Philosophical Shift: Teach the Faculty to Teach Information Literacy

Risë L. Smith, Public Services Librarian

Karl E. Mundt Library, Dakota State University


Integrating information literacy throughout the undergraduate curriculum is limited as long as librarians insist on doing the instruction themselves, because staffing is inadequate to support full-fledged, integrated instruction programs. Instead, librarians should train and assist the faculty to teach information literacy in their courses. Essential elements which will enable faculty to embrace and teach information literacy include: faculty recognition of information literacy as a core component of undergraduate instruction; adequate training for faculty in the use of information systems and services; adequate education of faculty in techniques and activities that can be used to develop student information literacy; librarian committment to a focus on faculty development and collaboration; and development of the library as a physical and virtual learning environment. A "teach the teacher" approach provides a realistic way of reaching more students in more courses.


Integrating information literacy throughout the undergraduate curriculum is limited as long as librarians insist on doing the instruction themselves. Despite idealistic instructional goals, most libraries simply do not have enough staff to offer instruction extensively throughout a curriculum. Therefore, limitations on successful integration are built into the system. By default, librarians have found a number of ways to deal with staff limitations. For example, at Dakota State University, we have focused on certain core courses such as composition classes and have focused on courses whose faculty have been "library friendly." However, the information literacy movement was intended to help us avoid exactly this course-by-course trap in which "individual librarians working with individual classroom faculty or with a particular program may successfully integrate the library into particular courses only to have a change in personnel undo years of effort."(1)

As librarians work to improve the quality of instruction---for example, to include more problem-based learning and to increase the amount of time spent with a given class---less time is available for expanding the instruction program from a small group of courses to other courses, programs, or majors.

For those of us in small institutions, and probably for those in larger universities as well, our efforts to teach students have undermined our ability to integrate information literacy throughout the curriculum by using up time and energy that would be better focused on institution-wide initiatives that lead to shared educational goals and objectives throughout the campus. Furthermore, faculty control the learning environment and are in a better position than library faculty to create situations which allow students to see information seeking as an essential part of problem-solving in a discipline. The time has come to shift our focus from the students to the faculty---to teach the faculty to teach information literacy.

Although this approach is not widely advocated, it is being discussed. Leckie has examined faculty assumptions about the undergraduate research process and the problems that occur when faculty assign undergraduates to write research papers. She argues for a curriculum-integrated approach in which faculty take responsibility for teaching research skills and academic librarians serve as mentors and teachers of the faculty.(2)

A Problem---A Solution

Librarians responsible for instruction in academic libraries have set several goals for themselves: to teach students how to find, evaluate, and use information for problem-solving and decision-making; to create a cutting edge learning environment in which students can become independent learners; to integrate information literacy throughout the curriculum; and to advocate for a new curriculum that encompasses information literacy as a liberal art.(3)

While librarians press forward with these goals, higher education is under attack.(4) Units throughout campuses are in competition for scarce dollars. Libraries remain understaffed.(5,6) When librarians attempt to expand their instructional roles, other academic departments view librarians as competitors for faculty FTE rather than as forward-looking proponents of an innovative curriculum that incorporates information literacy.

Dakota State University, enrolling 1,300 students, is a public, primarily undergraduate, institution whose mission since 1984 specifically calls for the integration of computers throughout the curriculum. The staff of the Mundt Library at Dakota State consists of a director, two other professional librarians (one responsible for technical services and one for public services), two library associates, and a temporary staff of 10-12 workstudy students. A primary goal of the Mundt Library is to graduate information literate students---students who can function successfully as continuous learners in a continuously-changing information world.

How can our small staff possibly accomplish this goal of integrating information literacy across the campus if we do all the instruction? Reaching the goal depends not only on instruction, but on providing excellent access to information through the staff, services, collections, and systems whose development and maintenance are also the responsibility of the small staff. Facing similar limitations at King's College (Pennsylvania), they choose to concentrate on instruction for upper level students and to use less staff-intensive methods such as self-paced workbooks for first-year students.(7)

We have come to a different conclusion---that the best way for the library to serve the students is to give up as much direct instruction as possible and to concentrate direct instruction on the faculty. When faculty become the target of information literacy, we can concentrate on this smaller market for our instructional efforts. Furthermore, faculty are
the critical market for reaching our goal of student information literacy. Information literacy will be integrated throughout the curriculum only if faculty recognize its importance, make it a goal as they develop their syllabi, and know how to teach information literacy themselves.

