Information Competencies for Social Work Students

Intro || 1. Basic Skills || 2. Research Process Skills || 3. Critical Thinking Skills || 4. Advanced Research Skills || 5. Policy Practice and Advocacy Skills || 6. Professional Organizations and Job Search Resources || 7. Local Resources

by the Social Work / Social Welfare Committee

From the University of Michigan:

"The ability to locate, evaluate, and use information is the library's definition of information literacy. Information literacy is very much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Without a basis on which to build, higher level skills are not easily acquired. In the Social Work Library's information literacy model, the 5th and final level prepares MSW students for professional competencies; the 3rd level requires a foundation of critical thinking abilities, while the 1st level competencies have often already been acquired by the time today's typical student graduates from high school."


5th Level

  • Precisely defines a client or program problem and the information required to solve it (PICO anatomy for evidence-based practice)
  • Conducts efficient searches in multiple databases to tap all relevant knowledge domains
  • Selects the best of the relevant studies and data sources, including systematic reviews and meta-analysis
  • Applies rules of evidence in evaluating the research literature
  • Extracts the research message and applies it to the client or program
  • Talks and negotiates with researchers whose studies may affect their work
  • Is aware of documents in the public domain (GPO Access, Thomas, ERIC, PubMed, etc.)


4th level


  • Is able to find relevant census data (American FactFinder)
  • Is able to identify funding sources (FC Search)
  • Is able to synthesize information
  • Incorporates information into personal value system


3rd level

  • Knows how to choose a subject-based database that meets the depth and breadth of the information need (e.g. America: History and Life or PsycINFO)
  • Is able to find pending legislation and legislative histories (LexisNexis Congressional)
  • Can create efficient keyword search strategies (synonyms, broader and narrower terms)
  • Knows how to search using Boolean concepts and can effectively use structured vocabulary or classification schemes
  • Understands that everything is not available on the web
  • Thinks critically in evaluating information Understands issues of ownership and access to information Is aware of copyright issues


2nd level


  • Knows where to ask questions: reference librarians, professors, web pages, etc.
  • Knows the scope of the U-M library system (library catalog, subject-based databases, e-journals, web pages, MyLibrary, etc.)
  • Understands the difference between an index and a catalog
  • Understands the mechanics of navigating a database
  • Knows why to use a keyword search as opposed to a subject search
  • Can differentiate between web and other research tools
  • Understands plagiarism and protection of library materials or collections
  • Can distinguish between popular and scholarly materials
  • Is able to use citations to locate materials and find out how to cite them correctly within text and reference sections of assignments in APA style


1st level

  • Is proficient in basic computer skills: how to turn on a computer, how to maneuver in a Windows environment, how to use a mouse, how to save files, how to start an application, etc.
  • Knows what the Internet is, how to use a web browser and how to use URLs
  • Understands basic concepts related to libraries: what is a call number, what types of materials are in libraries, how materials are organized, etc.
  • Recognizes an information need


Send corrections and suggestions to the EBSS Social Work/Social Welfare Committee Chair

Social Work/Social Welfare Committee || EBSS