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  1. 1. Alicia Stockton MLIS 7120 Research Paper Incorporating Government Documents into Information Literacy Instruction Information literacy instruction courses are becoming commonplace in university libraries as a means to educate undergraduate students on using and evaluating information sources. As more information becomes available electronically, fewer students are using resources available in the library and rely on search engines like Yahoo! and Google. Though many government documents are available online, students are unlikely to find them in the current information climate without librarian or instructor assistance. In addition, depository libraries are finding that physical government documents are being used less frequently as there is more demand for electronic information. As a result, government documents departments are being merged into the regular reference departments of academic libraries. 82% of government depository libraries have merged the reference desk for their government documents with that of their regular collection. (Mack & Prescod, 2009) The merge of government information into the general reference department of the library can be good if efforts are made to incorporate government documents into information literacy instruction. ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education defines information literacy as the ability to “recognize when information is needed, and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (ACRL, 1999) These skills apply to government documents in the same way they do other library resources. In order to be fully information literate, students must know that government documents exist, and that they can be appropriate sources for their research. Students must also
  2. 2. be able to evaluate sources for bias, accuracy and reliability. Recognizing the difference between scholarly and popular sources, as well as, primary and secondary sources is another goal of information literacy instruction. Government documents make excellent tools for teaching students how to evaluate sources critically. (Downie, 2004). Many government documents are considered primary sources, and they have wide, interdisciplinary coverage. Librarians can show students how to use government information effectively, and they can teach them that government information is more reliable than some of the information that is available from unofficial sources. The FDLP Handbook outlines the requirements that Depository libraries must follow in providing reference services in relation to government documents. In order to provide excellent service to those requiring assistance with government information, staff must be properly trained in the use of government information in all formats. (FDLP, 2009) Staff must be trained to use online government information portals and web search engines. They must be able to meet a patron’s immediate information needs. It is important that staff know how to find not only what is available electronically, that they are trained to find the hidden print and microfiche collections. The electronic sources only provide a fraction of the government information that is currently available for public use. (Mack & Prescod, 2009). Proper staff training will ensure that the community is served effectively. FDLP strongly encourages librarians to offer research assistance to depository users, as well as providing them with instruction on how to use various government tools. Handouts and tutorials for using online government sources can be found at GODORT’s wiki. (FDLP, 2009) Government documents librarians and instruction librarians can also use this information to teach students how to access government sources, further adding to their understanding of available
  3. 3. library resources. The handouts and tutorials found on GODORT’s wiki can also provide examples to librarians who wish to create their own information literacy tools. In addition to the responsibilities listed in the FDLP handbook government documents librarians are expected to build a sustainable infrastructure for information literacy for both digital and tangible formats of government documents. The goal is to promote life-long information literacy skills. (Mack & Prescod, 2009) More emphasis should be placed on the importance of government information in everyday life as well as its educational applications. In order to participate in the electoral process and perform other duties expected in a political society, one must be well-informed on the government and its functions. It is important to have the skills necessary to find accurate, unbiased information. Instruction librarians in collaboration with government documents coordinators have the power to arm students with this knowledge. (Downie, 2007) They are not just helping them with a research assignment. They are helping them to be become informed citizens. To ensure that government documents are properly promoted, it is necessary to properly train library staff on available resources. The University of Tennessee requires that its staff receives basic training in government search engines, portals, and meeting a patron’s immediate information needs. (Mack & Prescod, 2009). Even if government documents are not a librarian’s particular expertise, it is necessary for all reference desk staff to know how to find them. Most libraries can no longer support separate access points for their government documents collections. Internet search engines may lead patrons to inferior sources, therefore, a trained reference staff will be more likely to lead them to quality sources. Most university libraries provide remote access to their online content. Students often access library resources from their homes or dorms. This creates a need to provide reference
