A Progress Report on Information Literacy: An Update on the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report

March 1998

See also: American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report

As the Information Age became a conscious part of people's thinking, leaders in and out of education had nothing but the highest hopes for the future. Many believed that finally technology would lessen the gap between the haves and have-nots because greater access to more information for all young people would ultimately eliminate educational inequalities, and the subsequent rippling effect on the workplace and society, in general, would produce a stronger, more stable economy and a more cohesive society.

These dreams of a better tomorrow, however, seemed to many to be dependent on huge investments in technology-in computers and networks. In response to this challenge, national, state, and institutional leaders began the difficult task of looking for the funding necessary for the infrastructures. When it became clear that so many schools and communities lacked the needed resources, the federal government-in its support of the Information Highway-made an unprecedented promise to link all schools, colleges, and public libraries so that, indeed, there would be equal access to information for all.

Around the same time, a small group of national leaders-primarily from education and librarianship-articulated their own vision of a productive, thriving people in the new Information Age. That vision was eventually published as the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. In that report, the authors:

  • explained the enormous impact of the information explosion on all people: in their individual lives, in their businesses, and even in their functions as American citizens.
  • emphasized repeatedly the need for all people to become information literate, which means that they are not only able to recognize when information is needed, but they are also able to identify, locate, evaluate, and use effectively information needed for the particular decision or issue at hand. The information literate person, therefore, is empowered for effective decision making, freedom of choice, and full participation in a democratic society.
  • stressed that this nation's economic independence and quality of life was becoming increasingly dependent on all of its citizens becoming lifelong learners-something that would have to start with a basic change in the way young people learn. "To respond effectively to an ever-changing environment," the report concluded, "people need more than just a knowledge base, they also need techniques for exploring it, connecting it to other knowledge bases, and making practical use of it. In other words, the landscape upon which we used to stand has been transformed, and we are being forced to establish a new foundation called information literacy."

Progress as a Result of the Report

The Report went on to make six recommendations, whose joint goal was "to reap the benefits from the Information Age by our country, its citizens, and its businesses." One of the major purposes for this update is to outline the astounding progress that has been made toward the reaching of these recommendations in such a relatively short period of time, with little financial support, and largely through volunteer and grassroots efforts. The following highlights of the progress that has been made in each recommended area are presented within the context of the outstanding work still needing to be addressed.

Recommendation 1:
We must all reconsider the ways we have organized information institutionally, structured information access, and defined information's role in our lives at home, in the community, and in the workplace.

This is an ongoing, and a primary focus for the work of the member organizations of the National Forum on Information Literacy. (See Recommendation 2 for more information about the Forum.)

Recommendations for Further Progress:
There needs to be an emphasis on communicating that quality education requires not only investments in technology, but also in programs that empower people to find, evaluate, and use all information effectively. It is also recommended that information literacy be promoted as a priority for all areas of education including workforce training.

Recommendation 2:
A Coalition for Information Literacy should be formed under the leadership of the American Library Association, in coordination with other national organizations and agencies, to promote information literacy.

The National Forum on Information Literacy (Forum) was established in direct response to this recommendation. This organization, which has been operational since 1989, has grown from a beginning membership of less than a dozen to a current membership of over 65 national organizations that represent business, government, and education-with total combined membership of more than five million. (To obtain more information on the Forum contact The National Forum on Information Literacy, c/o Association of College & Research Libraries, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611, or call 1-800-545-2433, ext. 3248, or send a fax to 312-280-2520.)

Recommendations for Further Progress:
The Forum should reach out to additional organizations representing government, business, and education.

Recommendation 3:
Research and demonstration projects related to information and its use needs to be undertaken.

