Project SAILS Skill Sets

The Project SAILS test is based on the work of two ACRL documents: Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Educationand Objectives for Information Literacy Instruction: A Model Statement for Academic Librarians.

The reports for cohort tests break out results by each ACRL information literacy standard and by Project SAILS skill sets. The following section shows how the ACRL outcomes and objectives have been regrouped into skill sets by the Project SAILS team. The numbering refers to the ACRL documents: the first digit is the ACRL standard, the second is the ACRL performance indicator, the third is the ACRL outcome, and the fourth is the ACRL objective.

There are eight skill sets. In each skill set, only outcomes and objectives with active test items are listed.

Developing a Research Strategy

1.1.1 Confers with instructors and participates in class discussions, peer workgroups and electronic discussions to identify a research topic, or other information need Identifies an initial question that might be too broad or narrow, as well as one that is probably manageable. Narrows a broad topic and broadens a narrow one by modifying the scope or direction of the question. Demonstrates an understanding of how the desired end product (i.e., the required depth of investigation and analysis) will play a role in determining the need for information. Uses background information sources effectively to gain an initial understanding of the topic. Consults with the course instructor and librarians to develop a manageable focus for the topic. Decides when a research topic has multiple facets or may need to be put into a broader context. Defines the “invisible college” (e.g., personal contacts, listservs specific to a discipline or subject) and describes its value. Names the three major disciplines of knowledge (humanities, social sciences, sciences) and some subject fields that comprise each discipline. Describes how the publication cycle in a particular discipline or subject field affects the researcher’s access to information. Identifies various formats in which information is available. Describes how various fields of study define primary and secondary sources differently. Identifies characteristics of information that make an item a primary or secondary source in a given field. Identifies a research topic that may require revision, based on the amount of information found (or not found). Identifies a topic that may need to be modified, based on the content of information found. Decides when it is and is not necessary to abandon a topic depending on the success (or failure) of an initial search for information. Describes a general process for searching for information. Identifies keywords that describe an information source (e.g., book, journal article, magazine article, Web site). Identifies the appropriate service point or resource for the particular information need. Uses the Web site of an institution, library, organization or community to locate information about specific services.

2.5.5 Uses various technologies to manage the information selected and organized

3.4.1 Determines whether information satisfies the research or other information need

Selecting Finding Tools Demonstrates when it is appropriate to use a general and subject-specific information source (e.g., to provide an overview, to give ideas on terminology). Distinguishes among indexes, online databases, and collections of online databases, as well as gateways to different databases and collections. Selects appropriate tools (e.g., indexes, online databases) for research on a particular topic. Identifies the differences between freely available Internet search tools and subscription or fee-based databases. Determines the period of time covered by a particular source. Identifies the types of sources that are indexed in a particular database or index (e.g., an index that covers newspapers or popular periodicals versus a more specialized index to find scholarly literature). Locates major print bibliographic and reference sources appropriate to the discipline of a research topic. Identifies research sources, regardless of format, that are appropriate to a particular discipline or research need. Uses different research sources (e.g., catalogs and indexes) to find different types of information (e.g., books and periodical articles). Explains the difference between the library catalog and a periodical index. Describes the different scopes of coverage found in different periodical indexes. Determines when some topics may be too recent to be covered by some standard tools (e.g., a periodicals index) and when information on the topic retrieved by less authoritative tools (e.g., a Web search engine) may not be reliable.

3.6.3 Seeks expert opinion through a variety of mechanisms (e.g., interviews, email, listservs)

Searching Lists terms that may be useful for locating information on a topic. Identifies and uses appropriate general or subject-specific sources to discover terminology related to an information need. Finds sources that provide relevant subject field- and discipline-related terminology. Uses relevant subject- and discipline-related terminology in the information research process. Identifies alternate terminology, including synonyms, broader or narrower words and phrases that describe a topic. Explains what controlled vocabulary is and why it is used. Identifies when and where controlled vocabulary is used in a bibliographic record, and then successfully searches for additional information using that vocabulary. Demonstrates when it is appropriate to search a particular field (e.g., title, author, subject). Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of Boolean logic and constructs a search statement using Boolean operators. Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of proximity searching and constructs a search statement using proximity operators. Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of nesting and constructs a search using nested words or phrases. Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of keyword searching and uses it appropriately and effectively. Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of truncation and uses it appropriately and effectively. Narrows or broadens questions and search terms to retrieve the appropriate quantity of information, using search techniques such as Boolean logic, limiting, and field searching. Determines if the quantity of citations retrieved is adequate, too extensive, or insufficient for the information need. Assesses the relevance of information found by examining elements of the citation such as title, abstract, subject headings, source, and date of publication. Determines when a single search strategy may not fit a topic precisely enough to retrieve sufficient relevant information. Demonstrates how searches may be limited or expanded by modifying search terminology or logic. Examines footnotes and bibliographies from retrieved items to locate additional sources.

