Dr. Heidi LM Jacobs is UWindsor’s Information Literacy Librarian.

Hello World.photo © 2008 Jim Sher | more info (via: Wylio)In an era where our students are bombarded with information from a myriad of sources (both reliable and unreliable)  it’s crucial that our students are well-prepared to navigate this complex and ever-changing information world both for their studies at university and for the lives they lead outside of classrooms.

For these reasons, when we at the library talk with students about information and research– what it is, how to approach it, what to look for and what to be cautious about– we talk about information literacy.  Information literacy is, in its most basic definition, the ability to  “recognize when information is needed along with the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (American Library Association).

As you work with students doing research, you will likely be helping students navigate these kinds of information literacy components:

  • Determining the extent of information needed (what kind of information does a student need to complete an assignment?)
  • Accessing the needed information effectively and efficiently (how does a student find or retrieve that information?)
  • Evaluating information and its sources critically (is this resource appropriate for the assignment?  Is it reliable, current and authoritative?)
  • Incorporating selected information into one’s knowledge base (how does this information work with other sources of information students have read or knowledge students already have?)
  • Using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose (how can students use the information to achieve the goals of the assignment?)
  • Understanding the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally (how can students avoid plagiarism or copyright issues and cite their information properly?)

For many undergraduates, assignments that involve scholarly research are often overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating.  As TAs and GAs you will often be the go-to person for undergraduate students’ questions and frustrations about research.   Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You are not on your own. Leddy Library has subject specialists who have expertise in your area of study and would be happy to meet with you to show you the best tools and resources for your students’ assignments.  Meeting with your subject specialist at the beginning of the semester will prepare you for any questions you might encounter.  You can also direct your students to your subject specialist.
  • Your students are not on their own. Leddy Library has 2 Reference Help Centers and an Online Reference service staffed with friendly, helpful library staff who are well-trained to answer just about any question your students might have.
  • We can come to you. We regularly come to classes and offer sessions on research strategies for specific assignments.  If you or your professor would be interested in such a session, contact your subject specialist.

Thinking about information literacy in your work with students is important not only because it helps them with their academic work but because the critical thinking skills they develop will help them in the lives they lead outside of classrooms.  As the UNESCO and IFLA written “Alexandria Proclamation” states,

“Information Literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning.  It empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals.  It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.  Lifelong learning enables individuals, communities and nations to attain their goals and to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the evolving global environment for shared benefit.  It assists them and their institutions to meet technological, economic and social challenges, to redress disadvantage and to advance the well being of all.”

When we talk with our students about research, we need to understand that by providing our students with opportunities to engage with information literacy, we are offering them opportunities to develop skills and capabilities that will have a wide-ranging impact on their learning and their lives.