KISS and Julie Andrews: My (unlikely) muses for effective information literacy instruction

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

Perhaps strange bedfellows, but Julie Andrews and the rock band KISS are my muses for effective information literacy instruction.

In the classic film, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sings “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” – this little ditty has been a guiding principle for all my information literacy instruction thus far in my academic career.

Starting at the beginning is so simple, and yet, at least for myself, I often assume that I can jump ahead. When I began delivering information literacy instruction to students this earlier this year, I assumed a few things:

1. Students would be familiar with and understand some of the jargon I would be using (search engine, catalogue, index, database, metadata, indexing fields/record fields, Boolean operators, controlled vocabulary/subject terms and many other librarian-y terms)
2. Students would have some familiarity with the databases I was going to be talking about because they had used them in the past
3. Students would be familiar with the library website enough that they could comfortably navigate to things I was talking about

After just one session – that admittedly ended with a group of very confused looking students – I realized that this was not going to work; my students needed to know do-re-mi before they could sing! So how did I fix these issues going forward? By always starting at the very beginning and never underestimating the importance of providing simple navigational guidance – it doesn’t do students any good to know the ins and outs of searching CINAHL if they can never find the database on the library website. I’ve also tried to incorporate informal polls/assessments in my teaching to gauge current understanding about the topic I am talking about and to help me assess where more attention needs to be paid and what can perhaps simply be a refresher. Something that still needed to be addressed was the language I was using when talking with students, notably my use of unexplained library jargon.

KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid – a wonderful little phrase I picked up from my high school history teacher. The premise is not novel but I find that this plucky acronym helps to center my focus when explaining particularly “librarian-y” concepts. For example, did you know that the only people genuinely excited to talk about metadata are librarians and other information folks? Students, for the most part, are not interested in the specific details of data about data, discovery, findability, indexing, etc. I learned this the hard way when talking to a student about how citation managers get the information needed to generate a complete citation. Unfortunately for this student, my librarian brain took over and I talked for a good ten minutes about the intricacies and importance of record metadata. The wide-eyed look I got at the end of my speech told me everything I needed to know, I had not kept it simple and had now confused this poor student. I tried again and slowed down and thought about it from their perspective, what are the essential bits of information they need to know to understand this concept (no more and no less)? I then gave the student a much simpler explanation, something along the lines of “metadata is the behind the scenes information of an item that makes it possible for you to find it. Citation managers can read this information from the item to compile what’s needed to make a citation”. I could practically hear the light switch flip on in their head – they got it.

When it comes to information literacy instruction, our tacit knowledge as librarians can be a double-edged sword. It makes us excellent “knowers of things”, “information wizards”, “database Yodas” and other delightful monikers, but it can be a somewhat unnatural and awkward process for us to actively stop and think about what we know, how we know it, and how we can explain it in simple and relatable terms. I let Julie Andrews and KISS lead the way for me* – start at the beginning and keep it simple.

*I also like to imagine Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp teaching the band KISS to sing using the do-re-mi song so that also keeps things interesting.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Information Literacy: Stronger, Together

by Angie Gerrard
Murray Library, University of Saskatchewan

I heart information literacy! I am lucky that information literacy is intertwined with my professional practice and research interests. Most recently a team of us developed a framework for information literacy instruction for undergraduate students here at the University of Saskatchewan. A milestone of this project was a presentation to the university’s teaching and learning committee of council where our work was graciously embraced by fellow colleagues who also share a passion for teaching and learning. An unexpected perk of this presentation was meeting a colleague, who is an instructional designer outside of the library, who was interested in digital literacy.

Digital literacy was something that I did not have much experience with, or at least I didn’t think I did. I wondered how digital literacy was related to other literacies. My brain had been in overdrive trying to keep up with the new and improved concept of information literacy (thanks to the new ACRL Framework) so I questioned whether there was room in my heart and head for yet another literacy. Turns-out …. yes, yes there was!

My backstory: I knew that information literacy was alive and well outside the walls of the library (yay) but to be honest, I really had no idea of the scope. So, a focus of my research has been to try and uncover faculty perceptions and practices of information literacy. What I have learned thus far is that yes faculty value information literacy but not necessarily by that name and not necessarily delivered by librarians. Interesting stuff, right!? My point is that maybe we as librarians need not worry so much about what we call information literacy and who is teaching it but instead, focus our energies on collaborating with those who share our same overarching goals, i.e. improved student success, critical thinking skills, lifelong learning, etc.

