Information Competency Graduation Requirement Programs: A Survey of Methods

Consumnes River College

Resolution F06 9.03 called on the Academic Senate to conduct a survey of the certificate and degree programs in California community colleges to determine which information competency requirements have been implemented by which colleges. Serendipitously, Shawna Hellenius, an instructional librarian at Cosumnes River College conducted such a survey in Fall 2005 for a sabbatical project. She kindly shares a summary of her sabbatical report in this article. The full report is available at,_….

Studies have shown that Information Competency (IC) increases student GPA, persistence, the number of units they complete, and their performance in individual classes.1

The question, when advocating for an IC graduation requirement, is what is the best curriculum format? An attempt to answer this question led to a survey of methods used by California colleges that require IC for graduation.

Information Competency (IC) is "a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information."2 The need for IC as a requirement for students has arisen through the information technology explosion. Information is now available in bulk, unfiltered quantities. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) aptly states that the abundance of information does "not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively."3 As an important basic skill on the road to student success, IC is not just a library concern, but a goal the entire campus should pursue.

Curriculum Models

The one-hour library instruction workshop has long been the predominant method of teaching research skills to students. Common characteristics: the workshop is introductory and only occupies one to two class sessions in one course. This method, which is completely reliant on faculty support, is often perceived by students to be irrelevant to their academic needs, and they retain little of what is presented.

Four alternative models exist: 1) stand-alone library course; 2) library course linked through concurrent enrollment with another class; 3) IC across the curriculum; and 4) online tutorials.


Stand-alone courses are one- to three-unit library courses. Their main benefit is the ability to reach students over an extended time period. This enables librarians to build a strong base of research concepts and skills that will serve students in further academic years.4 Stand-alone courses benefit non-library faculty too. Faculty members have commented that they can raise their standard and don't need to review basics of research before teaching their own content when the IC course is a requirement.5


Stand-alone IC courses can be linked in concurrent enrollment with courses that require research or with learning communities. Such links increase the relevancy of IC training and aid students in researching their papers in the linked course.

Qualitative data suggests that concurrent enrollment has positive effects on student success. Strengths include opportunities for meeting students' needs at the appropriate time, better student assessment, and greater depth of content.6 Despite these statements, quantitative data from a Glendale College study shows that pairing library classes did not result in better grade performance.7


The least effective method for delivering depth of content, but a frequent institutional choice, is IC across the curriculum. Adopted by institutions that do not wish to subject students to an additional required unit, the curriculum committee identifies courses that fulfill stated IC outcomes, and require students to take one of those courses.

The program usually maintains the status quo, with one-shot, on-demand library instruction sessions taught in classes with research papers. Sometimes a longer library program is imposed upon class. This method is unmanageable for librarians because the library does not generate credit hours. Therefore, the number of library faculty does not grow in proportion to increasing instructional demands.8

Another option under this model is for non-library instructors to teach IC. This approach necessitates librarian-run programs to teach information skills to regular classroom faculty.9 A complex articulation process makes this method difficult to manage for counselors and admissions staff.


Two studies have concluded that online instruction is just as effective as a single, one hour face-to-face library instruction session.10,11 The difference, however, can lie in student satisfaction. Based on Likert scale questions, one study concluded that the face-to-face format was better suited to addressing questions. Open-ended comments, on the other hand, tended to contradict the results of the Likert scale questions, and were more in favor of the online tutorial format.

IC Requirements at California Community Colleges and California State Universities

Twenty-one California colleges and universities have adopted IC graduation requirements. Of those, sixteen colleges offer a stand-alone library course to fulfill the requirement. Six colleges use the stand-alone course as the only vehicle for students to fulfill the IC requirement.

Responses on a questionnaire sent to each college with an IC requirement indicate that the stand-alone library course is essential to the standardization of IC learning. Said one respondent, "Faculty know what to expect from students who have taken the course." This method doesn't add to the workload of non-library faculty or counselors. Said one respondent, "Faculty do not have the burden of updating their materials when library interfaces or resources change; faculty do not have to change their syllabi to incorporate information literacy."

Stand-alone courses, best targeted toward freshmen, are the only method where it is possible to thoroughly cover all IC competency standards.

One student, who took the Contra Costa library course and then transferred to St Mary's College, said of her experience during a brief library orientation at St. Mary's College, "I knew what was going on. I understood what databases were. I could see the other students were totally lost."

