Heroic information literacy

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Image by Dru Bloomfield-At Home in Scottsdale: Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/athomeinscottsdale/2986235957/, and used according to a Creative Commons Attribution License

I am a fan of the 1980s TV series The Greatest American Hero.  It concerned Ralph, an ordinary man given a suit that endowed him with extraordinary powers.  Since he’d lost its instruction book, Ralph had to learn by trial and error how to use the suit.  His adventures can teach us much about information literacy.

Lesson One: Research is messy.

Ralph’s early experiences with the suit did not go smoothly, to say the least.   Library research can also have its frustrating moments. Kuhlthau (2004) discusses uncertainty in the research process and the role of mediators–librarians, for example–in offering encouragement (p. 110).  This point relates well to Lesson Three below.

Lesson Two: Information literacy develops with practice.

With experience and practice Ralph grew in his abilities with the suit.  With experience and practice we develop improved research habits.  This point may seem trite, yet it bears repeating–especially in light of Lesson One.

Lesson Three: Research is not a solitary process.

Ralph did not fight evil alone.   He turned to his lawyer/girlfriend (later his wife) Pam and to his friend/handler Bill for help.   As a teacher Ralph sometimes enlisted the help of his students as well.  Likewise we can turn to subject experts, instructors,  librarians, etc. in our research need.

Lesson Four: Information Literacy is more than finding information

Ralph would use different powers (for ex. strength, speed, etc.) in different combinations depending upon what the situation demanded.  Information literacy deals with not only finding information, but also using it effectively and ethically to meet different needs.

Ralph had no instruction book, but he used his powers for good anyway .  This perseverance was Ralph’s true heroism.   Research doesn’t come with an instruction book.  Working through this uncertainty makes for heroic information literacy.


Cannell, S. J. (Creator & Producer). (1980-1983). The greatest American hero [Television series].  Retrieved from http://www.cannell.com/tv-show-detail/48/the-greatest-american-


Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services

(2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.