What is Information Literacy?

Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyse, and use information. In 2004 CILIP defined Information Literacy as: “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.” But over the years the theory and practice of information literacy has evolved considerably, and it was felt that a new definition was needed to reflect these changes. A definition that would be relevant to anyone who uses and handles information, not just to librarians and information professionals. So in 2018 The CILIP Information Literacy Group (ILG) officially launched a new definition and this is it:

‘Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to reach and express informed views and to engage fully with society’ (CILIP 2018)

A brochure exploring what information literacy means in different contexts (e.g. in education, health, the work place and everyday life) is available to download (pdf).

Why do we need to be Information Literate?                                                             

Information Literacy skills are the skills we will need throughout our lives if we are to function effectively in modern 21st century society. Information is all around us; it comes in different formats and it is essential that we know how to seek, evaluate and use it effectively whether at work, in education or at home.

Information literate pupils will understand:

  • That information exists in many forms – information may come from another person, from a paper-based magazine or book, report or newspaper, from a digital source such as a database, a search engine or an e-book or it may come from any other form of media: film, video, DVD, radio, television, etc.
  • That a wide range of resources  are available to them –what the resources are, where to find them, how to access them, the merits of individual resource types, and when it is appropriate to use them.
  • How to locate the information they need – they will have an ability to search appropriate resources effectively and identify relevant information.
  • That they need to evaluate their results- they will be able to evaluate information for its authenticity, accuracy, currency, value and bias.
  • How to work with or exploit results- they will be able to analyse and work with the information to provide accurate, presentable research results, or to develop new knowledge and understanding.
  • The ethics and responsibility of use – they will respect confidentiality and always give credit to other people’s work.
  • How to communicate or share their findings – they will discover the ability to communicate/share information in a manner or format that is appropriate to the information, the intended audience and situation.
  • How to manage their findings – they will know how to store and manage the information they have acquired using the most effective methods available. They will be able to reflect critically on the process in order to learn from the experience of finding and using information.


It is interesting to note that as far back as 2005 OFSTED was recommending that schools ‘develop a coherent programme for teaching Information Literacy which will provide continuity, challenge and progression in pupils’ learning’. (Good School Libraries Make a Difference to Learning, 2005)

UNESCO has declared that Information Literacy  is a basic human right and the foundation for lifelong learning (UNESCO Prague Declaration, 2003). It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. For this reason many countries, including Australia, South Africa, Scotland and Wales, have incorporated an Information Literacy framework of skills into their national educational programmes. As this has not been the case in England, the teaching of IL skills in our schools is piecemeal rather than comprehensive and uniform.

Traditionally in most of our schools, if IL was taught at all, it tended to be during the weekly library lesson, but today it is widely recognised that to be truly effective these skills can no longer be the preserve of the school librarian. Information Literacy skills are now considered basic life skills that our children need to succeed, not only at school but in their future lives, and if only taught by the librarian they can only ever be, in the big scheme of things, mere drops in the ocean of a student’s learning. Information Literacy is now so important that it needs to be fully integrated into everyday teaching and  learning right across the curriculum. After all, the ability to skim and scan, to successfully keyword and understand how search engines work and to reference materials etc. are all skills that are needed in the majority of  subjects so they should be taught by classroom teachers and used within a real curriculum context. However, the school library is a valuable learning environment and library staff are information specialists so libraries, regardless of their size and resources, will still have a vital role to play  in the delivery and development of Information Literacy and will most likely be the precursor of all IL changes in schools. In order to produce pupils who are information literate, schools need to develop an Information Literacy programme that is adopted by all teaching staff and taught across the curriculum in a developmental progression beginning in the earliest grades. If the programme is going to achieve any degree of success,  research has identified that the following factors need to be in place:

  • a librarian with the relevant status, support, training, skills and time to be a driving force for information literacy in the school. Librarians have such an important role to play in teaching information and digital literacy that it is essential that we promote what we do if we want to engage the academic staff. After all, if we don’t shout about the wonderful IL services we can provide no-one else will! So often we believe that our teaching colleagues are just not interested in our schemes when in fact it is because they have no real knowledge or understanding of what we do. If we want them on board we have to make them aware of how the services we  offer can have a real impact on their students. We can do this by running  INSET sessions, attending Heads of Dept. and  staff meetings and promoting our IL skills and expertise at every opportunity!
  • a well-stocked library that offers access to a wide range of differentiated resources.
  • the full support of senior management. This is absolutely essential for the ultimate success of any school library programme.
  • IL has to be embedded in school policy. If it is not, it does not matter how good the programme is; it is never going to play an essential role in the school.
  • a systematic cross-curricular framework of Information Literacy skills must exist that provides continuity, challenge and progression in pupils’ learning and a clear and integrated developmental structure for academic staff delivering Information Literacy at all levels. This programme will ultimately translate the concept of Information Literacy into the reality of daily classroom practice
  • a common information process model must be adopted for staff to use with pupils to guide the inquiry/ research process. This will ensure a consistent approach to the teaching and learning of Information Literacy across the curriculum. There are a number of such models available and they all cover the basic components of Information Literacy which include: developing the good question, selecting sources, searching for information, critically evaluating the information found, citing the resources, and creating a new product for a specified audience. The  Big6 , The PLUS model and FOSIL are among the most common

