Information literacy for German Language and Literature at the graduate level: new approaches and models.

Author:Kraus, Peter


Since at least the early 1990s, academic libraries have consistently been on the cusp of new technologies and innovative services. The reaction from teaching faculty has ranged from indifference, to dismay, to pleasant surprise. The division of German Language and Literature in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Utah is just one department that has had to cope with change, and there is a "generation gap" in the department that is not necessarily defined by age but by the length of service and beliefs about building collections and information literacy, teaching students how to find the information they need and also how to apply it in scholarship. The faculty in the division of German Language and Literature work closely with librarian who is subject specialist in the field.

Information literacy is the ability, "to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association 1998). Shapiro and Hughes (1996) take this definition a step further by defining information literacy as, "a new liberal art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself--its technical infrastructure and its social cultural and philosophical context and impact." The latter definition encompasses the role that technology has taken in libraries and education.

American librarians began teaching "bibliography" (known today as information literacy) in the early twentieth century. Some American librarians used the German model for bibliographic instruction (Bishop 1912). In Germany, then as now, university courses were primarily in a lecture format and lasted an entire academic year, in contrast with American universities where classes generally last one quarter or semester (Hempl 1890). While it was not uncommon for students to skip lectures in favor of leisurely pursuits such as fencing, hiking, and other non-academic activities, the lectures in bibliography were some of the most popular and well attended of the academic year, because they provided students with the material to study for the their final exams even if they had missed a majority of their other class lectures.

At German universities today, information literacy is still in its infancy and in many cases is just being developed as part of the curriculum (Homann 2003). In the United States and Canada...

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