Project Information Literacy

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Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a research institute that conducts national, ongoing scholarly studies on how early adults find and use information as they progress through, and beyond, their higher education years.


Based in California's San Francisco Bay Area, Project Information Literacy, Inc. (PIL) is a public benefit 501(c)(3) nonprofit.[1] Dr. Alison J. Head, the Executive Director and Lead Researcher, is a recognized expert in the field of information literacy research.[2] [3] PIL began in 2008 as a partnership with the University of Washington Information School with Dr. Head and Dr. Michael Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor at the school, as co-directors.[4] Both Dr. Head and Dr. Eisenberg have extensive experience conducting and publishing research on information literacy and the information-seeking behavior of Internet users. [5] [6] [7] In 2012, PIL became a nonprofit with Dr. Head as sole director. In 2016 PIL ended its formal relationship with the Information School. [4]


PIL's studies have been conducted using small teams of researchers drawn from libraries and schools of library and information science across the United States.[8]. To date, 22,049 early adults have participated in PIL studies. The institutional sample for PIL studies consists of 89 public and private colleges, universities, and community colleges, as well as 34 high schools located in the U.S. A 2016 study included data from Canadian institutions.[9]

PIL has worked with members of a sample of 260 institutions. [8][10] Partners include four-year private and public universities and colleges in the U.S. including Harvard College, The Ohio State University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, The University of Washington, DePaul University, Oklahoma State University, University of Alaska, Wellesley College and numerous community colleges. Each PIL study undergoes ethical review at the participating institutions and at the host institution where the study is based. [11] (p. 80) Studies use a mixed-methods approach. PIL has conducted student surveys, focus groups, content analysis of research handouts, extensive interviews, and computational analysis of social media interactions. Final reports include summaries of key findings, in-depth data, and recommendations. All reports are Open Access, available from the PIL website at no charge.

PIL has produced 10 major research reports, detailing many aspects of information use by college students, and more recently by recent graduates, inquiring into the factors that affect information use such as assignment design and employer expectations.[10] In October 2018, PIL released the findings of a study of students' news engagement practices in the “post-truth” era,[12] sponsored by the Knight Foundation and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association. [13][14] Another project, The Reading List for Life, leverages PIL’s research findings to develop a web application for adult learners in public libraries, and is a collaboration between PIL, [15] The Open Syllabus Project at Columbia University, and the metaLAB@Harvard.In 2016, PIL published a study, funded by the Information School at The University of Washington, that examined library spaces and included data from interviews with architects and library leaders.[9]

PIL's research results have been disseminated through the reports posted on its open access website, numerous articles, conference presentations, webcasts, podcasts, and videos on its YouTube channel. PIL is recognized as an important source of longitudinal information on the information behaviors of students. [16][17][18][19][20][21] As Barbara Fister notes, “[t]his is hands-down the most important long-term, multi-institutional research project ever launched on how students use information for school and beyond.” [22] PIL reports are frequently cited in scholarly articles and linked from academic library webpages about information literacy,[23][24] used in workshops for faculty,[25] and in student learning.[26] The studies provide information about students’ and graduates’ information seeking strategies through the lens of the student experience across multiple institutional sites[24] in the U.S. and are frequently reported on in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Education Week, and Library Journal. [27]

PIL has created a series of Smart Talk interviews[28] with leading voices related to its core purpose of understanding how early adults use information and technology to learn. Interviewees include: Ken Bain, Char Booth, Nicholas Carr, David Conley, Cathy Davidson, Katie Davis, Dale Dougherty, Sari Feldman, Barbara Fister, Eric Gordon, Renee Hobbs, Rebecca Moore Howard, Sandra Jamieson, Joan Lippincott, Robert Lue, Andrea Lunsford, P. Takis Metaxas, Peter Morville, John Palfrey, Russell Poldrack, Lee Rainie, Howard Rheingold, Dan Rothstein, Jeffrey Schnapp, Howie Schneider, Zach Sims, Peter Suber, Shyam Sundar, S. Craig Watkins, David Weinberger, and Mary-Ann Winkelmes.

PIL hosts an annual fellowship for emerging researchers in information literacy, and runs a visiting scholar research program, with sites including the University of Nebraska--Lincoln and Purdue University.[3]


PIL has received funding from major granting organizations, companies and institutions[29] [30]


Research reports[edit]

All reports produced by PIL are open access under the CC-BY-NC license; many include open access data sets.