Which leads me back to digital literacy. When I first started this collaboration I admit that I was trying hard to figure-out the perfect match and alignment between information literacy and digital literacy. Was there a hierarchy? Was one a subset of the other? What came first, the chicken or the egg? And yes, we were able to find many commonalities and overlaps of these concepts (ex: critical evaluation of information, understanding how information is produced, ethical use of information, etc.). But perhaps more importantly, through this somewhat unknown process, I’ve come to realization that we as librarians don’t always need to be waving the information literacy flag when we meet with colleagues outside the library. We don’t own information literacy nor we should we appropriate others’ conceptualizations of what we deem to be ‘information literacy’. The beauty of the recent reconceptualization of information literacy is that it opens the door to much wider conversations around information, research, teaching, and scholarship. And I welcome this!

To date, my collaborator and I have taught a few sessions on information literacy and digital literacy, mostly to faculty, and we are now looking into the future. We are also at the stage where we are trying to figure out what to call this beast (‘digital information literacy’ is a bit of a mouthful so I welcome any and all suggestions). The point is that we are working together, each from our own context, trying to come to a common understanding and a way forward. And really, isn’t that the exciting part?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.


by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

I practiced SoTL for at least 5 years in blissful ignorance of its existence. You too may be a SoTList or have SoTList leanings and not even know it; it may well be time to explore the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

The research projects I’m currently involved in occur at the intersection of information literacy (IL) and SoTL, and like all intersections it’s an exciting, slightly unsettling place to be. There’s a lot of movement in many directions, a lot of choices on where to go next, and some things just have to wait until there’s a break in the traffic to get going. Standing at this intersection I`ve had some time to think about the links between SoTL and evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP)…
Hanoi, 2013. By D. MacMillan


SoTL might be described as evidence-based practice in teaching. It is focused, like EBLIP on gathering evidence to understand different situations and/or the impact of different interventions. It uses a range of methodologies and works both within and across discipline boundaries. While it is most obviously akin to evidence-based research in IL, branches of SoTL concerned with technology or institutional cultures may resonate with other library researchers. Much like EBLIP conferences where those who work with bioinformatics data discover common ground with public librarians working with citizen science initiatives, SoTL fosters conversations between people who might not otherwise meet. Academics working in SoTL don’t always get much support for their research at their own institutions (sound familiar?) or within their own disciplines and they value conferences both for finding kindred spirits and for the interdisciplinarity that brings fresh ideas and approaches. Since arriving in this welcoming SoTLsphere, I have enjoyed exploring further – attending conferences, getting involved in SoTL on my campus and currently supporting the SoTL work of colleagues through Mount Royal`s Institute for SoTL.

3 ways SoTL has helped me EBLIP

Methodologies – SoTL work rests on applying disciplinary research methods to understanding teaching and learning. I’ve encountered a really broad range of methods in SoTL work that also apply to EBLIP.

Understanding Threshold Concepts (TCs) – While I had first heard of TC’s at a library conference, this way of looking at learning is a major focus in SoTL and I have been able to bring knowledge from SoTL folks into discussions around the new TC-informed Framework for IL.

Focus on building a community – Some SoTLers are involved with building communities on campuses by expanding relationships, providing support, and developing policy. There are many useful insights here for library initiatives and I have benefited from becoming part of a very supportive, cross disciplinary group of scholars.

3 ways EBLIP has helped me SoTL

Better understanding of diverse literatures and how to search them – This has helped me enter a new field, but also allows me to contribute back to the SoTL community on campus as I am aware of resources and tools for searching outside their disciplines.

Longer experience with evaluating usefulness of small steps and interventions – IL is often assessed at micro levels: the use of a particular tool, or the effectiveness of a teaching strategy, often within a single class. We have developed a number of strategies to examine teaching and learning at this atomized level useful for instructors accustomed to thinking in course-sized chunks.

Understanding how dissemination works – Work like Cara Bradley`s is informing my work with SoTLers in identifying venues for publication, and my next project on studying dissemination patterns in SoTL.

Interest in SoTL among librarians is growing, as evidenced by increasing numbers at conferences and a colleague in the UK who is writing a book about SoTL and librarians (many thanks to Emma Coonan for a great conversation that clarified many of these thoughts and if you aren’t reading her The Mongoose Librarian blog on a regular basis … .well, you should be!). Explore a little, dip into their literature, maybe go to a conference or talk to the teaching and learning folks on your campus… they can use our help and we might be able to borrow a few things from them. Maybe we’re overdue for a change.

3 good reads about SoTL

Felten, P. (2013). Principles of good practice in SoTL. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 1(1), 121-125.

Huber, Mary Taylor and Sherwyn P. Morreale, eds. Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Exploring Common Ground. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation, 2002.

Hutchings, P. (2010). The scholarship of teaching and learning: From idea to integration. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2010(123), 63-72.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.