A recent study shows that while college students may be able to find information online, they are not very good at figuring out what information is reliable and authoritative. The study was released by the Communications Studies department at Northwestern University (the press release at http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2010/07/Google.html; the article that reports the study is at http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/636/423). The students in the study relied on commercial search engines like Google, and could not distinguish useful, unbiased websites from biased ones. For example, the students confuse search rankings with authoritativeness (higher rankings meaning better websites), and they assume that an “.org” web address gives a web site authority (when any organization, even a well-known neo-Nazi group, can get an “.org” address).
A recent white paper addressed this gap in information literacy. While it does not present solutions to the problem of digital literacy, it does propose some minimum standards that librarians and other educators can rely on. Titled “Basic 21st Century Technology, Information & Communication Skills for Successful Citizens,” (http://www.tblc.org/DigitalSkillsChecklist.pdf), it was written by Paul Alford, the Learning Services Manager for the Citrus County (Florida) library system. The ambitious list suggests skills in three areas, Digital Skills, Information Resource Skills, and Communication & Cognitive Skills, that are necessary for people to be fully prepared to address their own information needs. The list builds on basic skills to support more complex ones. It outlines the sills necessary to make important decisions, learn for themselves, and be engaged with society and government--very important for the law student and lawyer.