Although there needs to be much additional work in this area, there have been some outstanding projects that have already been completed or are currently in progress-such as the following:

  • A 1994-95 national survey measured the extent to which information literacy has been assimilated into the curriculum of post-secondary institutions. Because it was conducted throughout the 3,236 accredited colleges and universities within the regions of the six U.S. accrediting agencies, it provided a snapshot of the institutions varied progress.
  • Individual Forum members served as part of a Delphi group for a 1992 dissertation by Christina Doyle that related information literacy to the National Education Goals.
  • The ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology is establishing an information literacy web site, Infolit.org, to showcase scenarios of information literacy at the school and college levels and to provide other information on the topic and the Forum to the general public.
  • Three Forum members (i.e., the American Association of School Administrators, the American Association of School Librarians, and the National Education Association) collaborated on the Western Technology Dream with funding from United States West Foundation. The project involved a competitive bid process with schools submitting descriptions of a major learning need at their school that they believed technology could help address. Winning schools were assisted in making their dreams come true.

Recommendation for Further Progress:
The Forum and its member organizations should continue to encourage, support, and track research and demonstration projects on information literacy.

Recommendation 4:
State Departments of Education, Commissions on Higher Education, and Academic Governing Boards should be responsible to ensure that a climate conducive to students becoming information literate exists in their states and on their campuses.

Since 1989, Forum organizations have targeted members within their own organizations to promote leadership for information literacy efforts within schools and colleges. This effort has often taken the form of programming at their national conferences, articles in their publications, and the formation of special interest groups. Following are some specific examples.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHE) of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools continued its information literacy efforts by publishing questions for evaluators on visiting teams. One set of questions on outcomes assessment in general is based on the Commission's 1996 "Framework for Outcomes Assessment," a handbook which strongly articulated the need for information literacy as a critical ingredient in students' general education. Another set of more specific questions on libraries appears in its 1997 "Guidelines for Librarian Evaluators."

The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) created an action committee and now regularly offers programming on information literacy at its annual conferences. At its 1998 spring conference, for example, AAHE sponsored a special session on information literacy for academic vice presidents and librarians.

The National Education Association (NEA) incorporates information literacy into its Teacher Education Initiative Program that brings together higher education and K-12 partners to promote both school and teacher education reform. In 1998, NEA also published a book about information literacy that is targeted at elementary school principals.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) devoted an entire issue of its journal, NAASP Bulletin, to the topic of information literacy in 1991 and 1998.

The Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) passed the ASCD Resolution of Information Literacy of 1991. This action required each of its units to report annually on what it has done to support and promote information literacy. Among its activities to date are featuring information literacy in its journal, Educational Leadership, two newsletters, and the establishment of a special interest group.

The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) included two listings of essential skills (i.e., acquiring information and organizing and using information) in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. The Council further supports the development of information literacy skills for effective citizenship through various partnerships (Library of Congress Center for the Book, Newspapers in Education, and National Issues Forums), professional development programs, publications (Handbook on Teaching Social Issues) and resources provided by its information services department (teaching controversial issues, essential social studies skills).

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) developed a "Statement on Information Problem Solving" that was endorsed by many Forum members. In collaboration with the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, AASL will soon release "Standards for Student Learning" which clearly delineates the information literacy skills which all students should master before high school graduation.

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology has established "information literacy" as a search term. It has also sponsored several publications on information literacy including the 1992 Libraries for the Education Goals by Christina S. Doyle.

Recommendations for Further Progress:
The Forum and its member organizations need to explore and implement ways to better disseminate information on existing models to key policy groups.

Recommendation 5:
Teacher education and performance expectations should be modified to include information literacy concerns.


Recommendations for Further Progress:
The Forum and its member organizations must develop a plan for working with teacher education programs and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education to infuse information literacy requirements into undergraduate and graduate programs of teacher education.

Recommendation 6:
An understanding of the relationship of information literacy to the themes of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services should be promoted.

Completed. As background for representatives at the second White House Conference on Library and Information Services in 1991, the Forum commissioned three background papers that focused on information literacy in relation to democracy, economic development, and education. These were distributed to all who attended.

Progress Made Independently of the Forum

A major confirmation of the work that the National Forum on Information Literacy has done and still is doing has been the independent projects and undertakings that have arisen within the United States and throughout the world. The people and organizations behind these projects were spontaneously and simultaneously also responding to the enormous challenges of the Information Age. In some cases, their efforts paralleled some of those previously mentioned in this update, but others covered new ground from which people everywhere will benefit. Following are just some of the outstanding examples that have come to the Forum's attention over the past several years.

The Colorado and Utah Departments of Education encourage student competence in information literacy throughout all school districts.

