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Chapman University is a private medium-sized liberal arts university located in Orange, California. With aspirations of national prominence, Chapman University is poised to enter the national stage in the United States and the university library will play an important role in this endeavor. One way that the library has demonstrated this commitment has been to create a scaffolded information literacy program that encourages lifelong-learning and provides instruction to our undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students.

A crucial element of any highly effective information literacy program is a diversified approach to assessment. The Leatherby Libraries sought out new ways to assess our students’ information literacy skills to add to the informal assessment practices that we already had in place. The instrument selected for the initial phase was the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS). SAILS is a valid and reliable test based on the information competency standards for higher education produced by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

The version of the SAILS test we used was the cohort test, which we first administered in 2007 on paper in a highly monitored setting with 130 students. In 2008 we tested 165 students and in 2009 we tested 655 students. Starting in 2010, we switched the method of administration to online and tested 965 students, followed by 1,017 students in 2011 and 991 students in 2012. Results from the testing consistently show that students at our university perform above the average compared to students at other master’s institutions. Results also provided internal benchmarks and details about skill sets and majors. For example, we found that across the years students majoring in sociology and psychology scored lower than students in other majors with regard to documenting sources, but better than other majors in understanding legal, economic, and social issues.

In 2013, we investigated a new version of the SAILS test that provides an overall information literacy test score for each student, with designated competency and mastery levels. We elected to use that version of the test as part of a larger university effort to track student learning over the course of a student’s college career. We administered the test to 919 freshman students in the Fall of 2013. Results of that testing show that, as expected, few (16%) of the first year students demonstrated competency or mastery. Additional analysis of the data set is ongoing. We will examine the relationships between the variables of student major, transfer status, and student self-assessment of skill level with information literacy score. This testing and analysis will be mirrored by administering the same test to students who are completing their last year of college.

One of the challenges of using a standardized tool is interpreting the results within the local environment; another is translating results into improvements in instructional effectiveness to address student learning outcomes. Our SAILS results allow us to better understand our students’ information literacy skills and to adjust our instructional goals accordingly.


This presentation was given at the Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference, which attracts a large multi-national audience of librarians and researchers. The 2014 conference was held in Istanbul, Turkey.

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