Essential elements which will enable faculty to embrace and teach information literacy include: faculty recognition of information literacy as a core component of undergraduate instruction; adequate training for faculty in the use of information systems and services; adequate education of faculty in techniques and activities that can be used to develop student information literacy; librarian committment to a focus on faculty development and collaboration; and development of the library as a physical and virtual learning environment.

Teaching faculty to teach information literacy

Faculty recognition of information literacy

Information literacy will be integrated throughout the curriculum only if we can take it beyond the individual faculty member to have it recognized as an important institutional goal. For this to happen, we must develop a grass-roots movement among the faculty to include information literacy among institutional goals for student learning. Veaner has pointed out that "the faculty is the prime focus of political power in every school."(8)

Faculty recognition of information literacy as a core component of undergraduate instruction depends on librarian initiative. First, librarians need to have identified a set of information literacy competencies which can be clearly articulated to faculty.(9-11) Second, librarians need to develop a plan for developing a shared vision of information literacy on campus.

A document which briefly states the definition of information literacy and describes the competencies associated with it is a useful tool in advocating information literacy to faculty. Developing the document provides an opportunity for librarians to discuss and develop a shared vision so that librarians carry a consistent message to faculty. The document can be distributed to faculty in meetings, workshops, and other contexts as a visual aid to deliver the message, explain and educate, and facilitate discussion. Most faculty appear to support information literacy as a goal. Nowakowski, reporting on a survey of faculty at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia), finds that 84% think "students should know how to do library research", 95% believe that the ability to "find information efficiently" will be "essential to students in later life," and 89% feel that knowing "how to do library research" should be "a requirement of the Baccalaureate degree."(12)

However, many faculty have only vague notions of what these statements entail. The competencies document developed by the Mundt Library helps faculty understand our language and displays the complexity of the content of information literacy. We have distributed and discussed our competencies document in faculty workshops and various meetings. Faculty refer to this document when talking about library instruction, and some have used it to explain to students what the students should know in order to find, evaluate, and use information effectively.

A plan for developing a shared vision of information literacy on campus keeps advocacy alive. The Mundt Library's plan is currently informal and unwritten. It will be formalized as part of the Library's strategic planning process this spring.

The informal plan calls for librarian advocacy of information literacy when representing the library on campus committees. Librarians at Dakota State have faculty status and are on numerous campus committees including those for curriculum, assessment, and strategic planning. Librarians also seek membership on ad hoc committees and task forces as appropriate. Any committee which deals with student outcomes, institutional and/or departmental strategic planning, or faculty development should have a library representative who can articulate the library's vision of information literacy. Strategic planning and general education reviews are obvious areas in which librarians should advocate early and strongly. Student assessment and curriculum committees offer opportunities to raise awareness and include information literacy competencies.

At Dakota State University, the Library Committee (a committee of the General Faculty) will be asked to review and endorse the Mundt Library's information literacy competencies document. The plan also includes presenting the competencies at faculty orientation in the fall. We suspect that general education requirements will come under review in the next two years, and, as demonstrated at other colleges and universities, a review of the undergraduate curriculum offers the opportunity to incorporate information literacy.(13-15)

We also think it important to break out of the library building and socialize with the rest of the faculty. Informal conversations in informal situations often offer unexpected opportunities. For example, on our campus, we often join other faculty for lunch, because faculty regularly congregate at one or two large tables in the student union. Receptions and other events on and off campus are occasions to make friends, and friendships often lead to productive professional collaborations.

Librarians also look for other opportunities to advocate information literacy as they arise. For example, a librarian and six other faculty successfully applied to attend the 1996 summer institute of the Collaboration for the Advancement of College Teaching and Learning where the theme was revising pivotal courses though reflective practice. The Dakota State University team identified seven shared outcomes of the core undergraduate courses and ways in which the faculty could reinforce these outcomes in each of the pivotal courses. They identified and accepted information literacy as one of the shared outcomes.

