Introduction to Information Literacy

One of my favourite things that I have studied in library school so far is information literacy and the politics of tools like Google, Wikipedia, Google Scholar, YouTube, and so forth. We rely on these tools to help us find information that we need, but why are they helping us? What drives them (hint: in most cases it’s 💰💰💰)? Who decides how they take our search terms and return a list of search results to us? I think these are fascinating questions!

This summer I am working a co-op job at UBC Okanagan Library. Most of the time I am focused on digitizing local historical materials (maybe I’ll write about that in future, but for now check out our website to learn more). But as a fun side-project, I was lucky enough to facilitate an introductory information literacy workshop for a first year English class. I was really excited to talk with them about some of these topics that I find so interesting!

We needed to cover some basic  information in the workshop, algorithms of oppressionso we couldn’t just spend an hour discussing what Dr. Safiya U. Noble has aptly termed “algorithms of oppression.” (If this sounds even remotely intriguing to you, watch this video of her speaking about her research and you will be HOOKED on this topic.) But, along with discussing “what is peer review?” and “why do you have to cite the resources you use in your research?”, I decided to add an activity to the workshop where students would use and evaluate different information tools.

The students were given the following instructions:

  1. Make a group of 3-4
  2. Pick a topic to search for (if uncertain, try “climate change”)
  3. Search for your topic on one of the following:
    1. Google
    2. Google Scholar
    3. Wikipedia
  4. Consider:
    1. What types of content and sources are you finding?
    2. How easy or difficult is it to use? Can you filter or limit your results?
    3. What ethical questions do you have about the content the tool provides?

I demonstrated the activity to them using YouTube. We found the following:

  • What types of content and sources are you finding?
    • Videos, comments, video descriptions,
  • How easy or difficult is it to use? Can you filter or limit your results?youtuberesults
    • It’s easy to search, and you can filter the results based on length, video quality, and other criteria
    • When you view a result you are offered related items to watch
  • What ethical questions do you have about the content the tool provides?youtubevideo
    • Videos often begin after an advertisement: YouTube is making money off of our viewing. (With the “climate change” example that we looked at, the ad was for FortisBC, which also suggests that companies may be trying to influence viewers on the topics they are interested in).
    • No way to evaluate expertise of video creators. (This is relevant for the students in the context of choosing sources for their academic work, which often requires they use peer reviewed sources).

The students seemed to really enjoy this activity and the opportunity to talk about websites they use often. They had some really insightful comments regarding ethical questions they have about Google, Wikipedia, and Google Scholar–as well as some conflicting views within the class! I find that it is a good sign in a workshop when students are comfortable to disagree with one another in a respectful way, and it definitely helped to nuance our evaluation of Wikipedia in particular. We also had a good conversation about whether or not Google search results have racist biases. (If you’re wondering, then you clearly haven’t looked up Dr. Safiya Noble’s work yet! Here’s a shorter video to get you started).

After this activity we evaluated the UBC Library website in the same way. This was great as rather than being “force-fed” the library website as the only acceptable place to go for research, they now approached it with a high level of appreciation for its many filtering options, its straightforward design, and its lack of commercialization. While we all agreed there are some things that Wikipedia, Google, or YouTube are better for (want a quick summary or looking something up for fun?), they also recognized that the library website had a lot to offer that they could not get from other tools.


We finished the workshop with a discussion of peer review (this quick video is a great summary), evaluating sources, and citations.

Overall, it was a fun workshop and I think that the activity was a useful learning tool! Please feel free to use it and adapt it in your own work, and I’d love to hear how it goes if you do.

I have uploaded my full powerpoint for the class here if you are interested. I’ve removed the name and contact information for the librarian that supervised me for the workshop because I haven’t asked for her permission to share that information, but my email is there if you would like to get in touch.


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