[Library and Information Science] Library and Information Science Trends and Research Volume 2 || Chapter 7 Developing Contextual Perceptions of Information Literacy and Information Literacy Education in the Asian Region

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


  • Chapter 7

    Developing Contextual Perceptions ofInformation Literacy and InformationLiteracy Education in the Asian Region

    Daniel G. Dorner and G. E. Gorman,with the assistance ofNicole M. GastonAbstract

    Taking as its starting point the view that information literacy (IL) andinformation literacy education (ILE) are essential for national, socialand personal development in countries of the less developed world, thischapter looks at how context informs our understanding of the natureand process of IL and ILE in developing countries of the Asian region,with particular attention to Cambodia and Laos. The principal focus ison definitional issues related to cultural contexts. From the literatureand from personal experience as IL/ILE trainers in SE Asia, wemaintain that extant definitions and understanding of IL are principallyNorth American in origin and focus, or largely based on the NorthAmerican perception of IL and ILE. It was not until themid-years of thefirst decade of this century that we saw formal recognition that ILcompetencies are being applied within cultural and social contexts, andthat cultural factors are affecting information literacy. Our chaptercontributes on-the-ground support for this understanding. During thecourse of a series of IL/ILE workshops in Cambodia and Laos, a seriesof ad hoc focus groups was utilised to test the contextual effects onunderstandings of information literacy; contextualised definitions,each specific to and slightly different for individual countries, weredeveloped. What emerged from the focus group discussionsabout IL was a series of definitional nuances highlighting these keyLibrary and Information Science Trends and Research: Asia-Oceania

    Library and Information Science, 151172

    Copyright r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited

    All rights of reproduction in any form reserved

    ISSN: 1876-0562/doi:10.1108/S1876-0562(2011)002011b009

  • 152 Daniel G. Dorner et al.points: (1) information literacy in definition and practice must becontextually grounded; (2) knowledge creation as a product ofinformation literacy is both knowledge based and problem focused;(3) the contexts of a society must be understood quite specifically; andmay be unique to each society; and (4) information literacy involves acontinuum that comes from and at the same time enables new learningrelated to the contextual aspects of information. Given these points, weconfirm that traditional definitions of IL are not particularly robust inthe context of less developed Asian countries. Further, we concludethat local understanding of IL results in definitions aligned with therealities of specific societies. This in our view leads to more robust,contextualised information literacy education.7.1. Introduction

    In a book titled Library and Information Science Trends and Research: Asia-Oceania Region it is appropriate for one overwhelming reason to addressselected issues surrounding information literacy (IL) and informationliteracy education (ILE). That is, IL is now viewed as an essentialprerequisite for national, social and personal development throughout theless developed countries (LDCs) of the world. But, as we have shownelsewhere, the lack of IL, or what we term information illiteracy, leads tothe development trap, where societies and nations continue in the cycle ofpoverty and under-development (Ameen & Gorman, 2009).

    What we call dependency thinking as part of the outcome ofinformation illiteracy means that nations and peoples lacking in IL aredependent upon the largesse of other societies and nations, because theythemselves lack the knowledge base to make informed decisions about theirown development. The inability to make informed decisions then keeps theLDCs in a subservient position with regard to economic development and afair share of the worlds resources exploitation of the many (LDCs) bythe few (developed countries) continues unabated. The lack of developmentand access to resources affects all aspects of life in information illiteratesocieties, including the satisfaction of many basic human needs. Thisperspective is perhaps just an extension of traditional dependency theory,which we believe is maintained, and perhaps even more firmly embedded, inpart because of low or nonexistent IL.

    Our view is that IL and ILE can contribute to helping societies overcomedependency thinking and to begin making their own informed decisionsabout their personal, social and national development. With the rapidencroachment of new technologies and systems, development is happening

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 153in a more rapid and more uncontrolled manner, and, we think, with lessintelligence because of a lack of IL skills. We dont know what we dontknow can be replaced by at least we know some of what we dont know.Our research in IL and ILE in developing countries in Southeast Asia hastaken us along this route, to the point where we at least have a betterunderstanding of what we dont know.

    Some of what we do know now, that we did not know in 2005, includesrecognition that IL and ILE must be introduced into the education systemby local personnel.We maintain that for interventions of this type to be successful,advisors coming from developed countries must understand theimpact of local culture on learning in general and informationliteracy in particular. We further contend that outsiders mustwork closely with local educators and librarians to understandthe local context and to incorporate indigenous knowledge intoILE programmes to ensure their effectiveness by being context-ually and culturally appropriate. (Dorner & Gorman, 2011).To share this understanding of the contextual nature of IL and ILE indeveloping countries, and how context informs the way in which we approachIL and make it relevant to specific societies, this chapter provides an overviewof the introduction of ILE into some developing countries in the Asia-Oceania region, focussing on definitional issues related to cultural contexts.7.2. The Work of Paul Zurkowski

    We begin with a brief discussion of the seminal work of Paul Zurkowski,who in 1974 introduced the concept of IL to the world in his report to theU.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Thereport examined the relationships between the information industries andlibraries, and set priorities for a national programme to facilitate mutuallysupportive roles. In the body of the report Zurkowski identified theimportance of IL to U.S. economic progress, and he stated that the work ofthe Commission should be viewed in terms of achieving total informationliteracy for the nation (Zurkowski, 1974, p. 8).

