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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2003

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[Board accepted]

Developing an Information Skills Curriculum for the Sciences

Eleanor M. Smith
Reference Librarian, Agriculture & Life Sciences
The NCSU Libraries
North Carolina State University


Information literacy, an important conceptual framework for library instruction, needs to be embedded within a disciplinary context. Discipline-specific literacy in the sciences is valuable because it establishes meaning and context for learners, is based on the structure of knowledge and information-seeking practices within the sciences, and takes into account subject-specific tools, resources, and methods of searching. Curriculum-integrated instruction provides an optimal approach, in both planning and implementation, to helping science students develop general and discipline-specific information skills. This paper describes a curriculum-based approach for the strategic planning of information skills instruction in the sciences. This approach incorporates an understanding of the information skills needed at various points during the scientific education process; awareness of public and professional policies, standards, and recommendations for science education; and an awareness of trends and methods in science education. Relevant resources for planning are presented. A description of the scientific education process provides a framework for a generalized information skills curriculum in the sciences. The curriculum is presented as an aid to planning and as a stimulus to further dialogue and standards development in the area of information literacy in the sciences.


The task of scientific research requires scholars and students to utilize competent information skills. Librarians have long recognized and responded to the need for students in the sciences to develop these skills as part of their education. In the 1970s, the National Science Foundation funded a project to explore information skills instruction in the undergraduate science curriculum, which resulted in a four volume ERIC report. In a literature review of bibliographic instruction in biology courses, Sinn (1998) comments that, while much of the literature, especially the early literature, focuses on single-session instructional units or the development of library exercises, a number of articles take a broader, more curriculum-oriented approach.

Information literacy -- the development of information skills for lifelong learning -- has become a major focus of many library instruction efforts and research. ACRL (2002) states that, "Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education." A number of innovative programs and seminal sets of standards and goals have been developed in this area (ACRL 2000; Arp & Woodard 2002). Generally, however, much of the research and instructional activities in information literacy have focused on basic and general, or universal, skills -- skills considered to be fundamental to all aspects of information seeking, evaluation, and use. These skills are being integrated into the general undergraduate curriculum, often through English or writing courses, or occasionally through independent information courses.

Information literacy must also incorporate discipline- or subject-specific skills and resources. Grafstein's 2002 paper, "A discipline-based approach to information literacy," states that teaching information literacy skills to students "involves equipping them with both knowledge about the subject-specific content and research practices of particular disciplines, as well as the broader, process-based principles of research and information retrieval that apply generally across disciplines."

Discipline-specific information literacy is important for several reasons. First, embedding information skills within a disciplinary framework establishes context, meaning, and relevance for learners. For example, librarians and faculty recognize that course-integrated instruction, especially when relevant to course content and assignments, provides a more effective learning experience for students. Furthermore, as Orr et al. (2001) state, "Information literacy, like phenomena such as teaching and learning, does not have a life of its own, rather it is a way of thinking and reasoning about aspects of subject matter." In an in-depth analysis of information literacy instruction, Bruce (1997) also highlights the role of content, when she explains that, "Learning always has a content as well as a process. When applied to information literacy education this means that learning to be information literate cannot be achieved in a decontextualised scenario....Information literacy cannot be learned without engaging in discipline specific subject matter."

Second, information skills, especially higher-level concepts and skills, depend on a disciplinary context, because the organization and structure of knowledge, and the approach to seeking and using information, are dependent on the structures and processes of a specific discipline. Fjallbrant and Levy (1999) make a distinction between general and subject-specific information literacy, stating that: "subject-specific information literacy has additional dimensions and is closely related to the pattern of information flow within that discipline." Plum (1984, cited in Grafstein) describes this in further detail:

"[D]istinctive processes of original research, literature structures, and library systems that organize and identify the literature comprise particular discipline contexts. These function as important ways to influence patterns of thought in the independent library researcher. Bibliographic instruction that uses discipline context as conceptual framework fosters the growth of attitudes that mark the independent and critical inquirer."

