As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Teaching Information Problem Solving in Primary Schools: An Information Literacy Survey

Penny Moore,
Research Manager
The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand,


Advances in information technology have resulted in pressure to examine the way educators approach the task of developing children's information literacy. The following reports on work in progress to identify challenges faced in integrating information skills across the primary school curriculum. The stated information literacy intentions of schools, gathered from policy documents and through semi-structured interviews with key people, are compared with teachers' responses to a questionnaire. The questionnaire focused on their understanding of information skills, resource-based learning, the role of the library and the teacher with library responsibility.

Differences emerged in the clarity and coherence of the vision held for information literacy within the participating schools and in staff understanding of the nature of information skills, the role of the library and resource-based learning. Teachers' expectations for children's ability to find and use information are also explored.



Critics suggest that the main effect of advances in information technology has been to emphasise the need for adults and children to be able to select, evaluate and re-order vast amounts of information from a variety of sources. While this was once seen as an issue only for the most able students, this set of abilities is now seen as essential across all sectors of society. However, the question of how development of the skills can be promoted is yet to be fully answered. In the last decade a variety of “literacies” has been proposed, for example, traditional print-based literacy, computer, scientific, cultural, global, mathematical and visual literacies all have their champions. Doyle (1994) pointed out that “all of these literacies focus on a compartmentalised aspect of literacy.” In contrast, “information literacy provides a framework that knocks down the walls of the compartments and reflects the way we combine our abilities and knowledge to make sense of our world.”

To underline the cognitive underpinnings of the concept and make them more accessible in concrete terms, “information problem solving” is sometimes used as a synonym for information literacy (e.g. Eisenberg & Berkowitz, 1990, Moore, 1995). From the work of Doyle (1994), Bruce (1994) and Moore (1995), it can be concluded that an information literate person combines the following qualities and abilities:

Underlying the notion of information literacy is a challenge to teach higher order cognitive and problem-solving skills. Liesener (1985) has, however, suggested that this will demand a much more sophisticated view of information use and users. Observations of young students’ attempts to find information and analysis of “think aloud” protocols, led Moore and St. George (1991) to agree. They concluded that some teachers and librarians fail to appreciate fully the difficulty primary school children have formulating search strategies and using information.

In addition, Liesener suggested that while teachers have extremely wide information needs, they may themselves be poorly equipped to access the world of information. This has implications for their ability to teach students the skills of finding, sifting and integrating information from a variety of sources.

Teachers as users of professional information

There are few studies of the information needs of teachers themselves, or of the ways in which these are satisfied. In the commercial sector, the information needs of professionals are often met through the provision of special library services located in the workplace, but school libraries typically have a very limited range of resources exclusively for teachers. Juchau (1984) found that actual usage of these materials (at secondary school level in Australia) was low and it is only recently that school libraries there are seriously beginning to serve the professional needs of teaching staff. Chalmers and Slyfield questioned principals on this possible role for school libraries in New Zealand, but in 1993, only 1% of primary school principals rated it as important.

The principal’s encouragement of a high degree of current awareness has been identified as a factor determining whether teachers will actively seek professional information (Juchau, 1984). Knowledge of techniques teachers use to do that would illuminate their perceptions of the world of information and it has been suggested that “the way we view information, and the way we view people in an information-intense environment, shape the way we think about teaching and learning” (Todd, 1996). In addition, a study by Streatfield and Markless (1994) consistently confirmed that students’ use and view of the library, the information source most overtly acknowledged in schools, is determined by that of the teachers. So it seems that the way teachers approach information problems is likely to be mirrored by students. This has clear implications for promoting information literacy.

Information climate

Although research on aspects of information literacy has been conducted in schools over an extensive period, Rogers (1994) and Haycock (cited Todd, 1995) have concluded that the implementation of findings is both slow and difficult. Research programmes have often centred on school library use and the presence or otherwise of trained teacher-librarians. In this context, while intellectual and material resources have proved important (Lealand, 1989), the principal “has long been regarded as the key to success of the delivery of an effective school library programme” (Henri & Hay 1995, p2). It is suggested here that variations in information climate constrain the path of development as information literate school communities are established and determine the kinds of support needed for their maintenance.

The concept of an “information climate” has resulted from consideration of the range of information sources available in schools and the extent to which information is valued. managed, communicated and used. It includes information traditionally used in supporting teaching and learning and extends to that concerned with educational theory and practice, curriculum planning methods, educational technologies and specialised subject fields. Current legislation and industrial matters which may constrain or facilitate practical implementation of, for example, information literacy-based teaching, are also considered.

Information management and communication centre largely on the Principal. The role of the principal in promoting staff awareness of information sources and content is just one aspect of leadership critical to creating and sustaining the conditions that provide the basis for general school improvement. Use of that information is to some extent dependent upon staff approaches to solving their own information problems. These have been linked above to student use of libraries and information.

