Information Resources: Information Literacy: The Benefits of Partnership

Key Words: information literacy, librarians, nursing faculty

Another Literacy?

The word "literate" dates to the mid-fifteenth century and was used for a person who was familiar with literature or generally well-educated (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989). During the last century, it commonly referred to being able to read and write. Over the past decade, we have seen the use of the term expanded and used with many specific types of knowledge. This proliferation of "literacies" has included: computer, cultural, design, emotional, film, financial, geographical, health, information, mathematical, media, scientific.

Information Literacy

All of these new literacies have their place, but for our time and our age, it is information literacy that can have the greatest overall impact on our lives. Information literacy is defined as being "able to recognize when information is needed and having the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association, 1989, p.1). The information literate person is an effective information consumer for both personal and professional needs and is empowered for lifelong learning. "It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning" (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000). We are surrounded by communication and information technologies that allow access to vast reservoirs of information. Those riches make a difference to us only if we know how to capitalize on them. Nurses, along with other healthcare professionals, live the reality of a short half-life of their professional and technical knowledge. The content mastered by graduation is soon outdated. Knowing how to seek, evaluate, and apply information is critical to insure ongoing professional competence.

Information literacy has received attention in the nursing literature. Blythe and others in 1995 discuss the critical need for nurses to have the necessary information seeking skills to be able to draw upon the professional literature to improve patient outcomes. This theme is echoed more recently by Pravikoff (2000), who is concerned by the extent to which nursing students are being prepared to be effective information users and the information literate status of nursing faculty. Cheek and Doskatsch (1998) provide an overview of information literacy as it is covered in the nursing literature and implications for nursing education. Verhey (1999) shares an effort to integrate information literacy throughout an undergraduate curriculum. The draft Scope of Practice of Nursing Informatics and the Standards of Practice and Professional Performance for the Informatics Nurse Specialist (American Nurses Association Expert Panel, 2001) also includes information literacy skills as a set of abilities needed by all nurses, in addition to those who choose informatics as a specialty.

The Librarian-Faculty Partnership

This column presents background on the development of information literacy as a conceptual framework and the more recent efforts to establish standards and measurable outcomes. All segments of the library community have embraced this as important work to which they can contribute. Libraries are natural laboratories for learning these competencies, and librarians are experienced in teaching students the skills needed for the access, retrieval, evaluation, and appropriate use of information. Academic librarians in institutions across the country are seeking ways to partner with classroom faculty to further information literacy efforts within given curricula. By their nature, these initiatives seek to support faculty efforts to develop in their students the critical thinking and problem-solving skills important within the discipline.

This partnership between librarians and nursing faculty already exists in many institutions. In the literature on information literacy, Weaver (1993) called for collaboration between nursing faculty and librarians. To become literate, a student should be introduced to concepts and tools in a building block approach throughout the curriculum. Fox, Richter, and White (1989) highlighted the integration of information literacy concepts into the nursing curriculum through collaborative efforts with a librarian. Follow-up efforts on assessing the effectiveness of this program were reported later (Fox, Richter, & White, 1996). More recently, Hodson-Carlton and Dorner (1999) highlight shared efforts between nursing and library services faculty to develop a Web-based module to address information literacy skills.

Computer Literacy does not equal Information Literacy

It is important to note that computer literacy is not the same as information literacy. Computer literacy is the set of competencies represented by being able to understand computer basics and use a variety of applications to manipulate data and create documents. One can be adept at using computers, but not a knowledgeable information user, even if that information is in electronic form. Computer-related skills often serve, however, to enable information-related activities. Therefore, information literacy should be seen as broader in scope.

From Discussion to Standards

Behrens (1994) presents a thorough review of the development of information literacy as a concept and cites the origins to a proposal submitted in 1974 by Paul Zurkowski, the president of the Information Industry Association, to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Zurkowski called for achieving information literacy within the next decade and highlighted its importance for a skilled workforce. Educational reform efforts in the 1980s led to discussions between librarians and academicians to explore the role libraries could play in undergraduate education by integrating more fully with the learning process. A national symposium in 1987 on "Libraries and the Search for Academic Excellence" advocated that teaching information skills was a shared responsibility between librarians, classroom faculty, and academic departments (Breivik & Gee, 1989). In 1989, the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy issued a seminal report that provided the definition of information literacy often used today (and quoted at the beginning of this column). It also advocated information literacy as a means of empowerment--"in particular, to prepare people for lifelong learning, to prepare them for active citizenship, and to increase business competitiveness" (Brevik, 1991).

