Computers in Libraries
Vol. 22, No. 1 • January 2002

Table of Contents Subscribe Now! Previous Issues ITI Home
From Workbook to Web: Building an Information Literacy Oasis
by Jeff Rosen and Gina M. Castro

Here they come again. Thousands of new students arrive at information-rich academic libraries every fall, thirsting for knowledge but not bringing a cup. They encounter electronic databases, online catalogs, Web sites, multimedia—water, water everywhere but no knowledge of how to drink. Without real information skills, students searching for knowledge might as well be chasing a mirage in the desert.

The term "information literacy" is on everyone's lips in college and university libraries these days. But how do you take those thousands of fresh, new faces and help them to understand when they need information, where to look, and how to evaluate what they find—in short, how do you teach them to become information literate? Integrating information skills into every class across the curriculum is the way to go, but at San Francisco State we had a mandate to create a new information literacy program and very little time in which to do it.

The Trek from Workbook to Web
Library skills instruction is not new to the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Beginning in 1981, the library administered an information-related graduation requirement to all undergraduate students. This requirement, Library Resources: a Self-Paced Workbook, and all its subsequent editions and versions, introduced students to basic research techniques with topic-specific chapters that concluded with a set of multiple-choice, matching, yes/no, or true/false questions.

For the most part, the workbook format was accepted by students and supported by faculty. However, when the instructional goal changed from library skills to the broader concepts of information competency, our library was in a unique position to turn the workbook into a Web-based information competence program that could, in turn, serve as the foundation to promote information literacy across the university curriculum. The two of us worked on adapting, customizing, editing, and creating the content pages of the OASIS (Online Advancement of Student Information Skills) online tutorial at San Francisco State, and we wrote and edited the quiz questions, which would assess student progress.

Defining Students' Needs
With 27,000 students, San Francisco State University is one of the largest of the 23 California State University (CSU) campuses. The CSU system formally recognized information competency as a strategic need in 1993 and created a work group to address it. Composed of library directors, teaching faculty, and administrators from throughout the system, it was formed to "recommend basic competence levels on the use of recorded knowledge and information and processes for assessment of student competence." 1 In its 1995 report, "Information Competence in the CSU," the work group provided the following definitions:

  • Information competence, at heart, is the ability to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information in all of its various formats.

  • Information competence is the fusing or the integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication skills.
To further define the skills a student needs, the CSU Work Group also issued the following set of core competencies that students should be able to demonstrate:
1. State a research question, problem, or issue.

2. Determine the information requirements for the research question, problem, or issue.

3. Locate and retrieve relevant information.

4. Organize information.

5. Analyze and evaluate information.

6. Synthesize information.

7. Communicate using a variety of information technologies.

8. Use the technological tools for accessing information.

9. Understand the ethical, legal, and socio-political issues surrounding information and information technology.

10. Use, evaluate, and treat critically information received from the mass media.

11. Appreciate that the skills gained in information competence enable lifelong learning.

Each CSU campus was directed to come up with a plan to address information skills.

At San Francisco State, our plan involved replacing the self-paced library skills workbook with a self-paced, Web-based tutorial. Though many university libraries already had Web tutorials, the tutorial developed at California Polytechnic State University­San Luis Obispo incorporated the information skills identified by the CSU Work Group, and these were the same competencies we wanted our tutorial to address. Therefore our library sought and was generously given, by the RFK Library at Cal Poly, permission to use, rearrange, and rewrite any section of its tutorial that we thought was necessary. Weapplied for and received an $8,000 CSU grant and used these funds to hire a student assistant and to purchase both a Macintosh Web server and TopClass course management software. TopClass is a software package that facilitates the creation of online courses with features for testing, assessment, and record keeping.

Then in 1999, SFSU's Academic Senate passed a policy mandating the library to create a "self-paced instructional package" addressing the information skills of students. Though the senate policy left the means of implementation to the library, it did change the requirement's completion deadline significantly. Instead of the "by graduation" deadline that had been in place for the library workbook, the senate policy decreed that first-time freshmen had until the end of their second semester and transfer students had until the end of their first semester to complete the new requirement. The policy further stated the requirement be included in "all orientation courses for first-time San Francisco State University undergraduate students." 2 This was an important step for the library and the university, as it was now recognized that, in order to be successful, students needed to develop information skills early in their college careers.

