Practical Ways to Bring Information Literacy into the Undergraduate Music Curriculum

October 1, 2004

Considering the ever-increasing amount of information now available to students, it is important to give them the proper tools to deal with this vast quantity and wide variety of information resources. Information literate individuals can recognize when information is needed and can identify, locate, evaluate and use information for a given situation. Information literate individuals are also "empowered for effective decision making, freedom of choice, and full participation in a democratic society."1 Higher education needs information literacy programs to teach students how to function in today's information age. Ronald J. Granieri, an associate professor of history at Furman University, noted, "students have this idea that there is no difference between searching on the Web and searching in the library."2 This statement applies to all fields and professions. As Granieri clearly pointed out, many of our students do not distinguish between the information they find online and what they find in the library. Information literacy programs can help students navigate through the plethora of information available, showing students how to locate appropriate and authoritative resources both in the library and online, which requires developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Music programs themselves, as well as the growth of individual students, facilitate information literacy. The National Association of Schools of Music's philosophy statement illustrates the importance of information literacy to NASM's values:

Music is a profession requiring talent, knowledge, skill, and dedication. . . . Talent without skills, inspiration without knowledge, and creativity without technique can account for little but lost potential. The primary purpose of schools of music is to help individual students turn talent, inspiration, creativity, and dedication into significant potential for service to the development of musical culture in its multiple dimensions.3

Musicians must be information literate.

Music librarians have discussed and published on the importance of information literacy within music programs, but little has been done to encourage the collaboration of music librarians, music faculty, and music administration to bring information literacy effectively into the music curriculum. The present essay explores practical ways to infuse information literacy into the existing music curriculum.


How Can We Implement Information Literacy into the Music Curriculum?

With the already crowded undergraduate music curriculum, is it wise to add an additional required course to music programs when information literacy can easily be incorporated into existing academic and applied courses? The majority of literature discussing information literacy and music programs recommends integrating bibliographic instruction into the existing music curriculum without adding to or compromising the curriculum itself. To be most effective, information literacy should be provided for students in two ways: through library-based programs that complement the program's curriculum and through information literacy tools embedded within existing courses, which involves both individual efforts by the librarian and the instructor as well as collaborative efforts between the two.

What follows is a model for how information literacy could be adapted to accommodate site-specific issues in the undergraduate music curriculum. The actual implementation of this program would depend on staffing, funding, the collaboration of music faculty, library employees, administrators, and the curriculum itself. Prior to undertaking any information literacy programs, those involved should outline and define the types of skills to be taught and emphasized. The following suggestions emphasize the four main areas of information literacy: information types, location and access, relevance and appropriateness, and usage. These four areas can be addressed through the efforts of the music library and librarian, the instructor, and collaborative efforts between the librarian and the instructor.


Information Literacy Programs within the Music Library

Many campus libraries offer information literacy workshops instructing students how to use the school's online public access catalog (OPAC), access and use the school's electronic databases, and locate and evaluate print and electronic resources. These general information literacy workshops can be helpful to music students but often do not cover vital music resources or the more complicated searching techniques required in locating the various types of scores and audio or visual recordings. The creation of general music information workshops within music libraries or collections would teach music students how to use the OPAC to access specific types of music materials, familiarize them with the resources available in the music library, and direct them to the more important print and electronic music resources available. They could also introduce the concept of intellectual property, the importance of the ethical treatment of researched material, and ways to evaluate the quality and reliability of sources.

Additional music information literacy workshops could cover individual areas of music and related resources. These might include library workshops for the different areas of music pointing out the most important resources for each discipline (i.e., music education, performance, music therapy, composition, music business, pedagogy, music theory, music history, world music, etc.). Other workshops could focus on specific types of resources, such as library research materials and related locator tools (i.e. Collected Editions, Monuments of Music, Facsimile Series, etc.), autobiographies and biographies, world music cultures (i.e., dictionaries and encyclopedias, surveys of world music, discographies, bibliographies, etc.), popular music (i.e., dictionaries and encyclopedias, chronologies, bibliographies, monographs, periodicals, etc.), and so forth. When possible, individual consultations between students and librarians or faculty should be offered to help students conduct their research.

The University of Melbourne, Australia, music library provides workshops such as these. The music library website summarizes their information literacy program, which includes a variety of workshops geared for different types of students, ranging from new undergraduates to sessions on manuscripts, early editions, and other online resources for postgraduate students and researchers.4 The website outlines the information literacy program, the types of workshops offered, and how to schedule an individual consultation session with a music librarian.

