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Information Literacy and Libraries

Learning Objectives
• Define inquiry and information inquiry in a library setting.
• Describe the role of questioning in inquiry and the role of the librarian.
• Describe the role of exploration in inquiry and the role of the librarian.
• Describe the role of assimilation in inquiry and the role of the librarian.
• Describe the role of inference in inquiry and the role of the librarian.
• Describe the role of reflection in inquiry and the role of the librarian.

Inquiry is a process that involves asking questions and searching for evidence that can be used to design arguments, make decisions, and draw conclusions. Inquiry is an activity that occurs throughout the day at home, work, and play.

Information inquiry involves the processes of searching for information and applying information to answer questions we raise personally and questions that are addressed to use.

Technique for gaining meaningful information may involve reading, listening, viewing, observing, interviewing, surveying, testing, and more.

Information Skills and Instruction

Some inquiries involve much more than simply locating the answer to a questions.

Many of the activities that occur in a library are related to information inquiry. Library users must collect data from a variety of sources, explore alternative perspectives, and examine different viewpoints in order to gather evidence that can be used to make decisions, invent new strategies, or convince others.`

Danny Callison identified five interactive components of information inquiry regardless of the model used including

Information Inquiry: Questioning

questionInquiry begins when individuals observe and react the the world around them.

Watching a television program may spark a new interest, seeing a shiny new car in a parking lot may provoke a question about car loan rates, or losing a job may pressure an individual to seek information on resume writing or changing careers.

Questions in information inquiry may range from the most basic, factual reference questions to the most complex puzzles of life for which there are no answers.

Questioning is at the core of inquiries. Inquirers ask themselves: what is the question I’m trying to answer, the problem I’d like to solve, or the key issue I need to resolve?

Questioning and Libraries

As librarians, we’re constantly involved in both our own inquiries, as well as the inquiries of library users. Meaningful information applications come from examination of an information need, analysis of information gained, and synthesis of information to address the need in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Librarians must often assist a library user in refining their questions. Questions may be fact-based such as who, what, when, why, and how. However they can also be much deeper requiring clarification, elaboration, or divergent thinking.

Novice inquirers may not be able to verbalize their thoughts on unfamiliar topics. They need help brainstorming and refining their questions.

Mature inquirers may need help extending their thinking and seeking out new perspectives and sources of information. Visuals, concept maps, and other tools and techniques can be used to assist library users in the questioning process.

An effective librarian can facilitate the questioning process.

Information Inquiry: Exploration

exploreExploration involves identifying and collecting resources that may be useful in addressing problems, questions, and information needs.

Books, maps, primary source documents, reference materials, electronic databases, websites, artifacts, and talking with people are just a few of the information sources used in exploration.

One piece of information often leads to new questions, concerns, or interests.

Questions may be refined, restated, or new queries may emerge and evidence is collected.

Exploration and Libraries

Many library users begin their searches with a search engine such as Google. However, librarians know that the search strategy should be based on the particular question.

A reference interview helps a librarian guide users to the most effective and efficient information sources to address the information need. They help the user explore the pros and cons of different types of information.

In addition to guiding users to quality information sources, librarians can also suggest tools that help researchers organize information, take notes, and manage citations.

Information Inquiry: Assimiliation

kidsAssimilation involves processing, associating, and integrating new ideas with already available knowledge in the human mind.

Inquirers look for pieces of information, ideas, and perspectives that support their thesis or help answer their question.

The process of assimilation involves reinforcing and confirming information that is known, altering thinking based on new information, or rejecting information that doesn’t match the inquirer’s belief system.

Conflicts between existing and new information can lead to frustration, so inquirers sometimes need support to keep an open mind.

Assimilation and Libraries

Some inquirers lack skills in comparison, critical analysis, and debate necessary to effectively evaluate information.

Sorting data, judging the quality of information, and prioritizing findings are all necessary to this process of analyzing and interpreting information.

Librarians can play an important role in providing users with instruction and support materials to facilitate assimilation. For instance, handouts might provide guidance in evaluating websites or a short instructional video might provide assistance in prioritizing findings.

Information Inquiry: Inference

cameraInference involves synthesis of information and applying evidence to solve problems, answer questions, or draw conclusions.

Inquirers must consider alternatives and apply evidence to support a claim, justify change, or make an informed decision.

Developing a convincing argument is more than simply possessing information. Evidence must be organized in a way that supports an argument and also makes sense to the inquirer or their audience.

Inference and Libraries

Each library user applies the results of their inquiry in their own way.

A student might write a paper, an attorney might develop closing arguments, or a physician might develop a treatment plan.

From computers and printers to video production equipment, libraries need to have tools available for library users to create products that address the communication needs of inquirers.

Information Inquiry: Reflection

reflectAfter completing an investigation, inquirers often think about their experience in anticipation of their next inquiry.

Was the Pioneers Day backoff a success? Did the bike trail proposal pass? Did the lawyer win the case?

A positive experience may lead to further use of the library. However a wait list for an essential book, a poor electronic database interface, or poorly constructed tutorial for using the EndNote software, might discourage a library user from returning.

Encourage library users to share their frustrations and work with them to improve resources and services for the next experience.

Reflection and Libraries

Metacognition involves “thinking about thinking” or being aware of one’s own inquiry process.

Effective librarians use questioning and guidance throughout the inquiry process to encourage users to reflect on their cognitive processes and become independent inquirers.

It’s important that librarians are familiar with the inquiry process so they can empathize with library users as well as conduct their own effective inquiries.


The information inquiry process involves questioning, exploration, assimiliation, inference, and reflection.

Librarians can play an important role in assisting library users as they work their way through the inquiry process.

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

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