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Information literacy: whose job is it?


Integrating information literacy within academic curriculums today cannot succeed without a collaborative, interactive working relationship between faculty and academic librarians. How each perceives their role in promulgating information literacy may provide a unique insight into its on-going straggle for legitimacy within the Academy.


The Role of the Faculty

Information literacy, simply put, is an individual's ability to define an information need and then to find, analyze, evaluate, and utilize that information effectively. Many faculty in higher education today are neither inclined nor prepared to develop curriculum which incorporates the philosophy, principles, and methodology of information literacy. In fact, this point is highlighted in a 1992 policy development study conducted by Christina S. Doyle, author of Information Literacy in an Information Society: A Concept for the Information Age (1994). The study proposed a model of outcome measures for information literacy based on the National Education Goals of 1990. Using the Delphi technique, Doyle surveyed 46 members of the National Forum on Information Literacy, who represented national organizations and agencies from business, government, and education. Doyle found that higher education was the least prepared to develop information literacy skills, not only for students, but for professional staff as well. Members of the National Forum ranked the mastering of information literacy skills by all college graduates among the highest of its recommendations.

This finding illuminates a well-known "secret" within the Academy: faculties in higher education, historically, have had little or no training, other than on the job, in the principles of learning theory and teaching practices. [Katz, 1989, p.88] Many faculty engaged in teaching today began their careers as teaching assistants, in most cases, assuming prime instructional classroom responsibility without ever acquiring the appropriate theoretical and/or instructional foundations to do so. Contrary to public perception, faculties in higher education are not trained teachers as much as they are trained academics, specialists in a given discipline. This may account for their lukewarm reception to the principles of information literacy, so essential in addressing the teaching and learning needs of today's New Majority students. Although the term "New Majority" student conjures up racial and ethnic stereotypes, Peggy Gordon Eliot, former President of the University of Akron, offered a different perspective,
 The New Majority is characterized by its inordinate
 diversity--large numbers of women, minorities, displaced workers,
 career professionals returning to upgrade their skills, and senior
 citizens coming back for updated knowledge. (Eliot, p.xii)

In the last 20 years, numerous studies and reports have depicted faculty involvement in curriculum design as being a critical factor in the intellectual growth and development of undergraduate and graduate students. [Terenzini and Pascarella, 1991] Although the faculty are principal architects of curricular content, they continually find themselves defending the relevancy of their choices in meeting the social, economic, educational, and personal needs of their diverse constituencies, both on and off campus. Faculties have debated the value of a practical education vs. a liberal arts education since the inception of higher education in America. The debate is rooted in academic elitism as exemplified by the very existence of public and private higher education. It has dominated faculty academic discourse to the point where it has challenged the creative development of curricular options needed to meet the diverse learning and teaching needs of today's New Majority student. [1] [Rudolph, 1978; Bowen and Schuster, 1986; Boyer, 1987; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Breivik, 1997]

According to Breivik [1997], many faculty may not have the confidence to develop a curriculum that integrates information literacy with content and/or the skills to perform comfortably in 21st century classrooms. Most faculties remain discipline-focused rather than interested in exploring the domain of an interdisciplinary, process-content curriculum. As Gorovitz [1998, p 246] observes, "problems in the real world do not respect the traditional taxonomy of academic institutions." Unfortunately, the steadfast allegiance of many faculty to academic tradition remains their guiding force in curriculum design in spite of the social, economic, technological, and political realities that they encounter on a daily basis. [Breivik, 1997] Faculty reluctance to actively integrate the concept of information literacy into curriculum design may be illustrated best by the following observation made by an English professor at Earlham College:
 ... I think of my very good experiences with reference services in
 college and graduate school, but I recall that I, and everyone else
 I knew, tended to go to the reference desk as a last resort and that
 I asked questions with no notion that I might learn a generalizable
 method of research which could help me become more expert in
 research and conceive of more interesting questions to pursue;
 either on my own or with the help of a reference librarian. And, I
 would add, I do not believe I ever thought of a librarian as a
 teacher until I began work at Earlham ... I suggest that my
 experience is not untypical of both undergraduate and graduate use
 of the library even now. If I am right in this, it would follow
 that many of us who are now teaching in colleges and universities
 are only slightly at home in libraries. [Emphasis added] [Breivik
 and Gee, p.36]

This view resonates a common attitude still prevalent within today's faculty culture and may be one of the primary explanations for their on-going resistance to the integration of information literacy in the academic curriculum. Adams and Bailey [1993] believe that "the instructional process is in need of an overhaul" and it should reflect the intellectual challenges of the Information Age, integrating information literacy and technology into the content of the curriculum. Involvement would require a change in how faculties interact with students, moving the pendulum even further from content-centered instruction to student-centered learning. Faculty's continued reliance on the textbook-lecture-reserves method of instruction also undermines the progressive efforts of other educators within the K-16 continuum. These educators are concerned with creating a new student centered teaching and learning paradigm, one framed by process, managed by content, and flexible in application. [Breivik and Gee, 1989]. Bruner [1977, p.xv] notes in The Process of Education:
 A curriculum is more for teachers than it is for pupils. If it
 cannot change, move, perturb, inform teachers, it will have no
 effect on those whom they teach. If it has any effect on pupils,
 it will have it by virtue of having had an effect on teachers.

