Being information literate

Florida Gulf Coast University has an excellent information literacy tutorial called Search for the Skunk Ape. This tutorial is aimed at first year students who are just getting their footing in their new university environment. Its objective is to help students become information literate and gives a useful description of what that means. Basically, being information literate means a student can:
  • Identify and articulate your information need
  • Know how information is structured and where to find it
  • Access information you need effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information you find and use it appropriately
  • Use information you find ethically (Welcome, 2012.)

These are all crucial aspects of information literacy, although I feel that the three most important are: 
  1. Identifying and articulating an information need
  2. Accessing information effectively and efficiently
  3. Evaluating and appropriately using the information.

When designing my online tutorialas an assignment for LIS7880, I tried to address these three aspects above, although I did not have the time to really delve into them as much as would be necessary for a thorough introduction to information literacy tutorial.

The first thing a student really needs to know is how to recognize that they have information need and formulate that need into an understandable and actionable statement. Teaching students how to formulate that statement, or research topic, can be taught in many ways, either in person, in a classroom, or in an online tutorial. A student’s information need will most likely be directly related to an assignment. This assignment may be specific in what to research (as in the skunk ape example) or open to the student’s interest. In either case, a basic information literacy instruction session can begin with the student identifying their general area of research. Next, discuss whether or not a research topic is too broad or too narrow, which would lead to too much information or not enough. Finally, the student needs to understand what the final output of the research topic will be. If it is for her/his own enjoyment, s/he can research as much or little as desired. If it is an assignment for a class, the student needs to decide how long the submission needs to be and in what format. This will help determine how broad or specific the topic is and many resources to include.

Accessing information effectively and efficiently comes with understanding what kinds of research options the library has and how to use them. This part of the instruction session would deal with how to use the library catalog, including how to search in it (advanced search, subject headings, etc.) In addition to the catalog, students would learn which databases the library has access to and how to determine which one to use based on the subject matter. Again, teaching this information could be done in person or in an online tutorial (or both.)

To understand how to evaluate a source, a student needs to know the kinds of resources available at the library. This part of the instruction session would include descriptions of different resources, including scholarly (journals, books – peer-reviewed), reference (encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs), and popular (newspapers, magazines.) Depending on what kind of assignment it is, the student may only be able to use scholarly sources, so needs to know what those are and how to search for them.

These are just a few ways to incorporate specific information literacy topics into an instruction session. Depending on the format (online, classroom, or one-on-one), an instructor could use any or all of these suggestions.


Welcome to the search for the skunk ape: An information literacy tutorial. (2012). Retrieved October 20, 2013, from 

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