  • In Colorado, where local control is highly valued, many district Boards have adopted information literacy as part of their media/technology plans, or woven the principles of information literacy into their own locally written curriculum standards.
  • In Utah, information literacy is implemented through the Information Literacy Across the Curriculum Project. School teams of educators, the principal, the school library media specialist, and classroom teachers are trained in writing and teaching thematic units of integrated curriculum. Once unit instruction is completed, each team hosts a community open house to inform the public of highlights and successes of the implementation project.
  • Regional accrediting agencies not formally associated with the Forum have been supportive of information literacy. The Executive Director of the Western Association of School and Colleges has published articles and spoke about the need to incorporate information literacy as a core learning competence for all undergraduate and graduate programs, and to establish the library as a central center for student learning. In addition, workshops and/or programming on information literacy have been held by the New England and North Central Accrediting Agencies.
  • In 1993, the Washington State Community College system developed a position paper supporting "information competency." It has subsequently been endorsed by the Council of Instructional Deans and the Presidents of the 32 community and technical colleges in the state. In a 1995 survey, 26 of the 32 colleges indicated progress toward implementing information competency skills into core courses.
  • The California State University system is committed to developing information literacy competence among all its students and measuring those skills through performance-based testing. It has also funded two system-wide conferences and a number of multi-campus projects including research to benchmark undergraduate information literacy skills.
  • In 1996, the California Community College system announced the development of an Information Competency Plan as a prerequisite for the completion of a community college certificate.
  • According to the U. S. Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), information literacy is one of five essential competencies for solid job performance. The SCANS report mandates the need for developing high-performance skills to support an economy characterized by high skills, high wages, and full employment.
  • President Bill Clinton called for a highly skilled workforce in his National Technology Policy for America, and the recent federal initiative to define information technology literacy may well help to provide greater visibility for people's need to become information literate.
  • In 1995, a consortium of five universities in the Cape Town region of South Africa received a million-dollar grant to collaboratively develop information literacy programs.
  • A 1994 Australian government study on preparing citizens for lifelong learning underscored the need for the mastery of information literacy skills as a part of the education process. Three national conferences on information literacy have been held in that country.
  • A 1994 article by South African Shirley Behrens provides a comprehensive, conceptual analysis and historical overview of information literacy.
  • Researchers in Australia and Singapore are pioneering definitions of information literacy in the workforce.

Challenges Yet To Be Met

Now nearly a decade after the publication of the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report, Forum members-after monitoring America's progress in addressing the issues raised in the Report of the Information Age-believe that there needs to be a national re-evaluation of the seemingly exclusive emphasis on and enormous investments in computers and networks. They believe that the technology alone will never allow America to reach the potential inherent in the Information Age in not only its schools but also in its businesses. In fact, they believe that the dreams of a new and better tomorrow will only begin to be realized when all young people graduate into the workforce with strong information literacy skills.

Forum members, therefore, are resolved more than ever before to promote information literacy as a means of empowering individuals and enhancing the educational potential and economic goals of communities everywhere. In order to accomplish that goal, Forum members have agreed upon the following recommendations for priority action in the new millennium.

Recommendation 1:
Forum members should encourage and champion the growing support of accrediting agencies.

The efforts made so far by the regional accrediting agencies on behalf on information literacy as a means of promoting a more active undergraduate learning experience that will ultimately prepare students for lifelong learning is to be applauded. The Forum will support such efforts and seek to extend them to specialized and professional accrediting agencies.

Recommendation 2:
Teacher education and performance expectations need to include information literacy skills.

Continuing this crucial recommendation from the original report, Forum members will pursue two specific courses of action: (1) to encourage leaders in existing school reform movements to incorporate information literacy skills into their efforts and (2) to more aggressively partner with national teacher education organizations to get information literacy on their agendas. Key to success in this area will be the integration of information literacy efforts throughout the curriculum.

Recommendation 3:
Librarian education and performance expectations need to include information literacy.

Forum members need to work with the Association for Library and Information Science Education and the Committee on Accreditation of the American Library Association to ensure that the beginning professional degree for librarians prepares them for working collaboratively with teachers, faculty and community members on information literacy programs.

