• Information Literacy Instruction in Canadian Undergraduate Science Education 2000–2015:/L'apprentissage des compétences informationnelles dans l'enseignement des sciences au premier cycle au Canada 2000–2015:A Literature Review/revue de la littérature

This article reviews the peer-reviewed journal article literature concerning information literacy in Canadian post-secondary undergraduate science education between 2000 and 2015. It provides a picture of information literacy instruction at the start of the new millennium, before the launch of ACRL's Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education in 2015. Three recurring themes are identified: faculty–librarian collaboration, curriculum design and pedagogy, and feedback, assessment, and renewal. Associated best practices in design, delivery, and evaluation of information literacy are discussed. This review should be of value to Canadian academic librarians and faculty who are interested in information literacy instruction in the Sciences.


Cet article passe en revue les articles de revues évalués par des pairs concernant les compétences informationnelles dans l'enseignement des sciences au premier cycle au Canada entre 2000 et 2015. Il fournit une image de l'apprentissage des compétences informationnelles au début du nouveau millénaire, avant le lancement du Référentiel de compétences informationnelles en enseignement supérieur de l'ACRL en 2015. Nous avons identifié trois thèmes récurrents : la collaboration entre le corps professoral et les bibliothécaires, la conception et la pédagogie de programmes, et la rétroaction, l'évaluation et le renouvellement. Nous discutons les meilleures pratiques associées en matière de conception, de prestation et d'évaluation des compétences informationnelles. Cette revue devrait être utile aux bibliothécaires universitaires canadiens et aux professeurs qui s'intéressent à l'enseignement des compétences informationnelles en sciences.


academic librarianship, information literacy, undergraduate, science, Canada


bibliothéque universitaire, compétence informationnelle, premier cycle, sciences, Canada

This article reviews the peer-reviewed journal literature appearing between 2000 and 2015 covering information literacy in Canadian post-secondary undergraduate science education. This project was initiated by the Western Conference on Science Education (WCSE) held at The University of Western Ontario in 2011. The conference provided a forum for Canadian post-secondary science educators to share their teaching and learning experiences, with an outcome being "a review of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in post-secondary science in Canada" (The Western Conference on Science Education Organizing Committee 2011). "Science," as defined by the conference, includes the following subjects: mathematics, computer science, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, botany, zoology, and environmental science.

A literature review was conducted by the SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) Review group comprising the WCSE Organizing Committee members (science faculty members) and three science librarians, including the authors. The librarians assisted with all the literature searches for the conference-defined science disciplines, and the faculty members carried out the literature review projects for their associated science disciplines, such as mathematics.1 The librarians conducted a separate literature review on information literacy in the same conference-defined science disciplines. The conference review parameters included peer-reviewed journal literature, appearing between 2000 and 2010, and covering Canadian, post-secondary, science education. This current literature review has been updated to include literature published between 2011 and 2015.

The widely used definition of information literacy was originally provided by the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report of the American Library Association (ALA): "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association 1989). Information literacy instruction practices in Canada did not receive much mention in the peer-reviewed literature between 2000 and 2015. The authors wish to highlight what literature does exist on this topic, identify underlying pedagogical themes, elicit and document best practices and the challenges associated with information literacy instruction in science disciplines, and encourage more scholarship related to this topic. This review provides a snapshot of the relevant literature produced in the period, beginning with the start of the new millennium and ending around the game-changing launch of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.2

This review is of value to librarians and faculty members who are interested in providing, or are currently providing, information literacy instruction in support of post-secondary science education. We identify themes and highlights in information literacy instruction in the articles reviewed and make recommendations for best practices. Adhering to these practices could result in stronger faculty–librarian partnerships, optimal course pedagogy and design, and course revitalization informed by feedback. We identify the support that is necessary for information literacy instruction to flourish and succeed within post-secondary science education in Canada. [End Page 264]

Other articles have examined some but not all aspects of this topic. Bradley (2013b) focuses on information literacy policy and definitions in Canada. Bradley has done a study on the presence of "Information Literacy Articles in Science Pedagogy Journals" (Bradley 2013a, 78). Cull (2005) interviewed teaching librarians from six Atlantic Canada universities regarding their experience with instruction. O'Brien and Symons (2005) looked at "information behaviours and preferences of undergraduate students" (409) at one Canadian university, and commented on the behaviour of students based on discipline. Julien and Leckie (1997), Julien (2000, 2005), Julien and Boon (2002), and Julien, Tan, and Merillat (2013) conducted a series of studies on information literacy instruction in Canadian academic libraries. Julien and Given (2002) analyzed posts to an information literacy listserv regarding faculty–librarian collaboration. Julien and Pecoskie (2009) looked at "Canadian academic librarians' self-perceptions as teachers" (14) and their relationships with faculty via interviews. Leckie and Fullerton (1999) surveyed science and engineering faculty in two Canadian institutions to gain insight into their attitudes toward information literacy and their pedagogical practices. The current literature review is unique in that it focuses on science in particular, has a Canadian focus, and reviews details of each article.


Literature search methods

Our search spanned numerous databases chosen to cover the literature of librarianship, education, and the various disciplines that fall within "science" as defined by the conference. Databases selected had possible overlap in journal coverage. The authors also conducted overlap analyses on databases to select those with unique coverage. For example, we compared the journals indexed in ACM Digital Library (ACM) versus Inspec and found that Inspec provides more comprehensive journal coverage and includes all of the titles indexed in ACM, resulting in Inspec rather than ACM being selected.

The databases selected for the literature search are listed below by subject or broad category:

  • • Librarianship: Library Literature and Information Science, LISTA (Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts).

