Best Practices and Assessment of Information Literacy Programs

A Project Plan Prepared for the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association by the National Information Literacy Institute
Chicago, IL, Revised March 2003


The INSTITUTE FOR INFORMATION LITERACY, an initiative of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a Division of the American Library Association, proposes to carry out a thirty-seven month long project to identify criteria for assessing information literacy programs in undergraduate education, and based on those criteria, to select benchmark programs. The criteria and selected institutions will be featured in a national conference, and information from the conference will be widely distributed through a variety of media: World Wide Web, professional print publications, and professional conferences and workshops. The goal of the project is to provide models of information literacy programs that institutions can use as benchmarks for comparison with their own developing programs.




Examples work more forcibly on the mind than precepts. --Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding

Introduction and Background    

"Information Literacy" has become a hot topic in education circles in the 1990's, but it is not a trend on the educational scene that will fade away. Rather, information literacy has emerged as a critical aspect of education as a result of the accumulation of a number of developments in library services and higher education. These developments can be categorized under four rubrics: library instruction, educational reform and student use of learning resources (print, mediated, electronic), use of technology, and assessment.

The concept of information literacy has created some controversy because its nature continues to evolve. The central elements, however, seem clear. Information literacy implies a conscious and systematic attention to developing the capacity to define effectively an information need, use research tools and processes to identify and locate such information, assess it, learn from it, and communicate an analysis and synthesis of the information in response to that need.1   

This focus on information literacy emerges most directly from a long history of library activities labeled library orientation, library instruction or bibliographic instruction. The trend over the past thirty years has been a movement away from orientation and instruction in the use of a particular library and its collection to a set of concepts that encompass principles of library organization, the nature and organization of information resources (both print and electronic), and processes of information seeking evaluation and communication.

In parallel with this movement toward a focus on concepts of information literacy, new ideas have developed about the role of faculty and educational resources in the teaching and learning process.2    Faculty are seen not only as deliverers of information (i.e., lecturers) but also facilitators to help students learn how to approach and use information resources effectively. Increasingly, faculty create environments that challenge students to learn about a topic or solve a problem using information resources students have located. This resource--based mode of education--has created a greater need to teach students how to access and evaluate appropriate information resources and use them effectively.

This change in the role of faculty is a consequence of the changing vision of the goal of education. Today formal education is viewed as preparation for a lifetime of learning. Therefore, the educational program needs to focus on developing in students the skills they will use as lifelong learners3.    One of the ways these skills are taught is to model them in the formal educational program. For this reason, the role of faculty has changed from being the sole or primary source of information, to the advisor or manager who creates environments that help students learn how to learn.

One of the most significant impacts of information technology over the past ten years has been its increasing capacity to organize and deliver information to an individual user's desktop. The volume of material it now delivers can outrun the individual's ability to use information effectively4.    The technology and the flood of information it provides creates compelling need for students to learn how to manipulate computer technology and evaluate information resources effectively. These skills have become part of the information literacy construct. Unless students develop these skills, they are unable to work effectively in the active learning environment that faculty are trying to create. Furthermore, the increasing availability of electronic information resources makes information literacy skills critical to lifelong learning.

The greater use of active learning techniques, the prevalence of electronic information resources, and the increased experience of librarians in teaching use of libraries and information resources have contributed to a need to implement information literacy programs. Howard Simmons, the former Executive Director of the Middle States Commission, clearly had the centrality and importance of information literacy in mind when he wrote:

...information literacy must be seen as a concept inextricably connected to the improvement of the undergraduate curriculum--and not just a 'hobbyhorse' of librarians and eccentric accrediting officials like me. In my judgment, information literacy--when it is narrowly conceived--will continue to be viewed by some as a peripheral activity unless it is an integral component of the teaching and learning process. Broadly construed, information literacy should be seen as a strategy for improving a student's ability to learn how to learn.5   

These developments converge to increase the importance of information literacy and, in turn, thrust librarians to the center of these educational developments. Librarians have long been involved in teaching activities6.    Beginning early in this century, librarians began to recognize the need for students to learn how to use the academic library's increasingly large and complex collections. As the century developed, the focus changed from lessons in bibliography and the use of a particular library to search strategies for locating desired information. Most recently, in response to the existence of information technology and its increasing complex search capabilities, instruction efforts have expanded to include a broad range of skills that are used in identifying an information need, seeking the information and using it to learn what is needed to respond to the tasks assigned by faculty.7   