Third, disciplines or subject areas frequently rely on specific types of data, tools, and search processes. One study (Bracke & Critz 2001) refers to the need for science and engineering students to master complex resources and search skills within their disciplines. The authors explain: "As science and engineering students advance, they need to recognize both the many channels available for information in their disciplines, and the many different searching mechanisms within these channels." Examples from the sciences include: the use of CAS registry numbers as identifiers and chemical structure searching in chemistry, biochemistry, and toxicology; and the use of nucleotide and amino acid sequence databases in molecular biology, genetics, and genomics.

Curriculum-integrated instruction serves as a valuable model for combining general information literacy skills with subject or discipline-specific information literacy. Breivik (1998) connects these two concepts:

"Planning for information literacy across the curriculum must include the tailoring of learning experiences to the literature of the various disciplines and fields of study and to eventual on-the-job information management needs....However, having a serious, widespread, and ongoing impact on students' learning will require that discipline-specific efforts be coordinated with other efforts within the department's programs so that they collectively and systematically build upon the foundation of more generic information literacy abilities mastered within the general education or core curriculum."

Orr et al. (2001) describe a model that incorporates both general and discipline-specific information literacies, and emphasize the value of a curriculum-integrated approach. "Where possible, librarians prefer to use an across-the-curriculum model that incorporates the process of seeking, evaluating, and using information into the curriculum and consequently, into all students' experiences. This philosophical approach allows the use of information to become part of the learning process." With respect to information literacy instruction in the sciences, curriculum-integration can provide a more holistic approach to planning and implementing instruction in information skills within both the overall scientific educational process and within individual disciplines.

Planning and implementing curriculum-integrated instruction is fraught with many challenges. This paper does not focus on implementation, but posits that, whether or not a fully curriculum-integrated program of library instruction is possible, the process of thinking about and planning library instruction using a curriculum-based model is inherently valuable. Curriculum-based planning can help librarians gain a better understanding of a discipline and the information needs and skills required, stimulate ideas for new ways of teaching information skills, as well as provide a basis for librarian/faculty collaboration.

This paper describes a curriculum-based approach for planning library and information skills instruction in the sciences. Planning within the context of curricula -- both the individual science subject area's curriculum, and an information skills curriculum -- provides a strategic approach to teaching information skills in the sciences. The approach incorporates several elements: understanding of the information skills needed at various points during the training of a scientist; awareness of public and professional policies, standards, and recommendations for science education; and an awareness of trends and methods in science education. Early sections of the paper introduce the curriculum planning process and key resources available for planning.

Subsequent sections of the paper describe the science education sequence and identify the information tasks and skills required at each stage, from undergraduates to professional researchers. The focus is on academic libraries, as the academic setting is the primary venue for training scientists. In this context, information skills can be considered from a three-tiered perspective: (1) general, basic, or universal skills; (2) broad skills specific to the sciences, such as processes, philosophy, and approaches to knowledge and information (e.g., scientific research process, scientific publishing); and (3) specific knowledge and skills within individual subjects or disciplines (i.e., biology, genetics, biochemistry, etc.).

The final sections of the paper will present an information skills curriculum for the sciences. This curriculum is generalized to the sciences (especially life sciences and laboratory research sciences), and can be further modified for individual subject areas of disciplines. The author hopes that such a curriculum will provide a useful springboard for the planning and development of curriculum-integrated instruction in the sciences, and that it will stimulate further dialogue and research on this topic.

Explorations in Curriculum Planning

Using a curricular approach to planning and implementing library information skills instruction in the sciences offers many advantages. This holistic approach incorporates concepts of information literacy and curriculum-integrated instruction, an understanding of the process of science education and training, and knowledge of trends and methods for teaching science. The primary value of curricular planning is that it provides a strategic approach to library instruction in the sciences that benefits students, faculty, and librarians. This approach provides a framework and tool for identifying key skills and critical intervention points for information skills instruction in the sciences. In addition, an understanding of science education policies, practices, and recommendations, establishes a basis for communicating the value of library instruction to faculty and administrators. Finally, the science education and library education literature offer rich sources of ideas and inspiration for developing innovative ideas and plans.