  • • Education: ERIC, CBCA (Canadian Business and Current Affairs), ProQuest Education Journals.

  • • Biochemistry, biology, environmental science, plant science, and zoology:

    Biosis Previews, Zoological Record, PubMed.

  • • Chemistry: SciFinder (Chemical Abstracts Service). Computer science and mathematics: MathSciNet, Current Index to Statistics, arXiv, INSPEC.

  • • Earth sciences: GeoRef, GEOBASE. Physics and astronomy: arXiv, NASA ADS (including the Education Search


  • • Interdisciplinary databases: Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar. [End Page 265]

Our search strategies varied from one database to the next. Search strategies included synonyms, geographic place names, relevant author-supplied keywords, database-assigned keywords, controlled vocabulary, and limiters, as appropriate. The following caveats should be noted: Search syntax was changed as necessary, because, for example, not all databases employed Boolean operators, phrase search, truncation, or wild cards in the same fashion. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied in the process of screening the search results. Below are three examples of the database search strategies:

  1. 1. Scopus

    TITLE-ABS-KEY (universit* OR college* OR "post secondary" OR "post-secondary" OR undergrad*) AND TITLE-ABS-KEY (librar* OR "information literacy" OR "bibliographic instruction") AND AFFILCOUNTRY (canad* OR can)) AND DOCTYPE (ar OR re) AND PUBYEAR > 1999 AND PUBYEAR < 2016

    Inclusion criteria: science disciplines (mathematics, computer science, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, botany, zoology, and environmental science) Exclusion criteria: professional programs, graduate programs

  2. 2. LISTA (Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts)

    GE Canada AND TX ("information literacy" or "library instruction" or "research skills" or "bibliographic instruction") AND TX (universit* OR college* OR post secondary OR post-secondary OR undergrad*) Limiters—Publication Date: 20000101–20151231; Source Types: Academic Journals Inclusion criteria: science disciplines (mathematics, computer science, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, botany, zoology, and environmental science)

    Exclusion criteria: professional programs, graduate programs

  3. 3. SciFinder

    Combine the following searches (including all answers from all sets):

    1. 1. Research Topic: Information Literacy. Limiters—Publication Years: 2000–2015; Document Type: Journal, Review

    2. 2. Research Topic: librarian. Limiters—Publication Years: 2000–2015; Document Type: Journal, Review

    3. 3. Research Topic: bibliographic instruction. Limiters—Publication Years: 2000–2015; Document Type: Journal, Review

    Analyze by: Company–Organization (*Select Canadian post-secondary institutions)

    Inclusion criteria: science disciplines (mathematics, computer science, physics, astronomy, earth sciences, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, botany, zoology, and environmental science)

    Exclusion criteria: professional programs, graduate programs [End Page 266]

From the search results and based on our inclusion and exclusion criteria, we determined which papers were peer-reviewed and covered Canadian post-secondary undergraduate science education and information literacy or librarian-ship. Following is a review of the peer-reviewed journal literature.

Themes in the peer-reviewed journal literature

Twenty-two articles were found that fit the criteria. Because of limitations of the search strategy, database access, and database search functions and coverage, some articles within the scope of our study may have been missed. The librarians read and summarized all the articles using bulleted lists at the initial stage of analysis. The authors held discussions based on these notes and identified the following recurring themes, as articulated in ACRL's Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy That Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline (American Library Association 2012): faculty–librarian collaboration; curriculum design and pedagogy; and feedback, assessment, and renewal. The themes illustrate features of sound and successful pedagogy for instruction: the value of faculty– librarian collaboration for instruction; the importance of creating a structure and overall context for information literacy instruction via curriculum design and pedagogy; and the necessity of creating a cycle of evaluation for course improvement via feedback, assessment, and renewal.


Faculty–librarian collaboration

Several articles in the literature highlight the value of well-established partnerships between teaching faculty and librarians. This collaboration ranges from limited involvement of the librarian as a service provider to the librarian being embedded in the course and ultimately to his or her becoming a member of the academic community, including co-authoring research articles. Of the 22 reviewed articles, 3 were co-authored by faculty and librarians. Performance Indicator 3.2 of ACRL's Standards for Libraries in Higher Education suggests that "Library personnel collaborate with faculty to embed information literacy learning outcomes into curricula, courses, and assignments" (American Library Association 2011b). Ducas and Michaud-Oystryk found that "when faculty interact with librarians, librarians have a very positive and considerable impact on both faculty and students" (2003, 72).

