STAR (Successful Transitions to Academic Research) Committee

Article from The LOUISiana Library Network Newsletter, June 2010 by Karen Niemla

Information Literacy too is an immensely important set of skills everyone should have. Since ACRL national defines it as "the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information," Information Literacy is about much more than finding books and articles; it's about interpreting the world we live in and learning to create new ideas. It’s fundamental, because research is a more involved process than finding the right answer to a question. SACS very appropriately goes further, and calls it "the ability to locate, evaluate, and use information to become independent life-long learners." Since this is such an important concept, waiting until post-high-school to foster Information Literacy skills is very likely not enough, because it is so fundamental that a student needs it in his or her toolbox when they arrive on campus. It goes without saying that students who are not college-bound might need to know this also.

It would be inconsiderate to say that Public libraries do not have a crucial role in fostering Information Literacy skills. After all, that is where I taught myself how to use EBSCOhost (the one without a GUI, if you remember that). Schools, however, have an inherent responsibility to educate and prepare students which is implicitly passed on to higher education. Thinking of Information Literacy as a General Education requirement, as substantial as any other, is a reality for institutions with standards like those of SACS. Reaching those standards is impeded by the varying degrees of information competency in incoming students. Dealing with this challenge has always been a part of ACRL-LA's School to College Transitions committee.

ACRL-LA began the "School to College Transitions" committee as early as 2008, when then-president Michael Matthews suggested it. When first conceived, it was known as the "K-20 Initiative," as libraries are important from the onset of education and beyond. As ACRL-LA put it in a news release, "Simply stated, this initiative will address the current disconnect that seems to exist between the K-12 system and higher education when it comes to information literacy scholarship, training, outcomes and assessment."

In 2009, Debra Rollins was named committee chair, and she remains so. Eventually "K-20" was renamed "School to College Transitions," and the focus was shifted largely to high schools. Efforts to make its endeavors more concrete began with opening a dialog to learn about the concerns of the librarians. In January at the 2010 LASL Midwinter Conference, a panel discussion in Coughlin Hall Auditorium asked the titular question, "Successful Transitions: How Librarians can Help Prepare Students for College Research?" It was not a librarian-only affair, and of the panelists was a college professor who works with freshmen. There was much talk during the session, and it went so well that another was suggested for the 2010 LLA Conference.

The session with the same name at LLA 2010 was also successful, and the Hilton's Victory Room was completely filled with various types of librarians even though it was sponsored by LASL on the "Youth Services" track, and even though it was a late entry in the conference program. People were clearly interested in the issue. Unsurprisingly, many of the same challenges face academic libraries and school libraries; they are limited in resources, and sometimes have trouble getting the attention of faculty. Many librarians who spoke seemed to feel that their skills were underused, and they were sometimes underwhelmed by the information competency levels of their students (in regards to practices, not the individuals). Instructors often assume that because their students are young, they already know how to find information and use it properly, while neither may be true. Many seemed to be aware that producing information literate students requires the cooperation of people outside of libraries.

Missing from the ceaseless discussion were concrete solutions, but not conspicuously so. That is not to say, however, that there are not still things that universities and schools can do to assist one another. For instance, The University of Louisiana at Monroe Library will prepare tours and instruction for grade schools even though this is not necessarily a part of our regular duties. School librarians and other faculty should be considerate of their college counterparts and schedule instruction in advance with intent to honor those commitments.

You can also work with us. Recently, the committee was re-named again to the “STAR (Successful Transitions to Academic Research) Committee,” and we welcome new members with interest in improving Information Literacy education. The committee hopes to one day draft something like written competency standards, and good input is needed. You can see the committee list at acrlla.org/about, and you can contact Kathryn Seidel for more information.