Despite this century's long history of instruction in the use of libraries, information resources, search strategy and now information literacy there has been a lack of attention to teaching as a core function of the academic library. For the library to undertake this core activity effectively, there needs to be (1) strong commitment from the institutional and library administration, (2) a library staff proficient in instruction and able to work effectively with faculty to implement institutional change, and (3) a faculty who cooperatively team with librarians and other information handling professionals involved in the enterprise.8   

In her keynote address at a major library conference,9    Cerise Oberman described the need for IIL.10    Following her address, and at her behest, the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of American Library Association, formed the Institute for Information Literacy (IIL) in 1997, to address these needs. Subsequently, a Steering Committee, 11    was appointed by the ACRL President to more fully develop the Institute for Information Literacy's plan of action. The ACRL Board of Directors has committed funds in its previous, current and next budget years to support the work of IIL.

The Steering Committee has developed a statement of its mission and goals. Among the Institute's four goals are:

  1. Prepare librarians to become effective teachers of information literacy programs.
  2. Support librarians and other educators and administrators in playing leadership roles in the development and implementation of information literacy programs.
  3. Forge new relationships throughout the educational community to work towards information literacy curriculum development.
  4. Offer opportunities for growth and development in the changing field of information literacy.

With completion of a statement of IIL's mission and goals, the Steering Committee began work on the first two of these goals. These goals are being addressed initially through the development of a two-track week-long intensive workshop program. This Immersion Program will be bracketed by activities before and after the intensive experience. The IIL Steering Committee has identified and appointed an outstanding faculty of librarians experienced in information literacy to develop the workshop curriculum and teach the first two workshops in the summer of 1999. The two tracks will focus on two audiences: librarians early in their career who need greater familiarity with teaching skills and instructional design and library administrators who must manage, promote and evaluate information literacy programs. Because the needs of the two groups are not mutually exclusive, the two tracks will be conducted in parallel with the two groups having some joint sessions. The workshops will be intensively interactive and involve significant periods of experiential education. Subsequent to the summer of 19999 additional faculty were recruited and programs are planned for the summers of 2000 and beyond.

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The Need for the Proposed Project   

However, training of individuals by itself is not sufficient to support librarians and other educators and administrators in playing leadership roles in the development and implementation of information literacy program.

As bibliographic instruction programs developed in the 1970's and 1980's, librarians and academic administrators sought models of effective programs. The identification of model programs of library or bibliographic instruction carried out by ACRL and by practitioners have been extremely helpful.12    Such models provided bench marks for others who wished to develop such programs and wanted guidance in understanding the essential components of such programs and the level and types of support they needed.

As part of the process of identifying model programs, students of such programs have identified key criteria that are points of comparison and assessment in examining programs.13    These key criteria of assessment provide a basis for going beyond the idiosyncratic nature of individual programs to general principles that are useful as targets for planning new and developing programs regardless of the differences in individual institutional settings.

While this identification of models of bibliographic instruction programs has been a highly-used activity, little has been done to identify model information literacy programs in higher education. A few publications describe individual programs,14    and the ACRL Instruction Section's Innovation Award has been given to exemplary programs. Both the IS Innovation Award and the ACRL IS Internet Education Project have established criteria, but they are not focused specifically on programs; in fact, there has been no large-scale systematic examination of programs using explicit criteria to identify exemplary programs from which others might learn.

To meet this goal and address the need, IIL proposes a project that will develop criteria for assessing information literacy programs and use those criteria to identify a group of eight model institutions that demonstrate effectively some or all of the criteria. By developing these criteria and identifying a group of exemplary institutions, the IIL Steering Committee intends to highlight the essential ingredients of such programs and publicize the implementation of these criteria in model programs. By identifying model programs, the Steering Committee expects to provide librarians, library administrators, academic administrators and faculty with guidance in the development of information literacy programs.

The project intends to publicize the criteria and the model programs that have been identified. It is the Institute's expectation that librarians, administrators and faculty can use the information about model programs as guidance for the development of local programs.

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Project Goals   

The project has three goals:

  1. Develop criteria for assessing information literacy programs.
  2. Identify model programs that exemplify significant achievement of the criteria.
  3. Distribute information on the criteria and model programs that exemplify successful implementation of the criteria.

