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Information Literacy: Guidance Note


Information literate people will demonstrate an awareness of how they gather, use, manage, synthesise and create information and data in an ethical manner and will have the information skills to do so effectively (SCONUL 2011).

Information literacy:

National information literacy policies have been developed in Australia and New Zealand, the USA and the UK (Bundy 2004; ACRL 2000; SCONUL 1999, 2011) and international perspectives agreed (UNESCO 2006).

In Wales, the Welsh Information Literacy Framework maps information literacy across the educational spectrum from school to lifelong learning (Welsh Information Literacy Project 2011). This work has been led by Cardiff University, funded by the Welsh Government and developed in partnership with the Credit and Qualifications Framework for Wales (CQFW).

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1.1 Defining Information Literacy

To clarify the concept for higher education, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL 2000) identifies five standards which support the development of learning outcomes for information literacy:

The information literate individual:

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

1.2 Why is information literacy vital?

Information literacy:

  • is an essential component of critical thinking and research-led learning and teaching.
  • enables us to meet the challenges arising from the proliferation of information.
  • will help us reap the benefits of new technology in our everyday working life.
  • can play a key role in promoting an understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and in deterring its practice by promoting integrity and accountability in the use and presentation of information.
  • is a key to both employability and lifelong learning in our knowledge society.

2. Strategic Alignment

This guidance note has been developed to further the central aims of the University Strategy. In particular, the Education Strategy 2011-2014 emphasises how we are preparing students “for study and employment in the digital age, with a range of Learning Literacies [including academic and professional, digital and information literacies] embedded into the curriculum in addition to the subject knowledge.” (Cardiff University, 2011, para 24).

3. Information Literacy and the Curriculum

Information literacy is important in all disciplines and at all levels of study. As can be seen in the wording of the Education Strategy above, it is best developed within the context of the academic curriculum, rather than as a separate add-on removed from the subject content. Students are more likely to recognise the relevance and importance of information literacy through such situated learning (Lave and Wenger 1991), where teaching is delivered at the point of need, affiliated with their own subject, and included in assessment (Godwin 2003; Hine et al. 2002).

The embedding of information literacy into curricula facilitates student-centred teaching methods including problem-based, inquiry-based or evidence-based learning together with opportunities for self-directed learning and reflection (ACRL 2000).

Evidence suggests that success in embedding information literacy into the curriculum depends on the establishment of collaborative working partnerships with all those involved in the learning and teaching process (see for example Mackey and Jacobson, 2010; Thornton 2007; Davies and Jackson 2005; Grafstein 2002; Hine et al. 2002).

An example of how information literacy has been embedded into a year one CLAWS module is provided in Appendix One. Views of academic staff on the success of embedding information literacy into other modules are quoted in Appendix Two.

4. Information Literacy: University Support

4.1 Information Services

Information Services (INSRV) has developed an international reputation for its support of information literacy in the University.

Subject librarians collaborate with academic colleagues in the Schools to integrate information literacy into programmes of study and tailor methods of delivery to suit the requirements of each discipline. They provide instruction embedded within courses such as hands-on workshops for large and small groups, demonstrations, lectures and tutorials.

In 2010/11, 61% of students on taught courses at Cardiff University were provided with information literacy training, fully integrated into a module or course of study. Also of note, a further 28% of students at least received database or web searching training from their subject librarians, although it was not yet sufficiently contextualised to be categorised as embedded information literacy. In addition to this training, subject librarians compile a range of electronic and print instructional resources. To find a list of the subject librarians for each School and for details of resources available, visit the INSRV Information Literacy webpages

To help staff incorporate information literacy into their teaching, INSRV has created the Information Literacy Resource Bank. This is a collection of ‘bite-size’ online activities, diagrams, cartoons, short tutorials, short movies and a podcast series, which focus on aspects of information literacy. The resources have been designed to be easily downloaded by academic staff to insert into their own online or printed teaching materials.

