been a hot topic in libraries for decades and was traditionally understood as an individual’s ability to read and comprehend both the written word and arithmetic. Over the years, as technology and information mediums transformed and progressed, the definition of literacy and the areas in which it applied have been expanded .  As the need for a consistent definition arose there was some contention amongst industry professionals and academics over what the best approach may be to the ever-widening scope of information literacy. This spawned a litany of sub-literacies and terminology such as multi-literacy, transliteracy and metaliteracy that attempted to unify the many forms of literacy required to understand and participate in the modern world.

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Participating in the modern world

Participating in the modern world

Last month the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) weighed in on this debate by releasing their newly defined Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy (MIL). In creating this framework, UNESCO have responded to the need for a clearly articulated and well defined approach to multi-modal literacy in an age of information overload, ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. They understand the growing role that accurate and accessible information will play in the development of social, political and cultural spheres, and by creating these laws they have taken steps to empower educators,  librarians and information professionals to more actively participate in the global information conversation.

As a new librarian, I was asked to reflect on these laws from my viewpoint as a young professional, fresh from the rigors of post-graduate library study - so strap yourself in for some (hopefully) insightful commentary.

Law 1 –

Information, communication, libraries, media, technology, the internet as well as other forms of information providers are for use in critical civic engagement and sustainable development. They are equal in stature and none is more relevant than the other or should ever be treated as such.

 In my opinion, this is quite an interesting point for UNESCO to have made and, while I completely agree that the information forms and providers they have listed most certainly play a demonstrative role in societal engagement and development, I am not fully convinced that they are wholly equal in stature and relevance. I feel that they definitely should be, but that concepts such as information, communication and technology and information channels like the internet are so broad and encompass so many mediums that they cannot really be generalised like that. While they may be equal in stature in terms of their reach and influence, these information mediums and sources are not infallible. Libraries and the media however, as regulated institutions should be constantly striving for accuracy and truth.

 Law 2 –

Every citizen is a creator of information/knowledge and has a message. They must be empowered to access new information/knowledge and to express themselves. MIL is for all – women and men equally – and a nexus of human rights.

 I think that we would be hard pressed to find an individual working in the information sector who disagreed with this statement. This message is redolent of the inclusive ethos that underpins both the education system and the wider library and information industry. We, as professionals, are champions of the right to information and freedom of expression, standing united against censorship and fighting for access for all. The internet was declared a basic human right by the United Nations in 2011 but what good is access to information if its users cannot differentiate between fact and fiction – literacy truly is the font of comprehension and self-empowerment.

 Law 3 –

Information, knowledge and messages are not always value neutral, or always independent of biases. Any conceptualisation, use and application of MIL should make this truth transparent and understandable to all citizens.

 In this age of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ it is more important than ever to equip individuals with a toolkit for truth. Misinformation and miseducation has been shown to have drastic effects throughout history and with an overwhelming amount of information that is curated by algorithms rather than standards, the need for literacy education is paramount.

 Law 4 –

Every citizen wants to know and understand new information, knowledge and messages as well as to communicate, even if she/he is not aware, admits or expresses that he/she does. His/her rights however must never be compromised.

 The extent of humanity’s aptitude for communication is what sets us apart from the other organisms that inhabit this earth. This innate ability to converse and share meaning, to understand, learn and apply information in the pursuit of knowledge cannot be denied. It is therefore our primary role as library and information professionals to continue to promote literacy instruction and provide for the information needs of all clients. This, of course, is achieved by engaging our local communities through programs and services with the aim of raising awareness of the power of literacy skills and advocating for the individual right to information.

 Law 5 –

Media and information literacy is not acquired at once. It is a lived and dynamic experience and process. It is complete when it includes knowledge, skills and attitudes, when it covers access, evaluation/assessment use production and communication of information, media and technology content.

In my opinion, the quest for literacy is comparable to the concept of life-long learning and is not something that should ever be considered ‘complete’. As a new librarian, one of the key lessons I have learnt is that there is always something I can be learning or skills I can be improving upon. As citizens of the digital world we are all surrounded by vast quantities of information that is disseminated through newly developing mediums and formats. As such, the nature of information is no longer static. It is changeable and so we must change with it and learn to develop our literacy skills in tandem with developments in information access and understanding.

What are your thoughts on the Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy? Why not share them with us below?

As a newly appointed librarian at State Library, Will Wood has been enjoying being able to put theory into practice. Having studied Drama and English Literature at UQ, followed by a Diploma of Library and Information practice and finally a Masters in IT majoring in Library and Information Science at QUT, Will is well and truly finished with tertiary study and ready to embark on a career that will hopefully take him all over the world. He is passionate about the future of information and its dissemination and is excited to be working as part of an interdisciplinary team with such a progressive library. In his spare time, Will has been trying to gracefully climb walls at his local indoor climbing centre and also regularly drags himself to the gym.

ImageNASA Goddard Space Flight Center  CC BY 2.0


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