The Big6 Graduates – On To College!

Author: Ru Story-Huffman

Information literacy is alive and well in higher education. Academic faculty—including librarians—are exhibiting an increased awareness of the information literacy movement and its importance. Numerous books, journal articles, conference programs and grassroots movements are in place to spread the information literacy concept through college and university campuses. Academic administrators, teaching faculty and librarians are working to extend the information literacy skills that are currently being taught in numerous elementary and secondary schools in our country. The Big6™, as one of the premier information literacy models, is a natural tool for use in higher education as well as in K-12 settings.

Information Literacy Organizations

Two key organizations are deeply involved with developing understandings and promoting information literacy in higher eduction: the Association of College and Research Libraries and the National Forum on Information Literacy.

  • The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association, recently adopted “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.”Information Literacy, as defined by the ACRL document, is based on the 1989 definition of the American Library Association Task for Information Literacy:
      “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (ALA, 1998)

    These skills will help lead students to succeed in college and ultimately in their chosen careers. ACRL developed five well-articulated standards that are very close conceptually to the Big6.

  • The National Forum for Information Literacy (NFIL)The National Forum for Information Literacy (NFIL) is an organization that actively promotes information literacy in higher education. An initiative of the American Library Association’s Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, The National Forum on Information Literacy was established in 1990. The NFIL encourages other governing bodies to institute information literacy guidelines into college curriculum. It also works with teacher education programs in United States colleges and universities to ensure that pre-service teachers learn the concept of information literacy so that they are able to incorporate information literacy into their classrooms. Additionally, the NFIL works with various academic accrediting agencies to ensure the inclusion of information literacy in the accreditation process. For example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools both have clauses in their accreditation procedures that address the topic of information literacy.

When preparing for an accreditation review, a college participates in numerous activities, including self-studies, committee work and the actual accreditation visit. The academic library and librarians are usually heavily involved in the accreditation process for the campus as a whole and most especially in the presentation and evaluation of information literacy criteria. Successful implementation of the criteria required for information literacy will aid in the overall accreditation process.

Information Literacy in Higher Education

Many models of teaching information literacy in higher education have been adopted and are used. “Bibliographic instruction” or “library instruction” are two terms that are used in the academic library world to indicate instruction of the location, use, and evaluation of information and library resources. Often each freshman student is required to attend some type of library instruction session. Sometimes this will be basic information about how to use library databases, location of materials in the library and library policy for use of books and journals. Some colleges and universities envision their libraries as “teaching libraries.” That is, these institutions accept that one of the primary goals of the library is to instruct students in obtaining the necessary skills to accomplish information literacy goals. Colleges will often have a selected set of courses that are taken which may include such concepts as identifying information, defining research needs, formulating search strategies, selecting appropriate information tools, evaluating the quality of information, and organizing information. At many colleges and universities students must take a course and demonstrate a mastery of information literacy skills in order to meet graduation requirements.

A move is afoot to collaborate with the faculty to incorporate information literacy initiatives into existing curriculum and everyday instruction. This pedagogical activity may include team teaching of the course in which information literacy skills are a vital aspect of the research and learning process. With student-centered learning, problem-solving skills are utilized and fostered. Working with other faculty, academic librarians can be at the forefront of the movement to instill the skills to successfully find, evaluate, use, and synthesize information.

The Big6™ in Higher Education

One of the goals of the information literacy movement, and college in general, is to develop lifelong learners who will go into the world, establish themselves in their chosen careers, and prosper emotionally, personally, and professionally. The attributes of successful lifelong learners include critical thinking, reasoning, logic and independent learning. In developing these attributes, many college professors go beyond the “traditional” classroom to present their students with real-life situations. In addition, students are often required to complete a field experience in their major concentration of study as a requirement for graduation. Having the ability to investigate, evaluate, synthesize and use information adds to the potential success of college graduates.

Working with faculty to incorporate information literacy into everyday lectures, assignments and research activities is a natural extension of the Big6 in an academic setting. This also expands the scope of instruction beyond the traditional resource-based approach of bibliographic or library instruction to the full information problem-solving process. Librarians are becoming more pro-active, taking the responsibility to plan and conduct faculty workshops to instruct and facilitate information literacy on campus. A librarian can use the Big6 model as a method for instructing faculty, who can then incorporate the Big6 into their coursework. In addition, the Big6 is designed so that each separate stage can be broken into numerous components for instruction purposes. The Big6 serves as a model for leading faculty down the information literacy highway by providing the instructor with the steps necessary for successful implementation.