Although K-16 curriculum reform dominates our present educational landscape, without the assertive involvement of academic faculty and librarians committed to creative curriculum reform in higher education, information literacy will continue to struggle in its efforts to become integrated systemically within our K-16 educational infrastructure.

The Instructional Role of the Academic Librarian

The role of the academic librarian in the instructional process in higher education has been peripheral, at best, often subjected to a secondary status within the Academy. Nevertheless, being peripheral has not lessened the reality that the academic librarian is an invaluable "information educator" for faculty, staff, and students. Librarians' leadership and the depth of their experience with the information inquiry process are crucial not only to the successful integration of information literacy within classroom curriculums across America, but also in the teaching and learning process as well.

In 1935, Dr. Louis Shores, former dean of libraries at Florida State University, began to promote the concept of a teaching function for academic libraries. This was a concept contrary to the traditional way academic librarians had perceived their role as gatekeepers of the warehouses of knowledge. [Bopp and Smith, 1995] Shores' revolutionary way of thinking stimulated a variety of opinions on the role of the academic librarian; however, the arrival of information and communication technologies within the library community has made it extremely difficult for the traditionalists within the profession to maintain their custodial perspectives.

Librarian as Facilitator

Although some academic librarians have teaching credentials, many do not and may have the same perspective as faculty about teaching research skills. Those without teaching credentials may feel ill equipped to be a part of the teaching and learning process and faculty often reinforce this perspective. As the principal gatekeepers to the Information Age, librarians are obliged to experience a metamorphosis that will facilitate the teaching and learning process. The advent of information and communication technologies has permanently altered the character of the academic library and the teaching and learning of information literacy has evolved as one of its principle missions. [Baker and Litzinger, 1993; McCrank, 1992] The role of facilitator requires "special qualities". According to Dr. Carl Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy, the ideal facilitator is an individual who possesses the following attributes: the ability to be real, prizing, accepting, and trusting the learner, empathic understanding

1. The ability to be real

When a facilitator is a real person, being what [s/he] is, entering into a relationship with the learner without presenting a front or facade, [s/he] is much more likely to be effective. [Rogers, 1969, p. 106] For many in the Academy, this prospect is frightening. It is even perceived as an invasion of their personal, private space. Yet, academic librarians engaged in the sharing and transferring of information/knowledge must establish a communications link that may perhaps require a journey into the personal realm. To be real means to search for and to share a level of comfort in the transfer of information/knowledge during the learning process. This may require some sharing of personal information, usually in anecdotal form, which serves to remind participants that the sharing of information is a human interaction as commonplace as having a cup of coffee and gossiping about the news of the day. Hensley [1991, p. 208] notes that the desired learning outcome of this type of interaction is for the users to incorporate within their knowledge base what is learned and to develop the ability to transfer what is learned to a new situation. This is central to the learning dynamic. The high level of activity that often occurs at most academic libraries' reference desk can impede the development of that type of learning relationship. However, academic librarians must move beyond the reference desk and actively promote the importance of information literacy as an integral component of the teaching and learning process. [Janes and Meltzer, 1990; Buttlar, 1994]

2. Prizing, accepting, and trusting the learner

I think of it as prizing the learner, prizing his feelings, his opinions, his person. It is a caring for the learner, but a non-possessive caring. It is an acceptance of this other individual as a separate person, having worth in his own right. It is a basic trust--a belief that this other person is somehow fundamentally trustworthy. [Rogers, 1969, p. 109] The development of this attitude requires an appreciation of the changing demographics within American education, an appreciation of the broadening nature of academic roles, and an understanding of the mosaic nature of the learning process as applied to individuals. Individual learning styles are as diverse as the planets in the universe. Their common core is their humanity, their approaches to learning as individualized as that of the planets. Although research has documented otherwise, learning styles are often erroneously confused with intelligence levels. [Daragan and Stevens, 1996] An academic librarian should view each learner as a welcomed participant in the construction of knowledge. Learners should be considered peers in the search process of problem resolution and supported as such. [Farmer, 1992; Giroux, 1988]

3. Empathic understanding

When the [educator] has the ability to understand the student's reactions from the inside, has a sensitive awareness of the way the process of education and learning seems to the student, then again the likelihood of significant learning is increased. [Rogers, 1969, p. 111] Empathic understanding is perhaps the most difficult attitude to develop because it demands an appreciation of diversity; this has been foreign to many academic librarians because of the homogeneity of their professional and educational experiences. The irony here is that the content of their own discipline dictates a knowledge and appreciation of the diversity of sources within their purview. The same intellectual skill required to appreciate and analyze the diversity of resources used in the quest for information is needed to support effectively the search of the learner.