Some libraries offer research and library guides in print or online formats for students. These range from listing important resources for a given topic or area to a brief set of instructions for using the OPAC and other databases. Music programs should have a webpage with links to a variety of music resources, including the OPAC and databases offered through the school, online library and research guides, and other music resource websites. There are a number of reliable websites devoted to music resources that can be useful. Several university music programs or academic music libraries provide such web resources for music.5 By making these kinds of resources available online, music programs developing information literacy can learn from established information literacy programs, and smaller music programs can draw on the resources of larger programs.

Any combination of these ideas implemented on a small scale would improve students' access to information literacy education programs. Making students aware of these programs and what libraries have to offer opens the door for students to master the information age. While these possibilities are library-centered efforts, requiring little or no interaction with the faculty, collaborations between the library staff and music instructors provide more opportunities to bring information literacy to music programs.


Information Literacy within the Music Curriculum

Within the music curriculum, a number of information literacy programs can be implemented. Music courses that include assignments requiring the use of library resources might begin the semester with a library tour led by the music librarian or the course instructor. Courses with freshmen and sophomores could focus on introducing students to the physical organization of and the user services in the library while upper-level course tours could provide more in-depth coverage of the library materials and resources available to students. Tours could be geared toward specific classes pointing out the types of resources to be used. During the tours students should be introduced to criteria involved in assessing resources, including scope, objectivity, timeliness, appropriateness, intended audience, documentation, reputation of author and publisher, etc. The librarian could also inform students of user education resources in the library (i.e., reference librarian, user education courses, useful websites, library guides, etc.).

A course-specific library tour requires relatively little collaboration between the faculty and the librarian in order to be effective. The instructor and librarian need to agree on the types of resources to be emphasized based on the syllabus, course outline, and assignments for the class. The simple act of sharing a syllabus or assignment with the library staff can greatly enhance the effectiveness of the library tour, as well as library assistance for the students outside of class. Library tours with specific purposes, such as those designed for particular courses, make the tours more meaningful to the students by showing them what resources will be needed and how to use and locate them. These tours could also introduce the concepts of the ethical treatment of intellectual property and how to critically evaluate resources.

Rather than adding another course devoted to information literacy, current curricula can easily embrace information literacy. Many existing assignments can be used or modified to function as learning tools for information literacy. Some music courses already include projects that anticipate students will learn how to use the library and locate relevant information. Undergraduate music history classes, for example, often require a research paper, which entails locating information, assessing its appropriateness, and making use of the information in a meaningful way. Information literacy programs embodied within the course syllabus can improve the effectiveness of such assignments and will encourage other projects that will facilitate information literacy.

While academic courses tend to include assignments that require some level of information literacy, applied music instruction can also benefit from incorporating information literacy components. Both academic and applied courses can use projects such as program notes, annotated bibliographies or discographies, investigations of performance practice issues, or studies of different applied techniques to explore resources related to the course. These and similar assignments necessitate learning how to locate and evaluate information that enhances student performances, techniques, and knowledge of the field. Rather than simply requiring these projects, courses can be structured to help students learn and become familiar with the skills needed to fulfill their information needs and music projects.

Ideally, the music curriculum would consist of a graduated sequence of objectives and projects over several semesters. Linda M. Fidler and Richard S. James present the library user education program that they integrated into the music history sequence for undergraduate music majors at Bowling Green State University. Fidler, the music librarian, and James, professor of music, worked in concert to create this program. The music history sequence consisted of three semesters, each course having a different information literacy assignment targeting particular types of resources:

Semester Course Project
1 Baroque Music Compilation of Definitions of Musical Terms
2 Classical and Romantic Music Annotated Bibliography
3 Twentieth-Century Music6 Research paper


While Fidler and James's projects are useful, they are not well integrated into the curriculum unless they require the students to engage actively in the content of the courses as well as information resources. The Florida State University School of Music has a similar program in their three-semester music history sequence:


Semester Course Project
1 Music Literature Paper comparing and contrasting two musical works
2 Antiquity to 1750 Modest research paper
3 1750 to Present Day Substantial research paper


This sequence begins with a simple paper in which students compare and contrast compositions using terminology and concepts discussed in class. Students are required to consult basic music resources, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, histories of music, and so forth. In the second semester, students write a longer paper and move beyond basic resources to more specialized materials, including composer biographies, cultural histories, journal articles, etc. The final project requires students to complete a more involved paper of similar length using more sophisticated resources, including thematic indexes, dissertations and theses, and scholarly editions and scores. Each succeeding project builds upon the previous assignment allowing students to gradually learn how to analyze and write about music and how to conduct research on music. The end goal of this particular sequence is a substantial research paper that provides writing and research experience for students as well as a portfolio item that allows students to demonstrate their writing and information-literacy skills.