Establishing faculty–librarian collaboration requires understanding and effort from both parties involved. Gullikson (2006) and Bury (2011) present findings concerning the roles that teaching faculty and librarians play in the delivery of information literacy instruction. Gullikson identifies "librarian-responsible [information literacy] outcomes" and "course-instructor-responsible [information literacy] outcomes" (2006, 590) based on a survey of faculty. Bury (2011) found that faculty perceptions of who is responsible for teaching information literacy influenced the degree of collaboration between librarians and teaching faculty, necessitating flexibility on the part of librarians. Simard (2009) describes her [End Page 267] limited success in attempting to integrate information literacy sessions into several courses in various departments. Her experience suggests that faculty– librarian collaboration and extensive relationship building are necessary for course integration to succeed. Pritchard (2010) describes developing trust and mutual respect in her relationships with teaching faculty and library colleagues through a series of formal and informal interactions. She describes a continuum of librarian involvement in information literacy instruction, spanning three "models" she calls supplemental (i.e., general information literacy instruction for students who self-identify as requiring help), integrated (i.e., course-specific information literacy instruction), and embedded (i.e., with a librarian on the curriculum design team). Pritchard indicates that all three models are workable, since there is no one-size-fits-all solution for providing information literacy instruction. She acknowledges that while the embedded model allows the librarian to have "a transformative effect on the curriculum and on the support of student learning" (Pritchard 2010, 378), it creates a heavier workload. As such, it is not an approach that is either scalable to, or appropriate for, every course for which librarians provide information literacy instruction. Although this represents the ideal relationship, integrating librarians into information literacy instruction initiatives already established by faculty can also result in successful faculty–librarian collaboration. Two papers, Rangachari (2006) and Rangachari and Rangachari (2007), describe the integration of information literacy into an inquiry-based first-year undergraduate science course. In the first iteration of the course, the teaching faculty member observed that the general orientation to information sources was not sufficiently detailed or precise for the students (Rangachari 2006). During his instructional practice, he recognized that the librarian had the expertise required to teach information literacy, and he subsequently entrusted the librarian with co-teaching this content. Before the second iteration of the course, the instructor and the librarian revised the course curriculum with the aim of significantly increasing the librarian's involvement in the information literacy component of the course. This case promotes awareness of academic librarians' skill sets and course instructors' responsibility to integrate discipline-specific library instruction. It demonstrates a successful faculty– librarian partnership, which resulted in providing the students with relevant information literacy instruction.

Sometimes librarians take the initiative to build more comprehensive faculty– librarian partnerships. Leishman (2003) and Clyde and Lee (2011) describe how enhanced faculty–librarian collaboration leads to the evolution of information literacy instruction programs. Leishman (2003) describes the evolution of library instruction and liaison programs over the course of several years, with emphasis on the varying needs of different faculty members and departments. Faculty interest and needs can also influence whether or not these initiatives are successful (Leishman 2003). Clyde and Lee (2011) describe the six-year evolution of embedded library instruction which resulted in more teaching opportunities, more effective teaching, and more requests for help from students. The authors note that it is especially important for librarians to become embedded as soon as [End Page 268] possible and found that long-service, established liaison librarians from libraries that are physically located within an academic department have long-established records of co-teaching with faculty. Even temporary placement of the librarian in high-traffic student/faculty community areas allowed the relationships with undergraduate science students, who rely heavily on just-in-time support such as e-mail, to flourish.

Well-established faculty–librarian partnerships have enabled more complex approaches to instruction. Harrison and Rourke (2006) credit such collaboration with the integration of information literacy into all years of a new academic program. Waters (2015) credits a faculty–librarian collaboration with the achievement of the learning outcomes of a science literacy course. Dennie and Cuccia (2014) describe how collaboration benefited several graduate and undergraduate chemistry courses. To familiarize students with scientific information resources, Forest and Rayne (2009) included librarian-led information literacy instruction in their two-semester first-year chemistry course. MacMillan and Shaw (2008) describe the collaborative development and delivery of a series of information literacy instruction workshops. Students advancing through the program enjoyed using progressively more complex literature search tools. Lee and MacMillan (2004) describe a collaboratively taught, learner-centred, hybrid approach pairing Web-based tutorials with face-to-face instruction. Leishman (2003) describes several instances of faculty–librarian collaboration, including one where library instruction content was moved into an e-learning module and successfully promoted to students by their course instructors and teaching assistants. The examples demonstrate faculty–librarian collaboration in providing basic information literacy instruction.

Some papers cover faculty–librarian collaborations in teaching the use of complex, discipline-specific resources. MacMillan (2010) describes scaffolded efforts to introduce students to genetics information resources including data, literature, and patents and to help them understand the information landscape. MacMillan (2015) also describes a scaffolded information literacy program spanning two courses in genetics and biochemistry. Students were introduced to bibliographic, structure, and sequence databases used by biologists. Ducas and Michaud-Oystryk (2003) discovered that science faculty members were more skeptical of librarians' abilities to teach discipline-specific resources than faculty members in social sciences or humanities. Science faculty members normally require access to the most recent pedagogical materials for their teaching activities, and librarians are well placed to provide such support. They suggest that science librarians engage with faculty to determine their contribution to the teaching and learning process.

The successes described in these articles show commitment to building strong faculty–librarian relationships. When the potential value of librarians' contribution to course design and delivery is recognized early in the planning process, collaboration can develop early on, and the impact of librarians' involvement is maximized. Faculty–librarian collaboration can ensure that information literacy instruction is aligned with course outcomes, thus adding significant [End Page 269] value to scholarship of teaching and learning endeavours. Librarians tailor this instruction to course-specific needs, connecting undergraduate students to relevant information resources, a best practice in information literacy instruction.

Partnerships between librarians and faculty members flourish with the support of institutional administration. Leishman (2003) describes how, as the Director of the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto, she supported outreach and client-centred service, such as library instruction and faculty liaison programs, and reviewed and monitored the progress of the liaison program. Rangachari and Rangachari (2007) note that without the support of administration, librarians face challenges in teaching information literacy. They describe how, following the loss of an education resources specialist position, a faculty member had to terminate his plans to track his students' acquisition and use of information literacy skills through the upper years of the program. Pritchard (2010) illustrates how the successful implementation of embedded information literacy instruction requires extensive administrative support. Such support could include the formalization of collaborative teams involving the library and various on-campus experts such as the curriculum design team, teaching support services, writing support services, English as a Second Language services, the information technology help desk, and other relevant partners. Clyde and Lee (2011) indicate that administrative support is important in ensuring that liaison librarians have the freedom to customize services to match departments' needs.

