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Recognizing the Importance of Information Literacy


Date posted: December 6, 2012

By Julie Walker

Attending the 2012 Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference was in many ways a surreal experience. In an odd sort of way, it was also a validation for the work of my association and my profession. Fifteen years ago I attended a gathering in Washington, DC designed to bring together major stakeholders around the hottest topic of its time: Internet safety. By far the most vocalized threat was exposure to pornography. By far the favored solution of the day was “protecting” children — and adults — by blocking and/or filtering access to the Internet. The voices of the constituents I represent, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and the voices of the larger library community represented by other colleagues within the American Library Association (ALA), were most definitely in the minority. Both information literacy and First Amendment rights fared badly against the lurid scenarios painted on that day.

Julie Walker, AASL Executive Director (middle) with Bret Perkins, Vice President of External and Government Affairs, Comcast (left) and John Walls, Vice President of Public Affairs, CTIA (right)

On November 14th 2012, I was recognized with an Outstanding Achievement Award from FOSI for my association’s work in information literacy. The award ceremony was sandwiched between two days of presentations that addressed the conference theme, “A Safer Internet for All.” The frame for the conference was the release of a FOSI research report that compared parent and teen perceptions of online activity and the concurrent announcement of the enhancement of FOSI’s Platform for Good with resources designed to “Teach Parents Tech.”

Over the two days of the conference, panels discussed the hottest topics of the day: online privacy, the transformative potential of technology both at home and abroad and educating for online safety. Throughout the conference was the tacit and, at times explicit, acknowledgement that knowledge and skills are the true keys to online safety. Ringing the room with exhibits, nearly every sponsor showcased a program designed to educate families about safe navigation of the online world.

It was with great pride for both my association and my profession to receive public acknowledgement of the course we have stayed (and continue to stay). In the words of my colleague Frank Gallagher, “At a time when many were afraid of the Internet and social networking, Julie and AASL were among the leaders in recognizing the way new technologies could provide access to vast troves of information if we are equipped with the skills to find, sort, evaluate, and manage the results. By advocating for information literacy education instead of blocking and restricting access, Julie and AASL are helping today’s kids become tomorrow’s thoughtful and informed leaders.” In many ways, the conference was the culmination of a fifteen year journey that has resulted in a wide variety of stakeholders standing together on a Platform for Good.

Julie Walker is executive director of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

Photo courtesy of the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI).