Using librarians to foster information literacy

Broward College students researching in the library. (Photos: BC)

Librarians are powerful pedagogical resources. We are teachers, collaborators and instructional designers. We teach students how to think about their research needs, reflect upon their experiences, and consider different types of sources.

We don’t just want students to use the right formatting when they build citations, we want them to know why they should include citations in their work at all.

Information literacy is considered an essential learning outcome by the Association of American Colleges & Universities and among its high-impact educational practices. It topped the Chronicle of Higher Education’s higher education trends for 2017. Even the architects of guided pathways urge the inclusion of librarians in course design, teaching partnerships and faculty development.

Yet, many in higher education simply don’t picture librarians outside the stacks or reference desks. Though institutional support is strong in theory, academic librarians have universally found resistance to formalized information literacy integration across the curriculum.

Broward College (Florida) wasn’t immune to this trend. When information literacy — considered an essential learning outcome by the Association of American Colleges & Universities and among its high-impact educational practices — came up both as a potential theme for the college’s quality enhancement plan in 2013 and among competencies for the general education outcomes assessment project in 2015, librarians were only peripherally involved.

It has taken time, effort and consistent outreach for our message to reach key institutional stakeholders. Michelle Jackson, district director for teaching, learning and academic assessment, has been a fierce advocate for the teaching roles of librarians since her tenure as a first-year writing professor at Broward College. Immediately upon stepping into her district-level role, Jackson invited faculty librarians to the College Assessment Team for Student Success.

When the librarians on her team suggested that it was time to revise the information literacy rubric, she called on our subject matter expertise.

“Librarians assist students, faculty and staff from all disciplines with locating, evaluating and effectively using information,” she said. “As they are on the front lines, librarians witness prominent issues patrons experience with information literacy first-hand. This allows them to observe skills gaps in this competency and to clearly define desired outcomes on the rubric to address these gaps.”

A Broward College librarian guides students in learning about information literacy.

Taking a close look

In fall 2018, a team of faculty librarians met to develop a new rubric for college-wide assessment. We consulted various information literacy rubrics from diverse institutions. We dove deep into research about authentic assessment and rubric creation, debated everything from our goals to semantics, and pored over authentic student artifacts.

After revisions based on faculty feedback, a final version was adopted by the college assessment team for the current semester.

Our first change: the definition

The definition of “information literacy” has gone through a massive overhaul at the top levels of the profession, particularly in higher education.

Until the start of spring semester 2019, the definition used by Broward College illustrated the outmoded skills-based concept of information literacy. Along with authoring a new rubric, the librarians proposed the adoption of the updated Association of College & Research Libraries’ definition, signaling our move away from the skills-list definition to one that encompasses process, critical thinking, metacognition and application to lifelong learning.

Our second change: scoring areas

Once we accepted that we needed to change the definition of information literacy at our institution, we were forced to face our next challenge: the scoring areas of the existing rubric.

Variations of the same skills checklist style of measuring information literacy pervade higher education. This skills-based approach is outcomes-friendly. Finding sources and citing sources may be easy to insert among learning outcomes in a wide array of courses, but they simplify complex concepts with deceptively broad strokes.

Rather than identifying discrete skills, we considered learning outcomes when developing our scoring areas. We reduced the number by combining related concepts and used more descriptive language to name them.

Our third change: criteria for scoring

Adaptability was a priority for this rubric. We wanted the rubric to be accessible to any research-based coursework irrespective of subject area or instructor’s experience with information literacy. Because non-librarians would be applying these measures, we were careful to steer clear of jargon.

Our rubric asks scorers to consider various interconnected factors when measuring for competency. Each measure provides alternative scoring criteria because the nature of information literacy is mutable, flexible and shifting depending on course content, subject area specifications, academic levels, previous exposure to information literacy instruction, and other factors.

Ready for more

For the Broward College librarians, information literacy is complex, exciting and adaptable. We wanted our rubric to reflect that, and we believe we achieved our goal. The college-wide adoption of our rubric presented a unique opportunity to promote the evolution of information literacy pedagogy and praxis, as well as a tool for authentic assessment of an already-established high-impact practice.

As we look ahead to this inaugural implementation, we gear up to create more tailored experiences for our students and to provide continuing education opportunities for our faculty.

About the Author

Cristy Moran
is a librarian at Broward College in Coconut Creek, Florida.