Information literacy vs usability?

Usability is NOT about simplifying things. Developing a user-friendly application does not mean reducing contents or eliminating complexity. It DOES mean omitting unnecessary obstacles and reducing the necessity of being highly computer literate in order to perform everyday tasks.

Usability in its narrow sense, i.e. creating user-friendly access to technical applications and devices, continues to be a basic requirement. Don’t annoy users with interfaces which do not consider recent standards, be they search interfaces or scrollbars.

Search interface for ETH Bildarchiv

Most users find a search intimidating which hides its scope in drop-down menus

The scrollbar at the left isn\'t obvious

Good restaurant, bad usability design: don’t try to be creative with a scrollbar

Applications which are straightforward to use will give users a more satisfactory experience. But they won’t make information literacy superfluous. The increasing amount and seamless access to different forms of (digital) information make gathering information ever more simple. Dealing with this amount of information, however, requires highly developed skills.

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. quoted from the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

User-friendly applications do not necessarily enhance information literacy, but they should. They can help reduce complexity by making relationships between data more visible and simpler to understand.

Usability AND information literacy

Search engines and online shops are increasingly integrating features to support their users, e.g.

  • suggesting further search terms (broader, narrower, or related)

Ask.com - search for \

Search for “information literacy” on Ask.com renders results and suggestions for modifying search or further reading

  • giving context: categorizing results according to clusters or source

Clusty - shows in which clusters and sources \

Search for “information literacy” on Clusty.com shows in which clusters and sources the term was found

  • giving context: including other users’ judgements

Yahoo search results with del.icio.us bookmarks

Yahoo! is experimenting with including del.icio.us bookmarks in search results

These approaches show where information comes from, in which form it is available, and help to assess the relevance and reliability of results. By making this kind of meta-information more accessible, applications can help users develop their information literacy skills.

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5 Responses to “Information literacy vs usability?”


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  1. 1 Weblog zum Thema Information Access / Weblog sur la thématique « Accès à l’information » at E-lib.ch Trackback on June 2, 2008 at 13:55
  2. 2 Search Engine Tips « Information Access Trackback on July 20, 2008 at 12:12

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