What is PIL?

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a large-scale, national study about early adults and how they find, evaluate, and select information for use in their courses and in everyday life. To learn more, watch a short video about PIL. Read PIL's FAQ. Read a summary of our research findings. Read our op-ed, "At Sea in a Deluge of Data" from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Our goal is to understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and "everyday life" use and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age. We have collected data from over 13,000 "early adults" enrolled in more than 60 community colleges and public and private colleges and universities in the U.S.


Frequently Asked Questions

At what stage is the study now?
There is a lot of research already about information literacy, how is this study different?
What practical impact is PIL meant to have?
How do we collect our data?
What is the history of PIL?
How can I contact PIL?

At what stage is the study now?

In January 2016, we completed a large-scale, two-year study, funded by the federal agency, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The study asked, "how do recent college graduates find, evaluate, and use information for lifelong learning in the workplace and in their daily lives?" We released a 112-page report, "Staying Smart: How Today's Graduates Continue to Learn Once They Complete College."

The study investigated how a sample of relatively recent graduates put information literacy competencies into practice as they meet their lifelong learning needs for staying competitive and employable in the workplace and engaging in civic affairs and personal development in life at large. The survey dataset (n=1,651) is open access and available through OpenICPSR.

Research currently in the works

To more deeply understand the changes to library space, we are currently doing a study on library space planning and design. During spring 2016, we are out in the field conducting in-depth interviews with architects, librarians, and where it applies, library facility consultants. These are project stakeholders who have played a pivotal role on design projects during the past five years. 

We are specifically interested in what priorities these key stakeholders--architects and librarians--have for library spaces, how users and their learning needs have fit into their planning processes, and what best practices for planning and design were employed. The analysis from our research efforts will be used to write a 20-25 page white paper for the University of Washington's iSchool, which will be released in Fall 2016.

Following this investigation, PIL will seek grant funding in 2017 to conduct a large-scale study on how students use new library learning spaces and other spaces beyond the library to support needs.This future study will, in part, draw from our 2016 library learning space study as well as from PIL's 2010 user study of library use, research habits, and college students.

There is a lot of research already about information literacy, how is this study different?

Unlike the majority of information literacy research studies, PIL is an ongoing, national research study "across" different types of campuses (community colleges, state colleges, and public and private universities) from different geographic areas in the U.S. We investigate information-seeking behavior through the lens of the student experience, using student interviews and surveys to learn about their methods, challenges, barriers, and practices.

Our goal is to help fill in some of the "missing pieces" of the information literacy puzzle and provide data that helps answer some of the following questions:

  • How do early adults (in their own words) put their information literacy competencies into practice in learning environments in a digital age, regardless of how they may measure up to standards for being information literate?
  • With the proliferation of online resources and new technologies, how do early adults recognize the information needs they may have and in turn, how do they locate, evaluate, select, and use the information that is needed?
  • How can teaching the critical and information literacy skills that are needed to enable lifelong learning be more effectively transferred to college students?

What practical impact is PIL meant to have?

So far, our research study has had considerable impact and added to understanding of information literacy issues in five key areas:

  • How we, as a society, may understand the information problem-solving potential of current and recent U.S. college students who are an important subset of the "adult" cohort, given their unprecedented abundance in enrollment numbers, their professional destinies, and their likelihood to have "grown up digitally."
  • How (and by how much) different types of institutions, and the pedagogical practices used, impact the information-seeking strategies of their students and recent graduates.
  • How the design of numerous online resources available to early adults today, enhance or detract from their research experiences.
  • How information literacy instruction is provided to students by professors and librarians for conducting course-related research and for "everyday life" research (e.g., health and wellness, finance and commerce, news, and politics or policy).
  • How college curriculum that requires course-related research and everyday life research is developed and communicated to early adults.

How do we collect our data?

We are information scientists who study information flows and information-problem solving strategies early adults use in the digital age. We use social science research methods (i.e., focus groups, online surveys, interviews, and content analysis) and employ an information-seeking behavior approach in our research. We collect data using large samples, mainly from students enrolled in college campuses situated throughout the U.S.

People often ask us, "Just how big of an operation is PIL?" We're smaller than most people think! We're hands-on and highly collaborative. PIL Team members have generously provided their time, effort, and access to their campuses to make our research studies possible. At any one time, there is a team of four or five of us working on a research study. But, at the same time, PIL is large in terms of our reach and scope of study. We have over 250 research liaisons who are employed at U.S. colleges and universities in our volunteer sample (map). This sample of institutions gives us access to 2.75 million undergraduates currently enrolled in college, or about one in seven of all college students in the US.

Through the years, dedicated volunteers on PIL's Research Team have helped us collect data out in the field and have contributed to our research efforts, including: Elizabeth L. Black (Ohio State University), Laureen Cantwell (University of Memphis), Erica DeFrain (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Alaina Bull, Jordan Eschler, Sarah Evans, Kate Faoro, and Kirsten Hostetler (University of Washington's iSchool), Sue Gilroy and Deborah S. Garson (Harvard), Kristine Lu (Columbia University); Sara Prahl (Colby College), Ann Roselle (Phoenix College), Carolyn Salvi (Tufts), Michele Van Hoeck (California Maritime Academy/CSU), and Sarah Vital (Saint Mary's College of California).

What is the history of PIL?

In 2006, a small team of faculty and librarians began to conduct a unique, exploratory research project about college students at Saint Mary's College of California (SMC). The study was led by PIL's Alison Head, then the Roy and Patricia Disney Visiting Professor in New Media at St. Mary's College, a small liberal arts college in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From this early work, PIL worked in partnership with the University of Washington's iSchool from October 2008 through July 2016.  From 2008 through July 2012, PIL was co-directed by Alison Head and Mike Eisenberg.

In July 2012, PIL began a new chapter. PIL became a public benefit nonprofit. The same year, we began the PIL Passage Studies, a series of studies investigating the critical information transition early adults--first year college students and recent college graduates--go through in their lives. In 2016, we completed our eighth study and the final Passage study in the series, a large-scale study about lifelong learning, recent college graduates, and information seeking fo use in personal life, the workplace, and the community.

Today, PIL is directed by Dr. Alison J. Head, who is also a Research Affiliate at the metaLAB @ Harvard University.

How can I contact PIL?

Drop us a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to send us general inquiries. We're happy to hear from you and will make every attempt to answer your questions.


  • Alison Head

    Alison Head

    Executive Director and Principal Investigator

  • R. David Lankes

    R. David Lankes

    Board Member
    Professor and Director
    University of South Carolina iSchool

  • Peter Morville

    Peter Morville

    Board Member
    Founder and Director
    Semantic Studios

  • David Nasatir

    David Nasatir

    Board Member
    Visiting Professor
    UC Berkeley, Sociology (Retired)

  • Lee Rainie

    Lee Rainie

    Board Member
    Founder and Director
    Pew's Internet & American Life Project

  • Karen Schneider

    Karen Schneider

    Board Member
    Library Dean
    Sonoma State University

  • Michael Eisenberg

    Michael Eisenberg

    Lifelong Learning Board
    Dean Emeritus and Professor
    University of Washington's iSchool