Information Literacy Instruction: A History in Context

By Donna L. Gilton


Just as the development of libraries and the information industry are tied to historical, social, and economic developments in society, so is the history of teaching people about information. This essay will show how general social developments, particularly in the United States lead to corresponding developments in education, library services, the information industry, and both the bibliographic instruction and the information literacy instruction movements, especially in academic libraries and school library media centers.

Three Waves of Western History

Western history can be divided into three periods, the agricultural, pre-industrial, and pre-modern period of the first wave; the industrial and modern period of the second wave, and the current information-based, post-industrial, post-modern period of the third wave. These periods are described in more detail by Daniel Bell in The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society (1) and by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave. (2)

Dating these three periods can be a real challenge. These paradigm shifts took place, and are still taking place in different countries at different times. In addition, periods of transition from one type of society to another can be quite long, even within particular countries. Each period would have major implications for the organization and work of society, education, the development of libraries and other information services, and movements to teach people about information.

Pre-industrial societies existed everywhere until roughly 1760. Arnold Toynebee coined the term “Industrial Revolution” to describe economic developments in England in the period 1760-1840. The second wave, modern, industrial society was very slow in coming. The first factories appeared in England in the mid-1700s and in New England a generation later. However, this author believes that the United States did not seriously industrialize until after the Civil War (1861-1865) and that it did not emerge as a fully industrialized country until after World War I (1914-1918).

Later, seeds of the information-based, post-industrial and post-modern society would be planted in western countries in the mid-twentieth century, and especially after World War II (1941-1945). However, the first major signs of another paradign shift in the U.S. would not really fully appear until the early 1980s.

From the First Wave to the Second: 1865-1945

First wave societies were based on agriculture, fishing, hunting, gathering, and other activities close to nature. People worked at home or close to home and many families passed on their trade to the next generation. Clothes were made from scratch with rough measurements used “to fit” them to each person. Formal education was rare and higher education was for the elite, only. The average U.S. citizen in the nineteenth century would do well to have eight years of school, often at home, at somebody else’s house, or in a one-room schoolhouse. Children also went straight from childhood to adulthood, almost overnight. The closest thing to adolescence may have been secondary schools and colleges for the elite and apprenticeships for everybody else. Literacy would not become a general social concern until the nineteenth century.

Libraries were rarer than schools and were also for the elite, for the most part. Collections of books and manuscripts could be found at monasteries, universities, and private homes of the affluent. Most librarians at that time were monks, professors, teachers, and other interested people who would maintain collections, either in addition to other duties, or as an avocation. The closest thing to public libraries were subscription libraries organized in England, in other English-speaking countries, and in the U.S. (mostly on the eastern seaboard). People had to subscribe and pay, in order to use these libraries. There is some evidence that some information instruction activities occurred in German universities in the 1700s, (3) but this type of activity would have been extremely rare, at that time for all of the reasons described above.

A few factories existed in the United States throughout the nineteenth century, but the U.S. industrialized between the Civil War and World War I (1865-1920). Business owners built more and more factories and farmers left the country for the city in search of more lucrative employment. The nature of work changed. Instead of staying home, following nature, and working from “sun up to sun down” or from “can see to can’t see”, people now left home to go to work elsewhere and they worked around the clock, at first. It was because of the sacrificial activities of labor unions that laws were eventually passed for the eight-hour work day.

Factories and automobiles affected everything else in society. Instead of a person crafting clothes, shoes, or carriages at home, now he or she worked on an assembly line at a factory. The industrial worker would only do 1-2 things to make each product. This accelerated the pace of labor and made work more efficient, but working people lost the skill and pride of making entire products, themselves.

The same thing happened with schools. Instead of children going to one-room schoolhouses, where they may have the same teacher for eight years, and be in a class with children of all ages, children and increasingly teenagers now went to consolidated schools that were also organized on an assembly-line basis.

Automobiles, roads, and highways affected society almost as much as factories. They would totally change the landscape and social conditions, especially in the U.S. After World War II, there would be a rise of suburbs and shopping malls and a decline of cities and downtowns. A car would be a necessity to get around in these new suburbs. Roads, streets, and highways were built to accommodate these cars, and many urban neighborhoods were cut up, strangled, and otherwise destroyed in the process.

Toffler (4) describes six very important characteristics of second-wave, industrial societies – standardization, specialization, sychronization, concentration, maximization, and centralization. All of these trends would affect twentieth century library development in the United States. This essay will concentrate particularly on the issues of standardization and centralization. The rise of the mass society and the creation of the mass media would also be important.

