ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries

Managing and Measuring the Information Literacy Experience at Richland College

I. Institutional Context

Richland College is one unit of the Dallas County Community College District. Along with her sister campuses, Richland College serves a population of over one million residents of Dallas County, Texas. Each year, the college enrolls approximately 65,000 credit and continuing education/workforce redevelopment students.

Richland College is recognized as a leader in educational excellence and innovation. In 2000, the college was one of two community colleges in the United States named "best in class" by the Pacesetter Program for Educational Excellence. Also in 2000, the college was selected by the League for Innovation in the Community College as one of twelve community colleges in the United States and Canada to participate in the Vanguard Learning College Project. In the same year, the college was also selected by the American Productivity and Quality Council, in partnership with the Continuous Quality Improvement Network, to be one of fourteen community colleges in a benchmarking study to identify best practices in developmental education. The college was one of only five who shared their "best practices." Additionally, Richland College was named as one of five "mentor colleges" by the American Association of Community Colleges in its Working Connections Project and was selected by the American Association of American Colleges and Universities as one of twenty colleges to participate in its Greater Expectations Consortium on Quality Education. In 2001, the AACU named Richland College as one of 15 institutions noted for "visionary campus-wide innovations in undergraduate education" and as a "Leadership Institution" and "Role-model Institution" within the consortium.

In 2002, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaffirmed, without qualification or reservation, Richland College for re-accreditation, the college having successfully completed a pilot program that has helped establish a new set of standards for accreditation and reaffirmation of accreditation for colleges and universities in the South. Also in 2002, Richland College was one of only four institutions of higher education in the United States to reach Stage 2-the "Consensus Stage"-in its pursuit of the National Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award. And, finally, in 2002, Richland College became a candidate for the Texas Quality Foundation’s Texas Award for Performance Excellence.

II. Information Literacy Training: the U. S. Academic Library Context

During the spring and summer of 2001, the Richland College librarians surveyed all 2,188 academic library web sites in the United States listed in LibDex, a worldwide directory created and maintained by Peter Scott of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and Northern Lights Internet Solutions. We searched for any online evidence indicating (1) whether the library provided information literacy training and (2) what type(s) of training the library provided. The study was conducted with the understanding that the findings would have to be qualified by three limitations: first, not all academic libraries in the U. S. have web sites; second, not all academic libraries in the U. S. are listed in LibDex; and third, not all academic libraries in the U. S. with web sites listed in LibDex include something about information literacy training. Despite these qualifications, we were confident that the data collected was sufficient to support credible and defensible generalizations.

Academic libraries in the United States provide either (or both) of two types of information literacy programs: reactive and proactive. Reactive programs invite faculty to contact the library-in person, by phone, by e-mail, or by online form-to make arrangements with a librarian (most often two weeks in advance)-for a presentation-either as a lecture or a hands-on workshop. According to our survey, only 983 of 2,188 academic libraries-or 44.9%-provide this type of information literacy training. Proactive information literacy training programs typically include the option for faculty to make arrangements with a librarian for a customized training session. What distinguishes proactive programs from purely reactive programs is that librarians take the initiative to develop-and aggressively promote-what they believe is essential for all students at their college or university to know in order to be information literate. Proactive programs currently take several forms: an elective credit course, a required credit course, a required workbook-based tutorial, a required online tutorial, a module integrated into a required course (like freshman English), an elective continuing education/workforce development course, required noncredit classes for a credit course, and non-credit classes for which extra credit is given in a credit course. According to our survey, only 318 of 2,188 academic libraries-or 14.5%-provide this type of information literacy training.

III. Richland College Library Context

Physically located in the center of the Richland College campus and programmatically integrated into the college’s commitment to educational excellence and innovation, the Richland College Library’s mission is to "connect learners with knowledge." Central to fulfilling the library’s mission has been its bibliographic instruction/information literacy training program.

Since 1972, when the Richland College Library opened its doors for the first time, library instruction has been a core emphasis, central to its mission. Long before "information literacy" became a buzzword in library circles, the Richland College Library was a center of what was then called "bibliographic instruction" (or BI). For example, the Richland College Library was among the first community college libraries in Texas to offer a three-hour credit course, College Library Research. In support of this course, the instructor developed a 225-page textbook, which went through many editions. In the 1980s the Richland College Library’s instruction program continued to expand, offering on-request, special-topic, non-credit classes, as well as scheduled-in-advance "Introduction to the Library" classes. Then, in the 1990s, with the advent of online access to electronic resources (first on CD-ROM, then on the Web), the library’s instruction program matured to include a "cafeteria-style" core curriculum (culminating in the Information Literacy Certificate Program), as well as a wide variety of other classes, both on-request and scheduled-in-advance.

