Forum/Pat Davitt Maughan: Teaching Students How to Use the Library

The pace of scholarly research, the proliferation of publishing, and the development of electronic information resources have resulted in an information maze that is bewildering to many Berkeley students.

As undergraduates leave their classrooms to conduct research in the library, they enter a fast-changing world of information for which they are often ill-prepared.

The Teaching Library was created in the fall of 1993 to support undergraduate education and bridge the gap between the classroom and the library's information resources. The Teaching Library supplements lectures and assignments students receive in the classroom with instruction in information resources and search techniques.

In spring 1994, the Teaching Library conducted a survey to better understand and document library skills acquired by graduating seniors in two campus departments, Political Science and Sociology, during their years at Berkeley. Library staff hoped the results of this study might be used to persuade faculty of the critical need for more extensive course-integrated library instruction for undergraduates.

The survey, consisting of 36 multiple-choice and true/false questions, was administered by mail. Survey questions were derived from a set of basic competencies developed by the Teaching Library's instruction team.

Some 386 surveys were mailed to all graduating seniors in the two departments. A total of 255 questionnaires were returned, for an combined return rate of 66 percent (71 percent political science majors responded.) These returns allow the library to make statements about the results with a high level of confidence that they apply to all students among the groups surveyed.

Before testing actual library skills, the library asked the students to self-rate their library skills and indicate how many library instruction sessions that they had attended during their years here.

Only 1.2 percent of the students scored 90 percent or higher in correctly answering the survey questions. While only 7 percent of graduates rated their library skills as poor, in reality 63 percent of the graduates received poor-to-failing scores on the survey questions.

A detailed analysis of the responses revealed that less than half of the graduating seniors were able to properly search for information by subject, identify key reference sources in the social sciences, recognize key electronic sources in their subject major, or distinguish citations to books from journal-article citations.

On a more positive note, well over half of the students scoring 80 percent or higher on the survey reported receiving some form of library instruction while at Berkeley. The higher the number of instructional sessions attended, the higher the test score.

When returning survey results to the Librarian's Office, many graduating seniors were heard to say, "I wish I had known this before I graduated."

The Teaching Library's mission is to ensure that all Berkeley graduates are knowledgeable about the information resources in their subject-major, trained to use them effectively, and prepared to conduct productive searches throughout the course of their academic and professional careers.

The Teaching Library cannot accomplish this without the full support of campus faculty. The library staff knows from experience that most undergraduates will not learn to use information resources unless encouraged by faculty and teaching assistants to do so.

Library instruction sessions folded into student coursework are particularly effective. To inquire further into the faculty and student services provided by the Teaching Library, contact Ellen Meltzer, head of the Teaching Library, 642-1580 or


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