Many things, from clothing and shoe sizes to automobiles and houses were standardized. These things looked alike, with standard sizes to fit people with different needs. The move to standardization would affect the development, both of schools and of libraries with standardized curricula for schools and standardized collections for libraries. For most of the twentieth century, all Americans tended to read the same mass-media magazines, watch the same movies, listen to the same national radio shows, and later watch the same few television networks. The public library was also the information source for most people for most of this period.

All of these trends resulted in major growth and changes in education and to the rise of modern U.S. twentieth century libraries. Education for all (or at least most) was extended from the elementary or grammar school to high schools, and then college. People needed more education for “the good life”, or even eventually a decent one. High school graduation was the norm by the mid-twentieth century, and college attendance and graduation became more of a norm in the late twentieth century. This lead to the development of childhood, and then adolescence as distinct social periods for young people, with many effects on society.

There were major changes in U.S. colleges and universities in the late nineteenth century. Until the Civil War, most U.S. colleges were small, private colleges for the white, affluent, male elite based on the English system that emphasized the memorization and recitation of the liberal arts and classes – grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music, astronomy, and classical languages. In the 1850s, colleges started to add classes in science, mathematics, and modern languages (5). As stated by Hardesty and Tucker (6) “Typically the college president provided the capstone of the curriculum…through instruction in mental or moral philosophy.” The curriculum was fixed and general (7).

In the early to mid-nineteenth century, women’s colleges like Mt. Holyoke (1837), Elmira (1855), and Vassar (1865) were established. A number of private colleges were also started during this time that were co-educational from the start, educating men and women together including Antioch (1852), Eureka (1855), Earlham (1859) and Swarthmore (1864). Among the first public universities to grant degrees to women during and right after the Civil War were the State University of Iowa, Iowa City (1863), Wisconsin, Madison (1863) and Michigan, Ann Arbor (1870). A couple of African American universities (Wilberforce, 1843 and Lincoln in Pennsylvania, 1854) were also started and Oberlin College was established in Ohio in 1837 as both a racially integrated and as a co-educational college from the start. Berea College in Kentucky, which served and still serves the needs of Appalachia, would try the same approach as Oberlin in 1855 before it was forced to segregate in the early twentieth century. The college reintegrated in the 1950s. A few people of color and white women attended other schools. However, until after the Civil War, most U.S. colleges were created and designed to train the white, male elite to lead society.

After the U.S. Civil War, there would be major changes in U.S. higher education on several fronts with the German influence and the establishment of state-run and supported land-grant colleges and normal schools. Private and state-run Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were also established in this period, in spite of an ongoing debate over the purpose and direction of these schools. All of these trends would mark both the secularization and the specialization of knowledge resulting in part from the German influence and the democratization of higher education, as a result of the establishment of these new schools.

German universities had a major impact on U.S. higher education in several ways. Johns Hopkins was founded on this model in 1876. It was meant to be strictly a graduate program, but undergraduate programs were added later (8). It became very influential because of its emphasis on research over teaching for faculty and it introduced small seminar classes for students where they were taught to create and present their own research in small, intimate classes. In addition, a number of U.S. professors who would establish more specialized academic disciplines in the U.S. studied at German universities, first. (9) Some of these professors also urged the creation of Ph.D programs in this country, another German influence. (10)

State universities for “the masses” were established during this time of industrialization as land-grant colleges and normal schools (11,12,13) Land-grant colleges were founded to train farmers and these colleges and universities later added business, engineering, liberal arts, and other programs. Research, teaching, and service, including community outreach have always been important purposes of these institutions. Some land-grant colleges would become the “flagship” for state – supported colleges in their states.
Normal schools and teachers’ colleges were established to train public school teachers. A number of them would later evolve into general regional state colleges and universities.

