Information Literacy: Search Strategies, Tools
& Resources. ERIC Digest.
by Ercegovac, Zorana - Yamasaki, Erika
In the current Information Age, the speed at which we work makes us
increasingly dependent on high-quality, accurate information. However,
information is becoming more voluminous, fragmented into different formats
and media, and duplicated in multiple physical locations. In order to access
and use these myriad sources effectively, people must be information literate.
As defined by the American Library Association (ALA) in its mission
statement for the global information society, 21st century information
literacy is the ability to seek and effectively utilize information resources,
including knowledge of how to use technologies and the forms in which information
is stored (ALA, 1998). This means that asking a good question, as well
as accessing, locating, evaluating, and using information, is critical
not only in scholarly activities but in making daily decisions.
Having accurate, up-to-date information determines the difference between
the rich and the poor in the Information Age. Community colleges can make
a vital contribution toward closing this gap by equipping their students
with the ability to access, retrieve, and utilize information.
As we strive to understand information literacy issues in a more holistic
manner, the Information Literacy: Search Strategies, Tools & Resources
(ST&R) Program developed by Ercegovac (1997a) can provide invaluable
guidance in a variety of information literacy environments.
This Digest briefly describes challenges facing information literacy
development as well as ST&R and its usefulness to community college
faculty and students.
The growth of computer networks and information services has already
enabled learners at all levels to share resources, collaborate with one
another, and publish their results electronically. To use information sources
effectively, we need both technology infrastructure (TI) and information
literacy infrastructure (ILI) in place. While TI has been well-funded and
developed, ILI is poorly applied in teaching and learning, and requires
Information technology is a tool for writing papers, communicating with
colleagues worldwide, and exchanging experiments, ideas, and programs internationally.
As community colleges are considering distance learning and adding new
technologies to their curriculum, ensuring students' information literacy
becomes vital. However, this shift may challenge existing campus dynamics.
A CURRENT CHALLENGE
The proliferation of information sources and educational technology
have created a dysfunctional relationship between community college faculty
and librarians that is based on an outdated teaching/learning paradigm
(Tompkins, 1996). Traditionally, teaching has been the purview of faculty
while librarians were viewed as merely custodians of printed information
resources. In the current Information Age however, librarians have become
the primary instructors in community colleges to teach research methods
and critical thinking skills as applied to information access (Academic
Senate for California Community Colleges, 1996). As such, there is increasing
support for community college librarians to be seen as key instructional
team members and as partners with faculty (Tompkins, 1996; McHenry, Stewart
& Wu, 1992).
Especially as libraries are transformed into integrated library/high
technology centers, resource-based learning (i.e., drawing on resources
beyond textbooks and lectures) and information literacy can be adopted
as goals across academic disciplines. At Central Seattle Community College,
for example, faculty linked an English composition course with one in library
science to teach students how to use information literacy skills in the
context of cultural pluralism (McHenry, Stewart & Wu, 1992). By working
together, librarians and faculty were able to teach content as well as
the valuable skill of navigating through complex data bases and information
While faculty may know how to teach English composition or other standard
courses, they may not be as comfortable teaching information literacy.
Fortunately, an abundance of resources has emerged from sources including
the Department of Education (1996), the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information
and Technology (Eisenberg & Johnson, 1996) and independent authors
(for example see Mendrinos, 1994). These publications state information
literacy goals, review literacy tools, provide case studies, and present
adaptable models of information literacy curricula.
THE ST&R PROGRAM
One recently developed aid is the Information Literacy: Search Strategies,
Tools & Resources (ST&R) Program that can be tailored to the local
needs of colleges. It is comprised of three integrated instructional components:
the ST&R book, a PowerPoint presentation for classroom use, and an
HTML version of the book for installation on institutional servers.
Implemented at the intersection of learners and Web-ready information
resources, ST&R can initiate students to the world of information literacy.
It is a comprehensive and flexible tool that has been developed to enable
students to become self-sustained seekers and users of information sources
and digital libraries. This can be especially useful in the community colleges
where many students are from disadvantaged or lower socio-economic backgrounds
and previously may not have had access to such sources.
The program has been designed for anyone interested in the critical
and effective use of all types of information sources regardless of their
format (e.g., books, journal articles, manuscripts, log diaries, visual
elements, and other artifacts) and medium (e.g., printed, electronic, and
networked digital libraries). ST&R takes a user-centered perspective
and focuses on the intellectual aspects of locating, evaluating, interpreting,
and communicating information sources rather than on the technical aspects
of these activities.
Furthermore, ST&R is comprehensive because it contains references
to a variety of sources and digital repositories, introduces effective
search strategies and tools for the use of these sources, and covers critical
evaluation of these sources. In this one-stop "literacy mall," ST&R
also offers exercises, a glossary of introduced terms and concepts, and
Internet addresses of numerous sources available on the Web. In particular,
the electronic version of ST&R allows students to connect automatically
with Internet addresses and explore various search engines in an orderly
and guided manner. Instructors are equipped with the "ST&R Show," based
on the Microsoft PowerPoint 97 presentation program, that features links
to selected Internet digital libraries and resources.
The ST&R Program also is flexible because its content is divided
into a series of nine interrelated yet independent chapters. Students can
expand each chapter by doing more exercises and searches, tracking new
Web addresses, updating the existing ones, and developing their own portfolio
of annotated information sources.
This program is the first attempt to translate research from the fields
of information seeking, information retrieval, and educational psychology
into a practical information literacy program. It can be utilized in a
variety of academic settings including libraries, media centers, and classrooms.
In addition, different academic departments may wish to incorporate individual
parts of ST&R into their curricula to fit their own information literacy
mission, students, and collections. Also, the program is scalable to the
different academic abilities of community college students.
In summary, ST&R represents an accumulation of over 10 years of
teaching, in-class testing with undergraduates at the University of California,
Los Angeles, and feedback from real learners and users. It is based on
understanding the user, active learning, a conceptual approach in teaching,
and modularity (Ercegovac, 1995; 1997b). While the program is a very practical
information literacy tool, it also is based on solid research and conceptual
foundations. For example, it recognizes the importance of the information
life cycle (e.g., information need, search and interpretation, evaluation,
and use) as well as the user (National Academy of Sciences, 1998).
In this Information Age, we browse and query the world's repositories
without ever having to leave our workplaces and communities. Thus, it is
not surprising that the traditional sense of a library as a confined space
with local dimensions has introduced ambiguities to the way people interpret
library collections and uses. As a result, the value of a library as a
store has been questioned, and the library's role as a service is largely
Another concern is the ease with which untrained users can directly
search sources, resulting in their continued difficulty with utilizing
information retrieval systems. Furthermore, definitions of access and information
are not agreed upon universally.
All these changes have created the need to rethink information literacy
and to educate students in the lifelong quest for knowledge. ST&R helps
in this regard.
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