workplace information literacy research

Over the summer I have been researching 21st century skills education and how workplace information literacy can be addressed through library instruction (keywords: “21st century skills education”; workplace information literacy library instruction”)

My research query: How can NSCC Library Services redefine information literacy practices to align with 21st century skills requirements?

To help determine the answer to this question, I am also investigating how NSCC determines if employers are satisfied with “soft skills” of our grads (and what this term means) and what NSCC is currently doing to address “soft skills” training, through the Student Services Alignment Project and through curriculum development.


Bird, N. J., & Williams, T. (2014). Casting a wider net: O*NET, workforce development, and information literacy. RUSQ: Reference and User Services Quarterly, 53(3), 227–231. Retrieved from

 O*Net, a US database of occupational information, was used to create information literacy programs that explored strategies within specific trades training programs. In one library instruction session, students explored job characteristics (in O*Net) for their trade and brainstormed likely problems that they might encounter on the job. In a second session, the librarian helped students develop keyword searches and gave instructions on how to find relevant information. For their assignment, each student had to articulate a career-related problem and propose an evidence-based solution (p. 230).


Hicks, A. (2015). Drinking on the job: integrating workplace information literacy into the curriculum. LOEX Quarterly, 41(4), 9–15. Retrieved from

Head’s research for Project Information Literacy, which explored the information experiences of new grads in the workplace, identified gaps between employer expectations and employee competencies. “[E]mployers perceived that an overreliance on digital sources meant that new employees were often unable to explore a topic thoroughly or to make connections and patterns in their own work (Head, 2012). Students also perceived that the nature of information tasks was very different in the workplace” (p. 9).

Hicks recommends that information literacy instruction introduce students to information environments of the workplaces for which they are training. Hicks (2014) developed information literacy training in which she interviewed people in the field about the information practices, experiences, processes tasks and sources they most often used. After showing the recordings to a class, students were taught to develop their own individual PLE (personal learning environment) specific to their area of training.


Kivunja, C. (2015). Teaching students to learn and work well with 21st century skills: unpacking the career and life skills domain of the new learning paradigm. International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), 1–11. Retrieved from

Reviews the “Career and Life Skills” domain of the Partnership for Teaching 21st Century Skills (P21) and outlines strategies for teaching these “soft” skills:

Skills Learning outcomes
1.    Flexibility/adaptability How to appreciate and respond positively to feedback
2.    Initiative/self-direction How to set goals, learn from trial and error and develop resilience in learning from mistakes
3.    Social/cross-cultural How to be an active listener who reads non-verbal information and remains open-minded
4.    Productivity/accountability How to manage projects and time; how to be ethical and participatory
5.    Leadership/responsibility How to direct the activities of others, set clear goals and give effective instructions


Lloyd, A. (2013). Building information resilient workers: The critical ground of workplace information literacy. What have we learnt? In S. Kurbanog˘lu, E. Grassian, D. Mizrachi, R. Catts, & S. Špiranec (Eds.), Worldwide commonalities and challenges in information literacy research and practice (Vol. 397, pp. 219–228). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-03919-0_28

In today’s workforce, it is not enough to be able to locate, access and organize information; workers must be able to transform it (p. 220). Workers must develop “information resilience”: the capacity to connect and engage with information in order to solve problems, adapt to change or to novel situations, transform workplace practices and to reduce possible sources of conflict or stress that arise when there is uncertainty about the type of information that is required or where to locate it in the information landscape” (p. 225).

Employers report that students coming into the workforce lack critical information literacies that enable them to find creative solutions to real-world problems (p. 221).

A “people in practice” approach shifts away from the information skills approach that has dominated IL research and education (p. 223). IL must be “situated and contextual” (p. 226).


Monge, R., & Erica Frisicaro-Pawlowski, E. (2014). Redefining information literacy to prepare students for the 21st century workforce. Innovative Higher Education, 39 (1), 59–73. doi:10.1007/s10755-013-9260-5

Traditional information literacy training assumed information skills could be applied universally and learned individually, but this is not the case, and there is a push to redefine IL guidelines using the requirements of specific disciplines.