While the U.S. was industrializing at a rapid pace between the Civil War and World War I, and extending secondary and college education to the masses in the form of high schools, land grant colleges, and normal schools, modern U.S. libraries also rapidly developed. In 1876 alone, the American Library Association (ALA) was created by Melvil Dewey, Justin Winsor, and William Frederick Poole, Library Journal was first published (14), and Samuel Green’s pivotal article on reference services was published in one of the first issues of this journal. (15) In addition, Dewey also published his Dewey Decimal Classification, that year. (16)

While the first public libraries supported by taxes and free to the public would start in Boston and New Hampshire in the mid-nineteenth century, more public libraries would be created during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, first in the northeast and midwest, and later in the south and west. Public libraries also created both reference services and children’s services during this time. As this was happening, librarians were first trained locally as apprentices (17). Dewey started the first library school at Columbia U. in 1887. (18)

As the modern industrialized period was a mass society built upon standards, schools, universities, and libraries all became very bureaucratic institutions. Libraries, in particular were centralized and hierarchical. They trained and hired professional librarians to provide new reference services from a centralized desk. As the main source of information for a mass society, libraries had standardized collections as a result of the development of Wilson catalogs and several other lists and review media. They had standard classification with the use of the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress Classification Systems, and standard cataloging with the creation and use of cataloging rules.

Instruction in Academic Libraries Before 1960

However, instruction in the use of information was slow to develop until the late twentieth century. A number of universities offered courses on library use in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These courses combined the history of books and libraries with basic library research strategies and the critical evaluation of materials. Courses were taught by Justin Winsor at Harvard, Otis Hall Robinson at the University of Rochester, Raymond C. Davis at the University of Michigan, Azariah Smith Root at Oberlin College and Case Western Reserve University, H.L. Koopman at Brown University, George T. Little at Bowdoin College and Joseph Schneider at Georgetown and Catholic Universities. (19,20,21,22)

However, in the early twentieth century, the quantity and quality of these courses declined. Full courses on evaluating library materials changed to more shallow instruction on library research techniques. By the 1920s, any kind of library instruction was rare. (23, 24)

This would remain the case until the 1960s and beyond. There would be developments in the years between 1920-1960 that would be important to both the history and the future of teaching about information, but these developments had little effect on most libraries, at that time. Most of this period is regarded as a relatively stagnant one for teaching in higher education. Universities emphasized research and graduate education at the expense of teaching and undergraduate education. In spite of this, honor programs were created during this time and John Dewey and Robert Hutchins proposed major changes in education. Four of the most important developments related to library instruction during this period were the bibliographic instruction program carried out by B. Lamar Johnson at Stephens College, the publication of Louis Shores’ article about “library colleges”, the publication of Teaching With Books by Harvie Branscomb, and two early studies of student knowledge and use of library resources. (25,26,27)

B. Lamar Johnson (28) organized an instruction program at Stephens College, a small Missouri women’s college in the years 1931-1950. He prefigured the bibliographic instruction movement of the 1970s and 1980s by offering orientations, instruction in the use of basic reference tools, point-of-use instruction, individualized instruction, course-related instruction, and full courses.

Louis Shores’ “library college” idea did not begin or end with him. He believed that libraries should be the center of colleges, that students should be educated by doing independent studies in libraries, and that the professors should be “librarian-teachers”. Some of these ideas go all the way back to Dewey and Winsor, and they would also directly influence people and programs in the 1960s. In some ways, many of these ideas have also been incorporated into the idea of information literacy, except here, information, not institutional libraries, is the center. But Shores’ ideas in his 1935 publication “The Library Arts College, A Possibility in 1954?” (29) were the most influential. Harvey Branscomb’s 1940 book Teaching With Books (30) had ideas that were very similar to Shores’ but he had a slightly different approach to the roles of teachers and librarians. Two important early studies of student knowledge and use of the library were done by Peyton Hurt and by C.M. Loutt and James R. Patrick in the 1930s. Hurt’s (31) study was from the field of library science while Loutt and Patrick’s (32) work was an early study in applied psychology.

The Bibliographic Instruction (BI) Movement in Academic Libraries: 1960-1989

Most of the 1960s would not be much livelier in the development of instructional services for college students than the decades preceding it. However, there were two programs influenced by Shores’ “library college” concept, that would be major catalysts to the development of a full-scale bibliographic instruction movement in academic libraries in the 1970s. One was the unsuccessful Monteith Experiment, lead at Wayne State University by Patricia Knapp in 1960-1962. This was the most important attempt up to that time to integrate bibliographic instruction into a college curriculum. The program lasted a short time because of resistance from students and faculty, but Evan Farber was inspired to try something similar at Earlham College, a small Quaker college in Indiana that is managed by administration, faculty, and student consensus. The program proved so successful there that Farber made a presentation at the American Library Association in 1969, that helped to spark a full-scale national movement for bibliographic instruction (BI). (33,34,35,36)

This author believes and firmly states that the idea of bibliographic instruction caught fire in 1969 because of all of the events of the 1960s, and because there was a major generational shift in the American Library Association (ALA), at that time. The social upheavals and other events of the 1960s would have many effects on libraries. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the war in Viet Nam, U.S. government funding and programs for a War Against Poverty, and later feminist and other ethnic movements of the 1960s and early 1970s affected different types of libraries in different ways. It was a golden age for school libraries to build collections, and to start libraries in poor school systems that never had them before. Public libraries created a variety of programming, outreach, and other new services to reach people who had not been traditional patrons. And the idea to build a national movement to encourage instruction in library and information use in academic libraries finally took root – and took off!

