email photo – Expanding Library Instruction to Enhance Information Literacy

Expanding Library Instruction to Enhance Information Literacy

Throughout the history of academia, the library has been at the heart of the institution, where beauty and learning, books and instruction come together in what is often one magnificent space. This ‘space’ should be an integral part of a student’s learning at Dawson, but not all students receive the instruction they need to take best advantage of all the library has to offer them.

At Ped Day 2018, the Dawson librarians hosted a session titled Information Literacy for Critical Thinking and Ethical Understanding, with the dual objectives to present our mission to upgrade our approach to library instruction, and invite closer collaboration with faculty in the development of deeper, active learning opportunities.

Like other librarians in higher education, we have always been available to provide in-class library instruction. We value these classes as an essential point of contact with the student body. In most instances, but not all, the students have a research assignment they must complete, and our sessions teach them how to navigate the library’s subscription databases; distinguish between popular and scholarly sources; and properly cite others’ work and ideas. In the academic library literature, these are commonly referred to as “one-shot” instruction sessions (Daland), because the library usually only gets one chance to teach critical research skills to any given group of students.

Little opportunity for deeper understanding

These one-shot sessions generally last about 30 to 45 minutes, but may extend longer, if we are asked to stay on and help students do their research. More often, we depart and the class continues on its regular course. Given these circumstances, there is rarely much time for students to engage meaningfully with the search tools, or the sources themselves.

Note Information Literacy

Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning. (ACRL, 3)

Further, there is no opportunity to examine the deeper structures that govern the creation and distribution of information, or the strategies and values that govern its access and use; what the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) defines as information literacy. (See inset.)

Beyond these time limitations, our sessions are provided only to students whose teachers request them, meaning there is no system in place to ensure that every student receives a minimum orientation to the library.

The unfortunate result, and one we frequently encounter in the classroom, is that some students never receive any library instruction, while others receive similar orientations in multiple classes over the course of their studies at Dawson; for example, first in Humanities, then in Research Methods or English, and one last time in their Integrative Seminar or Integrating Activity course.

Developing information literacy

Note Dawson Graduate Profile [Excerpt]

Critical thinking, problem-solving skills and creativity

Students will be able to collect, organise and evaluate information from a variety of sources including electronic and web-based sources, and analyse and synthesize relevant information to draw informed conclusions and make judgments.

Students will develop problem-solving skills in which they implement a strategy to answer an open-ended question or achieve a desired outcome. Students will demonstrate creative thinking by combining ideas or producing works in original ways.

Ethical understanding and behaviour

Students will practise academic integrity and demonstrate ethical behaviour appropriate to citizenship in a democratic society.

While these classes can be of immediate, short-term benefit to students with an assignment in front of them, we recognize that they fall short of helping students develop the robust information literacy skills that we see targeted by two of the nine outcomes defined in Dawson’s Graduate Profile, briefly, critical thinking and ethical understanding. (See inset.)

Note Library Sessions by Sector

Fall 2016 – Winter 2018
45-50% of all sessions

  • Humanities
  • Research Methods (RM)
  • Integrative Seminar (IS)
  • Integrating Activity (IA)

Fall 2018 (96 sessions)

Humanities, RM, IS and IA (51)

General Education:

  • English (7), French (8)

Creative & Applied Arts:

  • Cinema & Communications (5), Arts & Culture (10)

Social Science and Business Technologies

  • Business Administration and
  • Social Services (7)

Science, Medical Studies and Engineering:

  • Biology and Chemistry (4)

Other… (6)

These challenges – namely, the lack of a uniform library experience, and the absence, in our sessions, of deeper engagement with the principles of effective and ethical research – are spurring us to examine what we teach, how we teach, and where we teach library research skills (i.e., information literacy) to students.

Beginning in January 2019, we plan to address these challenges in the following ways.

A uniform and universal first library experience: less is more

We understand that dedicating an hour, or even half an hour, to library instruction can be a tough sell, and that teachers are pressed to cover their own course content in 15 short weeks. We also recognize that our traditional library session overloads students with tools and approaches that are challenging to retain, if they are not put to immediate use.

For these reasons, the librarians will be offering teachers the option to schedule a brief “Introduction to the Library” session for their students, at any point during the semester.

This introductory session (10-15 min.) would be much shorter than our “classic” library demonstration (30-45 min.), but would allow us to:

  • Show students the library website;
  • Review the different forms of information available;
  • Highlight the advantages of library- over web-based research; and
  • Present the services librarians have to offer.

We hope that this strategic, broad-based – “less is more” – approach will make it simpler, and more attractive, for teachers to dedicate class time to library instruction; and believe that first-year students will benefit more from this quick orientation than they might from our ‘classic’ demonstration of database search strategies.