    Interestingly, Zurkowski did not provide a definition for IL, which is oneof the key issues addressed in this chapter. However, he provided an insightinto his thinking about such a definition in the reports prologue:Information is not knowledge; it is concepts or ideas whichenter a persons field of perception, are evaluated and

  • 154 Daniel G. Dorner et al.assimilated, reinforcing or changing the individuals conceptof reality and/or ability to act. As beauty is in the eye of thebeholder, so information is in the mind of the user. (1974, p. 1)In those words Zurkowski identified some of the cognitive processesinvolved in, as well as the individual nature of, IL:

    Perception Evaluation Assimilation.

    Yet in the report itself Zurkowski referred only to various kinds ofrequisite skills for example, being able to find what is known orknowable on any subject (p. 23). This propensity to focus on the skillsrequired to be information literate has plagued the transfer of ILE from itsWestern origin into other cultural contexts.7.3. Defining IL A Developed Country Concept?

    Since Zurkowskis 1974 report, the definition of IL has been the subject ofnumerous articles and debates among both professionals and academics inthe field of library and information management (LIM). Over the years ILhas evolved from almost a euphemism for information skills used bylibrarians, to increasing recognition in disciplines such as education andinformation systems, and their diverse understandings of pedagogies andtechnologies relevant to IL and its definition. One result of this extension ofIL outside the walls of academe has been a small number of increasinglymore elaborate definitions incorporating appreciation of the importance ofthe context in which the definition applies.

    Many definitions, models, frameworks, descriptions and rubrics exist withinthe literature, all of which aim to shed light on the concept of IL. According toKapitzke (2003, p. 55), the prevalence of the term information literacy can beattributed to the failure of librarians and information professionals in the 1980sto have bibliographic instruction or library skills programmes integrated intotertiary education curricula. In the United States, the Association of Collegeand Research Libraries (ACRL) established the Bibliographic InstructionSection in 1977 which advocated for the American Library Association (ALA)to establish a formal structure to support quality higher education bypromoting instruction in the access, evaluation, and utilization of informationresources (ACRL, 2011).

    It was not until 1989 that the ALAs Presidential Committee onInformation Literacy published its final report, in which it defined IL and

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 155articulated its importance to business, industry and citizenship (ALA,1989). In response to the recommendations made in the Committees reportthe National Forum on Information Literacy, a coalition of education,business and governmental organisations, was established in 1990 (NationalForum on Information Literacy, 2011) and ILE became an importantfocus across all levels of education in the United States.

    A degree of technological determinism also features in explanations ofthe origins of IL. A case in point is Owusu-Ansah (2005), who suggests thatIL was a natural product of a period in the late 20th century marked by theinformation explosion, during which the rapid expansion of informationand communication technology led to an exponential growth in information(pp. 367368). Regardless of its origins and the debates about its meaning,IL has become an established concept in the literature. In developedcountries, as well as some developing countries, ILE has become a key focusin a number of school and academic libraries, despite the ongoing debatesabout what IL actually is, and how it should be taught.

    Much recent literature about IL directly cites the ALA or ACRLdefinitions. The ALA definition, created from a U.S. perspective and for aU.S. audience, has remained largely the same since 1989. This definition statesthat IL is having the ability to recognize when information is needed, then tobe able to locate and evaluate the appropriate information and use iteffectively (ALA, 1989). The ACRL definition, published in 2000, issomewhat fuller and describes an information literate person as being able to:

    Determine the extent of their information need Access that information effectively and efficiently Critically evaluate both information and its sources Incorporate into their knowledge base selected information Effectively use information to achieve a purpose Understand the economic, legal and social aspects of information use Access and use information ethically and legally. (2000)

    Both of these definitions are predominantly skills-based, but the evolutionfrom library skills to a combination of information-seeking skills andcognitive processes is apparent in the latter definition with the addition ofterms such as critically evaluate and understand.7.4. Perceiving IL and ILE in a Wider World

    In 2003 the Australia and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy(ANZIIL) was established to focus specifically on promoting and supportingILE in the vocational and higher education sectors within those countries.

