Information Literacy/Library Research Skills Policy

James A. Gibson Library

Information Literacy/Library Research Skills Policy

Executive Summary

Information Literacy is an important academic concept that encompasses the use of multiple intellectual processes during the course of information seeking. These intellectual processes include critical thinking, informed decision making, evaluation of information, and considered reflection. Information literacy consists of more than a set of mechanical searching skills. It represents processes that may be both linear and circular. Effective information literacy practices are grounded in a learning culture that stresses active learning, collaboration, and authentic tasks. These practices are informed by a holistic view of learning that sees a convergence of literacies as the ultimate goal of education.

  1. Introduction
  2. Information Literacy is an Academic Issue
  3. Integration into the Curriculum is Key
  4. Expected Benefits
  5. Appendix and Further Reading



Information literacy is 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. (ACRL, 2000)

When we find a particular piece of information, whether on the Web or on a bookshelf, we need the skills to ascertain its veracity, reliability, bias, timeliness, and context. (Carvin, 2000)

Students develop the kinds of skills referred to in these quotations over time, and the most successful way to cultivate information literacy among them is to integrate essential concepts into the academic curriculum, where the necessary skills can be learned in context. Although most students are very comfortable users of the Internet, they may find the prospect of navigating their way through the Library's scholarly resources to be daunting and intimidating. In fact, many of them may be inclined to turn to Google when confronted with the task of locating information to complete an assignment, thereby inadvertently eliminating the most important resources.

Information Literacy is an Academic Issue

University students need to acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to conceptualize information seeking as an intellectual process rather than strictly a mechanical exercise. Students who are information-literate can evaluate information critically, discern the relevant from the superfluous and incorporate selected information into their knowledge base. These concepts are developed and articulated in the ACRL (Association of College & Research Libraries) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education and have been widely accepted by the international academic community. The application of these standards has been most successful in institutions that view information literacy as an academic matter rather than an issue confined to the library.

Integration into the Curriculum is Key

Information literacy needs to be embedded into the academic curriculum of a university in order to develop to its full potential. This does not mean that general stand-alone workshops in information seeking tips and techniques are not of use; rather, it means that these workshops should serve as starting points for more in-depth information literacy practices. Of best value to the student are those experiences that allow him or her to connect conceptual ideas of how to approach the searching process with real tasks that require the application of those ideas to a specific academic need. This level of information literacy practice is most often found in the coursework required of students as they learn to participate in the community of scholars represented by a university.

Embedded information literacy opportunities may take many forms. Liaison librarians can come to classes as guest lecturers to talk about both the search process itself and specific resources that will be of use to students for particular assignments. Guest lectures remain a viable vehicle for information literacy because they allow a librarian to reach a large number of students simultaneously. Guest lectures may also potentially allow for interactivity through questions and for individualized follow up sessions afterwards between librarians and students. The guest lecture format may consist of either a single 50-minute class visit or a series of shorter visits by a librarian over a number of different classes. Other forms of embedded information literacy opportunities include the use of small group formats or active learning techniques in hands-on sessions through a seminar or in a lab. Still other forms exist online through web pages or tutorials created in class management courseware or on the Web. Extensions of these forms of information literacy instruction can include the use of follow-up quizzes online or the use of research journals to extend opportunities for learning beyond the physical classroom. In whatever format instruction is offered, liaison librarians are willing to work with faculty in the construction of assignments that best exploit the potential of meaningful information literacy experiences for students.

Meaningful collaboration between faculty and liaison librarians is an essential ingredient in this endeavor to promote effective information literacy experiences for students. This collaboration may result in the production of better-researched papers, the development of better information-seeking and retrieval habits among students, and the creation of a basis for critical thinking and lifelong learning. The desire of Brock University to move further in this direction is articulated in the teaching, learning, and research goals articulated in the James A. Gibson Library's Strategic Plan (2009) and in the Brock 2014 Knowledge, Engagement, and Transformation Academic Plan.

Expected Benefits

Integrated information literacy programs create many positive outcomes for students and faculty, and many academic institutions are working to integrate information literacy competencies into their curricula. Successful initiatives lead to benefits such as better-developed research assignments and better use of the Library's collection (Raspa & Ward, 2000; Rockman, 2003). In-class activities designed to develop specific information-related skills can also increase the ability of students to complete assignments effectively (D'Angelo, 2001) and prepare them for accessing and evaluating information in a variety of contexts.

In essence, a successfully integrated information literacy program achieves the following:

  • It focuses on a conceptual understanding of the research process
  • It leads students to use academic resources of high caliber
  • It focuses on class-specific research skills
  • It enables students to produce better researched papers
  • It develops more efficient information seeking and retrieval habits
  • It encourages students to evaluate information systematically
  • It provides a mechanism to address plagiarism
  • It contributes to student success and student retention
  • It provides the basis for lifelong learning

Appendix and Further Reading

There are numerous examples of initiatives where faculty members, or whole departments, have worked to integrate information literacy into the departmental curriculum. The shape of these initiatives differs from institution to institution and from discipline to discipline. The common factor, however, is that a collaborative approach, based on established information literacy competencies, is at the heart of each undertaking.

Initiatives at Brock University

Numerous examples exist at Brock University of information literacy initiatives undertaken by faculty members and librarians. Below is a small sampling of some of these different programs. The shape of these initiatives differs from librarian to librarian, faculty member to faculty member, and department to department. The common factor, however, is that a collaborative approach is at the heart of each undertaking.

