Info Lit for Faculty

Information Literacy in a Nutshell: Basic Information for Academic Administrators and Faculty

The following brief guide provides an introduction to the concept of information literacy and model information literacy programs. It is designed specifically for academic administrators and faculty. Each of the four sections of the guide includes links to other web resources that provide additional information. The four sections are:

  1. What should faculty and administrators know about information literacy programs?
  2. Are there some model programs I can examine?
  3. Where can I find more information?

What Is Information Literacy?      back to top

There are many different definitions of information literacy (also called information competency or information fluency by some practitioners) because the term is often confused with computer literacy and bibliographic instruction. While there is a great deal of overlap among the three terms, information literacy is the more comprehensive. Perhaps the best succinct and comprehensive definition is:

In the succinctness and breadth of the above definition much of the substance of information literacy is lost. Therefore a more comprehensive definition is useful. Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shelley K. Hughes provide a more detailed definition in their article "Information Literacy as a Liberal Art ." Briefly put Shapiro and Hughes make the following major points in their definition:

  • In its narrowest sense information literacy includes the practical skills involved in effective use of information technology and information resources, either print or electronic.
  • Information literacy is a new liberal art which extends beyond technical skills and is conceived as the critical reflection on the nature of information itself, its technical infrastructure and its social, cultural and even philosophical context and impact.
  • The information literacy curriculum includes:
    • Tool literacy - The ability to use print and electronic resources including software.
    • Resource literacy - The ability to understand the form, format, location and access methods of information resources.
    • Social-structural literacy - Knowledge of how information is socially situated and produced. It includes understanding the scholarly publishing process.
    • Research literacy - The ability to understand and use information technology tools to carry our research including discipline-related software.
    • Publishing literacy - The ability to produce a text or multimedia report of the results of research.
  • Perhaps the most complete definition of information literacy is provided by Loanne Snavely and Natasha Cooper in a review article for the Journal of Academic Librarianship entitled "The Information Literacy Debate" (January 1997). The article is most useful because it puts the current definitional debate in the context of the 100 year history of librarians' efforts to provide programs that develop students information searching skills.

What should faculty and administrators know about information literacy programs?      back to top

If you are an academic administrator or faculty member who is unfamiliar with information literacy we suggest the following points of information and advice:

Not A New Concept
Information literacy may be a hot new term in the higher education lexicon as we talk about living in the Information Age. However it is not a new concept. The idea of resource-based education is an old one and librarians have been involved in teaching the effective use of information resources for over a century under the labels library instruction, bibliographic instruction and library skills.

Clarifying The Term
The terms resource-based education, bibliographic instruction, library instruction, computer literacy, among others will often be used in conjunction with the term information literacy. Sorting out the differences can be useful but is not essential to understanding the basic concept of evaluate, and use information to become independent life-long learners." (SACS)link to ... Information literacy includes both a set of generic skills and concepts as well as skills and concepts which are specific to certain disciplines and subject areas.

Information literacy programs take two archetypical forms --separate courses (for credit or non-credit) or activities integrated into general education courses and/or courses in major fields of study.

Information literacy depends on collaboration among classroom faculty, academic administrators, librarians and other information professionals. In order to effectively implement a program all parties must be involved.

Leadership of Administrators
Information literacy programs require the leadership and support of academic administrators. Such leadership is not limited to budgetary support. It also includes helping create a supportive atmosphere and practical opportunities for cooperation among librarians, classroom faculty and information technologists. Such leadership should promote a vision of liberal education as an empowering and transforming endeavor that develops students as independent learners with the necessary skills.

Your Librarians
Librarians are deeply involved in addressing the issues associated with developing information literacy programs and national and regional efforts to improve program quality. Consult with your local academic librarians. If they are not aware of such efforts give them the address for this page.

Information literacy includes both a set of generic skills and concepts as well as skills and concepts which are specific to certain disciplines and subject areas.

Are there some model programs I can examine?      back to top

Where can I find more information?      back to top

  • Breivik, Dr. Patricia S., Dean. Information Literacy for the Skeptical Library Director. (accessed September 2003)
  • Breivik, Patricia Senn and Dan L. Jones. "Information Literacy: Liberal Education for the Information Age" Liberal Education (Winter 1993) pp.24-29
  • Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Information Literacy: Lifelong Learning in the Middle State Region. A Summary of Two Symposia. ED 386 157 (1995).
  • "Directory of Online Resources for Information Literacy," edited by Drew Smith and sponsored by the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida, is perhaps the most comprehensive electronic resource about information literacy. The site provides a greatly expanded version of the information on this page. (URL:
  • "Information Literacy Sites; Background and Ideas for Program Planning and Development," is the most complete and up to date webliography of resources on information literacy. Written by Esther Grassian and Susan E. Clark the article originally appeared in College & Research Libraries News, February 1999. (URL:
  • Information Literacy: Developing Students as Independent Learners, edited by D.W. Farmer and Terrence F. Mech. (New Directions for Higher Education; no. 78) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. If you are going to read just one publication on information literacy read this one. Although it may not provide the most complete coverage, it is the best overview from the perspectives of librarians, faculty, academic administrators and higher education officials.
  • Information Literacy Issues and Initiatives in Education, Government, Business and Industry: A bibliography of Articles and Items from Non-Library Literature This annotated bibliography of articles and other resources compiled by Carolyn F. Norman, Denise Sims, Ann Thornton, and Dawn Vaughn, allows us to view the literature from a non-library perspective.
  • Increasing the Teaching Role of Academic Libraries, edited by Thomas G. Kirk. (New Directions for Teaching and Learning; no. 18) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984. Although this publication predates the computer revolution, the discussions which relate to use of print resources apply equally to electronic resources.
  • Leckie, Gloria J. "Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions about the Undergraduate Research Process." Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1996) pp.201-208.
  • The history of library and bibliographic instruction can be followed by using one or more the following resources:
    • Tucker, John Mark. (1980) "User Education in American Libraries: a Century in Retrospect," Library Trends 29(1):9-27.
    • Lockwood, Deborah L. (1979) Library Instruction; a Bibliography. Westport, CO.: Greenwood Press.
    • Rader, Hannelore. (1998) "Library Instruction and Information Literacy--1997," Reference Services Review 26 (3/4): 143-159. Rader has annual bibliographies back to the mid 1970's in the same publication.
  • A Progress Report on Information Literacy: An Update on the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. This site outlines progress made since the landmark report of this committee was published in 1989. In response to that report, the National Forum on Information Literacy was formed and began work to carry out the recommendations made. This important and timely update reemphasizes the importance of information literacy, provides examples of successful information literacy programs, and makes recommendations for further action. Last update: March 1998.
  • Shapiro, Jeremy J. and Shelley K. Hughes. “Information Technology as a Liberal Art.” Educom Review (March/April, 1996) (accessed February 2002)

See also our Accreditation Bibliography.

This page was prepared by Thoms G. Kirk, Jr.
The author welcomes comments or questions from readers.

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