Thus, the term “information climate” draws together three broad threads of interest centred on policies, procedures and practices for supporting information management and use in

It also takes into account administrative issues concerning information both received and created by the school, but will not be addressed here.

The New Zealand Context

In New Zealand, there are currently no government funded positions for teacher librarians. Some secondary schools employ qualified librarians, but primary (or elementary) school libraries are usually managed by a “teacher with library responsibilities” (TLR). Clerical support is available to some TLRs and some are released from teaching for a few hours a week to meet library responsibilities. However, TLRs often manage the task alongside their teaching load with no additional support.

While 95% of primary and all secondary schools in New Zealand have libraries (Chalmers & Slyfield, 1993), no programmes of tertiary study lead to a specific qualification in teacher librarianship at this time, although courses covering part of the field are available. Before advocating the adoption of school information service models operating in other countries, however, it is well to understand the nature of the challenges faced and to assess the training needs of the local community. For example, to meet the challenges of teaching in an information society, all teachers may need an understanding of the world of information and to be supported by professional library staff.

The Present Study

The following reports on a collaborative action research project which aims to describe the information climate in four primary schools, to run and evaluate information literacy workshops tailored to the needs of staff in each school and to observe classroom effects. The project will consist of case studies giving the interactions between

This preliminary report focuses on the first two bullet points above.


Three educational agencies were provided with a description of the project and the research questions to be addressed. They nominated schools which they suspected would differ in terms of the degree to which teaching reflected a concern with information literacy. Seven schools were nominated by two or more agencies and one of these was nominated by all three. Nominations were biased towards schools in higher socio-economic areas, decile ratings were therefore used to create three comparable lists from the 18 schools named. Thus if a school declined to participate, an alternative of similar nature could be approached.
School staff had the opportunity to meet with the researcher to discuss the nature of the collaboration before deciding to participate.

Thus the case studies centred on four suburban primary schools with between 140 and 260 pupils. The schools represented the 1st, 3rd, 8th and 10th scoio-economic deciles. The participating staff ranged from first year teachers to those with more than 25 years teaching experience. All schools had libraries, none of which were staffed by librarians.

Phase One - Assessment of information climate.

Phase One of the project involved two surveys, one of which utilised semi-structured interviews with key people and the other a questionnaire which was administered to all teaching staff and the principal.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted individually with Principals, TLRs and school secretaries. The purpose was to explore among other things, the principal’s understanding of his or her role in developing an information literate school community, the nature of support for teachers’ professional development, library and resource centre development plans and patterns and purposes of current library use. The TLR was questioned to gain an understanding of the relationship between teaching and library use in the school and the school secretary provided a perspective on administrative information issues.

Interviews ranged from 30 minutes with school secretaries, to an hour or more with Principals and TLRs. All interviews were taped and transcribed and the data collected remains confidential and anonymous.. Interview data was combined with that arising from an analysis of documents that the Ministry of Education requires schools to have written (eg a charter and related policies), together with government evaluations of school performance. Interviewees had opportunity to comment on transcripts of their data.

The questionnaire survey involved all teaching staff in each school and was presented as a professional development exercise, allowing it to be used as catalyst for discussion, although participants filled it in individually. Items using a five point scale focused on teachers’ understanding of information skills, the place of information technology, the role of the library and resource-based activities in teaching and learning, and assessment issues relating to information problem solving. A total of 40 useable questionnaires were completed. Full details of the questionnaire will be included in the final report for the project, but information is available now on request to the author.)

Phase Two: Workshops and classroom observations

This is currently in progress, with workshops being run each term for four participants who teach 7 to 10 year olds in each school. Workshops focus on aspects of information problem solving and typically begin with activities which reveal processes and strategies the teachers themselves use. Attention then passes to applying the knowledge gained in terms of children’s information problem solving in the context of curriculum work. Workshop evaluation centres on teachers identifying areas for further attention, knowledge gained and expected effects of integrating this new knowledge into teaching programmes. Participants are encouraged to reflect on classroom learning and to record observations of children handling information. Given the pressures of the average school day, this is not easy. The researchers visit each school for a day shortly after workshop sessions to observe children and all data are shared. In all schools multi-level classes with two staff members sharing a teaching space and single-cell classrooms are being observed.

In the period between workshops, participants receive written summaries of their particular workshop events and newsletters collating points of interest across all schools from workshops and student observations. This both keeps the project in mind and aids reflection on practise.

Results and Discussion

The data obtained illuminate many facets of the way in which information is valued as a key resource in schools. The aspects of major concern here are the stated intentions of schools in relation to information literacy development, support for professional development of staff, the role of the library in teaching and learning. Staff responses to survey questions focusing on their understanding of information skills, resource-based learning and collaboration with teachers with library responsibilities are also discussed.

