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Information-Literacy Standards for Students in STEM Disciplines

Ten years ago, a joint task force made up of representatives from ALA, ACRL, and STS-put together a set of information-literacy standards for students in the hard sciences, including engineering and technology. The standards were based on the ACRL Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education and were modified to fit the specific needs of students in the hard sciences and technology. Having a set of standards specific to these subject areas was considered crucial, as the fields of technology, science, and engineering presented particular obstacles to locating, analyzing, retrieving, and using scholarly sources. Among these challenges were the following.

  • Since a significant number of the articles in the hard sciences were published in expensive peer-reviewed journals, access to sources was sometimes restricted.
  • As the hard sciences were becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, it was necessary to consult sources in more than one subject area in order to gather all of the needed information on a particular topic.
  • Students in the hard sciences needed to apply their research not just to written papers, but to more hands-on activities, such as laboratory research.

To meet these challenges, the report’s authors came up with five broad standards, under which there were, at the time, 25 total performance-indicators, to assess students’ information-literacy skills in the hard sciences and technology. The report was considered a “living” document that would be subject to modification as needs, expectations, and resources change. Feedback from librarians, students, and administrators was, and still is, encouraged.

In light of the need for input, do you think the most recent version of the report is up-to-date, especially taking into account the trends and technologies that are currently impacting student research in the hard sciences and across all disciplines? Are there particular standards or performance indicators that you would modify, replace, or do away with completely? The full report can be accessed here. A summary is below.

Standard One: The information-literate student determines the type and amount of information needed.

  1. The student identifies a research topic or hypothesis and consults with the instructor to determine the scope of the question.
  2. The student becomes aware of the various types of sources (scholarly vs. non-scholarly, primary vs. secondary), while also recognizing that some materials in electronic format may not be freely available.
  3. The student understands how scientific and technical knowledge is produced and distributed, while also being aware that information is organized into various disciplines and sometimes falls across more than one.
  4. The student determines what information is available on the topic and consults experts to identify additional sources, while putting together a realistic timeline for obtaining the necessary information.

Standard Two: The information-literate student devises and implements an effective search strategy.

  1. The student identifies the best investigative technique (literature review, laboratory experiment, simulation, etc.) for finding information, in addition to determining what databases and other information-retrieval resources are available and how to access them.
  2. The student puts together an effective search strategy that includes keywords and Boolean operators, while using citations and references to identify additional useful sources.
  3. The student navigates various classification systems (call numbers and indexes) to locate information in print sources, while also becoming familiar with interlibrary loan services so that one can obtain additional materials, as needed. If the student is conducting an experiment or simulation, the student gathers the relevant data through surveys, interviews, and other appropriate methods.
  4. The student analyzes the quality of the information gathered and identifies any gaps, while at the same time redefining the research question and conducting additional searches, if necessary.
  5. The student uses technology (bibliographic management software, for instance) to organize the retrieved records, while also becoming familiar with different citation styles.

Standard Three: The information-literate student analyzes the gathered information and decides whether additional sources are needed or the research topic itself should be redefined.

  1. The student understands the structure of a scientific research paper and can identify the key concepts.
  2. The student determines the validity of the information in the paper by distinguishing between scientific fact and personal opinion, while considering how well the author or authors present the argument.
  3. The student integrates the most-useful themes and arguments from various papers to enhance one’s understanding of the research topic.
  4. The student compares this new knowledge to past understanding and, if necessary, reevaluates currently-held beliefs about the topic.
  5. The student verifies the accuracy of one’s analysis by discussing the conclusions with instructors, fellow students, and others conducting research in the field.
  6. The student determines whether the original search should be conducted again, with new concepts and sources included this time.
  7. The student evaluates any additional retrieved information, and the search process as a whole, so that one can conduct searches on similar topics more effectively in the future.

Standard Four: The information-literate student grasps the ethical and social issues connected to retrieving and using information, which allows one to conduct research accordingly.

  1. The student understands the legal and socio-economic issues related to information technology, including privacy, censorship, and copyright.
  2. The student obeys the laws, rules, and guidelines for gathering and using information, including the rules for plagiarism and (in the case of laboratory experiments) the use of human and animal subjects.
  3. The student gives appropriate credit to sources when writing or presenting the results of one’s research.
  4. The student takes a creative approach to presenting the research, using data-mining and visualization to draw out and display trends.
  5. The student evaluates the effectiveness of the final product of the research process, considers alternative strategies for finding and using information, and applies any needed changes to the process in the future.
  6. The student clearly conveys the results of the research to others, taking into account the audience and the technology available for presenting.

Standard Five: The information-literate student acknowledges that information technologies are constantly changing, which makes information literacy a lifelong learning process.

  1. The student stays up-to-date by reading literature in the field and applying one’s knowledge to analyzing research from different subject areas.
  2. The student recognizes the impact of emerging, web-based technologies on information production and retrieval, particularly in scholarly communications.

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