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DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, Vol. 28, No. 2, March 2008, pp.


Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age

Michael B. Eisenberg
The Information School of the University of Washington
Roosevelt Commons Building, 4th Floor
Box 352840, Seattle, WA 98195-2840


Information literacy (IL) is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to find, evaluate, and use
the information we need, as well as to filter out the information we dont need. IL skills are the necessary
tools that help us successfully navigate the present and future landscape of information. Information
and technology affects every person in every possible settingwork, education, recreation. This paper
offers an overview of IL focusing on three contexts for successful IL learning and teaching: (i) the
information process itself, (ii) technology in context, and (iii) implementation through real needs in real
situations. The author covers conceptual understandings of IL, the range of IL standards and models,
technology within the IL framework, and practical strategies for effective IL skills learning and instruction
in a range of situations.

Keywords: IL, Big6, information problem-solving, critical thinking, information technology, research skills,
information skills, information process, technology skills.

1. INFORMATION LITERACY AND information problems and be able to locate, use,

CONTEXT synthesise, and evaluate information in relation to
those problems.
Information and technology literacy is clearly
the basic skills set of the 21st century. This is Information and technology affects every person
widely recognised and accepted for all types of in every possible settingeducation, public service,
workersentry level to top executives. For example, and business. Education is fundamentally information-
in 1991 the US Department of Labors SCANS report based. That is, every aspect of learning and teaching
stated that competencies for all entry level employees requires the gathering, processing, and communication
must include the ability to: (i) acquire and use of information. In the past in education, there was
information, and (ii) work with a variety of technologies.1 a reliance on one primary information resource: the
This is information and technology literacy for all. textbook. But this is rapidly changing due in large
part to the explosion in information technology and
On the top-end, Peter Drucker, well-known networked information. The same is true in public
management guru stated that executives have become servicecitizens are increasingly turning to web-
computer-literate...but not many executives are based, electronic sources and services for information.
information literate. 2 Drucker is saying that being And, todays successful companies are those that
able to use computers is not enough. Executives focus on meaningful uses of information and technology
must be able to apply computer skills to real situations and hire employees who are able to apply technology
and needs. Executives must be able to identify to a range of situations.IL services and instruction

DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2) 39

are essential components of every 21st Century been dependent upon information to help them make
library and information program. Whether offering decisions and guide their actions. Increases in the
direct instruction to users, providing skills-based sheer volume of information and the complexity of
help functions on websites, delivering one-on-one information systems, have come about largely because
(physical or virtual) assistance, or even providing of advances in information technology and the accelerated
meaningful signage in a physical setting, every rate at which we live our lives.IL is the set of skills
information and library situation requires helping and knowledge that not only allows us to find,
users to succeed through improving their information evaluate, and use the information we need, but
skills or understandings. The purpose of any library perhaps more importantly, allows us to filter out
or information organisation is to meet the information the information we dont need. IL skills are the
needs of its users. IL, by ensuring that users are necessary tools that help us successfully navigate
effective in seeking and using information, is an the present and future landscape of information.
important part of fulfilling this purpose.
There are a number of different information
This paper offers specific conceptual and practical skills standards and models that seek to explain
strategies for effective IL skills instruction. In real the scope of IL including:
estate, they talk about the three key elements:
location, location, and location. In education, we Carol Kuhlthaus information search process 3
can say a similar thing about implementing a meaningful
IL program: context, context, and context. The Big6 approach of Eisenberg and Berkowitz4
AASL/AECT IL Standards 5
There are three essential contexts for successful
IL learning and teaching: ACRL IL Competency Standards for Higher
The information process itself Education. 6

Technology in context Figure 1 is an updated version of various charts

authored by Eisenberg and others7,8 comparing these
Real needseither work, educational, or personal. models of IL that were developed through research,
These contexts are essential for effective IL practice, and committee, respectively. This side-
programs at any level or with any age group. The by-side view of IL models shows that there are
process provides a structure for applying skills that many similarities among them. In fact, there is
can seem disconnected; technology within the process more agreement than disagreement among the models,
gives focus and flexibility; and real needs makes as is true of IL research itself. For example, the
IL relevant and transferable. Individually, when users driving force behind almost all of the models, and
are working on a problem, its easy to get lost or many of the findings, is processthe understanding
confused. People are in a much better position to that information skills are not isolated incidents,
succeed if, at any point in time, they can identify but rather are connected activities that encompass
where they are in terms of the three contexts: a way of thinking about and using information.

