Library and Information Resource Instruction for Psychology - Guidelines

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Publication note: This article by Joyce Merriam, Ross T. LaBaugh, and Nancy E. Butterfield was originally published as "Library Instruction for Psychology Majors: Minimum Training Guidelines," Teaching of Psychology, v.19, no.1, February 1992, pp.34-36. It is published on the EBSS web site (in the slightly revised form in which it was published in the May 1995 EBSS Newsletter) with the permission of both the publisher and the authors.


The definition of minimum standards for library instruction in institutions of higher education has been a concern of the library community for many years. Yet the models and strategies developed for promoting library instruction activities on campuses have not always produced the sort of librarian-faculty partnership necessary to foster truly effective course-related instruction in the use of library resources.

Without this partnership, faculty may be reluctant to invite librarians into their classrooms, because they assume, on the one hand, that students already have sufficient knowledge of library resources, and because they are unsure, on the other hand, that the librarian's presentation will reflect an appropriate discipline- specific approach to the literature. What is needed in order to overcome these barriers is a set of guidelines for library instruction that reflects the expectations of both librarians and faculty in the particular fields of study and that may be endorsed by the professional organizations of each.

In addition to the potential for students which could result from further developments in such librarian-faculty collaboration, "electronic developments" in the information environment itself press for adaptive responses. The core electronic tools PsycLIT and PsycINFO have been joined by electronic conferences, electronic journals, and indexes for WAIS, Gopher World Wide Web resources. Professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, and psychology student organizations such as the PSYCGRAD project, and the American Psychological Society Student Caucus have also been providing news, collaborative opportunities, and substantive material via the Internet (e.g. via electronic discussion lists and Gopher, and World Wide Web sites). Librarians have and should be involved as users strive to make relevant choices from this distributed information network. Again, the rapidity with which continuing developments in information technology are affecting the nature of library resources and information access lends greater urgency to the need to foster cooperative alliances between faculty and librarians with regard to library instruction.

In 1988, such a set of Guidelines for library instruction in psychology were developed by the Standards Task Force of the New England Bibliographic Instruction Committee (NEBIC), a special interest group of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL; a division of the American Library Association) New England Chapter. It was the hope of the Task Force that these Guidelines would be reviewed and refined by other professional associations, particularly the American Psychological Association.

Last year, the Psychology and Psychiatry Committee of the national chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries reviewed the Task Force Guidelines. The Committee was impressed with the quality of the Guidelines and in agreement with Task Force suggestions for strengthening faculty, librarian, and professional association collaborations aimed at teaching psychology students to make effective use of library resources.

The Task Force Guidelines address two areas of instruction: Basic Skills, and Implementation of Library Instruction. They address the importance of both electronic and traditional formats of information retrieval and access. The basic skills portion of the Guidelines focuses upon the goals of concept formation and competency in the use of library resources specific to psychology. The implementation section explores the variety of ways in which library instruction may be integrated into course curriculum and the importance of communication in planning learning experiences that are meaningful and beneficial to students in higher education.

The Psychology and Psychiatry Committee voted in February 1994 to endorse these Guidelines with one minor change intended to emphasize the role of librarian as a facilitator of access to information. The amended Guidelines are reproduced below.

In adding its endorsement to the Guidelines, the Psychology Psychiatry Committee of ACRL encourages the use of these Guidelines in academic institutions across the United States. We hope the Guidelines will serve to initiate dialog between librarians and academic departments on the role of library instruction in the educational experience, and will foster development of the highest quality instruction in the use of research libraries and information technology among psychology students at all levels.

We hope that, in time, the value of these Guidelines will be recognized and endorsed by such professional associations as the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society. The Psychology Psychiatry Committee enjoys mutually beneficial liaison relations with each of these organizations, and will approach each regarding interest in pursuing formal endorsement of the Guidelines by the appropriate organizational units.


