In its most distilled sense, is an individual's ability to know when information is needed to supplement his/her own knowledge base, to know where to go and whom to ask for assistance in finding the needed information, and to read, mark, and inwardly digest the information in order to produce new knowledge. These abilities are best learned in increments, over time. In its statement on general education, the University System of Georgia (USG) acknowledges that information literacy is one of the basic understandings for which students need general education coursework (Board of Regents Section 2.04.01: General Guidelines for Core Curriculum Areas A-E).
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has compiled five standards and twenty-two associated performance indicators which can be used to assess the information literacy of college students (Information Literacy 8-14). The five standards are:
The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and access and uses information ethically and legally.
Taken together, these standards describe students who are prepared to learn how to learn for the rest of their lives. Assessment of information literacy early in the college career is critical, because students come to college with a wide variety of backgrounds, and from diverse circumstances. This is true at any institution of higher learning. Significant numbers of students come from the traditional age cohorts associated with college-age students, but more each year do not. Development of information literacy skills is still uneven before students reach college, being fairly strong in the K-8 environment, but dropping off at the secondary level. Program adoption is dependent on individual schools or districts; there is no state- or federal-mandated standard. At the same time, it is rare to find students who do not have at least some facility with computer applications.
There is overlap between fluency with technology and information literacy, with the former developing a skill set and the latter requiring more intellectual effort. However, in the academic setting especially, collaboration among three areas – academic faculty, library faculty, and technology managers – is necessary in order to graduate information literate students.
Teaching faculty provide content and context. They shape the discipline to make it recognizable to the student. They also shape and manage the curriculum.
Librarians of all types provide the pathways to information resources outside the classroom and/or course management web pages (WebCT, Pipeline, etc.), and teach students how to exploit those pathways.
Technology managers provide the infrastructure that makes content provision possible by the other collaborative partners; technology instructors and instructional designers assist faculty, staff and students with software applications.
None of the three partners provides everything that a program of true information literacy requires. All of them must work together. For example, the following chart, developed by Oswald Ratteray of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, illustrates the roles of faculty and librarians in this kind of programming:
|Determining nature and extent of needed information||Faculty lead; Librarians support||Classroom discussions; Individual consultations; Online tutorials; Peer-group discussions; Other mentors|
|Accessing information effectively and efficiently||Librarians lead; Faculty support||Classroom discussions; Individual consultations; Online tutorials; Peer-group discussions; Other mentors|
|Evaluating critically sources and content of information||Librarians lead on critique of sources; Faculty lead on critique of content||Classroom discussions; Individual consultations; Online tutorials; Peer-group discussions; Other mentors|
|Incorporating information in learner's knowledge base and value system||Faculty lead; Librarians may be asked to support|
|Using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose||Faculty lead; Librarians may be asked to support||Artistic performances; Project demonstrations; Classroom discussions; Individual consultations; Online tutorials; Peer-group discussions; Other mentors|
|Understanding economic, legal, and social issues in the use of information and technology||Faculty and librarians (individually, jointly, and continuously)||Plans or rehearsals for projects/performances; Classroom discussions; Individual consultations; Online tutorials; Peer-group discussions; Other mentors|
Practical applications of the practices alluded to in the ACRL competency standards differ from institution to institution. Though information literacy has a conceptual framework, each institution has a different set of environmental skills which students must master in order to grasp the concepts. Programs that comprise an information literacy effort may be spread out piecemeal over several units, making the outcomes difficult to assess.
There are different courses in the freshman year here at ASU that could be used as seedbeds for beginning information literacy instruction, and each course presents some kind of hurdle to be cleared before we can say that we have properly addressed the issue. ASUO 1000 is taken in the first semester of the freshman year. It is essentially a freshman year experience course, but it is not currently required of all freshmen. Library services, technology services, and academic services are all introduced to students, who are also enrolled in either freshman-level core courses or in preparatory courses, or in both. If this course were to become a requirement, it would be an ideal starting point for delivering information literacy to our students. As it is, it only reaches about half of the freshman class. Other courses which could be used for this purpose are the ENGL 1101/1102 series. Both of these courses require students to find and use library resources outside of class, so that branch of information literacy is covered. Participation by Reese Library faculty in these courses is sometimes sparse, however. According to statistics for 2003-2004, only 25-33% of the sections of these courses, combined, requested library instruction. For the Fall 2006 semester, that percentage is closer to 20%.
