Broad vs. Deep Information Literacy Instruction

Meredith Farkas, the head of instructional services at the Portland State University Library, published a blog post this past summer that still has us asking ourselves questions about the most effective approach to information literacy programming. She focuses on the issue of reaching a larger percentage of students versus providing IL sessions of higher quality to a smaller percentage of students on campus, perhaps through for-credit courses. Meredith hits on a number of issues many academic librarians face when planning their IL efforts, while trying to balance reach versus depth of information literacy instruction.

Pedagogical Focus –

Many instruction librarians spend a large portion of their time focusing on their liaison areas. This can result in higher quality IL sessions because these students receive discipline-specific instruction that is more relevant and engaging for students. But this can also result in fewer students being reached because this approach is labor-intensive. Librarians spend time and effort establishing those relationships with faculty, working with faculty to find room in the curriculum, and tailoring instruction to specific small-enrollment courses. For many institutions, there are too few librarians to apply this model with all academic departments.

Staff Limitations –

The number of staff available to teach IL sessions is another barrier to balancing reach and quality. Meredith writes, “…with our staffing, it would be an either/or proposition; either focus on instruction in your liaison areas or focus on teaching credit classes.” Large populations of students on campus require a trade-off because there are simply not enough staff to handle regular tasks and run IL sessions for every class or program.

Faculty Relationships –

Many academic librarians have strong relationships in place with faculty in their liaison departments. One barrier to transforming the information literacy program at your university could be convincing academic librarians to make a change that could mean moving away from the relationships they have developed over the years.

Opportunities to Engage –

Every academic library has different opportunities to engage with students. The number of opportunities you currently have or could develop in the future plays a role in the nature of your IL program. Freshmen orientations, summer sessions, and introductory courses provide opportunities for academic librarians to reach many students. The timing of these interactions also allow for a larger focus on quality IL sessions throughout the rest of the school year.

Departmental Flexibility –

How much flexibility do you have with faculty and their curricula? Your answer to this question would determine if creating opportunities within departments would allow for high quality IL sessions. One idea is to create an information literacy lab to run in conjunction with specific courses already established.

Online Opportunities –

One opportunity for increasing the reach of your IL instruction is creating online resources to feature on your academic library website. Though these resources are available to all students, the quality of instruction is reduced as students are not directly engaging with an academic librarian.

Are you thinking yet? Meredith’s article has us, here at Project SAILS, working through how we can help academic librarians realize both depth and breadth with their instruction.

There are many challenges for information literacy programming in our colleges and universities, but sorting through these issues to find the most effective solution for your particular situation will make a world of difference in the lives of the students on your campus. How can your school achieve both reach and depth with your IL instruction? What changes need to be made to utilize the staff you have in the most beneficial way? What opportunities should be pursued? And most importantly – what affect will these changes have on the future of your students?

We hope you wrestle through these questions with your colleagues and be sure to read the entire “Broad vs. Deep In Information Literacy Instruction” article.

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