Peer-reviewed articles[edit]


  • Head, A.J. (2013). Project Information Literacy: What can be learned about the information-seeking behavior of today's college students? Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Annual Conference Proceedings. Chicago: American Library Association. Retrieved October 15, 2017 from

Opinion and editorials[edit]


  1. ^ State of California, Franchise Tax Board. (2017). Exempt organizations list. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  2. ^ Wihbey, J. (Jan. 26, 2012). Research chat: Information scientist Alison Head on student habits. Journalist's Resource: A Research Portal and Curated Database, January 26, 2012 Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  3. ^ a b Purdue Libraries selected as 2017-18 site for Project Information Literacy Visiting Research Scholar Program. (July 26th, 2017). Purdue Libraries News. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  4. ^ a b Project Information Literacy.(2017). What is the history of PIL? Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  5. ^ Roseth, B. (Oct. 8, 1998). New director leads library school into Information Age. University Week. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  6. ^ Information School, University of Washington. (n.d.). Michael Eisenberg. iSchool Directory. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  7. ^ UC Irvine Faculty Contribute to Project Information Literacy. (Spring, 2010). UCI Libraries Update: a Newsletter for Faculty, 28(2) Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  8. ^ a b Project Information Literacy.(2017) How does PIL collect data? Retrieved September 19, 2017 from
  9. ^ a b Head, A.J. (2016). Planning and designing academic library learning spaces: Expert perspectives of architects, librarians, and library consultants. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from
  10. ^ a b See individual reports for details of participating institutions, ethics approvals, and methods for each study
  11. ^ Head, A.J. (2016). Staying smart: How today's graduates continue to learn once they complete college. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from
  12. ^ Head, A.J., Wihbey, J., Metaxas, P. Takis, MacMillan, M., & Dan Cohen, D. (2018). How Students Engage with News: Five Takeaways for Educators, Journalists, and Librarians. Project Information Literacy Research Institute. Retrieved October 19 from
  13. ^ a b Association of College and Research Libraries. (Oct. 24, 2017). ACRL sponsors Project Information Literacy news study. Retrieved October 24, 2017 from
  14. ^ a b Project Information Literacy. (2017). National study on young adults' news consumption launched. Retrieved October 23, 2017 from
  15. ^ a b Reading list for life. (2017). Retrieved October 6, 2017 from
  16. ^ Bell, S. (May 15, 2013). Studying the studies: The big four," Library Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  17. ^ laralu510.(May 31, 2011). Project Information Literacy’s new report. It’s academic: The official blog of the Pennsylvania Library Association's College & Research Division. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  18. ^ Davidshumaker. (Dec. 18, 2013) First-year college students, Project Information Literacy, and embedded librarianship. The Embedded librarian: Exploring new, embedded roles for librarians in organizations of all types. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  19. ^ Richard J. Robinson Memorial Library @ Murdock Middle School and Murdock High School. (n.d.). Teachers’ lounge. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  20. ^ Juskiewicz, S. & Cote, C. (2014). Teaching information literacy to undergraduate students: Reflecting on the past, present and future of library instruction. Pacific Northwest Library Association Quarterly, 79(1). Retrieved October 11, 2017 from Convenience citation
  21. ^ LaGuardia, C.(Aug. 6, 2015). College graduates, critical thinking, and information strategies: Not dead yet. Library Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  22. ^ Fister, B. (Jan. 7, 2016). Information literacy and recent graduates: New from PIL. Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Education. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  23. ^ See for example guides on pages at the University of Toronto, Loyola Marymount University, Oglethorpe University, and Madison College
  24. ^ a b Deitering, A.M. (Jul. 28, 2016). Understanding student needs [library guide for faculty]. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  25. ^ Maricopa Community College.(2016). Designing research assignment handouts: Essential elements to promote student success. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  26. ^ Houtman, E. (2015). Mind-blowing:" Fostering self-regulated learning in information literacy instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 9(1), 6-18. Retrieved October 11, 2017 from
  27. ^ Project Information Literacy. (2017). Publications. Retrieved September 19, 2017 from
  28. ^ Project Information Literacy. 2017. Smart talks. Retrieved September 19, 2017 from
  29. ^ Information School, University of Washington. (n.d.) Farewell Mike Eisenberg. Retrieved October 10, 2017 from
  30. ^ Project Information Literacy. (2017). [Home page]. Retrieved October 6, 2017 from
  31. ^ Head, A. J. (June 26, 2013). Mismatch between graduates’ information skills and employers' needs. IMLS UpNext. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from
  32. ^ Head, A.J & Eisenberg, M. (Nov. 4, 2011). Interesting news from Project Information Literacy. forum: what is a reader. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from
  33. ^ The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. 2012. Annual report for the academic year 2011-2012.Retrieved October 5, 2017 from
  34. ^ Information School, University of Washington. (2017). Research Areas Information Literacy. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from
  35. ^ a b University of Washington. (Oct. 13, 2011). College students limit technology use during crunch time. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from
  36. ^ Proquest. (Jan. 14, 2010). ProQuest survey shows libraries are turning up the heat on marketing and outreach to protect budgets. Retrieved October 5, 2017 from

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