  • 156 Daniel G. Dorner et al.ANZIIL supports organisations and individuals in the promotion of ILand, in particular, the embedding of IL within the total educational process(ANZIIL, n.d., p. 1). In a document outlining the principles, standards andpractice incorporated within the ANZIIL framework for IL, Bundy (2004,p. 3) acknowledges that ANZIIL has borrowed heavily on the ACRLstandards. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the ANZIILconceptualisation of IL is very similar to that of ACRL, although it goeswell beyond ACRL in its recognition of critical thinking, independentlearning and lifelong learning. ANZIIL states that information literatepeople

    Recognise a need for information Determine the extent of information needed Access information efficiently Critically evaluate information and its sources Classify, store, manipulate and redraft information collected or generated Incorporate selected information into their knowledge base Use information effectively to learn, create new knowledge, solveproblems and make decisions

    Understand economic, legal, social, political and cultural issues in the useof information

    Access and use information ethically and legally Use information and knowledge for participative citizenship and socialresponsibility

    Experience IL as part of independent learning and lifelong learning(Bundy, 2004, pp. 34)

    At about the same time that ANZIIL was developing its understanding ofhow IL might usefully be perceived, UNESCO promulgated a highlyperceptive definition of literacy in support of the UN Literacy Decade2003-2012. It defined literacy as:The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, commu-nicate and compute, using printed and written materialsassociated with varying contexts. Literacy involves acontinuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve hisor her goals, develop his or her knowledge and potential, andparticipate fully in community and wider society. (UNESCO,2005, p. 21)For our discussion, there are two key aspects of this definition of literacy.The first is its recognition of the importance of context, that is, itsrecognition that for a person to be literate he or she must call upon different

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 157types of competencies and different types of materials associated withdifferent contexts. The second key aspect is the definitions recognition thatliteracy involves a continuum of learning; that is, learning through literacy isboth incremental and developmental. This insight is highly significantbecause it recognises that people are not operating within a static world, butrather that each persons world is evolving as he or she becomes increasinglyliterate.

    We contend that IL also must be viewed as being contextually based andthat it also involves a continuum of learning, as people advance into newand higher-level domains through the knowledge they gain via their ILcompetencies.7.5. The Alexandria Proclamation

    The Alexandria Proclamation resulted from the High-Level Colloquium onInformation Literacy and Lifelong Learning, which was held at theBibliotheca Alexandrina in 2005, with primary sponsorship provided byUNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations andInstitutions (IFLA) and the National Forum on Information Literacy.

    The Alexandria Proclamation states that IL empowers people in allwalks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively toachieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals (HighLevel Colloquium, 2006, p. 3). It goes on to declare that IL

    Consists of the competencies to recognise information needs and tolocate, evaluate, apply and create information within cultural and socialcontexts

    Is crucial to the competitive advantage of individuals, enterprises(especially small and medium enterprises), regions and nations

    Provides the key to effective access, use and creation of content to supporteconomic development, education, health and human services, and allother aspects of contemporary societies, and thereby provides the vitalfoundation for fulfilling the goals of the Millennium Declaration and theWorld Summit on the Information Society

    Extends beyond current technologies to encompass learning, criticalthinking and interpretative skills across professional boundaries andempowers individuals and communities. (p. 3)

    The ANZIIL statement and the 2006 Alexandria Proclamation explana-tion of IL demonstrate evidence of the definitions moving beyond simpleskills acquisition to an increased awareness of the cognitive aspects of IL.

  • 158 Daniel G. Dorner et al.This recognition of the cognitive aspects of IL is significant and reinforcesthe notion that IL involves a continuum of learning, as we shall discuss later.

    At the same time, and from a different perspective, a noteworthy aspectof the Alexandria Proclamation is its recognition of the cultural and socialcontexts within which IL competencies are applied. Similarly, in a UNESCOdocument aimed at introducing IL to public policy-makers, businessexecutives, civil society administrators and practicing professionals, Horton(2008) identifies cultural literacy as being one of six categories within thefamily of 21st century survival literacies (p. 3). He states thatCultural literacy means a knowledge of, and understanding, ofhow a countrys, a religions, an ethnic groups, or a tribestraditions, beliefs, symbols and icons, celebrations, and tradi-tionalmeans of communication (e.g. oralcy) impact the creation,storage,handling, communication, preservationandarchivingofdata, information and knowledge, using technologies. (p. 8)Horton goes on to say that being aware of how cultural factors affect,both positively and negatively, each persons use of modern ICTs is animportant part of understanding IL. Culture arises frequently in Hortonsdiscussion of IL, and its significance can be seen again in the model heprovides for an Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning PolicyStatement for the Culture, Ethnic, Language, Race, Religion Ministry/Sector in each developing country:This ministry should promulgate a vision statement and a setof policies that links together the ideas of cultural literacy andinformation literacy, so that they [sic] two concepts are viewedas partners that can and should play a key role in helping thecountry achieve its political, economic and social goals. (p. 83)are applied within cultural and social contexts, and Hortons identificationin the UNESCO primer of the effect of cultural factors on IL, give theimpression that culture and context will be key components of all ILEprogramme development, especially in non-Western countries. This again is akey consideration in this chapter, combined with the above-mentioned focuson cognitive processes in IL and ILE.

