Information Literacy @ Carnegie Mellon
Program Information


These pages have been created to provide a basic understanding of Carnegie Mellon University's Information Literacy Program.



Mission Statement
To insure that students develop fluency in obtaining, evaluating, and using information..

Eden Hall Grant
The foundation's support will help a broad population of students and library patrons become skilled and successful life-long learners...

The Carnegie Mellon Approach

We are using an integrated approach for our information literacy program...

Computing at Carnegie Mellon (C@CM)
The CSW's integrate computer, library and information ethics skills into a holistic model of information fluency... The Libraries' portion of this course is getting a complete makeover for the fall 2007 semester. Check back for more details.

Contact Information:

Jean Alexander - Head of Hunt Reference, 412.268.6809

Dan Hood - Information Literacy Fellow, 412.268.2536


Our Program

Mission Statement

Information literacy is an essential part of a twenty-first-century university education. It is a complex mixture of practical and analytical skills that carry over from the academic setting into professional and personal life. The mission of the information literacy program at Carnegie Mellon University is to insure that students develop fluency in obtaining, evaluating, and using information in an effective and socially responsible manner.

The University Libraries share responsibility with teaching faculty throughout the university to define the curriculum that teaches each student to define an information need; to find, evaluate, interpret and document a variety of information sources; and to understand principles of intellectual property and academic integrity. Learning will take place in stages, beginning with general and interdisciplinary knowledge and progressing on to mastery of the information environment specific to the student's area of concentration.


Faculty and librarians are increasingly concerned that students rely on Google for all their information needs and are unaware of print resources, licensed databases and journals, archival resources, and other important research materials. They also need to become more effective and efficient searchers and evaluators of information found on the Internet. Librarians are ready and willing to work with faculty to provide the guidance and supporting materials needed to teach students to be information literate and successful in graduate school and careers.

Learning Objectives

The information literate student:

Carnegie Mellon Approach

At Carnegie Mellon, we are using an integrated approach for our information literacy program. We will document existing instructional programs and activities such as the Computing at Carnegie Mellon (C@CM), library user education and outreach (tours, workshops, class visits and guides, tutorials, publications), and learning that takes place within existing courses. We will also identify an upper-level undergraduate course within each department where information literacy is or can be an instructional goal.

Information Literacy in the Curriculum

Computer Skills Workshop: For many years, Carnegie Mellon students have begun their studies with a Computer Skills Workshop mini-course. That program was recently rewritten to integrate computer, library and information ethics skills into a holistic model of information fluency. It is required for all freshmen.


There are already numerous assessment activities going on at Carnegie Mellon related to information literacy. The primary means of student learning assessment in terms of information literacy skills is embedded in the traditional evaluation venues of a course, such as examinations, research papers, presentations or projects. We will continue and expand this integrated assessment model to evaluate student information literacy skills through course assignments and examinations. In some cases, liaison librarians will help faculty to develop information literacy-related assignments in selected courses, and participate in evaluating that part of the assignment. In other cases, librarians may administer their own assessments.

Multiple pilot assessments targeted at students tacking required courses for their majors. These assessments will measure the students' information literacy skills specific to their discipline.


SAILS Assessment

SAILS is a knowledge test for undergraduates with multiple-choice questions targeting a variety of information literacy skills. The test items are based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. It was developed at Kent State University. More than 80 institutions and 42,000 students have participated in SAILS as of the fall 2006 administration.

SAILS at Carnegie Mellon

Carnegie Mellon University administered SAILS as a diagnostic tool. If participation is high enough to be significant, the data gathered by the test will be used as a baseline measurement of undergraduate students' information literacy skills. This data may help direct future information literacy programming at the university. This trial administration was also used as an assessment of the test itself. If the SAILS test is deemed a good fit for assessing Carnegie Mellon students' information literacy skills it may set a precedent for future SAILS administrations at Carnegie Mellon.

The test was administered on the web at, and in paper format by request. The test administration ran from late September 2006 until December 2006. The Carnegie Mellon administration of the SAILS test is a unique one in that it was administered in an unmonitored, completely online way. While there are paper tests, students were encouraged to take the test online at their leisure. This method of administration was chosen because of the large number of students to be tested. 5,620 emails with unique student identifiers were sent out in late September to every undergraduate student. Email reminders were sent throughout the semester.


Three hundred and sixty two Carnegie Mellon undergraduates completed the SAILS test. Demographics information indicating class year, school/college, major, and native language was collected. The demographics roughly align to Carnegie Mellon's undergraduate body; however, freshmen and MCS students were slightly over represented while CFA and Tepper students were slightly underrepresented. Twenty two percent of Carnegie Mellon's SAILS participants self identified as non-native English speakers.

The SAILS test is scored using an item response theory called the Rasch Model. In a nutshell, this model ranks each test item based on past student performance and then places those scores on a scale from 0 to 1000 with 500 being the mean score. Each 100 points indicates a standard deviation. A comparison of Carnegie Mellon's performance against all other Doctoral/Research Institutions within each SAILS skill set looks like this:

Skill Set
Carnegie Mellon All other Doctoral/Research Institutions

Using Finding Tool Features
Documenting Sources
Retrieving Sources
Evaluating Sources
Developing a Research Strategy
Understanding Economic, Legal and Social Issues
Selecting Finding Tools



It should be noted that standard errors for Carnegie Mellon's scores are large because of the relatively small sample size of Carnegie Mellon's administration compared to the 42,000 nationwide SAILS participants. Standard errors for the Carnegie Mellon administration ranged from ±10 to ±20 for all skill sets.

