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The role of faculty development in fostering information literacy

Barbara Fister has written a thought-provoking article in a recent issue (March 2009) of Library Issues about the role of faculty development in promoting teaching and learning of information literacy competencies  in higher education.

In a nutshell, the idea behind faculty development and information literacy is that librarians, rather than focusing largely on teaching students, instead devote a big chunk of their time and commitment to “teaching the teacher”, so to speak, or at least in collaborating closely with faculty to help them become the main facilitators of learning in classrooms where information literacy is being taught.

In some ways I have issues with the term “faculty development” because I think it sounds a bit condescending and am not even sure it captures exactly what it’s all about, because ideally it should be about faculty and librarians learning from each other, I’m pretty sure!

In any case, terminology aside, I’ve long thought that this is an approach well worth pursuing seriously for a number of reasons, which I explain below. And in my next post, I’ll share what I’m learning about ways to introduce faculty development programs which work.

  • There are only a limited number of librarians to go around, at many universities and colleges in North America and further afield. So even if our ideal is across the board curriculum integrated information literacy, where librarians are doing the bulk of the teaching, this is typically an unattainable ideal on most campuses.
  • Faculty are based in classrooms already, and play a huge role in shaping the curriculum and assessment protocols. In this sense, they are well disposed to facilitate the intertwining of the learning of subject content and disciplinary process so fundamental to the concept of information literacy. This doesn’t mean that librarians do not feature in the equation, but rather their role becomes more one of consultant in framing learning outcomes and designing assignments etc., as opposed to the frontline face in the classroom.
  • As Fister points out, while librarians have been champions of information literacy and are serious about it, “because learning  is what libraries are for”, information literacy is by no means librarians’ exclusive turf. As Gullikson (2006) points out ACRL’s Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline highlight the fact that of the 87 outcomes outlined in ACRL’s Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education the vast majority of outcomes are identified as being most appropriately taught by faculty alone (61), while a far fewer number are identified as being best taught by faculty and librarians in collaboration (25), or by librarians only (9). While I’m not saying I wholeheartedly agree with the way in which various responsibilities are divvied up here, I do strongly believe that many of the information literacy competencies require team-teaching by faculty and librarians (especially standards one, three, and five), and some are just plain best taught by a faculty member if you ask me.
  • Some faculty are teaching information literacy skills themselves already. If faculty, librarians and other relevant players on campus, e.g., educational developers and writing centre professionals joined forces to build an effective pedagogical strategy for information literacy, faculty would find an infrastructure in place, which would just serve to strengthen what they seem, in some cases, to be already choosing to do anyway.

    So what, pray tell,  is my source for saying faculty are teaching information literacy competencies on their own anyway, completely independently of librarians? Don’t classic articles, such as Hardesty’s 1995 article “Faculty Culture and Bibliographic Instruction: An Exploratory Analysis”, explain that the very nature of faculty culture mitigates against faculty doing this? While this is one of my favourite articles, and many of its teachings remain timeless truths, I still think it pays to remember that faculty attitudes toward “taking the bull by the horns” with information literacy, may be changing, if ever so slowly! I think one reason for this is that faculty are really quite appalled in many cases, by what I’ve heard described as the “copy and paste generation”, where students have to be pushed to use anything but Google, critical thinking about sources of information leaves a lot to be desired, and concerns about plagiarism or improper citing are common. McNamara Morrisson certainly found this in interviews with faculty at the University of Guelph in 2005. And in my survey of York University faculty conducted in 2007, this was the single biggest concern when faculty talked about students’ research assignments not being up to snuff. And this same survey revealed that of the faculty who do introduce information literacy competencies in to their classrooms (equal to about half of survey respondents),  53.9% of this group say they are doing this themselves, compared to 34.8% who say they do this with a librarian, and 11.8% who say that just a librarian does it. And this study doesn’t stand alone, in finding this. Gonzales’ survey established that of the some 60% of faculty, who do not have a librarian come to their class, 28% said they prefer to teach these skills themselves. Leckie and Fullerton found that between 30-50% of the Science and Engineering faculty they surveyed are teaching aspects of information literacy in their classes, at least some of the time.

  • The other point, is that there seems to be evidence of growing interest by faculty in the library filling an educative role in the domain of information literacy targeted at faculty rather than students, at least if studies involving surveys of faculty in North American universities are to be believed. Gonzales reports 68.2% of faculty are in favour of instructional opportunities for themselves, while the Cannon study finds that 70% of Social Sciences and Humanities faculty are supportive of this instruction method. Leckie and Fullerton asked Science and Engineering faculty to indicate levels of interest in library instruction options and options leading to the enhancement of the faculty members’ own information literacy were by far the most popular (some almost 70% of faculty in each case).

Articles Referenced in this Blog Posting:

Anita Cannon, “Faculty Survey on Library Research Instruction,” RQ 33, no. 4 (1994): 524-41.

Barbara Fister, “Fostering Information Literacy Through Faculty Development,” Library Issues 29, No. 4 (Mar. 2009).

R. Gonzales, “Opinions and Experiences of University Faculty Regarding Library Research Instruction: results of a web based survey at the University of Southern Colorado,” Research Strategies (April 18, 2001): 191-201.

Shelley Gullikson, “Faculty Perceptions of ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32, no. 6 (November 2006): 583-592.

L. Hardesty, “Faculty Culture and Bibliographic Instruction: An Exploratory Analysis,” Library Trends 44, no. 2 (1995): 339-67.

Gloria J. Leckie and Anne Fullerton, “Information Literacy in Science and Engineering Undergraduate Education,” College and Research Libraries 60, no. 1 (January 1999): 9-29.

Laurie McNamara Morrison, “Faculty Motivations: An Exploratory Study of Motivational Factors of Faculty to Assist with Students’ Research Skills Development,” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 2, no. 2 (2007).

One Response to “The role of faculty development in fostering information literacy”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out and for the good analysis. I’m about as happy with the phrase “faculty development” as I am with “information literacy” – but we seem a bit stuck with them. Your survey results are very interesting.

    If anyone wants to read my piece and don’t have access to Library Issues, it can be found here:

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