Information Literacy in Academic Libraries

It is widely accepted among librarians and library students that instruction in information literacy is a necessary skill for professional librarians. Instruction has become an ever-larger part of a librarian’s job, supplementing and in some cases, overtaking reference. While this is not a brand new development, we are still somewhat in a “testing the waters” period wherein librarians take on responsibilities that used to be the purview of professors and teaching assistants.

Carolyn Carpan’s 2010 article, Library Services in the Age of Google: Introducing Information Literacy 2.0, argues that social media platforms, primarily used to promote library services, could also be utilized for collaboration with faculty. The author sees this as catching up to the demands of students, increasingly tech-savvy digital natives. They have an expectation of instant access to knowledge and are less likely to use the library if there is a long time commitment required to access information. The article argues that we do not want to categorically discount websites like Wikipedia and YouTube, but teach students how to evaluate these sources. The hope is that by sharing our skills in the classroom, we create a generation of expert researchers. This viewpoint is certainly embraced at UMSI, but effective implementation of information literacy instruction is not always simple.

Jo Henry’s Academic Library Liaison Programs: Four Case Studies compares liaison librarians at four academic libraries. While the four academic libraries are all at different-sized universities, librarians in three of the four institutions find in-person communication to be most effective when teaching information literacy (the fourth had no preference). This makes me wonder about the overall effectiveness of screencasts and Libguides. While they are a great resource for people who are unable to meet in-person with a librarian, are they good enough to be a replacement for in person instruction? According to this case study, instruction is somewhat similar to reference in the sense that in-person interactions are generally regarded as more effective. It is also interesting that of these libraries, only one required subject specialization for a librarian to be a department liaison. Perhaps subject specialization is not necessary, however, merely the ability to research, a cornerstone of the profession.

Adriene Lim’s The Readability of Information Literacy Content on Academic Library Web Sites has us consider an important and often overlooked aspect of web-based information literacy resources: comprehensibility. This case study examines instructional content on the web at several urban universities in the United States. The study finds that first-generation students in particular are at a disadvantage when it comes to preparedness for college-level reading and research, and incomprehensible library guides were at best unhelpful and at worst harmful. I am concerned that those without resources are less able to adapt to rapidly changing learning environments. Is there a way for us to utilize these exciting new resources without further widening the digital divide?

The rapid rate of change in information technology makes it an exciting time to be an information professional. I believe that it is necessary for librarians to be acquainted with advances in information technology, but we must always consider our patrons first and foremost. For some, being connected to a library on multiple social media platforms is an exciting way to learn. For others, it is a barrier to be overcome. I am not suggesting that we stop trying to keep up with technological advances, but that we must be mindful of how we implement information literacy instruction without leaving people behind.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Information Literacy in Academic Libraries

  1. Really glad you read the Lim piece. It’s one of the best examples of librarians forgetting their target population out there.

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