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PIL Provocations: A New Series from Project Information Literacy – A Personal View

The CILIP Information Literacy Group (ILG) and the LILAC Conference are delighted to have been enlisted as Champions of an exciting new Project Information Literacy initiative, “The PIL Provocation Series”.

Barbara Fister, the series’ Contributing Editor, has kindly contributed a guest blog post to explain more about the initiative and to introduce the premier essay in the series, “Lizard People in the Library”. Her essay addresses the rise of conspiracy theorists and the consequences of advice they give their membership to “research it yourself”.

I discovered Project Information Literacy (PIL) when it first launched over a decade ago in 2009. I impatiently awaited each new research publication so I could share it with the librarians in my circles and with the instructors I worked with. For some reason, it is always so much easier to make a case for information literacy in the curriculum when it’s backed up with someone else’s research and data! Especially when the research uses rigorous empirical methods and involves thousands of students at multiple institutions. PIL has always operated at a scale that practitioners in the field couldn’t manage. And yet, with every report, I learned something practical I could use immediately in my local setting.  

With the launch of the new Provocation Series this year in February (2021), PIL hopes to continue that service to the information literacy community by publishing five to six thought-provoking essays, throughout the year, that raise big questions in the field: What new directions for teaching and learning should we be thinking about? What perspectives have we overlooked? How can we adapt to an increasingly complex information environment? Are there fundamental aspects of students’ experiences that we need to think more deeply about?

We are fortunate that there are many well-established and excellent venues for librarians to share their knowledge, their practices, and their insights. The LILAC Conference is a prime example, as is the Journal of Information Literacy (which recently published papers from LILAC 2020 – an excellent collaboration for an unusual time). As librarians who are committed to what we do, we’re good at helping one another out with fresh ideas and sharing our research-based discoveries. It’s more challenging to find communication channels that connect our work with allies from other disciplines and professions who many not even use the phrase “information literacy” on a regular basis, but who nevertheless care about it deeply. There are many connections to be made, communities of interest to be built, ideas to be shared, and conversations to be sparked.

This new series of long-form essays hopes to aid in that community-building by publishing accessible articles that are based on research and current events but are written in a style that is journalistic and engaging. They are intended for a wide audience, coming at the problems we wrestle with daily from a broad range of perspectives. They could be used for discussion and debate in classrooms. The idea is to publish new insights into what society needs to know about information’s impact on our world; to explore new approaches to educational practices that will help students become active participants in the information flows that are part of their lives; to build bridges to disciplines, communities, and individuals who are working on the same problems but are doing so outside librarianship. Let’s connect. Let’s inspire. Let’s get the conversations going.

Personally, I find this new departure for PIL both innovative and a logical progression, building on the decade of research publications that enriched my work with students. Every time I read a newly-published research report from PIL, I found myself surprised. Wait, most graduates think their university experience didn’t prepare them to ask questions of their own? That’s troubling; what can we do about it? Nearly half of college students aren’t sure they can tell fake news from reliable journalism, and over a third don’t trust any news at all? That’s clearly something we need to work on. Students generally develop an efficient way to tackle research assignments with the least effort and risk? This will be useful for talking with our instructors about how students interpret the assignments they make and why the results are sometimes so dispiriting. Most students know more than their teachers about algorithms and are concerned about their loss of privacy but feel powerless; their instructors are concerned about algorithms’ impact on society, but don’t feel qualified to discuss it with their students. How can we fill that gap? Sometimes, I simply felt affirmed that my students weren’t unusual, that the problems they experienced were ones many students wrestled with, that whatever we were trying in our classrooms to improve learning was part of a bigger struggle.

But whatever nuggets I pulled out of the dozen rigorous and informative studies PIL has published (and made available without a paywall!), I knew it was something I could bring to my community for discussion and action. It was information we could put right to work.

With the newly launched Provocation Series, fresh and thought-provoking ideas about information literacy will nourish conversations wherever people are concerned about our complex information environment. These are discussions we badly need, building on a body of knowledge and a passion for meaningful learning that we can’t afford to keep to ourselves. When I first heard of this initiative I was intrigued – and I felt a sudden itch to put something I was thinking about into words, something I’d been pondering for literally decades, suddenly pressing as a peculiar online movement was moving into the real world. This itch turned into Lizard People in the Library, which I found myself revising as events unfolded at the US Capitol. I look forward to continuing to work on PIL’s series as a contributing editor.

It was thrilling to have ILG / LILAC sign on as a Provocation Series Champion. As an organization that has nurtured and encouraged information literacy not only in the UK but in dozens of countries, it’s a perfect fit. The community ILG has built through sharing best practices and new thinking is actively promoting information literacy and the improvement of learning internationally. We hope LILAC delegates, past and present, will find the essays in the Provocation Series helpful in spreading the word and stimulating thought at a time when finding our way to reliable information is more challenging than ever.  

Barbara Fister, Contributing Editor, Project Information Literacy, @bfister 

Visit the Project Information Literacy website for further information, or contact Alison Head, Director, Project Information Literacy,

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