Why does library instruction matter, and just what exactly it is?

Why does library instruction matter?

In today’s connected world the need for library instruction is often overlooked, yet “information and technology literacy is clearly the basic skills set of the 21st century” (Eisenberg, 39). Indeed, some of the most common arguments we are faced with as librarians are ‘why do we need librarians when we all have smartphones?’ and ‘with open access journals becoming more prevalent, why do we need to learn about academic journals and databases?’. While these questions are valid to some degree, the fact remains that the majority of current academic research is published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals that are only available behind an institutional paywall – that is to say, they can’t be found using Google (Hardenbrook, 2016). Fortunately, access to these resources is built directly into tuition fees.

So, the question is no longer how do we access the information behind the paywall, it’s whether or not students and researchers know how to utilize these information resources effectively. You see, academic databases and discovery systems – like the PRIMO system used for our library catalog – use different structures, algorithms, and language than search engines. Unlike internet search tools, or even SIRI, you can’t ask a database a question and have it return exactly the answer you’re looking for. Instead, you have to work with subject headings and vocabularies to create structured queries, combine Boolean terms, and apply limiters in order for a database to return relevant results.

Wait, what?

That sounds complicated… and it is.

So why do it? We live busy lives and have enough on our plates already. Right? Wrong!

Numerous long term studies have shown that students who receive information literacy and library instruction not only have higher GPAs, but that they also tend to include more unique citations within their assignments and are more effective at making connections between those resources and course materials (Gaha, Hinnefeld & Pellegrino, 2018).

But it takes time and practice to learn how to properly navigate complex information environments, effectively evaluate information sources, and finally, to synthesize this information into original papers and research. And while these skills “may seem to be simple or common sense at first, they are actually quite involved and can be difficult to master” (Eisenberg, 46). However, once mastered, effective searching not only allows us to locate the information we need, but also to filter the information that we don’t need (40) which ultimately makes our research sessions shorter and more relevant.

Now, put up your hand if you would like to spend less time researching for papers and assignments AND get better grades… Anyone? Anyone?

I know I’m not alone!

So what exactly is Library Instruction?

In the past, library instruction referred to teaching library users how access the physical resources housed within a library such as how to browse the stacks, understanding the card catalog, as well as finding and using reference books, indexes and bibliographies. However, in recent years this term has increasingly been applied to the information literacy instruction that enables library users to effectively locate, evaluate, and utilize resources regardless of whether they are in print or online (Bopp & Smith, 221).

Some of the more popular modes of information literacy instruction include:

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Demonstrations
  • Problem based exercises and activities

(Bopp & Smith, 238 -241).

And some of the more popular applications in post-secondary settings include:

  • Supplemental instruction series, such as our Success Strategies series, which are entirely optional and may, or may not, count towards additional certifications and credits.
  • One-time instruction arranged between faculty and librarians, typically before key research projects.
  • Embedded instruction, whereby librarians and faculty take a collaborative approach to integrating literacy instruction throughout the semester and across multiple assignments.

What to do about it

If you are a student interested in receiving library instruction, you can register here for the Learning Centre’s Success Strategy Series.

If you are an instructor interested in arranging one-shot or embedded information literacy instruction for your classes, please contact Cindy Wiebe.

Blog Post Written By: Jessica Macaulay, Acquisition & Circulation Specialist

Jessica joined the StMU Library team in May 2018. Prior to joining StMU she worked with the Calgary Catholic School District, the University of Calgary Doucette Library, and interned with the University of Edinburgh Special Collections & Digital Imaging Units. Her research interests lie in Middle English literature, Medieval and Early Modern reading networks, and the history of the book as material object.


Bopp, Richard E. and Linda C. Smith. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction. 4th ed., Libraries Unlimited, 2011.

Eisenberg, Michael B. “Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age”. DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, Vol. 28, No. 2, March 2008, pp. 39-47.

Gaha, Ula, Suzanne Hinnefeld & Catherine Pellegrino. “The Academic Library’s Contribution to Student Success: Library Instruction and GPA. College & Research Libraries [Online], 25 Jul. 2018.

Hardenbrook, Joe. “Oh Greta! The Library’s Real Role on CampusMr. Library Dude: Blogging about Libraries, Technology, Teaching and More. 31 Oct. 2016.

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