In the 1990s, the higher education environment was characterized by more attention being given to creating student-centered learning opportunities that would encourage self-directed learning and critical thinking. For many fields, including nursing, this meant revising curricula and moving to more problem-based learning, which by its very nature necessitates being able to acquire and evaluate information of varying types. Libraries began refocusing their instructional efforts from an emphasis on teaching resources to teaching information literacy competencies. Universities and accreditation agencies began to highlight the importance of assessing student learning, and some included outcomes related to information literacy in their assessment efforts.

Librarians actively worked to develop standards and measurable outcomes for information literacy. To address K-12 needs, the American Association of School Librarians Task Force on Information Literacy Standards published Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (1998). Nine standards were put forward that cover the information competencies needed for information seeking, independent learning, and social responsibility ( The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) extended these basic K-12 competencies for the higher education community so that these might be seen as developing along a continuum throughout a student's education. The resulting five ACRL standards were published in 2000 and are highlighted below.

Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education

The ACRL standards, along with their accompanying performance indicators and outcomes, are available at: The five standards are:

1. The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
2. The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.
3. The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.
4. The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.
5. The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction

The ACRL Instruction Section has developed "Objectives for Information literacy Instruction by Academic Librarians" ( These address the process of information research and provide more specific objectives for librarians for providing information literacy instruction. Each objective has been reviewed and marked as whether the responsibility is the librarian's alone (L) or done in collaboration with classroom faculty (L/CI). The following is an example:

ACRL Standard One: The information literate student determines the extent of the information needed.

Performance Indicator 1: The information literate student defines and articulates the need for information.

The individual:

1.1.c. Explores general information sources to increase familiarity with the topic (L)
      • Knows that there are both general and subject-specific sources that can provide background information on a topic.
      • Recognizes the difference between general and subject-specific information sources.
      • Knows when it is appropriate to use a general and subject-specific information source (e.g., to provide an overview, to give ideas on terminology).

1.1.d. Defines or modifies the information need to achieve a manageable focus (L/CI)

  • Understands that the initial question might be too broad or narrow.
  • Narrows a broad topic and broadens a narrow one by modifying the scope or direction of the question.
  • Understands that the desired end product will play a role in focusing the question.
  • Understands that the search for background information will help provide an initial understanding of the topic that begins the process of focusing.
  • Knows that the course instructor and librarians can assist in finding a manageable focus for the topic.

The Opportunity to Partner

The partnership of nursing faculty and librarians to address the development of information literacy competencies offers the opportunity to maximize resources and expertise to achieve the greatest outcome. Collaboration exists on many campuses already. What may be needed is to begin the discussion of shared interests with information literacy and new ways to work together to address the objectives. This is bound to be rewarding for all.


Barbara F. Schloman, PhD, AHIP
Director, Library Information Services
Libraries & Media Services
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242
Email Address:

Disclaimer: Mention of a Web site does not imply endorsement by the author, OJIN, or NursingWorld.


American Association of School Librarians. (1998). Information power: Building partnerships for learning. Chicago: American Library Association.

American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. (1989). Final report. Chicago: American Library Association.

American Nurses Association Expert Panel. (2001). Scope of practice of nursing informatics and the standards of practice and professional performance for the informatics nurse specialist (Draft). Retrieved January 26, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Retrieved January 18, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Association of College and Research Libraries Instruction Section. (2000). Objectives for information literacy instruction by academic librarians. Retrieved January 18, 2001 from the World Wide Web:

Behrens, S.J. (1994). A conceptual analysis and historical overview of information literacy. College & Research Libraries, 55, 309-322.

Breivik, P.S. (1991). Information literacy. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 79, 226-229.

Breivik, P.S. & Gee, E.G. (1989). Information literacy: Revolution in the library. New York: Macmillan.

Cheek, J. & Doskatsch, I. (1998). Information literacy: A resource for nurses as lifelong learners. Nurse Education Today, 18, 243-250.

Fox, L.M., Richter, J.M., & White, N. (1989). Pathways to information literacy. Journal of Nursing Education, 28, 422-425.

Fox, L.M., Richter, J.M., & White, N.E. (1996). A multidimensional evaluation of a nursing information-literacy program. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 84, 182-190.

Hodson-Carlton, K. & Dorner, J.L. (1999). An electronic approach to evaluating healthcare Web resources. Nurse Educator, 24(5), 21-26.

Literate. (1989). In The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed., Vol. 8, p.1028). New York: Oxford University Press.

Pravikoff, D. (2000). On the information highway, or sitting on the curb? Journal of Nursing Education, 39, 99-100.

Verhey, M.P. (1999). Information literacy in an undergraduate nursing curriculum: Development, implementation, and evaluation. Journal of Nursing Education, 38, 252-259.

Weaver, S.M. (1993). Information literacy: Educating for life-long learning. Nurse Educator, 18(4), 30-32.

Citation: Schloman, B. (March, 2001). Information Resources: "Information Literacy: The Benefits of Partnership." Online Journal of Issues in Nursing