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   Project Plan Summary

The three goals of this project will be addressed in a three-step process over a thirty-seven month period. Below is a brief description of the three goals and activities to achieve it. Details on accomplished activities are listed in the Timetable below.

Phase I, which will be carried out in the first twelve months, focuses on the development of a set of criteria to be used in the bench marking process. These criteria will be developed by Project Team composed of librarians, instructional technologists and classroom faculty involved in information literary efforts. A Delphi polling technique will be used to get broad input in the initial stages of the process. Based on that input, the Project Team will refine the criteria and establish priorities.

The criteria for model programs will be consistent with current principles of library program assessment. This means the criteria will focus on three targets of assessment: input resources, program operations, and outcomes or results of program efforts. In a manner similar to the accreditation process, these criteria will focus on general characteristics such as evidence of clear statements of program goals, broad institutional support, sufficient resources to accomplish stated goals, adequate staff, effective organization and structure, effective evaluation techniques that examine outcomes of the programs, and finally, that the evaluation results are used to improve the program.

A draft of the criteria will be circulated for comment and feedback, and by the end of twelve months, a final version of the criteria will be developed. These criteria will be widely distributed both through the IIL Web site and through professional publications(e.g., ACRL Instruction Section Newsletter, C&RL News, Educause Online, Change).

Phase II of the project will focus on selecting ten institutions which send teams to participate in a national conference on information literacy programs in academic institutions. The purpose of the conference will be to bring together practitioners involved in model programs, to share ideas and to explore in-depth the criteria developed in Phase I. Through the conference format, we expect to enrich the participants' understanding of how information literacy programs can function efficiently, provide a greater depth of understanding about the implementation and operation of information literacy programs, and develop in-depth case studies of model programs. The conference will also highlight further the model information literacy programs and the criteria developed in Phase I.

As a result of the conference, a series of critiqued case studies will be developed as well as commentary on the original set of criteria developed in Phase I. Together, these criteria and case studies will be offered to the profession as documentation for a bench marking process in which other colleges and universities might engage to assess their programs.

Phase III is an overarching series of activities focused on publicizing the work of the project. In addition to the communication efforts enumerated as part of Phases I and II, Phase III will include a final period of intensive dissemination of information about the project and more particularly the outcomes of the conference. The conference results (i.e., case studies and critiqued criteria) will be published on the IIL Web site. In addition, reports on the activities will be published in professional journals and members of the Project Team will be available to present the project's findings. Finally, the basic content for regional conferences on information literacy will be developed. Subsequent to this project, ACRL will undertake to hold these regional conferences over the following year.

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Project Plan Detail   

The following time line provides a detailed plan for the project's activities. The time line is current as of July 2002.