In 2000, the Richland College Library launched its Library Accessibility Initiative. In terms of this initiative, "library user" was very broadly defined. It meant: traditional on-campus students who were pursuing an associate degree or college transfer credits; ESOL and developmental students who were preparing for college-level courses; senior citizens who were taking enrichment classes, such as the Emeritus Program; continuing education/workforce redevelopment students who were enhancing their job skills and/or seeking professional certification; faculty, administrators, and support staff involved in professional development classes; distance education students; community users of the library; any Richland College student who needed remote access to the library’s resources; special needs students with learning or physical disabilities; and anyone who had access to the Web. In short, the Library Accessibility Initiative was designed and deployed to make sure that no library user was left behind.

IV. Managing the Information Literacy Experience: the Superstructure

  • Information Literacy Classes. The Richland College Library offers a variety of information literacy classes. First, there are the general classes which are scheduled a semester in advance and are aggressively marketed and publicized. Topics covered include: Introduction to the Richland College Library, Using MLA Format for Research Papers, Using Electronic Databases, Using Internet Resources, and Using the Library Catalog. Students can attend any of the sessions scheduled-in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. Second, there are special database classes, covering interfaces like EBSCOhost, as well as special topics like Google. These classes are also scheduled a semester in advance.
  • Information Literacy Certificate Program. In the fall of 1997, the Richland College Library initiated its Information Literacy Certificate Program. To earn the certificate, students must voluntarily take five core classes (for a total of seven class hours). From September 1997 through November 2003, more than 1000 students have earned the Information Literacy Certificate.
  • On-Request, Special-Topics Classes. In addition to its regularly-scheduled Information Literacy classes, the Richland College Library offers special topics classes (like Horticultural Science, Travel and Tourism, Color in Flower Arranging, International Business and Trade, Career Resources, Film Criticism, and more).
  • ESOL/Developmental Students. Richland College annually enrolls a large number of students enrolled in remedial classes (ESOL and developmental education). Consequently, the Richland College Library offers library instruction classes that are customized to meet the needs of this component of the student population. Furthermore, the library has developed hands-on, interactive exercises to assist these students in becoming information literate.
  • Special Needs Students. To accommodate students with physical or learning disabilities, the Richland College Library conducts library instruction classes and offers special services for the visually, hearing, and mobility impaired. These offerings have been arranged in coordination with the director of Disability Services at Richland College. In recognition of its services to special needs students, the library has received the Extra Mile Award from Disability Services.
  • Professional Development Students. The Richland College library has fully integrated its information literacy program into the college’s professional development program. Faculty, administrators, and staff now receive professional development credits for attending library instruction classes. And, in the fall of 2002, the library began participating in a new Richland College initiative to provide an orientation session for the college’s over 1000 adjunct, part-time faculty. In conjunction with this initiative, the library has created a new e-mail hotline (available on its home page), as well as a new Faculty Services page.
  • Emeritus Program Students. One of Richland College’s many successful outreach programs is the Emeritus Program. Targeted at senior citizens, the Emeritus Program has enlisted the support of the Richland College Library. Every semester (including the summer terms), the library conducts three two-hour seminars for enrollees in the Emeritus Program.
  • Point-of-Use Instruction. Over 1,000 times each month, the Richland College librarians provide point-of-use, just-in-time, one-on-one library user training in the library. The Richland College Library is open 70 hours each week, and during all of these hours, a reference librarian is on duty to lend a hand to patrons who need help in doing research. Typically, the librarians at Richland College use these one-on-one encounters as an opportunity to teach information literacy skills, so that the next time the library user will be able to do library research with a higher degree of autonomy.