Breivik and Gee state that a shared campus vision and a statement of educational philosophy will promote cooperation among librarians and instructors to integrate information literacy into the classroom.(16) We agree. Librarians must focus on developing a shared campus vision, must create a plan for developing the shared vision on campus, and must be open to new opportunities as they arise. A written document is a useful tool in developing a shared vision throughout the university.

Training faculty how to use of information systems and services

Faculty training in the use of information systems and services must be offered frequently, conveniently, and within the rhythms of the academic year. In addition to workshops, library staff must also provide just-in-time training and assistance to individual faculty members as needed. Faculty should feel no hesitation in seeking help to support their teaching.

Faculty should be encouraged to use the handouts, Web documents, and other materials provided in faculty workshops for teaching their students, and these materials should be designed with this "recycling" in mind.

At Dakota State, faculty orientation in the fall offers a key training opportunity. We expect to offer workshops at that time and will survey the faculty to identify training and faculty development needs for the academic year. We can ask and expect the faculty to teach information literacy skills only if we provide them the training they need to do so.

Educating faculty in techniques and activities that can be used to develop student information literacy

Faculty education must include classroom activities and techniques that faculty can use to enhance learning in the classroom or laboratory. These activities should provide faculty with ideas to incorporate active-learning and critical-thinking into instruction and to use the library--- virtual or real---for teaching. Instruction librarians must be able to offer workshops on library-based instruction to faculty or must find ways to bring in others to provide the instruction.(17) Werrell and Wesley, in describing their goals for a faculty workshop, want "faculty to see how library projects increase the amount of subject matter covered, enrich in-class discussion, and strengthen students' understanding of the subject matter."(18)

Librarians must help faculty incorporate information literacy into instruction in ways that are pedagogically sound and which help faculty deliver content. Faculty cannot be expected to teach information literacy unless they are provided with the knowledge to do so.

The Mundt Library plans to offer workshops at fall faculty orientation which focus on effective methods of instruction. Ideally, our workshops will combine this content with training in the use of our systems and services. We are still exploring how we can best model good information literacy pedagogy in our workshops.

Librarian committment to faculty development and collaboration

Information literacy will be integrated throughout the curriculum only if librarians responsible for instruction commit their time primarily to faculty development and collaboration. We will develop information literate students primarily by developing information literate faculty who understand how to develop information literacy among their students.

We will have to discourage faculty from expecting us to teach and will have to offer them them a reasonable alternative---to provide them with materials, ideas, and instruction in how they can move toward resource-based active learning. Librarians must take responsibility for teaching faculty by offering workshops, serving as consultants, and assisting the faculty in a variety of ways.

Teaching the students ourselves is usually
not appropriate assistance if our goal is the integration of information literacy across the curriculum. Anticipating and responding to changing faculty needs

Development of the library as a learning environment

The report of the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy describes a scenario in which teachers work with librarians to develop an ideal learning environment for students to engage in actively seeking, evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing material in pursuit of answers or solutions to problems.(20) The library---in both its physical and virtual manifestations---must be conducive to such resource-based learning.

The physical library should provide a computer laboratory/classroom so that faculty can have students move fairly easily between print and electronic resources as they work to solve problems or reach decisions, individually or in groups. An important contributor to the learning environment is a client-centered, friendly staff.(21) The virtual library should provide ready access to library staff, electronic resources, and instructional materials that can be used by faculty and their students.

The Mundt Library has a sixteen-station computer lab/classroom without walls in the center of the first floor which may be reserved for resource-based learning but is available at any other time to students for their individual and group work. We plan to expand this space to twenty workstations in the next fiscal year. We pride ourselves on providing a friendly, relaxed, and supportive environment. This philosophy guides the design and ongoing development of the physical library and the virtual library of the Mundt Library's webpages.


