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On the Road to Information LIteracy: From Start to ... Progress

In April 1989, disbelief must have rippled through the audience gathered for the LOEX Library Instruction Conference to hear Patricia Senn Breivik. She opened her remarks with a shocking statement: “My inability to be a supporter, any longer, of library instruction may make me an inappropriate speaker...”(Breivik, 1989). Breivik was one of library instruction’s most ardent champions, poised to achieve a status comparable to such luminaries as Evan Farber and Carol Kuhlthau.

She went on to say that she now believed “that library instruction encompasses too small a concept for the needs of education in an information society.” These opening remarks signaled the beginnings of a true “revolution in education,” one that would extend beyond the walls of the academic, school, and public libraries and require cooperation and participation from their partners in the educational process – teachers, faculty, administrators, service agencies, other libraries, and community leaders – to create communities of information-literate lifelong learners.

Although a leader in the campaign, Breivik wasn't alone in leading the charge toward this revolution. In 1987, then American Library Association (ALA) President Margaret Chisholm formed a committee of leaders in education and librarianship whose charge consisted of three tasks:

In its final report, the ALA committee noted that, “Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find information and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the information needed for any decision or task at hand.” The committee observed that the “tidal wave of information” has changed so that what used to suffice for literacy, effective knowledge, and a good education no longer is adequate. “People need more than just a knowledge base, they also need techniques for exploring it, connecting it to other knowledge bases, and making practical use of it.” (ALA, 1989) The committee concluded their report with five recommendations, all of which have been implemented in the succeeding decade to some degree.

An information literate person “recognizes the need for information; recognizes that accurate and complete information is the basis for intelligent decision-making; formulates questions based information needs; identifies potential sources of information; develops successful search strategies; accesses sources of information including computer-based and other technologies; evaluates information; organizes information for practical application; integrates new information into an existing body of knowledge; and uses information in critical problem solving and thinking.” Doyle, 1992

Recommendations and Progress

The committee’s first recommendation, reconceptualizing the information environment, was a powerful charge to libraries.

“To the extent that our concepts about knowledge and information are out of touch with the realities of a new, dynamic information environment, we must reconceptualize them. The degrees and directions of reconceptualization will vary, but the aims should always be the same: to communicate the power of knowledge; to develop in each citizen a sense of his or her responsibility to acquire knowledge and deepen insight through better use of information and related technologies; to instill a love of learning, a thrill in searching, and a joy in discovering; and to teach young and old alike how to know when they have an information need and how to gather, synthesize, analyze, interpret, and evaluate the information around them.”

The charge would prove to be a daunting challenge. More than a decade later, many libraries and their parent institutions still struggle with the organizational and pedagogical changes that such goals require. However, some strides have been made, particularly in the development of national standards for information literacy, and various efforts by states, state systems of higher education, accrediting bodies, and individual institutions.

The second recommendation was to create a coalition of national organizations and agencies to promote information literacy. In response to this recommendation, the National Forum on Information Literacy (NFIL) ( was created in 1990. The NFIL, a coalition of over 80 national and international associations, businesses, agencies, and other organizations, is active in four areas: 1) through its member organizations, it develops programs that integrate information literacy; 2) it supports, initiates, and monitors information literacy projects both nationally and internationally; 3) it actively encourages the creation and adoption of information literacy guidelines by regulatory bodies; and 4) it works to ensure that new teachers have the ability to incorporate information literacy into their teaching.

The committee also recommended the development and implementation of a national research agenda addressing issues identified in the committee’s report, as well as the tracking of research and demonstration projects. Various attempts have been made, with a great degree of success, to fulfill the latter (see Grassian and Clark, 1999); however, the former is still largely an unfulfilled mandate. But there are some notable exceptions:

The fourth recommendation involved creating a climate conducive to students becoming information literate. State departments of education, accrediting bodies, and academic governing boards were charged with this responsibility. In 1987, both Oregon and Washington developed guidelines for schools to ensure that information literacy was an integral part of the curriculum (WLMA/SSPI, 1987; DOE, 1987). In the mid-1990s Oregon developed new curriculum standards, known as the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) (, that do not directly refer to information literacy. As a consequence, the Oregon Educational Media Association created the “Oregon Information Literacy Guidelines” ( to address information literacy concerns for school library media specialists in each of the content areas addressed by CIM. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education was the first of the regional higher education accrediting bodies to incorporate information literacy into its standards for accreditation, (MSACHE, 1994).

