Introduction – Information Literacy and Cultural Heritage


This book seeks to enter uncharted territory by exploring two seemingly antithetical fields: one rooted in the predominantly Western-based positivist scientific method of social science (information literacy within library science), and the other rooted in the complex and contested terrain of cultural heritage, which has been strongly influenced by postmodernist discourse. The book seeks to create a dialectical synthesis between these two seemingly opposing fields, in order to provide an integrated tool for teaching information literacy skills and cultural heritage awareness at the same time, in the context of lifelong learning.

This exploration was initiated by encounters with certain problems identified within a discourse in librarianship, and necessarily expanded to delve into the disciplines of museum studies, archival science, digital media studies and lifelong learning methodologies in order to find answers.

The discourse in the field of librarianship today is dominated by the focus on digital preservation, and one often hears how essential it is to “preserve our cultural heritage.” The dual functions and problems of preserving and providing access to the cultural heritage held within library collections are seemingly solved by digital preservation, which is implicitly assumed to be a panacea for all aspects of librarianship. The focus and discourse is primarily directed to the technical aspects of digitization, including metadata, the creation of repositories, open access, copyright and intellectual property issues, among many other aspects.

While this development is indeed essential in the age of the Internet, there are some aspects that appear to have been overlooked, leading to some questions of concern. Firstly, there has been very little examination of what is meant by “cultural heritage” in the context of libraries and their collections. The literature in the field of library studies is scant in this regard.

Secondly, while the assumption that digitization necessarily results in the long-term preservation of collections is seldom challenged, so too the assumption that access is provided once content is placed on the Internet is equally unchallenged. Questions arise around the troubling issues surrounding “access.” What is meant by “access”? Is this simply referring to the discovery of content on the Internet? Is it really sufficient to place content on the Internet, and assume that people will not only find it, but analyze it, interpret it and use it for the creation of new knowledge? And what of the vast parts of the world who as yet do not have easy or affordable Internet access, or who cannot afford the costs of unlimited bandwidth that virtual collections often require in order to be accessible?

These questions led to the exploration of other disciplines in order to find answers. An exploration of the fields of museum studies and archival sciences revealed in-depth deconstruction, examination and self-reflection of core issues surrounding the methodology of the collection, description and presentation of cultural heritage, which is lacking in the field of librarianship. Further explorations into the fields of heritage studies and studies on digital culture unearthed new perspectives.

In terms of “access,” as referred to by libraries, the simple facilitation of access to content is not sufficient. If this was all that libraries did, then we would not need libraries, as this function could be fulfilled by a variety of other service providers, and by a variety of people. A profession of trained people is not required simply to look up an item on a catalog, and then physically go and fetch material and give it to the user. As provocative as this statement is, the intent is to encourage librarians and information professionals to question and critique what it is they do that makes them unique and essential in the service they provide.

In the context of “access,” there is one field of librarianship that has a well-developed pedagogy, and this field is the area of information literacy (or information fluency, a more recent term) which has traditionally grappled with issues of how to assist its clients to discover, evaluate, analyze and use information found in library collections. In deference to the age of the Internet, online information literacy tutorials have been developed by many libraries. However, when it comes to the issue of the cultural heritage contained in libraries, this pedagogy has not yet advanced as far as the fields of museum studies and archival sciences in examining the notions of what cultural heritage actually is, the context of the collection (what is collected, what is not collected, and who, or which perspective, frames the selection of material for collection), the political and cultural connotations of description, and the problems of interpretation and presentation. These issues are especially relevant in the area of cultural heritage, which is not a neutral subject.

This exploration also led to the conclusion that since the digitization of “cultural heritage” is the top priority of libraries worldwide, it would be worthwhile to mine and harvest the main thoughts and ideas in the fields of heritage, museums, archives and digital culture and combine them with the already established field of information literacy in order to provide a blueprint for libraries to develop contextually relevant models with which to teach information literacy and cultural heritage.

Whether libraries are making the cultural heritage in their collections available online, or whether they still need to be physically accessed by means of a visit to the library, for libraries and librarians to truly fulfil their role of providing access to these collections they need to focus further and proactively facilitate the engagement with and the evaluation, interpretation and use of these collections in support of lifelong learning and the intellectual and cultural development of their users.