Basic Skills

  1. To locate known sources, students should be able to:
    1. Ascertain whether known books, journals, or audiovisual materials are available in the home library, the format in which they are available (print, fiche, or film), and where they are located (e.g., be able to work from a reference list to retrieve sources).
    2. Follow procedures for obtaining materials not available in the home library (e.g., through interlibrary loan or other arrangements).
  2. To conduct a literature search, students should be able to:
    1. Define their research topic. Understand the broader and narrower aspects of the topic and focus on a specific issue.
    2. Determine whether the problem has been addressed previously, by whom, and what the results were. Identify books and articles on the topic using appropriate catalogs and indexes (e.g., Psychological Abstracts, other relevant indexes and abstracting services, and the card or online catalog).
    3. Understand the use of controlled vocabulary. Know how to find terms indexers use to describe the topic (e.g., by using the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms and the Library of Congress List of Subject Headings).
    4. Use abstracts as an aid to identify pertinent articles.
    5. Understand the purposes served by using a classification system to label and shelve materials about particular aspects of topics (e.g., the Library of Congress System). Recognize advantages and disadvantages of using the system to facilitate browsing as a search method.
    6. Use bibliographical references to expand a search.
    7. Understand the concept of citation indexing. (When there is access to Social Sciences Citation Index and Science Citation Index, students should use them).
    8. Understand the basic concepts of computerized literature searching, know about its availability on campus, and understand its value and appropriate use. Know about the availability of data bases relevant to psychology (e.g., when there is access to Psychological Abstracts online [PsycINFO] or on CD-ROM [PsycLIT], students should see a demonstration of its use).
    9. Identify way of keeping current on a subject.
    10. Interact effectively with reference librarians and instructors to learn about other ways to retrieve specific kinds of information.
  3. To make effective use of resources once they are found, students should be able to:
    1. Identify ways of evaluating materials (e.g., be able to locate reviews of books, tests, etc.; consider date of publication, possible biases of author, etc.).
    2. Distinguish between scholarly and popular treatment of topics in the literature (e.g., recognize the publications intended audience and purpose).
    3. Write and cite in the format and style of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (4th. ed.), the approved style manual for publication/writing in psychology.
    4. Demonstrate ethical behavior in using library resources (e.g., respect library policies and property, document use of all sources, etc.).
  4. 4. To develop an increase awareness of information resources in psychology and related disciplines, students should be able to:
    1. Use indexes and abstracting services relevant to the students area of concentration (e.g., indexes to management literature relevant to industrial/organizational psychology, to educational literature relevant to educational psychology, etc.).
    2. Use other types of standard reference materials (e.g., specialized field-related bibliographies; encyclopedias handbooks, and dictionaries; statistical compilation directories of names, addresses, and biographical information; indexes to book reviews; guides to tests and measures; indexes to government information, etc.). In addition, students should:
    3. Be aware of state-of-the-art developments in electronic information storage, retrieval, and document delivery, and their implications for the field (e.g., speedier access to some types of information).
    4. Be aware of the role of professional associations in providing services relating to literature and information retrieval (e.g. conferences, publications, and computerized services).


  1. Instruction can be achieved in the followings ways:
    1. Through integration in psychology courses when assignments require library work.
    2. Through some formal instruction in information retrieval skills. Instruction programs may take a variety of forms-printed, computer-assisted, or audiovisual guides and course-related sessions ranging from 1 hr. presentations to meet objectives of a particular assignment - to more thorough treatment of topics and skills in a full-semester course in research methods.
    3. Through student interaction with reference librarians on an individual basis for work on special needs.
    4. Through student use of appropriate handbooks that expand on information typically presented in library skills sessions (e.g., Library Use: A Handbook for Psychology; Reed & Baxter, 1992).
  2. Faculty communication with library staff is critical:
    1. Advance planning and communication with appropriate library staff is essential to ensure availability of needed materials and to facilitate access to these materials (e.g., communication with collection development, reserve, reference and/or library instruction staff may be necessary, depending on the nature and quantity of materials needed and faculty expectations about how the material will be used).
    2. Objectives of library-related assignments should be made clear to students and to the reference staff who will be on duty to help students learn to make effective use of the library and its resources (e.g., faculty should send a written copy of the assignment and its objectives to the reference staff if students may not know how to find all of the information they need).
    3. Faculty interested in arranging for course-related library instruction for their classes should make arrangements for this service with the librarian who coordinates the library instruction program in the home library, with sufficient lead time for necessary preparation and planning.