Student restlessness on campus was a factor. Students leading protests on campus (half of whom were of color) demanded a bigger role in campus governance, more relevance in their courses, and ethnic studies and gender studies courses and programs relevant to them. Colleges and universities had democratized for a second time, right after World War II, as veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill. Colleges became even more diverse in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result, both of Martin Luther King’s assassination and of protests, especially by students of color. These students demanded the recruitment of more students, as well as the recruitment of faculty of color, whose presence on most white campuses had been very rare, until then. Colleges were also recruiting older continuing education students and other nontraditional students. All of these students and their more traditional counterparts were making heavier use of libraries. All of these factors could and eventually did lead to some creative possibilities in developing instructional programs on information use. Bibliographic instruction, and later information literacy would be a way of answering students’ call for “relevance”. It also helped faculty and students in area studies, ethnic studies, gender studies, and other interdisciplinary “new disciplines” to weave together into a coherent whole many academic and intellectual strands and threads. Librarian involved in BI and information literacy would later develop a variety of instructional techniques for distance, adult, and other nontraditional students.

Not only was there a major generational shift at colleges, universities, and elsewhere, but there was also a major one at ALA at that time. Young people entering the library field in the late 1960s and early 1970s were less conservative than their elders and not content with the status quo. While some of these librarians were nationally involved in promoting library and bibliographic instruction through ALA, some of their peers and counterparts were organizing the Social Responsibilities Round Table, the Black Caucus of ALA (BCALA), and REFORMA: National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos at the same conferences and at the same time! These were some revolutionary times!

The BI movement of the 1970s was a “bottom-up” grass-roots movement lead by young and new librarians with little or no power in their own institutions. Hardesty and Tucker (37) also mention young faculty with Ph.Ds unable to get teaching positions or to get tenure during the difficult early 1970s. A number of them also became librarians, with strong backgrounds in their original fields, who really wanted to teach. In any case, young librarians trying to start instructional programs in information use had to convince their often skeptical bosses and administrators, first. This would prove to be an “up-hill battle”. Joining Farber as pioneers in this field were librarians like Hannelore Rader, Carla Stoffle, Sharon Hogan, and Miriam Drake. Another factor sparking this movement, in addition to democratization, curricular changes, and generational issues, was the increasing complexity of libraries because of technology and automation. This would definitely help to spark the birth of the BI movement, but it played a more defining role in the transition that libraries later made from BI to information literacy. All of that will be further described below.

The most important events in the 1970s were the formation of the Library Orientation Exchange (LOEX)’s collections and conferences, and the establishment of both the Instruction Section (IS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and of the Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) within ALA. There were many local, regional, and national workshops, conferences, papers, articles, and books. An important early title was Educating the Library User (38) by John Lubans. (39,40)
Most instruction in academic libraries at this time consisted of tours and orientations. When it was discovered that this was not enough to really teach students how to use libraries, instructors in this field started to design more detailed instruction. At first, more formal instruction consisted of diluted versions of the reference classes that librarians themselves took in library school. Librarians would talk to students about one source after another. In the 1980s, the instruction would take more of a pathfinder approach with an emphasis on conceptual frameworks and research strategies. More recently, academic librarians have been using concept mapping, paper trails, and other approaches to help students plan, conduct, evaluate, and use their own research.

The movement matured in the 1980s when instruction librarians were concerned not only with conceptual frameworks and research strategies, but with learning theories, as well. They used all of these approaches to improve their instruction. The periodical Research Strategies was also started in 1983. The librarians that had started this movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s were now moving into middle age, management, and more influential positions at their libraries and in the professional associations. Being able to teach about information became an important qualification for reference librarians entering the profession or changing jobs.

Components of traditional BI in academic libraries included library tours and orientations, formal instruction in the form of course-related instruction, course-integrated instruction, and full courses; informal instruction for interested individuals or groups, point of use instructions, the creation of bibliographies, tracer bullets, and other guides, as well as the use of public relations to promote this.

