Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Information Literacy Skills of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science Tertiary Students in Singapore

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Information Literacy Skills of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science Tertiary Students in Singapore

Article excerpt

From as far back as the 1980s, scholars and experts have endorsed the importance of and need for information literacy (IL) to deal with the exponentially increasing amounts of information that an individual is faced with everyday. (1) The mission to equip future generations of students with IL was of such prime importance, that educational reforms and the increased role of the school library in the school curriculum were widely proposed and implemented across schools. (2)

In practice, IL is being taught either as an independent course or integrated into the other curricula. Some studies advocate the integration of IL skills across curricula to allow application of the skills in real situations. (3) Examples of this could be found in South Africa, Canada, and the United States. (4)

IL education in Singapore dates back to the late 1990s when a series of guidelines and supplementary materials were published by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to assist IL instruction from the elementary to pretertiary level. (5) Nonetheless, the emphasis on IL education lost momentum with the closure of the Schools' Library Unit at MOE. IL education and school media resource libraries were left languishing for a few years. The libraries were managed by teachers, who lacked library and information science (LIS) skills and knowledge of co-curricular activity in schools. Subsequently, these libraries were outsourced to a commercial library vendor to manage clusters of school libraries to date. Recently, the MOE included "Information and Communication Skills" as one of the twenty-first-century competencies for students, which should lead to a revival of interest in IL education. (6) In terms of IL education at tertiary education level, in 2008 the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, started to offer a compulsory course "Information Literacy and Interpretation" for enhancing its own undergraduates' skills for identifying, searching, locating, and evaluating information.

Measuring and assessing IL competencies is essential to understand their educational impact as well as to explore pedagogies to improve them. Despite years of IL education in Singapore, no large-scale assessment has been conducted to find out students' levels of IL skills, in particular, for tertiary students. So far, only a few IL studies and research in Singapore secondary schools had been reported. For example, in 1998, the MOE collaborated with the then National Library Board Institute (NLBI) to conduct training programs for the Heads of Department for Information Technology and Media Resource Library (HOD IT/MRL) from the high schools. (7) A year later, the MOE and the National Library Board (NLB) organized the Library@School Conference in September 1999 with the specific objective of helping schools enhance their libraries and extend their services to both students and teachers in the schools. (8) This study is the first to acquire data about Singapore tertiary students' skills in searching, evaluating, and using information. A comprehensive instrument encompassing the basic IL skills, as well as a new dimension of ethical usage of information and collaborative information seeking was developed and used for data collection.


This section reviews the literature on IL in terms of definition, standards and guidelines, education, and assessment.

Definition of Information Literacy

The term "information literacy" (IL) was coined by Paul Zurkowski in the 1970s to bring attention to the needs of people working in emerging technological environments. (9) Since then, the concept has been mainly used by information specialists, and promulgated worldwide through the work of the American Library Association (ALA) and the National Forum for Information Literacy. (10) However, there is no agreed definition of the term. Some researchers describe IL as requisites to lifelong learning, (11) while others perceive it as a natural extension of the concept of literacy in our society. …

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