i dream of being possible

what of knowledge literacy?

My last post still has me thinking, especially with the ensuing discussion on Twitter about how the data/information/knowledge/wisdom model is still a prevelant and commonly taught thing in lib schools (although, as pointed out to me, not the only extent model in info science).

So now I’m faced with this question: what would a move from information literacy to knowledge literacy look like?

(Oh! And as also pointed out on Twitter, I’m not just fingering reference/instruction librarians for the ways that they do their jobs. This isn’t about that, since a lot of how we approach information literacy is based on community demands, rather than necessarily operating from our own epistemologies.)

I was also grumbling on Twitter not too long ago about how irritated I am whenever I see educators talking about how ‘kids these days are afraid to/can’t/won’t think critically’. The thing is, is that the way that ‘information literacy’ is usually presented, it pretty much discourages any real level of critical thought. Professors just demand that student’s cited sources are peer reviewed papers or acadmeic monographs. We more or less tell students that ‘authority’ is the best gauge for quality resources and try to equip them with the tools they need to find these ‘authoritative’ resources.

All well and good… but it just feeds into itself. And it definitely seems to work against the stated goal of most people involved in higher ed that university is a place where we teach/encourage critical thinking. Yet, at least on this front, it would seem that we do everything but encourage students to be critical thinkers.

If we were to shift to ‘knowledge literacy’ we might actually be getting to a place where we truly attempt to give students the tools they need to critically assess the resources they encounter in the world. Unfortunately, this also gets incredibl messy and would, without a doubt, requrie that librarians finally drop any and all pretenses of ‘neutrality’.

Knowledge is messy because, if we are working with the classic white model of knowledge being ‘justified, true belief’ then we basically have to address those two major elements: justification and truth. This also means that we absolutely cannot rely on the common markers of ‘authority’ that we usually teach. ‘Knowledge’ being expressed within a peer reviewed article has no greater value the exact same bit of knowledge expressed on wikipedia. Credentials are meaningless when we are trying to assess the truth of a claim. Does the truth of ‘the sky is blue’ depend at all on whether or not the speaker has a PhD?

So what would happen if we (higher ed in general) tell students that we want knowledgeable rather than authoritative resources? Obviously, some resources are both, but we need to be able to say which ones are both and why. How would instruction change if we were tell students not to assess ‘credibility’ but to assess the justification and truth of a resource?

Try as I might, I’m truly beginning to not understand how ‘information literacy’ teaches anything but passive acceptance of authority and credibility being more important than justification and truth. Or, at least, treating like these are interchangeable and/or equivalent concepts. Authority has no bearing on whether or not something is true (or counts as knowledge). Neither does credibility of a resource.

You should trust me on this, I’m a librarian.