However, traditional bibliographic instruction was most successful in promoting immediate and specific information use in local libraries. The emphasis of much of this instruction was on how to find information. This movement matured in the 1980s and created a new specialized journal and other books, but the biggest event of the decade was the gradual growth and development of a distinct information literacy movement, which would absorh bibliographic instruction in the 1990s. The 1980s would turn out to be a very transitional decade.

From the Second Wave to the Third: 1945-1981 and Beyond

Just as the movement from a pre-modern, agricultural, first wave society to a modern industrial society lead to the birth of modern U.S. twentieth century libraries, and just as the social ferment of the 1960s lead to the establishment of the bibliographic instruction movement, another major paradigm shift and another generational shift would lead to the information literacy movement. Between 1945-1981, the U.S.A. was gradually changing from a modern industrial society to a post-modern information-based one.

Computers were doing for the country and to the country what automobiles and highways had earlier done. While automobiles redrew our physical landscape, affecting where people lived, worked, shopped, etc. computers did the same thing to us, mentally. Traditional manufacturing industries, represented by factories were in decline and a new information industry that used computers as a driving force emerged. Time and space collasped. To refer to a famous New Yorker cartoon, not only did it not matter that a dog could get online, but it also did not matter where the dog was or when he was there! Computer users could now send and receive messages from anywhere (with connections) to anywhere (with connections) and do it twenty-four hours a day. The implications of this for education, library services, and teaching about information have been staggering, and sometimes, shattering. Everything about these fields is now being questioned.

The mass society is now in decline. People watch very specialized television stations and read specialized periodicals. They can design web portals designed exclusively for themselves, if they wish. Standards are still important, but there is no longer agreement as to which standards are the most important. Everything is much more fluid. The standardization, centralization, and hierarchy of modern, industrial, second wave society is giving way to the diversity, decentralization, and the flattening of hierarchies and the development of managerial teams in the post-modern, information-based, third wave society.

Education at all levels has been thoroughly decentralized. The big, traditional, modern campus inhabited by full-time students, aged 18-22 has given way to universities and colleges consisting of invisible students of all ages who live all over the place and may never appear on campus. With computer-assisted distance education, students in a given program can literally take courses from around the world, and they often do! Decentralization on the K-12 level is seen in the charter school and home schooling movements.

Libraries have been automating and using technology for decades, but many things have suddenly changed. At first, libraries would use a new technology, like the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC)’s cataloging system to do old, traditional jobs quicker and better. Then they would use this new technology to do new tasks. In the case of OCLC, they used the databases to do Interlibrary Loan and to answer reference questions. But now, new technologies, like the Internet are completely redesigning the nature and purpose of work. This represents a major paradigm shift comparable to the industrialization in the U.S. one hundred years ago! Libraries are also now competing with an aggressive information industry and their survival is no longer assured. Librarians must figure out where they fit in the near and far future and then be proactive. Everything about modern twentieth century librarianship is being questioned at this time.

The shift from printed information to electronic information has changed collection development policies and methods, reference services, and modes of instruction. In the case of collection development, a boasting twentieth century librarian may have said to a colleague from another library, “My collection is bigger than yours!” Now she would be more likely to say, “My library is more connected than yours!” In addition, hierarchies have been flattened in many libraries, with librarians now operating in teams. There is also a blurring of distinction between paraprofessionals and professionals and librarians and technical people.

This has lead to many changes in reference services. Professionals are asking whether reference services are still needed and if so, in what form(s)? In some libraries, the central “reference” or “information” desk is being replaced with tiered services, appointments, and other experiments. Information is much more fluid, ever changing, and available in many forms.

Both reference and instructional services are moving into the “24/7” world of the Internet. Changes in library users may be the biggest change of all. Much reference work is now done online in the form of virtual and other services, as well as in person and by telephone, and this has raised users’ expectations. A new generation of users who have always known computers (and some of their elders) sometime see print as old fashioned and inaccurate. Users need to be able not only to find information, but to define their needs ahead of time, and evaluate and properly use their research results afterwards. As a result, there has also been a shift in instruction from the onsite, book-based instruction of traditional BI to more varied settings, with an emphasis on electronic information and indirect instruction.

From Bibliographic Instruction to Information Literacy: 1980 –

In some ways, information literacy continues and even completes library or bibliographic instruction. In other ways, it represents a different direction. Both movements exist to teach people how to find information. Practitioners in both movements are concerned with core competencies of information users, learning theories, conceptual frameworks, active learning, and critical thinking. Practitioners of both approaches use a variety of direct and indirect teaching methods. A number of librarians have personally made the shift from one movement to another.