Visual Arts 

Over the course of the last two years, 2007-2009, Laurie Morrison, Liaison Librarian for Visual Arts, and Keri Cronin, Assistant Professor, Visual Arts have created a series of new information literacy opportunities for students in VISA 1Q98. Laurie arranges for a series of short ongoing encounters between herself and the students at the start of class throughout most of the fall term. These mini-lessons present specific pieces of information to the students, one piece at a time. Examples of the content of these mini-lessons include citation chasing, using Wikipedia and Google wisely, and retrieving digital images through ARTstor. In 2008, Laurie also set up a library learning module online for this class that reinforces and supports the research skills required to complete the course assignments. Results indicate that students appreciate the opportunity to engage in meaningful information literacy practices on their own time and at their own pace. This ability to engage in self-directed learning underscores the importance of librarians offering multiple ways for students to learn.

Intensive English Language Program

In 2006, Karen Bordonaro, Liaison Librarian for Applied Linguistics, created a series of new hands-on workshops for ESL (English as a Subsequent Language) students in the Intensive English Language Program in collaboration with the language instructors. These new workshops are designed for students in IELP 4 and 5 classes. They take the form of active learning through small group task assignments. The classes are divided into a number of small groups, each of which is given a number of guided questions to answer. The guided questions give students sample search techniques and search statements to perform. The students are then asked to explain why certain results may have been retrieved and what can be done to focus and narrow results. The questions also include open ended questions for which there is no one correct answer but which allow students to explain their own searching decisions. At the end of group searching, each group shares their results with the rest of the class. A full class discussion led by the librarian then fills in any missing information, probes their comprehension and their reasoning, and allows students, librarians, and instructors to learn from each other. In addition to promoting effective information literacy practices, this format allows the students to practice speaking English in a non-threatening setting, an additional benefit for this set of learners.

Tourism and Environment

Students in TREN 1F90 Sustainability, Environment and Tourism have had the opportunity over the last several years (2006-2009) to make use of a new information literacy initiative at Brock, the drop-in library clinic. Designed by Marcie Jacklin, Liaison Librarian for Tourism and Environment, these clinics give students an opportunity to extend their learning beyond an initial lecture from the librarian as a guest speaker. In the follow up clinics, students are asked which question from their assignment they would like to review and this list guides the structure of the clinics. The librarian works from what the students say they need to know. In this role, the librarian serves as a facilitator more than an instructor. Learning is informal, collaborative, and participatory. Feedback from the students to the professor has shown the value of offering information literacy sessions in this format in that it gives students a venue in which to express their own needs and to guide their own learning. This format of instruction also supports the notion of information literacy as a process that works best when it allows for different types of learning to take place in ways meaningful to students.

English Literature

During the summer of 2007, Justine Cotton, Liaison Librarian for English and Communications, and David Sharron, Archivist, devised a series of lesson plans designed to introduce students to the availability of resources in both print and digital format in the area of historical English literature and popular culture. Sources included primary sources, original first editions of books, and online digital databases such as EEBO (Early English Books Online) and ECO (Early Canadiana Online). David and Justine have spoken to students in a number of classes: ENFL 3P20 Spenser and the Age of Elizabeth, ENGL 4V34 Sexual Monsters, ENGL 2P10 Young People’s Literature to 1914, COMM 2P30 Popular Entertainment, etc. From this initiative, several class assignments were constructed by professors in the English and Communication Departments that had students make use of resources in Special Collections and Archives: ENGL 2P64 Early Canadian Literature, ENGL4V66 Topics in Contemporary Canadian Writing: Montreal Writers in the 1940s, and COMM 4P55 Advertising, Mass Media and Culture. As a result of this collaboration, many students have now been exposed to various formats of information that will help them develop richer content for their research papers. This form of expanded collaboration between librarian, professor, and archivist has also been beneficial in terms of mutual support for students. Exposing students to many different information perspectives supports the idea of information literacy as a set of intellectual competencies. Information literacy programming is available in all subject areas taught at Brock University. For further information about instructional opportunities, faculty members are encouraged to contact their liaison librarian.

Further Reading

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000, January). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago: American Library Association.

Breivik, P.S. (2000). Information literacy and the engaged campus. AAHE Bulletin 53 (3), 3-6.

Bruce, C. (1997). Seven Faces of Information Literacy. Adelaide: Auslib Press.

Carvin, A. (2000). More than just access: fitting literacy and context into the digital divide equation. EDUCAUSE Review, 35(6), 38-47.

D'Angelo, B.J. (2001). Using source analysis to promote critical thinking. Research Strategies, 18(4), 303-9.

Raspa, D. & Ward, D. (Eds.). (2000). The Collaborative imperative: librarians and faculty working together in the information universe. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Rockman, I. F. (2003a). Integrating information literacy into the learning outcomes of academic disciplines: A critical 21st-century issue. College & Research Libraries News, 64(9), 612-5.

Shapiro, J.J. & Hughes, S. K. (1996). Information literacy as a liberal art: Enlightenment proposals for a new curriculum. Educom Review 31 (2), 31-35.

Ward, D. (2006). Revisioning information literacy for lifelong meaning. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32(4), 396-402.

Warlick, D.F. (2004). Redefining literacy for the 21st century. Worthington, Ohio: Linworth.

Karen Bordonaro, November 2008

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