Recommendation 4:
Forum members need to identify ways to illustrate to business leaders the benefits of fostering an information literate workforce.

Efforts need to be directed not only toward job training, per se, but also at school reform efforts in which businesses are collaborating.

Recommendation 5:
There needs to be more research and demonstration projects related to information literacy and its use.

There are many significant directions that information literacy research needs to take. Among the most pressing research agendas are (1) how best to benchmark information literacy abilities and progress, (2) how to measure the effectiveness of information literacy programs on individual's performance, and (3) how information literacy is manifested in work settings and the degree to which it enhances workplace productivity.

An Invitation

As the National Forum on Information Literacy continues to promote information literacy as a means of individual empowerment within today's Information Society, its members are well aware that it has been and will continue to be the effort of the growing number of individuals across the country who are propelling success in this important endeavor. The Forum supports and encourages such grassroots initiatives and invites leaders in such efforts to keep the Forum apprised of their undertakings so that overall national progress can be monitored and, even more importantly, so that information on both failures and successes can be shared with others who can benefit from such experiences. The result of these combined efforts will be a citizenry which is made up of effective lifelong learners who can always find the information needed for the issue or decision at hand. This new generation of information literate citizens will truly be America's most valuable resource.

On behalf of the National Forum on Information Literacy, this progress report was researched and written by Patricia Senn Breivik, Vicki Hancock, and J. A. Senn.

For More on Information Literacy

American Library Association, American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Chicago, Illinois: American Library Association, January 1989. (To obtain a single free copy, e-mail: acrl@ala.org or pbreivik@email.sjsu.edu)
Written by a group of leaders from education and librarianship, this report defines information literacy within the context of the higher literacies. The report examines the importance of information literacy to student achievement, quality of life, business, and citizenship in a democracy.

American Association of School Librarians, "Position Statement on Information Literacy: A Position Paper on Information Problem Solving." Chicago, Illinois: ALA, 1996.
This statement, which was endorsed by many organizational members of the National Forum on Information Literacy, delineates the skills all students should develop as part of an information literacy curriculum, provides eight scenarios of information literacy in action, and briefly discusses the respective roles principals, teachers, and library media specialists should have in the curriculum.

Australian National Board of Employment. Education and Training: Developing Lifelong Learners Through Undergraduate Education. Commissioned Report No. 28, edited by Philip C. Candy, Gary Crebert, and Jane O'Leary: Australian Government Publishing Service, August 1994.
This study, conducted to determine whether Australian higher education produces effective lifelong learners, offers many useful outcomes including a working definition of the lifelong learning concept, expresses needed teaching methods to produce lifelong learners, and highlights the responsibilities of the institution to the student. It points to information literacy as one of the essential skills required for lifelong learning.

Behrens, Shirley. "A Conceptual Analysis and Historical Overview of Information Literacy," College and Research Libraries, 55, July 1994.
Behrens' historic examination of the information literacy concept spans library literature from the 1970's to the 1990's. In addition to identifying the major trends of the 1990's, Behrens discusses the expanding competencies and skills required for information literacy proficiency for students and librarians.

Breivik, Patricia Senn. Student Learning in the Information Age. American Council on Education and Oryx Press. Phoenix, Arizona: 1998.
Breivik examines information literacy as it relates primarily to higher learning. By focusing on resource-based learning as an important paradigm in education and by providing examples of information literacy as part of curricula on campuses across the country, Breivik offers a comprehensive guidebook for educators and librarians who recognize both the importance of information literacy and the immediacy of need for the implementation of resource-based learning in today's classrooms.

Breivik, Patricia Senn and J.A. Senn. Educating Children for the 21st Century, 2d.ed. NEA Professional Library. Washington, DC: 1998.
Now in its second edition, this text addresses school principals, teachers, media specialists, and other school leaders in implementing information literacy/ resource-based learning programs into school curricula. This practical guide provides examples of successful programs and insights from educators in the field, as well as examining the efficacy of resource-based learning on student retention and achievement.