Some faculty members, aware of the importance of information literacy skills in undergraduate science education, have themselves integrated information literacy into their course curricula. Of the 22 reviewed articles, 4 were authored by faculty only. Dawson (2007) taught his students the publication process of peer-reviewed articles via a course assignment that used an online journal. Flynn and Amellal (2016) taught their first- and second-year organic chemistry students about chemical information sources and aligned their practices with ACRL information literacy standards and the updated framework. Rangachari (2006) taught and reflected on his inquiry-based first-year science course and realized the importance of developing students' information literacy skills through more tailored information literacy instruction. Forest and Rayne (2009) documented their primary literature summary projects for first-year chemistry students and briefly noted that library instruction provided by campus librarians was also part of their curriculum.

Curriculum design and pedagogy

Overarching information literacy standards and guidelines

ALA, ACRL, and professional organization documents provide guidance to librarians teaching information literacy and a framework in which librarians can build both general and discipline-specific information literacy instruction. ACRL's Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy That Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline considers it best practice to have the following elements [End Page 270] in information literacy instruction programs: mission statements, goals and objectives, planning, administrative and institutional support, articulation (pro-gram sequence) within the curriculum, collaboration, pedagogy, staffing, outreach, and assessment/evaluation (American Library Association 2012). The document defines those elements necessary to plan, develop, renew, and evaluate information literacy programs.

Information literacy instruction in post-secondary education institutions can be guided by increasingly discipline-specific ALA or ACRL standards. The Information Literacy Standards for Science and Engineering/Technology defines information literacy in science-, engineering-, and technology-related disciplines as:

a set of abilities to identify the need for information, procure the information, evaluate the information and subsequently revise the strategy for obtaining information, to use the information and to use it in an ethical and legal manner, and to engage in lifelong learning.

Although this definition is virtually identical to that of the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, this document highlights the importance of acquiring information literacy skills for students in science, engineering, and technology; it specifies the performance indicators for information-literate students for each of the five standards. The 25 performance indicators define skills that enable students to access, digest, and evaluate information from a wide variety of sources. The Task Force believes that such skills allow the future practicing scientist or engineer to keep abreast of experimental research results and new developments. ACRL's Standards for Libraries in Higher Education describe

increasing demands for accountability within the academic; expectation for outcomes-based assessment of learning and programs; efforts to increase graduation rates; greater emphasis on student success; the acknowledged connection between student engagement and academic achievement; and the importance of pedagogical practices such as research and inquiry-based learning.

Other relevant ACRL documents, such as Guidelines for Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries (American Library Association 2011a) and Guidelines for University Library Services to Undergraduate Students (American Library Association 2005), also provide librarians with specific guidance for information literacy instruction in higher education.

The concept of information literacy is ever-evolving. ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (American Library Association 2000) introduced to the librarian academy the concept of "fluencies" as discussed in the National Research Council's report Being Fluent with Information Technology (Committee on Information Technology Literacy, National Research Council 1999). The ACRL Standards upon which much of the current information literacy instruction is based have been replaced by the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which was designed to support librarians [End Page 271]

Table 1. The standards/guidelines mentioned in the reviewed literature.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Table 1.

The standards/guidelines mentioned in the reviewed literature.

[End Page 272]

in identifying core ideas within their own knowledge domain that can extend learning for students, in creating a new cohesive curriculum for information literacy, and in collaborating more extensively with faculty … The Framework is organized into six frames, each consisting of a concept central to information literacy, a set of knowledge practices, and a set of dispositions. The six concepts that anchor the frames are … Authority Is Constructed and Contextual; Information Creation as a Process; Information Has Value; Research as Inquiry; Scholarship as Conversation; Searching as Strategic Exploration.

This framework will impact and ultimately transform the way librarians provide information literacy instruction, moving them beyond tool-based demonstration.

Several accepted professional guidelines provide the framework for best practices in information literacy instruction in the scientific disciplines. These continue to provide a basis for profound changes in the way librarians and faculty have integrated information literacy instruction into the classroom. The following professional associations and organizations have released information literacy instruction recommendations for post-secondary education programs related to their professions. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology recommended integrating bioinformatics skills into the undergraduate curriculum (ASBMB n.d.). Guidelines have been released to provide subject-specific information literacy instruction to chemistry undergraduates (Special Libraries Association, Chemistry Division and American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Information 2011). In addition to the non-discipline-specific ACRL documents mentioned above, these discipline-specific recommendations provide guidance in curriculum design for faculty and/or librarians teaching information literacy in the relevant disciplines. Many of the reviewed articles, authored by librarians and/or faculty, made efforts to align course outcomes with the above standards or guidelines. Shulman (2004) eloquently expresses the importance of reconnecting teaching to the disciplines, the importance of desisting with pedagogical solitude and encourages the recognition that the disciplines provide the basis of the intellectual communities. See table 1 for the associated library association and professional organization guidelines mentioned in the reviewed literature.

Practices in the reviewed literature

Librarians are generally responsible for providing information literacy instruction in support of course curricula. Librarians are positioned to stay current with rapidly changing information resources (Hunt and Birks 2004). ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education describes information literacy skills required by students in all disciplines and learning environments and at all levels of education (American Library Association 2000). Performance Indicator 3.3 of ACRL's Standards for Libraries in Higher Education suggests that "Library personnel model best pedagogical practices for classroom teaching, online tutorial design, and other educational practices" (American Library Association 2011b). The identification of appropriate pedagogy for information [End Page 273]

Table 2. Common pedagogy tools mentioned in the reviewed literature
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Table 2.

