It all began with Joseph Marsh

The changing roles of libraries & the importance of information literacy

From its humble origins in a single room in the long-gone Academy Hall to its recently completed $11 million home in the most technologically advanced building on campus, the Pacific University Library has played an increasingly important role in the educational processes of the University.

The new Pacific University Library is the latest iteration in a progression of libraries that have graced the Pacific campus. The Academy Hall Library was followed by the library in Marsh Hall. Then in 1912, the Carnegie Hall Library, one of the very few libraries built by the Carnegie Endowment on college or university campuses, was constructed. The Harvey W. Scott Memorial Library followed in 1967 and remained in use until August 2005.

While the physical architecture of the University’s libraries has advanced in response to curricular changes and need, so has the type and variety of services offered by the Library. Central to all of the services offered has been and continues to be library users, both students and faculty. The first librarian at the University was Joseph Marsh, brother of the University’s first president, Sidney Harper Marsh. Joseph Marsh served the University and its students with distinction for 40 years.

Little is known about Marsh’s exact approach to his duties as University librarian, but what is known is that university libraries of the time were akin to warehouses from which various resources could be retrieved from time to time depending on need. It was in this context that the library tour became the mandatory staple of freshman orientation at Pacific and other institutions of higher education. Often it consisted of a librarian walking a student group through the library while repeating statistics about holdings, circulation, and hours of operation. For a fortunate few, the librarian leading the tour might include a demonstration of using the card catalog to locate books in the collection, popular indexes such as “Reader’s Guide,” and perhaps an explanation of the different dictionaries, encyclopedias, and thesauri. At best, it was an attempt to acquaint these entering students with some common library resources and suggest to them that the employment of these tools, if not their mastery, was an expectation that would soon be placed on them and that their success or failure in this regard might very well influence their entire college career.

Subtle changes in this approach to orienting students to the library occurred to accommodate developments such as Machine Readable Cataloging Record (MARC) which provided libraries with a standardized way in which to create computerized records of their holdings, automated indexing of journal articles using the Keyword in Context (KWIC) approach, and the development of computer systems that made possible the exchange of information about their respective collections among libraries. The net result of these developments was to make more and more information available to students. What didn’t increase, however, was the time to familiarize students with the new resources.

While the warehouse model of library as repository persisted well into mid-20th century, the library tour had gradually given way to what was termed “bibliographic instruction” and represented a more substantive approach to teaching students about the utility of various print and electronic library resources often with a “hands-on” approach. Bibliographic instruction or “BI” as it came to be known, was still largely based on identifying and using various information tools and most often was offered in response to a perceived or identified need. By the late 1980s, computer technology and the advent of the personal computer fundamentally changed the way in which information was created, stored, and accessed.

With the geometric expansion of information and the realization by librarians that it was unlikely that any institution would ever have the resource base needed to acquire all the information sources that might possibly be needed, the warehouse model was ultimately replaced by an access model. The access model emphasized the library’s ability to access vast amounts of information, employing the same computer technology that helped to create and disseminate that information, rather than ownership of the resources that contained the information.

By the mid-1990s, academic libraries throughout the country adopted a new holistic approach to informing students not only about the various types of resources available from academic libraries, but also and equally important, the process for identifying the need for information, gathering and processing the information, and then evaluating how effectively the information had been used. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges in 2000 observed that, “At no time in history has so much data from so many diverse sources been available at the click of a mouse or the turn of a page. This situation is linked to a commensurate universal expectation that individuals be able to ‘locate, evaluate, and process information in a wide variety of formats.’”

Never has it been more important that Pacific University students be “information literate” in order to not only fulfill their academic program requirements but also to assist in the preparation for their professional and personal development. “Information literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information. At Pacific, University Library staff is committed toward teaching information literacy skills to students to ensure that they become independent lifelong learners,” said University Librarian Ben Wakashige.

One of the major differences between “information literacy” and “bibliographic instruction” lay in the fact that it considers library instruction to be more of a process than an event. Librarians have abandoned their former roles as gatekeepers and repositioned themselves to serve more as guides, realizing they could be most effective when the person seeking their services knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do. It also means being able to recognize the need for information, identify and locate appropriate information sources, access the information contained in those sources, evaluate the quality of information obtained, organize the information, and use the information effectively (adapted from the Big 6 Model developed by Michael Eisenberg and Robert Berkowitz).

The number of students who have benefited from information literacy instruction at Pacific has increased significantly since 1996. In the first year, 524 students received the instruction. In the 2003-04 academic year, the number grew to 2,441. With the advent of the Library’s instructional classroom in the new Pacific Library, information literacy efforts are expected to increase even more as faculty members recognize the importance of their students becoming information literate.

One example of working with professors to imbed information literacy instruction into the curriculum occurred two years ago with English Professor Tim Thompson. After several meetings to discuss how to incorporate the concepts into his fall expository writing course, Thompson’s students were introduced to information literacy during three class sessions.

“We know from data provided in the course assessment that the information literacy package was very positive. My students in particular benefited from the focus on Web use and source evaluation,” said Thompson.

Preparing students to use the abundance of information available also is important to media arts Professor Dave Cassady.

“Information literacy has become a significant priority in my media classes over the past five years for two reasons. Our media students, by the very nature of their majors, are involved in creating, using, and managing information. That’s what the

media are – purveyors of information. Even if the students don’t go into a career that involves information processing, they will all be the citizens of a global society that is overwhelmed with information. We need to teach students how to find, analyze, validate, and use the wealth of information available if they are to prosper in the future.”

With information becoming increasingly more available on the Web from a variety of sources, some of which is questionable, it is vital that Pacific University graduates be prepared to be lifelong learners of new information and to have the critical thinking skills to make informed choices now and in the future.

Photo: old books

Information literacy is “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the needed information.“

-The Association of College and Research Libraries