  4. 4. assistance, and in some cases on-the-fly instruction, by means of phone, e-mail, or instant messaging. The library is now equipped to provide instant reference assistance during all working hours even if the patron never enters the building. This makes it even less feasible for government documents librarians to have separate reference assistance areas. (Mack & Prescod, 2009) Patrons have grown to expect that all of their questions can be answered in one place, 24 hours a day. Use of social media is another way that librarians are promoting available government resources to patrons. It is important if patrons are seeking information outside the library to go where the patrons are seeking information. The internet has become a valuable resource for libraries as they showcase available resources on websites and blogs. These sites promote both electronic and print resources to researchers. (Burroughs & Clark, 2007). Libraries are using RSS feeds and email newsletters to alert patrons to new resources and updates to the library webpage. Blogs also provide up to the minute coverage that can be easily updated by library staff. These resources are only effective, however, if staff takes the time to keep them current and accessible. (Burroughs & Clark, 2007) Two examples of sites that promote government documents are Government News for Montana and New Mexico News Plus. New Mexico News Plus began in 2004 at New Mexico State University. Their government documents librarian began linking news stories from two newspapers, Las Cruces Sun News and the El Paso Times, to the library’s government documents page. (Burroughs & Clark, 2007) The library hoped to show patrons how the worlds of government documents and current events intersect. Projects like these can be used in information literacy instruction as librarians link government documents to hot topics such as immigration. Students learn how to find two types of credible sources, government documents,
  5. 5. and newspaper articles on their topics. Websites like these also serve to educate library staff to the breadth of government documents available to them. (Burroughs & Clark, 2007) Another new technology that is being incorporated into library instruction is podcasting. The University of Mississippi has started a weekly podcast at their library, and many of their broadcasts have included government documents in their lesson plans. This came about because the librarians realized that users had to know about the availability of government information in order to use it. The government documents coordinator chose someone from the government documents department to write several scripts after consulting the podcasting committee. Resources to be included in podcasts were U. S. Tax Forms, topographic maps from the U. S. Geological Survey, government databases, and the library’s government documents microfiche collection. The podcasts also highlighted the research guides located on the government documents page of the library’s homepage. (Barnes, 2007) By including government documents in these podcasts, the library is able to connect students, faculty, and staff to information that is useful both for their research and their daily lives. Students like podcasts because it is a convenient way for them to learn information. They simply download the lesson onto their mp3 player, and they are able to listen at their own convenience. There are no worksheets to keep up with, no long books to read. It also allows them to go back over material they missed. These podcasts became so popular that the library hosted an information literacy instruction workshop entitled Talking about the Government. The content of these classes was developed into a podcast. Those who attended the workshop were granted access to the podcasts and an online tutorial that would reinforce the skills they’d learned in the class. (Barnes, 2007) Technology is making the sharing of government information literacy skills easier for librarians to teach.
  6. 6. . Collaborative effort between faculty and library staff is key to increasing student information literacy. Library instruction session attendance at the University of Alabama was sparse until the reference and instruction department collaborated with the English department and made an agreement that freshman composition students must attend a basic library instruction course before their first major research assignment. Their program began in the Fall of 2000, and students reported that the classes gave them the skills for finding sources for their assignments. (Deforest, May, & Spencer, 2004). If students are to learn how to use library resources effectively a cooperative working relationship should exist between instructors and library staff. In order for government documents to be properly integrated into information literacy instruction, collaboration between government documents librarians, instruction librarians, and faculty must take place. Government documents instruction provides opportunities for sharing subject knowledge in an efficient manner. (Mack & Prescod, 2009) The university of Oregon offers a for credit course in government information resources. Also, in 2003, their history department began offering a course on the European Union as history. Oregon’s document center has an extensive collection of European Union documents, so the professor of the course approached librarians and asked them to identify helpful materials for the course. (Nicholson, Stave, & Zhang, 2006) Faculty participation in library instruction strengthens the library’s mission, and it creates more opportunities for students to learn about resources that can add richness to their courses. In the changing information climate, as more information is available on the web, users are beginning to seek information in places other than the library. Information literacy instruction is one way to show users that the library still has a valid place in today’s information world. As
  7. 7. more government documents departments are merged into general reference departments, there is a danger that those resources will no longer be promoted to the library’s users. Collaboration, staff training and using technology to promote government documents and integrate them into information literacy instruction will ensure that they stay a vital part of the information structure. References Barnes, N. (2007). Using Podcasts to Promote Government Documents Collections. Library Hi- Tech. 25(2), 220-230. Burroughs, J. & Clark, K. (2007). News you can use: Contemporary SDI and anticipatory reference for Government information. Reference Librarian. 47 (98), 17-28. DeForest, J., May, R.F. and Spencer, B. (2004), “Getting our foot (back) in the door: reestablishing a freshman instruction program”, Reference Librarian, Vol. 85, 151-67 Downie, J. A. (2004). The Current Information Literacy Instruction Environment for Government Documents, Part I. Dttp: A Quarterly Journal of Government Information Practice and Perspective. 32(2), 36-39. Downie, J. A. (2004). Integrating Government Documents into Information Literacy Instruction, Part II. Dttp: A Quarterly Journal of Government Information Practice and Perspective. 32(4), 17-22. Downie, J. A. (2007). Instruction design collaborations with government information specialists: Opening the conversation. Reference Services Review. 35(1), 123-136. Mack, T. & Prescod, J. (2009). Where have all the government documents librarians gone: Moving beyond the Collection to information literacy. Reference Services Review. 37(1), 99-111.
  8. 8. Nicholson, A., Stave, T., & Zhang, K. (2006). Mapping New Horizons in Government Documents Reference Service: A Unique Collaboration. Reference Librarian. 45(94), 95-108.