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Information Literacy

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What is Information Literacy?

Information literacy is a set of abilities that enables individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." (Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. American Library Association. 2006.)

The Value of Faculty/Librarian Partnerships

Recent studies have shown that college students rely on their professors for research guidance and are more likely to interact with librarians if faculty involve librarians in the classroom or recommend that students meet with librarians during the research process.

Information Literacy and the First Year Seminars

The primary goals of the First Year Seminar Program are to engage students in liberal arts learning and nurture the development of critical academic skills. By definition, information literacy is the foundation for lifelong learning. It is essential to all fields of knowledge, in all learning environments, and at all levels of education. It enables students to increase their mastery of content by improving their investigations and allowing for more self-directed learning.

Librarians can work with you to achieve information literacy goals whether or not your course includes a research component.


Library Contacts | Research Paper Alternatives | Recommended Readings


An information literate student should be able to:

  1. Select and refine a topic
  2. Develop a thesis and/or hypothesis
  3. Construct an effective search strategy
  4. Understand intellectual property & plagiarism issues
  5. Distinguish between types of information sources
  6. Critically evaluate resources
  7. Synthesize information
  8. Communicate information in an appropriate format
  9. Understand how scholarly information is generated, disseminated, and used
  10. Understand the social, economic, and political contexts in which information is produced and consumed

Information Literacy Concepts and Strategies for Achieving Them

1. Select and refine a topic

Core competency

  • Understand how questions are refined and redefined in the course of research

Key skills

  • Use general sources to shore up background knowledge and fill-in gaps
  • Broaden or narrow a research topic to an appropriate level of focus for the assignment

Teaching strategies

  • Have students describe their topic in a few sentences (~50-75 words)
  • Have students keep a log of how their topic changes and evolves


2. Develop a thesis and/or hypothesis

Core competency

  • Formulate questions to guide path of inquiry

Key skill

  • Determine current state of knowledge about a topic

Teaching strategy

  • Help students navigate the process of turning a general interest into a research question or problem with topic consultations

3. Construct an effective search strategy

Core competencies

  • Distill a topic or research question into searchable concepts
  • Select appropriate resources to begin researching a topic

Key skills

  • Generate keywords to search for -- broader and narrower terms, synonyms, related concepts
  • Recognize that research is an iterative process
  • Use basic and advanced database searching techniques (Boolean connectors [and, or, not], wildcards, or truncation)

Teaching strategies

  • Emphasize the value of the research process in learning -- including dead-ends and course corrections
  • Have students consider which academic discipline(s) are germane to their question
  • Have students consider what kinds of information sources (books, research articles, newspapers, advertisements, images, data, etc.) will be helpful in researching their question
  • Have students list resources they plan to use to find the information sources they need
  • Recommend appropriate encyclopedias, databases, indexes, and other reference tools
  • Have students search for the same topic in two different sources and compare/contrast the results


4. Understand intellectual property & plagiarism issues

Core competencies

  • Recognize when ideas need to be attributed to others and what is "common knowledge"
  • Quote and paraphrase properly
  • Document sources accurately and correctly

Key skills

  • Use style manual(s) to correctly format citations for various information formats
  • Use bibliographic management tools (e.g. RefWorks, Zotero, EndNote)

Teaching strategies:

  • Indicate the preferred style manual in your discipline and explain why/how it's useful to scholars
  • Use complete citations on the course syllabus
  • Discuss how the honor code applies to assignments in your course
  • Give students a paraphrasing exercise
  • Require students to submit proper citations on preliminary bibliographies and draft assignments

5. Distinguish between types of information sources

Core competencies

  • Interpret bibliographic citations correctly
  • Understand appropriate uses of types of sources in different disciplines or contexts
  • Understand the differences between popular and scholarly materials
  • Understand what primary and secondary sources are

Key skills

  • Recognize basic source types (books, journals, newspapers, government documents) by looking at a bibliographic citation
  • Be able to determine if a source is primary or secondary for a given research question
  • Recognize when non-scholarly sources are appropriate


Teaching strategies

  • Have students compare a popular and scholarly article on the same topic
  • Require students to use a mixture of information source types


6. Critically evaluate resources

Core competency

  • Evaluate information for usefulness, bias, currency, authority, and other relevant criteria

Key skill

  • Apply appropriate criteria depending on the type of source under examination and information need

Teaching strategies

  • Highlight specific evaluative criteria of particular importance in your field/discipline
  • Ask students to examine selected sources (texts, websites, images, etc.) and evaluate them according to stated criteria

7. Synthesize information

Core competencies

  • Interpret, analyze, and sythesize information in order to form new knowledge
  • Engage with information in ways that demonstrate critical thinking and new understanding of the material

Key skill

  • Recognize and acknowledge conflicting information and/or viewpoints

Teaching strategies

  • Require student to show progress through "benchmark" assignments -- preliminary bibliographies, outlines, thesis statements, drafts, etc.

8. Communicate information in an appropriate format or medium

(paper, poster, web site, video, podcast, presentation - e.g. PPT, Keynote, Prezi, graph, spreadsheet)

Core competency

  • Determine what kind of presentation is suitable for a given audience or context

Key skills

  • Be familiar with available software/programs
  • Incorporate technology learning time into project planning (identify sources of technical support in advance)

Teaching strategies

  • Model different ways of presenting information in class
  • Require students to use a variety of formats to present their work

9. Understand how scholarly information is generated, disseminated, and used


Core competencies

  • Understand the purpose of the peer review process
  • Be aware of different modes of scholarly communication

Teaching strategies

  • Discuss the publishing culture in your discipiline -- key journals, publishers
  • Discuss information sharing in your discipline -- listservs, blogs, wikis, conferences

10. Understand social, economic, and political contexts in which information is produced and consumed

Core competencies

  • Awareness that not all information is freely available
  • Awareness of open access/open source initiatives

Teaching strategy

  • Knowledge=Power: Discuss!

Library Contacts

Reference & Instruction Librarians, Main Library

Special Collections Librarian, Ed Vermue
College Archivist, Ken Grossi

Art Librarian: Barbara Prior
Public Services Librarian, Conservatory Library: Kathy Abromeit
Science Librarian: Alison Ricker


Recommended Readings

About Information Literacy Standards and Learning Outcomes

Information Literacy: A Neglected Core Competency (2010)
from Anticipating the Future of Higher Education a special issue of EDUCAUSE Quarterly

Information Literacy Resources from the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL)

About the Information Seeking Behavior of College Students/Teenagers

Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once they Enter College [pdf] (2013)
Study by Project Information Literacy (PIL) of high school seniors and first year college students.

Studying Students: A Second Look (2013)
Presents new anthropological studies of how students study, collaborate, conduct research, work on writing and other course assignments, and use technology; a follow-up to the pioneering 2007 publication by the same researchers at the University of Rochester.

Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age [pdf] (2010)
Findings of a survey of more than 8,000 college students across the U.S.

The Digital Information Seeker (2010)
Summarizes findings from 12 research studies on researcher behavior in the U.S. and the U.K.

Last updated:
May 27, 2014