Manning (1998) describes a process used by faculty in an interdisciplinary area (natural resources) to develop a core curriculum. The faculty began by looking at "endpoints" or "outputs": what did they want their students to be able to do? Next, the outcomes, and inputs, for this process were divided into skills, knowledge, and values (objectives). Once the core program content was described, it was subjected to "ground truth tests" by analyzing its relevance for representative real world projects and activities. After this, the details of processes and sequencing were addressed. Manning emphasizes that, while the faculty was pleased with the outcome, the process itself proved most valuable.

Faculty traditionally dominate the curriculum planning process. Ideally, the subject librarian for the discipline also participates. The Bracken Health Sciences Library (1999) reports, "the breakthrough that would lead to the integration of information literacy into the medical curriculum occurred in 1989 when librarians were included in the curriculum planning committees." However, even if librarians are not included in the curriculum planning process in a discipline, they can learn about the curriculum considerations in their subject areas from the documents describing the process and its outcomes.

Curriculum development for library instruction in the sciences is slightly different from curriculum planning in an academic discipline in that the library process relies on an existing disciplinary curriculum as a key input. However, many of the steps used in curriculum planning, such as setting goals and objectives, parallel the processes of course and lesson planning already used by instruction librarians.

The science information skills curriculum planning process falls into four major phases. The first phase involves the development of context. Contextual information provides the background and framework for the remainder of the curriculum planning process and is drawn from several major areas. One rich resource is the library science literature, which provides information on library instruction practices, working with administrators and faculty, information literacy skills and goals, and the information seeking practices of scientists. Context also involves understanding the education and training process of scientists, and includes an awareness of national and professional organizations' policies and goals about science education, as well as an awareness of trends and practices in science education. Resources and information relevant to context are discussed in more detail in the next section.

The second phase of the process uses contextual knowledge and understanding to establish broad standards and goals for information skills for the scientific training process. This is analogous to the objectives and competencies for general information literacy developed by library organizations (ACRL 2000). Within this framework, individual universities, library faculties, or librarians can then take the next step of working out the details of processes and sequence. Most published standards or competences are either general in nature; although some work has been reported for engineering (Nerz & Weiner 2001) and nursing (Dorner et al. 2001). Establishing goals and standards (a set of information competencies) for information skills in the sciences would be a worthwhile goal for one or more professional library groups in the sciences. The penultimate section of this paper presents a generalized information skills curriculum for the sciences as a starting point for planning and further development.

Phase three involves in-depth analysis of individual subject areas, programs, and curricula. In this phase, planning occurs at a more detailed level that includes establishing specific goals and objectives for individual curricula or programs, identifying subject specific skills and resources, identifying potential intervention points -- such as core courses -- in a given curriculum, and working out details of sequencing, possible activities, etc. Leckie and Fullerton (1999), based on surveys and interviews with science and engineering faculty, conclude that, "a library research instructional program will not succeed if it is kept generic. Librarians involved in instructional activities must come to know individual disciplines, departments, and programs because all have slightly different expectations and needs."

Phase four encompasses the range of possible activities involved in implementing a program, whether this involves administrative outreach to establish a formal program, or working with individual faculty or colleges to implement specific elements of a program. This planning process is not strictly linear, although context and analysis generally precede planning. In addition, faculty input is valuable throughout the process.

The next section describes key resources and some examples of the knowledge they provide.

Overview of Curriculum Planning Resources

Planning an integrated information skills curriculum in the sciences involves pulling together several major types of information. These resources, and some examples of the information that they can provide, are described below.

The Library Science Literature. The library science literature provides information on library instruction practices in the sciences, information literacy skills and goals (ACRL 2000; 2002), and the information seeking practices of scientists. Reviewing the library science literature provides a rich collection of case studies and examples and ideas for instruction (Courtois & Handel 1999; Schmidt 1993; Lawal 2001; Tennant & Miyamoto 2002).