In offering this option, we are especially keen to stimulate interest among teachers of the first-year “Knowledge” course (Humanities 101). The defining competency of this course – i.e., to “[a]pply a logical analytical processes to how knowledge is organized and used,” (MEES, 16) – resonates strongly with the library’s own educational objectives; and all students must take this class to fulfill their General Education requirements.

Historically, more than a quarter of all our sessions are provided, indiscriminately, to students enrolled in the Knowledge (101), World Views (102) and Applied Themes (BXH) courses. We are eager for the chance to build on this solid foundation of collaboration; and to do so in a way that is strategic, sensitive to the needs of faculty, and appropriate to the needs of students at each stage of their academic career.

Developing information literacy

While we are keen to pursue this less is more approach with first-year students, we are equally, if not more, determined to bring greater depth to a host of topics we can only gloss over in our one-shot library sessions. We have two strategies in mind to address this challenge:

  1. Develop a menu of focused, in-class information literacy modules (1 hour +); and
  2. Schedule and promote library workshops directly to students – no class time required.

Through the Summer and Fall terms last year, Josée Nadeau, Dawson’s newest full-time librarian, worked closely with two faculty members, Kester Dyer (Humanities) and Carolina Pineda (Anthropology), to develop and pilot three focused information literacy modules: 1) developing your topic; 2) evaluating information; and 3) the ethical use of information.

Through this collaboration, the students in each of these teachers’ courses (three sections of Humanities: World Views; three sections of Research Methods; one Integrative Seminar) received all three, hour-long modules, with each delivered at a strategic point in the course’s progression. Though more class time was dedicated to this series of sessions, in each class the library presentation and activity served as an effective vehicle for the course content, while requiring students to grapple with specific information literacy skills. (See inset.)

Note Evaluating Information Workshop

In a Humanities (World Views) course on the theme of colonization, the Evaluating Information workshop required students to analyze a ‘bad’ website and develop their own criteria for determining a source’s quality or validity. They were then asked to apply their criteria to a blog post written by an indigenous author and scholar.

The lively conversation that ensued delved into not just the power dynamic between colonizers and colonized, but effectively engaged students in discussion of the knowledge practices and dispositions (values and orientations) outlined under the ACRL frame: Authority is Constructed & Contextual.

Last semester, the librarians’ usual invitation to faculty members included the option of a Custom Activity and Instruction (1 hour +) session, with the above module titles listed. Teachers often tell us that their students need particular help with “x” research skill. While we routinely adapt our examples to each course’s content, this custom workshop option was offered with the hope that faculty members might see value in tackling specific information literacy skills head-on, and in customizing these modules for their own course content. This was, admittedly, not thoroughly explained or well-publicized to faculty members. (We’re focused on pedagogy now; we’ll work on communications next year!)

Building on our proposal to deliver brief introductory sessions to students in first-year classes, we are eager for opportunities to adapt these deeper, albeit lengthier, information literacy modules to the content of any other courses we are invited to support.

Library-hosted workshops

Finally, recognizing that not all faculty members will carve out time for library (information literacy) instruction, we have one other initiative we’ll be pursuing this winter.

Note Framework for Information Literacy

These integrated abilities are clustered within six “frames” that speak to the way information is created, distributed, discovered and used. They recognize that:

  • Authority is constructed and contextual;
  • Information creation is a process;
  • Information has value;
  • Research is a process of inquiry;
  • Scholarship is a conversation; and
  • Searching is strategic exploration.

To address these same key challenges from a different angle, the Library will begin to offer, and promote, its own slate of library instruction sessions, beginning with the ‘classic’ database demonstration, but ultimately expanding to include more generalist variations on the in-depth modules mentioned above.

These sessions will be designed to help students build the full set of integrated abilities elaborated by the ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education and envisioned by the College’s own Graduate Profile.

We hope these combined strategies will ensure that all of our students gain experience with the library during their time at Dawson, and that each of these experiences will serve as a positive, and productive, contribution to their academic and personal development.


Works Cited

Association of College & Research Libraries. “Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education.” American Library Association, January, 2016,

Daland, Hilde Terese. “Just in Case, Just in Time, or Just Don’t Bother…? Assessment of One-shot Library Instruction with Follow-up Workshops.” Liber Quarterly: The Journal of European Research Libraries, vol. 24, no. 3, 2015, pp. 125-139,

Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement Supérieur. “General Education Components: Extracts from Programs Leading to a Diploma of College Studies (DCS).” Gouvernement du Québec, 2017,

“The Dawson Graduate Profile 2016-2021.” Dawson College, [2016],

Last Modified: January 17, 2019