Instilling information literacy | ETH Zurich

Of course, one can take the view that researchers are responsible for their own information literacy. But should we teach ourselves these skills? In hardly any other field is development more rapid than in information technology; lifelong learning is essential – and with today’s division of labour there’s little point in everyone actively seeking out, evaluating and acquiring new technologies for themselves.

Are libraries the fourth place?

Centuries ago, libraries were places where knowledge was actively generated. Lately, however, they’ve focused more on the safekeeping of valuable holdings, and cataloguing. In today’s information society, libraries could take on a more active role again, by helping us grasp the opportunities of today’s use and analysis of information. The sociologist Ray Oldenburg stressed the necessity of a “third place”, a meeting place that creates a sense of community and is located between work (first place) and home (second place). Today, many libraries try to be this third place. But why shouldn’t modern libraries be also a “fourth place”, where our digital information society can learn essential skills and methods?

Countering the fake science crisis

The Information Center Chemistry Biology Pharmacy (ICBP) at ETH Zurich sees the communication of such skills as the core function of a library, and for several years has been focusing on scouting, evaluating and communicating information solutions relating to specific disciplines. ICBP has developed several new formats for just this purpose, such as coffee lectures (10-minute presentations on databases, tools and services that are now available at many universities), research group menu card seminars and lectures for doctoral students of chemistry, life and health sciences.

In this era of fake science and fake news, it’s paramount that we show students in the spirit of critical thinking what ultimately determines the information they obtain in a search. Why, for instance, the balance between precision and recall in information retrieval is so important. And what opportunities and risks are emerging from the changes to traditional scientific communication processes. Let’s equip our young researchers for the future!

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Author: Shirley