The first ten years of the 21st century have proven that the moniker “information age” is an accurate one for this century. We now have access to vast amounts of information of various types (academic, news, gossip, literary, opinion blogs and editorials, etc.) in various formats (print, digital, audio, professional and amateur video, etc.) and at speeds only dreamed of just twenty years ago. Teenagers in 2011 have never known a world without the Internet, Facebook or iTunes and they will be the generation to redefine what “multimedia” means. By early adolescence, our children network socially on a regular basis, get their news, gossip, entertainment and music online and can create the most visually stunning “mashups” using a variety of online tools. They are quite technologically savvy, but are they information literate?

Literature shows that 21st century information literacy has come to be defined as a fusion of literacies, traditional and new, and it is clear that becoming information literate in the 21st century is a complex process. Many of the essential skills necessary in the 21st century can be defined within the contexts of this fusion of literacies now known as information literacy. In addition, our learners today are distinct from any generation we have known before. The needs of our learners and the unique applications of essential 21st century skills greatly influence the way we teach. Qualified teacher-librarians are instructional leaders, professional leaders and experts in inquiry, information literacy and in educating students in the 21st century.

Redefining Information Literacy for the 21st Century

Information in the 21st Century

In his report of two studies done at Marist Sisters’ College in Australia, Todd (1995) describes “the starting point for explicating a philosophical framework for information literacy instruction [by first looking at] . . . the meaning of the central concept of information” (p. 1). He presents two perspectives of the definition of “information.” The first perspective is the traditional view of information that library programs have historically been based on, specifically the concept that information is a thing to be obtained from objects (Todd, 1995). The second perspective is the idea that information is a process that changes the person who engages with it (Todd, 1995).

Asselin and Doiron (2008) conducted an extensive study of the literature in order to create a new pedagogical framework for school libraries in the 21st century. In discussing the new concepts of “knowledge” in the 21st century, the authors noted:
"Knowledge in the Industrial Age was viewed as fixed, authoritative, discipline‐bound, obtained and owned by individuals, and regarded as ‘the truth.’ In contrast, knowledge in a knowledge-based society is constantly changing, contested, interdisciplinary, and collaboratively constructed and re‐constructed by ‘amateurs’ for massive audiences" (Asselin & Doiron, 2008, p. 3).

In Born Digital, Palfrey and Gasser (2008) also note two important characteristics of information in the 21st century which are applicable to this investigation. Firstly, the authors assert that “every piece of information has a unique relationship to the person using it” (Palfrey & Glasser, 2008, p. 164) and this relationship shapes how that person will search, access and interpret the information he or she finds. Secondly, Palfrey and Gasser (2008) argue that information is contextual, noting that “the same piece of information can have a completely different quality in different contexts for the same recipient” (p. 164). This supports Asselin and Doiron’s (2008) assertions that 21st century knowledge can be elusive and is constantly changing.

According to Todd (1995), “conceptualizing information as it is internalized by people rather than as an objective product destined for passive recipients is a fundamental element of effective information literacy instruction” (p. 2). In Todd’s (1995) opinion, this definition of information allows one to extend the concept of information literacy programming outside the traditional view of library usage skills.

Literacy in the 21st Century

The Internet has changed the very definition of literacy (Langford, 1998; Leu, Zawilinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu & O’Neil, 2007). To be literate in the 21st century, the learner will need to be able to read and understand the complicated information that is increasingly available online (Leu, et al., 2007, p. 38). Langford (1998) notes that “the concept of literacy really depends on the information needs of the society of the time. . . . [and that the very meaning of literacy is] transforming, from a functional literacy through to a set of literacies, tied to advances in technological society” (p. 6).

In the information age it seems impossible to separate literacy from information and even reading from writing and communicating from comprehension. In fact, reading and writing are so interdependent in online environments that “online reading often has elements of communication that are simultaneous with comprehension” (Leu, et al., 2007, p. 56). Langford (1998) even suggests that, “all literacy [in the information age] is information literacy” (p. 7).

Information Literacy in the 21st Century

In the document Achieving Information Literacy: Standards for School Library Programs in Canada, the Canadian Association for School Libraries (CASL) defines information literacy as “the ability to find and use information with critical discrimination in order to build knowledge” (Asselin, Branch & Oberg, 2003, p. ix). Specifically the document notes that information literacy is:
"The ability to: recognize the need for information to solve problems and develop ideas; pose important questions; use a variety of information gathering strategies; locate relevant and appropriate information; assess information for quality, authority, accuracy, and authenticity," (Asselin, Branch & Oberg, 2003, p. 85).

The definition of information literacy is clearly defined by both CASL and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL); however, AASL notes the following:
"The definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed. Information literacy has progressed from the simple definition of using reference resources to find information. Multiple literacies, including digital, visual, textual and technological, have now joined information literacy as crucial skills for this century," (AASL, 2007, p. 3).

Given the definition of “literacy” and of “information” and the inextricable link between them in the 21st century, it is not surprising that the term “information literacy” has become an umbrella term “best envisioned as a broader concept that encompasses all of the other literacies” (Breivik, 2005, p. 23). The literature suggests that critical literacy (Breivik, 2005; Hay & Todd, 2010; Langford, 2007; McPherson, 2008), multiliteracy or multi-modal literacies (Hamilton, 2009; Leu, et al., 2007; McPherson, 2008), media literacy, technical new literacies of ICTs and Internet use (Asselin, Early, Filipenko & Lam, 2005; Leu, et al., 2007), global literacy (McPherson, 2008), emotional literacy (Branch & Oberg 2001; Oberg, 2004), functional literacy and lifelong learning (Langford, 1998; Leu, et al., 2007) all fall under the umbrella of information literacy.