Clearly institutions of higher education, with libraries taking a significant lead, are concerned about information literacy and developmental research skills.9 St. Olaf needs to be concerned, as well. Why? Because the rapid expansion of electronic resources is having a significant impact on the college’s community and curriculum. Because we are hearing a call not only for increased competency but also for accompanying outcomes assessments to appraise such competency. Because there is a danger of conflating computer and/or technological literacy with information literacy. Because growing curricular use of technology needs to take into account the concomitant expansion of resources accessible through libraries. Because with the proliferation of new resources, on-line databases and web materials, students need help in discriminating between basic and advanced, objective and biased, and/or popular and scholarly materials. Because new technologies and easy, unmediated access to scholarly materials make it all too easy to overlook the need to teach critical thinking and research strategies as well as the need to integrate them developmentally across the curriculum.
Easy access can be deceptive. Quality research goes beyond learning how to access information in its most expedient form. What is critical for students is to become proficient with the more complex processes of hypotheses, search strategies, critical evaluation, and independent ownership of knowledge. Students may know how to surf the Web but are they aware of how knowledge is formed? Do they mistake information acquisition for knowledge, without understanding the importance of acquiring a disciplinary and/or interdisciplinary perspective?
We need to hold on to the importance of having students aware of the lens through which they view their research. Can they listen, see, read, research, evaluate, interpret, and respond as musicians, theologians, psychologists, chemists, social workers, and/or artists? Can they integrate these perspectives with skills gained from one discipline informing another? Can they take the risk to keep asking questions, questions that go beyond mere technological changes? Do St. Olaf graduates have the intellectual tools, disciplinary foundation, and self-confidence to become active participants in a scholarly discourse and the further construction of knowledge? Can they integrate core competencies with scholarly engagement to become life-long learners and liberal artists?10 These questions ultimately bring us to what may be one of the greatest dangers in a climate calling for new initiatives and accountability, namely the danger of losing sight of what is at the heart of life-long learning: the hope that students will encounter that spark, connect with that passion, and find the voice which leaves them hungry to keep searching and to keep the dialogue alive. Clearly, “Information literacy is a value issue.”11
For a liberal arts college, information literacy must be more than a compilation of skills, competencies, and tools. These are important for students, just as scales are important foundations for musicians. But the fundamentals need to be part of a developmental research process leading to more advanced creative research – a process defined in collaboration and owned across campus. The time has come for re-visioning.
In response to the rapid expansion of information and technological resources, the significant pedagogical implications embedded in these changes, and the call to implement an information literacy program, the St. Olaf Libraries, academic departments, and programs need to have a campus-wide discussion about the information literacy/developmental research skills we want our graduates to have. We need to embrace and celebrate what types of information literacy already exist in our curriculum, to re-vision ways in which developmental research skills could be further integrated into St. Olaf’s curriculum, and to implement a collaborative cross-campus information literacy/developmental research skills program to support this vision.
Ideally, such a program would arise from interdisciplinary, collaborative dialogue involving (1) library faculty with an expertise in information sources, their organization, and the structure of knowledge; (2) faculty from other departments and programs with their disciplinary expertise; (3) computing specialists with their technological expertise; and (4) students whose learning is the primary focus of such re-visioning. It is also hoped that the Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts and the Center for Integrative Studies would be involved, given that their commitments to faculty professional development and integrated, interdisciplinary curricula dovetail with the goals of this action plan. In addition, a commitment to such an integrated program, with its accompanying outcomes assessment, needs the support of the Office of Academic Planning. Continued interest in and support of information literacy/developmental research skills by the administration will also be critical. This support has been evident in the past, with the Associate Dean publicly advocating information literacy as a goal of the General Education Curriculum (1998), as well as with his support of both the 1998 ACM Bibliographic Instruction Conference hosted by the St. Olaf Libraries and the Libraries' participation in the ACRL Institute for Information Literacy in July 1999.
Building on strong partnerships
with both the faculty and the Academic Computing Center,12
and a desire to widen the bibliographic instruction lens to envision
a coordinated, cross-campus program of information literacy/developmental
research skills, the Libraries are willing and well-situated to
initiate such a collaborative pedagogical dialogue.