Feb 10, 2014Vol. 44, Issue 3

Building Literacy in the Library

In today’s connected world, many students have entire libraries in the palms of their hands, accessible with a few taps and swipes of their fingers. The immediacy and prevalence of media in the 21st century in many ways has been a boon for education, but it has also amplified the need to teach people how to navigate the constant deluge of information.

Here to meet that need at Chico State is Kevin Klipfel, Meriam Library’s new information literacy coordinator. Klipfel, originally from Buffalo, New York, was given the opportunity before the start of the fall semester to rebuild the University’s Information Literacy Program from the ground up.

The program’s mission is to incorporate information literacy—the ability to think critically about finding and using information for a specific purpose—into the university curriculum by focusing on teaching students these skills during the process of research.

“I think of it almost as a philosophical question—what should I believe and how do I know what’s out there is reliable,” Klipfel says.

Klipfel earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the State University of New York at Buffalo, a master’s degree in philosophy from Virginia Tech, and a master’s in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His approach to librarianship is drawn from philosophy and counseling theory, taking the existentialist ethic of authenticity—being yourself in your daily life—and applying that to helping students do research that genuinely interests them.

“People thought I was nuts because I was like, I want to apply stuff from existential philosophy and psychology to research, and they’re like what does that even mean?” he says. “But it ended up paying off, I think.”

Interim University Librarian Sarah Blakeslee says that after going without an information literacy coordinator for four years, when it came time to hire, the librarians were in unanimous agreement that they needed somebody in that position.

“The ability to graduate students who can ask questions and who can find and think critically about information to solve problems (aka information-literate students) is essential for the 21st century if our graduates are to be competitive in the workforce and contribute as informed citizens,” she says.

From October to November, Klipfel held about 40 instruction sessions in the library with English 130 and University 101 classes. He asks professors to bring students in for help with a specific assignment, which he believes gives students a context for why they should care.

“There’s nothing that intrinsically interesting about learning how to use the library to find a book, you know,” he says.

Instead, Klipfel hopes to instill the idea that research can begin with any basic interest or curiosity about a topic—but Internet search engines can only get you so far. An example he likes to give involves hip-hop star Drake.

“If you want to know when Drake is coming to Sacramento, you just Google ‘When is Drake coming to Sacramento’ and you get an immediate response,” he says. “But if you want to know something more sophisticated, like a college-level kind of research question, the information that you need isn’t available usually on the free web. So you have to develop that research skill set.”

Having taught college courses himself, Klipfel can anticipate problems students may have. For example, he knows that students tend to have trouble developing a research question or knowing which sources to believe, so he tries to take those problems and offer solutions to them.

Nate Millard, professor of English, brought his classes in for instruction sessions with Klipfel this semester.

“Working with Kevin, as an expert at finding information, was great,” Millard says. “He was willing to continue to help students throughout the assignment. When students couldn’t find information, they already knew Kevin, and I could direct them to him for more help, and he was always willing and ready to help them. It was like having a second faculty in my class to help with projects.”

More information about the Information Literacy Program is available on the program’s website, http://www.csuchico.edu/lref/InfoLit/infolit.html, which also includes links for scheduling an instruction session or meeting with Klipfel. While Klipfel is a full-time, tenure-track faculty member, because he doesn’t teach his own semester-long classes, his role on campus relies entirely on communication and collaboration with faculty.

“Going forward,” Klipfel says, “it’s just trying to reach as many people as possible.”

—Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications