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(July 26, 2001, Gazette)

Information in the 21st century

Photo by Chris Hammond

 

"Giving students the ability to continue to learn after they leave university is a worthwhile goal," said Dianne Cmor.


By Alex Dalziel
SPARK Correspondent

About to drown in a sea of information? Memorial's QE II Library can help students and faculty keep afloat.

Information literacy is the core concept behind the program.

"Information literacy is the ability to define your information needs, then access, evaluate and use information," said Dianne Cmor, an information services librarian at the QE II. "It's all about knowing about the broader world of information so that you can use it more effectively."

The whole concept of information literacy is fundamental to what it means to receive a university education.

"When you are here at university as a student, the university can give you some knowledge and certain types of skills," she said. "You get knowledge in your content areas: biology, history and so on; and you get some skills, such as writing, communication, and research skills."

However, according to Ms. Cmor, the concept of information literacy at Memorial runs on the idea that "university can't give you everything you'll ever need to know." Students need to learn how to learn on their own. "Giving students the ability to continue to learn after they leave university is a worthwhile goal," she commented.
In accomplishing this end, Ms. Cmor indicated the importance of interaction between faculty and librarians.

"Information literacy is not something that the library teaches alone, it is something that the university teaches - we work together with faculty to accomplish this," she noted on the overall cooperation needed to make students effective handlers of information. "It's not enough to be able to find information: you use it to build an argument."

The Information Desk at the main entrance to the library is most visible source of help, but librarians also work with faculty interested in developing the information component of their course. Librarians offer course-specific lectures on information resources, search strategies, etc., and work with faculty to develop assignments which foster information literacy skills. Groups of students who have specific research needs are also encouraged to approach the QE II's librarians.

"We try to tell people that we are not simply teaching them how to use the QE II library, and its not just computer literacy," Ms. Cmor continued. "Anyone can surf the Internet, but can you search it effectively and find high-quality information?"

Being able to deal intelligently with information at the beginning of the third millennium poses some new challenges, particularly the Internet.

"The library loves the Internet," she laughed. "We are not in competition with it. We really see it as one more tool."

However, the Internet does present one particular challenge: "In the academic world, we are used to information that has been vetted at several levels," Ms. Cmor commented. "No one just publishes a book: there are editors, fact checkers, peer reviewers, etc. These ensure the quality of the work before it comes out in print."

"On the Internet, anyone can publish anything - there is no quality assurance," she pointed out. "The user of the Internet must do much more evaluation than they ever had to do with books or journals."

According to Ms. Cmor, students need to learn to be discerning with their information sources: "Books provide a certain type of information, the journals another type, and the Internet a different type yet again."

The university is well positioned to deal with this challenge, as many of the skills taught traditionally in the university help to establish students as critical, flexible and independent thinkers.

"The techniques you use to evaluate the content of a Web site, you use to evaluate books and journals as well - you just have to be more stringent on the Internet."

Being "stringent" involves asking the right questions of Internet sources. "Who wrote the Web site? A person, a company? What do they know about the topic? What are their qualifications to write about that topic? What's the purpose of the Web site?" Ms. Cmor forwarded as examples of the types of questions students should be using to evaluate Internet sources of information.

Finally, as might be expected, a technology savvy programme like this uses the Internet as a "teaching tool." The QE II's Web site has a Research Help section (www.mun.ca/library/research_help/) which contains an array of materials to help students deal with information.




 

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