Relinquishing teaching to faculty is difficult for instruction librarians. Although the information literacy movement emphasizes the necessity of collaboration with faculty, most writers seem to assume that librarians will be the teachers in the library-as-learning-laboratory. In general, librarians seem to believe that their expertise makes them better instructors of information literacy.(22) Discussions on the BI-L listserv in November and December 1996 reveal that some librarians are skeptical of the quality of instruction that is and can be offered by faculty.

Unfortunately, this attitude prevents information literacy from penetrating deeply into higher education and may partially account for the fact that the literature of information literacy "remains essentially confined within the LIS discipline."(23) High-quality, course-integrated, curriculum-wide information literacy will not come from guarding the territory of library instruction but from empowering the faculty. If we are worried about the quality of faculty instruction, we should help faculty gain the skills and knowledge they need.

Most libraries simply do not have large enough staffs to meet the goal of across-the-curriculum integration. A "teach the teacher" approach provides a realistic way of graduating more students who can find, evaluate, and use information to solve problems, make decisions, and continue to learn.


  1. Patricia Senn Breivik and E. Gordon Gee,
    Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library (New York: American Council on Education and Macmillan Publishing Company, 1989), 40.
  2. Gloria J. Leckie., "Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions About the Undergraduate Research Process,"
    Journal of Academic Librarianship 22 (1996): 201-8.
  3. Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shelley K. Hughes, "Information Literacy as a Liberal Art: Enlightenment Proposals for a New Curriculum,"
    Educom Review 32 (March/April 1996), URL:
  4. Carla J. Stoffle, Robert Renaud, and Jerilyn R. Veldof, "Choosing Our Futures,"
    College & Research Libraries 57 (1996): 213-25.
  5. Michael Gorman, "Send for a Child of Four! or Creating the BI-less Academic Library,"
    Library Trends, 39 (1991): 354-62.
  6. David Saia, "Advocacy for Bibliographic Instruction: A Challenge for the Future,"
    The Katherine Sharp Review (Summer 1995), URL:
  7. Judith Tierney, "Information Literacy and a College Library: A Continuing Experiment,"
    New Directions for Higher Education 78 (Summer 1992): 63-71.
  8. Allen B. Veaner,
    Academic Librarianship in a Transformational Age: Program, Politics and Personnel (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990), 209.
  9. ACRL Bibliographic Instruction Section,
    Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction (Chicago: ALA, 1988).
  10. ACRL Instruction Section Task Force, "Guidelines for Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries: Draft,"
    College & Research Libraries News 56 (1995): 767-69.
  11. Dennis Isbell and Carol Hammond, "Information Literacy Competencies,"
    College & Research Libraries News 54 (1993): 325-27.
  12. Fran Nowakowski, "Faculty Support Information Literacy,"
    College & Research Libraries News 54 (1993): 124.
  13. Hannelore B. Rader, "Bringing Information Literacy into the Academic Curriculum,"
    College & Research Libraries News 51 (1990): 879-80.
  14. Diane E. Ruess, "Library and Information Literacy,"
    Research Strategies 12 (Winter 1994): 18-23.
  15. Gabriela Sonntag and Donna M. Ohr, "The Development of a Lower-division, General Education, Course-Integrated Information Literacy Program,"
    College & Research Libraries 57 (1996): 331-38.
  16. Breivik and Gee,
    Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library.
  17. Saia, "Advocacy for Bibliographic Instruction: A Challenge for the Future."
  18. Emily L. Werrell and Threasa L. Wesley, "Promoting Information Literacy through a Faculty Workshop,"
    Research Strategies (Fall 1990): 174.
  19. Donald H. Dilmore, "Librarian/Faculty Interaction at Nine New England Colleges,"
    College and Research Libraries 57 (1996): 274-84.
  20. American Library Association
    , Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report (Chicago: ALA, 1989).
  21. Mary Reichel, "Twenty-five Year Retrospective: the Importance of What We Do,"
    RQ 33 (Fall 1993): 29-32.
  22. Sonntag and Ohr, "The Development of a Lower-division, General Education, Course-Integrated Information Literacy Program."
  23. Shirley J. Behrens, "A Conceptual Analysis and Historical Overview of Information Literacy,"
    College and Research Libraries 55 (1994): 320.