These models do not necessarily apply to the recently overhauled music curricula of many universities in that they focus solely on Western art music. They do, however, illustrate a basic information literacy progression that can be replicated in various ways and courses. The inclusion of world music, a wide variety of vernacular and popular musics, jazz, and film music provide additional opportunities to integrate information literacy into music courses. In addition to requiring students to explore resources devoted to world music, world music classes can require students to locate scholarly information on given cultures encouraging students to look beyond music resources for information. Similarly, vernacular and popular music courses can also require students to explore music within popular culture. Both would require using resources from other disciplines as well as interdisciplinary studies. Assignments asking students to delve into both music and non-music resources encourage students to think across disciplines and reinforce that music did not, and does not, exist in a vacuum.

While a graduated sequence of information-literacy assignments in music history is beneficial, these assignments should not be restricted to academic courses. Students need to be shown how information literacy can enhance every aspect of their music education and career. Information literacy can facilitate writing research papers, allow for historically accurate performances, and provide information to better inform future educators. A graduated information-literacy program that cuts across disciplines within music programs would produce students whose information literacy knows no limits.


Shared Responsibilities

In some music programs music faculty and music librarians often work on similar goals in isolation from each other. Instructors assign projects requiring the use of library resources without informing the librarian of the assignment or required resources. They also tend to assume that students know or will easily learn how to use the library. Librarians often work blindly when helping students with assignment-related information needs since they are unfamiliar with the assignment itself. Bringing information literacy into the entire music curriculum requires the cooperation and collaboration of the whole music faculty. Such a collaboration would ensure a well-planned and well-executed information-literacy program and could foster a better-integrated music program.

Instructors and librarians can create effective information literacy assignments and tools and greatly improve the learning environment for any music course with a little communication and shared effort. Useful assignments that facilitate information literacy and library tours, however, are not enough. Students need resources to consult throughout the semester for assistance in completing projects, reminders of library resources, and additional help in finding, locating, and evaluating resources. Course websites and course-related research or project guides would provide additional guidance for students as they navigate the vast sea of information in the music library and beyond. In addition, instructors could give the music librarian a course syllabus and list of assignments, which would keep the library informed about the information needs the students will encounter throughout the semester and allow the library to be better prepared to assist and instruct students as they complete their projects. When possible, music libraries could offer a series of workshops throughout the semester gradually exposing students to the overwhelming number and types of resources.

A number of teachers in higher education, not just in music, have begun using course websites with links to library catalogs, databases, and other resources to guide their students to the appropriate types of information resources. Some professors implement these websites and include links to additional resources without the assistance of librarians while others collaborate with library staff seeking the best connection of course websites to library materials. Course websites should not simply consist of a syllabus, list of readings and assignments, and discussion boards. They should also be portals to information resources for the subject, including lists of databases, bibliographies, style sheets, and, when possible, include contact information for a librarian who specializes in the subject area.7 While many course websites stem from online courses, face-to-face classes can also benefit from this vital connection between course and library by directing students to the proper types of resources and steering them away from generic Internet searches.

A course website can thus provide a portal to valuable resources, leading students to the music library and appropriate types of sources. In addition to connecting students to library resources, the inclusion of webpages outlining the physical organization of the library reminds students how to locate scores, periodicals, and books. Research guides or assignment checklists for the subject area could also be included. A course-specific research guide might include a general bibliography of important sources; instructions on using the library, including the physical organization of the library and how to search for specific types of information sources; links to useful databases or related Internet sites; information for those seeking further assistance from the instructor or a librarian; and other components as required by the course. Assignment checklists provide students with a roadmap by illustrating the process necessary to complete course projects (see Appendix 1 for an example). Additional sections explaining the importance of the proper use of intellectual property, including the ramifications of plagiarism and other illegal uses of researched material and how to evaluate the suitability, quality, and reliability of resources could be included. At this time, the inclusion of links to library resources and materials on course websites is not commonplace. When this is done, the instructor takes the initiative, perhaps with the support and encouragement of the library staff. Both music faculty and music librarians need to be more proactive in ensuring that students are aware of and have access to the required and appropriate resources. With a little collaboration and effective communication, instructors and librarians can better help students complete their projects and better incorporate information literacy within the music curriculum.