Common pedagogy tools mentioned in the reviewed literature

literacy instruction and the design or renewal of curricula are described in the following articles. See table 2 for common pedagogical tools mentioned in the reviewed articles. See Appendix 1 for a detailed list of all pedagogical tools in each article.

Embedded academic librarians have the opportunity to make significant contributions to curriculum design and pedagogy. According to Shumaker (2012), embedded librarianship is determined by three factors: ongoing working relationships, serving user group goals and objectives, and librarians making highly customized, value-added contributions. Pritchard (2010) describes a case study in which an embedded librarian was involved in curriculum design for a first-year undergraduate nanoscience course. An online journal project was designed to give the students experience with the scientific communication process. To help students acquire information literacy skills, the librarian, the course instructor, and a science writing consultant collaborated to deliver a series of lectures and workshops, review student submissions, and manage the preparation and publication processes. This approach enabled students to take advantage of seamlessly integrated, point-of-need support services and increased their motivation for developing information literacy skills. Waters (2015) describes a unique case where a librarian was one of two instructors who designed the curriculum for a science literacy course. The librarian provided instruction in information literacy and the English instructor taught the English writing portion. Students were assigned a poster project, designed to tie information literacy to written English assignments, to learn the value of posters in science communication; this was graded by both instructors.

Inquiry-based curriculum design engages students in information use and promotes critical thinking (American Library Association 2000). A librarian's involvement in curriculum design can help inquiry-based courses achieve their desired goals by providing students with assistance in identifying appropriate research topics and in literature searching and retrieval. Rangachari (2006) and Rangachari and Rangachari (2007) describe using such practices to teach information literacy skills at the University of Calgary. Science students in a first-year inquiry-based course experienced difficulty in formulating research questions due to what they perceived as a lack of clear guidelines (Rangachari 2006). Rangachari and Rangachari (2007) regard overcoming such difficulties [End Page 274] as part of the inquiry-based learning process. In a subsequent iteration of the course, the teaching faculty corrected several course design problems and provided students with additional guidance on how to frame a research question. The librarian supporting this course became increasingly involved during the curriculum design process and was able to ensure that class exercises helped to develop students' information literacy skills.

Curriculum design can facilitate the development of information literacy skills required in real world situations. The integration of searching non-traditional information sources—for example, patent, genetic, and GIS data—into undergraduate science programs can benefit students' future careers. Patents are an important primary information source often overlooked in information literacy instruction due to their specialized nature. MacMillan (2006, 2010, 2015), MacMillan and Shaw (2008), and MacMillan and Thuna (2010) describe information literacy instruction for undergraduate science students that included Google Patent Search, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). MacMillan (2010) describes how a librarian and a teaching faculty member provided career-oriented information literacy instruction. Students in a second-year biology course learned to use three National Center for Biotechnology Information databases—Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM), ExPASy ProtParam (Protein Parameter), and the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST)—to manipulate genetic information and obtain protein sequence data. Faculty members and librarians in many science disciplines are increasingly aware of data literacy and of the need to integrate data resources into information literacy instruction (MacMillan 2010, 2015; Flynn and Amellal 2016). "Library partners who understand the structures of information in the discipline" have an easier time collaborating and "developing more interesting assignments and more engaged students" (MacMillan 2010).

Several papers describe teaching lower-year undergraduate students general information resources and basic information literacy skills, or teaching upper-year undergraduate students more complex resources and advanced information skills. Rangachari and Rangachari (2007) describe how a librarian and a course instructor designed a simplified 3C (credibility, content, and currency) approach for students in a first-year science course. Both Rangachari and Rangachari (2007) and Simard (2009) considered their students' low information literacy skill levels while designing suitable curricula. At Mount Royal College, the chemistry librarian and the chemistry teaching faculty used a scaffolded approach to deliver a series of information literacy instruction sessions covering a variety of information sources for several lower- and upper-year chemistry courses (MacMillan and Shaw 2008). More challenging discipline-specific resources and information literacy concepts should be taught in upper-year courses, in such a way that new skills build upon existing skills (MacMillan 2006, 2010, 2015; MacMillan and Thuna 2010; MacMillan and Shaw 2008). Having mastered the use of traditional scientific information resources such as bibliographic databases in previous courses, students became comfortable with specialized information resources such as patent or protein sequencing databases [End Page 275] when they were introduced. Harrison and Rourke (2006) describe successfully integrating information literacy outcomes into each year of the curriculum of a new academic program.

Many approaches to increasing the effectiveness of instruction were documented in the reviewed literature. Leishman describes successfully replacing an in-person information literacy instruction session with an online "desktop Biology Library" (Leishman 2003, 24–25) containing links to information sources as well as an online tutorial. Lee and MacMillan (2004) applied a hybrid, flexible, and user-centred model that included both online tutorials and hands-on, in-person instruction for a large first-year biology class. MacMillan (2006) used a content management system (Blackboard) and library Web pages to teach students how to search for patents. Simard (2009) combined general, drop-in library orientation sessions with specialized, non-course-integrated sessions to teach discipline-specific information resources. She and her colleagues used online "how-to" videos to show how to find past exams, how to use library course reserves, and how to recall books signed out by other patrons. Course-specific instruction sessions were integrated in one department. Dennie and Cuccia (2014) describe how a chemistry librarian created online text-based and video tutorials to teach specific tools for students' literature search assignments. They creatively designed a generic assignment which could be customized for various chemistry courses. Colosimo and Kasuto (2012) created online videos, a course guide, and PDF notes to help first-year chemistry students find experiments, understand citations, and locate books and articles. Flynn and Amellal (2016) created problem sets, videos and games for lower-year organic chemistry courses and succeeded in helping students gain data literacy skills.

