Information Literacy and the Academic Library
Defining Information Literacy
How do students handle the explosion of information resources in the
multitude of formats available today? Newspapers, television, books,
journals, computers and telephones give us news, articles, databases,
government documents, experts, local agencies and opinions. We all are
a part of this information society, and we all need to be "information
Information literacy has become a popular term, yet it means different
things to different people. In the Good Library we define it as
ability to recognize an information need,
- find information to meet that
- apply and evaluate that information.
is not just about learning facts but about learning to learn, a skill
that lasts a lifetime. It is not simply library instruction; rather,
it is preparing students to learn from a variety of resources. It comes
through a mixture of lectures, hands-on assignments, written research
projects using technical skills, and critical thinking abilities in the
use of print, electronic, and oral information resources.
A solid understanding of information needs and uses results from a
broad, continuing, and repetitive program throughout the college experience.
Further, it requires sustained cooperation among all on campus if it
is to become a part of the learning process across the curriculum. Because
research indicates that the professor plays a large role in determining
how students find and use information, any information literacy effort
must actively involve faculty.
Library and Faculty Roles in Developing Information Literacy Skills
For many faculty members, using the library is second nature. However,
you may have forgotten how intimidating and frustrating the information-seeking
process can be to a first-year student. If you completed your studies
before the explosion of electronic information, you also may not realize
the enormity of information now available to students nor the increasing
importance of determining the credibility of much of that information.
Faculty may be surprised how little students use the library - and
how ineffective their use of information resources can be - if no specific
requirements are made. Students' familiarity with the keyboard and general
computer use leads them to falsely believe they know how to effectively
use all resources accessible through this medium, and that this medium
is the only one they need. Contrary to their perceptions, however, students
need guidance in the research process. A professor's concern for how
students go about doing their assignments, and acceptance of only quality
work from students provides such guidance.
It is equally important that faculty work with librarians to coordinate
instruction and information-based assignments. For instance, students
are quick to interpret the absence of a professor at a librarian-led
class session as an indication that the session need not be taken seriously.
More importantly, the professor can contribute to the session by suggesting
specialized sources, indicating those that should be emphasized to fit
the assignment, and asking for clarification or further information
when students are reluctant to do so.
A three-part library program lays the groundwork for teaching information
literacy at Goshen College:
- First-year required GC Core courses. In the fall, the first year students are asked to
complete several assignments during their Identify, Culture & Communty/Learning Community courses. They are introduced
to print and electronic sources.
- Academic Voice (Literature and Writing) class. Through joint planning by the librarians
and the professors, students plan and implement an efficient search
strategy for completing a search topic, evaluating materials, and
selecting appropriate sources.
- Instruction in majors. Basic reference tools and the research
methodology for a particular discipline are presented in an upper-level
course in that department.
Additionally, professors can and often do incorporate information-seeking
activities into class assignments. The level of information literacy
skill required and/or taught in this context varies greatly, however.
Students won't learn to be scholars (or even information literate) if
they are simply handed a reading list. Such a situation can be further
devalued if the professor has not consulted with a librarian to make
sure the library has all the necessary materials before handing out
such a list. Moreover, students need to be taught the strategies that
scholars in particular disciplines use to find credible, relevant information
sources when they have no ready-made reading list.
Strategies for Designing Effective Information-Based
1) Avoid these commonly-assigned activities:
2) Set objectives and make them clear to the students.
- An entire class looking for one piece of information or researching
one topic. Often the students who start on the assignment first check
out most or all of the most useful resources. This also encourages
students to use the work of other students, since the core group of
sources is the same.
- Students working from incomplete or incorrect information; materials
assigned that the library does not own; vague topics. The information-seeking
process has its own built-in barriers; adding unnecessary logistical
complications will only discourage students from proceeding to the
more substantive and valuable stages of the process.
- Students given obscure factual questions and told to find the answers.
Assignments that are not related to the class and subject matter at
hand are often seen either as jokes that do not have to be treated
seriously or as time-wasting busy work. Students are likely to ignore
any learning opportunity intended by such exercises.
about your expectations regarding fulfilling the assignment. Encourage
students to read, evaluate, and analyze research findings rather than
simply retrieve something. Maintain high standards and inform students
that you expect and require research to be of high quality.3) Teach research strategies where appropriate.
may seem obvious to experienced researchers but are generally unknown
to students. Discuss the information search process in class.4) Encourage students to start at the library's home page
when doing research.
5) Provide criteria for evaluating information,
web sites. See Evaluating Web Sites
6) Do not assume that student can effectively search for
including searching the web.7) Include a method for evaluating the thinking process
behind information finding and use (e.g., keeping a research journal). 8) Make sure students have enough time to complete the assignment.
It helps to have intermediate goals so those students cannot wait until
the last minute to find information. This is a recipe for frantic web
surfing and the use of questionable sources.
9) Encourage students to use scholarly web guides,
, or more specific subject web sites. Also, check our Beyond Googling GoodGuide
for more resources and tips.
10) Give your liaison librarian a copy of the assignment
beforehand and discuss resources
you want students to use so that
the library can be prepared. If appropriate, ask for class instruction
on advanced search techniques, sources, and research methods.
Consider alternative designs for an assignment:
- prepare an annotated bibliography of information sources on a topic
- write an abstract of a journal article
- compare a popular magazine article and a scholarly journal article
on the same topic
- work in groups to prepare a guide that introduces new majors to
information sources in the discipline
- seek information on simulations of real-life projects
- read and evaluate a case study and suggest alternatives
- trace the history of a particular word or phrase important to the
- keep a journal of the search process, including methodology, items
consulted, successes, failures, etc.
- compare a scholarly edition with a performance edition of a score;
consult reviews of scores and recordings
- investigate government agencies or professional organizations which
regulate the discipline
- write a grant proposal
- learn mechanics of getting published, including the indexing of
the journal, time lag, reputation in the field, review process
- trace an author through a citation index to determine the "scholarly
- compare information found on the web with traditional print resources
on a particular topic
- do a commercial in class on information gathered from book, journal,
web site on a particular class topic
A Few Words About Plagiarism
The electronic format of much information available makes plagiarism
easier than ever before. Here are a couple of suggestions to help discourage
- Emphasize the process of research. Require copies of proposals,
outlines, multiple drafts, interim working bibliographies, and photocopies
- Require students to engage and apply ideas, not describe them.
- Discuss plagiarism with students--what is it, how to avoid, etc.
Additional Resources on Information Literacy
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has recently
adopted information literacy competency standards for higher education.
An information literate individual is able to perform the following:
- determine the extent of information needed
- access the needed information effectively and efficiently
- evaluate information and its sources critically
- incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base
- use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
- understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the
use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally
The Information Literacy Competency Standards
information literacy in relation to information technology, higher education,
pedagogy, and assessment. Also included are performance indicators and
specific objectives. You may wish to consult this document as you think
about your role in helping your students work toward becoming information literate people.