Big6 and Higher Ed: Information Seeking Strategies and Library Instruction

Author: Ru Story-Huffman


Each fall many college and university libraries host a traditional rite of passage. This annual event is the library’s orientation program for new students. Depending on the campus, mission, and curriculum, the library orientation program might be an open house event, where students visit the library and meet the librarians; a virtual tour or tutorial; or even a comprehensive, credit-bearing course that all students must complete as part of graduation requirements. And of course, library instruction consists of everything in between.

Library instruction has been a constant in many universities for decades although library technology seems to change minute by minute. Academic libraries in the United States have been conducting library instruction since before the Civil War (Salony, 1995). Changes in society, advancement in technology, and the new environment of the college campus make library instruction essential for student success.

Library Instruction – Making the Connection

Library instruction programs often include how to identify a topic, locate materials, and how to make the most of books, journals, and web pages. Additional topics may include tips for evaluating web pages, Boolean searching, plagiarism, and how to create an accurate citation. One of the most useful things a student can learn in library instruction is Big6 #2 — Information Seeking Strategies.

College arrival is not only filled with new people, a new environment, and new academic challenges – but students are also introduced to a completely new library and library system. Each academic library has a similar mission (to meet the information needs of the students), but the floor plan, catalog system, classification of books, and general services may differ from the high school or public library to which they are accustomed. Knowing which database to use, where to find a book, or how to access the library web page are often essential to successfully completing an assignment, presentation, or research project.

At Cumberland College, I am personally responsible for all library instruction sessions for new students as well as upper division students. All students who enroll in the basic English composition course spend two class sessions in the library to learn about library resources, the location of materials in the library, and other topics. I focus on individual library technology tools and underlying concepts (like Big6!) that will help them be successful. What follows are some of my successful training techniques.

Cluster Diagram: Brainstorming is one of the most exciting parts of the library instruction program (and in my opinion, of Information Seeking Strategies, Big6 2.1). Students share and explore ideas while they identify the best possible sources for finding information. I use Cluster Diagram graphic organizers to facilitate the brainstorming process. The center circle represents the main topic, the second layer of circles are possible resources, including books, journal articles, or the web. The remaining circles are for listing specific books, such as encyclopedias, or particular databases to use for locating journal articles. Cluster diagrams are flexible, interesting, and they appeal to both visual and textual learners. Graphic organizers show a student’s progression and thought process (Write Design Online, nd).

KWL Charts: I also use the KWL chart, which stands for what you Know about a topic, what you Want to know, and what you Learned, as a tool to introduce information literacy concepts and definitions. Graphic organizers are useful in a variety of situations and age groups. Try one today!

Typically, the students are quiet at the beginning of the brainstorming process, but I toss candy to those who speak. The students enjoy getting candy and quickly become more comfortable sharing ideas and thoughts.

I teach my students that searching for information can be an involved process, with multiple searches using multiple keywords, synonyms, and related words. First, I explain there are many reference books available to assist in research development, including encyclopedias, handbooks, reference books, or books in the regular collection, and I mention the benefits of each one. Students begin to understand that a subject specific encyclopedia can assist them to narrow a topic, identify important names, dates, keywords, or subjects, and then proceed to help with the entire research process. Students also recognize that information and information resources are varied and vast.

Select the Best Sources: I began conducting library instruction sessions 10 years ago, and each year more and more students enter college with a greater understanding of technology. Although they understand technology they may not know how to select the best resources. We discuss how to evaluate resources and select the best information for the assignment – print, digital, or otherwise.

Evaluate Web Pages: Website credibility is a hot topic in the news during the last few years, and highlights the fact that Information Seeking Strategies is one key to academic success – now more than ever! Web page evaluation is another important library instruction topic, and corresponds well with Big6 Step 2.2: Select the Best Resources.

Students learn the steps for evaluating web pages and recognize that not everything on the web is true. We compare two web sites on the same topic and discuss authority, content, scope, and reliability of the content. Students learn to select the resources that best meet their educational needs. There are many parody sites on the web – consider incorporating some of these satirical sites into your own Information Seeking Strategies instruction to demonstrate the importance of critical thinking skills.

Library instruction helps students to become more aware of resources for information, the library, and its services. The Big6 is an excellent tool for the development and continual evaluation of a library instruction program. When library instruction focuses on Step 2: Information Seeking Strategies, students gain a methodology for locating information. At the same time, the librarian benefits from knowing the students are moving in the right direction toward becoming information literate.

Reference List

Glenco. (2005). Cluster Diagram. Retrieved October 26, 2005, from

Houghton Mifflin. (nd). KWL Chart. Retrieved November 4, 2005, from

Salony, M. F. (1995). The history of bibliographic instruction: Changing trends from books to the electronic world (pp 31-51). In L. M. Martin (Ed.). Library Instruction Revisited: Bibliographic Instruction Comes of Age. New York: The Haworth Press.

Write Design Online. (nd). Graphic Organizers. Retrieved November 4, 2005, from