    The gradual inclusion of cognitive processes and critical thinking within,or alongside, information-seeking skills in some of the more recentdefinitions of IL, such as the one from ANZIIL, suggests a growingunderstanding of the deeper thinking required by information literateindividuals. It is this inclusion that most strongly resonates with our ownexperience and investigations. However, from an examination of accounts of

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 159recent IL programmes in Asian countries, including some sponsored byUNESCO and IFLA, we see that culture and context are largely beingignored in how IL is being articulated at a local level. So, perhaps ironically,this is where our research leads us to a parting of the ways with theseendeavours, as the following discussion will show.7.6. De-contextualised Models of IL

    One example of how culture and context are being ignored in ILEdevelopments can be seen in the 2005 collaboration between Sri LankasNational Institute of Library and Information Sciences (NILIS) and IFLAsAction for Development through Libraries (ALP) programme. NILIS andALP jointly organised an IL workshop within a school library contextinvolving 30 representatives from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia,Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand (Wijetunge &Alahakoon, 2005). This workshop was guided by resource persons fromCanada, Australia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

    In addition to raising awareness of IL in the region, one objective of thisworkshop was to develop a model of IL more appropriate to the regionalcontext and resources available. The workshop organisers and participantsstarted from the premise that the philosophical roots of any existing modelof IL from a developed country would be too remote from the worldview ofparticipants because of the composite culture and local conditions in theircountries (p. 31). To ensure relevance and maximum impact in the Asiancontext, the participants collaborated on the development of an IL modelthat, in their view, was more contextually relevant in the region than existingmodels. The outcome was the Empowering 8 model.

    Even though the goal was to develop an IL model to meet localconditions, and one that was not derived from Western philosophical roots,the Empowering 8 model bears a strong resemblance to extant IL models.This regional model identifies eight IL competencies which together formThe Empowering 8. A depiction of the Empowering 8 model (seeWijetunge & Alahakoon, 2005, p. 36) shows that each of the eightcompetencies is linked by two parallel lines ending in arrow heads pointingin a clockwise direction to the next competency thus forming what appearsto be a circle of competencies in endless motion. The competency at the topof the circle is Identify, followed by Explore, then Select, Organise,Create, Present, Assess and finally Apply which links back to Identify.

    Table 7.1 provides a comparison of the competencies identified in theEmpowering 8 model with those in Eisenberg and Berkowitzs Big 6 modelfor primary education in the United States and the 7 Pillars higher educationmodel from the Society of College, National and University Libraries

  • Table 7.1: Comparing models: Empowering 8, 7 Pillars and Big 6.

    Empowering8 modela

    7 Pillars modelb Big 6 modelc

    1. Identify Define the topic/subject Determine and understand the audience Choose the relevant format for thefinished product

    Identify the key words Plan a search strategy Identify different types of resourceswhere information may be found

    1. The ability to recognise aninformation need

    1. Task definition1.1 Define theinformation problem1.2 Identifyinformation needed

    2. Explore Locate resources appropriate to thechosen topic

    Find information appropriate to thechosen topic

    Do interviews, field trips or otheroutside research

    2. The ability to distinguish waysin which the information gapmay be addressed

    2. Information seekingstrategies

    2.1 Determine allpossible sources2.2 Select the bestsources

    3. Select Choose relevant information Determine which sources are too easy,too hard, or just right

    Record relevant information throughnote making or making a visualorganiser

    3. The ability to constructstrategies for locatinginformation





  • Such as a chart, graph, or outline, etc. Identify the stages in the process Collect appropriate citations

    4. Organise Sort the information Distinguish between fact, opinion,and fiction

    Check for bias in the sources Sequence the information in a logicalorder

    Use visual organisers to compare orcontrast information

    4. The ability to locate and accessinformation

    3. Location and access3.1 Locate sources(intellectually andphysically)3.2 Find informationwithin sources

    5. Create Prepare information in their own wordsin a meaningful way

    Revise and edit, alone or with a peer Finalise the bibliographic format

    5. The ability to compare andevaluate information obtainedfrom different sources

    4. Use of information4.1 Engage (e.g., read,hear, view, touch)4.2 Extract relevantinformation

    6. Present Practise for presentation activity Share the information with anappropriate audience

    Display the information in anappropriate format to suit the audience

    Set up and use equipment properly

    6. The ability to organise, applyand communicate information toothers in ways appropriate

    5. Synthesis5.1 Organise frommultiple sources5.2 Present theinformation










  • Table 7.1: (Continued )

    Empowering8 modela

    7 Pillars modelb Big 6 modelc

    7. Assess Accept feedback from other students Self assess ones performance inresponse to teachers assessment of thework

    Reflect on how well they have done Determine if new skills were learned Consider what could be done betternext time

    7. The ability to synthesise andbuild upon existinginformation, contributing tothe creation of new knowledge

    6. Evaluation6.1 Judge the product(effectiveness)6.2 Judge the process(efficiency)

    8. Apply Review the feedback and assessmentprovided

    Use the feedback and assessment for thenext learning activity/task

    Endeavour to use the knowledge gainedin a variety of new situations

    Determine in what other subjects theseskills can now be used

    Add product to a portfolio ofproductions

    aFrom Wijetunge and Alahakoon (2005).bFrom Webber (2008).cFrom Eisenberg (2011).