In some ways, information literacy completes and fulfills the potential and work of bibliographic instruction. It has more of a theoretical base, it promotes life-long learning, it deals with information wherever it is, and it emphasizes determining information needs and evaluating and using information as well as finding it. While traditional BI was somewhat book and library-based, information literacy is tied more to electronic information and computers.

There are some real differences in the way that these movements were organized. If the 1960s and early 1970s represent the revolution, in some ways the 1980s and early 1990s represent the counter revolution. The young people who emerged in the 1980s were more conservative than their elders and the times were also more conservative. In many ways, information literacy is tied in with and promotes aspects of the information industry, a very conservative development. But in the desire to help people define, find, evaluate, and use information, some of the liberal spirit of the old BI movement still lives!
Unlike the BI movement of the 1960s and 1970s, information literacy is not a “bottom up” grass-roots movement lead by young librarians in their twenties and thirties with relatively little power. It is a “top down” movement lead by education, library, and other leaders from a wide range and variety of organizations, including accrediting agencies and state legislatures. Many of the librarians involved in information literacy either represent the second or third generation of instructors, or they were there from the beginning of the BI movement, but are now at or near the end of their careers, often as administrators. All of this may give this movement more power and protection than the old BI movement ever had. One more difference between the two movements – BI is a late, modern movement to teach people about information, while information literacy is an early post-modern movement which fulfills the same purpose. Information literacy is a more complicated movement for more complicated realities.

Several events lead to the foundation of information literacy instruction. A Nation At Risk was published in 1983. This work identified the management of information in electronic and digital forms as an important skill in a “learning society” without mentioning libraries or information resources in K-12 education.

Several researchers from the school media field published important research on this topic important to all. Jacqueline Mancall, Shirley Aaron, and Sue A. Walker, members of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) wrote a concept paper “Educating Students to Think” (41) that defined information skills. In 1987, Carol Kuhlthau (42) published Information Skills For an Information Society: A Review of Research.

That same year, Libraries and the Search For Academic Excellence (43) was also published. This report was co-sponsored by Columbia University and the University of Colorado. It stressed the importance of information literacy and laid the foundation for this in higher education. In addition, the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy was established at the same time.

This precipitated the formation of the National Forum on Information Literacy in 1990, which includes 75 professional associations, including ACRL, the National Education Association (NEA), American Newspaper Publishers Association, etc. This organization examines the role of information in libraries; integrates information literacy into their programs; supports initiates, and monitors information literacy programs in the U.S. and abroad; encourages the creation and adoption of information literacy guidelines; and works with teacher education programs to make sure new teachers incorporate information literacy into their teaching.

Another organization that has emerged as a result of the information literacy movement has been the Institute of Information Literacy, a part of ACRL. This was created by Cerise Oberman who noted articles on the subject by non-librarians and also noted that library science faculty and academic librarians were reluctant to embrace it as a core competency. Twice a year, the Institute offers an immersion program for academic librarians on how to teach about information. This training includes history, basic concepts, the role of information literacy in higher education, pedagogical techniques, evaluation and assessment, trends and projects in higher education, politics of the field, support structures, and practice teaching. The Immersion program is held in different locations and instructs new librarians as well as librarians in mid-career.

The Institute also maintains a website, keeps track of best practices, and promotes the following: partnerships between librarians and others, the integration of information literacy into the college curriculum and requirements, the use of outcome assessments, and the shift of instruction and materials from print to electronic.

Teaching About Information in School Library Media Centers and Other Libraries

The use of information literacy was affirmed by the American Association of School Librarians when information literacy was embraced as an essential component of K-12 education in their 1988 publication Information Power. The organization later published the Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning which was incorporated into the 1998 edition of Information Power.