Additional support is provided by insrvEducation which offers training and certification to enable staff and students to make the best use of centrally provided IT facilities and software applications.

4.2 Registry and Academic Services

The Education team is able to offer support and advice to academic staff regarding learning literacies and the University’s Education Strategy, the enhancement of learning and teaching and quality processes (including the programme approval process).

5. Sources of additional information

  1. Information Services Information Literacy web pages.
  2. The Information Literacy Resource Bank. A collection of learning objects on information literacy to enhance your materials. Developed at Cardiff University.
  3. Information Literacy website. The UK’s information literacy website, co-ordinated by the CILIP Information Literacy group. It includes a list of tutorials and resources on information literacy in higher education.
  4. Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Information Literacy website.
  5. insrvEducation website. For information about the programme of IT training courses provided by Information Services.
  6. Welsh Information Literacy Project.  A national project, initiated at Cardiff University and funded by the Welsh Government. Includes a framework of information literacy progression mapped to the CQFW, and analyses of information literacy in the workplace, in schools and in digital inclusion.

6. References

ACRL. 2000. Information literacy competency standards for higher education [Online]. Chicago: ACRL. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Bundy, A. 2004. Australia and New Zealand information literacy framework: principles, standards and practice [Online]. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Cardiff University. 2011. Education Strategy 2011-12 to 2013-2014 [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 20 February 2012].
Davies, J. and Jackson, C. 2005. Information literacy in the Law curriculum: experiences from Cardiff. Law Teacher, 39(2), pp. 150-160. Available at [ Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Godwin, P. 2003. Information literacy, but at what level? In: Martin, A. and Rader, H. eds. Information and IT literacy: enabling learning in the 21st century. London: Facet, pp.88-98.

Grafstein, A. 2002. A discipline-based approach to information literacy. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28(4), pp. 197-2004.

Hine, A. et al. 2002. Embedding information literacy in a university subject through collaborative partnerships. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 2(2), pp. 102-107.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. 1991. Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mackey.T. and Jacobson, T. (eds.) 2010. Collaborative information literacy assessments : strategies for evaluating teaching and learning. London: Facet.

SCONUL. 1999. Information skills for higher education: a SCONUL position paper [Online]. London: SCONUL. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

SCONUL. 2011. The SCONUL seven pillars of information literacy core model for higher education [Online]. London: SCONUL. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Thornton, S. 2007. Information literacy and the teaching of politics. LATISS, vol. 3(1), pp. 29-45.

UNESCO. 2005. Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Welsh Information Literacy Project. 2011. Welsh Information Literacy Framework [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 1 July 2011].

Appendix One – Example of the integration of information literacy into a curriculum

Legal Foundations is a core, year one, 30 credit CLAWS module which is planned and delivered collaboratively by the module leader, Jackie Davies, the subject librarians for law and the CLAWS Computing Officer.

The aim of the module is to introduce students to the main features of the legal system in England and Wales and develop the legal skills needed to study law. The coursework element of the assessment is through an essay, accompanied by a reflective “research trail”. Information literacy provides a framework through which skills are presented in a relevant and easily applicable way to students.

Course structure

The course consists of four units: the legal system of England and Wales; legal analysis and reasoning skills; legal research skills; and legal presentation skills. The latter two incorporate information literacy and are delivered through five two-hour seminars and two lectures during the latter half of the module. These sessions build on earlier IT skills workshops and an introductory lecture and exercises which outline how legal information is structured.

The information literacy seminars are planned around a hypothetical case study on the English legal system which aims to build on the legal knowledge gained earlier in the module. The first seminar is based on Information Literacy Standards 1 and 2 (determining a need for information and accessing information) and is led by a subject librarian from the Law Library. This highly participative workshop, delivered in a computer room, builds on students’ previous experiences of finding information to explore the breadth of information needed for the case study.