V. Managing the Experience: the Infrastructure

  • Library Classroom and Public Workstations. Information literacy instruction in the Richland College Library is based on a physical infrastructure-facilities, computer hardware and software-that is maintained and upgraded by the library staff. Without this infrastructure, library instruction could not occur. This component includes a state-of-the-art library classroom and 44 public access workstations. Over 12,000 uses of these workstations are recorded each month.
  • Circulating Wireless Laptop Computers. In the fall semester, 2002, the Richland College Library offered a new service to its users: wireless laptop computers that can be checked out for use in the library. Equipped with the complete suite of Office 2000 productivity applications-Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Access-these computers also have wireless access to the library’s online databases, as well as everything on the Internet and the Web.
  • Online Databases. More than 64 electronic databases are currently available to both in-house and remote users of the Richland College Library. These databases include full-text periodicals, newspapers, general and subject encyclopedias, the online library catalog, and many others. Access to these databases is provided by Innovative Interface’s Web Access Management. Richland College Library users are now able to use Metafind-an Innovative Interfaces module-to do "federated searching" (i. e., simultaneous searching of the library catalog, full-text databases, and the Web).
  • E-Books. Beginning in the fall of 2000, the users of the Richland College Library now have access to over 12,000 e-books, supplied by netLibrary. These e-books can be checked out and read online.
  • Self-Service Scanner. One of the library’s public workstations is equipped with a high-end scanner so that library users can scan hardcopy documents and save them to either floppy disks or 100-megabyte Zip disks.
  • Library Web Site. Another channel that the Richland College Library uses to facilitate information literacy is its web site. Created in 1994, this web site is heavily trafficked, having recorded over 500,000 accesses on its home page since June 1998. Through the library’s web site, students have access to the library catalog, Internet search tools and guides, information literacy tutorials, electronic databases, distance education support, library instruction program information, library guides, e-mail reference assistance, and general library information.
  • Electronic Reserves. By means of its automated library system (from Innovative Interfaces), Richland College Library users can now access materials instructors have placed on reserve in electronic format, both from within the library as well as at remote locations.
  • Multimedia CD-ROM Library. Five of the library’s 44 public workstations are configured to utilize a library of over 70 multimedia CD-ROMs. These CD-ROMs include encyclopedias, art museum tours, music history, almanacs, atlases, etc.
  • Database Depot. Accessible from the library’s web site, Database Depot is a tool whose purpose is to help library users-both local and remote-select the best databases and Internet search tools for the task at hand. Developed by a Richland Library instructional services librarian, it provides keyword and subject access to 301 electronic resources. Descriptive annotations are provided as well as the date range of each resource. Search results can be sorted by librarians’ recommendations, by database name, and by other criteria. This dynamically-generated list of search results constitutes an electronic resources "pathfinder," customized to fit the needs of each individual user.
  • Dallas TeleCollege Library. In support of the distance learning initiatives of all DCCCD campuses, the Dallas TeleCollege Library, created and maintained by Richland College librarians, is a part of the web site of the Dallas TeleCollege, a division of the LeCroy Center for Educational Telecommunications. The Dallas TeleCollege Library includes an in-depth "Library Tutorial for Research Assistance," an "FAQ for Library Distance Learners," as well as links to all of the shared library resources of the DCCCD.
  • eCampus. The Richland College Library is now using eCampus (the DCCCD’s implementation of the Blackboard system) to deliver information literacy training to all local and remote users of the library. One of the first implementations of this capability is Knowledge Checker, a fifteen question instrument used to measure the effectiveness of the library’s Information Literacy Certificate program. Before a student receives the certificate, he/she must take the Knowledge Checker exam through eCampus.
  • Library Publications. The Richland librarians publish the Richland College Library Handbook (first produced in 1989 and now in its 8th edition, 2002; the current edition is now 150 pages long). Very few other academic libraries in the United States produce such a handbook. Since 1989, over 10,000 copies have been sold in area bookstores and in the campus print shop. It is a required textbook in some college credit classes. This handbook, with value-added features (like bookmarks and hotlinks), is also accessible in PDF-for free-by downloading from the library’s web site. In addition to the handbook, the library produces many other point-of-use guides and helpsheets, in both print and electronic formats.

    When in-house library users are accessing electronic resources, flip-chart-style table easels are located adjacent to public workstations. Used frequently, these point-of-use guides contain suggestions for topic selection, instructions for using the online catalog and other online databases, guidelines for evaluating Web resources, and examples for citing electronic resources in MLA format.