  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 163(SCONUL) in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As can be seen, the eightcompetencies in the Empowering 8 model are strikingly similar to those inthe other two models.

    Like the Big 6 and the 7 Pillars, the Empowering 8 model focuses on theusual set of IL skills and abilities, even though it was developed for countriesin South and Southeast Asia. These models use different words and havedifferent levels of detail, but they highlight the same basic competencies thatare similar to those emphasised in most Western-based definitions of IL. Andwhile the Empowering 8 model recognises some cognitive processes andcritical thinking skills (e.g. determine and understand the audience, self-assess ones performance) which are similar to those identified by ANZIIL, itnonetheless ignores the cultural component just as has been done byANZIIL, the Big 6, the 7 Pillars, the ALA and ACRL. Other workshops inthe region also appear tomiss the importance of culture as a key element of IL(e.g. see Saads 2009 account of a UNESCO-sponsored regional workshopheld in Malaysia).

    Therefore, despite the more inclusive and developmental definitions tohave emerged from UNESCO, the Alexandria Proclamation and fromHortons clear call for cultural literacy to be viewed as a key component insuccessful IL programmes, we are still playing with the traditional,de-contextualised models that, in our view, hamper the successful embeddingof IL in non-Western, developing societies. Contextualisation is only a minorconsideration in the Empowering 8 model. The process is circular, with theend point coming back to the start point, and there is no recognition of thepossibility of iteration between steps within the process whichmay occurwhenthe development of new knowledge does not happen in a straightforwardway.

    With this understanding of the development of IL and ILE in theWestern context, and shortcomings in its application in LDCs, we turn ourattention to projects in Cambodia and Laos that focus on local perceptionsof IL and its implementation.7.7. Cambodia and Laos in the Context of IL and ILE

    Cambodia and the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Lao PDR, or Laos)are part of the Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) of Southeast Asia. TheGMS consists of those countries and regions bordering the Mekong River; inaddition to Cambodia and Lao PDR, this region includes Yunnan Provinceof the Peoples Republic of China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

    The GMS is significant globally because of its biodiversity andfragile natural environment; the Mekong River has been ranked as oneof the worlds top 10 rivers at risk by the World Wildlife Foundation(Wong, Williams, Pittock, Collier, & Schelle, 2007). Perhaps more

  • 164 Daniel G. Dorner et al.prosaically, the GMS has experienced significant economic development,rapid population growth and increased consumption of consumer goods inthe last two decades. According to the World Bank Data Catalogue, forexample, the population of Vietnam has risen from 66 million people in 1990to nearly 90 million in 2009 (World Bank Group, 2011). The Gross NationalProduct (GNP) of countries in the region has also risen dramatically overthe last 20 years. In Thailand, for example, the GNP was US$160 billion in1990, and over US$520 billion in 2009 (World Bank Group, 2011). Thechallenge for the region is to continue developing economically withoutfurther endangering the fragile balance of one of the worlds most importantecosystems.

    If we look specifically at Cambodia and Laos within the GMS, weobserve that human development is relatively low. In the United NationsHuman Development Index, Laos is ranked 122, and Cambodia 124, whichplaces them both in the medium human development category; there areonly three countries below Cambodia in this category. A total of 169countries is listed, with 128169 categorised as low human development(United Nations Development Program, 2010). The Index covers indicatorsfor such areas as health, education, income, inequality, poverty, gender, etc.Looking just at education as an example, Table 7.2 shows the indicators forCambodia and Laos.

    What these figures suggest in terms of IL and ILE is not especiallypositive: roughly a quarter of the population is illiterate, slightly more thanhalf the school-age population is enrolled in school, people on average haveless than six years of schooling, and the Internet is not widely available.

    These are important considerations when focusing on IL and ILE in twoof the least developed countries in the GMS. How important is IL in suchcountries, where traditions and cultures are being stretched by naturalcatastrophes and almost out-of-control development? How can our under-standing of IL and ILE become operational against such odds in terms ofeducation and human development overall? As stated at the outset of thischapter, IL and ILE can assist societies in overcoming dependency thinkingTable 7.2: Education indicators for Cambodia and Lao PDR.

    Indicator Cambodia Lao PDR

    Adult literacy 78.3% 72.7%Enrolment in education 58.5% 59.6%Expenditure on education (% of GDP) 1.6% 2.3%Internet users (per 100 people) 0.5 8.5Means years of school (adults) 5.8 4.6

    Source: UNDP (2010).