School Aspirations for Information Literacy Development

Development of information literate school communities needs to be approached on several levels. To provide a foundation, Marland (1987) advocated a whole school information skills policy which would be supplemented by teaching initiatives across the curriculum. Primary school policy documents could be taken to reflect information literacy teaching aspirations in this regard. These were therefore examined to gain an indication of the profile of information literacy in teaching and the emphasis placed on library and information technology use.

While in three schools Principals made it clear that school policies are a reflection of classroom practice, only one (School Three) explicitly mentioned information skills in the governance documents of the school. It may be that attention to these skills is taken for granted in other schools. For examples, the National Curriculum Framework specifically includes information skills among those that are “essential” and perhaps if the Framework is referred to, no additional mention is considered necessary. It should not be assumed that lack of explicit reference to information literacy in school documents means that the component skills are not taught. Development of these skills is implied in some of the curriculum documents in each school.

If one agrees that the library is the most overtly acknowledged source of information in schools, one might expect related policies to cover information literacy, but in School One no library policies existed at the time of this phase of the study. The documents from other schools agreed fairly well on the purposes of the library and stated them in terms of providing reading matter and research materials, with some emphasis on supporting the acquisition of information gathering skills. The library as a place for working independently was a recognised purpose in School Two, but the Acting Principal and TLR at School Four were emphatic that this was not the case in their school. Physical space and furnishings in the library were restricting factors identified by interviewees.

Interestingly, in School Three the information technology policy gave a stronger role for the library as an information centre than did the library policy itself.

In sum,

Other curriculum policies in all schools indicated a degree of attention to information skills, but in all except School Three, these statements were weaker than those found in exisiting library policies. English language and computer policies referred to access and manipulation of information and development of problem solving and communication skills was mentioned. In School Four this was extended to thinking critically, questioning and drawing inferences. However, it was the Social Studies policy at School Three that reflected the greatest concern with information skills in explicit terms relating to locating and selecting, analysing, organising and presenting information.

Thus it can be seen that while “information literacy” as such is barely recognised in school governance or curriculum policies, important threads exist to be woven together. The real question then concerns the nature of the relationship between policy and practice, a point which will be revisited later.

Support for Professional Development of Staff

Although information literacy has been of growing interest in the library world since 1979 (Doyle, 1994), it has reached some of our educators only recently, so how do teachers learn more about it?

In all schools curriculum planning by groups of teachers was seen to promote information sharing. (Curricular changes in recent years have resulted in many professional development opportunities focused on curriculum rather than general pedagogy.) Teachers talking to teachers was a key activity. The richness and depth of educational debate, however, is likely to be influenced by the degree of input from external sources and the range of collaborative, mentoring relationships within the school.

School One’s Principal felt that staff would rely on the school to provide much information, but thought that they would probably do very little educational reading. This notion was supported in School Two, where the Principal described several ways in which current literature is brought to staff attention. That responsibility is shared by senior staff. The Principal at School Three said that staff did “masses of reading” , and added that they could frequently be found having informal discussions before school.

While educational reading was expected at School Four, the mechanisms for capitalising on group knowledge through collaboration and mentoring were particularly strong. For example, staff occasionally released each other to allow observation of good teaching practice within the school and the value of collegial approaches to development in teaching and learning is enshrined in policy. The Acting Principal paid tribute to the Principal’s efforts in bringing the wider sphere of eductional theory and practice into focus. She said that:

This was the only school in which staff were said to automatically share knowledge gained through course attendance. This occurred rather more unevenly in the remaining schools.

Overall, one gets the impression that changes in the curriculum dominate the priority teachers assign to professional information needs and that attending courses is preferred over other forms of information problem solving. Certainly staff in all four schools were grouped in syndicates to facilitate a degree of collaboration in curriculum planning and meeting children’s learning needs. However, the teachers’ information problem solving methods in this setting are isolated from and not modeled to students, nor are formal search procedures likely to be practised.

Role of the Library in Teaching and Learning

In some education systems, the school library is at the heart of information literacy developments. One indicator of the esteem in which the school library is held centres on staffing. Indeed, Henri and Hay (1995) found that in schools where an information literate community had been established, principals had high expectations of teacher librarians and valued their qualifications and judgement. The variability of the situation in New Zealand is reflected by the appointments to the TLR positions at the four schools studied.

At the time of the interviews, library responsibility was shared by two teachers from the junior section in School One, the Deputy Principal in School Two, a senior teacher in School Three and in School Four the post went to a staff member who split her time between the library and children with special needs. Experience in library work varied from long term interest in children’s literature, some experience as a TLR at a previous school, to completion of specific library related courses.

In all but School Two, the TLRs’ efforts were bolstered by various assistants including administrative staff, a teacher aide and a local senior citizen with a passion for children’s reading. In Schools One and Three, the TLRs were dependent upon the Principal to release them from teaching when library duties were pressing. The Principal in School Two, however, explained that they had sought

Staff had decided to increase class sizes slightly so that the Deputy Principal could focus on the library. This level of commitment had some unexpected drawbacks.

