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What is PIL?

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a large-scale, national study about early adults and their research habits, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington's iSchool. 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 December 2013, we began a large-scale, two-year study, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that asks, "how do recent college graduates find, evaluate, and use information for lifelong learning in the workplace and in their daily lives?" We are planning to release our final research report in October 2015.

We have been investigating 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.

We are building on the study of information literacy by modeling the lifelong learning process. In a related analysis, we are studying the role libraries and librarians play in the lifelong learning process and how creating new services that are feasible, practical, and affordable may help enhance lifelong learning opportunities in libraries, museums, and other lifelong learning settings.

During fall 2014, a large-scale online survey wa administered to a voluntary sample (n=1651)  of "relatively recent graduates," adults between 25 and 30 years old that have graduated from 10 US colleges  and universities between 2007-2012 (see February 2015 trends report).

We conducted preliminary interviews have been conducted with a voluntary sample subset (n=60) to inform the survey development process (see July 2014 trends report). We will conduct follow-up interviews with a voluntary subset of the survey sample (n=60)  in spring 2015 to add qualitative texture to our findings report.

The colleges and universities in the institutional sample are Belmont University, Ohio State University, Phoenix College, University of Redlands, Trinity University, University of Central Florida, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Washington.

Our final research report and a survey dataset will be open access and posted on the PIL site and in the University of Washington Libraries digital repository in late 2015. This study is being conducted in partnership with PIL and the University of Washington's iSchool.

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 a study "across" different types of campuses (community colleges, state colleges, and public and private universities) from different geographic areas in the U.S.

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 information literacy training and coaching 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 the design of online resources used by campus libraries and produced by database vendors, enhance or detract from students' research experiences.
  • How (and by how much) different types of institutions impact the information-seeking strategies of their students and recent graduates.
  • How we, as a society, may understand the information problem-solving potential of current 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 do we collect our data?

We collect data using large samples, mainly from students enrolled in college campuses situated throughout the U.S. 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 are information scientists who study information flows and information-problem solving strategies.

People often ask us, "Just how big of an operation is PIL?" We're small. We're a grassroot organization. We're hands-on and highly collaborative. At any one time there is a team of four or five of us working on a research study. We have over 240 research liaisons who are employed at U.S. colleges and universities in our volunteer sample (map). These individuals have generously provided their time, effort, and access to their campuses to make our research studies possible.

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), 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 2007, a small team of faculty and librarians conducted a unique, exploratory research project 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 was founded in 2008 at the University of Washington's iSchool, by Alison Head and Mike Eisenberg, co-founder of the Big6 Model, and Professor and Dean Emeritus at the iSchool. From 2008 through July 2012, PIL was co-directed by Alison Head, a research scientist in the iSchool, and Mike Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor in the University of Washington's iSchool.

In July 2012, PIL began a new chapter. PIL became a public benefit nonprofit that works in partnership with the University of Washington's Information School and in affilation with Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. PIL is dedicated to studying how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research in the digital age. In 2012, we began the PIL Passage Studies, a series of studies investigating the critical information transition early adults go through in their lives. In 2013, we began a large-scale study about lifelong learning, recent college graduates, and information practices.

Today, PIL is directed by Dr. Alison J. Head, who is also a Research Scientist in the University of Washington's iSchool and a Faculty Associate at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

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

    Director and Principal Investigator
    Research Scientist
    University of Washington's iSchool

  • R. David Lankes

    R. David Lankes

    Board Member
    Syracuse University's 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