Information literacy and problem-solving ability are foundational skills that members of Purdue’s Core Curriculum Committee think are critical for student success. The Committee is not alone in this opinion; many professional organizations and those that accredit colleges and universities and their programs include these “21st century skills” as essential. Many employers report that new college graduates entering the workforce lack these skills, but state these skills are essential for job success. So, what are these skills?

Information literacy is the ability to recognize the need for information and to find, evaluate, and effectively use that information. Problem-solving is the process of designing, evaluating and implementing a strategy to answer questions or achieve a desired goal. Both skills are closely related and contribute to individual success. Because so much information is readily available, finding high-quality, credible information can be challenging. Using information that is outdated, of poor quality or biased can result in solutions that fail or decisions that are wrong. Imagine what would happen if a doctor used outdated information to make patient care decisions or if someone made decisions about their finances based on a source that had a bias. With unreliable information, devastating consequences may result.

Specific skills associated with information literacy and problem-solving include defining a research question as well as key concepts and terms; identifying relevant sources of information and multiple approaches for solving a problem; and accessing content using effective and well-designed search strategies. Once individuals identify reliable information, they must be able to organize, synthesize, and communicate it through paraphrasing, summarizing, and quoting. They must demonstrate an understanding of the ethical and legal restrictions on the use of published, confidential, and/or proprietary information. Finally, a student should be able to propose an evidence-based solution or hypothesis related to the original question and evaluate potential solutions.

Students learn these competencies because they are embedded in many courses across the curriculum as well as in some co-curricular activities. Most students learn some of them for the first time in college when taking courses such as ENGL 106, “First-Year Composition,” or Introduction to Research in Professional Writing. Further development occurs in more advanced courses within majors. By engaging in structured research activities and other projects involving the use of evidence-based materials and information, students further refine information literacy and problem solving abilities. This prepares them for success in academic work, employment and lifelong learning.

Sharon A. Weiner is a professor of Library Science and holds the position of W. Wayne Booker Chair in Information Literacy. She can be reached at