Asked to rate staff library use, School Two’s Deputy Principal/TLR indicated that teachers were not going to the library as their first port of call and she felt that they left classes in her charge rather than supervising them themselves. Thus opportunities to model effective library use were actually reduced by having the library staffed by a respected senior teacher. In addition, she indicated that library skills activities that are “not really connected to what they are doing in the classroom … but they should be” , choosing books and reading for pleasure were the main focus expected of children in the library. In her opinion, teachers were not using the library to teach wider aspects of information skills.

Similarly, in School Three where there was said to be a “huge belief in the reading process” , the TLR thought staff could make better use of the library. Promotion of library and research skills, reading and bringing new books to the children’s attention are all common activities, but she thought that staff needed to search the library more thoroughly themselves before deciding it did not contain required resources. (Does this reflect lack of development in personal search strategies? What impact does it have on their ability to help students locate information?) This situation was expected to improve when the collection was computerised, but the experience at School Four was that automation had reduced TLR involvement, with staff only approaching her for solution of “routine problems”. Only in School One were TLRs satisfied with the way teachers used the school library in teaching and learning.

Not surprisingly, the TLRs varied in the extent to which they actively promoted library use to other staff members and none had a strong record of collaboration with staff in terms of lesson planning. For example, School One’s junior department TLRs rarely worked collaboratively with staff in the upper school. They had tried to get the staff involved in a library collection evaluation the previous year, but the attempt failed, they thought mostly because of lack of time. However, in discussion it was found that they had little conception of resource-based learning themselves and little awareness about the ways this approach might result in calls on the library from the middle and senior parts of the school. Although staff in other schools had greater awareness of these issues, they had similar experiences in gaining staff involvement. Indeed, the TLR at School Four noted that she had received some mildly negative comments from staff because she was in the library more than in classrooms.

In sum, one could only conclude that even in School Two, where library use is supposed to be an integral part of learning programmes, in practice the library is not used effectively by teachers and is poorly promoted by the TLRs. Despite the fact that all Principals were highly supportive of library development, minimal library promotion by TLRs would seem to be a function of time and knowledge constraints. If the library is under-utilised by teachers, in light of the study by Streatfield and Markless (1994), one would not expect the students to make better use of it. However, the questionnaire data discussed later reveals a contrary view of library use from the teachers themselves.

What then do these schools consider to be the critical role of a library in teaching and learning? Principals and TLRs responded to this question independently. Their responses are compared in Table 1 below.

              Table 1:  Critical role of school libraries in teaching and learning

School	           Principal’s view                          TLRs view

One	  to provide up-to-date resources and 	  to support reading and research
          demonstrate the value of learning
Two	  to foster children’s ability to         to be a repository for information,
          recognise when more information         where children really feel comfortable
          is needed and to access it 
          through the library resources  	
          or information technology
Three	  to be an information and recreational	   to provide materials to support the
          reading centre                           curriculum
Four	  to provide an information centre	   to provide quality resources supporting  
                                                   acquisition and practise of information 
                                                   skills by teachers and students

Henri and Hay (1995) concluded that a “close alignment of the TL’s and Principal’s vision [for library use] was essential” , and one would expect this to be equally true for Principals and TLRs in New Zealand primary schools. However, the above indicates some interesting differences in emphasis. Interviewees were also asked to complete a ranking exercise for school library purposes using provided cue cards. (Aspects of information problem solving were included in those, but did not feature much in free discussion.) The ranking exercise demonstrated fairly close agreement between Principals and TLRs, but it was interesting that in School Four, the interviewees both put the interests of teachers before those of students! Differences between Principals and TLRs views of the library were explored further in relation to information skills and their role in teaching and learning.

Information Skills in Teaching and Learning

Participants were asked how they interpreted “information skills” and what was included in the concept. They were also asked how important this set of skills is in teaching and learning. Again there were some differences between the emphases placed on particular aspects. In Schools One and Two, the Principal and TLR were in broad agreement that “information skills” refers to abilities to locate information with some reference to questioning and researching. In School Three, as might be expected from the content of policy documents, attention to locating and manipulation of information was specified in more detail, with equal emphasis being placed on interpreting, sorting and presenting information.

In contrast, at School Four the focus was on children’s ability to gain information from a variety of sources including those based on non-text sources such as oral history. At the time of the interview, the TLR’s experience was highly coloured by the recent adoption of information technology in the school library. She felt she was “floundering” with information literacy and restricted her information skills focus to searching and locating information without doing anything with it.

Schools were much more homogenous in the value they assigned to information skills. Two quotes illustrate the tenor of the discussions. The Principal at School One saw information skills as crucial to learning, but added that she didn’t think they were “doing really well in providing the children with the skills …”
The TLR at School Two said that information skills are “life long and empowering because we always have questions and to be able to say hey, I know how to find that answer out, that is really empowering.