My own approach, the Big6, is the most widely

Where are they in the information problem-solving
used model in K-12 education, world-wide
( With six major stages and two
How does technology boost their capabilities in sub-stages under each, the Big6 covers the full
terms of specific information skills? range of information problem-solving actions.
What is the professional or personal need being The Big6 is an approach that can be used
addressed? whenever people are faced with an information problem
or with making a decision that is based on information.
The remainder of this paper will consider IL
StudentsK-12 through higher educationencounter
within each of these contexts in more detail.
many information problems related to course
assignments. However, the Big6 is just as applicable
to professional or personal life.
Information is a pervasive and essential part of
our society and our lives. Humans are, at their The Big6 Skills comprise a unified set of information
essence, processors and users of information. This and technology skills (Fig. 2). Taken together, these
is not a recent development. Humans have always skills form a process. The process encompasses

40 DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2)

Kuhlthau information Eisenberg/Berkowitz AASL/AECT ACRL Information
seeking Information Problem-Solving Information Literacy Competency
(The Big6 Skills) Literacy Standards
1. Initiation 1. Task Definition 1. Determine the nature
2. Selection 1.1 Define the problem and extent of the
1.2 Identify info requirement information needed

4. Formulation
(of focus) 3. Evaluates sources

3. Explor- 5. Collect- 2. Information seeking 1. Accesses

ation ion strategies information 2. Accesses needed
(Investiga (gather 2.1 Determine range efficiently information
-te info info on the sources and effectively and
on the focussed 2.2 Prioritize sources effectively. efficiently
general topic)
topic) 5. Accesses and uses
3. Location & access information
3.1 Locate sources ethically and
3.2 Find Info legally

2. Evaluates 3. Evaluates information

4. Information use information critically
4.1 Engage (read, view, etc.) critically
4.2 Extract info and 5. Understands many of
competently the economic legal
and social issues
6. Presentation 5. Synthesis 3. Uses surrounding the use
5.1 Organize information of info
5.2 Present accurately
and 3. Incorporates selected
creatively info. into his or her
7. Assessment 6. Evaluation knowledge base and
(of outcome/process) 6.1 Judge the product value system
6.2 Judge the process
5. Individually or as a
member of a group
uses information
effectively to
accomplish a specific

Figure 1. Comparison of information skills process models.

the Big6, people learn how to recognize their information But the Big6 is more than simple a set of
needs and how to progress through a series of skillsit is also an approach to helping students
stages to solve information problems effectively learn the information problem-solving process. Learning
and efficiently. Many problem-solving models provide more about the Big6 as a process and as an
a set of specific activities, or outline of isolated approach should make it easier and more useful
skills. These models may encourage a lockstep for any instructors and students. For instructors,
strategy that forces one specific method for problem- the Big6 provides a definitive set of skills that
solving and decision-making. Like these others, students must master in order to be successful in
the Big6 approach is systematic; however, it differs any learning context. Teachers can integrate instructional
in a significant way. Big6 Skills provide a broad- modules or lessons about the Big6 into subject
based, logical skill set that can be used as the area content and assignments. For students, the
structure for developing a curriculum or the framework Big6 provides a guide to dealing with assignments
for a set of distinct problem-solving skills. These and tasks as well as a model to fall back on when
fundamental skills provide students with a comprehensive they are stuck. The Big6 represents metacognition
set of powerful skills to conquer the information an awareness by students of their mental states
age. and processes.

DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2) 41

information together; and deciding that the task is
1. Task Definition
1.1 Define the problem in fact completed. However the stages do not need
1.2 Identify the information needed to be completed in any particular order or in any
2. Information seeking strategies set amount of time. A stage can be repeated or
2.1 Determine all possible sources revisited a number of times. Sometimes a stage is
2.2 Select the best sources completed with little effort, while at other times a
3. Location and Access stage is difficult and time consuming.
3.1 Locate sources
3.2 Find information within sources From experience and research, we found that
4. Use of Information
successful information problem-solving does require
4.1 Engage (e.g., read, hear, view)
4.2 Extract relevant information
completing each stage at some point in time: defining
5. Synthesis the task; selecting, locating, and using appropriate
5.1 Organise information from multiple sources information sources; pulling the information together;
5.2 Present information and deciding that the task is in fact completed.
6. Evaluation However, the Big6 is not linear and prescriptive.
6.1 Judge the result (effectiveness) Its not necessary to complete the stages in order,
6.2 Judge the process (efficiently) however all the stages must be completed for overall
Figure 2. The Big6.9 success.

From experience and research, we found that Figure 3 illustrates that the Big6 is not necessarily
successful Big6 information problem-solving does a linear, step-by-step process. For example, imagine
require completing each stage at some point in that after a team has defined a task and decided
time: defining the task; selecting, locating, and on their information seeking strategies in terms of
using appropriate information sources; pulling the three specific sources, they find them unavailable.

Figure 3. The Big6 as a feedback process.

42 DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2)

In that case, they would loop back to information Asking users, verbally or in writing, to identify
seeking strategies to reformulate their plans. Or, which information stage they are working on
suppose when compiling a report (synthesis), a
manager isnt sure if he/she has done everything Some would call this a metacognitive approach.
required. Here, he/she would jump back to task The Big6 (or any other process model) gives students
definition to review the problem and requirements. a vocabulary to describe process and become more
The point is to be flexible and able to move back self-aware. By continually emphasizing a process
and forth in the process, but to be able to do what context, users learn to recognize their own styles
is essential in each stage. as well as their strengths and weaknesses. They
also have a model to fall back on should they get
From a learning perspective, knowing where stuck or have difficulties.
you are in a process is very helpful for anyone. It
helps to know whats been completed and what is 3. CONTEXT #2: TECHNOLOGY FOR
still to do. When working on an assignment, project, INFORMATION PROBLEM-SOLVING
report, or even an information problem of personal
interest, users should be able to identify where There seems to be increasing understanding
they are in the process. For example, are they among educators as well as in the general public
reading an article related to current events? Thats that technological proficiency is more than simply
Use of Information, Big6 #4. Are they searching for knowing particular set of commands or even how
sources using a periodical database or search engine? to use a particular type of software. We want students
Thats Big6 #3, Location & Access. to use technology flexibly and creatively. We want
them to be able to size up a task, recognize how
From a teaching perspective, its important to technology might help them to fulfill the task, and
anchor instructional and learning experiences related then use the technology to do so. People need to
to information and technology skills instruction within be able to use computers for a purpose.
the information process. For example, teaching
PowerPoint for organizing and presenting oral Helping peopleespecially studentslearn to
presentationsthats Synthesis, Big6 #5. Working apply technology in these ways requires a change
with users to determine the most appropriate and in the way computer skills are traditionally taught.
available sources for a projectthat thats Information It means moving from teaching isolated computer
Seeking Strategies, Big6 #2. skills to teaching integrated information and technology
skills. From an IL perspective, that means integrating
Connecting instruction of individual skills or computer skills within the information problem-solving
techniques within the overall Big6 process provides process. Individual computer skills take on a new
users with a familiar reference point. They see the meaning when they are integrated within a process,
links among seemingly separate skills and are able and students develop true computer literacy because
to reflect on what came before and anticipate what they have genuinely applied various computer and
comes after. technology skills as part of learning.