The literature also provides many case studies and recommendations for planning, implementing, and evaluating programs (MacDonald et al. 2000; Raquepau & Richards 2002; Brown & Krumholz 2002). The literature also addresses faculty-librarian collaboration which is extremely important in instruction planning and implementation (Haynes 1996; Kotter 1999; Bowden & DiBenedetto 2002).

Science Training Process and Individual Curricula. Successful strategic planning relies on an understanding of the overall training and education sequence in the sciences -- at both the macro- and micro- levels. Macro-level analysis involves a systematic review and analysis of the overall process of scientific education and training, from undergraduate education through to practicing researchers (Gonzalez 2001). The characteristics of the audience, and the specific educational and information-related tasks required, should be examined for each stage of the process. This approach allows one to design an integrated curriculum in which units build on each other. A description of the training sequence for scientists, along with associated information tasks and needs, is presented in the next section of this paper. Micro-level information includes analysis of specific institutional programs, including specific curricular requirements for majors and minors, other department planning documents and reports, and faculty input. Other aspects of micro-level information are knowledge of the major information types and sources within a discipline, as well as the availability of resources at a specific institution.

Science Education: Policy and Professional Guidelines. A number of national organizations and commissions have prepared reports and recommendations for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral training in the sciences. These documents are valuable sources of information about important trends in science education. The Boyer Commission Report (1998) focuses on undergraduate education and recommends the use of inquiry-based learning and involvement in research activities for undergraduates. The Kellogg Commission, which addresses land-grant universities, "calls for a new paradigm -- a process of engagement" that connects universities to their communities through investigation of real world problems (Harrill 2000). The National Academy of Sciences gathers together experts to address and report on many issues regarding education in science and engineering at all levels. Examples of relevant publications include recent reports on biology education (2003), graduate education (2000), and postdoctoral training (1995).

In addition, professional science organizations, and accrediting agencies, also include recommendations or standards related to information skills (Thompson 2002) or literacy in specific disciplines or programs. The American Chemical Society, which accredits chemistry programs, includes requirements for information skills in the for chemistry curriculum. Lee and Wiggins (1997) describe the American Chemical Society's guidelines, which focus on developing competence in key chemistry information tools and problem solving skills, and review methods used for teaching chemical information.

Laherty (2000) discusses an attempt to integrate two sets of standards: the ACRL Information Competency Standards and the Science Education Content Standards. She also mentions the need for librarians to understand the science educator's point of reference.

Science Education: Pedagogy and Practices. The science education literature emphasizes dialogue, exploration, and ideas for improving science education. Journals, such as American Biology Teacher, Journal of Chemical Education, and the Journal of College Science Teaching, publish numerous examples of teaching exercises and techniques -- and many of these involve researching and using information.

Developing familiarity with trends and methods -- pedagogy -- in the sciences is helpful in devising methods to approach faculty and in stimulating ideas for innovative and effective ways to integrate information skills into science courses. Some important trends in science education include: using more active learning, inquiry- and discovery-based methods (Moore 1997; Wyckoff 2001) and involving students directly in literature and laboratory research projects and writing activities (McNeal & Murrain 1994). Mangurian et al. (2001) describe the innovative Towson Transition Course that uses a wide array of active learning methods, and information use, to enhance students' abilities to solve problems and think critically.

Primary sources, i.e., the journal literature, are extremely important in the sciences and are the focus of many science education activities (Smith 2002; White 2002). Recommendations for enhancing undergraduate education encourage educators to give students opportunities to participate in the same types of activities as professional scientists. The science literature reports on a variety of information activities that engage students in peer review (Henderson & Buising 2000), symposia and presentations (Houde 2000), and publishing an electronic journal (Mathis et al. 1999).

Librarians have already been involved in several different types of teaching activities and programs, including writing (Sheridan 1995) and scientific writing (Huerta & McMillan 2000) programs, and problem-based learning (Carder et al. 2001; Rankin 1999). Information-related scientific concepts, such as critical thinking (Herro 2000 provides an overview and bibliography), the research process (Stein & Lamb 1998; Orians & Sabol 1999), and the scientific process (Souchek & Meier 1997) help the librarian make useful connections between science education and information literacy.