Selected Examples of the Big6™ in Action in Higher Education

  • LaSalle University: Bernetta Robinson Doane, Reference Librarian/Coordinator of Library Instruction at Connelly Library, LaSalle University, states, “I”m a big fan of the Big6™ and have been using it in our library instruction program here at LaSalle University for the past year…I like to use all the steps of the Big6™ model because it clearly outlines a problem-solving technique. I found this to be very important in promoting the concept of information literacy on my campus.” Ms. Doane and her collaborator, Martha Lyle, have used the Big6 as a model for working with faculty to establish information literacy components within the curriculum. Presentations developed by Doane and Lyle may be viewed at (See Doane article.)
  • University of Denver Library: The University of Denver Library and Information Services Program uses the Big6 as a model for their online information literacy tutorial. Marcy Phelps, the designer of the tutorial offered by the Penrose Library details her choice of the Big6 in “Designing Web-Based Library Instruction for Adult Learners”, an article published in Colorado Libraries. She states “because of its emphasis on process, the Big6 approach can be used with any information problem or decision-making situation and is applicable across grade levels and throughout life. For this reason, I based the tutorial on the Big6, using six modules, one for each of the Big6 skills.” (Phelps, p. 19). Visit the Penrose Library Information Literacy Web site to view the tutorial.
  • Kenyon College: Janet Cottrell, Director of Information Access at Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio) offers a unique approach to using the Big6 in higher education. Cottrell, used the Big6 stages to assess the different type of reference questions that were presented at the reference desk in an academic environment. Rather than analyzing reference questions “using traditional categorization techniques,” Ms. Cottrell decided to look at the questions and see if the reference questions in a “mid-sized University”s reference desk fit gracefully into a specific Information Problem-Solving Model” (Cottrell). In addition to assessment information, Cottrell, notes that the use of the Big6 affected her approach to reference, and that the Big6 model helped with “nearly every question that presented itself, just because it provided a combination of checklist and guide” (Cottrell). Cottrell”s use of the Big6 to categorize reference questions will be detailed in “Applying an Information Problem-Solving Model to Academic Reference Work: Findings and Implications” by Janet R. Cottrell and Michael B. Eisenberg in the July 2001 issue of College & Research Libraries.
  • Cumberland College: Another initiative, a work in progress, is the one developed for use at Cumberland College, where the author is a faculty member serving as Public Services Librarian. Cumberland College is a small, private liberal arts college located in the foothills of the Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. The college serves a traditional student body, with a small percentage of non-traditional undergraduates and graduate students. As part of the Information Literacy initiative at Cumberland College, the author developed a tutorial that is based on the principles of the Big6 model of information literacy. At this time, the college does not have a “set” campus wide information literacy component, but due to the author”s interest in the area, she developed a tutorial for use with students. The author tailored each of the Big6 stages to the academic setting at Cumberland College. The tutorial provides specific information such as databases to use to locate information, location of materials, organization of materials, etc. It is hoped that through exposure to the tutorial, students will hone their research skills and become more information literate. The tutorial will be used in all future library instruction sessions that are presented to classes. As a result, students will be exposed to information literacy and the way it aids in their research in addition to basic instruction on database use, the library homepage, Internet searching techniques, web page evaluation and subject specific Internet sites.


Though many are still not aware of it, information literacy is a vital component of our everyday lives. Without the ability to seek information, we may be at a loss in simple situations. Decision-making can become easier, problems and solutions may become more apparent and the ability to understand, use, and locate information will be more important each day. In our world, information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. As we educate our young students to enter the world of work, and the world in general, we need to provide them with the skills to successfully use information. As educators, we are charged with the development of critical thinking, information seeking skills and lifelong learning. College should be the time when students are exposed to the world beyond what they have already experienced, and this includes the information that is available at every turn we take. Understanding the necessary components to develop and deliver a successful information literacy experience is a vital aspect of the work being done by librarians and other faculty.

Designed as a model to teach information and technology skills in the K-12 environment, the Big6™ has proven to be adaptable, innovative and useful in a variety of educational situations. In higher education, the Big6™ can be a natural and vital component of a successful college experience. It allows all involved in the information seeking process; students, librarians and teaching faculty, to fully experience the wonders of information.