Two articles have gathered information regarding faculty attitudes toward information literacy outcomes, and the approaches, delivery and timing of information literacy instruction. Gullikson (2006) shows that faculty at five primarily undergraduate universities agree on the importance of most but not all of the outcomes described in ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards. She notes significant variations between "schools" designated as arts, science, social science, or "professional" (Gullikson 2006, 585). Gullikson (2006) documents disagreement among faculty regarding the appropriate time for students to achieve information literacy learning outcomes. Bury (2011) surveyed York University faculty regarding their perceptions of and experiences with information literacy, noting differences between the disciplines. She found that faculty viewed all 12 broad sets of ACRL's information literacy competencies as being "extremely important" (Bury 2011, 52). She also found that faculty preferred flexibility in the modes of delivering information literacy instruction, including the use of multiple approaches (e.g., in class, online).

Effective information literacy instruction takes into account course outcomes, pedagogy, and curriculum design. Some teaching faculty go as far as involving librarians in curriculum design; in such instances, students benefit from librarians' expertise in information literacy instruction. For information literacy instruction to support the curriculum, appropriate pedagogy, feedback, and assessment mechanisms are required. [End Page 276]

Table 3. Common feedback and assessment tools mentioned in the reviewed literature
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Table 3.

Common feedback and assessment tools mentioned in the reviewed literature

Feedback, assessment, and renewal

Best practices for information literacy assessment, including measurement tools and techniques, are described in several ALA documents, including ALA's Information Literacy Standards for Science and Engineering/Technology (American Library Association 2006), ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (American Library Association 2000), and ACRL's Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline (American Library Association 2012). See table 3 for common evaluation tools used for feedback and assessment documented in the reviewed literature. See Appendix 1 for a detailed list of all feedback and assessment tools in each article.

Feedback provides information on students' progress and attitudes and on course efficacy. It can prove invaluable when one attempts to improve pedagogy and revitalize instruction. In the papers reviewed, several tools, both informal (e.g., conversations and discussions) and formal (e.g., surveys, focus groups, personal or group logs, and university course evaluations), are used to obtain feedback from students, teaching faculty, teaching assistants, or library staff. Feedback often helped identify problems with course content (including information literacy components) or course design.

Assessment can provide information on student performance and whether course outcomes have been achieved. Assessment is especially important when the chosen pedagogical tools require extensive resources to create or maintain. In the articles reviewed, several assessment approaches and mechanisms are mentioned, including tests, quizzes or exams, projects, assignments, presentations and games. Some papers indicate that students benefit from multiple instances of [End Page 277] assessment, such as pre- and post-tests, or midterms and final exams. Assignment-based approaches are linked to the assessment of student performance of a certain task or on a certain project.

Renewal of information literacy initiatives can be informed by the results of assessment. In some cases, course renewal was sustained across several iterations of a course, with a focus on introducing librarian partners (Rangachari and Rangachari 2007) and new resources such as websites and databases (MacMillan 2010, 2015; MacMillan and Thuna 2010) and games and videos (Flynn and Amellal 2016). Some papers describe the evolution of course pedagogy from traditional to online delivery (Leishman 2003; Lee and MacMillan 2004). Students' research, writing, design, analysis, publishing, and teamwork skills benefited from course improvements (Dawson 2007). Bury (2011) observed that many faculty members perceive information literacy sessions as having a good impact on student output. Her findings informed plans for a new, curriculum-integrated institutional information literacy program. It is important to determine whether and how intended instructional outcomes have been achieved.


Today's information environment is more complex than that of any other time in history. Academic librarians' and university students' experiences in accessing, using, and evaluating information have become more disparate with exposure to numerous and diverse information resources. Many of the reviewed articles discuss the role of online information resources, technologies, or platforms in information literacy instruction. Undergraduate information literacy instruction not only provides students with experience in using vital, discipline-specific or specialized online information resources (e.g., patents, genetic information, and GIS data) but also teaches students to effectively access, critically evaluate, and ethically use information. The methods of delivering information literacy instruction online were described in several of the papers reviewed. Some studies took advantage of Web-based survey tools to collect feedback on information literacy instruction for the purpose of assessment.

Ideally, information literacy instruction in higher education is structured to develop information-literate university graduates with a commitment to lifelong learning. To remain valuable information literacy instructors, academic librarians serving the sciences are encouraged to stay current with the rapidly changing technology and information environment by undertaking continuing professional development and establishing lifelong learning goals. To effectively serve the evolving information needs of the post-secondary education community, librarians must continue to build their expertise with information resources in their liaison subject areas. Librarians can develop their knowledge of pedagogy via professional development opportunities such as workshops, seminars, conferences, courses, and engagement with colleagues in the education field. ACRL's Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy That Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline says that professional development opportunities should be supported by administration within an institution (American Library Association 2012). [End Page 278]

The provision of adequate, consistent financial support for quality information literacy instruction programs, in the form of appropriate staffing, training, equipment, and supplies, can be a challenge for institutions and their administrations; several of the articles reviewed note that it is important to the quality of students' learning experiences. Many Canadian academic institutions assess library services (including information literacy instruction) and resources via LibQUALþ, a survey developed by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) "to provide libraries with a standardized, effective method to measure the quality of library services based on the perceptions of faculty, students and staff" (Canadian Association of Research Libraries 2013). Such assessment can provide libraries with feedback on instruction initiatives, including whether these initiatives are supporting course outcomes, and can inform administrative support of these initiatives.


