Partnering with Your Librarian to Promote Information Literacy

Did you know that college librarians can be a partner throughout the semester to not only plan and update research assignments but also to help you assess them upon completion?

Librarians as partners is a relationship that may not have occurred to you, but as librarians we think it’s one you ought to explore. Librarians are qualified to help you with pedagogical issues that go way beyond how to find a book or search a database.

Take a close look at your research project topic. Aside from checking to see when resources were last updated, does it reinforce information literacy skills that go beyond learning how to do the one assignment to how to apply information-seeking skills for life? Librarians can work with you to update and add these critical elements to your projects. You’ll see the dividends this pays when you grade your students’ work.

The research session your librarian does for your students helps them tremendously. Are there multiple sections of the same course being taught by other faculty? Are they scheduling library sessions as well? By helping to organize an information literacy program within your department you can ensure that all the students in a major are getting consistent instruction. That will prevent classes with mixed research abilities in later years. For example, if all the first-year students in your department receive instruction on those source types used in the discipline and how to search for them, then your sophomores will be able to focus on evaluation and critical analysis of those sources, thereby building on the knowledge they learned during the first year.
After the research project is done, the librarian can also be a great partner in assessing the final papers or projects. That doesn’t mean we’ll do your grading for you, but librarians can provide feedback about how the students did their research and what issues they may have come up against, such as not enough books available on the topic given the number of students interested in it, or, if students all worked on different topics, whether some of those topics were harder than others when it came to locating relevant resources.

You can also talk to a librarian about the best way to integrate information literacy into your class without assigning a research project, such as recommending to students literature in the field that you use regularly to stay current, or having students read a professional or trade journal each week or month and discuss the reading in class together. What authors and publishers do you trust and why—this helps students build their evaluation skills.

In short, information literacy skills can be seamlessly integrated into courses, so that students move from thinking about information skills as sometimes painful classroom assignments to “get through” to thinking of them as an integral part of becoming an educated adult and professional.

Marilyn H. Steinberg is the science librarian at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Kari Mofford is the English Language and Literatures Librarian at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

Excerpted from Librarians as Partners, The Teaching Professor, Dec. 2006.