The committee also recommended the integration of information literacy concerns in the formation and expectations of teachers. In May 2000, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) approved revised standards for accreditation of schools, colleges, and departments of education that require that new teachers are able to “appropriately and effectively integrate … information literacy in instruction to support student learning.” These accreditation standards will be applied incrementally beginning in Fall 2001 (NCATE, 2000).

National Standards for Information Literacy

Two of the most exciting developments since the committee published its final report have been the development of national standards for the K-12 and higher education communities. These standards have provided librarians, educators, and administrators with a common set of goals and measurable objectives for developing an information-literate citizenry.

In 1998, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) jointly published Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning, a set of nine standards divided into three broad behavioral areas (AASL/AECT, 1998a). Each of the standards includes a number of indicators designed to be applied to specific content areas, such as language, geography, history, mathematics, science or technology. These standards are accompanied by a broader framework for collaboration, leadership, administration, teaching and learning (AASL/AECT, 1998b).

In January 2000, the board of the ACRL approved the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, that establish five standards for information literacy (ACRL, 2000) building on those developed for the K-12 community. Like those developed for the K-12 community, these standards are designed to provide a framework for assessing the information literate individual. Each standard has several performance indicators comprised of a series of specific outcomes that can be measured or assessed. To provide guidance to librarians in implementing the outcomes, the ACRL Instruction Section developed a set of guidelines for academic librarians (ACRL/IS, 2001).

As yet, no standards exist for public libraries, nor is it clear that standards will be developed, given that public libraries do not necessarily have a mandated role in the educational process. However, in 2000 ALA President Nancy Kranich established the Information Literacy Community Partnerships Initiative ( to address the next step: developing information-literate communities. The focus here is on establishing partnerships among libraries, various individuals, organizations, and agencies in the communities in which the libraries exist. Two significant documents are available to help libraries develop these partnerships:

Together these two documents provide a framework for all libraries, librarians, and library supporters to become effective advocates for information literacy within their communities.

Recommended Readings on Information Literacy

Much of the literature on information literacy comes out of the higher education community. While this selective list of readings is not intended to be a representative sample of the literature available, it provides, when combined with those sources already mentioned, some familiarity with the many facets of information literacy.

Chiste K., Glover A. and Westwood G., 2000. Infiltration and entrenchment: capturing and securing information literacy territory in academe. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 26: 202-208.

While the military theme and language of the article may be somewhat objectionable, the personalities of its three authors and the approaches they used to develop relationships with faculty and departments are intriguing.

Eisenberg M. and Berkowitz B., 1990. Information Problem-Solving: The Big Six Skills Approach to Library & Information Skills Instruction. Norwood, Ablex Publishing.

Originally written for school library media specialists, this book reads like a how-to manual for teaching information literacy concepts. As the authors note in their foreword, the Big Six Skills approach is “based on information problem-solving, taught through integration with the subject area curriculum, and generalizable to all information problem situations. [It] gives students the competence and confidence necessary to meet a lifetime of information needs.”

Farber E., 1999. Faculty-librarian cooperation: a personal retrospective. Reference Services Review 27: 229-234.

Farber’s leadership in the area of cooperation and collaboration between librarians and faculty put Earlham College on the map, and underscored the importance of integrating the library into the curriculum.

Fowler C. and Dupuis E., 2000. What have we done? TILT’s impact on our instruction program. Reference Services Review 28: 343-348.

The Digital Information Literacy Office at the University of Texas, Austin, created TILT to introduce students to basic information literacy concepts without relying on specific resources. This article describes how the tutorial was used as a warm-up for assignment-driven library classes for freshmen, and the resulting impact on the library’s instruction program.

