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Project Information Literacy's Founder Dr. Alison Head discussing how students conduct research at Purdue University, May 17, 2018.

Project Information Literacy’s Founder Dr. Alison Head discussing how students conduct research at Purdue University, May 17, 2018.

For faculty in academic libraries around the globe, understanding how students use information for school—as well as on into their post-college professional working and personal lives—is gold standard stuff. Over the past decade, Dr. Alison Head and her team of researchers at the non-profit Project Information Literacy (PIL) organization have been diligently contributing to this important standard of information literacy data through ongoing research. Since 2008, Head—the founder and executive director of PIL—and her fellow PIL researchers have interviewed and surveyed more than 16,000 undergraduates at over 88 U.S. four-year public and private universities and colleges and two-year community colleges. PIL has published nine open-access research reports as part of the ongoing project, and the researchers plan to publish a 10th study about college students’ news consumption this fall.

Over the 2017-18 academic year, faculty in Purdue University Libraries have had the benefit of working with Head one on one (virtually) through the PIL’s inaugural Visiting Research Scholar program, a unique professional-development opportunity for faculty and staff in the academic library community. Last summer, Head selected Purdue Libraries as the initial site for the program, after a completing a successful pilot phase at University of Nebraska Library. As part of the wrap-up of the yearlong program at Purdue Libraries, Thursday, she was on campus to present, “How Today’s Students Conduct Research.”

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor and Information Literacy Specialist, Project Information Literacy Founder Dr. Alison Head, and Information Literacy Instructional Designer Rachel Fundator pose for a photograph at Purdue Libraries' Wilmeth Active Learning Center, home of the Library of Engineering and Science and the Mullins Reading Room.

Purdue Libraries Associate Professor and Information Literacy Specialist Dr. Clarence Maybee, Project Information Literacy Founder Dr. Alison Head, and Information Literacy Instructional Designer Rachel Fundator pose for a photograph at Purdue Libraries’ Wilmeth Active Learning Center, home of the Library of Engineering and Science, Mullins Reading Room, and the Data-Visualization Experience Lab of Purdue (D-VELoP).

“Purdue Libraries has been the perfect setting for a program like this,” Head explained. “In addition to being known as an innovative and award-winning academic library organization, the opportunity to work individually and collaboratively with the mix of young, excited, and engaged faculty members has been very gratifying for me.”

According to Dr. Clarence Maybee, associate professor and information literacy specialist at Purdue Libraries, bringing in and working with experts such as Head will have long-term results, well beyond the Visiting Scholar program.

“In our educational efforts to teach Purdue learners to use information, Purdue Libraries faculty and staff engage in ‘praxis,’ meaning we apply theory to practice. As a community, we are continually exploring new scholarly ideas. Visits from information literacy scholars, such as Dr. Head, engage Purdue Libraries faculty and staff in the latest research findings and theories, prompting deep discussions of the most effective approaches to information literacy education that we may draw into our efforts at Purdue,” he noted.

Purdue Libraries Assistant Professor Heather Howard

Purdue Libraries Assistant Professor Heather Howard

Faculty members like Heather Howard, an assistant professor and librarian in the Roland G. Parrish Library of Management and Economics, and David Zwicky, an assistant professor and librarian in the Library of Engineering and Science, described working with Head as “very helpful.”

Purdue Libfraries Assistant Professor David Zwicky

Purdue Libraries Assistant Professor David Zwicky

“Dave and I had several phone calls with her while designing some assessment research for the work we do with the Soybean Innovation Competition. We went in with an idea to set up pre- and post-tests for next year, and she talked us through what information we were trying to get and what we wanted to accomplish,” Howard said. “With her guidance, we decided to run mini focus groups this semester with the students who had just completed the competition. We are going to be able to use the information from these focus groups to inform our assessment and instruction next year. She also helped us develop our questions for the focus group to make sure they were on track with our research questions,” she noted.

“She was generous with her time, meeting with us over the phone pretty early in the morning, as PIL is based in California,” Zwicky added.

Purdue Libraries Head of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, and Business Division and Associate Professor Erla Heyns

Purdue Libraries Head of the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education, and Business Division and Associate Professor Erla Heyns

“Alison helped me think through the projects, and her extensive research experience allowed me to clarify some details of a couple of my projects. I appreciated her insight, practical advice, and ability to think broadly about the subject of the research,” noted Dr. Erla Heyns, associate professor and Head, Humanities, Social Sciences, Education and Business (HSSE-B) Division of Purdue Libraries.

Although Head and her research team at PIL have plenty on their research “plates”—currently, among the many research projects she is involved in, she’s leading a multidisciplinary team looking into the complex issue of how young adults gather news in today’s world, a study supported by the Knight Foundation and the American Library Association’s largest division, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)—she established the Visiting Research Scholar Program to be able to help individual academic librarian researchers in their own information literacy research projects.

Project Information Literacy Founder Dr. Alison Head discussing how students conduct research at Purdue University, May 17, 2018.

In Project Information Literacy’s ongoing examination of college students’ information-seeking practices and behaviors, the researchers have found that students experience the feelings of fear, dread, and being overwhelmed when it comes to conducting research.

“I think it is imperative for library and information science research to increase and for the overall quality to become more rigorous, so I started the program to begin working with individual researchers, to help them work toward these goals,” Head explained. “For me, most importantly, it keeps me current and provides me with a much wider view of the kind of research being conducted, as well as what kind of research is coming up and the different kinds of methods being used,” Head explained.

Since the program began last summer, Head has met virtually (over the phone and online) with several Purdue Libraries faculty members, both individually and in groups.

“I think one of my favorite things, which was new for us at PIL, was ‘an early researcher’ brown bag discussion via a Google Hangout. In that discussion, we had about 15 young faculty on tenure track, and we talked about how to put together a first research study for publication. I enjoy playing that mentor role for people who are starting out,” Head noted. “In addition, I had conversations with faculty members who have quite good research publication methods and wanted to know, based on conference presentations and what they’re hearing, where they could take their research for their upcoming publication goals.”

Head and her team at PIL will be taking applications in June from academic libraries for second installment of the Visiting Research Scholar Program. She can be contacted at Alison@projectinfolit.org.

Learn more about Project Information Literacy at www.projectinfolit.org.