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And, Or, Not . . . three important words for searching success.

These three words form the basis of Boolean logic and help students more efficiently search through the complicated world of information and find resources specific to their academic needs.

We have heard many instruction librarians discussing the difficulty of keeping students engaged once the “B” word is introduced in a session. Should the “B” word be avoided altogether? Should new methods be used to teach students about Boolean?

We think instruction on Boolean should continue to be emphasized when teaching students how to search and locate information. After all, Boolean is included in the ACRL information competency standards and the “searching” portion of the Project SAILS skills sets. But maybe there are better ways to cover this topic. One option is a free tool called Boolify.

Boolify presents Boolean logic in a fun and graphical way to show students the usefulness of applying Boolean search operators when looking for resources with the Google search engine. Though it was designed specifically for K-12, we think there are many advantages to using it within higher education settings, including:

  • Great for the hands-on learners in your courses
  • Clearly illustrates the usefulness of using Boolean operators
  • Though specific to Google, college students can apply the concepts to research databases
  • The interactive nature of the tool gives students the flexibility to continue refining their search based on the results provided
  • Identifies the logic behind research and uses this logic to improve research skills

But the thing we like most about Boolify is that it covers a very important skill set within information literacy in a practical and easy-to-understand manner. The key is that Boolify is focused on the end goal, which is to teach information literacy skills in a way college students can understand and retain.

In addition to the free Boolify tool, the site also offers lesson plans for teaching information literacy to your students.

Give Boolify a look and consider whether you can use it in your instruction.

York University Libraries recently published an article summarizing the collaboration efforts started between faculty and academic librarians in regard to information literacy instruction at their university. These collaborations were deemed necessary and important by the University following the results from a study called Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL).

The results from the ERIAL project show that “when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy” and that faculty, students, and academic librarians all bear responsibility.

  • “They [students] preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited a lack of understanding of search logic that often foiled their attempts to find good sources.”
  • “Librarians tend to overestimate the research skills of some of their students, which can result in interactions that leave students feeling, intimidated and alienated.”
  • “Some professors make similar assumptions, and fail to require that their students visit with a librarian before embarking on research projects.”
  • “And both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who often are not willing or able to fulfill it.”

Most importantly, faculty and academic librarians rarely work together for a common goal – to strengthen students’ research skills in order to more effectively complete assignments.

York University librarians wanted things to be different. They developed a plan to foster collaboration between faculty and academic librarians, with three options for information literacy instruction. Their article goes on to discuss a successful collaboration between a professor in Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, a law librarian, and business librarian. All three worked together to create information literacy tutorials and laboratory sessions specifically for the professor’s Masters of Law and Masters of Financial Accountability students. And the results were outstanding! Students felt more comfortable with research, the professor received better researched assignments, and the academic librarians demonstrated their value to both faculty and students. These results were possible for a number of reasons:

  • The professor understood the value that academic librarians could provide to his specific courses;
  • Academic librarians were able to connect (and form relationships) with students through the professor, who had an existing relationship with these students;
  • Information literacy instruction was more relevant to these students as it had a direct impact on a specific class assignment; and
  • The information literacy instruction was taught with a specific application in mind, making the short sessions more impactful than a general IL session.

And their IL collaboration efforts are continuing to see great results, as York librarians have created “course-specific library research sessions for an average of 700 classes and assisting approximately 25,000 students” each year.

What a great example of academic librarians displaying their value by utilizing the relationship faculty have with students and collaborating with professors to develop course-specific information literacy resources for their students. Another positive is that students are probably far more comfortable approaching academic librarians when they need additional research help for other classes, erasing the myth that academic librarians are only useful when you need help finding a book.

For more information on the articles discussed:

Click to read the full article on the York University collaboration.

Click to read more about the findings from the ERIAL project.

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.

The development of the digital world has created one major problem – information overload. Information is accessible 24/7 from a variety of sources with varying viewpoints, authority, and credibility. Successfully navigating this complex world of information is possible but only when information literacy skills have been developed.

The Association of College and Research Libraries defines information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.”  We believe this definition of information literacy highlights its importance for all areas of life – including academics, work, and in one’s personal life.

Why Information Literacy is Important

Information literacy should be a fundamental principle in college education as it shares a common vision with institutions of higher learning – to develop skills for life-long learning. The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education states that, “Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning.”

It is also vital to future generations as information is created more rapidly and in larger quantities than in past generations. It is much harder to “weed-out” biased, false, and misleading information as the accessibility of information-creating technology has rapidly increased.

When Information Literacy Skills Will Be Used

Information literacy is generally associated with research papers or class projects but we think information literacy has many implications beyond the classroom. Many daily tasks in the workplace involve the need to find and evaluate information in order to perform a job appropriately. Other common decisions where information literacy plays a role include tasks such as researching health issues, choosing which car to purchase, deciding what to do on your family vacation, watching an evening newscast critically, and so much more. Another major use for information literacy skills is selecting viewpoints and opinions on current news and political issues.

We strongly believe in the need to develop the information literacy skills of students across the United States, which led us to create our information literacy test for colleges and universities. We hope you consider using our assessment at your institution so that together we can develop a generation of information literate citizens.