Therefore, we recommend continually working Moving from teaching isolated computer skills
with users to help them recognize where they are to helping people learn integrated information and
in the process. Some ways that educators can do technology skills is not just a good ideaits essential
this is by: if we are to put users in a position to succeed in
an increasingly complex and changing world. Druckers
Identifying for users the various information process point about executives not being information literate
stages as they go through to complete an (see endnote 2) is still true today. Being able to
assignment, project, report, or even to make a use computers is not enough. Executives all must
personal decision be able to apply computer skills to real situations
and needs. Executives must be able to identify
Using a narrative or self-reflection to point out information problems and be able to locate, use,
the Big6 related to the actions of one or more synthesize, and evaluate information in relation to
characters those problems. These same needs exist for all
people living in an information society.
Modeling information process recognition by
pointing out when they themselves are engaging There are many good reasons for moving from
in a particular information stage teaching isolated computer skills to teaching integrated

DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2) 43

information and technology skills. Technology is Web pages, electronic reference resources, Q&A
changing at a breath-taking pace and will continue services, are all part of an effective Information
to do so for the foreseeable future. Bill Gates once Seeking Strategy (Big6 #2) and when we engage
said (National Educational Computing Conference, them and extract relevant information thats Big6
1996) that computing power has increased 1 million #4Use of Information. E-mail, chat, or text messaging
times over the past 20 years and will likely do so is highly useful for linking students with their teachers
again in the next 20 years! or with other students for Task Definition activities
(Big6 #1), and later for Evaluation (Big6 #6).
A million times more powerful. Will learning
isolated specific skills such as word processing, When integrated into the information problem-
electronic spreadsheets, and even World Wide Web solving process, these technological capabilities
searching suffice? Clearly not. Will learning to use become powerful information tools for students.
whatever technologies come along to boost our Table 1, a summary of how some of todays technologies
skills within the overall information problem-solving fit within the Big6 process and Table 2 flips it
process? Absolutely! Thats what it means to look aroundconsidering technology within the process.
at technology from an information skills perspective. This is the most powerful way to consider technology
as a boost to peoples abilitieswithin the information
Consider a common technologya pencil and
problem-solving process.
paper. From an information process perspective,
how can a pencil and paper help us to be more
productive? Clearly, a pencil and paper boosts our 4. CONTEXT #3: REAL NEEDS
ability to present information. In the Big6 process, As noted earlier, information is a pervasive and
this is Big6 #5synthesis. What are the electronic essential part of our society and all our lives. Information
equivalents of a pencil and paperthe tools that is pervasive, and so are information skills. Therefore,
help us even more to synthesize? Clearly, theres there are many opportunities for teaching and learning
word processing. Theres also desktop publishing, the IL. From research and experience, we know
word processing, desktop publishing, PowerPoint that the information skills are best learned in the
and other presentation software programs. All these context of real needsschool or personal. Students
are used to organize and present information, Big6 #5. today, more than ever, want to see connections
Reflect on another common technologya phone between what they are learning and their lives.
book. The phone book is a tool for accomplishing They want to know how something is relevant. We
Big6 #3Location and Access. Electronic equivalents need to take advantage of this and emphasize the
to the phone book are online library catalogs, periodical applicability of information skills across environments
databases, and of course, web search engines. and situations.

Any technology can be analyzed in this way In school settings, the context for IL instruction
as part of the information problem-solving process. is the curriculum. In K-12, this includes the subject

Table 1. Technological capabilities and the Big6

Technology Big6 Stage Description

Word processing 5 Synthesis

4 Use of information (notetaking)

Spell/grammar checking 6 Evaluation

Presentation/Multimedia software 5 Synthesis

Electronic spreadsheets 5 Synthesis

Online library catalog 3 Location & Access

Search engine 3 Location & Access

Full-text electronic resources 2 Information seeking strategies

4 Use of information

E-mail 1-6 All (particularly Task Definition, Evaluation)