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 165and to begin making their own informed decisions about their personal,social and national development. Can this contribute to better managementof a fragile ecosystem? Can this help societies to better manage economicdevelopment and achieve higher levels of human development?7.8. IL Studies in Cambodia and Laos

    In 2008, with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency(SIDA) through IFLA ALP, we were invited to Cambodia and Laos toconduct a series of workshops on IL. The first of these, titled Education forInformation Literacy Developing and Implementing a Contextually-BasedTraining Programme, was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 16-20 June2008, under the auspices of Cambodias Ministry of Education, Youth andSport (IFLA ALP, 2008b). The second workshop was held in Vientiane,Laos, 23-27 June 2008, under the title, Modelling Information Literacy:Developing a Contextually-Based Training Programme for a Less Devel-oped Country in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Laos), with primarysupport from the National University of Laos (IFLA ALP, 2008a).1

    Both workshops were broadly similar in focus, organisation, participa-tion and desired outcomes. Each five-day workshop was divided into twoparts. The first part was for those regarded as movers and shakers, that is,key stakeholders, policy makers and decision makers who might be able toadvance the cause of IL in their countries. These persons included officers ofministerial departments, representatives of teacher training institutions,universities, etc. The second part of each workshop focused specifically onoperational staff such as teachers and librarians who would be responsiblefor implementing IL programmes. In both countries, participants for eachpart were drawn from smaller centres as well as the capital cities,representing both urban and rural areas. The intention was to have cadresof both champions and implementers who were able to provide a variety ofperspectives as well as to push IL forward in each country.

    The aim of the Cambodian workshop (and similarly for the Laoworkshop) was stated as1. It should be noted that the reports appear not to have been made available on the IFLA

    website following their submission in 2008. Both projects are mentioned at http://www.ifla.org/

    files/alp/projects/alp-projects-ao-completed.pdf, with a note that each project report had been

    received. Our references and quotes are from reports made available by the in-country

    organisers in each case, and from Dr Aree Cheunwattanas notes on the workshop discussions.


  • 166 Daniel G. Dorner et al.To develop an information literacy model, including guide-lines, for the Cambodian context, anchored among decisionmakers and potential implementers. That is, the key outcomesof the [workshops will] lead to the development of acontextually and culturally relevant model, and this model willbe anchored in the views and inputs of Cambodian decisionmakers, librarians and teachers. (IFLA ALP 2008b, p. 2)Within the process of developing the country models was an attempt todetermine, as a sine qua non, how participants viewed IL as a concept and apractice, and how they would define this in their specific contexts. This focusconstitutes the remainder of the discussion.7.9. Redefining IL

    During the course of each workshop participants were asked, What changesare needed to make the following definition of information literacy relevantto [Cambodia/Laos]? They were then shown the following:[Information literacy is] the ability of individuals or groups to beaware of the social and cultural contexts of information,to understand when it can help, to know how to find andevaluate it, and to understand how to integrate the relevantinformation to create newknowledge. (Dorner&Gorman, 2006)This definition we had developed earlier as a result of IL/ILE workshopsheld annually from 20012009 in New Zealand with support from IFLAALP. It arose from workshop discussions among participants fromnumerous developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

    In all of the Cambodian and Lao workshops there was an immediaterealisation among the participants that IL was not static. What was moreinspiring from a workshop facilitators perspective was the participantsrealisation that as individuals became increasingly information literate theybecame increasingly aware of the social and cultural contexts ofinformation. In other words, the participants identified a continuum oflearning through which individuals progressively began to understand thecontextual aspects of information as they became increasingly and moreinformation literate. The participants invariably decided that changes wererequired to the definition without any prompting from the facilitators. InCambodia, for example, the participants wanted to include an increasingawareness of economic issues and the social, cultural, technical, politicaland environmental contexts.

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 167The inclusion of these additional areas did not come as a great surprise,given the level of Cambodias development and the participants recognitionthat these additional contexts were crucial to the countrys growth. Rathermore unexpected were comments regarding the centrality of the family andlocal society in Cambodians thinking and behaviour, and then the veryclear insistence their society actually consisted of two sub-sets: town andcountry, with urban/rural disparities being such that there could not be asingle Cambodian definition that encompassed these disparities.

    The Cambodian participants pointed out that the middle class urbandwellers in Phnom Penh were more highly educated, had money to spend ontechnology, free time to devote to use of the Internet, and access to areasonable IT infrastructure. Outside the city, and even in smaller urbancentres, almost none of these criteria applied people were much lesseducated, often poor and worked long hours, and lacked access to a stableIT infrastructure, if indeed any infrastructure. There was also generaldiscussion regarding gender imbalances in society, with womens lives muchmore bound by tradition and family expectations, thereby limitingopportunities for education and lifelong learning.

    When the Cambodian participants finished their reflections on ouroriginal definition, they decided that a two-tier definition was required toreflect the reality of their context. The result is the definition presentedbelow; words in italics highlight the changes to our original definition madeby these participants.

    The Cambodian Definition

    Information literacy is the ability of individuals or groups in their uniquecontexts to understand when information can help, to know how to findand evaluate it, to understand how to integrate the relevant informationto create new knowledge or add to existing knowledge, to use thisknowledge as needed to resolve their problems, and to evaluate and learnfrom their experience.

    As individuals and groups become increasingly information literate,they also become increasingly aware of the social, cultural, technical,political and environmental contexts of the information they are using.What emerged from the Cambodian workshops, then, is a series ofdefinitional nuances that highlight these key points:

    1. IL in definition and practice must be contextually grounded.2. Knowledge creation as a product of IL is both knowledge based and

    problem focused.