In the workplace, information seeking and use is “highly contextual and fundamentally social”, and employers report that new grads have difficulty in handling ambiguous research tasks (p. 60). Current “college-centric” IL instruction fails to take into account the social and contextual nature of the workplace and focuses on the learner as a “solitary practitioner of information methods, rather than as an interpreter, creator, or collaborator immersed in an increasingly dynamic information context” (p. 61). Students are often not equipped to transform information skills outside of assignments (p. 62).

We need to abandon IL as a stand-alone skill set, embrace student-centered learning and provide opportunities for the social and technical landscape to shape learning (p. 66).


 Partnership for 21st Century. (2010). Up to the challenge: the role of career and technical education and 21st century skills in college and career readiness. Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Association for Career and Technical Education, National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from

Employers (in the US) have indicated that there is a mismatch between the skills they are looking for and the qualifications of their workers. In addition to industry-specific skills, executives are looking for a workforce that is equipped with critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (the 4 Cs).


Roberts, L. (2016). Research in the real world: Improving adult learners’ web search and evaluation skills through motivational design and problem-based learning. College & Research Libraries. Advance online publication. Retrieved from

Roberts describes an information literacy workshop entitled “Research in the Real World”, in which she uses the ARCS Model of Motivational Design and Problem-Based Learning to develop more engaging and effective library instruction programs for community college students. She includes her pre- and post-tests and the results of her findings.

Roberts acknowledges that there have been “few studies of effective research skills among nontraditional college students” and attempts to address this gap in her study.

She notes, “Best practices for improving IL have been moving away from prescriptive how-to of bibliographic instruction and towards concept-based teaching of information literacy to prepare students for the information economy” (citing Lloyd, 2013) and that the shift is from information literacy to metaliteracy, which Jacobson and Mackey (2011) position as the intersection of four domains: behavioral, cognitive, affective and metacognitive. They set four goals for metaliterate workers:

  1. Evaluate content critically, including dynamic, online content that changes and evolves
  2. Understand personal privacy, information ethics and intellectual property issues
  3. Share information and collaborate in a variety of participatory environments
  4. Demonstrate the ability to connect learning and research strategies with lifelong learning processes, personal, academic and professional goals.

She found that librarians tend to employ strategies pertaining to the relevance of material only a quarter of the time, and the ARCS Model suggests that to increase students’ motivation to learn, instructors must show relevance and provide hands-on activities. PBL (problem based learning) equips students to perform better in practice or skill-based environments.

How her instructional model relates to the New Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education:

  1. Authority is constructed and contextual – examines the construction of authority in various freely available internet resources.
  2. Information creation as a process –
  3. Information has value – the relative value of subscription database information and finding similar open access substitutes.
  4. Research as inquiry – problem-based learning (PBL) scenarios as a way of problem solving
  5. Scholarship as conversation
  6. Searching as strategic exploration – PBL giving context to define and redefine information problems.

Her results indicate that the Framework’s threshold concepts may be more effective when combined with “authentic learning contexts”, such as PBL teaching techniques. College students are more likely to find the instruction relevant if they are given realistic scenarios and an immediate chance to practice new techniques.


Weiner, S. (2011). Information literacy and the workforce: a review. Education Libraries,34(2), 7–14. Retrieved from

Weiner, who is the Booker Chair in Information Literacy at Purdue University, summarizes the literature around the topic of workplace information literacy and notes that there are concerns expressed by employers about the “workforce readiness” of new graduates. She points to evidence that information literacy instruction in college does not result in effective application in the workplace (p. 8); that the information needs and information-seeking behaviours of students are different than those they will need in the workforce, because workplace tasks are context-specific and not generic (p. 9); and that employers feel students would be more successful in the workplace if they could research questions in their field and develop evidence-based analyses (p. 10). The problem is exacerbated by the fact that little workplace information literacy research has been conducted in jobs that don’t require university degrees (p. 10).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s