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Information Competence at UCLA: Report of a Survey Project

  • Author(s): Caravello, Patti S.;
  • Borah, Eloisa Gomez;
  • Herschman, Judith;
  • Mitchell, Eleanor
  • et al.

Librarians have long had anecdotal evidence that undergraduates do not possess adequate information skills for some of the coursework they are required to complete. To obtain an objective measure of their information competence, the UCLA Library's Instructional Services Advisory Committee (ISAC) conducted an assessment project. The committee created a list of competencies and a survey instrument, which was administered to a sample of 453 undergraduates in Spring 1999. This report explains the research problem and methodology, explores the findings and conclusions of the research project, and makes recommendations based on the data.

The main goal of the project was to identify ways to make library instruction more effective at UCLA. A practical objective was to obtain data to use in discussions with faculty about students' information and research skills, the impact of those abilities on students' coursework, and the potential of library instruction to improve them.

The instrument ISAC created sought to measure how skillful or knowledgeable students were in general with library resources, online searching, and information-seeking concepts, rather than to assess the efficacy of existing library instructional programs. The instrument was vetted in several ways over the course of the project and was administered in a non-course-related classroom setting to a broad sample of students. A data analyst from the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) oversaw the coding of data and performed several types of analysis on it to test hypotheses and verify significant findings.

Results indicate many gaps in students' understanding of resources and methods, which are discussed in detail in the report. The general level of information literacy as assessed by the instrument was low. Statistically significant findings based on an analysis of average scores and student demographics are:

-Students who reported frequent use of library resources scored higher on the test.

-Seniors scored higher than each of the other classes taken separately or combined. While seniors scored highest, class level was otherwise not a significant factor; that is, there was no difference between the mean scores of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.

-Students whose majors are in the humanities scored higher than students majoring either in the social sciences or sciences.

The results did not allow ISAC to identify causes for these findings, although a number of hypotheses are possible. It is not clear whether or in what way the statistically significant results are substantively significant.

The mean scores of students who reported having had a high quantity of library instruction or tours were also analyzed. Although these students did not score significantly higher on the test, two thirds of them had their library classes or tours in high school; the number who had the sessions in college was so small that the result for this variable is not particularly meaningful.

Based on the results of this project and the collective experience of committee members, ISAC has made several recommendations aimed at the goal of increasing information competence. Library staff should share the key findings with faculty and create a dialogue about the information competence of their students. This might include discovering how faculty view students' information skills and exploring the effect of increased library use on information competence. Library staff should work with faculty and academic departments to define, adopt, and promote sets of basic and discipline- or major-oriented competencies; these should be used to develop library instruction that is part of a curriculum-integrated information literacy program. The Library should take a more systematic approach to instructional initiatives - which may include Web-based instruction, course-integrated instruction, courses, and remote learning mechanisms. Areas for further research and recommendations about the use of the instrument are also included in the report.

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