VI. Measuring the Information Literacy Experience

Since the fall of 1998, over 20,000 students have attended the multifaceted instruction classes in the Richland College library. Impressive as this number is, the most important question remains to be answered: Is information literacy training effective? Does it really make a difference when it comes to student success?

Effectiveness can be defined and measured in different ways. Here are some of the ways the effectiveness of the library’s information literacy training program has been defined and measured.

  • Campus-Wide Surveys. At Richland College, the library was ranked first or second in customer service in the Performance Horizons Campus Climate Survey of employees in the 1998, 2000 and 2002 biannual surveys. The library was also number one in Customer Service in the 1998 and 2001 Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Surveys at Richland College.
  • Library Instruction Surveys. In Library User Education Evaluation surveys that are conducted regularly, close to 100% of the students attending information literacy training sessions indicated that they had "benefited" from the classes.
  • National Awards. In 1999, the Richland College Library received the EBSCO Award for Program Achievement (presented by the Community and Junior College Library Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries), and in 2001, the library received the ALA/Information Today Library of the Future Award. The Richland College Library was the first community college library in the United States to receive this award. Both of these awards were for the library’s proactive information literacy program.
  • Conference and Convention Presentations. Richland librarians have given presentations, showcasing the library’s instruction program, at regional, state and national conferences and conventions: in 1997 and 2001, at the North Texas Community College Consortium technology conference in Tyler, Texas; in 2000, at the League for Innovation in the Community College conference in Orlando, Florida, and at the Texas Library Association convention in Houston, Texas; in 2001, at the Computers in Libraries conference in Washington, D. C., at the Virginia Community Colleges Association convention in Chesapeake, Virginia, and at the Internet Librarian conference in Pasadena, California; in 2002, at the Texas Community College Teachers Association convention in Houston, Texas.
  • Statistical Measures of Student Success. Beginning in 2001, the Office of Institutional Research at Richland College has been analyzing data gathered on students who have been involved in the Richland College Library’s information literacy program. Thus far, data has been gathered for the fall and spring semesters of 2000-2001, 2001-2002, and 2002-2003. This research has been conducted to determine (1) if students who earn the library’s Certificate of Information Literacy and (2) if students who attend at least one information literacy class (but don’t complete the certificate requirements), have a higher course completion rate, a higher student retention rate, and make higher grades. This research has revealed that students who take our classes are students who have a higher course completion rate and a higher semester-to-semester retention rate. Also there appears to be a correlation with higher grades. (These measures are detailed in the Appendix.)
  • Knowledge Checker Results. As a condition for receiving the Certificate of Information Literacy, each student who completes the required courses for the certificate is required to take the Knowledge Checker exam (online through the eCampus system). Although the student doesn’t have to pass the exam in order to receive the certificate, this exam has provided additional evidence that information literacy training is effective. To date, the majority of certificate recipients have scored a passing grade.
  • Library Anxiety Study. In the spring of 2003, a study conducted in the Richland College Library explored the effect of information literacy instruction on library anxiety. International students in Richland’s ESOL program working on a library research assignment were either given several library instruction classes or were in the control group which received no formal library instruction. Measurements of anxiety levels before and after the instruction showed that information literacy instruction was associated with reducing library anxiety. (This study is being published as Dr. Joel Battle’s Ph.D. dissertation at University of North Texas. Dr. Battle is one of Richland’s instructional services librarians.)

VII. Planning for the Future

In the fall of 2003, Richland College adopted a new two-year focus for its campus-wide Quality Enhancement Plan. The college is looking at the issue of assessment, and the Richland College librarians are planning new initiatives to better measure, or assess, the teaching and learning that have been so central to the library’s mission for 31 years. In conjunction with this new focus, the librarians recently participated in the research on best practices of Vanguard college libraries conducted by Linda Swaine of Valencia Community College for her dissertation at University of Central Florida. That particular project has inspired a renewed commitment to learning-centered practices. The Richland librarians have never stopped asking, "how can we improve what we do?" And we are developing exciting new strategies for improving the teaching/learning experience. In the fall semester we piloted post-testing in our core information literacy classes. This proved to be very successful, giving us data to improve teaching strategies, and markedly increasing student involvement. Post-testing is a measurement we will be refining in the spring semester. Our talented staff of teacher-librarians will continue the innovations that have made Richland College Library a leader in information literacy instruction.