IFLA SL Newsletter

– a commentsblog

Information Literacy in Italy

By Paolo Odasso,

In the middle of the nineties, for the first time, a pilot project with the goal of introducing Information Literacy (IL) took place in an Italian upper secondary school, the Abba School, near Milan in the North of Italy. Thanks to the cooperation of an enterprising school librarian and some teachers this experimentation gained a strong reputation and produced good documentation with a detailed report amazingly titled  Sorry, where do I have to go if I want to find vinagre”? which had a deep impact on the community of Italian teachers/school librarians (SLans).  Also during the same period in Brescia (near Milan) there was a crowded and successful national meeting, supported by the Italian Section of School Librarian Association, in which IL and the new educational activities were introduced to the Italian school libraries. 

In spite of this timely introduction, IL in Italy involved mostly SLans and didn’t have the strength to involve the Italian teachers, even less the National Educational Authorities: in other words IL didn’t become part of the National Curriculum. Not in the nineties, nor nowadays.

The Italian Education System copes with the challenges of the Internet and information overload in the information society by focusing its attention on promoting ICT literacy but not IL. The interest in IL therefore kept on being mainly theoretical, with very few applications in the everyday activities of Italian schools.     

An important role in strengthening the interest in the theoretical knowledge of the IL was played by the University of Padua, with a master-course open to teachers and Slans. The same University in 2002 organized the first international meeting specifically dedicated to IL whose proceedings were collected in a book, with the Popperian title To stumble on the problem. 

A good way to legitimate IL with Italian teachers has been to connect IL with the educational heritage of learning through the process of research, especially through the well-known tradition which comes from philosophers/pedagogues like J. Dewey, J. Bruner, A.D. Ausubel,  etc. The novelty of IL has therefore be seen mainly as a development of the constructivist approach by taking into account the new educational problems coming out from the challenges of the Internet and information society.

Two main reasons hinder now the spread of IL among Italian schools.

First of all the Italian teachers initial training at University prepares them for a teacher-centred approach with frontal lessons but much with less work as a mentor, tutors with a student-centred approach focused on promoting learning by research-activities.  

Secondly both SL and Slan have, in Italy, a very precarious existence. There isn’t a National Law that guarantees the presence of a specialized Slan with a specific role in any of the 10,000 Italian schools. 

It’s not easy to predict the future of IL educational activities in Italian schools and SLs without the strong involvement of teachers of curriculum-disciplines.

These difficulties call for further research into the relationship between the two aspects which are at the centre of the international educational debate and also of IL: “information” from one side and “learning-education” (in Italian we use the term “formation”) from the other one. 

One of the most important changes in the educational system is in fact the shift of focus from having knowledge to being competent, from having information to being information literate. The stress is on the word to be, to become, not to have.  If the rationale of IL is to promote an autonomous lifelong learner the main duty of most educational systems is not only to guarantee the access to information but to guarantee the educational success for every learner.

From this point of view to complete this outline of  IL in Italy it is useful to mention a survey that was performed by IRRE Piemonte, a Regional Institute for Educational Research of the Ministry of Education whose summary has been reported in the before-mentioned “To stumble on the problem”. In this survey to perform IL activities in a SL means to face the educational problem of transforming the “information” into “meanings”. It means helping learners to metabolize the new information into personal knowledge, competence and wisdom, to change quantity of information into quality of “meanings”. The focus is less in the concept of “information” and more in the concept of “formation”, which is the modern translation of the word paideia in the old Greek Language, or the word “bildung” in the modern German Language.

All that means that in a SL it is important the mediation through which the information become personally meaningful to the learner, starting with the first step from so-called “cognitive conflict” through the meta-cognitive conceptual maps with which to link the meanings with the personalization of meanings. It also important understanding how this process can have different paths according to the different epistemology of the disciplines. In some learning activities the IL can start with a problem and end with a solution. In others it can start with a non-problem and end with a problem etc.

This final consideration means that in order to spread IL in an Italian SL the cooperation of information-expert (librarian) with the meanings-expert (teacher of the disciple) is not only important but also absolutely necessary.


January 14, 2007 - Posted by | 4. Issue 43, 5. Theme 43: Information Literacy, Italy

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you,
    very interesting article

    Comment by ostrov | December 2, 2009 | Reply

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