Back to basics: Sheetal Tank builds an information literacy program to address core skill levels

Published Nov 7, 2012 in the Newsletter Issue: Information Literacy -- November 2012

Sheetal Tank is Chief Librarian at the Atmiya Institute of Technology & Science in Gujarat, India. Atmiya has approximately 5,000 students and offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees with a focus on engineering. Most incoming students have never navigated the Internet so they have to start from scratch in terms of digital information literacy. In 2006 Tank initiated a series of information literacy programs and has had 7,000 users participate in the programs since then.

Library Connect: How familiar are students and researchers coming into your college with good research methods?

Sheetal Tank: When they join the college neither students nor faculty in some cases are completely aware of good research methods. When students join they are purely textbook and exam oriented, while faculty members are often syllabus oriented.

What other barriers to information literacy have you seen?

Students and library staff often struggle with the English language, which presents a challenge in terms of making these programs effective. I design programs with these limitations in mind. For example, I conducted a workshop in Gujarati, a regional language, on information literacy for librarians fluent in Gujarati. They weren’t attending national workshops because they did not feel comfortable with their English language skills.

What are your library’s most effective information literacy programs in raising student skill levels?

a.    Searching the Internet Effectively teaches how to use different types of search engines, metasearch engines, scholarly search engines (such as DeepDive, Google Scholar), portals and directories. Other lectures cover how to structure a search strategy, choose a keyword or a thesaurus, understand the hierarchy of the subject, and evaluate the search results.

b.    What Are E-resources? introduces subscribed e-resources, such as ScienceDirect, with theory and hands-on training. We demonstrate why they should use journals for their research and describe what a peer-reviewed journal offers, its level of authenticity and features. They learn how to personalize a search and how to pick an e-resource depending on the final objective.

c.    Citing and Avoiding Plagiarism explains what plagiarism is and the review process that starts once their paper is submitted. We introduce them to reference management tools like Zotero and EndNote.

I have also tailored information literacy programs per department related to a field or subject area so that the students feel more connected with what is taught.

Does your approach with faculty differ?

Diverse departments at the university offer Faculty Development Programs (FDPs) on a range of topics. The library’s FDPs include sessions related to research methodology, and effective use of information and communications technology in teaching and learning. Through these FDPs users are slowly immersed in the subject, and after a year and a half they can start doing effective research work. For faculty, it is not only a case of instruction, but also of public encouragement. For example, I started a yearly award for the best researcher in terms of number of publications and publication in high impact journals.

How do you measure the success of librarian-led trainings?

I interact with participants to check their knowledge of publication and research processes, and organize brief focus groups (10 minutes) after each session. I track referrals, which result in new workshop opportunities, and conduct regular surveys asking students to rate the programs and suggest new topics. I also track research output, looking at papers published every six months. In the past three years, I’ve noticed a positive impact on research skills and output as a result of these efforts.