  • Months 1-6: [Starting January, 2000]
    • The Institute for Information Literacy announced the project through library and education publications and on listservs of professional groups.
    • A Project Team of seven persons was appointed by the IIL Steering Committee with the chair of the Project Team coming from the Steering Committee. The project team represents the diversity among types of institutions of higher education, and includes classroom faculty and information professionals with expertise in information literacy programs.
    • An Advisory Panel of seventeen additional professionals was appointed. This group of individuals has with significant experience in the field of information literacy. Their role is to provide primary input on the development of the statement of characteristics. They will also be involved in the invitational conference and the production of final documents coming out of the conference.
    • ACRL staff developed the Web pages for the project that are linked to the parent Institute for Information Literacy pages sited at ALA/ACRL.
    • A threaded discussion of characteristics of best practice in information literacy programming was established using the discus software.
    • The Project Team began exploratory work on characteristics of best practice in information literacy programming using the Delphi process15.    The exploratory work built on the earlier work of Christina Doyle16    who explored outcome measures for information literacy but did not explore organizational dimensions and resources needed to support effective information literacy programs.
  • Month 7: [Summer ALA conference July, 2000]
    • The Project Team met to review the project and fine-tune the schedule for the next twelve months.
    • The Project Team reviewed the first draft and finalized plans for soliciting responses to the draft characteristics of best practices from the professional community.
  • Months 8-12: [August - December 2000]
    • The discus software for discussion management was used to facilitate and manage electronic discussion of the characteristics of best practice.
    • The Project Team, with assistance of the Advisory Panel, through conference call(s) and email reviewed drafts of the characteristics of best practice.
    • The Project Team and the Advisory Panel conducted the second and third round of Delphi to gather further input on the characteristics of best practice to be used to select model programs. The audience that is invited to participate in the Delphi process included members of the National Forum on Information Literacy17   , members of the ACRL Instruction Section, members of the American Library Associations' Library Instruction Round Table, members of the IIL Steering Committee, the faculty teaching the IIL immersion workshop, and classroom faculty and students involved in information literacy programs through a variety of library and higher education listservs.
    • The Project Team developed preliminary plans for a national working conference18    to which institutions with model programs of information literacy will be invited.
  • Month 13: [January 2001]
    • The Project Team met at ALA Midwinter and (1) reviewed a draft of characteristics of best practice in information literacy programming; (2) reviewed preliminary plans for the invitational working conference to be held at ALA in Atlanta, June 2002; and (3) reviewed preliminary plans for the selection of model programs.
  • Months 14-15: [February - March 2001]
    • The Project Team and Advisory Panel conducted a final round of the Delphi process and issued the last draft of the characteristics of best practice before the invitational conference in Atlanta.
  • Months 16-18: [April - June 2001]
    • The Project Team will prepared for its meeting at the ALA meetings in San Francisco, June 18, 2001.
  • Month 18: [June 2001]
    • The Project Team met to complete the planning for the national invitational working conference and the application process.
  • Months 19-24: [July - December 2001]
    • The Project Team announced the national invitation conference and invited applications to attend the conference. By the deadline of December 1-29 applications were received. The applications were distributed to the project team for review before ALA Midwinter.
  • Month 25: [January 2002]
    • The Project Team met to select model programs to be invited to the national invitation conference and completed planning of the conference.
  • Month 26: [February 2002]
    • The Project Team announced the selected institutions for the national invitation conference.
  • Month 30: [June 2002]
    • The national invitation conference was held in Atlanta.
  • Months 31-36: [July - December 2002]
    • The Project Team and Advisory Panel redrafted the Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices and prepare for presentation at ALA Midwinter.
  • Month 37-42: [January 2003-June 2003]
    • The Project Team presented the revised draft of the Characteristics of Best Practices in Information Literacy Programming at an open hearing and to the Executive Committee of the Instruction Section. Following the presentation to those groups the draft was tweaked.
    • Subsequently the ACRL Instruction Section Executive Committee endorsed the Characteristics document.
    • Project Team presented a preconference at ACRL National Conference, Charlotte, on using the Characteristics document for the assessment of information literacy programs.
    • The Project Team and Advisory Panel will plan additional steps beyond life of project.
    • The Project Team will present the Characteristics document to the ACRL Standards & Guidelines Committee, and with their approval, to the ACRL Board of Directors at Annual Conference, June 2003, for approval.

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Project Evaluation   

The project will be evaluated at regular intervals throughout. In conducting the evaluation, achievement of the following milestones will be assessed:

Phase I:

  • A Project Team of librarians, instructional technologists and classroom faculty will be successfully appointed and gathered for their first meeting. ACHIEVED
  • Two rounds of input from at least 100 professionals and students in the field of information literacy will be completed. Fell short with 53 participants with a total of 219 contributions.
  • By the end of the first twelve months, a draft of criteria for assessing the quality of information literacy programs will be developed. ACHIEVED
  • Information on the project and the draft criteria will be distributed to the higher education community through the IIL Web site, professional journals and presentations at conferences. PARTIALLY ARCHIVED. Draft posted to web site. Drafts posted to web site at various steps of the process. Discussion led at ACRL National Conference in Denver, March 2001. Public meetings were held at the Mid-winter and Annual ALA meetings 2001-2003. A hearing on the penultimate draft of the Characteristics was held Mid-winter 2003.

Phase II:

  • The Project Team distributes plans for a national conference of selected participants and solicits applications or nominations for participation. ACHIEVED
  • A group of eight to ten institutions, representing the various types of academic institutions will be selected by the eighteenth month of the project. ACHIEVED
  • Information about the conference will be distributed to the higher education community. PARTIALLY ACHIEVED
  • The national conference will be successfully held by the thirtieth month. ACHIEVED

Phase III:

  • By the thirty-sixth month, the case studies of the participating institutions will be published on the IIL Web site. NOT ACHIEVED
  • By the thirty-sixth month, the critiqued criteria for assessing information literacy programs will be published on the IIL Web site. ACHIEVED
  • The evaluation of the project will be completed. PARTIALLY ACHIEVED