This literature review has a unique focus on information literacy or librarianship in Canadian post-secondary undergraduate science education, as embodied in the WCSE Conference. This conference was established to advance Canadian post-secondary science education across disciplines, including the information literacy and librarianship field. The authors discovered that between the years 2000 and 2015, 22 peer-reviewed journal articles were published in this field. The authors of this review found the themes of faculty–librarian collaboration, curriculum design and pedagogy, and feedback, assessment, and renewal dominant in the existing literature.

Faculty–librarian collaboration can aid in the achievement of information-literacy-related course outcomes. The reviewed papers show that the earlier these collaborations begin and the longer they last, the better the results tend to be. Many papers document course outcomes, curriculum design, and pedagogy as all being relevant to the planning of information literacy instruction, regardless of whether a librarian or a teaching faculty member provides this instruction. Formally gathered feedback and the assessment of student performance are both important to the renewal of information literacy instruction initiatives and can help ensure that course outcomes are supported. Institutional administrative support for librarians, according to several reviewed articles, is crucial to the success of such initiatives.

Information literacy instruction practices in Canadian post-secondary undergraduate science education did not receive much mention in the peer-reviewed literature between 2000 and 2015. The authors are aware that not all Canadian universities require librarians to publish research, which, we believe, may limit the number of publications concerning information literacy or librarianship generally. Thus, librarians should be encouraged to contribute to the published research on this topic. This review has identified themes in the existing literature and has made recommendations for best practices for strong faculty–librarian partnerships, optimal course pedagogy and design, and course revitalization informed by feedback and assessment. [End Page 279]

Linda K. Dunn
Allyn & Betty Taylor Library, The University of Western Ontario
Shiyi Xie
Allyn & Betty Taylor Library, The University of Western Ontario


We offer special thanks to Tom Haffie for his leadership in the project associated with the Western Conference on Science Education 2011 of reviewing the literature of Canadian post-secondary scholarship in teaching and learning, and to Dan Sich, our colleague, for his contribution at the early stage of this review project.