Students learn best by making connections to their already existing knowledge bases. [Rosenshine, 1995] Academic librarians, as professional educators, need not only be aware of the importance of the users' frames of reference, but also be engaged proactively in building connections to those frames of reference and the users' searches for knowledge and information. [Eisenberg and Spitzer, 1993]. Most of today's New Majority students have had very little exposure to using diverse information resources and developing lifelong learning mindsets. For these students, the ability to absorb a variety of information resources and use them discriminately in the quest for new knowledge and information will require interactive instruction from academic librarians and faculty. Many in the field today believe that excess of information and not access to information is the educational juggernaut of the 21st century. [Twigg, 1995]

Consequently, the Rogers' prescription for developing the ideal facilitator does not call for an abandonment of the teaching function, as much as it calls for a redefinition which includes respecting and encouraging the inherent, intellectual talent of the learner. Those committed to nurturing intellectual potential and providing options of choice to the uninformed, in fact, are facilitating the learning process and adding to its richness.

Then Whose Job Is It?

As educators, faculty and academic librarians have a remarkable challenge before them. To manage professional and institutional reform within the demands of rapid technological change and to enhance the teaching/learning spectrum for diverse users is an Olympian task indeed. In the final analysis, both faculty and academic librarians must embrace information literacy as being indispensable to improving curricular options for 21st century students' teaching and learning needs. The often untapped, intellectual talent of our diverse society can certainly benefit from such an effort, particularly in these very precarious times for our nation. A national philosophy of life long learning cannot be fully achieved without the active support and engagement of the professional library community, actively collaborating with faculty at every level of our K--16 educational infrastructure. Without it, our chances to remain competitive in today's volatile global economy diminish significantly. [Candy, 1994]


Adams, S., & Bailey, G. D. (1993). Education for the information age: Is it time to trade vehicles. NASSP Bulletin, 77, (553), 57-63.

Baker, B. & Litzinger, M. (1993). The evolving educational mission of the library. Chicago: American Library Association.

Bopp, R. & Smith, L. (Eds.). (1995). Reference and information services. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited.

Bowen, H. R., & Shuster, J.H. (1986). American professors: A national resource imperiled. New York: Oxford University Press.

Boyer, E. (1987). College: The undergraduate experience in America. New York: Harper & Row.

Breivik, P.S., & Gee, E. G. (1989) Information literacy: Revolution in the library. New York: Macmillan.

Breivik, P.S. (1997). Student learning in the information age. Phoenix: Oryx Press.

Bruner, J. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Buttlaar, L. (1994, March). Facilitating cultural diversity in college and university libraries, Journal of Academic Librarianship, 10-14.

Candy, P. (1994). Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. Australian Government Publishing Service.

Daragan, P., & Stevens, G. (1996). Developing lifelong learners: An integrative and developmental approach to information literacy. Research Strategies, 14(2), 68-81.

Doyle, C. S. (1992). Outcome measures for information literacy within the National Educational Goals of 1990. Final report to National Forum on Information Literacy.

Doyle, C.S. (1994). Information literacy in an information society: A concept for the information age. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. (ED 372 736)

Flagstaff, AZ: National Forum on Information Literacy. (ED 351 033)

Eisenberg, M., & Spitzer, K. (1993). Skills and strategies for helping students become more effective information users. Catholic Library World, 63(2), 115-120.

Eliot, P. (1994). The urban campus: Educating the new majority for the new century. Phoenix: American Council on Education and Oryx Press.

Farmer, D. W., & Mech, T. (Eds.). (1992). Information literacy: Developing students as independent learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Giroux, H. (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: Toward a critical pedagogy of learning. New York: Bergin & Garvey.

Gorovitz, S. (1998). Ethical issues in graduate education. Science and Engineering Ethics, 4, 235-250.

Hensley, R. (1991). Learning style theory and learning transfer principles during reference interview instruction. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 7(3), 271-276.

Janes, P., & Meltzer, E. (1990). Origins and attitudes: Training reference librarians for a pluralistic world. The Reference Librarian, 30, 4 5-155.

Katz, J. (1989). Helping faculty to help students learn. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 81-88. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McCrank, L. (1992, Summer). Academic programs for information literacy: Theory and structure. RQ, 485-497.

Pascarella, T., & Terenzini, E. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights of 20 years of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rosenshine, B. (1995). Advances in research on instruction. The Journal of Educational Research, 88(5), 262-268.

Rogers, C. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus: Charles E. Merrill Publishing.

Rudolph, F. (1978). Curriculum: A history of the American undergraduate course of study since 1636. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Twigg, C. (1995). The need for a national learning infrastructure. Educom Review. 29(5).

Lana W. Jackman, Lesley University, MA

As an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University's School of Education and principal of Melange Information Services, Inc., Dr. Jackman has spent the last 30 years of her professional career in a variety of higher education administrative positions, fostering information literacy awareness at every opportunity.
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Author:Jackman, Lana W.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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