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Course & Subject Guides

Information Literacy Tools @ Pitt: Rubrics

This guide takes an advanced look at integrating information literacy into library instruction sessions for students.

What is a rubric?

Most educators define a rubric as a scoring tool that lists the criteria for performance of specific tasks by a defined level. In its simplest form (for a specific assignment) a rubric is usually composed of four parts and detailed in a grid. In the context of information literacy, a rubric can be developed for various levels and audiences, from the simple lesson plan to a definition of the entire information literacy program.

The ULS Information Literacy and Assessment Working Group has created several rubrics that can be used by faculty and librarians to incorporate appropriate structure and assessment to the development of their instructional sessions.

These rubrics are based on the ACRL Standards and the eight skill sets identified by the SAILS (Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) test currently in use at the University of Pittsburgh. The Working Group has defined four levels for all of the ULS rubrics. These include: novice, developing, proficient and accomplished.

Example Rubrics for Specific Classes

The Working Group has also developed general course-related rubrics based on the SAILS Skill Sets that can be adapted by librarians for their instructional sessions. Each level provides key information literacy concepts that should be taught in various classes; for example, PITTCat+.

Depending on the level (novice, developing, proficient or accomplished) the instructor would be Introducing a new IL skill (I) or Expanding IL skill (E). These rubrics are flexible; the concepts covered at each skill level may vary according to class constraints and/or faculty input. They should serve as a guide in developing an instructional session.

ULS Information Literacy Rubric

This first rubric was developed for faculty. It provides a general overview of information literacy skills. This rubric is based
on the eight Skill Sets identified for the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS) test, which were adopted from the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.

Novice Developing Proficient Accomplished
Develop Research Strategy Unable to narrow
topic; Unsure of
how to find
information needed
for assignment
nature & scope of
general keywords
in relation to topic
to begin searching
Shows an increased
understanding of
information needed
for topic; Refines
keywords and
develops synonyms
for search terms
Able to adapt search
process to topic;
Knows what keywords
and phrases to employ
Select Finding Tools Unclear as to what
information sources
to use or where to
find sources
appropriate to
information need
Understands the
between scholarly
& general
sources; Seeks
assistance in
Selects appropriate
tools for research on
a particular topic
Identifies disciplinary
research sources;
Utilizes non-traditional
information sources
Search Demonstrates &
applies an
understanding of
keyword searching
Demonstrates how
searches may be
limited or
expanded by
modifying search
Understands &
utilizes controlled
Utilizes advanced
search techniques to
retrieve appropriate
Use Finding Tool Features Understands
appropriate search
Uses search tools
at basic level
Finds & utilizes
advanced searching
Consistently utilizes
advanced search
Retrieve Sources Recognizes
information formats
availability of and
locates sources
Efficiently retrieves
different formats of
Identifies various
retrieval methods for
items not available at
the library
Evaluate Sources Limited ability to
information quality
& source
between primary
& secondary
difference in quality
of various
information sources
Evaluates sources
using discipline-specific
Document Sources Understands the
need to cite sources
Interprets citations
& is able to locate
a required style
Is able to correctly
complete citations
for various formats
Utilizes disciplinespecific
formats; locates source
material from citations
Understand Economic, Legal, and Social Issues Understands
University policies
plagiarism &
intellectual integrity
Properly cites
sources using a
standard format;
plagiarism & does
not plagiarize
Uses information
Understands the
economic issues of
Recognizes when to
obtain copyright

ULS Detailed Information Literacy Rubric

This rubric is based on the eight Skill Sets identified for the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS) test, which were adopted from the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. Each skill level includes outcomes adapted from actual SAILS questions. The numbering refers to the ACRL documents associated with the skill listed; 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.

