Laura Saunders of Simmons College GSLIS presented this session on Monday at 12:30pm.
The ACRL defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” Though the term “information literacy” itself is somewhat problematic and can be off-putting to some, most faculty recognize its importance. Despite the agreement about the importance of IL, many college students are not as prepared as faculty would like. The library fits into the larger mission of the university, providing an opportunity for collaboration in this area. However, the reality is that most IL instruction is covered in “one-shot” classes or within General Education (GE) requirements; there is a lack of assessment, a lack of time devoted to it, and a lack of faculty buy-in (they agree that students should have the skills, but aren’t so sure it’s their responsibility to teach them).
Who is responsible for doing what? Where does the library fit into curricular support? Though IL instruction is often covered in GEs, Saunders suggested it might be more useful to move it into the individual academic disciplines. There are “cultures within cultures,” she found when she surveyed faculty, asking, “Do you think information literacy is different in your discipline?” Common concerns include searching for and evaluating information sources, but different kinds of information are preferred in each field (primary vs. secondary sources, for example).
Most IL instruction sessions, however, are structured the same way: most of the time is spent on finding sources, not evaluating them. In an oft-retweeted phrase, “The role of the librarian is to turn students into skeptics.” Often, though, students aren’t skeptical enough. In the words of one faculty member from Saunders’ survey, “The idea of digital natives is such a lie.” Indeed, Project Information Literacy (PIL) has found that students value convenience over quality.
How, then, can librarians improve information literacy instruction? Talking to faculty is the most important step, Saunders said. Anticipate the needs of the faculty, know their concerns, talk to them about what they’re interested in, target your message to their discipline. Students must realize that finding information is only the first step, and just because something is peer-reviewed does not mean it’s 100% reliable; evaluation (“thinking”) is still necessary.
Saunders had excellent slides to accompany her presentation; I didn’t get a chance to write down the details of her data, and the material isn’t up on the conference site (yet). Meanwhile, PIL has lots of great data, and Saunders also recommended Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (RAILS) on track, which is a neat resource.