Using the science education literature to keep aware of trends and issues in science education is a useful tool for identifying new ways to incorporate library instruction into the science curriculum.

Practices of Professional Scientists. The emphasis in science education on the practices of professional scientists calls for librarians to research and review the information needs and information seeking practices of professional scientists. Numerous articles and reviews have been published on this topic (Belefant-Miller & King 2001; Russell 2001; Von Seggern 1995). This is analogous to starting from the "endpoints" as described by Manning (1998).

Schloman and Feldmann (1993), a librarian and a geology professor, collaborated to develop training in information gathering skills for geology students, taking a curriculum-oriented approach. They based their curriculum on the information skills and practices required of professional geologists, explaining that, "Clearly, the importance of information-seeking activity throughout a geoscientist's career warrants attention being paid to development of skills in this area."

The Scientific Training Process

An understanding of the scientific training process provides an essential framework for curriculum-based planning. This section provides an overview of the scientific training process starting with undergraduate education and continuing through professional practice. Major activities as they relate to information skills and needs will be described for each level. This analysis is used as a basis for the proposed science information skills curriculum presented in the next section.

Gonzalez (2001) highlights two overall emphases in science education: research and writing. She describes the science education process as a continuum and explains that, "Research is undertaken at each of these levels, from lower division (where students learn the most basic research skills) to postdoctoral (where they acquire the most advanced research experience)." She also mentions that universities are emphasizing the importance of writing at all levels, including composition courses, dissertation workshops, and writing within research programs.

Undergraduate Education -- First Two Years: Beginning with Basics

Early in their academic careers, undergraduates take courses to fulfill both general degree requirements and required basic science courses (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) for their majors. Basic or introductory science courses have traditionally been fact and data intensive, relying on textbooks, lectures, basic laboratory exercises, and the learning and memorization of facts and concepts. Heavy reliance on textbooks means that students are rarely required to use outside information sources or develop information skills relevant to their science majors (Bracke & Critz 2001; Leckie & Fullerton 1999). Two trends in science education are beginning to change this. First is a movement to reform introductory science courses by placing more emphasis on active learning (Stokstad 2001). Second is an increased emphasis on and exposure to research activities for lower division undergraduates (Gonzalez 2001). Many students still do not encounter subject or discipline-specific databases until their upper level science courses, with the exception of some biology courses. The library and science education literature includes several reports of library research instruction in lower-division biology courses (Orians & Sabol 1999; Souchek & Meier 1997).

Although most science undergraduates are not learning information literacy skills in their science courses, they usually encounter some type of information literacy training in other courses, especially English or composition classes. Orr et al. (2001) state that, "mastery of generic information skills is the precursor to, and lays the foundation for, the development of higher-level thinking and evaluation skills." The development of basic information literacy skills is also an important foundation for the development of discipline-specific information skills.

Undergraduate Education -- Upper-Level Students: Specialization, Writing, and Research

Undergraduates will most likely be required to research the scientific literature and use primary sources in their more specialized upper-level science courses. Writing papers and lab reports are frequent occasions for introducing undergraduates to the scientific literature.

By this stage, students should have developed basic information literacy skills and be comfortable using the library and performing basic searches. These skills, introduced in lower-division English classes, should be reinforced both in other general education courses, and science classes focused on writing and/or the research process.

A major trend in undergraduate education is an increasing involvement in research activities. Gonzalez (2001) states that "Undergraduate research programs are proliferating and undergraduate research conferences and journals are becoming a permanent fixture on the university's landscape." Research activities occur in a variety of settings, including undergraduate research or honors programs, special summer research programs, and a capstone or senior project or thesis. These activities nearly always require an ability to search the discipline-specific literature and apply critical thinking and evaluation skills.

During this phase of their training, students are usually introduced to the scientific process in a general way, and to subject-specific information sources. One model often used in library instruction at this stage is the "scientific publication process," which provides an overview of the research and publication process with a focus on the different types of information sources (e.g., primary, secondary, tertiary).

Graduate School: Developing Research Skills and Subject Expertise

In graduate school students develop research and subject skills to become scientists. Isaak and Hubert (1999) describe this developmental process in the biological sciences. According to a National Academy of Sciences report (1995), "The dissertation, as a demonstration of ability to carry out independent research, is the central exercise of the PhD program." Completion of a dissertation requires that graduate students become familiar with the scientific research process, use information and other skills to design and implement a research project, and then evaluate, write, and defend that project. The National Academy of Sciences report (1995) further states that, "Although the research component of the doctoral experience is dominant, other components are also important. They include a comprehensive knowledge of the current state of knowledge and techniques in a field and an informed approach to career preparation."

Graduate work involves many information-intensive activities, such as writing a research proposal, performing independent research -- which often includes exploring and learning new methods -- and researching and writing a thesis or dissertation. Graduate training in the sciences places a strong emphasis on the development of laboratory research skills and a strong understanding of the current state of knowledge and literature in their discipline. However, graduate students must also develop a rigorous critical approach to evaluating scientific research in the laboratory and the literature.

Barry (1997) states that, "doctoral students have the greatest information requirements, and therefore the greatest need for information skills of all students....The need to be comprehensive and up to date in reviewing the literature is perhaps never greater than in the doctoral thesis. In addition, postgraduate researchers have not yet built up the same information reserves as more established academics." However, according to Barry (1997), the information needs of graduate students are often not adequately addressed by their academic supervisors. She ascribes this oversight to several reasons: graduate faculty assume their students have the requisite information skills, faculty themselves lack some of the necessary information skills, and information skills are an "implicit" part of the research process that faculty do not think to make explicit for students.

Many graduate students move away from the university where they received their undergraduate degree and thus must learn a new library system. At this stage, graduate students are introduced to the scientific publication process from the perspective of producers, when they begin to make their own contributions to the literature (in contrast to consumers, the model more often used in undergraduate science BI).

Graduate students are a very diverse group. A significant proportion of graduate students in the sciences are from other countries (32% of doctorates in 1992; National Academy of Sciences 1995). Graduate students may have financial concerns and many students are married and beginning families. This is a time of great stress, many changes, and intense learning for many students. Graduate work requires a great deal of energy and time; the average registered time to degree for a PhD, according the National Academy of Sciences (1995) has increased steadily over the past 30 years, and, in 1992, averaged between 6.5 to 6.7 years for students in the physical and life sciences. In addition, the science training process has been further extended since postdoctoral work has become prerequisite to academic or industrial employment for many scientific disciplines (National Academy of Sciences 2000).

Postdoctoral Training: The Independent Researcher

Postdoctoral training has become the "de facto terminal academic credential in the sciences" (Sample, as quoted in Feder 2000). New PhDs usually go to another lab or institution for postdoctoral training that involves additional time spent in intensive, independent research under the general oversight of a senior scientist. A report by the National Academy of Sciences (2000) describes the motivations for seeking postdoctoral experience, "the desire to deepen their understanding of a field, to learn a new subfield, to switch fields entirely, or to gain experience in an industrial or government facility."

Postdocs use the literature intensively and in many ways: as an adjunct to their laboratory research (e.g., locating new techniques), to keep current with the literature in their field, and to develop ideas and research proposals for their own future research program. Other skills developed by postdocs include, "writing grant proposals, critically reviewing manuscripts, and presenting research results at disciplinary society meetings" (National Academy of Sciences 2000).

Another focus of the postdoctoral experience is to become employed in an appropriate setting. As academic positions become more scarce and competitive, many postdoctoral researchers may spend up to five years as postdocs and move between several laboratories, before finding employment. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences (1995) reports that, "More then half of new graduates with PhDs -- and much more than half in some fields such as chemistry and engineering -- now find work in nonacademic settings." This shift in employment has resulted in an increased emphasis on skills like communication and teamwork.

A majority of postdoctoral researchers are international: in 1992, 53% of postdoctoral appointees were foreign students (National Academy of Sciences 1995). This has obvious consequences for assisting postdoctoral researchers with information seeking skills and knowledge of U.S. library systems.

