Mandatory Information Literacy

I received an email today from someone in another country asking if we had made information literacy mandatory for first-year students at my institution. Of course, I can only presume that she meant mandatory information literacy *instruction* – I cannot imagine any institution ever mandating achievement of information literacy for first-year students. This has prompted quite a bit of thought for me today. The short answer is that we do not have such a requirement and – for a variety of reasons – that is not likely to happen for some time, perhaps ever, given the very decentralized nature of the undergraduate curriculum (there are 5-7 ways to fulfill the first-year composition requirement, depending how one counts the options) among other factors.

What I am thinking about though is whether that is the goal that I should be trying to achieve. My answer right now is no. I think I would spend a great deal of energy and time and not have much to show for it. Instead, I have focused on looking for the “windows” in the curriculum — either courses, faculty or instructors, or iniatives that present opportunities for integration and weaving information literacy instruction into the fabric of a subject area, curriculum, program, etc. My belief is that if information literacy is integrated in this way it is relatively permanently integrated – whether there is a mandate or not – because it means faculty have made a commitment to the importance of this topic and that is more powerful than an imposed mandate. I prefer this admittedly drawn-out process of integration rather than “bolt on” information literacy instruction. It means however that my goals for the program are expressed in years, not weeks or months.

So, what do others think? Is this institutionally-specific or are there more common principles of program development?