Using Finding Tool Features Describes the structure and components of the system or tool being used, regardless of format (e.g., index, thesaurus, type of information retrieved by the system). Identifies the source of help within a given information retrieval system and uses it effectively. Identifies what types of information are contained in a particular system (e.g., all branch libraries are included in the catalog; not all databases are full text; catalogs, periodical databases, and Web sites may be included in a gateway). Identifies and uses search language and protocols (e.g., Boolean, adjacency) appropriate to the retrieval system. Determines appropriate means for recording or saving the desired information (e.g., printing, saving to disc, photocopying, taking notes). Uses help screens and other user aids to understand the particular search structures and commands of an information retrieval system. Demonstrates an awareness of the fact that there may be separate interfaces for basic and advanced searching in retrieval systems. Uses effectively the organizational structure of a typical book (e.g., indexes, tables of contents, user’s instructions, legends, cross-references) in order to locate pertinent information in it. Describes search functionality common to most databases regardless of differences in the search interface (e.g., Boolean logic capability, field structure, keyword searching, relevancy ranking). Uses effectively the organizational structure and access points of print research sources (e.g., indexes, bibliographies) to retrieve pertinent information from those sources.

2.5.1 Selects among various technologies the most appropriate one for the task of extracting the needed information (e.g., copy/paste software functions, photocopier, scanner, audio/visual equipment, or exploratory instruments)

Retrieving Sources

1.2.6 Realizes that information may need to be constructed with raw data from primary sources Determines if material is available immediately. Uses available services appropriately to obtain desired materials or alternative sources. Demonstrates a general knowledge of how to obtain information that is not available immediately. Acts appropriately to obtain information within the time frame required. Demonstrates an understanding of the fact that items may be grouped together by subject in order to facilitate browsing. Describes some materials that are not available online or in digitized formats and must be accessed in print or other formats (e.g., microform, video, audio). Uses call number systems effectively (e.g., demonstrates how a call number assists in locating the corresponding item in the library). Retrieves a document in print or electronic form. Describes various retrieval methods for information not available locally. Initiates an interlibrary loan request by filling out and submitting a form either online or in person.

Evaluating Sources Distinguishes characteristics of information provided for different audiences. Lists various criteria, such as currency, which influence information choices. (See also 2.4. and 3.2.) Selects appropriate information sources (i.e., primary, secondary or tertiary sources) and determines their relevance for the current information need. Evaluates the quality of the information retrieved using criteria such as authorship, point of view/bias, date written, citations, etc. Determines the relevance of an item to the information need in terms of its depth of coverage, language, and time frame. Locates and examines critical reviews of information sources using available resources and technologies. Investigates an author’s qualifications and reputation through reviews or biographical sources. Investigates validity and accuracy by consulting sources identified through bibliographic references. Demonstrates an understanding that other sources may provide additional information to either confirm or question point of view or bias. Demonstrates an understanding that information in any format reflects an author’s, sponsor’s, and/or publisher’s point of view. Demonstrates an understanding that some information and information sources may present a one-sided view and may express opinions rather than facts. Demonstrates an understanding that some information and sources may be designed to trigger emotions, conjure stereotypes, or promote support for a particular viewpoint or group. Searches for independent verification or corroboration of the accuracy and completeness of the data or representation of facts presented in an information source. Distinguishes among various information sources in terms of established evaluation criteria (e.g., content, authority, currency).

Documenting Sources Recognizes the format of an information source (e.g., book, chapter in a book, periodical article) from its citation. (See also 2.3.2.) Distinguishes among citations to identify various types of materials (e.g., books, periodical articles, essays in anthologies). (See also 2.3.1.) Identifies different types of information sources cited in a research tool. Demonstrates an understanding that different disciplines may use different citation styles. Identifies citation elements for information sources in different formats (e.g., book, article, television program, Web page, interview). Demonstrates an understanding that there are different documentation styles, published or accepted by various groups Describes when the format of the source cited may dictate a certain citation style. Locates information about documentation styles either in print or electronically, e.g., through the library’s Web site. Recognizes that consistency of citation format is important, especially if a course instructor has not required a particular style.

Understanding Economic, Legal, and Social Issues

5.1.1 Identifies and discusses issues related to privacy and security in both the print and electronic environments Demonstrates an understanding that not all information on the Web is free, i.e., some Web-based databases require users to pay a fee or to subscribe in order to retrieve full text or other content. Demonstrates awareness that the library pays for access to databases, information tools, full-text resources, etc., and may use the Web to deliver them to its clientele. Describes how the terms of subscriptions or licenses may limit their use to a particular clientele or location.

5.1.3 Identifies and discusses issues related to censorship and freedom of speech

5.1.4 Demonstrates an understanding of intellectual property, copyright, and fair use of copyrighted material

5.2.1 Participates in electronic discussions following accepted practices (e.g. “Netiquette”)

5.2.5 Legally obtains, stores, and disseminates text, data, images, or sounds

5.2.6 Demonstrates an understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and does not represent work attributable to others as his/her own

5.2.7 Demonstrates an understanding of institutional policies related to human subjects research

To cite this page:
Radcliff, Carolyn J., Joseph A Salem, Jr., Lisa G. O’Connor, and Julie A. Gedeon. 2007. “Project SAILS Skill Sets for the 2018-2019 Academic Year.” Retrieved from

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