What does this mean?

Overall, Carnegie Mellon students performed very well on the SAILS test. For example, Carnegie Mellon students performed better than the Doctoral/Research institutions benchmark on Developing a Research Strategy, Using Finding Tool Features and most other skill sets. Selecting Finding tools was lower on the performance list so the University Libraries may focus instruction efforts on this skill set.

One must keep in mind some caveats when interpreting these results. First, participants self-selected to take this test, meaning these students may have had a preexisting aptitude for some or all of the skills assessed by the SAILS test. On the other hand, according to Project Sails, students tend to do less well when they take the test in an unmonitored setting, as was the case at Carnegie Mellon. With these factors in mind, the University Libraries plans to incorporate the general findings from SAILS into our continually developing information literacy instruction activities.

These results were reported to the University Education Council in spring, 2008.


Eden Hall Grant

The Eden Hall Foundation has awarded a $180,000 grant to the University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon to promote information literacy region-wide. The foundation's support--for the development of tools to assess and teach information literacy and for outreach partnerships between Carnegie Mellon and several regional libraries--will help a broad population of students and library patrons become skilled and successful life-long learners. "It is a great honor to embark on this work on behalf of our own students and for the benefit of the many students and patrons of the academic and public libraries with which we are creating an important new partnership," Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon wrote to the foundation in acknowledgment of this gift.

Community Outreach

PCHE Swaptalk
On November 9th, 2007 we hosted a Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education “Swaptalk” session on information literacy assessment. This was a loosely structured information-sharing session and an opportunity for local academic librarians to learn what peers at neighboring institutions were doing to assess students’ information literacy skills.

August 8, 2007 Workshop
Guest speaker Anne Betts will discuss information literacy and collaboration with faculty from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the University Center, Download a flyer and an agenda. This workshop is full. Thanks to everyone who rsvp'd.

Working with Local Middle/High School Librarians
We're currently working with Local Pittsburgh area Middle/High School Librarians. We want to open a line of communication between them and the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries with regards to information literacy. We recently had a focus group to discuss our different information literacy expectations for our students. The output from this focus group is being analyzed and will serve to fuel future outreach efforts.

The Sister Libraries Pilot Project grew out of ideas generated at the abovementioned focus group. The idea is to test new forms of communication between academic and school librarians in Western Pennsylvania with regards to information literacy. Six academic and six school librarians are participating with guidance from the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. A formative assessment of the program and participants' experiences will help shape a permanent program starting in fall 2007.

New Ways of Doing Research On the Internet
This class was offered for senior citizens through the Academy of Lifelong Learning in 2005, 2007 and 2008. We are committed to fostering lifelong information literacy skills.


What is Information Literacy?

Information literacy is 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." 1

Why is Information Literacy Important?

Contemporary Environment of Rapid Technological Change and Proliferating Information Resources. Today's information environment is increasingly complex. There is a vast amount of information available through books, journals, broadcast media, and the Internet, but the quality and reliability of the information varies. People need information literacy skills to effectively find, select, evaluate, and use information.

Carnegie Mellon Needs. From faculty to administrators to students, the Carnegie Mellon community realizes the importance of information literacy. Faculty increasingly request librarian-lead classes on how to locate and evaluate information; administrators provide support for campus-wide information literacy programs; and students also are looking for resources in addition to just searching Google.

Accreditation Agency Requirement. Carnegie Mellon University's accreditation agency, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, published its updated standards for accreditation in 2002. The new standards clearly state that "information literacy is vital to all disciplines and to effective teaching and learning in any institution. Institutions of higher education need to provide students and instructors with the knowledge, skills, and tools to obtain information in many formats and media in order to identify, retrieve, and apply relevant and valid knowledge and information resources to their study, teaching, or research." 2

Who is Responsible for Information Literacy?

To improve students' information literacy skills, the whole campus community needs to be involved.

Administrator: Provides budget, staff time, etc. to support information literacy.

Faculty: Embeds information literacy components in curriculum and teach information literacy skills in class.

Librarian: Provides library tours, instruction sessions; create tutorials, both general and course oriented; create resource list for specific subject areas or specific course; helps faculty identify information literacy components in curriculum, creates and assesses effective research assignments.

Information Literacy Standards

The information literate student:  


  1. American Library Association. Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report.(Chicago: American Library Association, 1989).
  2. Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Characteristics of excellence in higher education: eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation. (Philadelphia: Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2002).
  3. Association of College and Research Libraries. Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000).


Middles States Requirements

In 2002, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education explicitly listed information literacy as one of its accreditation requirements in its new accreditation standard: Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Eligibility Requirements and Standards for Accreditation. Information literacy literacy skills are measured in:

Further Reading:
Developing Research & Communication Skills: Guidelines for Information Literacy in the Curriculum: Executive Summary.
Provides colleges and universities with suggestions for how they might develop and implement a mission-driven approach to integrating information literacy across the curriculum.

Best Practices in Information Literacy

Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline.
Attempts to articulate elements of exemplary information literacy programs for undergraduate students at four-year and two-year institutions.

Examples: (These selected colleges and universities have information literacy programs that illustrate best practices)

Information Literacy Tutorials

Information Literacy Assessment

Standard Toolkit



Information Literacy Rubrics Examples

Further Reading:

Though more than ten years old, Information Literacy as a Liberal Art remains relevant in light of creating an information literacy curriculum.

The Library Assessment Blog from ARL.

New roles and responsibilities for the university library: advancing student learning through outcomes assessment.


Last Updated 7/25/2008 by Dan Hood