Title: Information Literacy as Professional Legitimation: A Critical Analysis and Recommendation for Its Reconceptualization



    Since the first public library opened in Boston in 1854, librarians have
believed libraries can play a central role in the preservation of pluralist democracy by supporting the development of an educated electorate. They have asserted that, by offering equal access to the repository of human knowledge despite individual ability to pay for such access, libraries ensure greater opportunity in the capitalist society.


    Librarians believe they are in the midst of a new age: the Information Age. Supposing that information is the capital of this new society, they stress that literal access to it is no longer adequate to promote equal access. Rather, only people who know how to locate, access, evaluate and use information will thrive in this new society. Librarians, particularly those in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, believe that they should teach these skills: that they can best support progressive democracy by preparing information literate citizens, employees, and individuals. Yet information literacy has largely been conceptualized to meet the demands of the academic environments in which it was conceived. Once the limited domain of public services librarians, information literacy is increasingly considered the organizing concept for libraries in educational institutions across the country.


    This study, originally conducted for my dissertation (which is currently embargoed), examines the liberatory claims of information literacy by tracing and analyzing its development in library literature from 1982-1990. Using Abbott's systems of professions, critical theory and discourse analysis as its primary theoretical foundations, it will demonstrate that information literacy was central to librarians' attempts to carve out an educational jurisdiction in order to legitimate the profession during a period of profound social, economic and technological change.


    Having situate information literacy in its cultural and historical context, I will critique information literacy as a product of professionalization and an extension of the literacy movement. Finding that information literacy has developed as an elitist vehicle for professional legitimation that does not ultimately promote democracy, I will suggest ways in which it might be reconceptualized to realize its original liberatory intent for communities outside academic institutions.


    A reconceptualized notion of information literacy should lead to greater engagement with the every-day citizens libraries serve. The information seeking competencies necessary for voting, financial management and health maintenance will take center stage. A more democratic theoretical foundation will serve as a framework for increased collaboration between public schools, institutions of higher education, and public libraries. Thus, my presentation is highly related to the community engagement conference theme.