  • 168 Daniel G. Dorner et al.3. The contexts of a society must be understood quite specifically and maybe unique to each society.

    4. IL involves a continuum that comes from, and at the same time enables,new learning related to the contextual aspects of information.In Laos a similar procedure was followed, with participants devising theirown definition based on the general statement provided at the beginning.In the Lao revision the results were broadly similar to the Cambodianresults that is, participants were equally insistent that it be a two-tierdefinition. The first tier in the Lao definition was for identifyingthe competencies needed by individuals or groups for use within theirspecific Lao contexts, while the second tier reflected the continuumof learning within which individuals became increasingly aware ofthe contextual factors affecting the information found by and applied bythem.

    The Lao Definition

    Information literacy in the Lao PDR is the ability of individuals orgroups in their unique contexts to understand when information can help,to know how to find and evaluate it, to understand how to adapt andintegrate the relevant information to create new knowledge or add toexisting knowledge, to use this knowledge as needed to resolve theirproblems, and to evaluate and learn from their experience.

    As individuals and groups become increasingly information literate,they also become increasingly aware of the social, cultural, traditional,political, economic, religious and technological contexts of the informationthey are finding and using.Here the participants were keen to make the Lao context quite clear byadding the country name, and to specify a set of seven contextual factors.They added economic, religious and traditional contexts but did notmention the environmental context. They also wanted to be clear that theywould adapt information to their specific needs and not simply integrate itas received. Thus the Lao participants recognised that IL is not only a set ofcompetencies but also involves a continuum of learning in which individualsincreasingly understand how their various contexts are relevant to theinformation they are using. These results regarding the conceptualisationand definition of IL in Cambodia and Laos resonate with several aspects ofearlier discussions of IL.

  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 1697.10. What Has Been Learned?

    The IL/ILE workshops in Cambodia and Laos have provided valuablegrassroots information about how IL is understood by people in LDCs.They have confirmed that the hitherto largely unchallenged traditionaldefinitions of IL are not particularly robust in the contexts of less developedAsian countries. They have shown how developing country thinking aboutIL results in a definition that is aligned with their particular societies andtherefore reflects local understanding, which must, in our view, lead to morerobust ILE that is specific to local needs and understandings.

    In line with the UNESCO (2003) definition of literacy that drawsattention to the fact that literacy involves a continuum of learning, theworkshop participants in both Cambodia and Laos recognised that ILinvolves a similar continuum. However, with IL the continuum relates to theindividuals increasing awareness of his or her countrys unique contexts ofthe information he or she is finding and using.

    Although the workshop participants had no knowledge of TheAlexandria Proclamation, they confirmed its validity regarding social andcultural contexts by focusing on the specific contexts unique to theirrespective situations; and these contexts were somewhat different despite thebroad similarities between the two countries. Also, in some sense theCambodia and Lao workshop participants confirmed Woody Hortons viewof survival literacies, in which cultural literacy is a specific component(Horton, 2008). But the workshop participants also went beyond culturalliteracy to specify a range of what we might call multiple culturally-boundliteracies such as politics, economics, religion, tradition and technology.

    In our view the data from Cambodia and the Lao PDR have resulted inmuch stronger, locally grounded definitions of IL. It is these definitions thatcan be used to model the ILE process in both countries. In this way the doorshould be open to the implementation of practical, grassroots-embedded ILpractices. This is an area for further investigation: contextually embedded ILeducation and IL practices.

    In the final report for the Lao workshop, the local organisers reportedthatParticipants were able toy develop an appropriate definitionfor Information Literacy in the Lao context, taking intoconsideration social and cultural factors. This improved andmore appropriate definition will allow the Lao participants, aswell as the resource persons, to develop information literacyeducation programmes that are culturally appropriate andsuitable for local application, and take into consideration theresources available. These contextualised information literacy

  • 170 Daniel G. Dorner et al.education programmes will in turn be far more effective that[sic] other prevailing models, and contribute greatly to theoverall learning, educational level, and development of thecountry. (IFLA ALP 2008a)This is the view of our colleagues in Laos, and we can but concur. Byfostering ILE programmes that are culturally and socially appropriate, webelieve we are helping LDCs such as Laos and Cambodia to overcomedependency thinking. We hope that the local people, as they becomeincreasingly information literate, will be able to make increasingly informeddecisions about their personal, social and national development.Acknowledgement

    We wish to acknowledge the assistance of our fellow workshop facilitator,Dr Aree Cheunwattana of Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok, for hercareful notes on each of the workshops. Without her notes, this chapterwould not have been possible.References

    Ameen, K., & Gorman, G. E. (2009). Information and digital literacy: A stumbling

    block to development? Library Management, 30(12), 99112.

    American Library Association. (1989). Presidential Committee on Information

    Literacy literacy final report. Accessed on January 31, 2011. Retrieved from


    Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information literacy

    competency standards for higher education. Chicago, IL: The Association of

    College and Research Libraries. Accessed on January 31, 2011. Retrieved from


    Association of College and Research Libraries. (2011). Instruction section: How it all

    began. Accessed on June 14, 2011 Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/


    ANZIIL. (n.d.). ANZIIL statement of purpose. Accessed on January 27, 2011.

