Media Literacy in the Library World of Information Literacy

Covers from Media&Values magazine, published from 1977-1993 by editor Elizabeth Thoman
Media&Values magazine, published 1977-1993

Conference Director, Symposium on the Historical Roots of Media Literacy, Providence, RI (September 2013)

The history of media literacy is the story of efforts to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to changing media environments in order to participate and claim power in societies where media and technology play increasingly important roles in education, family life, social relations, public health, politics, economics, the arts and sciences, and popular culture.

This symposium convened leaders from four decades of media literacy to discuss the field’s historical frameworks and to engage the next generation of researchers and practitioners in exploring how the past informs the present and future of the field. A highlight of the program was the announcement of the gift of the Elizabeth Thoman archive of her phenomenally rich archive of the devemopement of media literacy in the United States of America.

View conference web site


Journal of Media Literacy Education, July 2014

Guest Editor, Journal of Media Literacy Education Special Issue: History of Media Literacy (July 2014)

Why is it important for us to consider the history of media literacy? Beyond forging connections of the past to the present, exploring the history of the field can deepen intellectual curiosity and understanding for those who work in media literacy education, ignite interest in others, and drive investigation into understanding the relationships of the facets and fundamentals of media literacy from past to present and into the future. The theme of leadership emerges from questions such as:  How do people build programs? How does information get disseminated? What were the challenges? Who were the learners? Who were the teachers? What were the tools? The discussions borne from these themes lead to questions about the influence of changes in society and technology over time to media literacy education. Just as our individual experiences shape and define our personal identities, a community’s past and present shape how the field sees itself today and shapes a vision for the future.

Evelyn (Bordac), S. (2014). Introduction to Media Literacy History. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 6(2), 1 -2.
View the entire issue


Lining up the guideposts: Integrating media and information literacy frameworks for first year university students.Poster presented by Evelyn and Cournoyer at the IFLA World Congress 2012 in Helskinki Finland.
Lining up the guideposts: Integrating media and information literacy frameworks for first year university students. IFLA 2012.

IFLA Conference Poster: Lining up the guideposts: Integrating media and information literacy frameworks for first year university students.

In an age of global discourse driven by technology, users of information are also creators of information. They receive information produced informally and formally, and produce from an early age. This worldwide conversation is both immediate and powerful, and calls for responsible engagement.

At the Brown University Library, we identified a need to address the information and media literacy skills of our incoming first year students.

We sought to design a curriculum which would provide asynchronous, multi-modal instruction across numerous learning environments. Building on the Association of College and Research Libraries Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, our intention was to more fully address the needs and realities of our community. We synthesized six global, national, and local frameworks relating to information needs and use into common instructional goals designed to support the needs of our learners.

In an academic library we seek to prepare our students for participation as global users and consumers of information, a path beginning in primary and secondary school and continuing in higher education.  Based on our pilot testing, our integrated framework suggests a support for the development of critical literacy skills and may serve as a adaptable model for other institutions.

Evelyn (Bordac), S. and Cournoyer, C. (2012). Lining up the guideposts: Integrating media and information literacy frameworks for first year university students. IFLA World Congress, Helsinki, Finland.
View in the Brown Digital Repository

Information Literacy Instruction? Thanks, but no thanks.

For years I have been asked by colleagues at various universities and colleges, what do you do for information literacy instruction? I say, since there is no required first year course, it is a matter of approaching instructor-by-instructor with some accidental successes. By far the most common response I get from the librarian across from me is an assuring nod. The response I often hear from faculty is “not in-class, but I’ll let the students know you are available as a resource.”

Faculty assume the students learn research skills before the students are in their course, yet are regularly surprised (or disappointed) that the students don’t have the skills once they get to the class. The most common scenario is that students rely the skills they learned in high school. For most of them, this is inadequate for the level of work they are expected to do in college.

In research conducted as part of the ACRL Assessment in Action program, I asked faculty about this gap between expectations and reality. I asked faculty, “What are your expectations for student research skills, and to what extent do first year students meet those expectations?” What was revealed from this seemingly straightforward question, was that there are many opportunities along a student’s college learning path where there are opportunities for them to learn necessary research skills, but those opportunities are mostly missed.

Mandatory is a taboo word in the academy where academic freedom rules the roost. However, when it comes to preparing students for success we should think about what skills are critical to their academic and post-academic careers — and how those skills are taught. However, simply relying on students to understand what they do not know is unrealistic.

I propose a dispersed means of offering this instruction to students. By leveraging partnerships we can offer an ongoing reinforcement of the skills and be more able to assess student ability.


Incoming first year students are assessed before the start of classes to gain an understanding of areas of strength and weakness. This assessment serves to inform the type and depth of instruction offered, and also is a pre-test which when married to a post-test upon completion of the student’s second year. Depending on the level of progress made, it would be determined if the test is then offered an additional time before graduation.

The Library does not do this on its own. These skills are critical to student success which is a common goal of the college. Key partners are the dean of the college, the writing center, the center for teaching and learning, and academic computing.

Dean of the College: Requiring each incoming student to be assessed for their critical information literacy skills, and that they take a first year seminar with a research component during their first year.

Faculty: Designing a curriculum that involves research skills and reflects the supports available on campus will expose first year students to the academic research process as well as uncover the many supports available to them.

The Writing Center: All writing center consultations should include information about citations and citation management tools. Library workshops can be promoted at this time.

The Center for Teaching and Learning: Work with faculty to develop first year seminars and help them work information literacy skills into their course. Librarians have one or more sessions with students during class time or outside of class.

Academic Computing: Integrate IL into courses in the Learning Management System for courses.

and, of course, The Library: Oversees the curriculum design including assessment and provides workshops for students and faculty on new tools, no strategies, and overall how-to instruction.

Spreading  IL instruction out over time allows students to learn the skills incrementally, and also when they need them. When writing a research paper and reviewing it at the Writing Center, students can also have their citations reviewed. Faculty would sign up to teach a first year seminar knowing that information literacy would be a core part of it. Spreading skills out over time and when they need the skills just makes sense.

Librarians have carried the information literacy mantle and found a mixed bag of success. Sometimes we feel confident about the finding and evaluating information elements, but never see a final paper. Other times we work with students on a citation management tool, but do not see the citations the students end up creating. Why is it important for librarians to have this follow through? Without a means of understanding how we are doing, we will never be able to do better. Without confidence that students are prepared for the work they are expected to do, we will never be able to fully help them. Without assessing how students develop these skills over time, we will never understand nor will we be able to understand our value in this regard to campus. We can say it is important. Faculty can say it is important. Students, when they know it has a name and it is useful to them, say they wish they had known about it earlier.

Poster: Plugging into the process: enhancing campus partnerships to provide robust student research support
Evelyn, Sarah, O’Mahony, Daniel, and Quist, Edwin, “Plugging into the process: enhancing campus partnerships to provide robust student research support” (2014). Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.