SAILS Skill Set Core Skill Novice Developing Proficient Accomplished
Developing a Search Strategy Employs appropriate and information specific terminology and controlled vocabulary to retrieve information. Locates, examines and if possible, consults with a professional concerning terms, descriptors, and/or appropriate vocabulary to
use in the search statement (2.3)
Selects search terms and/or controlled vocabulary and descriptors to be used within the search strategy ( Consults information resources such as books, academic journals and subject thesauri to bring specificity to the search strategy
Explores and employs the use of alternative terms to supplement and/or replace vocabulary originally selected (
Avoids the use of jargon as well as plebeian terminology in the search statement (
Understands that terminology chosen may have a “restrictive” or “expansive” effect on the search results (
Executes a retrospective search with terminology gained through a growing familiarity of the subject matter (2.2.6)
Selecting Finding Tools Understands the variety and quality of information sources and selects appropriate sources for information need. Explores what information sources to use or where to find information appropriate to the information need (1.1.3)
Seeks assistance in selecting information sources appropriate for the information need (3.6.3)
Understands the difference between scholarly level sources and general purpose information sources (
Identifies between freely available internet search tools and subscription or fee-based tools (
Selects appropriate tools for research on a particular topic (
Uses different research sources (e.g. catalog, databases, etc.) to find different types of information (
Understands when it is appropriate to use a general or a subject-specific information source (
Seeks and evaluates information sources based on time period, disciplinary scope, and other elements relevant to the topic
Identifies research sources, regardless of format, that are appropriate to a particular discipline or research need (
Seeks expert opinion through a variety of mechanisms (e.g. interviews, email, listservs) (3.6.3)
Utilizes and evaluates non-traditional information sources (2.4.1)
Searching Identifies appropriate search strategies and searching techniques, adapting search strategy as needed. Demonstrates an understanding of the concept of keyword searching and uses it appropriately and effectively ( Demonstrates how searches may be limited or expanded by modifying search terminology or logic (
Lists terms that may be useful for locating information on a topic (
Determines when a single search strategy may not fit a topic precisely enough to retrieve sufficient relevant information
Identifies when and where controlled vocabulary is used in a bibliographic record, and then successfully searches for additional
information using that vocabulary (
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 (
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 (
Examines footnotes and bibliographies from retrieved items to locate additional sources (
Using Finding Tools Locates and utilizes individual searching features. Understands/Discovers appropriate finding tools (i.e. indexes, database, print sources) (2.5.1)
Understands where to find information and topics in book chapters (
Selects appropriate means of accessing resources physically to take out of the library such as journals (i.e. photocopier, scanner,
copy/paste) (2.5.1)
Uses effectively the appropriate access points and structure of a print resource (i.e. finding information on a specific topic in an
Encyclopedia) (
Uses recommended resources (
Identifies help features in databases and in other information retrieval systems(
Recognizes common components and similarities of databases and how they function with resource(
Identifies what types of information resources are contained in specific database or information retrieval system (
Finds and locates advanced features and seeks out other resources (
Understands there may be different components to access and different interfaces for basic and advanced search options in
databases or information retrieval systems (
Determines the most appropriate way to access print materials and making them digital for accessing needed information (i.e.
scanning in details from a map in a reference book) (2.5.1)

Employs advanced search features regularly (utilizes database alerts, etc.) (
Manages many resource types (online, print), and consistently seeks out more resources (2.3.1)

Applies search structures and commands in databases such as an asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol or question mark (?)
Understands the common functions and structures of database regardless of the database interface (

Retrieving Sources Identifies different types of information sources appropriate for topic, and how to locate them. Determines if an item is available immediately (
Recognizes the difference between information in different formats (print vs. electronic books and articles; audio and visual
materials) (
Understands the difference between HTML and PDF versions of electronic articles (
Determines the physical location of an item (either in the library or full-text online) (2.3.2)
Understands the subject arrangement of Library of Congress classification scheme and can successfully locate call numbers
within the library (
Recognizes that some materials may be classified differently (ex. Government documents) (
Uses library services to locate and library equipment to retrieve different formats of information (library catalog, online indexes
and databases; microform, printers, scanners) (2.3.3) (
Demonstrates general knowledge that materials can be borrowed from other libraries (
Recognizes the need to find another book when one is not available and the need is immediate (
Retrieves and compiles information from multiple sources when required (1.3.1.)
Identifies their library’s various retrieval methods for items not available at their library (
Initiates an interlibrary loan request by filling out the proper form(s) (Get it!, EZ-Borrow or other) (
Recognizes deadlines and submits interlibrary loan requests within a reasonable time frame for information need (
Evaluating Sources Critically assesses various aspects of information sources. Locates and examines critical reviews of information sources using available resources and technologies ( Selects appropriate information sources (i.e., primary, secondary or tertiary sources) and determines their relevance for the
current information need (

Distinguishes characteristics of information provided for different audiences (
Investigates an author’s qualifications and reputation through reviews or biographical sources (
Demonstrates an understanding that other sources may provide additional information to either confirm or question point of
view or bias (
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 (

Distinguishes among various information sources in terms of established evaluation criteria (e.g., content, authority, currency)
Searches for independent verification or corroboration of the accuracy and completeness of the data or representation of facts
presented in an information source (
Documenting Sources Employs citation styles to document sources, and uses citations to locate additional information. Selects and uses a consistent format when citing sources even if a style isn’t specified (
Locates a copy of a required style guide in print or electronic format (
Understands that various disciplines require their own specific citation style and is aware there are differences (;
Understands that various organizations and groups publish documentation styles that are accepted or used (i.e., APA and MLA
are not the only style guides available) (
Uses consistently and correctly the appropriate citation style for the discipline for which research is being completed (
Identifies various citation elements needed to correctly complete citations for books, articles, TV programs, web pages,
interviews, etc. (
Knows when it is appropriate to move from a specified style manual to seek the proper citation style for a particular format
when it is not included in the style manual (
Identifies the format of a source (book, periodical, etc.) from a given citation entry (
Identifies the type of resource (newspaper article, book, book chapter, periodical article, etc.) from a given entry in
bibliography, database, or catalog (;
Understanding Economic, Legal, and Social Issues Understands the concept of plagiarism, and uses information sources and facilities responsibly. Understands University policies regarding plagiarism and intellectual integrity (5.2.3)
Uses library materials responsibly (5.2.4)
Recognizes and respects the needs of other library patrons (5.2.3)
Properly cites sources using a standard format for the discipline (
Understands plagiarism and does not plagiarize (5.2.6)
Understands issues related to free vs. fee-based access to information (
Uses information ethically (5.2.5)
Values intellectual integrity and academic freedom as a contributing factor to the creation of knowledge (5.1.3)
Understands the economic issues of the information cycle (;;
Recognizes when to obtain copyright permission (5.1.4)