Copy-paste (in various programmes) 4 Use of information

44 DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2)

Table 2. The Big6 and Technology

Stage Big6 Technology

1 Task definition e-mail, group discussions (listservs, online forums),

brainstorming software, chat, videoconferencing, groupware

2 Information seeking strategies online catalogs, info retrieval, networked electronic

resources, Intranet), Web resources, digital reference
services, online discussin groups, blogs, wikis

3 Location & Access online catalogs, electronic indexes, search engines, browsers

4 Use of information upload/download, word processing, copy-paste, outliners,

spreadsheets, databases (for analysis of data), statistical

5 Synthesis word processing, desktop publishing, graphics,

spreadsheets, database management, presentation software,
down/up load, e-journals, blogs, wikis, web-authoring

6 Evaluation e-mail, group discussions (listservs, online forums),

brainstorming software, chat, videoconferencing, groupware

area units and lessons of study. In higher education, a broad plan, and design specific unit and lesson
we focus on courses, class topics, and lectures. plans that integrate the information skills and classroom
Most importantly in both, the emphasis should be content. These educators can also collaborate on
on the assignments on which students will be evaluated. teaching and assessment.
Throughout the academic year, teachers and students
engage in a rich range of curriculum subjects, topics, Effective information skills instruction starts
and assignments. In fact, one of the current problems with selecting existing curriculum units which are
we face in education is curriculum information overload best suited to integrated instruction. In the Big6
theres just too much to cover in limited time. program, we refer to these units as big juicies
those information-rich curriculum units that are filled
Thats why, in implementing information skills and dripping with Big6 potential. Big juicy units
instruction, we do not promote adding new curriculum are rich in information needs, resources, and processing.
content, units, or topics. Theres plenty going on These are the units that offer particularly good
in the curriculum already. The last thing that faculty opportunities for teaching specific Big6 Skills within
and students need is more content. Therefore, from the overall Big6 process, for example:
an IL perspective, the challenge is to determine
good opportunities for learning and teaching information Units or topics that involve a report, project, or
skills within the existing curriculum. To do so involves product rather than those that rely on a test for
the following actions: assessment

