Information Literacy in Ghanaian Academic Institutions: Case of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (K.N.U.S.T), Ghana.

Author:Atta-Obeng, Lilian


Earlier studies dating back to the 90's demonstrate access to virtually unlimited information with the advent of Information Technology (IT). This has led to unforeseen consequences such as forcing a reconsideration of the knowledge, skills and values needed for education and successful living (Postman, 1990). In the contemporary information environment, Postman stated that, there is an abundance of information resources. These information resources cut across various interactive and connective manners irrespective of place and time. However, there are so many issues and challenges encountered by librarians in serving their users especially in academic institutions. Among such challenges are students' inability to quickly locate and effectively use printed and e-resources due to poor search strategies, poor evaluation of the quality, quantity and relevance of sources of information, particularly those made accessible by search engines and issues surrounding the ethical use of the vast information (Al-Aufi, Ali, Al-Azri, & Hamed, 2013).

Information literacy is becoming increasingly important in this contemporary society of rapid technological change of information resources. Bruce (1997) defines Information Literacy "as the ability to access, evaluate, organize, and use information in order to learn, problem-solve, make decisions--in formal and informal learning contexts, at work, at home and in educational settings." It is evident that, individuals face abundant information choices from a variety of sources--both print and electronic. Questions about the quality of information obtained from this wide array of choices, from either the Internet or other multimedia, pose serious threats in terms of the authenticity, validity, and reliability of the information. As a result, special challenges arise in terms of evaluating, understanding, and using information in an ethical and legal manner. According to Tiamiyu (2012), most students in universities lack the sophisticated skills needed to exploit the library's research potential. Kavulya (as cited in Baro & Keboh 2012) posited that, students waste a lot of time going to the wrong sources and making inefficient use of retrieval tools. This happens because students are not accustomed to exploring, discovering, and retrieving information from library resources. To solve this problem, the staff of a library, need training to commence information literacy projects like teaching of appropriate skills of which Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) has now started.

Statement of the Problem

The KNUST library has variety of resources to satisfy students' information needs. The challenge remains with students' lack of knowledge on the available information sources at their disposal and skills in locating and evaluating information. This challenge impedes the effective use of information resources hence, the under- utilization of these resources. Ignoring the above problems means ignoring the activities that could help students improve upon the ways in which they could effectively use the KNUST library resources. This consequently would affect negatively their learning outcomes for academic success. It is against this background that this research investigates the impact which the teaching of the Information Literacy course has on students' skills in the effective and efficient use of the various library resources available to KNUST.

This study is intended to examine the Information Literacy competence of first year students of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) who have taken the Information Literacy skills course, and the value of the course as a tool for promoting lifelong learning and critical thinking among students. Specifically, it sought:

* to determine how the information literacy course has affected students' knowledge on the various formats and forms of information resources found in the KNUST library.

* to find out students' proficiency in using appropriate tools for searching electronic information.

* to determine how students evaluate information on the internet.

* ascertain students' knowledge about legal and ethical uses of information such as copyright and plagiarism.

* to find out students' perceptions of the Information Literacy skills course taught at KNUST.

Literature Review

Information Literacy has existed in the literature for many years and various contributions have been made to the literature over the years. The content of the concept has focused on the skills needed to use effectively needed information. Interest in this concept has widened from academic institutions, through health sectors to the workplace. Carbo (1997) identifies Mr. Paul Zurkowski (the then president of the United States of America Information Industry Association), as the one who introduced the concept in the 1970s when submitting a proposal to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Prior to the introduction of the concept, phrases such as library instruction, bibliographic instruction and user/ reader education were used (Rader, 1990).

UNESCO's Information for All Programme (IFAP), based on Alexandria Proclamation (2005) more recently defined information literacy as the capacity of people to:

* Recognise their information needs

* Locate and evaluate the quality of information

* Store and retrieve information

* Make effective and ethical use of information, and apply information to create and communicate knowledge (Catts & Lau 2008).

Concisely, characteristics of an information literacy as identified in an institution is based on a model or approach which is usually linked to the objectives of the institution. Thompson (2003) on the other hand, defines Information Literacy as the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, organize, and effectively use information to address issues or problems at hand that face individuals, communities, and nations. Owusu-Ansah (2003) conducted a study into Information Literacy as a Concept and the Controversies Surrounding It and recommended putting a halt to defining the term and just getting on with the business of providing information literacy.

Various associations, researchers, and organisations have come out with complex mix of characteristics defining who an information literate person is. For example, the Californian University Information literacy fact sheet (2000) based their attributes of an information literate person on that of the American Library Association (2000) as an individual, who is able to:

* Determine the extent of information needed

* Access the needed information effectively and efficiently

* Evaluate information and its sources critically

* Incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base

* Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose

> Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and access and use information ethically and legally.

However, in a broader context, information literate people have been described as those who 'know when they need information, and are then able to identify, locate, evaluate, organize, and effectively use the information to address and help resolve personal, job related, or broader social issues and problems (Bundy, 2004).

"Students utilize commercial and social electronic capabilities to inform all their activities, including research and these are often embraced without full knowledge of their limitations. Libraries and the academy can provide more authentic and certain information; however, the other crucial role is to provide an environment of integrated information literacy that demonstrates the value of the scholarly process. Information literacy requires a rebirth as a discipline based upon critical reflection on the nature of information itself' (Shannon & Kirilka, 2006, p. 342).

Dadzie (2011) indicates that, indeed, the attractiveness and omnipresence of all sorts of information on the World Wide Web poses a danger and that, students will uncritically use whatever is convenient to them rather than considering its authentic sources. She further argued that, students sometimes perceived no difference between another student's papers published on the web and a scholarly journal article available just a few clicks away via the same computer.

Activities in an environment marked by personal computers and electronic information calls for librarian acting as role models and mentors to establish the need for information literacy serving as a guide to students' knowledge creating. When their source of information is authoritative, they would have authentic information to construct credible arguments.

It is also suggested that, to...

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