Latest NCES Data Shows Little IL Progress

In a post from August 2008 I shared some data straight out of a report titled Academic Libraries 2006 that presents tabulations for the 2006 Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) conducted by the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data related to the percentage of libraries reporting information literacy activities was underwhelming when one considers all of the attention our profession places on and puts into information literacy and library instruction initiatives. For the fall of 2006, there were far too few institutions reporting that information literacy was a part of the institutional mission or had been incorporated into the strategic plan. So I was curious when I saw the latest Academic Libraries 2008: First Look report that presents tabulations from 2008. How did we do? Was there an increase in reported information literacy activity between 2006 and 2008?

There was some change all right, but not in the right direction. Here are the same five data items identified in the NCES Survey related to information literacy:

1. defined information literacy or information literate student
2. incorporated information literacy into institution’s mission
3. incorporated information literacy into institution’s strategic plan
4. has institution-wide committee to implement strategic plan for information literacy
5. strategic plan formally recognizes the library’s role in information literacy instruction

Here at the corresponding percentages for each of those five items for 2006 versus 2008:

1. 48.4——————————- 1. 46.3
2. 34.3——————————–2. 32.5
3. 30.4——————————–3. 30.3
4. 17.6——————————–4. 17.8
5. 24.8——————————–5. 24.2

So there was either decline or no significant change. That’s quite puzzling and somewhat disturbing. Here we are two years later and academic librarians’ efforts to advance the integration of information literacy into our institutions appear to be backsliding. Maybe we need to discount the data item number two above. How many academic institutions are going to incorporate something about information literacy into their mission statements? I wouldn’t even expect my own institution to do that. And what about the incorporation of information literacy into the strategic plan. At my own institution an early draft of a new strategic plan written this year included some text about the importance of the library for supporting research – nothing about information literacy. But even that minimal language was dropped in a later version. So getting the institution to incorporate information literacy into the strategic plan is no easy task. I would expect number 4 to be higher though. Here is an objective worth working towards. And rather than ask about integration of information literacy into the strategic plan or mission, why not change that to integration into a curriculum plan for core education. I think more academic libraries could report that their institution’s plan for general education or liberal education does discuss information literacy as does the one at my institution.

Academic librarians still have their work cut out for them when it comes to institutional recognition of the value of information literacy. Beyond that, what can the Academic Report 2008 tell us about our performance and contributions to the academic community? Not much. But here are some comparative numbers that may interest you:

Total Circulation-144,119,450(06)–138,102,762(08) 4.175 % decrease

Interlibrary Loan-10,801,531(06)—-11,095,168(08) 2.718 % increase

Returnables – 8.676 % increase
Non-Returnables – 5.265 % decrease

Gate Counts–18,765,712(06)——20,274,423(08) 8.04 % increase

Reference Transactions–1,100,863(06)—1,079,770 1.916 % decrease

Presentations–471,089(06)—-498,337(08) 5.784 % increase

E-Books–64,365,781(06)—–102,502,182(08) 59.249 % increase

FTE Librarians—26,469(06)—–27,030(08) 2.119 % increase

You can find more of these data items in the full report, and it’s not too difficult to toggle back and forth between the 2006 and 2008 reports to see where the differences are. As the representative items offered here suggest there hasn’t been much significant change over the two year period, excepting a big increase in the number of e-books. Without doing any sort of detailed analysis it looks to me like academic libraries are holding their own. There’s nothing here to suggest the academic community is abandoning their libraries. Circulation and reference are down a bit, but ILL is still busy, more people are visiting the building and despite the anaemic indicators for information literacy, the number of instruction sessions (included in “presentations” I take it) continues to increase.

I hope that the folks who construct the NCES survey instrument for academic libraries will give more thought to what type of questions would give us a better picture of the status of information literacy integration into the institutional curriculum rather than the mission or strategic plan. I see they do include a group of academic librarians in the development of the report. Perhaps for their next meeting they’ll put this issue on the agenda.

4 thoughts on “Latest NCES Data Shows Little IL Progress”

  1. It makes sense that circulation is down as ILL of returnables (e.g. mostly books) is up. We have less money for books, so we have to do more sharing.

    The inclusion of the words “information literacy” in strategic planning documents seems an imprecise way to measure its importance to an institution. I can easily imagine a situation where it’s articulated but not enacted – and very much the reverse, particularly when the faculty play a major role in enacting it; they tend not to use this lingo and often find strategic planning documents an unimaginative form of speculative fiction, yet may be involving students in inquiry all the time.

  2. I wonder if the data reflects more some librarians’ real discomfort with the phrase (and indeed even the concept) “information literacy.” It could be that librarians still don’t have much power institutionally. Or, it could be that they aren’t pushing for something they don’t believe in.

    Or, it could be they don’t want to set up impossible-to-reach assessment goals. If you push to have info lit articulated in institutional missions, aren’t you then committed to figuring out how to measure it? Then how else will you know if you’ve met your goal? We are so dependent on instructors to let us teach “their” students. It seems sensible not to set standards you don’t have much control over ever reaching.

    (Or maybe I’m just projecting. Especially about the part where many librarians still aren’t comfortable with the phrase or concept as it’s articulated by ACRL.)

    Following along the lines of Barbara’s comment, I’d be interested in seeing data about students IL skills at similar schools where IL is and is not articulated as a goal. I suspect the actual skills wouldn’t be that different.

    Do we have any evidence that students at schools which define an IL student actually have more IL students?

  3. As academic institutions, the term information “literacy” does not resonate with faculty and/or administrators of our colleges. In our experience, we found that once we started using the term “fluency”, we were able to gain traction with the faculty in promoting our programs and gaining participation in our programs that emphasized what defined an information fluent student. Our students are information literate when they arrive on our campuses, it is “fluency” that we are hoping to develop and we need the partnership of the faculty in order to achieve that goal. It’s time to change the term to something that will elicit faculty support and enthusiasm.

  4. I am on a committee that is attempting to incorporate both information and computer literacy competencies into the core. We have come a long way; however, our committee is stalled at the assessment level on information literacy and I have a fear that the assessment piece may prevent any implementation. I am looking for colleges that incorporate information literacy/fluency into their curriculum and would like any information on current assessment models used.

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