Integrating Information Literacy into the Curriculum

Educators face the challenge of helping students master a set of abilities collectively termed “Information Literacy” by the library profession – see ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, Information Literacy Defined. The push to promote information literacy within libraries is part of a larger educational reform movement that sees the need for new ways of reaching students and assessing student learning. The ultimate goal is to help students become effective users of information in any format and place. In brief, information literate persons are able to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (ibid.). Note that “locate” is only one small part of this definition. Information literacy involves so much more than instructing students on how to access a book in the Diamond catalog, or showing them how to search the Historical Abstracts. Rather, true Information Literacy involves an entire set of critical thinking skills that can only be developed over time and through direct engagement with the academic curriculum. It involves practice and lots of hands-on work. Librarians see the need for information literacy more keenly than most, since we interact informally with students every day at the reference desk. Librarians, in other words, experience first-hand the inability of many students to evaluate and contextualize the increasingly massive amounts of data now available online, in print, and in other formats. Roy Rosenzweig, historian at George Mason University, recently wrote that “for many students, the abundance of primary sources can be more puzzling and disorienting than liberating and enlightening” (“Digital Archives Are a Gift,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 24, 2005). He goes on to say that students often see large amounts of primary sources as “transparent reflections of a historical ‘reality’; not, as a historian would, as imperfect refractions” of a specific place and time (ibid.). Prior to about 1990, students were forced to consult a prescribed set of resources assigned to them by the professor (or suggested by a librarian). Today this is often no longer the case, and regardless of how many times faculty and librarians insist students not use random hits generated by Google, many just aren’t “getting it”. Thus, as Rosenzweig says, “we have done much better at democratizing access to resources than at providing the kind of instruction that would give meaning to those resources” (ibid.). Classroom discussion and activities around these (and other) themes and outcomes promote information literacy: 1) The importance of seeking out background information to help contextualize a topic; 2) The difference between primary vs. secondary sources in history and other disciplines; 3) Popular vs. scholarly publications, and why the difference is important; 4) The appropriate use of different types of information media, such as books, journals, and online resources; and 5) Evaluation of information resources to assess appropriateness for college-level work. Again, none of this will likely “stick” with students unless such discussions and activities take place in the classroom and are integrated directly into the curriculum. If you are a Temple faculty member in history who wishes to work more closely with the library on ways to further integrate these ideas into the classroom, I would certainly welcome hearing from you. Instructors in other disciplines should feel free to contact their own librarian subject specialist. Typically, the best opportunity for collaboration between instructor and librarian is “at the point of need,” or at that point when a student needs information for a specific research paper or project. A big thank you to the many capstone (and other) instructors who have already worked hard to develop information literacy skills in their students. For a great deal more on this subject, including additional outcomes and specific assignment suggestions, please visit Integrating Information Literacy into Temple Courses. —David C. Murray

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