Abstract and goals

To preach or to practice: bridging the gap between theory and reality in information literacy teaching

In the non-academic world, Google dominates the way people search for information. Its unsurpassed scope combined with a simplified search methodology and personalized search results has become immensely popular, and its approach has been applied to a myriad of search tools, practices and products. With Google Scholar, Google has entered the academic world once and for all, to the relief of students and the horror of librarians. Nowadays, librarians complain about the Googlization of the students’ search techniques, whereas students complain about the increasingly complex ways in which academic information is offered. It seems that information literacy courses can bridge this growing gap. But do they?

Most current information literacy courses seem to be based on the assumption that students have no notable existing search techniques before they enter higher education. Information professionals see it as their mission to alert students to their lack of knowledge and consequently teach them everything there is to know about information literacy. While we do acknowledge the value of information literacy, we also propose a more pragmatic and practical way of teaching, adapted to pre-existing techniques and the natural way students are accustomed to search in their everyday life.

By combining a literature research, in-depth interviews and a practical investigation into the actual search techniques of both scholars and students in the Netherlands, the research we are conducting now addresses these issues and formulates a possible answer to the key question: should we adapt our teaching to the techniques students and scholars are already familiar with?

Focus points

  • The current practice of search methods of both scholars and students;
  • The awareness that students have already developed their own search techniques and methodology, before entering the university;
  • The limited extent to which information literacy teaching can influence these pre-existing search techniques;
  • The fact that students’ teachers are very similar to students in the way that their search methods are also very strongly predetermined by what they use in their private lives;
  • The suggestion to start information literacy teaching by taking up the perspective of the student instead of that of a library expert, and by building on familiar techniques instead of trying to modify behavior.
  • Our conviction that the success of certain methods and tools of internet giants such as Google and Facebook should be considered a source of inspiration for libraries, instead of a threat.


  • Instructional Design
  • Information Literacy teaching
  • Modern search techniques
  • Google generation