Participants were also asked to identify barriers to making information literacy a central concern in their schools. Responses to this cut across previously expressed differences of opinion, as all saw room for improvement in teacher knowledge and skills. The Principal at School Two suggested that staff had the necessary skills, but that they would benefit from reflecting on practice.

School Three’s Principal extended this by suggesting that information literacy needs were a positive pressure towards learning alongside the children, particularly where technology was involved. The TLR at School Four, however, thought that teachers did not know where to start on the complex topic of information literacy. This view was supported to some extent by the Principal of School Three, who pointed out that staff development would have to include making teachers aware of the information problem solving processes they already support.

Thus across the four schools, there were differences in the degree to which key people were in agreement about the focus of information skills. There were differences too in the extent to which location and operating on information found were emphasised. There was agreement, however, that teachers’ existing understanding of information problem solving needs extension.

The foregoing illustrates the profile of information literacy in these four primary schools as reflected in policy statements and interviews with the Principals and TLRs. However, what actually happens in classrooms is likely to be more closely determined by the views of the teachers themselves.

Teachers’ Questionnaire

The survey data represent a census of staff at the participating schools, but the number of respondents is still small (N=40). While some items in the questionnaire distinguished between schools, similarities tended to emerge between Schools Two and Four, and Schools One and Three.

Information skills

There was unanimous agreement across all respondents that “ability to apply information skills is essential to life-long independent learning” . Teaching staff also agreed that “information skills demand critical thinking at primary school level” and more than 89% in each school saw a need for these skills in every area of the curriculum. The vast majority of those surveyed claimed to have a practical understanding of information skills (between 78% and 91% across all schools).

However, when asked to respond to a variety of items suggesting information skills are “mostly” the same as library skills, research skills and use of information technology, teachers were less certain. Teachers in Schools One and Three for example generally said information skills could not be equated with library skills (67% disagreed), those in School Two were evenly divided in opinion and those in School Four said information skills could be equated with library skills (64% agreed). A similar pattern was found across the schools with respect to equating research and information skills. Staff in three schools tended to agree on the similarities of these skills ((67%-82% agreement) but once again, School Two’s staff were evenly divided.

Teachers were slightly more united in disagreeing (55-89%) that information skills centre on finding information in a library for resource-based learning (a term used to describe learning activities which draw on information from a variety of sources, presented in various forms). Similarly they were unwilling to identify information skills exclusively with the use of non-fiction materials, although staff in Schools One and Four indicated a mild inclination to link them with the use of information technology.

Thus while information skills might mirror research skills, they were not expected to centre on the library, resource-based learning activites or the use of information technology. The context of their development was expected to be much broader, but how do information skills develop? Asked whether the skills would emerge naturally as children worked with a variety of resources, teachers responded with slightly more agreement than disagreement that this was the case. In a later section of the survey, however, a contrary view was expressed with 89-91% of staff at three schools, and 67% at the fourth, agreeing that information seeking skills need to be taught explicitly. It seems there is recognition that some information skills will arise naturally, but that particularly in the context of the library, information seeking skills need to be addressed explicitly. This could be taken to reflect the traditional perceptual split between the skills of finding and those of using information. There is also an implication here that information seeking skills out side the context of the library present no difficulties.

Role of the library

Just as the role of the library was explored with Principals and the TLRs, teachers responded to several statements aimed at exploring the benefits accruing to library use.

The majority of teachers thought that learning to use the library develops thinking skills (89%-100%) but there was a slightly heavier emphasis on using it to access recreational reading than to solve information problems. A comment from the Principal at School Three highlights a confounding factor here - the nature of library use changes as children progress through the school, with information problem solving increasing in intensity in the middle and upper school.

Most staff also saw themselves as responsible for teaching library skills, but one wonders at what point in the child’s development, information problem solving skills begin to be addressed alongside recreational reading. Certainly interview data from the TLR at School Two suggests that staff leave library skills tuition to her and wider information skills are not supported.

School libraries and teaching

The library and TLR might be expected to take a high profile where resource-based learning techniques are used. Teachers in all four schools generally agreed that these make heavy preparation demands. However, although 73-89% of teaching staff said they always or often make use of the school library to enhance teaching, the percentage using it at the planning stage was dramatically different in one case.

In School One, 89% of staff said they always or often use the school library in teaching, but only 11% claimed to use it and the teachers’ resource centre in planning!. Other differences were not so marked, but School Three was the only one in which consideration of the resource centre alongside the library led to an increase in frequency of use in planning. It may be that the extent to which teaching resources are housed with the library collection has an effect here - but that should hardly lead to a decrease in frequency of use in curriculum planning. (Interview data showed that avoidance of clashes of demands for the same materials was a matter of luck rather than design in all schools, with conflicts more likely to be picked up by the Principal than the TLR as long term teaching plans were examined.)