Professional Researcher: Research, Communication, and Teaching

The practices and information needs of professional scientists evolve over the course of their careers. Initially, a major emphasis is on obtaining funding, via grant writing, and publishing and presenting research findings for tenure and to establish a solid reputation. As researchers become more established, they usually take on the training and mentoring of graduate students and postdocs, as well as participate in reviewing manuscripts and grant publications. Teaching activities are another responsibility of researchers in academic settings.

Some information tasks remain constant; these include keeping up with the literature and managing personal reference collections or files. Like students, professional researchers are also involved in learning new information, especially as their research program develops and evolves. This may involve forays into related disciplinary areas as well as techniques meant to spark new ideas. In addition, scientists will need to keep up with changes in resources and tools, possibly through seminars or "update" sessions.

An Information Literacy Curriculum for the Sciences

Sets of goals and standards for information literacy provide a useful foundation for developing instruction programs. Instruction librarians have benefited from the information literacy standards developed by ACRL (2002). Librarians would also find discipline-specific standards, goals, or competencies useful. Several authors have published standards, competencies, or curricula for chemistry (Carr & Somerville 1994), engineering (Lin 1999; Nerz & Weiner 2001) and selected health sciences (Dorner et al. 2001).

Previous sections of this paper describe a model and present resources for planning curriculum-integrated instruction and information literacy instruction in the sciences. This model forms the basis for the information skills curriculum presented below.

The plan presented here is generalized for information literacy in the sciences and is intended primarily for students in the life sciences (especially those that rely on laboratory research). Its structure parallels the science education and training sequence described in the previous section. The curriculum is not intended to address health sciences, because of the clinical component, or engineering, because of its applied/problem solving emphasis. A general plan is possible because many aspects of information seeking in the sciences share common features. The general nature of the plan allows for individualization based on specific disciplines or subject areas, and for institution-specific programs and curricula. In addition, the plan is not sequenced and divided into specific classes, assignments, or projects; such an activity requires knowledge of specific subject areas and an institution's curricula. Similarly, detailed objectives, competencies, and content will also need to be developed within the context of individual programs or disciplines.

Although there is frequently overlap between educational phases and information needs, the plan divides curriculum content into distinct stages. Concepts can be shifted for specific situations. For example, advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students may take some of the same science classes and have similar information and instructional needs. Likewise, there is some overlap possible between more senior graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professional scientists. The plan repeats several concepts at different educational levels; such repetition illustrates the developmental aspect of information literacy instruction as subsequent learning builds on previous skills and knowledge, and topics can be re-visited in more depth and at increasing levels of sophistication. When working with groups that may be new to an institution, some type of library orientation training is recommended.

This model is meant to form a framework that can be modified and then extended and used as the basis for building specific curriculum-integrated instruction programs in the sciences. Further development of model science information curricula would benefit from collaboration with other librarians, especially librarians experienced with curriculum-integrated instruction, and those who were trained as scientists.

A Proposed Bibliographic Instruction Curriculum for the Sciences

  1. Undergraduate: Beginning/General
    • Build on basic information literacy skills, per ACRL (2002), emphasizing similarities and differences between science and other literature in terms of sources and skills.
    • Basic types of information in the sciences; including characteristics and uses (e.g., popular and scholarly publications; primary, secondary, and tertiary sources).
    • Introduce selected core resources for a subject area, describe content, characteristics, uses (e.g., major reference works, journals, databases).
    • Introduce the basic research process as applied to the sciences.
    • Basic searching, skills, and strategies (keyword and subject, synonyms and scientific terminology; basic Boolean operators).
    • Applying search skills to the library catalog and a subject specific resource (database or index).
    • Evaluation of print and web resources (purpose and need; how to evaluate).
    • Citing works; citing versus plagiarism; introduction to copyright.
    • Citation formats in the sciences.