American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. (1989). Final report. Chicago: Author.

Association of College and Research Libraries. Information literacy competency standards for higher education. ACRL, 2000.

[On-line]. (Current May 8, 2001) Cottrell, J. (personal communication, April 12, 2001)

Doane, B. (undated). Big Six presentations. [On-line].

Penrose Library Information Literacy Tutorial, Penrose Library, University of Denver, Denver, Colorado. [On-line].

Phelps, M. (2000) Designing web-based library instruction for adult learners. Colorado Libraries, 26, 19-20.

Big6™ Presentations

Connelly Library, La Salle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Information Literacy with the Big6™: Cumberland College

Hagan Memorial Library, Cumberland College, Williamsburg, Kentucky

Information Literacy Organizations: A Selected Webliography and Bibliography


  • Information Literacy in Higher Education – A Selected Bibliography An ongoing process, this is the author”s webliography of useful web pages, books and journal articles on information literacy. Many of the links in this webliography are included.
  • Institute for Information Literacy. An initiative of the American Library Association and Association for College and Research Libraries, this site is dedicated to preparing librarians to be effective in the teaching of information literacy and as a support location for information.
  • ACRL Information Literacy. Maintained by the Association of College and Research Libraries, the web page offers a listing of useful materials on the subject for academic librarians.
  • Best Practices and Assessment of Information Literacy Programs. From the Institute for Information Literacy, one of the goals of The Best Practices is to identify criteria for academic information literacy programs and current benchmark programs.
  • Christine Bruce: Information Literacy. Christine Bruce”s Ph.D. dissertation was one of the first to address the topic of information literacy. Her main interests on the subject are information literacy theory and practice.
  • Directory of Online Resources for Information Literacy (DORIL). Maintained by the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science, DORIL is a useful gathering of definitions, bibliographies, conferences and information literacy programs.
  • National Forum on Information Literacy. An initiative of the American Library Association, the National Forum works to increase awareness of information literacy and helps to establish information literacy competency guidelines.
  • Assessment of Information Literacy: Lessons from the Higher Education Assessment Movement. All educators understand the concept of “assessment,” and this paper addresses assessment of information literacy in higher education.
  • Information Literacy as a Liberal Art. Considered by the author as a benchmark in the information literacy literature, this article was published in 1996. A good introduction to the practice, theory and need for information literacy in higher education.
  • Integrating Information Literacy into the Curriculum. An excellent article that can be used to evaluate information literacy programs in an academic setting, that can be adapted to all levels of education. Includes an “Information Literacy IQ Test.”
  • Information Literacy Sites – College and Research Libraries News. The electronic version of an article first published in “College and Research Libraries News,” February 1990, Vol. 60, No. 2.


Breivik, P. S. (1988). Student learning in the information age. Oryx Press.

Bruce, C. (1997). The Seven faces of information literacy. Auslib Press.

Iannuzzi, P. (1999). Teaching information literacy skills. Ally and Bacon.

Grassian, E., Kaplowitz, J. (2001). Information literacy instruction, theory and practice. Neal-Schuman.

Jacobson, T. and Gatti, T. H., (Eds.). (2001). Teaching information literacy concepts: Activities and frameworks from the field. Library Instruction Publications.

Ryan, J. L. (2001). Information literacy toolkit. American Library Association.

Snavely, L., and Cooper, N. (1997). “The Information literacy debate.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 23, 9-14.

Sonntag, G. (1996). “The Development of a lower-division, general education, course-integrated information literacy program.” College and Research Libraries, 57, 331-338.

Spitzer, K., with Eisenberg, M.B. and Lowe, C. (1998). Information literacy: Essential skills for the information age. ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse University.

Young, R. M. (1999). Working with faculty to design undergraduate information literacy programs. Neal-Schuman.


Biographical information:

Ru Story-Huffman holds a Master of Library Science degree and currently serves as Public Services Librarian at the Hagan Memorial Library, Cumberland College, Williamsburg, KY. She has previously worked in public, school and special libraries, and as a consultant and adjunct instructor in children”s literature. Ru is the author of 3 books published by Highsmith Press and contributes to a variety of professional and educational journals.