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Exploring New Strategies For First-Year Information Literacy Instruction

April 28, 2023

First-Year courses are the bread and butter of many academic libraries’ information literacy programs, and the same is certainly true for us at W&J. First-Year information literacy instruction sessions are an opportunity to welcome students to the library and to campus and get them up to speed early in their college careers (Goodsett and Schmillen, 2022, pp. 91, 95). Goodsett and Schmillen (2022) discuss in their article, “Fostering Critical Thinking in First-Year Students through Information Literacy Instruction,” that these sessions are also opportunities to foster greater critical thinking skills (both of which are critical to their success as college students) (pp. 93, 98-100). At W&J, we’re working to find a better path forward to make our information literacy and critical thinking instruction more effective for our first-year students through a multi-pronged approach.

Our current experience at W&J mirrors the experiences reported by Goodsett and Schmillen (2022) – many libraries are frequently trying to do too much in one-shot instruction sessions in first-year classes (pp. 100, 102, 104). As argued by Christina Heady, Jennifer Horton, and Joshua Vossler (2023, March) at ACRL 2023, the one-shot structure is not ideal for incorporating all of the information literacy and critical thinking skills librarians would like to impart to first-year students. However, at W&J, we have been doing our best to squish in as much as possible our 70- or 115-minute class sessions, especially since many of the solutions proposed by Heady, Horton, and Vossler (2023, March) were best suited for larger institutions with dozens if not hundreds of employees. With that said, squeezing in material is challenging for librarians to teach and students to retain. This is exacerbated by the fact that many first-year seminars are moving away from traditional research assignments, and so students struggle to apply the information literacy skills we teach them when they visit the library during their first few weeks of classes.

In the Fall 2022 semester, we began an academic year-long pilot program to incorporate information literacy instruction into English Composition (W&J’s equivalent of first-year writing) courses. The instruction sessions encompassed a wide range of basic information literacy concepts from topic and keyword development, search strategies for popular library databases, and critical and contextual source evaluation. The assignments in English Composition are more traditional research projects, and so we hoped that those assignments would make it easier for the students to apply the information literacy skills discussed in our sessions. This program took off beyond our hopes, thanks to the enthusiasm of the department chair and the adjunct instructors who teach the majority of the English Composition classes. We were able to visit all but one or two sections in the Fall semester and visited all sections in the Spring semester.

The success of the pilot program and the ill-fitting nature of the assignments commonly assigned in first year seminars have presented an opportunity for us to strive more towards by Heady, Horton, and Vossler’s (2023, March) more integrated approach through the creation of a multipronged approach to first-year library instruction. This approach, which we will try for the Fall 2023 semester, will involve the first-year seminar library instruction transforming into more of an orientation to the library (a direction we explored during the Fall 2022 semester with success) with the option for professors to request a more in-depth information literacy session and the expansion of the English Composition pilot program to include more than one librarian teaching the 7-10 sections each semester. We are also looking for more ways to incorporate primary source literacy into our English Composition lesson plans.  We plan to continue our personal librarian model in the first-year seminars because we have found that it helps students feel more comfortable navigating the library to have a familiar face around. This new program is an experiment, but hopefully one that will give us more opportunities to engage with students and encourage them to develop/hone their critical thinking and information literacy skills over the course of their first year in college.

How do you structure your work with first-year students? I’d love to hear about other models as well as any feedback on our plans!


Goodsett, M., & Schmillen, H. (2022, January). “Fostering critical thinking in first-year students through information literacy instruction.” College & Research Libraries, 83(1), pp. 91-110.

Heady, C., Horton, J., & Vossler, J. (2023, March). The questionable efficacy of one-shot instruction for first-year students: a scoping review [Contributed Paper]. ACRL 2023, Pittsburgh, PA.

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