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Library research initiative assesses undergraduate skills

Are students aware in the information age?

How well can Boston University students navigate the information landscape? Do undergraduates understand the academic and ethical implications of relying on Google for research? And are students able to find relevant, authoritative resources and evaluate their appropriateness?

These questions prompted Mugar Memorial Library to join a national research initiative to assess undergraduates’ information literacy skills, which involve thinking critically about the resources available in databases, on the Internet, and in print and making choices based on the relationship between scholarly communication and the Web.

Last spring, students from BU and 70 other institutions took a survey to develop local and national benchmarks about information literacy; 24 percent of the University’s freshmen participated, one of the highest response rates in the country.

The results of the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills — or Project SAILS, developed at Kent State University — showed that the BU freshmen tended to score above the cross-institutional average on most skill sets and across most demographics.

More than 900 University students took the survey, which measured students’ ability to access information efficiently, evaluate sources critically, and understand the legal and social issues involved in the use of information. They not only outperformed the cross-institutional averages in each skill set, but scored higher among all ethnic groups and in 11 of 12 majors identified.

The findings will allow the library to tailor its instructional programs to the needs of students and provide structure for development of new tools. Library staff members say that the survey shows them how to better leverage local resource expenditures as well.

The complete Project SAILS report for BU is available online at www.bu.edu/library/sails.

With additional reporting by Jessica Ullian.