Grassian E. and Clark S., 1999. Information literacy sites. College & Research Libraries News 60: 78-81.

This selective list of websites is a great starting point for librarians and others just beginning to explore information literacy. It is divided into several categories: directories/megasites, guidelines and reports, programs, discussion groups, electronic journals, articles, and beyond the library.

Iannuzzi P., 1998. Faculty development and information literacy: establishing campus partnerships. Reference Services Review 26: 97-102,116.

Iannuzzi addresses five areas concerning the establishment of faculty partnerships: information literacy and campus culture, campus initiatives, strategies for partnerships, a faculty development model, and the Florida International University Model for Information Literacy.

McFadden T. and Hostetler T. (eds.), 1995. The library and undergraduate education. Library Trends 44: 221-457.

This issue of Library Trends is really the first publication to place the spotlight squarely on information literacy and higher education. It includes articles by a number of heavy-hitters in the academic library world, including Barbara MacAdam, Hannalore Rader, Larry Hardesty, and Evan Farber.

Petrowski M.J., 2000. Creativity research: implications for teaching, learning and thinking. Reference Services Review 28: 304-312.

In this keynote address at the 1998 LOEX-of-the-West conference in Bozeman, Montana, Petrowski surveys a variety of research approaches in the area of creativity and highlights findings of relevance to teaching and learning.

Rader H., 1999. The learning environment – then, now, and later: 30 years of teaching information skills. Reference Services Review 27: 219-224.

Rader traces the development of library instruction and information literacy from the first LOEX conference on library instruction in 1971 through 1998. This article is particularly useful for its attention to national and international efforts in information literacy.

Smith K., 2000. New Roles and Responsibilities for the University Library: Advancing Student Learning Through Outcomes Assessment. Washington, Association of Research Libraries.

Smith examines the changing role of the university library as it addresses shifting customer expectations. He delivered a version of this paper at the ACRL national conference in March, 2001.

Learning About Information Literacy

Several avenues for professional development in information literacy now exist; it is simply a matter of knowing where to look. This list includes national and regional conferences, institutes, and organizations that routinely provide programs on information literacy.


American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), 1998a. Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning. Chicago, American Library Association.

American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), 1998b. Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago, American Library Association.

American Library Association (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, 1989. Final Report. Chicago, American Library Association.

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

Association of College and Research Libraries Instruction Section (ACRL/IS), 2001. Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction by Academic Librarians.

Breivik P., 1989. Information literacy: revolution in education. In Mensching and Mensching (eds.), 1989 (op. cit.): 1-6.

Bruce C., 1997. The Seven Faces of Information Literacy. Adelaide, Auslib Press.

Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACHE), 1994. Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Standards for Accreditation. Philadelphia, MSACHE.

Doyle C., 1992. Development of a Model of Information Literacy Outcome Measures Within National Education Goals Of 1990 (Education Policy). Dissertation, Northern Arizona University.

Leckie G. and Fullerton A., 1990. Information literacy in science and engineering undergraduate education: faculty attitudes and pedagogical practices. College & Research Libraries 60: 9-29.

Mensching G. and Mensching T. (eds.), 1989. Coping with Information Literacy: Bibliographic Instruction for the Information Age. Proceedings of the Seventeenth National LOEX Library Instruction Conference, Ann Arbor, May 4-5, 1989. Ann Arbor, Pierian Press.

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), 2001. Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education. Washington, NCATE.

Oregon Department of Education (ODE), 1987. Library Information Skills: Guide for Oregon Schools K-12. Salem, ODE.

Ratteray O. and Simmons H., 1995. Information Literacy in Higher Education: A Report on the Middle States Region. Philadelphia, Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Available from ERIC (ED 388 136).

Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) and State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), 1987. Information Skills Curriculum Guide: Process Scope and Sequence. Olympia, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Published in OLA Quarterly, volume 7, number 2, Summer 2001, "Information Literacy" -

© 2001, colleen bell about / words