A further conclusion reached from this exploration was that libraries would benefit from forming partnerships with museums and archives to deliver training in information literacy and cultural heritage. Museums and archives have different cultures of practice from libraries, but these cultures of practice complement and enhance the experience of cultural heritage for the learner in the context of lifelong learning. Convergence between museums, archives and libraries is a natural outcome of this exploration, and the development of a generic model of information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning necessitates convergence.

This book is thus written not only for librarians, but also for museum curators, archivists and other professionals working in the cultural heritage field.

Chapter 1 provides an exploration of the vast subject of cultural heritage in the context of museums, archives and libraries, and begins with the need to find an understanding and working definition of what is meant by the term “cultural heritage.” Next, the critical role that memory and contested history have to play in cultural heritage is highlighted. Perspectives from museums, archives and libraries are examined in terms of theory and practice, in an exploration intending to map the domain for the development of a generic model with which to teach information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning. This is the most extensive chapter in the book, as the environmental scan sets the contextual framework for the rest of the book.

Chapter 2 explores the vast domain of digital information contexts in relation to cultural heritage, providing an overview of the nature of digital media, and references examples from libraries and museums as well as the field of media studies. The complex areas of the digital divide, moral rights to cultural heritage and intellectual property issues are highlighted as they are especially relevant in information literacy training and in understanding the presentation of cultural heritage in virtual domains. The social aspects of cyberspace and social responses to the digital domain are also explored, with a particular focus on the problems posed by information flux and challenges to traditional authorities in the digital domain. An example of a controversial UNESCO conference about WikiLeaks is provided to illustrate the problems of tracing contested narratives in the digital world.

In Chapter 3, the main models of information literacy processes, and models of information literacy standards, competencies and indicators, are examined in order to search for existing models that can be adapted in part, or as a whole, or combined for inclusion in the development of a generic model with which to teach information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning. Models examined include The Big6™, the Stripling and Pitts Research Process Model (REACTS), Pappas and Tepe’s Pathways to Knowledge Model, the Digital Information Fluency Model (21CIF), Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process Model, the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Skills Model, ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, the ANZIL (Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy) Framework, and the UNESCO Information Literacy Indicators.

Chapter 4 highlights how in the context of lifelong learning in museums, archives and libraries, and in digital information contexts, the need to be fluent in critical thinking has become more essential than ever, and is considered to be one of the most important elements of information literacy training. The imparting of critical thinking skills, however, needs to take into account cultural sensitivities, and different cultural backgrounds where critical thinking skills have not been present, in the context of cultural heritage learning. The key critical thinking skills are outlined, and an illustrative example of when cultural sensitivities were so offended that all critical debate and dialog was shut down is given in support of the need for sensitivity in training. Theories of learning are explored – including didactic expository, stimulus-response, constructivist and discovery theories of learning – as well as learning outcomes and styles. The concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence and worldview literacy are introduced as final factors to consider in the development of the model for information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning.

Chapter 5 summarizes the key factors taken into account in the development of the model, drawn from the examination in previous chapters of museums, archives and libraries, digital information contexts, information literacy models, and critical thinking and lifelong learning. The proposed generic model for information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning is presented in textual, and then tabular, format.

The model proposed in this book opens the way for libraries, archives and museums to cooperate and converge in providing integrated training for their clients which includes exposure to the collections in each of these institutions. Chapter 6 provides practical guidelines in order for museums, archives and libraries to adopt a blended, new culture of practice. It also provides some suggestions for research methodology and design, and for factors to consider when adapting the generic model of information literacy and cultural heritage for lifelong learning to local contexts. Also provided are suggestions for course design and course evaluation and review.

Technical cooperation in the shared digitization of collections can be extended now to include the development of combined programs to provide users with integrated training that develops information literacy skills and an awareness of the cultural heritage contained in the collections held in museums, archives and libraries. Chapter 7 provides a summary of these observations and suggests a way forward for museums, libraries and archives.