Evaluating information literacy training offered by medical libraries

Todd Vandenbark

Information literacy logoAs pointed out in a recently published article,

“Providing users with good information literacy skills is an important function of library services, and most health libraries carry out some level of user education activity” (Stevenson, 2012).

Stevenson goes on to point out that while the learner can usually demonstrate what they’ve learned in class, there is no assurance this knowledge will be applied in daily work activities. Training takes place in a social context, which can have a significant effect on whether or not such training is applied. Stevenson recommends viewing training and library services as part of a larger system: is the environment conducive to implementing newly-acquired skills? What barriers are in place?

Testing the learner at the end of the training is a commonly used method of evaluation. Stevenson points out that such tools probably haven’t been tested for validity or reliability, and suggests using validated tests such as the Fresno test (Tilson, 2010). While not tested to this standard, incorporating evidence-based information literacy instruction into the curriculum is one way to demonstrate whether students at least understand how to find answers based on research.

Our Education Team currently offers embedded information literacy instruction to third year medical students during the obstetrics and gynecology rotation of their clerkship. Each student is given a clinical question that must be answered using evidence provided by medical and other research. For two, 2-hour sessions, students learn about different evidence-based resources, and present what they’ve learned to their peers. The exercises also help them to research the answer to their question. During the third week, librarians and medical faculty meet individually with students to check on their progress, and help them translate their findings into a ten-minute PowerPoint presentation. The following two sessions are spent presenting these findings, and receiving feedback from medical and library faculty, and peers. Presentations are graded and archived, and though we do not use a “validated” testing instrument, it is clear from interactions with students at the end that they have gained some appreciation for the importance of research in evidence-based medicine.

Does your medical library provide information literacy instruction for students? What form(s) does it take, and how do you evaluate learning? Tell us about it!


Stevenson, P. (2012). Evaluating educational interventions for information literacy. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 29(1), 81-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2011.00976.x

Tilson, J. K. (2010). Validation of the modified Fresno test: assessing physical therapists’ evidence based practice knowledge and skills. BMC Med Educ, 10, 38. doi: 10.1186/1472-6920-10-38