For more than ten years now I have been a librarian at the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg, managing a small library dedicated to planning, geography, urban design and environmental issues. I have been extremely fortunate to have had the freedom in this role to evolve a hybridized career involving research, librarianship, teaching, writing and editing.
One of the things I enjoy most about the job is not only assisting students with their research but incorporating library search strategies into the courses I teach at the University of Winnipeg. An annual highlight for me is my annual presentation to first year city planning students from the University of Manitoba on information literacy in planning research, to orient them to using our collection in the preparation of their theses and practica. By information literacy, I am referring to
a transformational process in which the learner needs to find, understand, evaluate, and use information in various forms to create for personal, social or global purposes.
Over the years of delivering and redeveloping this lecture, I've become more aware of the important intersections between information literacy concepts, and those concerning planning. As any regular reader of this website will understand, planning issues are becoming increasingly fraught with controversy, involving diverse constituencies representing competing claims, arguments and data sets. Positions are becoming more polarized, and their partisans often employ overheated, hyperbolic rhetoric. Navigating these claims and counter-claims – as well as anticipating and combating widespread disinformation – is becoming an essential part of our role as planners; yet the potential universe of information is vast and filled with numerous pitfalls. To engage in these debates successfully we must be able to both develop our own critical skills in assessing and using information, and assist others in developing these tools as well.
Librarians and educators are also pointing out that an information-literate society is a prerequisite for being able to achieve progress on social, political and environmental problems. As the World Summit on the Information Society declared in their 2005 "Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning,"
Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations. Lifelong learning enables individuals, communities and nations to attain their goals and to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the evolving global environment for shared benefit. It assists them and their institutions to meet technological, economic and social challenges, to redress disadvantage and to advance the well being of all.
By extension, then, successful planning also necessitates lifelong learning on the part of citizens, communities, practitioners and institutions.
With these important contexts in mind, I am engaging in a new project on Interchange: a series on Information Sources in Planning. Over the coming months, I shall be reviewing a selection of databases, magazines, news sites and reference sources with a view to assessing their functionality, scope, applicability and accessibility. These posts will be oriented to learning how to make best use of these sources' capabilities but shall at the same time also be critical, in that they will consider any limitations or potential biases – and the influence of such on the quality of the information presented.
My hope is that both academic and practicing planners (particularly those new to the profession) will find this feature useful, and that it will broaden the range of information sources being used in their work. That said, I'll also be very interested in hearing from readers about the tools you use, and will welcome your suggestions for inclusion in the series.
First up: An overview of information literacy principles.