Syracuse University School of Information Studies Assistant Professor Megan Oakleaf received a $280,550 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to measure information literacy skills of college students during three years of research starting in July 2010. SU will match the grant with an additional $126,815.

The research project, entitled “Rubric Assessment of Information Literacy Skills” (RAILS), is designed to develop and test rubrics that evaluate student learning and information literacy, as well as faculty and librarian assessment skills.

“Previously, librarians have been relying on tests to assess student work and skills and not looking at their research, papers, and projects,” Oakleaf said. “There are limitations on what you can test, and students aren’t always motivated to really work hard on a test that doesn’t impact their grade.”

Over the three-year grant period, Oakleaf will travel to 10 different universities to meet with 10 librarians or faculty members at each school. More than 100 samples of student work will be evaluated at each institution to not only evaluate the students themselves, but also how well librarians and faculty members assess student work. Part of the study’s overall goal is to normalize evaluation of student information literacy and establish rubrics to measure teaching effectiveness in libraries.

“We also need to identify the characteristics that will make librarians and faculty members good evaluators of student work so that we can develop training for them,” Oakleaf said.

The issue of library effectiveness is important, according to Oakleaf, because libraries need to be able to demonstrate evidence that their programs and resources are being put to good use.

“It’s a really big issue with academic libraries to show that they are really contributing to the overall mission of the university,” Oakleaf said. “Libraries receive substantial financial resources from their institutions, so they have to prove their value within the university. This is a way to give actual evidence of the importance of academic libraries.”

Oakleaf will issue a call for participation to universities in September and will select five schools for the first year of research and an additional five for the second year. She said she hopes to have a diverse pool of schools and librarians with which to work.

Oakleaf is an assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY. She joined the iSchool at Syracuse after completing her dissertation entitled, “Assessing Information Literacy Skills: A Rubric Approach,” at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Previously, she was the Librarian for Instruction and Undergraduate Research at North Carolina State University, where she designed, implemented, coordinated, and assessed the library instruction program.