A New Report From Project Information Literacy

Results from the second phase of a lifelong learning study are out - and it gives academic librarians plenty to think about.

February 25, 2015

Last week I was reflecting on whether our information literacy efforts truly support lifelong learning and whether there are practical ways to help students connect the kind of information analysis they conduct for college assignments with the ways they will use information later. 

Lucky me! A report from an ongoing Project Information Literacy study about lifelong learning has just been released. The first phase involved interviewing recent grads and their employers – fascinating stuff. This one summarizes the results of a survey taken by over 1,600 recent grads of ten colleges and universities – a hard-to-reach group, as any alumni office will tell you. Though the respondents are  not representative of graduates generally, this survey adds some heft to the previous study and sets the stage for the third and final phase of this important project.

The findings suggest that students do, indeed, have lots of information needs after college, some related to work, some related to their personal interests. Respondents reported using Google, not surprisingly, but they also relied on social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Youtube videos and blogs also were useful to respondents for how-to and professional information. More surprisingly, they also reported using bookstores, public libraries, and openly-available research databases for both work and personal needs.Interestingly, their public library use was far more tilted toward the personal; only a little more than a quarter reported using the public library for professional information. In other cases, there was more overlap. For over 40 percent of respondents, open-access databases or websites useful for work were also helpful for personal interests. That said, “locating affordable sources” was a challenge for 40 percent of respondents. All that time we lavish on convincing students that scholarship matters is wasted if we can’t be bothered to make it accessible to graduates for something less than, say, $45.00 per article.  (Next time you think about where to publish, consider whether those promising students you graduated will have the opportunity to read your work. Even if the journal is not open access, you may be able to post a copy online. Worth thinking about.)

In striking contrast the first of these three lifelong learning studies, graduates reported relying on people as information resources quite heavily. In the 2012 study, one employer was dismayed at how infrequently his recently-graduated employees would pick up the phone and call someone; others sensed graduates were reluctant to bring problems to their coworkers instead of to Google. Either the studies tapped different responses or there has been an interesting shift over the past three years.

For those who worry that students aren’t interested in books or reading, there’s good news. Well over half of respondents reported reading more than three books in the past year, more often for pleasure than for work.

I’m dithering about the last two findings of the report: graduates feel they have made a lot of progress in areas that first-year students found particularly challenging, such as sorting through options and identifying which resources will be most useful. Yet only half of graduates responding to the survey agreed strongly that they could extract the information they needed from sources they had found, slightly less than half felt confident that they could evaluate the credibility of sources, that they could learn independently and present information effectively. I guess I could be pleased that at least half of this group was not academically adrift, but I worry about the other half. How well are we meeting these most basic educational goals?

Are these graduates recalibrating as they enter a new field and professional environment, so needing to find new ways to interpret, evaluate, and use information? Are they simply reluctant to strongly agree to anything on a survey? In any case I'll be thinking about that other half - and about the 40 percent who seek information but find they can't afford it - as we plan our instructional efforts.   

Meanwhile, many thanks to Alison Head, principle investigator, and all who work on this valuable multi-institution project. 


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