In addition to offering a stand-alone library course, three colleges link the course in concurrent enrollment with a non-library class. Said one respondent, "Library 10 teaches students the information literacy skills they need to accomplish their assignments in English 1A.

The students don't have to be told the course is relevant to their studies-it sells itself and has a built-in motivator."

Responses from colleges that did not use this method indicated that this was a desirable curriculum method, but required additional staffing.

Fifteen colleges satisfy the requirement through IC across the curriculum. Questionnaire responses from most institutions indicated that this is not a recommended model. However, "pressure on campus from administration and other departments to not add another unit of work required of students" compelled colleges to adopt this model. Drawbacks included a complicated articulation process and time consuming assessment procedures.

Only one college, CSU San Francisco, meets the IC requirement through an online tutorial. Nine colleges provide the opportunity for students to test out of the requirement.

California Colleges and Universities with Information Competency Graduation Requirements

Colleges Offering Stand Alone Library Course

Cabrillo College (2)
CSU Bakersfield (3) *
Cerro Coso College (3) *
City College of San Francisco (3) *
College of the Sequoias (2,3)
Contra Costa (3) *
Diablo Valley College (3) *
Long Beach City College (3)
Merced (3)
Mission College (3) *
Monterey Peninsula College
Ohlone College *
Saddleback College (3)
Santa Rosa Jr. College *
Taft College *
West Valley College (2)
Library Course Linked in Concurrent Enrollment with Non-Library Class
Cabrillo College (1)
College of the Sequoias (1,3)
West Valley College (1)
Information Competency Infused in Selected Non-Library Courses
CSU Bakersfield (1) *
CSU Monterey Bay
CSU Sacramento *
Cerro Coso College (1) *
City College of San Francisco (1) *
Contra Costa (1) *
College of the Sequoias (1,2)
Cuyamaca College
Diablo Valley College (1) *
Long Beach City College (1)
Merced College (1)
Mission College (1) *
Saddleback College (1)
Siskiyous College
Online Tutorial
CSU San Francisco
* Opportunity to test out of requirement
(1) Also offers stand alone IC course
(2) Also offers linked course
(3) Also offers IC infused into non-library course

1. Glendale Community College, "Statistical Evaluation of Information Competency Program Student Outcomes Spring 2000 to S[ring 2005," 27 July 2005, 24 April 2006. .
2. Association of College and Research Libraries, "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education," 17 March 2006. American Library Association, 24 April 2006 .
3. Association of College and Research Libraries . 4. Susan R. McMillan, "We're Teaching-Are They Learning? Looking at the Two-Credit, Required Information Literacy Course," First Impressions, Lasting Impact: Introducing the First-Year Student to the Academic Library. Papers and Session Materials Presented at the Twenty-Eighth National LOEX Library Instruction Conference held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 19 to 20 May 2000 (Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 2002) 106.
5. McMillan 107.
6. Randy Burke Hensley, and Vickery Kaye Lebbin, "Learning Communities for First-Year Undergraduates: Connecting the Library Through Credit Courses," First Impressions, Lasting Impact: Introducing the First-Year Student to the Academic Library. Papers and Session Materials Presented at the Twenty-Eighth National LOEX Library Instruction Conference held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 19 to 20 May 2000 (Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 2002) 35.
7. Glendale Community College .
8. Angela Megaw, and Jo McClendon, "One-Shot to a Full Barrel," Managing Library Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries. Selected Papers Presented at the Twenty-Ninth National LOEX Library Instruction Conference, held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 4 to 6 May 2001 (Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 2003) 113 - 115.
9. Hannelore B. Rader, "Building Faculty-Librarian Partnerships to Prepare Students for Information Fluency: The Time for Sharing Information Expertise is Now," C&RL News Feb 2004: 74 - 90.
10. William A. Orme, "A Study of the Residual Impact of the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial on the Information-Seeking Ability of First Year College Students," College & Research Libraries May 2004: 205 - 214.
11. Melissa Muth, and Susan Taylor, "Comparing Online Tutorials with Face-to-Face Instruction: A Study at Ball State University," First Impressions, Lasting Impact: Introducing the First-Year Student to the Academic Library. Papers and Session Materials Presented at the Twenty-Eighth National LOEX Library Instruction Conference held in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 19 to 20 May 2000 (Ann Arbor: Pierian Press, 2002) 115.