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Building an information literacy program in undergraduate chemistry

Presented at a Chemistry Librarians Workshop at the University at Toronto, June 5, 2009.

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My Institution:  SUNY Geneseo

  • Public liberal arts college
  • Selective “honors” college
  • No graduate students in the sciences

My library:  Milne Library

  • Eight reference and instruction librarians
  • One science librarian

Our library instruction philosophy involves integrating information literacy into the curriculum at the point of need.  We do not offer stand alone classes, and we work closely with department faculty to best place information literacy instruction in the curriculum where the students need it.  This involves a lot of one-on-one collaboration with faculty.  We do not have an institutional prescription for information literacy instruction.  We have to convince faculty, then we have to prove ourselves useful.

Building the program:

Starting with just one or two sessions our year, our instruction program in chemistry increased greatly due to two main points

  1. New Tools:  The addition of SciFinder (and later Scopus) to our set of databases gave us an opportunity to approach the faculty about providing some “training” in these tools.  The initial training sessions led to additional and expanded information literacy sessions
  2. New librarian:  I was able to take advantage of my recent switch to science and technology librarian to open conversations with faculty and share my enthusiasm for teaching students about the scientific literature and how to find it.

Program Levels:


  • Introduction to the scientific literature.  How to tell apart scholarly and popular literature.
  • What is peer review?  Most students have heard the term but aren’t sure that it really is.
  • Basic searching techniques
  • Sample exercise


  • Primary SciFinder training
    • Finding physical properties
    • Basic research topic searching
  • More on the scientific literature:  Science news, Primary literature, Review articles
  • Sample exercise


  • Still in development


  • Brief review of the scientific literature: Science news, Primary literature, review articles, Patents
  • Advanced research topic searching in SciFinder and Scopus – when to use each database
  • Introduction to structure searching in SciFinder
  • Sample exercise


  • Many classes, one science librarian – giving additional librarians the tools to teach the class
  • Convincing multiple faculty to include information literacy instruction in their classes
  • Convincing faculty to include follow up assignments to encourage students to practice the skills learned in our sessions

The Future

  • Changing chemistry curriculum
  • Working with the department as a whole
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