Analyse the curriculum to Units that require a range of multiple resources

rather than only the textbook
Select topics and assignments which are well-
suited to information skills instruction Units that reach a large number of students
and span a reasonable timeframe.
Determine which skills are particularly relevant
to the selected curriculum topics and assignments. The following is an example of how this might
work in practice. It is on the high school level, but
Develop a broad plan that links the information
the same approach can work in elementary or middle
skills program to various curriculum topics
school, higher education, or even in public library,
Design integrated topic and lesson plans to business, or community situations.
teach information skills in the context of the
subject area curriculum High school biology teacher, Ms Lowe, and
library media specialist, Mr Bennett, meet to discuss
We strongly advocate a collaborative approach how they might collaborate to help students improve
to information instruction. That is, classroom teachers, their information problem-solving skills while they
librarians, technology teachers, and other educators study biology. They analyze the major units that
can work together to analyze the curriculum, develop Ms Lowe plans to teach during the school year, and
DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2) 45
agree that there are three key units because they The digestive system unit is a group project
(i) result in some form or product of project, (ii) and comes later in the school year. This would be
require lots of different types of resources, (iii) a good opportunity to review the entire Big6 process
involve the whole class, and (iv) span more than while emphasizing defining tasks and dividing up
just a week or two. In other words, these three the work (Big6 #1Task Definition) and how to put
units seem to be particularly information-rich, and group presentations together so they make sense
are perfect candidates for integrated biologyBig6 and flow easily (Big6 #5, Synthesis). Evaluation
instruction. These are the big juicies: (Big6 #6) can also play a big role in group projects
as students may be required to judge themselves
The anatomy unit: taught early in the school year, and other group members or to assess the final
takes three weeks, involves significant use of the products of other groups.
WWW, results in individual PowerPoint-supported
oral presentations. In actual school settings, selecting topics for
integrated instruction and overall information skills
The circulatory system unit: taught in the second planning depends upon the specific needs of the
marking period, takes two weeks, involves a series students as well as the setting and situation. The
of worksheets that combine to make a study guide, ultimate goal is to provide frequent opportunities for
also requires students to identify structures and students to learn and practice information problem-
functions, and to analyse the effect of oxygenation solving.
on various other systems (e.g., nervous system,
immune system, digestive system). Repetition is crucial. While these skills may
seem to be simple or common sense at first, they
The digestive system unit: taught in the third marking actually are quite involved and can be difficult to
period, results in group presentations on the digestive master. This point cannot be overstressedwe learn
process in different animals, and usually involves through repetition. Its not enough to teach a skill
extensive information seeking and searching. or sub-skill once. Students proficiency with specific
skills as well as the overall process will improve
What now? Do they select among these units over timeif they have regular opportunities to learn
or do they just integrate the Big6 with all three? and to apply the information problem-solving process.
Do they teach all the Big6 Skills with each unit or
focus on specific information skills? 5. CONCLUSION
These choices depend upon other factors including
We live in a very complex and often overwhelming
the time available for Big6 instruction and what else
information world. Information, library, and education
is going on during the school year. We do, however,
organizations have a responsibility to do our best
recommend that while they review and reinforce the
to help people succeed. Our job is to meet peoples
overall Big6 process with each unit, Ms. Lowe and
information needs. The school librarians say it even
Mr. Bennett should provide targeted Big6 Skills
more boldly and directly: The mission of the school
instruction on one or two of the specific skills. For
library media program is to ensure that studentsare
effective users of ideas and information. 10 This is
The anatomy unit relies on PowerPoint and the an audacious and highly ambitious statementand
Web, so lessons can be taught on both. PowerPoint its right on target.
is a synthesis tool, so thats a Big6 #5 lesson
focusing on organising and presenting principles Providing services, resources, and facilities is
using PowerPoint. Lessons on the Web might focus one way that libraries, schools, and other organizations
on identifying useful types of websites (Information seek to meet needs. The other way we do so is
Seeking Strategies, Big6 #2), using keyword search to teach and to provide opportunities to learn. If we
terms (Location & Access, Big6 #3), and recognising truly believe that information and technology skills
and extracting relevant information, (use of Information, are essential for success, then we must make sure
Big6 #4). that people have frequent opportunities to learn and
practice these skills. Systematic planning and delivery
The circulatory system unit might be a good of integrated information skills instruction across
unit in which to focus on Task Definition, Big6 #1, settings is essential if we are to make a difference.Its
since each worksheet has a different focus. Theres not enough to work one-on-one or to offer an isolated
also a great deal of targeted analysis, so Use of lesson in note taking or Web search engines. People
Information, Big6 #4, is again important. need lessons in the full range of skills, delivered

46 DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2)

in the contexts of the overall information process, 5. American Library Association and Association
including relevant technologies, and based in real, for Educational Communications and Technology.
subject area assignments. Accomplishing comprehensive, Information power: Building partnerships for learning.
integrated IL instruction requires library and information American Library Association, Chicago, 1998.
professionals in collaboration with others to make
a concerted and systematic effort to plan and deliver 6. Association of College and Research Libraries.
programs in context. Information literacy competency standards for
higher education. American Library Association,
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2. Drucker, P. Be data literateknow what to know.
8. Eisenberg, Lowe & Spitzer. Information literacy:
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About the Author

Dr Mike Eisenberg, a leading scholar in information literacy programme development and

research, is the founding dean of the Information School at the University of Washington,
serving from 1998 to 2006. During his tenure, Mike transformed the unit from a single graduate
degree programme into a broad-based information school with a wide range of research and
academic programmes.
Mike is also widely known for his work in information literacy including creating (with Bob
Berkowitz) the Big6 approach. He has worked with thousands of people in education, business,
government, libraries, and communities to improve their information and technology skills.
Mikes current efforts focus on information literacy, the expanding role of libraries, and
information science education K-20.

DESIDOC Jl. Lib. Inf. Technol., 2008, 28(2) 47