Who Would We Be Serving?
While the Cal Poly tutorial provided the basic structure, our library needed to do a good deal of work in order to adapt it for San Francisco State's student population which, in addition to differing significantly from that at Cal Poly, is one of the most diverse in the nation. 3 Many of our students work part time or full time, are the first from their families to attend college, are older than average, and speak a first language other than English.

Though the tutorial would be accessible to the entire SFSU community, the target audience—in terms of tone, vocabulary, examples used, etc.—was the 18- to 19-year-old entering student. Therefore, we paid particular attention to the way the tutorial presented concepts and ideas, avoiding library jargon and technical terminology whenever possible and changing wording that might be confusing.

To ensure consistency across all pages of the tutorial, one librarian assumed control over all content and editing changes. Student assistants and librarians created graphics and illustrations to augment the text and to help explain and simplify concepts where appropriate. We made the tutorial less text-based by editing long portions of narrative into bulleted lists of major points whenever possible. The goal was to create a clear and inviting look and feel, challenging enough to hold a student's interest, but easy to follow, understand, and navigate. We attempted to establish a tone and voice that were not overly stuffy or formal, but that also did not "dumb down" the important information literacy concepts.

Filling Up the Pool
By early 2000, the overall content had begun to take shape. Sections were reorganized, explanations simplified, and graphics added. In the OASIS tutorial, as in the print-based workbook, a quiz followed each online chapter. But, unlike the workbook, students had to pass each 10-question quiz before they could go on to the next one. However, the online quizzes presented a particular challenge because if a student didn't pass the quiz the first time, a new quiz had to be randomly generated. This meant that once a quiz was submitted, it had to be automatically graded and delivered back to the student's computer monitor immediately. Consequently, many questions had to be written for each tutorial chapter so that the courseware had a large pool of questions from which to randomly generate unique question sets asnecessary. This method of question generation also prevented students from easily sharing information about quiz questions and answers, which had been a problem with our old library skills workbook.

In order to fill the large pool of potential questions, many public service librarians were called upon to write quiz questions for the eight chapters, with several librarians working on each chapter. We provided guidelines on how to construct high-quality test questions. Quiz questions had to be in multiple-choice, true/false, or yes/no format to accommodate automatic computer grading. A total of 340 raw quiz questions were submitted and again, to ensure consistency, one person edited them to make sure that they actually covered the chapter material and were at the proper degree of difficulty. Student assistants who worked in the library helped beta test the tutorial by reading the chapters and actually taking the quizzes. Afterward, they were interviewed extensively about the usability of the tutorial and their understanding of the concepts and quiz questions. The input from these students helped us to further refine the tutorial.

Planning and Marketing
Moving from a workbook-based library requirement to a Web-based tutorial represented a major change for the entire campus community. We knew that a smooth transition would require a great deal of logistical planning and support. After all, you can lead a student to water but you can't necessarily make him drink. To assist in this effort, we formed an implementation team, consisting of public service librarians and staff. The team met often during the 8 months leading up to the online tutorial's launch date. Tasks were divided up and individuals or sub-teams were given specific responsibilities. But overall, marketing the tutorial was our first order of business.

The implementation team decided that marketing would be easier if the tutorial had a name, a logo, and an identity that would be easily recognized around campus. During spring 2000, team brainstorming sessions generated a list of 30 possible names, and from that list, the team chose the name OASIS: Online Advancement of Student Information Skills. The team felt the name had positive connotations, a catchy acronym, and lent itself well to graphic representation. Next came a logo. We teamed up with a faculty member in the Design and Industry department, who made this a class project. We held a competition to create an OASIS logo. Students submitted over 25 varied and colorful designs, and the implementation team chose the winner.

