Mackey, Thomas P. and Jacobsen, Trudi E. Metaliteracy: reinventing information literacy to empower learners. London: Facet Publishing, 2014. xxi, 222 p. ISBN 978-1-78330-012-9 £49.95

How do we engage students in learning without telling them to close their laptops or switching of their mobile phones? Or, how do we, as teachers, make use of the emerging technologies that surround our students in order to stimulate and enhance their learning? These are central issues for Mackey and Jacobsen’s new book. The authors clearly state that it is not a matter of rejecting the concept of information literacy and replacing it with the new concept of metaliteracy. Metaliteracy is rather the authors’ reinvention and development of information literacy. Apart from that it adds a few new skills to the list it is, however, not fully clear how metaliteracy expands the traditional, generic definition. The authors see information literacy as the metaliteracy, which builds on a number of different literacies such as media, digital, and critical literacy. The key dimension in their reinvention is that of metacognition, i.e., the ability to reflect upon one’s own action and thinking, hence the meta in metaliteracy. In outlining their ideas and arguments, the authors present a model (yet another one) which is clearly based on and rooted in the information literacy standards developed by the Association of Research and College Libraries (ACRL) some 15 years ago. Primarily with reference to the propagation of new information and communication technologies, they add to their model a set of competencies that they view as crucial for being able to be part of our contemporary society, namely the abilities to collaborate, participate, produce and share information. These abilities, in conjunction with those that we recognize from the ACRL standards, which are about determining the extent of information needed, accessing, evaluating and understanding information, form the backbone of the metaliteracy model. Accordingly, there is a strong connection between the authors’ take on information literacy and the evolving social-media-landscape. This connection seems reasonable but also somewhat problematic since information literacy thereby risks becoming defined in relation to tools rather than to knowledge and competencies needed in the context where information literacy is enacted.

Related to the model are four stipulated learning goals and objectives concerning evaluation and sharing of information, the understanding of ethical aspects of information, and the ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning. In order for a student to reach these objectives, his or her learning will fall into four domains: a behavioural, a cognitive, an affective, and a metacognitive domain. Despite the authors’ explicit acknowledgement of collaborative dimensions of learning, their perspective on information literacy necessarily entails an individualistic approach with strong focus on cognition, which, by the way, is emphasized through references to the ideas of multiple intelligences and connectivism. A problematic aspect of this division into four distinct domains is that it implies a separation of thinking from doing and feeling.

The book contains seven chapters divided into two parts. Chapters one to five, which are of a theoretical nature, generously relate to relevant literature. The first part discusses the concept of metaliteracy, and the emergence of social media and their implications for information literacy. It also presents a rather substantial selection of other, related literacies. Finally, a number of international initiatives and frameworks for information literacy are related to and compared with the suggested framework for metaliteracy. The second half of the book (chapters five, six and seven) contains a report from an international ‘survey of the field’ in which librarians, teachers and some other groups have been asked how they teach for information literacy, how they keep updated, and how they relate to various literacy concepts. The last chapters respectively are used for reporting on two recent courses with strong emphasis on metaliteracy. The obvious idea is that the second part of the book is meant to be a practical illustration of the preceding theoretical discussion.

Overall, the book is a welcome contribution. It succeeds in presenting a sound and needed alternative to what the authors term ‘skill based literacy’ even though it from time to time threads very near a traditional standardized approach to information literacy. My main concerns are, and these are quite troublesome, that the authors fail in clarifying what kind of a concept metaliteracy is in their account. It is simply unclear whether the reader should think of metaliteracy (and information literacy) as a theoretical or an empirical concept. Due to this obscurity, the book unfortunately tends to qualify for the category in the information literacy literature described by Tuominen, Savolainen and Talja (2005, p. 330) who assert that ‘many, or most, texts on information literacy consist of normative prescriptions of information skills needed in modern society’. Another problem is that the authors make it seem as if their approach to information literacy, which to some extent includes nuanced attention paid to social practices and contexts, is something new. In doing so it disregards an important part of highly relevant research. There is actually a multitude of contributions to the research on information literacy, which is not mentioned by Jacobsen and Mackay that conceive of learning information literacy as developing an understanding of the socio-material and discursive practices in which the learner is active. According to this research (e.g., Marcum, 2002; Pawley, 2003; Tuominen et al., 2005; Simmons, 2005; Sundin, 2008; Pilerot and Limberg, 2011) information literacy comprises an understanding of, and a familiarity with, how information is sought and used in a certain social context. It is produced by a group of researchers whose work is grounded in a sociocultural theoretical perspective, and that subscribes to the idea and concept of information literacies in the plural, which indicates that they conceive of information literacy as a phenomenon that varies in character from time to time and place to place. I suspect that also Jacobsen and Mackay would agree on this take on information literacy even though their book often seems to indicate something else.

My final issue has to do with the matter of audience: who is the book for? It is nowhere clearly stated. I guess that Jacobsen and Mackay think of teaching librarians and teachers as their main target group. These categories would probably find the book inspiring and useful. It does, however, also have the potential to attract readers among policy-makers and researchers. The books’ potential to attract various readers can be seen as a positive quality and says something about its character: it contains a little bit of everything, from teaching suggestions and policy-making to theoretical discussions, but, at the same time, it is also a weakness.


  • Marcum, J. (2002). Rethinking information literacy. Library Quarterly, 72(1), 1–26.
  • Pawley, C. (2003). Information literacy: a contradictory coupling. Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422-452.
  • Pilerot, O. & Lindberg, J. (2011). The concept of information literacy in policy-making texts: An imperialistic project? Library Trends, 60(2), 338-360.
  • Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as disciplinary discourse mediators: Using genre theory to move toward critical information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297–311.
  • Sundin, O. (2008). Negotiations on information-seeking expertise: a study of web-based tutorials for information literacy. Journal of Documentation, 64(1), 24–44.
  • Tuominen, K., Savolainen, R. & Talja, S. (2005). Information literacy as a sociotechnical practice. Library Quarterly, 75(3), 329–345.

Ola Pilerot
Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås
August, 2014