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Information literacy refers to a person’s ability to understand what information he or she needs to know and then find that information in an effective way. This is often related to other types of literacy or competency in libraries and computer use and is typically a vital part of performing research. While it is important for people to have usable knowledge about various subjects, this type of literacy governs how well someone can discover and process new information. Information literacy has evolved a great deal with the proliferation of personal computers and the Internet, and has become increasingly important to a wider range of individuals.
The foundation of information literacy is in the understanding that there are essentially two types of information a person can access and use. One type of information is what a person actually knows, the knowledge or skills that someone has learned and can practice at any time. The other type of information is knowledge that a person does not necessarily have, but that he or she can find and utilize within a relatively short amount of time. This second type of knowledge is based on that person’s information literacy and how well he or she is able to find accurate and useful information.
Information literacy can use aspects of computer and library literacy or competency. While libraries were often used as the primary means of gathering new information, the Internet has made computer systems extremely important for information gathering. This means that someone who is information literate typically has a good deal of computer knowledge and literacy, but someone who is technically skilled with computers is not necessarily information literate. Information literacy comes from an understanding of how to use a computer, library, or other system of information to find what someone is looking for and process that information effectively.
While information literacy is greatly impacted by a person’s ability to find new information, it begins with his or her ability to understand what information is needed in the first place. If someone is performing research, it is essential for him or her to understand what information he or she should be looking for, to eliminate distractions and unimportant data. This aspect of information literacy has become increasingly important as Internet search engines can find thousands of pages of information, but only a small number of them might actually be useful information for someone’s needs. Understanding what is needed, and learning to quickly filter out the unimportant or unrelated, is just as important as being able to search for the information.