What is Information Literacy? The National Forum on Information Literacy states that it is “… the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” In the infancy of my librarianship, I had a librarian who had actually taught me how to satisfy my hunger for information. Through the Three T’s method, my mentor “talked” with me about certain issues or problems that I questioned. This prompted my librarian to show me how to answer my questions by giving me lessons in reference tools. My librarian left me to “tinker” with the reference tools as I would find one answer only to make me come up with more questions to further understand that answer. I would “travel” back and forth to the library to gather more and more information to make me information literate. From my elementary school years up through when my librarian hired me to join his Reference Services Team, I learned from him that to become information literate, a person must be willing to continue reaching for more information, thus prompting the “talking”, “tinkering” and “traveling” during the information collection. But I was not the only library patron that my mentor was helping. He had kept a record on what I had been researching. Where was he holding this record on me and others that he could refer to immediately when the patron would come through the door?
I asked him this question. Without a thought, he pointed to his head. He told me that in order to promote information literacy you would have to practice what you preach. You must retain the information in order to know what more you had to add to it. In response to a comment made on my article, Step 1 to Information Literacy, the records in which I speak are records of my customers that were in my head. Through this record keeping approach to reference service work, the library patrons get a feeling of familiarity and warmth when they return to the library because the librarian remembers who they are and what they had been looking for in the past.
Let’s reflect on customer records and privacy. If the records were kept in the library database, in which statistics on customer usage could be tallied, libraries could follow the ALA Code of Ethics, Article III, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” My observations on how to help library patrons to become more information literate are not based on written notes or digital records. My observations are based on mental records from within my mind on each customer I have served in the present and in the past.
If a librarian would see you all the time and run to the computer to pull up your file, you would not feel that warm and fuzzy feeling that you were remembered. Even if the customer does not reflect emotions of sentimentality, they do show it by coming back to you again and again. I was reminded of this concept through the Chevrolet Cruze’s commercial. The theme song to the 1980’s American sit-com, “Cheers”, comes on as we watch customers of a gas station being welcomed warmly by the cashier. All of the customers know each other too. The warmth can be felt coming out of the television screen until a cold breeze comes in and the music stops. A new customer comes in to pay for the gas for his Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. No one knows his name. The slogan for this car is “The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel gets the best gas mileage of a non-hybrid, so no one at the gas station will know your name”. This commercial tries to convey that the customers have to come to the gas station so often that the cashier and other customers know each other’s names. So when someone new comes in, they try to know the new guy by rushing to the window to see what type of car that person was driving so that they could identify him next time he would come to gas-up his car.
In order to be able to “talk”, “tinker”, and “travel” with the customer, you would need to be able to pull up the customer’s name up in the records in your mind. In those records, you would be able to remember what they had asked for before and where you had found that information. This would also help you to remember any other questions that the customer may have had before, in case they are here for a follow-up to a question they had already asked. Of course, you may have customers who come in with a new question. This continues the learning process and the hunger for more information by you and your customer. This also adds to their record in your mind—a mental record.
The librarian who knows the customer’s name can have a successful research-relationship with the customer. This would help the customer continue their quest in becoming information literate.
Stay Tuned for more of my adventures in becoming information literate.
Editor’s Note – this article first published in Computer Savviness – and republished with the author’s permission.