Credo Reference and the School Library Journal recently collaborated to research the biggest obstacles to information literacy instruction in schools. They surveyed school librarians across North America, and whilst their research focused on this specific region, the results are important for librarians worldwide.

In fact, through our conversations with librarians around the world, our recent trip to Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore, and many of the topics discussed at the JCS 2018 Conference, we’ve heard and continue to hear the issues this survey highlights echoed by librarians no matter where they are based.

Here we report on the research results, highlighting the challenges of teaching information literacy and the ways in which librarians are meeting them…

The challenges of information literacy instruction

According to the survey one of the major factors affecting the teaching of information literacy and integrating these skills into the classroom is a lack of collaboration with other teaching staff.  Only 20% of librarians reported daily/weekly collaboration with teachers on information literacy instruction. The report details several reasons for this:

Lack of time

69% of librarians surveyed reported a lack of time as their biggest challenge to offering information literacy support. Many believed this was due to budget cuts, with some institutions relying on librarians to take on additional roles.

Lack of support from administrators 

Whilst 90% of librarians surveyed believe information literacy to be an ‘extremely important’ life skill, 31% of them work in schools where they believe administrators do not place a high priority on information literacy skills.

Lack of support from teachers

59% of librarians report a lack of support from teachers, some believe this is due to teachers’ busy schedules, a challenge librarians are very familiar with, but it can also be traced to the dangerous myth of digital natives. With one school librarian reporting “teachers forget that learning how to do research is not an innate skill and is not the same as being technically savvy.”

Lack of resources

29% of librarians said that a lack of resources impedes information literacy instruction, citing limited budgets as the reason for this.

How this impacts students

The absence of collaboration has serious consequences for students. They are left without basic information literacy skills, unable to recognise the authority and trustworthiness of information when sourcing material for research.

This not only impedes their studies at school, but also affects students’ transition into higher education. HE librarian, Susan Matter, who took part in the survey, estimated that two-thirds of students transitioning into HE “don’t know what a database is,” nor are they familiar with peer reviewed articles or academic ebooks.

This was confirmed by JCS 2018 keynote speaker Hazel Rothera, Academic Development Team Leader at Oxford Brookes University – view her presentation here. And by Harriet Wilton, recent Oxford University graduate in her recent blog post ‘Digital literacy: the experience of our new recruit’.

How librarians meet the challenges of collaboration to ensure information literacy instruction is embedded into the curriculum

Collaboration is a vital part of implementing the successful teaching of information literacy, but it can be “an uphill struggle to convince administrators of the role librarians can play in effectively teaching students how to discern fact from fiction”. These are some of the successful strategies showcased in the whitepaper:

Collaboration beforehand

One of the things that we learned works best is collaboration beforehand,” by creating “lesson plans using video or Google Slides” it means that teachers do not need to “re-create the wheel” every term.

Essential library vocabulary

One librarian started an “essential library vocabulary” program with staff, ensuring all departments use the same terminology. This results in students hearing the same language across all of their subjects helping them to understand research terminology in context and supporting the librarian in embedding information literacy skills into the classroom.

Mandated collaborative times

Some schools are running sessions to give librarians the chance to directly present to teachers and administration and explain the value of the library and librarian. One librarian who’d recently spoken in front of the school board said: “I talked about how we work with teachers in the classroom, how we help with technology and collection development, that we don’t just sit around and check out books.” A demonstration on the differences between real and fake news websites was also positively received.

Professional development days

One librarian spoke of the success of her school’s professional development days. One day a year all staff attend an event where teachers and librarians present on projects they’ve collaborated on. It has created a better understanding between teachers and librarians.

Librarians to lead the way

The report summarises that one of the most important ways of meeting the challenges of teaching information literacy instruction is for librarians to take the lead. Whilst it can be a struggle to get teachers and administrators on board, through developing their communication skills, speaking to Heads of Department and senior management, and by highlighting students’ success resulting from collaboration efforts librarians will be able to advocate for both their role and new resources. Graham Gardener, Librarian at Abingdon School and keynote at JCS 2018 promoted the importance of librarians developing a “marketer mindset”.

Collaboration in practice

An example of a particularly successfully partnership is that of Dr Julie Greenhough, EPQ Coordinator and Emma Wallace, Librarian at St Benedict’s School, Ealing – reported at the first JCS Conference.

Through expert keynote speakers, lightning talks and workshops JCS 2019 will highlight the importance of collaboration between librarians and teaching staff, and arm librarians with the tools to further promote “the value of library instruction particularly around information literacy” for the improvement of all students, teachers and librarians.

Book your place, view the full programme and keynote’s and lightning speaker’s abstracts.

Click here to view the full report from Credo Reference and School Library Journal: Preparing students for lifelong success, How school librarians meet the challenges of teaching information literacy