In preparation for their next seminar, students read the material they have identified. The second session is back with the law tutor and introduces techniques for critically evaluating the information sources they found for relevance and quality (Information Literacy Standard 3). As a first step to Standard 4 (using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose) students are then asked to draft an oral report and a short piece of legislation using an appropriate selection of the information they have identified.

In preparation for the third seminar, students are required to plan and write a 1250 word essay accompanied by a reflective research trail. The research trail asks students to reflect upon the reliability, authority and relevance of each of the sources they used in the essay. This third seminar is based on Standard 5 (using information ethically and legally) and covers writing skills, including correct citation and avoidance of plagiarism. At the start of the seminar, students work as a group to identify the characteristics of good writing. These are compared with the criteria actually employed by the Law School. Each student then peer reviews another student’s essay anonymously and comments on it using the criteria identified earlier. Meanwhile, the tutor reviews the adequacy of the research process as demonstrated in the research trail. Each student is given the opportunity to re-draft their own essay in response to this feedback before submitting it, together with the research trail, as an assessed piece of coursework. The final research trail requires students to comment on how they have redrafted their essay in the light of peer comments and the seminar discussion on writing skills.

The final two seminars consolidate and reinforce students’ information literacy in a fresh context. The module culminates with a mooting exercise and the information literacy element is emphasised in the penultimate seminar as teams pool and discuss their research and plan their submissions.


  • Adopting a structure developed around the concept of information literacy has facilitated a skills-based approach to student learning without sacrificing substantive content and started the process whereby students are enabled to meet the QAA benchmarks for law.
  • Working together, law tutor and librarian can focus on skills of evaluation and use (Information Literacy Standards 3 and 4) to address the challenge presented to this generation of students by information which increasingly comes in unfiltered formats.
  • Peer and tutor review of essays in a workshop format has enhanced key skills of communication and literacy.
  • The introduction of a research trail in the coursework assessment has both reduced the incidence of plagiarism, whilst also making it easier to detect, and has encouraged students to reflect upon their learning.

Full details on the Legal Foundations module are available in Davies, J. and Jackson, C. 2005. Information literacy in the Law curriculum: experiences from Cardiff. Law Teacher, 39(2), pp. 150-160. Available at: [Accessed: 13 July 2010].

Appendix Two – Views of academic staff

“Being information literate is much more than simply knowing where to find a suitable book, article or website – important though that skill happens to be – rather, information literacy is a more encompassing learning concept, one that fosters the critical awareness necessary to thrive as a student, and as a citizen, in the data-drenched twenty-first century”

Dr Stephen Thornton
Lecturer in Comparative Politics
School of European Studies

“In a fast moving discipline such as the biosciences it is critical that students gain the skills to aid their acquisition of knowledge and understanding ready for their professional life. It is the skill of finding and using information effectively that forms the basis for learning, and is often this that transforms the average student into an excellent student.”

Dr Louise Woodgate
Professional Tutor
School of Biosciences

“Information literacy training forms a sound basis for and serves to promote life long learning.”
Dr Rachel Waddington
Director of Postgraduate Research Students
School of Dentistry

“The subject librarian has provided invaluable information literacy support for third year dissertation students in MUSIC. Sixty students benefited from a combination of lecture and small group guidance, tailored to the needs of particular subject areas. This fostered confidence in the students and inspired them to engage in research in the broadest sense. Without question the module was improved significantly by her specialist input.”

Dr David Beard
School of Music


Mrs Cathie Jackson
Senior Consultant: Information Literacy / Subject Librarian – Law Extension:75687

Ms Rebecca Mogg
Senior Subject Librarian – City and Regional Planning / Consultant: Information Literacy Extension:75290

Mr Nigel Morgan
Subject Librarian – Biosciences / Consultant: Information Literacy Extension:76605

The subject librarian for your School also will be pleased to discuss support for information literacy development. Contact details can be found at

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