Skip to content

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.

In October, we wrote a blog post about how we define information literacy at Project SAILS. We wanted to follow-up that post and discuss what we think it means to be information literate.

We agree with the standards and definitions Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has laid out for information literacy, which is the reason we chose to base our test items off the ACRL information literacy standards. ACRL has also developed a set of performance indicators and outcomes that tie into each of its five standards. These indicators and outcomes give a clear indication of whether a student is defined as being information literate or in need of additional information literacy instruction.

Those institutions testing their students with our cohort assessment of information literacy receive a report with results broken out by ACRL standard and by a unique grouping of eight skill sets. We created the Project SAILS skills sets by regrouping the ACRL standards, performance indicators, outcomes, and objectives. The re-grouped skill sets give institutions a clearer picture of the specific skill(s) students are struggling most with, giving faculty and academic librarians the ability to tailor IL instruction to the specific needs of their students. Our hope is that by forming these skill sets, the data you receive is more practical because you are able to easily identify and target the weakest skill areas, such as developing a research strategy, retrieving sources, evaluating sources, and so on.

To see examples of the test reporting based on ACRL standards and our skill sets, download a sample report.

Our individual assessment of information literacy uses a different measure to determine the information literacy skills of the students tested. Each report contains a list of questions asked, an overall score, and an indicator of which questions each student got right. The overall score is framed within a scale to determine the information literacy for each student. The three levels are as follows:

  • Below Proficiency Level: Lower than 70%
  • Proficiency Level: 70% - 84%
  • Mastery Level:  85% or Higher

These performance measures are provided in order to give test administrators context for the scores of their students and to indicate whether a student is information literate. The skill sets used for the cohort assessment are unavailable for the individual assessment because there are not enough data with a single student or even a single class. Want more information about what the reporting looks like? Click to see a sample report for our individual assessment of information.

Both of our information literacy test formats, individual and cohort, have been designed in order to provide you with a clear indication of the information literacy skills of your students, pinpoint the weak and strong areas, highlight growth following IL sessions with pre/post testing, and provide faculty and academic librarians with insights into the areas to focus your IL instruction around.

Register today to test your students with the Project SAILS information literacy test!

In October, we had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Annual ALAO Conference. It was great talking with fellow attendees at our booth and we enjoyed the empowering perspectives and ideas shared by the conference speakers. 

Company president Rick Wiggins at our booth for the 2012 Annual ALAO Conference
Company president Rick Wiggins at our booth for the 2012 Annual ALAO Conference

When library conference speakers bring in ideas and values from beyond the walls of librarianship, they help us see our world in new ways. At the ALAO conference, keynote speaker Lisa Hinchliffe highlighted a number of fantastic resources:

Lisa’s emphasis was how academic libraries can be indispensible to the higher education mission, as reflected in the title of her keynote, “First Be Valuable and Then Be Valued: Academic Library Impact.” This is an extension of the ACRL initiative on the value of academic libraries.  Explore this topic further with the following key resources

If you missed the conference but want to see some of what was talked about, see tweets from the conference, compiled by Meghan Frazer.  Thanks, Meghan!

Also, be sure to sign up for our monthly email newsletter full of valuable information for academic librarians, including our recent blog posts, helpful tips, and more!