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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Information literacy: What is it?

A guide for faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

What is information literacy?

"Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning."

ACRL, Framework, 2016.



Information literacy (IL) is defined as a process by which students come to

  • Recognize when they have a need for information
  • Identify the kinds of information needed to address a given problem or issue
  • Develop a search strategy and find and evaluate the needed information
  • Organize the information and use it effectively to address the problem at hand
  • Use the information legally and ethically.

CUNY Council of Chief Librarians, 2001


Information literacy is:

  • the ability to recognize when information is needed
  • and to locate,
  • evaluate
  • and use effectively the needed information.

 —American Library Association (ALA)


Information literacy is the ability to locate, evaluate, and use information to become independent life-long learners. 

—Commission on Colleges, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Criteria for Accreditation, Section 5.1.2 [Library and Other Information Resources]. 10th ed.

Why information literacy?

Our students are surrounded by information: information from textbooks, television, radio, parents, friends, spouses, newspapers, monographs, novels, letters, the internet in its many guises, and more.  Beyond these familar resources, a whole new world of academic information is available to them.  A student able to navigate and exploit this world will write better term papers, carry out better research, and carry information skills with him/her into post-college life. 

Most students appear inseparable from their favorite digital devices.  But we should be careful in our assumptions that our digital-native students are using information and communication technologies fluently, navigating search engines effectively and interpreting information encountered thoughtfully.  We know, anecdotally and from formal studies elsewhere, that young people are not as skilled in this area as they, or we, might like to think (e.g. Hargittai, 2010).  

By the time students graduate, they should be familiar with the literature of their discipline area, and how it is produced and disseminated. They should be able to carry out a literature review, analyze the resources found and use them to draw conclusions and develop new ideas. They should be familiar with the investigative methods in their discipline – e.g. lab work, fieldwork, etc, and the unique information resources available – e.g. case studies, datasets. These are all information literacy skills (see A checklist of information competencies for college students (2010) developed by California State University and California community college librarians).  

IL models

The best known information literacy models include:

Thomas Hapke on "Information culture". A presentation

A presentation from Thomas Hapke, Hamburg University of Technology, 2012.