An op-ed piece in the February 2 Star Tribune caught my eye and kindled thoughts of an initiative with which I was much involved a couple of decades ago. Clay Johnson, writing in the LA Times examines the unhealthy information diet that threatens the American public. He compares junk news “largely provided by conglomerates focused on the bottom line” with junk food which most folks realize is neither nutritious nor slenderizing. (One wonders if the LA Times is numbered among those conglomerates.)
Johnson’s point, well stated, is the principle that librarians have stressed for decades, peaking in the 1980’s with the launch of an energetic campaign to highlight “information literacy” as essential to the core curriculum from cradle through college. For the outset branding of that worthy campaign was unfortunate – stuffy, pedantic, boring. Though Clay Johnson’s food analogy is more catchy. the idea behind the information literacy brand is sound: Just as the way to avoid obesity is to be a smart consumer of food, the way to avoid ignorance is to be a smart consumer of information.
Whether it’s food or information, the key player is the consumer.
Arguing that the media should “chase us” Johnson urges information consumers to “consume deliberately, consume locally, consume close to the original source, consume less and produce more.” He also warns that given 21st technology, every click counts as it whets the appetite and informs the next move of the junk producer.
Today’s advocates for healthy diets stress the need for consumers to examine sources, processes, economic and political factors that influence the food chain. Consumer education is imperative.
Similarly information literacy proponents stress the need to educate information consumers at an early age to grapple with the media and info deluge that technology has wrought. They stress that information literate must be educated to analyze not just the information product but the information chain itself – the complex networks through which information is gathered, analyzed, organized, distributed, preserved, financed and more.
On the production side it takes human beings with time, skills and incentive to forge the information chain upon which the consumer depends and to which the end user contributes. Whether it’s junk food or junk info, the responsibility rests solely with the consumer.
At the consumer end, learners must experience, master, experience, practice and dissect the information chain in a learning environment that immerses each consumer in a rich information literacy curriculum.
Caveat discupulo — Caviat civitas popularis