Bruce, Christine. The Seven Faces of Information Literacy. Adelaide: Auslib Press, 1997.
Bruce's work is a critical examination of the theoretical foundation of information literacy-but with a twist. By applying a relational model to information literacy education and research as opposed to the traditional behaviorist model, Bruce presents a fresh approach to the study of information literacy and its place in education at large. She also provides an extensive bibliography for further study.

Colorado Educational Media Association. Information Literacy Guidelines, Colorado State Department of Education. State Library and Adult Education Office. Denver, Colorado ED 381 163 (September 1994).
The guidelines in this book establish information literacy competencies for students and include the desired role of the school library media specialist in the teaching and learning process. Among the outlined competencies are the ability to construct meaning from given information, to create a quality product, to learn independently, to participate effectively in groups, and to use information technology responsibly and effectively. Also discussed is the rationale behind each of these basic skills.

Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Information Literacy: Lifelong Learning in the Middle State Region. A Summary of Two Symposia. ED 386 157 (1995).
The symposia, sponsored by the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States, consisted of teams from campuses that made early progress toward institutionalizing information literacy. The educators and administrators who attended identified barriers, recommended factors needed to successfully overcome these barriers, and especially emphasized the commitment levels necessary to implement new and innovative paradigms into academic settings.

Doyle, Christina S. "Information Literacy in an Information Society: A Concept for the Information Age." ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology. Syracuse, New York ED372 763 (1994).
This article discusses information literacy as an important concept for modern society. Doyle outlines the evolution of the information literacy concept and discusses two major events during that process: the SCANS report and the establishment of the National Education Goals. She also discusses the impact of technology on information literacy and includes an annotated bibliography.

Hancock, Vicki. "Information Literacy for Lifelong Learning," ERIC Digest EDO-IR-93-1 (May 1993).
Hancock reiterates the necessity of resource-based learning environments to promote student achievement in self-directed activities. This article, with its rich citations, discusses the view that learning is a process, rather than an acquisition; and it proposes that the changing role of teachers to facilitators is a major factor in producing information literate students and lifelong learners.

Hancock, Vicki. "Information Literacy, Brain-based Learning, and the Technological Revolution: Implications for Education," School Library Activities Monthly 12, 1: September 1995.
Hancock presents the twelve principles of brain-based learning and discusses the implications in using these principles in selecting instructional programs on education. Teaching information literacy skills and the use of multimedia technologies are also discussed.

Shapiro, Jeremy and Shelley Hughes. "Information Technology as a Liberal Art," Educom Review (March/April 1996): 31-35.
Information literacy, as a technical skill, is a highly valuable competency. However, as the authors point out, information literate individuals should not only have the ability to critically examine the information acquired but also to reflect on the nature of information as a whole. By incorporating information literacy as a multi-dimensional liberal philosophy and by incorporating it into the general curricula, the authors argue that higher education plays a larger role in the betterment of society and serves more justly its role in societal improvement and equality.

Information Literacy Skills
The abilities to know when there is a need for information, to identify information for that need, and to be able to locate, evaluate and effectively use that information are not new abilities that have emerged as a result of the Information Age. In fact, these abilities have always been important to success and quality of life. The only thing that has changed is the amount and variety of information that is now available. Fifty years ago, people had limited sources from which to obtain needed information: books, newspapers, radio, journals, community experts, and government offices.

Today, however, information is not only available from those sources but also from television, CD-ROM, online databases, the Internet, multimedia packages, and digitized government documents; and the amount of information from all of those sources is staggering. Although there has always been a need to find, evaluate, and effectively use information, the abilities needed to do so have just grown larger, more complex, and more important as the volume of available information has mushroomed beyond everyone's wildest imagination.

Information Literacy and Today's Businesses
The workplace of the present and future demands a new kind of worker. In a global marketplace, data is dispatched in picoseconds and gigabits, and this deluge of information must be sorted, evaluated, and applied. When confronted by such an overload of information, most workers today tend to take the first or most easily accessed information-without any concern for the quality of that information. As a result, such poorly trained workers are costing businesses billions of dollars annually in low productivity, accidents, absenteeism, and poor product quality. There is no question about it: for today's and tomorrow's workers, the workplace is going through cataclysmic changes that very few will be prepared to participate in successfully and productively unless they are information literate.