    Retrieved from www.caul.edu.au/content/upload/files/caul-doc/ANZIILstatement.


    Bundy, A. (2004).Australian and NewZealand information literacy framework. Principles,

    standards and practice (2nd ed.). Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for

    Information Literacy. Accessed on January 27, 2011. Retrieved from http://



  • Developing Contextual Perceptions of IL and ILE in the Asian Region 171Dorner, D. G., & Gorman, G. E. (2006). Information literacy education in Asian

    developing countries: Cultural factors affecting curriculum development and

    programme delivery. IFLA Journal, 32(4), 281293. doi:10.117700340035206074063

    Dorner, D. G., & Gorman, G. E. (2011). Contextual factors affecting learning in

    Laos and the implications for information literacy education. Information

    Research, 16(2). Paper 469. Accessed on June 20, 2011. Retrieved from http://


    Eisenberg, M. (2011, January 26). What is the Big 6? Accessed on January 31, 2011.

    Retrieved from http://www.big6.com/what-is-the-big6/

    High-Level Colloquium on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning. (2006).

    Report of a meeting sponsored by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and

    Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), National Forum on Information Literacy

    (NFIL) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

    (IFLA). Accessed on January 27, 2011. Retrieved from http://archive.ifla.org/III/


    Horton, F. W., Jr. (2008). Understanding information literacy: A primer. Paris:

    UNESCO. Accessed on January 27, 2011. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.


    IFLA ALP (2008a). Final report on the project, modelling information literacy:

    Developing a contextually-based training programme for a less developed country in the

    Greater Mekong Sub Region (Laos), 29 March 2007 30 September 2008. Vientiane:

    National University of Laos, Central Library. Report deposited with IFLA ALP.

    IFLA ALP (2008b). Report on IFLA/ALP workshop: Education for information

    literacy-developing and implementing a contextually-based training programme,

    Phnom Penh, 1620 June 2008. Phnom Penh: Ministry of Education Youth and

    Sport, Pedagogical Research Department, Documentation Center. Report

    deposited with IFLA ALP.

    Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A review and poststructural critique.

    Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 26(1), 5366. Accessed on May 1,

    2011. Retrieved from http://eprints.qut.edu.au

    National Forum on Information Literacy. (2011). About the National Forum on

    Information Literacy. Accessed on June 14, 2011. Retrieved from http://infolit.org/

    Owusu-Ansah, E. K. (2005). Debating definitions of information literacy: Enough is

    enough! Library Review, 54(6), 366374. doi:10.1108/00242530510605494

    Saad, M. S. M. (2009). Southeast Asia regional workshop: Training-the-trainers in

    information literacy (TTT), Malaysia, 1114 August 2008. The International

    Information and Library Review, 41, 268272.

    UNESCO. (2005). Aspects of literacy assessment: Topics and issues from the UNESCO

    expert meeting, 10-12 June, 2003. UNESCO: Paris. Accessed on June 14, 2011. http://


    United Nations Development Program (2010). Human development index (HDI)

    2010 rankings. Human development report 2010. Accessed on February 17, 2011.

    Retrieved from http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics

    Webber, S. (2008). The seven headline skills expanded. Accessed on January 31,

    2011. Retrieved from www.sconul.ac.uk/groups/information_literacy/headline_



  • 172 Daniel G. Dorner et al.Wijetunge, W., & Alahakoon, U. P. (2005). Empowering 8: The information literacy

    model developed in Sri Lanka to underpin changing education paradigms of Sri

    Lanka. Sri Lanka Journal of Librarianship and Information Management, 1(1),


    Wong, C., Williams, C., Pittock, J., Collier, U., & Schelle, P. (2007). Worlds top 10

    rivers at risk (Accessed on May 19. 2011. Retrieved from http://assets.panda.org/

    downloads/worldstop10riversatriskfinalmarch13.pdf). Gland, Switzerland: WWF


    World Bank Group. (2011). WDI online (Accessed on May 19, 2011. Retrieved

    from http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators?

    cidGPD_WDI). Washington, DC: World Bank Group.Zurkowski P. The information service environment relationships and priorities. Related

    paper no. 5. Washington, DC: National Commission on Libraries and Information

    Science, National Program for Libraries and Information Science. Accessed on

    January 24, 2011. Retrieved fromhttp://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED100391.pdf


    Developing Contextual Perceptions of Information Literacy and Information Literacy Education in the Asian RegionIntroductionThe Work of Paul ZurkowskiDefining IL --- A Developed Country ConceptquestPerceiving IL and ILE in a Wider WorldThe Alexandria ProclamationDe-contextualised Models of ILCambodia and Laos in the Context of IL and ILEIL Studies in Cambodia and LaosRedefining ILThe Cambodian DefinitionThe Lao Definition

    What Has Been LearnedquestAcknowledgementReferences


View more >