INFORMATION LITERACY: AN ACTION PLAN
Over the past twenty-five years, the St. Olaf Libraries have served as “Teaching Libraries” with a strong, nationally recognized, course-integrated bibliographic instruction program. From the beginning this program’s goal has been to "provide systematic instruction in the retrieval and evaluation of information from its many sources…(and) offer active support for the College mission of stimulating critical thinking and lifelong learning.... Through bibliographic instruction and additional one-to-one work with reference librarians, students learn to design effective research strategies and evaluate information tools and sources."3 Throughout the past two decades, virtually all library instruction has been linked to specific courses and assignments. In this regard, it has served as a model for other liberal arts colleges as illustrated most recently at the ACM Conference on Bibliographic Instruction: An Opportunity for Collaborative Pedagogy, initiated and hosted by St. Olaf in 1998.
Established in 1977 with grants from the NEH and Council on Library Resources, the college-wide program with faculty support committed itself to course-integrated instruction. In particular, the English and Religion departments agreed to integrate bibliographic instruction into all their first year classes so that students would have two opportunities to become experienced in library research at the beginning of their college career. Throughout the 1980s & 1990s, St. Olaf librarians assumed a leadership role nationally in sharing and promulgating this approach in academic journals. In 1989, this philosophy was once more reaffirmed by the library's recommendation to the Curriculum Review Committee that a “Literacy” statement be included in the graduation requirements specifying that such “requirements (be) supplemented by the directed use of library and other information sources.”4 During the college’s major curriculum revision in the early 1990s, the Libraries received an additional Pew Grant (1992) to reexamine bibliographic instruction, resulting in a revision of the multi-tiered, three-level approach to research skills and related tools. However, while many of the faculty are aware of the original commitment vis-à-vis first year courses, with the new curriculum of the 1990s in which GE seminars are now taught by faculty in a number of departments and with more frequent faculty turnover, some of these first year courses slip by without library instruction or research.
Although both WRI and ORC graduation requirements have been added over the past decade, the strong track record of library-faculty collaboration encouraged the Libraries not to pursue a separate graduation requirement in library literacy skills during the curriculum revision of the early 1990s. With bibliographic instruction already widespread on campus, there was concern that a library literacy requirement might actually diminish the number of courses offering such instruction. In addition, such a requirement might inhibit the diverse library/faculty collaboration already in place, as well as the opportunity to explore the multiple ways in which research may be configured and embedded in the curriculum. It should be noted that a number of the Oberlin Group colleges, when surveyed by Patricia Gray of Middlebury College in May 1999, had no required library instruction/information literacy component in their curriculum.6 Whether St. Olaf opts for such a requirement or not, it is recommended that the faculty renew its initial commitment to integrating library research into first year English (now GE) courses.
It is also
time to review the bibliographic instruction program, examining it through
the lens of information literacy. And, finally, would a focus on core
research competencies encourage or discourage a wider vision of ways to
integrate the teaching of research across the curriculum, of understanding
the structure of knowledge within and across disciplines, and of participating
in scholarly discourse? As a department actively engaging in fostering
research, the Libraries have remained responsive to curricular changes
on campus as well as changes in scholarship and pedagogy across the country.7
Such self-examination must continue lest the Libraries and College tread
water while the wider educational community responds to new electronic
resources, burgeoning innovative technologies, the opportunity and necessity
for distance education, the impact of globalism, the expanding field of
interdisciplinary studies, and a renewed focus on the structure of knowledge
and student-centered learning. In tune with a nation-wide awareness of
“changing knowledge, changing pedagogy, and changing students,”8
there is growing interest and concern at St. Olaf in having students graduate
fully “information literate.” In other words, our graduates need to be
fully experienced and engaged in all forms of research needed for personal
growth, professional success, leadership which makes a difference, and