The constant evolution of information literacy

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

Like many library and information user services, information literacy has undergone great changes over the last decade. This evolution has been fuelled by the increased use of electronic resources as well as the shift in user behavior when it comes to searching and using information for learning, research and work.

When electronic databases were introduced in libraries, information literacy classes focused on equipping users with skills to successfully navigate the databases. Most sessions consisted of “click here” demonstrations. Back then, librarians also had to introduce various search concepts, including keywords, Boolean operators and wildcards. However, as our users evolve into today’s Google generation, information literacy classes also need to evolve.

To address these changes in user behavior and to align the library’s services with the university’s aims, information literacy classes at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) underwent several changes over the last few years. These key points now drive our instructional classes:

Clear objectives

Classes are grouped into four categories:  

Awareness:  Sessions that aim to develop a complete awareness of NTU library resources and services

Research: Sessions that aim to develop research skills such as conducting a literature review, understanding citations, or avoiding plagiarism

Subject:  Sessions that aim to develop an understanding of information structure and management, specific to various subject disciplines

Tools:  Sessions that aim to develop skills and competencies to retrieve needed information from various systems including library catalogs, bibliographic management systems, and interdisciplinary databases

Defined user groups

User groups — along with their distinct information needs and information-seeking behavior — are clearly defined as undergraduates, postgraduates, administrators or faculty. This allows us to understand their objectives and design relevant and useful curriculum and activities.  

Explanations of different sources

With increased varieties of information formats, it has become increasingly vital for students to differentiate the kind of information that can be derived from the different sources available. Information literacy should empower students with the skills required to explore, exploit and use information they need for study, research and work.

Student-centric mode of learning

We increasingly use an active, blended learning approach in our classes. It is no longer an instructor-centric mode of teaching but a student-centric mode of learning. We have made a point of including more discussions, hands-on activities and online pop quizzes to engage users and sustain their interest. The NTU Libraries YouTube channel also has short videos to complement face-to-face sessions so our users can review the classroom sessions or even pick up tips on their own time and at their own pace.

Going beyond the students

While students are our biggest group of users, we are seeing more and more requests to assist and support the needs of not only the teaching faculty and research staff but also the university administrators.

Our Instructional Services Division became part of the larger Scholarly Communication Group in 2010. This strategic move allows greater synergy between information literacy and the promotion of scholarly communication. New topics such as managing author profiles, open access, citation analysis, and using library tools to identify where to publish have been introduced for postgraduates, faculty members and even administrators.

Academic integrity

To complement the university’s research-intensive strategy, and taking into consideration our users’ diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, it is imperative that we include the message of research and academic ethics in our information literacy sessions. NTU Library delivers this message via a roving exhibition on plagiarism, plagiarism classes and as part of the university’s briefing to new postgraduates.

As technology keeps evolving and changing the way we discover and use information, the library must change the way we teach information literacy to help users make sense of the information landscape in this rapidly changing world.

About the Contributor

Janice Chia

Head of Instructional Services

Nanyang Technological University