The teachers claim to make considerable use of the library, but items exploring the effects of not having access to a library produced some differences between schools. Staff in School Three gave unanimous agreement that teaching and learning would both suffer if the library was not available. In contrast, in the other schools it seemed that children’s learning would be affected more than teaching. Valentine and Nelson (1988) similarly found that a third of teachers admitted that their teaching would be unaffected by school library closure.

This is rather contradictory, but may well reflect the fact that more than a third of staff in each school said that they rarely or never work co-operatively with the TLR when planning resource-based learning activities. In Schools One and Three only 22% of staff always or often call on the TLR’s knowledge of new library materials. This is despite the fact that in three schools, staff had responded that the TLR is important in supporting them in their teaching. In School Three, however, the percentage agreeing that the TLR was important was balanced by an equal percentage who responded that they did not know whether she provided important support. (One has to add that none of the school staff sought up to date information about new materials and activities from their colleagues with curriculum responsibilities to any greater extent than they sought assistance from the TLR.) However, it seems that while staff are reluctant to call on TLRs who have no formal library qualifications, they do call on the services of qualified librarians in at the School Library Service, who select materials on their behalf.

In light of the above, it is not surprising that the statement “The library is central to learning in this school” received comparatively low levels of positive support from Schools Two, Three and Four (55%, 56% and 46% respectively), while opinions in School One were evenly divided. Between 9% and 33% of staff in these schools did not know whether the library was central to learning.

In sum, this group of responses seems to confirm Beswick’s view (1983) that the role of the libraries in teaching and learning is unclear among educators.

Teachers, libraries and information problem solving

In practical terms, what do teachers do to develop information problem solving? More than 73% of teachers in three of the schools claimed to model their personal information seeking methods when they are in the library. This figure fell to 55% of staff at School Two where the Deputy Principal had noticed that they do not stay in the library with their classes. As stated earlier, they also agreed that while some information skills will arise naturally, others need to be taught explicitly. It is difficult to see how latter this could achieved since, while the majority of teachers believed they had a practical understanding of information skills, 46% or more also responded that they were unfamiliar with, or did not know, how the complex process of finding and using information could be broken into steps. In School One, 78% of responses were in these two categories.

To explore this further, staff were asked to indicate elements named in any model of information problem solving with which they were familiar. While some were able to indicate those common to several models, staff often focused on the defining and locating aspects without addressing the evaluation and manipulation of information. It is thus not surprising that no more than 27% of responses in any school showed that information problem solving models were used in planning curriculum units. Similarly, relatively low percentages of teachers in this study always or often chose an information skills learning focus in planning resource-based learning activities.

Expectations of children as information problem solvers

Despite the above findings, teachers had clear expectations of the children as information problem solvers.

Across all four schools upwards of 73% of the teachers expected children to always or often seek help defining the information sought, finding it within the school, clarifying confusing information and to talk with other children about the topic. This perhaps reflects the recognition by 68-78% of teachers that some of their students have difficulty locating materials for specific purposes in the school library.

The task of evaluating information is known to be difficult (Doyle, 1993) yet in Schools One and Three, 78% of responses indicate that this ability is always/often expected of children. This drops to 64% at School Four, but in School Two the weight of opinion was perhaps more realistic - that children would do this just “sometimes” (55% of responses).

                                    Table Two: Teachers’ expectations of children  

Ability expected always/often	     % School      % School      % School     % School  
                                       One           Two          Three         Four   

seek help to clarify information       100            82            89           82

seek help finding it at school         100            91            89           82
seek clarification of confusing        100            82           100           91
talk with children about the            89            73            78          100
read, interpret, evaluate               78            36            78           64
make and follow a plan to               56            55            68           46
find information                   (33% rarely)  (46% rarely) (22% sometimes) (27% sometimes) 

use a computer catalogue                11            27            11           18
                                   (33% rarely)  (55% rarely)   (44% rarely)   (37% rarely)
select information sources              11            18            11           27
independently                      (44% rarely)  (46% rarely)   (44% rarely)   (36% rarely)

About half of the teachers in all schools expected children to make and follow plans for finding information. However, a third or more of the staff at Schools One and Two would rarely have such an expectation. It is not clear whether or how they support the development of these skills, yet the notion of information problem solving strategies implies having a range of options and choosing among them.

Given that three of the schools have computerised library catalogues, it was surprising to find that 55% of staff at School Two would rarely or never expect children to use them and 46% would not expect children to select information sources independently. In the remaining schools, responses were fairly evenly distributed between the “sometimes” and “rarely/never” categories for these items. This finding may reflect the fact that a percentage of the children are only just learning to read. An interesting contrast emerged in relation to use of information technology generally, in that approximately two thirds of staff in all four schools said use of information technology was always or often important for the children in their class. Indeed, in all schools, 78% or more of staff suggested that computer based information is sometimes ‘better’ than using books where the children are concerned.