Recognizing that campuswide acceptance of the tutorial depended on a successful marketing campaign, library management provided a $2,000 marketing budget. The OASIS implementation team, as it was now called, paid the student designer for the exclusive use of the new logo. Then, during the summer of 2000, we ordered mouse pads, bookmarks, notepads, pencils, and other items, all with the new OASIS logo, from a local advertising specialty company. We placed the mouse pads, with the OASIS Web address prominently displayed, at library workstations and computer labs to take advantage of point-of-need marketing. We also distributed pencils, bookmarks, and notepads at student and new-faculty orientation sessions and in Freshman Year Experience classes. Additional marketing efforts included prominent signage and banners in the library, articles in the campus newspaper and faculty newsletters, and librarian presentations at every type of campus meeting that was appropriate for such purposes.

The Pilot Year of OASIS: Problems and Partnerships
The OASIS tutorial went online and replaced the library workbook in the fall 2000 semester. The OASIS content pages and the quizzes were residing on separate servers and, though there were no problems with the tutorial content pages, it became apparent to us almost immediately that some students were not able to successfully log in to the OASIS quizzes. The TopClass courseware handled random quiz question generation and recorded students' progress through the quizzes. After several months of working unsuccessfully with the TopClass support staff to try to solve the problems, we had no choice but to go to our backup plan and briefly administer the OASIS quizzes to students in paper form. This solution got the job done but was very unpopular among librarians, staff, and students and spurred us on to finding a more permanent and stable online solution.

In the spring 2001 semester, the library began a new partnership with our campus' Division of Information Technology to build a homegrown version of the OASIS quizzes that did not use TopClass. Not only did this partnership produce problem-free quizzes, it allowed us to strengthen the relationship between the library and the Division of Information Technology. It also changed the nature of the endeavor from a library-sponsored program to one that was owned and supported by the entire campus. The library still maintained control over the content of the tutorial but systems support for the quizzes and record-keeping software was now provided by our campus' IT division. Despite the initial problems we encountered, a total of 4,770 students, on a campus of over 27,000, successfully completed the OASIS tutorial during the pilot year.

Reconstructing the OASIS
In fall 2001, San Francisco State unveiled the second version of the OASIS tutorial. Though the content and appearance of the tutorial had not changed, everything under the hood was completely new. The computer software that randomly generates quizzes and monitors student progress had been entirely redone, and 150 new quiz questions had been added to the total. Our campus IT division had custom-built an Oracle-based back end to the OASIS system that serves up and grades quizzes and automatically reports the grades to a student's record. This new home-grown system is also capable of generating statistical profiles of our students' progress and of tabulating statistics. For example, we can see the frequency of correct or incorrect responses for each quiz question. OASIS now works smoothly and does what it was originally designed to do. So far, we've encountered no major problems, and students have been working successfully through the OASIS chapters and quizzes. As of October 2001, just over 1,000 students had completed the new version of the OASIS tutorial. You can see it at, and there are OASIS sample quiz questions at

Quenching Their Thirst
Our plan for the future is to begin to formally assess the benefits of the OASIS tutorial and its impact on the information literacy of students at San Francisco State University. For now, we are pleased with the anecdotal evidence from student comments, faculty interviews, and library professionals, which indicate that OASIS is useful and an overall success. For example, one student wrote to say, "I just want to thank you; doing the tutorial has cleared up a lot of the mystery of how the databases work." An instruction librarian at another university wrote to us in an e-mail message, "You folks have done some awesome work on Information Literacy for your campus. It's a good model." Another colleague commented, "Even your quiz questions are impressive—using some images, clicking out to search, etc. Thanks!"

We consider OASIS to be just the start of our efforts. It's the basis for us to work with faculty across the campus, to help bring information literacy more fully into the curriculum.


1. "Information Competence in the CSU":

2. SFSU Academic Senate Policy on Information Competence­Senate Policy #S99-207:

3. SFSU Student Needs and Priorities Survey (SNAPS):


Jeff Rosen and Gina M. Castro are senior assistant librarians at the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University. Jeff was the content developer and quiz editor for the OASIS tutorial, and his e-mail address is Gina worked on the OASIS tutorial, and her e-mail is
Table of Contents Subscribe Now! Previous Issues ITI Home
© 2002