While academic libraries had existed for a long time, but expanded and grew with the turn of the twentieth century, while public libraries formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and while special libraries were formed in the early twentieth century, it took longer for school library media centers to be a true national movement, in spite of many earlier efforts. New York state was the first to pass landmark model legislation for the development of school libraries in 1892. Virginia’s first school libraries began in 1906. The National Education Association (NEA) created a Library Section in 1896 and the ALA created the School Library section in 1914. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) was founded in 1923. Hannah Logasa, a pioneer of school librarianship published The High School Library: Its Function in Education in 1928. Two sets of standards were also published in the first half of the twentieth century, Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Sizes from the NEA and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1920 and School Libraries for Today and Tomorrow: Functions and Standards from ALA in 1945. In spite of all of these efforts, during this time, secondary schools were served by public libraries and elementary schools had classroom collections, which would later be core collections when school libraries were formed. School libraries were gradually being organized in secondary schools (44)

It was not until after World War II, and especially after the Sputnik incident in the 1950s that school libraries really came into their own as a national movement. In the 1960s new standards, federal funding, and the Knapp School Libraries Project promoted the development of school library collections. (45)

The Standards for School Library Programs were published by the American Association of School Librarians in cooperation with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in 1960. Later standards and guidelines would include Media Programs: District and School by AASL and AECT in 1979, and Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs by AASL and AECT in 1988 and 1998 (46)

The Knapp School Project (1963-1974) was instrumental to the growth and development of school libraries. ALA used funds provided by the Knapp Foundation to establish model media programs throughout the country, to fund the School Library Manpower Project which developed library job descriptions and set up six model library science programs at Arizona State, Auburn, Mankato State, Millersville State, U. of Denver, and U. of Michigan (47).

Federal funding would be especially important for school library collections, in general and especially to establish school libraries in poorer areas, where they had not existed before. The 1965 Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 was part of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Title II of this act provided funds to enable schools to buy library materials and textbooks. Later, Title IVB (1974) would dilute some of that support. (48)

Other publications since the 1960s include research reports and journals. The research reports are The School Library: A Force For Educational Excellence by Ruth Ann Davies (1969), a study by Mary Jo Lynch and Ann Carleson Weeks which correlated higher levels of library media expenditures with student achievement (1987), and a report by Keith Curry Lance, Lynda Wellborn and Christien Hamilton Pennell on The Impact of School Media Centers on Academic Acheivement (1993). Journals include School Library Journal and School Library Media Quarterly. (49)

Stripling (50) summarizes programming and instruction trends in school library media centers over the decades. In the early to mid-1950s, the emphasis was on building solid centralized collections and on using the collection to support the curriculum. School librarians were influenced by their public library counterparts in the 1960s and did a lot of programming in their libraries. In addition, the 1960 standards urged librarians to use library materials in relation to classroom materials.

The 1969 standards placed greater emphasis on curricular and instruction planning with teachers. It was at this time that school libraries were changed to school media centers with the incorporation of media. Standards from the 1970s and early 1980s urged librarians to take a more active instructional role by initiating and participating in curriculum development.

All of these trends lead to the initial publication of Information Power in 1988. By the 1980s, school library media specialists were more influenced by Ted Sizer’s Effective Schools movement and other educational reforms, than they were by developments in other types of libraries.

Stripling mentions three stages in the evolution of school library programs, the source approach or the location and use of sources, the pathfinder or research strategy approach, and more recently, the process approach where the learner constructs his own meaning after examining a variety of evidence. This parallels many of the instructional trends in academic libraries.

There is much more research that should be done, specifically on the history of information instruction in school library media centers. The history of instruction in public libraries is not only unwritten, but unacknowledged. Reference desk interactions, reader’s advisory services, programming, and other activities are not viewed as instruction, even though all of these activities relate to it. Public librarians have always lead tours, conducted some orientations, and design handouts, point of use instruction and signage, but these more indirect methods are not always viewed as part of instruction. In addition, before World War II (and for a long time afterwards in too many places), public libraries served as de facto school libraries for school systems lacking their own libraries. This author is convinced that some instruction went on, as teachers requested it. There is a real need to look at the history of this. Special libraries have always stressed the provision of information over instruction, but their contributions to this field in the form of tracer bullets and the contributions of medical librarians should also be further investigated.


1. Daniel Bell. The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. Basic Books, 1999.

2. Alvin Toffler. The Third Wave. NY: Bantam, 1981.

3. G. Ewert. “The Beginnings of Instruction in Library Use: Selected German Examples From the 17th to 19th Centuries.” Research Strategies 4 (Fall, ) pp. 177-184.

4. Toffler. Op.Cit. pp. 46-40.

5. Mary F. Saloney. “The History of Bibliographic Instruction: Changing Trends From Books to the Electronic World.” The Reference Librarian. No. 51/52 1995 p. 33

6. Larry Hardesty and John Mark Tucker. “An Uncertain Crusade: The History of Library Use Instruction in a Changing Educational Environment.” In Academic Librarianship: Past, Present, and Future. Edited by John Richardson, Jr. and Jinnie Y. Davis. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1989 p. 98.