  2. Undergraduate: Advanced
    • The scientific research process and the roles of information at different stages in the process.
    • More in-depth introduction to the types of literature (primary, secondary, tertiary) in the sciences.
    • Key or core information sources (print and electronic) in the discipline.
    • Introduction and application of more sophisticated information seeking strategies.
    • Searching key online information sources, including access points, using vocabulary/terminology/thesauri, experience with hands-on searching.
    • Scientific information on the web. Portals, searching, evaluation.
    • The scientific publication process and peer review.
    • How to evaluate a scientific paper.
    • Introduction to scientific communication.
    • Evaluating information, critical thinking, and the similarities to the scientific process.
    • One or more projects that integrate all the above skills and practices.

  3. Graduate Students
    • The scientific research process. Types, purposes, and sources of information at each stage.
    • Information tools and practices of practicing scientists.
    • In-depth coverage of the scientific publication process start to finish -- from the scientist/producer perspective. Include phases closer to research activities, including abstracts and proceedings.
    • Key/core information sources (print and electronic) in the discipline.
    • Key databases/indexes and tools for searching.
    • The information seeking process with a focus on in-depth research for theses, dissertations, and research proposals. Build on tools, but describe approaches to obtaining thorough reviews and searches.
    • Searching key information sources (this may involve multiple sessions if there are multiple core resources, and/or different types of resources, such as structure searching for chemistry).
    • Information management, including use of bibliographic management software.
    • Peer review process; how to evaluate scientific information and journal articles.
    • Citation indexing/JCR.
    • The Internet for scientific communication (e.g., Usenet groups, e-mail, mailing lists) and information resources.
    • Introduction to key issues in scholarly communication (copyright, electronic publishing, preprint servers, alternative programs).
    • Practices and tools for keeping up with the literature.

  4. Professional Scientists: Postdoctoral and Independent Researcher
    • Updates on new features of known resources and introduction to new resources.
    • Keeping up with the literature: environmental scanning/browsing, table of contents services, alerts/SDIs.
    • How to identify core journals in a discipline.
    • Citation indexing and Journal Citation Reports. "Publish or Perish." The uses and limitations of citation counting and impact factors. Searching the ISI databases.
    • Advanced searching of key, discipline-specific resources. Bibliographic and data sources.
    • Science on the web: portals, resources, directories, news, organization and publisher information, searching, databases available.
    • Locating meeting and grant news and announcements.
    • Issues in scholarly publishing and communication. Copyright. The serials crisis.
    • The E-journal revolution, electronic publishing, and accessing full-text journals online. Relevant preprint collections or services.
    • Managing a personal resource collection. Different organizational ideas and systems. Bibliographic management software tools.
    • Crossing boundaries, entering new territory. Inter- or cross-disciplinary searching. Locating key information tools and ideas in new subject areas.
    • Information skills and instruction in undergraduate and graduate courses, and in graduate and postdoctoral training and mentoring.

Summary and Conclusions

Merging information literacy with curriculum-integrated instruction is a valuable model for developing an information skills curriculum for the sciences. The goal of curriculum-based planning is to develop a comprehensive plan that incorporates general and subject-specific information literacy instruction into all aspects of science students' learning processes.

Curriculum planning for librarians is not an isolated process nor is its impact limited to instruction services. The results of such an analysis can also aid in integrating all aspects of library services, including reference services and collection development. Kohl (1995) addresses some of these issues, as well as identifying the need for librarians to think in terms of curriculum development:

The main problem is not that developing a curriculum is impossible, but that librarians have not traditionally posed the issue to themselves in these terms. In contrast, the concept of the 'reference interview' is widespread and evokes a rich context of experience, research, and professional dialogue for academic public service professionals. 'Curriculum development' (a reflexive mantra for the traditional teaching faculty) needs to become, for instruction librarians, as familiar and rich a concept as 'reference interview.'

Curricular thinking has been markedly stimulated by the recent emphasis on development of curriculum-integrated instruction. This paper describes processes and resources for curriculum-based planning in the sciences, and sets forth a generalized information skills curriculum. The plan is presented as a starting point for future planning and curriculum development, and a stimulus for further dialogue and intellectual exchange among science librarians and educators.


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