ILBP Exemplary Programs Interview with Katherine Stiwinter, Spartanburg Community College

Interview completed in Spring 2020 by Brianna Buljung, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Colorado School of Mines; Shane Roopnarine, Assistant Librarian, University of Central Florida Libraries; Jorge Lopez-McKnight, Librarian, Austin Community College and Maya Hobscheid, Instructional Design Librarian, Grand Valley State University.  

The ILBP Committee recognizes IL programs that embody the best practices laid out in the Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline. We recently interviewed Katherine Stiwinter, Library Director at Spartanburg Community College (SCC) in Spartanburg, South Carolina, whose program exemplifies the categories of Administrative and Institutional Support and Program Sequencing. They generously shared insights and suggestions to assist with building fuller, richer IL programs.

ILBP: Share some historical background on your program. How has it developed over time?

Information literacy has been a focus of the SCC library instruction program for many years. The instruction program is in high-demand, and our small staff of librarians were teaching over 150 one-shot classes a year in addition to their other duties. In short, we were maxed out. We had also worked hard to integrate instruction and information literacy into the curriculum of a couple of core classes. In addition to instruction, we had a library project in our College Skills (Col 103) course, as well as a mandatory online tutorial in all First Year Composition courses (Eng 101). 

When the college began to search for a focus for their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for accreditation (a large-scale, five-year project), the library compiled data, wrote and championed the proposal that would eventually be selected and adapted into the College’s next QEP, “WIn: Working Information.” The essence of the proposal was that information literacy is a vital skill, and one that requires ongoing learning and practice over time. Despite the library’s efforts, students still struggled in this area, and most of the information literacy training students received was tangential in a couple first-year courses. The QEP project would work to train faculty on infusing information literacy into their classrooms and assignments. It would be on a large scale so that information literacy would be embedded across the curriculum. The QEP gave the library the leadership and the administrative mandate to take our information literacy message beyond what we could do in our one-shots. We worked with a leadership team that included an instructional designer, deans, institutional planning/reporting, etc., to develop and implement this project.

ILBP: How is information literacy integrated throughout your institution’s curriculum? 

The 5-year project has slowly rolled out across the curriculum. In the first year, we selected 7 high-enrollment, general education courses, and trained a cohort of the lead-faculty for these courses in an intensive, in-person training program that lasted the entire semester (7 meetings). Also at the start of this project, we hired a new librarian position, the information literacy librarian, who would help with this additional workload. The faculty training covered the importance of information literacy, our 4 Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), how to teach them in the classroom, and assignment design. These 7 high-impact courses would be the core of our QEP project, and give students a foundation as they progressed into higher-level, more specialized classes. Because of the nature of our general education – there’s no guarantee that students will take all 7 of these courses or in what order they will take them, so we had to remain flexible. By focusing on high-enrollment courses, we increased the number of students we would reach, and all students who complete an associate’s degree would at least take 2-3 of these courses. 

We built on existing partnerships to structure College Skills and English 101 to provide a basic foundation, and then worked with the faculty in the other courses to tailor the information literacy lessons to their disciplines, for example Art, Biology, Psychology, and Literature. Faculty expressed concern about teaching information literacy outright – both because it was not their subject expertise and because class time is limited, so the library received funds to purchase information literacy tutorials from a 3rd party that could be customized, and worked very hard to adapt them to the needs of each course, trying to avoid too much overlap between classes. The conclusion of the training had the instructor create a research assignment for this class, and then receive feedback on the assignment from a librarian and the instructional designer. 

After this first group, we expanded the program in a less-intensive form. The following semester, we did in-person training for the remaining full-time faculty who taught one of our 7 general education courses. Following that we developed a self-paced online course covering this same information literacy training for adjuncts who taught these 7 courses. Simultaneously, we began to roll out in-person training for a handful of identified career-program courses that would be a good fit for the project, including nursing, radiologic technology, mechatronics, industrial safety, automated office technology, computer, and engineering. We trained these instructors over the course of two semesters and also worked with them to develop information literacy tutorials and assignments for their classes. Any new instructors who came on board to teach either the general education or the career courses received self-paced training through the online course. Instructors collected samples of student research work and submitted them to the QEP team who scored the samples using a rubric to measure our student learning outcomes and provide feedback to instructors. 

In our 4th year, we expanded beyond our identified courses with the goal of training the remaining full-time faculty who teach general education courses. And now in our 5th year, our goal is to train all the remaining full-time faculty who teach in our career-programs. These faculty will complete the online course and submit an assignment for feedback by a librarian and instructional designer. They do not have mandatory tutorials in their classes and will not have to submit student work but are being encouraged to integrate IL at appropriate levels for their classes. As we wind down our big 5 year push, the goal is to keep information literacy as part of the institutional culture and embedded across the curriculum. We will continue to emphasize it to new faculty via new faculty orientation. 

ILBP: How do you use the ACRL Framework to leverage the importance of information literacy in student learning?

The four SLOs that are the focus of the project are: 

  1. Access information from appropriate sources
  2. Evaluate information and its sources critically 
  3. Combine information from different sources to accomplish a purpose 
  4. Properly use and give credit to original sources of information 

The framework was very new when we were developing our project, so it was not incorporated explicitly, but our SLOs undoubtedly play a part in all of the frames. For instance, our SLO about accessing information not only focused on what resources are available and how to use them, but emphasized the research process as a whole, including ‘searching as strategic exploration.’ Also evaluating information emphasized the importance of the context of authority. Our SLOs were designed to be a basic foundation that all students graduating with an associate’s degree would understand. These skills would be useful to our students whether they were going into a career or transferring to a four-year college, and useful in life outside of work or school. Our program emphasized the importance of information literacy beyond traditional academic disciplines. We had to convince faculty that information literacy applied to their area as well, not just to English classes. In particular, we got creative with our industrial areas, and worked with them to develop practical projects that still served a purpose in their curriculum. 

ILBP: What excites you most about the future of your program?

As we move beyond the 5 year QEP project, I’m excited and encouraged by the number of supporters and advocates we’ve been able to develop across the college, sometimes in surprising areas. I look forward to continuing to explore these relationships and leverage these partnerships down the line for more information literacy integration in the future. 

ILBP: What advice can you provide for other programs that are looking to develop in the categories of Administrative and Institutional Support and Program Sequencing?

A program like this is incredibly time intensive. We could not have taken it on in this form without hiring our new information literacy librarian position. You need someone that can devote their time and attention to the project so that you don’t lose steam. You have to be very organized and stay on top of things. One challenge we’ve faced is continuity. Our information literacy librarian position has changed hands several times during this project, and having new people come on mid-project is challenging. It takes a while to become familiar with so many moving parts. Ideally, you want someone that can provide continuity over the whole project. Another key part of the position is relationship building with faculty, which also takes time. 

It’s been helpful to have a “leadership team” that meets several times a year to touch base and make sure the project is continuing forward. It’s been critical that the leadership team include administration, to lend their support when needed. A program like this demands a delicate balance of administrative might and relationship building with faculty. It’s important to demonstrate to faculty that you aren’t taking over or adding unrelated material to their courses. Instead, you want to work with them to introduce information literacy into what they’re already doing in a way that makes sense and supports their goals. If you rely too much on administrative might, your results aren’t going to be nearly as good as if you can show the faculty the value of information literacy as applied to their discipline.