7. Frances L. Hopkins. “A Century of Bibliographic Instruction: The Historical Claim to Professional and Academic Legitimacy.” College and Research Libraries. May, 1982 p. 193

8. Ibid.

9. Hardesty and Tucker. Op. Cit. P. 98

10. Ibid.

11. Saloney. Op. Cit. P. 33

12. Hopkins. Op. Cit. P. 193.

13. Hardesty and Tucker. Op. Cit. Pp. 98

14. Internet School Library Media Center. School Libraries – History.

15. Green, Samuel Swett. “Personal Relations Between Librarians and Readers.” Library Journal v. 1 October, 1976 pp. 74-81

16. Internet School Library Media Center. Op. Cit.

17. James V. Carmichael, Jr. “Innovation in Library Education: Historical X-Files on Technology, People, and Change.” North Carolina Libraries. v. 56 no. 1 Spring, 1998 pp. 28-35.

18. Internet School Library Media Center. Op. Cit.

19. Saloney. Op. Cit. Pp. 33-36.

20. Hardesty and Tucker. Op. Cit. Pp. 99-101.

21. Hopkins. Op. Cit. Pp. 193-194.

22. Lorenzin, Michael. A Brief History of Library Instruction in the United States of America.

23. Hopkins. Op. Cit. P. 194.

24. Hardesty and Tucker. Op. Cit. pp. 100-102.

25. Saloney. Op. Cit. Pp. 36-39.

26. Hopkins. Op. Cit. P. 194.

27. Lorenzin. Op. Cit. Pp. 4-5 ?

28. B. Lamar Johnson. Vitalising the College Library. Chicago: ALA, 1939.

29. Louis Shores. “The Library Arts College, A Possibility in 1954?. School and Society. V. 41 (January 26, 1935) pp. 110-114.

30. Harvey Branscomb. Teaching With Books: A Study of College Libraries. Chicago: ALA, 1940.

31. Peyton Hurt. “The Need For College and University Instruction in the Use of the Library.” Library Quarterly v. 4 (July, 1934) pp. 436-438.

32. C.M. Loutit and James R. Patrick. “Study of Student Knowledge in the Use of the Library.” Journal of Applied Psychology. V. 16 (Oct. 1932) pp. 475-484

33. Saloney. Op. Cit. Pp. 40-42.

34. Hopkins. Op. Cit. Pp. 195-196.

35. Lorenzin. Op. Cit. Pp. 5-6

36. Hardesty and Tucker. Op. Cit. Pp. 104-105.

37. Ibid.

38. John Lubans. Educating the Library User. NY: Bowker, 1974.

39. Saloney. Op.Cit. pp. 42-43.

40. Hardesty and Tucker. Op.Cit. pp. 164-165.

41. Jacqueline Mancall, Shirley Aaron, and Sue A. Walker. “Educating Students to Think.” School Library Media Quarterly. V. 15 no. 1 (Fall, 1986)

42. Carol Kuhlthau. Information Skills For an Information Society: A Review of Research. ERIC, 1987.

43. Patricia Senn Breivik and Robert Wedgeworth (eds.) Libraries and the Search For Academic Excellence. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1988.

44. Internet School Library Media Center. Op. Cit. Pp. 2-3?

45. Ibid. pp. 3-4?

46. Ibid. pp. 4-6?

47. Ibid. p. 4 ?

48. Ibid. pp. 4-5

49. Ibid. pp. 5-6

50. Barbara Stripling. “Quality in School Library Media Programs: Focus on Learning.” Library Trends. V. 44 no. 3 Winter, 1996 pp. 631-56.


More Sources on the History of Information Literacy


1. Behrens, Shirley J. "A Conceptual Analysis and Historical Overview of Information Literacy." College and Research Libraries. July, 1994 pp. 309-322.

2. Grassian, Esther and Joan R. Kaplowitz. Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice. NY: Neal-Schuman, 2001 pp. 13-24.

3. Lorenzen, Michael. Library Instruction Outside of North America.

4. Rader, Hannelore B. "User Education and Information Literacy For the Next Decade: An International Perspective." Reference Services Review. Summer, 1996. pp. 71-75.

5. Spitzer, Kathleen L., Michael B. Eisenberg, and Carrie A. Lowe. Information Literacy: Essential Skills For the Information Age. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, 1998. ED 427780


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