Support for Information problem solving in class

Having indicated earlier that many staff were unfamiliar with ways of breaking down the information problem solving process, it was somewhat contradictory for them to claim that they made links between the steps obvious in learning activities. However, in School One, 78% of responses indicated that this was achieved always or often. Schools Two and Four suggested it was achieved always or often by 55% of staff, with this falling to 44% at School Three. It would be interesting to explore how the interactive nature of information problem solving steps was actually made evident in the classroom.

Perceptions of difficulties children have with aspects of information problem solving suggested some very real differences between schools. Children at School Two were perceived as having the most frequent and perhaps the most extensive difficulties, but children at all schools had some problems defining information needs and generating questions that they could realistically expect to answer. Staff at School Four were the most optimistic about the children’s abilities, whereas staff at School One were evenly divided in opinions on the ease or difficulty of most elements. No teacher in any school claimed complete ease for children finding information within resources, recording or organising information.

Resource-Based Learning Outcomes

Resource-based learning activities have long been promoted as having potential in fostering independent learning. While most (89-100%) of teaching staff across all four schools agreed that such activities always or often promote abilities to work co-operatively, opinions on promotion of independent learning and information skills diverged. There was almost unanimous agreement in Schools Three and Four that these are always or often the outcome, but only 66% of staff in School One shared this view. In School Two, the figure fell to 46% of staff associating resource-based learning with independent learning and 55% agreeing that information skills would be fostered. This could be taken to suggest that social rather than intellectual aspects of resource-based learning get more emphasis in primary schools. Certainly, evidence from classroom observations suggests that lack of co-operative and other social skills impedes children’s ability to focus on the subject matter and information problem solving.

Differences between schools also came to light in looking at preparation for independent use of information sources by children. In Schools One and Three there was strong support (78%) for always or often teaching some baseline topic concepts before getting children to find and use resources on their own. In the other schools 46% and 55% of staff always or often prepared the children in this way. There were differences in the way this was achieved as well. 78% of School Three staff led children through a topic according to the teachers’ perception of a logical conceptual structure for the material. 55% of staff at Schools One and Four did the same compared with 46% at School Two.

Intriguingly, the school giving the lowest rating to frequency of provision of teacher guidance through topics gave the highest level of agreement to the statement that “When children have little guidance, they can miss basic concepts.” More than three-quarters of staff at Schools One and Four always or often use the children’s questions to determine what and how topic content will be covered. In School Two this level of occurrence was rated 64% and fell to 44% in School Three. It seems that a balance needs to be struck between structuring activites from a teaching perspective and allowing students to lead the way.

Despite the difficulties outlined above, teachers in general expected children to gain a great deal from resource-based learning activities and more that 73% of staff in all schools expected children to find information for themselves across resources including books, newspapers, television, electronic sources and family talk. Only in School One did any significant proportion (a third) of the staff think that the children they taught were not ready for this kind of activity. So are information skills necessary to resource-based learning? In Schools One and Four, 89% or more of staff thought ‘good’ information skills were essential to success. In Schools Two and Three, only 56% of staff agreed with this view, but the skills were generally considered within reach of their students.

Resource-based Learning, Information Skills and Assessment

Learning in formal school settings always carries an element of assessment and this was assumed to be related to the learning objectives the teacher intended. It is of concern that the percentage of teachers saying they always or often had clear objectives and outcome measures for resource-based learning activities was found to be between 36 and 57% across these primary schools. In each school some staff admitted to ‘rarely or never’ having clear objectives for these activities. The consequence is seen in teachers’ expectations for the children’s understanding of what is required of them. Between 22 and 45% of teachers felt that children have a clear understanding of the objectives underlying resource-based learning activities. Teachers’ ratings of their ability to convey assessment criteria to the children from the beginning of the activity were not high. However, whatever the factors are in assessing resource-based learning, teachers across all schools did not appear to think their personal lack of familiarity with the range of information sources the children use was an issue.

Several of the items relating to assessment of children’s topic work were based on the taxonomy of research skills described by Pitts and Strippling (1988). Skills that teachers strongly agreed were a focus of assessment centred on children asking questions and searching (73-89%). However, abilities to evaluate and deliberate on information received less attention and examining and organising information ranked lower than either of the previous sets of skills, although children are clearly expected to engage in these activities. Interestingly, the schools were more uniform in responses concerning integrating information from multiple sources, building concepts and drawing conclusions. A third to half of the particpants rated these as assessment concerns, but it is unclear how assessment is carried out.

The survey as a tool for reflection

The final question of the survey encouraged teachers to comment on perceptions arising from participation in the study. The following comments are typical:

One gets the impression that many of these teachers are, in the words of a TLR, “floundering” with information literacy. Yet as a Principal commented, they need to be made aware of the things they already do that support information literacy development.