Any programme that is cross curricular and whole-school requires the full support of the teaching staff – but how do we get them on side? We as librarians, knowledgeable about information and digital literacy, need to be able to show teachers how these skills are fundamental to their teaching, and how more importantly, they are actually already a part of good teaching practice. We can show them that Information Literacy isn’t something to be scared of. It isn’t something that only certain people can be experts or specialists in. We need to show teachers that actually they are probably undertaking a lot of these skills already in their teaching. But it’s about taking the opportunity to make these things explicit to the students and modelling them so the students can see just how it should be done/should look. Start by identifying and working with just a few teachers across a variety of subjects and age groups who are interested in integrating IL skills into their everyday teaching. These small pilot research projects can be built up to form a bank of evidence-based practice that over time can be shared with the wider staff and used for advocacy purposes. It is important to remember that the integration of an information literacy skills programme into school-wide teaching and learning will be a slow, gradual process requiring commitment and perseverance. It will also require:

  • effective collaboration between the library and teaching staff in the identification, planning, teaching and assessing of information skills throughout the school.
  • the provision of an on going programme of professional development in information literacy for all classroom teachers and library staff with dedicated time to practice and share ideas.
  • on going assessment and evaluation of the program.

Becoming an information literate school will have huge implications for teaching and learning too. Pupils will become increasingly engaged in active, self-directed learning and project based research activities whilst teaching will become more problem and inquiry based and adventurous in its delivery.


Information Literacy provision and practice varies considerably  amongst LIPSSEE member Prep Schools, mainly because of their autonomous nature.  Every school has its own particular priorities and aims and these can in turn bolster or hinder the level of interaction the librarian can have with teachers in order to promote the teaching of Information Literacy.  Where schools actively pursue project and research-based learning this naturally provides excellent opportunities for pupils to develop their Information Literacy skills. However, so often management teams just see the work of the school library as centred around the promotion of literacy and reader development, and whilst we all agree that this is one of the critical roles of the school library we are really about promoting ALL literacies if our children are to participate effectively in an information society. Of course reading is central to this but digital and information literacies are also essential 21st century life skills. Unfortunately not all school management teams allow their librarians to provide such a holistic approach.  However, some Prep Schools are surging ahead and attempting to introduce whole-school information skills programmes, whilst others are targeting specific year groups or subjects or even working on individual projects that will encourage research and the synthesis of information. In some schools, the librarian supports a teacher-based delivery of Information Literacy skills; in others they spearhead it. Some school librarians are heavily involved with the planning, delivery and assessment of Information Literacy skills, whereas others are more firmly focused on literacy and reader development and, of course, there are those who are fortunate enough to be able to achieve both!


The UK’s Information Literacy Group’s website outlines what information literacy is, and when, where and how you would apply it to practice. It explains how  it relates to other literacies and skills sets and offers various different models and frameworks

SLA’s Learning & Teaching Here SLA members can access a wide range of  IL lessons and resources suited to both Primary and Secondary Schools. There are also a growing number of Publications,  Guidelines and Case Studies produced on the subject by the SLA that can be purchased by non-members from their website One of the most recent in the SLA Guidelines series being Cultivating Curiosity: Information Skills and the Primary School Library (2018) by Geoff Dubber and Sarah Pavey. Price: £13.50 (SLA Members £9.00)

Tower Hamlets SLS: A Library and Information Skills Scheme of Work. Covering Yrs. 1-6 this document builds on core library skills and aims to improve pupil’s research and reading skills whilst supporting the wider curriculum. The framework is loosely based around the Big6 Information model.  Now on its 3rd edition (March 2018) its a great place to start when compiling one’s own Information Literacy Framework

The FOSIL group –  for anyone working in the field of education, who would like to  collaborate on designing and sharing resources to support learning through inquiry. FOSIL (Framework OSkills for Inquiry Learning) was originally developed by Darryl Toerien, Head of Library at Oakham School and the group is supported by the SLA, CILIP (SLG) and CILIP (ILG)

OFQUAL Guide to Using Sources. This Guide (available as a pdf file for downloading) covers many aspects of bibliographic referencing and plagiarism and will be useful at KS3 level.   This website contains news, case studies, examples of best practice and toolkits about Information Literacy.

Specific Information Literacy models have been developed to support the teaching of Information Literacy in schools, but there is no one dominant approach. The Bigg6 and PLUS listed below are examples of well-known process models used in schools.

The Big6 Model  The Big6 is a widely used curriculum based information model for teaching information literacy in schools.

The PLUS  model  This school’s information skills model splits skills into four logical sections.

The Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey, uses an Information Literacy Framework adapted from the New York City School Library System’s  Empire State Information Fluency Continuum  which is a huge, very cumbersome document and probably far too detailed for our purposes. However, the Guernsey adaption is far better suited to our needs and may be found on their website


Are Library Lessons Real Lessons? This is the title of one of Barbara Band’s blog posts. If our lessons are going to be taken as a serious part of the students’ timetable they needed to be more aligned to the methods used in the classroom. And in this article Barbara explains how by undertaking our own CPD we can attempt to do this

(Last updated by Denise Reed on 25th April, 2019)







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