1. The published literature review on mathematics related to the WCSE Conference is Chan and Wahl (2013).


American Library Association. 1989. "Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential.
——. 2000. "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education." Accessed 1 December 2017. https://alair.ala.org/handle/11213/7668.
——. 2005. "Guidelines for University Library Services to Undergraduate Students." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ulsundergraduate.
——. 2006. "Information Literacy Standards for Science and Engineering/Technology." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/infolitscitech.
——. 2011a. "Guidelines for Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/guidelinesinstruction.
——. 2011b. "Standards for Libraries in Higher Education." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/standardslibraries.
——. 2012. "Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/characteristics.
——. 2015. "Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.
ASBMB. N.d. "CourseSource: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology." Accessed 1 December 2017. https://www.coursesource.org/courses/biochemistry-and-molecular-biology.
Bradley, Cara. 2013a. "Information Literacy Articles in Science Pedagogy Journals." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 8 (4): 78–92. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8JG76.
——. 2013b. "Information Literacy Policy Development in Canada: Is It Time?" Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and& Research 8 (2): 1–28. https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v8i2.2489.
Bury, Sophie. 2011. "Faculty Attitudes, Perceptions and Experiences of Information Literacy: A Study across Multiple Disciplines at York University, Canada." Journal of Information Literacy 5 (1): 45–64. https://doi.org/10.11645/5.1.1513.
Canadian Association of Research Libraries. 2013. "LibQUAL+ Canada. Canadian Association of Research Libraries." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://util.library.dal.ca/libqual/carl-libqual.htm.
Chan, Bernard S., and Lindi M. Wahl. 2013. "The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Canadian Post-secondary Mathematics: 2000–2010." Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 4 (1): article 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2013.1.3.
Clyde, Jerremie, and Jennifer Lee. 2011. "Embedded Reference to Embedded Librarian-ship: 6 Years at the University of Calgary." Journal of Library Administration 51 (4): 389–402. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2011.556963.
Colosimo, April L., and Emily Kasuto. 2012. "Library Video Tutorials to Support Large Undergraduate Labs: Will They Watch?" Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 68. https://doi.org/10.5062/F46H4FBH.
Committee on Information Technology Literacy, National Research Council. 1999. Being Fluent with Information Technology. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Cull, Barry W. 2005. "Voices in the Wilderness: A Report on Academic Information Literacy Instruction in Atlantic Canada." Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 29 (1): 1–26.
Dawson, John F. 2007. "Electronic Publishing as a Course Context for a Capstone Project on Protein Design." Journal of Electronic Publishing: JEP 10 (3). https://doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0010.304.
Dennie, Danielle, and Louis A. Cuccia. 2014. "'Six Degrees of Separation'—Revealing a 'Small-World Phenomenon' through a Chemistry Literature Search Activity." Journal of Chemical Education 91 (4): 546–49. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed400518m.
Ducas, Ada M., and Nicole Michaud-Oystryk. 2003. "Toward a New Enterprise: Capitalizing on the Faculty/Librarian Partnership." College & Research Libraries 64 (1): 55–74. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.64.1.55.
Flynn, Alison B., and Delphine G. Amellal. 2016. "Chemical Information Literacy: pKa Values—Where Do Students Go Wrong?" Journal of Chemical Education 93 (1): 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00420.
Forest, Kaya, and Sierra Rayne. 2009. "Incorporating Primary Literature Summary Projects into a First-Year Chemistry Curriculum." Journal of Chemical Education 86 (5): 592–94. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed086p592.
Gullikson, Shelley. 2006. "Faculty Perceptions of ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education." Journal of Academic Librarianship 32 (6): 583–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2006.06.001.
Harrison, Justin, and Lorna Rourke. 2006. "The Benefits of Buy-In: Integrating Information Literacy into Each Year of an Academic Program." RSR. Reference Services Review 34 (4): 599–606. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320610716486.
Hunt, Fiona, and Jane Birks. 2004. "Best Practices in Information Literacy." Portal 4 (1): 27–39. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2004.0010.
Julien, Heidi. 2000. "Information Literacy Instruction in Canadian Academic Libraries: Longitudinal Trends and International Comparisons." College and Research Libraries 61 (6): 510–23. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.61.6.510.
——. 2005. "A Longitudinal Analysis of Information Literacy Instruction in Canadian Academic Libraries." Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 29 (3): 289–313.
Julien, Heidi, and Stuart Boon. 2002. "From the Front Line: Information Literacy Instruction in Canadian Academic Libraries." RSR. Reference Services Review 30 (2): 143–49. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320210428697.
Julien, Heidi, and Lisa M. Given. 2002. "Faculty–Librarian Relationships in the Information Literacy Context: A Content Analysis of Librarians' Expressed Attitudes and Experiences." Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 27 (3): 65–87.
Julien, Heidi, and Gloria J. Leckie. 1997. "Bibliographic Instruction Trends in Canadian Academic Libraries." Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 22 (2): 1–15.
Julien, Heidi, and Jen L. Pecoskie. 2009. "Librarians' Experiences of the Teaching Role: Grounded in Campus Relationships." Library and Information Science Research 31 (3): 149–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2009.03.005.
Julien, Heidi, Maria Tan, and Shannon Merillat. 2013. "Instruction for Information Literacy in Canadian Academic Libraries: A Longitudinal Analysis of Aims, Methods, and Success." Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 37 (2): 81–102. https://doi.org/10.1353/ils.2013.0007.
Leckie, Gloria J., and Anne Fullerton. 1999. "Information Literacy in Science and Engineering Undergraduate Education: Faculty Attitudes and Pedagogical Practices." College and Research Libraries 60 (1): 9–29. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.60.1.9.
Lee, Jennifer, and Don MacMillan. 2004. "Evolving Instruction in Biology: Using the Web to Improve In-Class Instruction." RSR. Reference Services Review 32 (4): 374–82. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320410569725.
Leishman, Joan L. 2003. "Integrating Customized Information into Science and Health Science Curricula—The Essential Role of Library/Faculty Collaboration." Science and Technology Libraries 24 (1–2): 21–30. https://doi.org/10.1300/J122v24n01_03.
MacMillan, Don. 2006. "Patently Obvious: The Place for Patents in Information Literacy in the Sciences." Research Strategies 20 (3): 149–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resstr.2006.06.004.
——. 2010. "Sequencing Genetics Information: Integrating Data into Information Literacy for Undergraduate Biology Students." Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 61 (Spring). https://doi.org/10.5062/F44F1NNK.
MacMillan, Don. 2015. "Developing Data Literacy Competencies to Enhance Faculty Collaborations." LIBER Quarterly 24 (3): 140–60. https://doi.org/10.18352/lq.9868.
MacMillan, Don, and Mindy Thuna. 2010. "Patents under the Microscope: Teaching Patent Searching to Graduate and Undergraduate Students in the Life Sciences." RSR. Reference Services Review 38 (3): 417–30. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907321011070900.
MacMillan, Margy, and Lawton Shaw. 2008. "Teaching Chemistry Students How to Use Patent Database and Glean Patent Information." Journal of Chemical Education 85 (7): 997–99. https://doi.org/10.1021/ed085p997.
O'Brien, Heather L., and Sonya Symons. 2005. "The Information Behaviors and Preferences of Undergraduate Students." Research Strategies 20 (4): 409–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resstr.2006.12.021.
Pritchard, Peggy A. 2010. "The Embedded Science Librarian: Partner in Curriculum Design and Delivery." Journal of Library Administration 50 (4): 373–96. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930821003667054.
Rangachari, Patangi K. 2006. "Lost in Translation? Deconstructing Science in the News through an Inquiry-Based Course." Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 34 (1): 5–11. https://doi.org/10.1002/bmb.2006.49403401005.
Rangachari, Patangi K., and Usha Rangachari. 2007. "Information Literacy in an Inquiry Course for First-Year Science Undergraduates: A Simplified 3C Approach." Advances in Physiology Education 31 (2): 176–79. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00092.2006.
Shulman, Lee S. 2004. Teaching as Community Property: Essays on Higher Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Shumaker, David. 2012. The Embedded Librarian : Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where it's Needed. Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Simard, Stephanie. 2009. "An Information Literacy Program Built for Relevance and Purpose." RSR. Reference Services Review 37 (4): 386–94. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907320911006994.
Special Libraries Association. Chemistry Division, and American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Information. 2011. "Information Competencies for Chemistry Undergraduates: The Elements of Information Literacy." Accessed 1 December 2017. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Information_Competencies_for_Chemistry_Undergraduates.
The Western Conference on Science Education Organizing Committee. 2011. The Western Conference on Science Education 2011 Program and Abstracts. London, Canada: The University of Western Ontario.
Waters, Natalie. 2015. "A Poster Assignment Connects Information Literacy and Writing Skills." Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 2015(80).

Appendix 1. Feedback, Assessment, and Pedagogy Tools Mentioned in the Reviewed Literature

No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2022
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.