Dictionary Literacy, Information Literacy, and Information Behaviour in the E-Environment

Extensive research has been done on information literacy and information behaviour (e.g., Case & Given, 2016, Wilson, 2022), but less on dictionary literacy (e.g., Lew, 2013). The interrelationship between and interdependence of these fields have, however, not been addressed extensively. An interdisciplinary view of the three fields forms the topic of this paper.

The paper intends to show that dictionary literacy forms a subset of information literacy. We contend that a user’s attitude towards both fields are influenced by their information need in a specific context, the tools available to resolve the information need and, ultimately, depends on their level of information literacy skills and critical thinking skills, from the perspective of their information behaviour. We focus on text reception, viz., understanding the meaning of a word within its context when reading a text. (Text reception and text production are aspects of the communicative function in the Function Theory of Lexicography (Tarp, 2008).)

We discuss, at a theoretical level, why we hold the opinion expressed in the objectives. We illustrate this with examples from texts in e-readers (such as Kindle) and on the web, linked to e-dictionaries, with drill-down options on demand to further resources.

The advantages and limitations of such linking are briefly discussed at the hand of examples. It will also show that the information contained in the dictionary is often not sufficient to resolve a user’s information need satisfactorily and that access to additional information sources is often required. It furthermore confirms that the user should always critically evaluate the outcome of their consultation of their information sources to ensure that the meaning or sense assigned to a word is valid in context.

e-Dictionaries provide easy and fast access to dictionary articles, either in stand-alone e-dictionaries (apps or web), or in e-dictionaries linked to e-texts. A user is, however, still required to evaluate the results to ensure the information is valid in context, and may often be required to consult further resources. To enable the user to obtain the required information successfully in such a consultation requires a proper understanding of dictionary and information literacy and a knowledge of other potentially relevant resources, as well as critical thinking skills, and to adapt their information behaviour to use various information sources optimally.


  • Case, D. O., & Given, L. M. (2016). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior. Bingley: Emerald.
  • Lew, R. (2013). Online dictionary skills. In P. Gantar, J. Kallas, I. Kosem, S. Krek, M. Langemets, & M. Tuulik (Eds.), Proceedings of the eLex 2013 Conference (pp. 16–31). Ljubljana: Trojina.
  • Tarp, S. (2008). Lexicography in the borderland between knowledge and non-knowledge. Berlin: Max Niemeyer.
  • Wilson, T. D. (2022). Exploring information behaviour: An Introduction. Retrieved January 10, 2023 from http://informationr.net/ir/Exploring%20information%20behaviour.pdf

Theo JD Bothma, Ina Fourie
University of Pretoria, South Africa

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