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Footnotes and references cited   

   1Arp, Lori. "Information literacy or bibliographic instruction: semantics or philosophy?" RQ 30(Fall 1990): 46-49; Snavely, Loanne and Natasha Cooper. "The Information literacy debate." Journal of Academic Librarianship 23(January 1997):9-14. [Return to text]

   2King, Alison. "From sage on the stage to guide on the side." College Teaching 41.1 (1993): 30-35; Barr, Robert B. and John Tagg. "From teaching to learning -- a new paradigm for undergraduate education." Change 27.6 (1995): 13-25; Shapiro, Jeremy J. and Shelley K. Hughes. "Information literacy as a liberal art." Educom Review 31.2 (March/April 1996) [web page] [Return to text]

   3Weinstein, Clare E. "Learning how to learn: an essential skill for the 21st century." Educational Record 77.4 (1966):48-52. [Return to text]

   4Wurman, Richard Saul. Information anxiety: what to do when information doesn't tell you what you need to know. New York: Bantam, 1990. [Return to text]

   5Simmons, Howard L. "The concern for information literacy: a major challenge for accreditation." The challenge and practice of academic accreditation: a sourcebook for library administrators. Ed. Edward D. Garten. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. Pages 91-99. [Return to text]

   6Tucker, John Mark. "User education in academic libraries: a century of retrospect." Library Trends 29 (1980): 9-27.[Return to text]

   7Arp, Lorie. op. cit. [Return to text]

   8Kirk, Thomas G., Jr. Increasing the teaching role of academic libraries. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.[Return to text]

   9The Library Orientation and Instruction Exchange (LOEX) conference has been held annually since 1971. The conference regularly features sessions presented by the leading practitioners who are involved in instruction programs that teach information literacy. The conference proceedings are published by Pierian Press.[Return to text]

   10Oberman, Cerise. National Information Literacy Institute/Proposal for an invitational planning day. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 1997. The name of the Institute was changed to the Institute for Information Literacy in 1998. [Return to text]

   11Membership of the Steering Committee is listed at the Institute's web site. [Return to text]

   12Breivik, Patricia Senn. "Making the most of libraries." Change 19.4 (1987):44-53; Rader, Hannelore B. "Bibliographic instruction programs in academic libraries." Increasing the teaching role of academic libraries." Ed. Thomas G. Kirk, Jr. San Francisco: Joseey-Bass, 1984. Pages 63-78. [Return to text]

   13For examples see: Hardesty, Larry L. "Student library skills and attitudes and their change: relationships to other selected variables." Journal of Academic Librarianship 8.4 (1982): 216-220; Hardesty, Larry L. "Faculty culture and bibliographic instruction: an exploratory analysis." Library Trends 44.2 (1995): 339-367. Ackerson, Linda G. and Young, Virginia E. "Evaluating the impact of library instruction methods on the quality of student research." Research Strategies 12.3 (1994): 132-144. Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. "Developing a model of the library search process: cognitive and affective aspects." RQ 28.2 (1988): 232-242. Taylor, Susan Krehbiel. "An examination of course-integrated library instruction programs at three private liberal arts colleges." Diss. Kansas State University, 1991. [Return to text]

   14Sonntag, Gabriela and Ohr, Donna M. "The development of a lower-division general education, course-integrated information literacy program." College & Research Libraries 57.4 (1996):331-338. [Return to text]

   15Linstone, Harold A., and Murray Turoff, eds. The Delphi method: techniques and applications. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Printing. 1975.[Return to text]

   16Doyle, Christina S. "The Delphi method as a qualitative assessment tool for development of outcome measures for information literacy." School Library Media Annual 11 (1993):132-144. Little, CO:Libraries Unlimited. [Return to text]

   17The National Forum on Information Literacy is a coalition of representatives from about seventy-five education-related institutions and organizations that focuses on promoting public awareness of information literacy and encourages the development of information literacy programs. [Return to text]

   18The national conference will focus on exploring the model programs selected as well as the criteria used in the selection process. The purpose of the national conference is to both highlight the model programs and to rigorously explore the criteria and their usefulness in assessing the nature and quality of information literacy programs. [Return to text]

Prepared by
Thomas G. Kirk, Jr.
Earlham College Libraries
Richmond, Indiana 47374
Last modified: 24 March 2003


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