This is not to say that students who do not come to the library do not get the proper research instruction. Academic faculty who are involved in their own research can certainly teach the process to their students. However, it is impossible for librarians to assess the level of instruction taking place, or whether it is taking place at all. We can only account for what we do. In the same way, English faculty would have a difficult time assessing the type and amount of beginning level information literacy instruction that is happening in other courses.
It is not uncommon in academe for views of information literacy to be incomplete, or even contradictory. Speaking just from the library standpoint, university faculty often regard the library instruction component with a curious form of “not in my back yard.” They think it's a great idea, just not for them. This is probably because our current delivery model, which is also not at all uncommon in higher education, requires professors to give up one or more class periods to a librarian. This attitude is borne out by the results of the 2004 survey of faculty by the Library Committee. Senior faculty, in particular those teaching upper level courses, may also assume that an introduction to library research takes place at some point in the freshman year, and is therefore not the responsibility of those teaching upper division courses. As our statistics for ASUO 1000 and ENGL 1101/1102 show, this may be a faulty assumption.
Information literacy is broader than just library instruction. There are elements in both instruction and assessment that are appropriate to the library, but others that are more appropriate to academic faculty and/or technology instructors. Any effort to implement full scale information literacy (the ideal) where it has existed piecemeal (our current situation) needs broader participation than just a group of willing librarians. The misapprehension that information literacy and library instruction are synonymous is understandable. Much of the literature of IL exists within library literature, and the supporting research tends to be done by librarians. However, the outcomes and assessment of this instruction are, in most cases, outside the librarians' grasp. When we provide course-related instruction to another professor's students, we don't make the assignment, grade the papers or other projects, or oversee the technological infrastructure within which our students have to work. Only when librarians teach required core courses in information studies do we have that kind of control. That is not now the status quo, at our institution or many others. Even so, having librarians teach standalone courses is still not the best expression of effort in teaching information literacy. There must be partnership with academic faculty and technology instructors.
Planning for this type of program presents the University with an opportunity for collaboration across departments, with the result of producing the lifelong learners that our mission enjoins us to develop. Were we to undertake this opportunity seriously, a preliminary proposal might include the following:
First, the University would need to decide what skills and attributes we should be expecting from newly matriculated students. These decisions might require that we consult with secondary educators, since many of our students have graduated from local high schools. An ancillary decision would be what kind of remediation we would offer to students who are not prepared by high school or life experience for our level of expectation.
Next, we would need to decide how much and what kind of information literacy instruction we would provide, who would provide it, and at what level of the curriculum it would occur. Ideally, this conversation would take place in each discipline. Different disciplines have different information structures, and, therefore, different information needs. Alternatively, the instruction could be free-standing and interdisciplinary. In either case, participation by academic faculty, library faculty, instructional design faculty and technology faculty is required. This is the heart of the plan. No information literacy program will succeed without broadly-based input and buy-in from those responsible for the curriculum.
Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. Academic Affairs Handbook. Section 2: Academic Programs. Atlanta: Board of Regents, 2000-2004.
Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000.
Manuel, Kate. “Teaching Information Literacy to Generation Y at California State University, Hayward.” Journal of Library Administration. 36(2002): 195-217.
Pierard, Cindy and Kathryn Graves. “The Greatest Problem with Which the Library Is Confronted: A Survey of Academic Library Outreach to the Freshman Course.” Making the Grade: Academic Libraries and Student Success. Eds. Maurie Caitlin Kelly and Andrea Kross. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2002, 71-89.
Ratteray, Oswald M. “Information Literacy in Self-Study and Accreditation.” Journal of Academic Librarianship. 28(2002): 368-375.
Shapiro, Jeremy J. and Shelley K. Hughes. “Information Literacy as a Liberal Art.” Educom Review. 31(1996). 21 Mar. 2000.