The information literacy vision described in interviews and school documents provides a framework for development in these four primary schools. None of them could be said to have a strong, explicit emphasis on information literacy processes, although School Three comes close, and in none of them is the library, seen as being at the centre of learning. Yet, in all four there are positive statements and views that could be combined to enhance information literacy developments.

All four Principals support and are involved in library and information technology development initiatives. They promote staff awareness of educational change and facilitate collaboration in terms of professional development. There needs, however, to be a concerted effort in promoting collaboration with respect to information skills development and the integration of the library, and other information sources, into teaching programmes. The effectiveness of such efforts needs to be monitored and evaluated in terms of the children’s learning outcomes. Challenges to be met in this respect centre on affirmation of existing teaching skills and extension of staff knowledge with regard to information problem solving and supporting skills development in students.

The teacher survey supports this view in that it has uncovered a lack of coherence concerning staff understanding of information skills and their relation to resource-based learning. Further, until a rationale for the intellectual role of the library and its relationship to pedagogy is in evidence, libraries (and TLRs) may remain relegated to the periphery of teaching and learning.

While teachers were almost unanimous in the value they assigned to information skills in promoting life-long learning, they seem a long way from operationalising this in terms of classroom practice. Although the Principal and TLR may ensure the library is well-resourced and policy may demand that library use is integrated into classroom activities at the planning level, this will not happen when the teachers themselves are unsure how to achieve it. The topic is complex and although the National Curriculum documents require attention to information skills, it is apparent that teachers would like more specific guidance on the nature of action to be taken.

The findings here are in accord with Marland’s (1987) general statement that five conditions must be met for any educational activity to flourish: there must be a fair definition of aims of the activity, expectations of its value, specific teaching, a suitable range of materials and opportunities to practice. To end on an optimistic note, it is clear that, even though staff at these schools do not share a well-articulated vision for information literacy, workshop participants are now consciously integrating information problem solving into their teaching programmes with some success. Perhaps that is where the vision begins for others.

The above findings are being used in the schools of the participants as a focus for professional development. Their efforts and their honesty during this study are gratefully acknowledged. Thanks are due also to the New Zealand Ministry of Education which is funding and providing advice for the project.


Beswick, N. (1983). The controvserial school library: A critical reassessment and proposed new strategy. Education Libraries Bulletin, 26(2), 1-15.

Bruce, C. (1995). Information literacy: How do university educators understand this phenomenon? Paper presented at Learning for Life: Information literacy and the Autonomous learner, 2nd National Conference on Information Literacy, Adelaide, 30 Nov- 1 Dec.

Chalmers, A. & Slyfield, H. (1993). Contributions to learning: Libraries and New Zealand schools. Wellington: Research Unit National Library.

Doyle, C. (1994). Information literacy in an information society: A concept for the information age. Syracuse NY, ERIC Clearinghouse on informatin resources.

Eisenberg, M. & Berkowitz, L. (1990). Information problem-solving. New Jersey: Ablex.

Haycock, K. (1994). Research imperatives for information professionals: Developing foundations for effectiveness. In Treasure Mountain Research Retreat 5: future scenarios for school library media programs. Castle Rock Co., Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

Henri, J. & Hay, L. (1995). The principal’s role in developing and supporting an information literate school community. Paper presented at the Australian School Library Association 14th Biennial Conference, Fremantle, Western australia, 1-5 October.

Juchau, M. (1984) Teachers’ information needs and the school library. NSW: Library Association of Australia, School Libraries Section.

Lealand, G. (1990). The educational impact of the appointment of full-time trained teacher-librarians. Wellington: NZCER.

Liesener, J. (1985). Learning at risk: School library media programmes in an information world. School Library Media Quarterly, Fall, 11-20.

Marland, M. (1987). Libraries, learning and the whole school. Emergency Librarian, 15 (2), 9-14. (for whole school policy)

Moore, P. A. (1995). Information problem-solving: A wider view of library skills. Journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20, 1-31.

Moore, P. A. & St. George, A. (1991). Children as information seekers. School Library Media Quarterly, 19(3), 161-168.

Rogers, R. (1994). Teaching information skills: A review of the research and its impact on education. London: British Library Research.

Streatfield, D. & Markless, S. (1994). Invisible Learning? The contibution of school libraries to teaching and learning. Library nad Infoamtion Research Report. London: British Library.

Todd, R. (1995). Information literacy research: Charting the landscape and moving beyond the littoral zone. Paper presented at Learning for life: Information literacy and the autonomous learner. 2nd Australian National conference on information literacy. Adelaide, 30 November - 1 December, 1995.

Todd, R. (1996). Teaching: The information superhighway or building infobridges? In Teaching Excellence - The practitioner’s voice. Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of Technology, Sydney.

Valentine, P, & Nelson, B. (1988). Sneaky teaching: The role of the school librarian. Library and Information Research Report 63. London: British Library.