Where to Go from Here?

These information literacy programs are merely suggestions for getting started. Music programs should find new, innovative ways to bring information literacy into the music curriculum. Funding and staffing clearly limit what music programs can do, but the simple step of implementing a course website with links to valuable resources or the creation of library aids will have a positive impact on the students. The success of one course website or a set of library guides may lead to the participation of additional faculty and staff allowing a natural progression to a more complete integration of information literacy into the music curriculum.

With the abundance of information increasing daily, the importance of teaching students how to develop and utilize discriminating skills in identifying, locating, and evaluating resources cannot be over-stressed. Music programs that incorporate information literacy into the curriculum will produce students who know how to use a wide variety of resources to meet their information needs. Both music librarians and music faculty must be involved in order for information literacy to be effectively incorporated into music programs. With the importance of information literacy in today's environment, we must seek practical ways to address this without burdening the budget, curriculum, faculty, library employees, or music students.

The incorporation of information literacy into the music curriculum will foster information literate students who are able to locate and evaluate print and electronic resources through their critical thinking skills and provide students with skills that are valuable tools in any field or profession. In a broader sense, it would play an integral role in fulfilling what NASM holds up as the primary purpose of schools of music, "to help individual students turn talent, inspiration, creativity, and dedication into significant potential for service to the development of musical culture in its multiple dimensions."8

Appendix 1

A Music Research Paper Checklist


_____ 1. Select a general topic of interest (pick a favorite composer, piece of music, or time period)
_____ 2. Consult The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and other similar resources in reference section and general stacks in order to:
_____ narrow topic
_____ define terms
_____ create list of related terms for additional resource searches
_____ begin compiling bibliography
_____ 3. Expand search for resources by:
_____ searching on-line catalog for books, articles, scores, recordings, and other resources
_____ consulting music reference and research tools (thematic catalogs, collected editions, monuments of music, bio-bibliographies, etc.) as appropriate
_____ compiling findings into a working bibliography
_____ ordering materials through Inter-Library Loan if necessary
_____ 4. Read acquired resources taking notes as necessary. Set aside unneeded bibliographic citations and resources.
_____ 5. Create outline of paper.
_____ 6. Identify areas of outline lacking resources and locate needed materials.
_____ 7. Compose rough draft of paper.
_____ 8. Reorganize, edit, and refine paper.
_____ 9. Proofread and check spelling, grammar, and format.


1American Library Association, Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report (Chicago: American Library Association, 1989) accessed May 2003 from

2Ronald J. Granieri quoted in Scott Carlson's "New Allies in the Fight Against Research by Googling: Faculty Members and Librarians Slowly Start to Work Together on Courseware," The Chronicle of Higher Education (21 March 2003), A33.

3"The National Association of Schools of Music Philosophy," accessed 30 March 2003 from

4University of Melbourne Music Library, "Music Library Information Literacy Programme 2004" (5 February 2004) retrieved from

5Duke University Music Library, "DW3: Classical Music Resources" (16 July 2002), offers links to genre-specific resource lists; William and Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University School of Music, "Worldwide Internet Music Resources" (6 June 1999), provides links to resources on specific composers, genres, and fields of study; University of California at Berkeley, "The Music Library. University of California, Berkeley" (20 November 2001), includes directions on how to locate resources using the Berkeley OPAC and other databases; Lois Kuyper-Rushing, "LSU Libraries Music Resources: Music Webliography" (16 July 2002), has links to guides and resources for program notes, various fields of music, and specific areas of performance; Talbott Library, Rider University, "Music Reference Shelf" (2002), includes links to databases, bibliographies, catalogs, and webpages by music discipline, composers, and musical instruments.

6Linda M. Fidler and Richard S. James, "Integrating Library User Education with the Undergraduate Music History Sequence," in Foundations in Music Bibliography, edited by Richard D. Green (New York: Haworth Press, 1993), 187.

7Scott Carlson, "New Allies in the Fight Against Research by Googling," A33-A34.

8"The National Association of Schools of Music Philosophy."

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