This article was originally published on March 1, 2016.
In today’s world of instant answers from Google, information literacy is a hot topic for libraries. Credo has been evolving to become a prominent source for guidance in teaching this important skill. Libraries that sign up with Credo have access to reference content that serves as a starting point for research, along with information literacy skills solutions that teach researchers how to interpret what they’ve found in their searches.
Originally called Xrefer, Credo was founded in the U.K. in 1999. Now, with an office each in Boston and the U.K., it helps colleges, universities, and public libraries around the world educate their patrons. In late 2015 and early 2016, the company has begun to ramp-up its content collections, and it most recently announced the re-launch of its Mind Map visual search tool.
Credo’s management team takes a long-term view of developing products that support its mission of building information skills for lifelong learning, says Ian Singer, Credo’s chief content officer, who started at the company in August 2015. Its “commitment to supporting the management team around that mission was very appealing to me as a senior executive,” he says. “What is also appealing within that is … the ownership’s commitment of enabling management to reinvest profit on innovation,” which can include partnerships with others, he says. “Because we are not a large, dominant industry player, we do mean something in the library market in a different way.”
Reference Content Aggregation
Credo is a reference content aggregator, which means it hosts curated collections of reference content on its platform. “What I see as a challenge with aggregators in general is that aggregation [is] a commodity. And it’s a commodity that’s really valued based on usage,” says Singer. “The usage struggle has everything to do with the long-term viability and the value that libraries offer” to student and faculty researchers.
Even if academic libraries are well-funded, their value propositions—physical spaces, content purchases, and staff members, for example—could still be called into question, and so they have to constantly prove themselves to their community. Singer sees developing content marketing programming to help showcase libraries’ value and engage their constituencies as a major facet of his role at Credo. He wants to help libraries drive usage of their content and create a more collaborative environment for students, faculty, and administrators.
Public libraries have the same challenge of proving their value—they need to know who’s really using which resources and where they’re spending money. In K–12 school libraries, there’s an added layer of needing to support classroom instruction in information literacy, and learning how to do research is a key component of that, says Singer.
Singer says “part of the challenge that we hear from our [librarian] customers … is that there are too many platforms, and how [to] integrate platforms.” Credo’s platform works with any publisher so that libraries can access the reference content from a unified source. It is collaborating with publishers “to demonstrate that too many platforms, particularly with reference content, is not a good strategy for the entire ecosystem that we’re serving,” he says. “Let us be that tip of the spear for students in terms of their exploratory search, because reference has a specific place in the research process. It is not the cumulative and exhaustive source of information.”
Once the content is ingested into Credo’s platform (from XML, EPUB, or PDF files), it is separated into collections—core general reference collections for academic, public, or school libraries (containing master reference works) and Essentials Collections (subject-specific sources).
Credo curates its content because it doesn’t enable book-level searching. “So if you’re searching for let’s say the Vietnam War, you’re not going to get results that show [for example] Ian Singer’s history of the Vietnam War. You’ll get specific entries related to the Vietnam War based on relevancy. And so it’s entry-level searching. That’s the fundamental distinction of reference content at its best. … [E]ven within a major reference work on the Vietnam War, there’s going to be various categories,” Singer says. “It enables exploratory search.” The platform is integrated into solutions such as EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), the Summon Service, and WorldCat Discovery Services to promote libraries’ other purchased content, so researchers can go beyond Credo’s content to see what else the library has to offer.
Additionally, Singer says Credo is working with ILS vendors “to help further promote your library’s overall resources. We’re publisher-agnostic, and we’re also platform-agnostic outside of Credo in terms of discovery. Our intention is to help researchers, through their libraries, find as much relevant information on a particular topic once they’ve begun [their search].”
Information Literacy Instruction
Credo’s reference products facilitate searching, but “it presupposes students know how to that type of research,” says Singer. Years ago, he says one of Credo’s clients asked the company to create instruction materials describing best practices in how to begin research (how to avoid plagiarism and use proper citation methods, etc.). This led to a second facet of Credo’s mission—training students on not just how to use Credo, but also on how to become information literate.
During the last few years, Credo’s information literacy solution, Literati, has expanded to include custom-branded versions for individual libraries. Additionally, Credo bases the skill sets it covers in its Learning Outcomes Courseware on ACRL’s information literacy framework. The three core skills students need—information literacy, critical thinking, and communication—are Credo’s focus.
“If they have those key skills, they are going to be much more well-prepared to use any resource, not just Credo’s,” says Singer. “Then it’s a complete circle. … If you have those skills, Credo’s application will help you do some research. If you don’t, we’re going to give you those skills—library or university or high school—and now your students are going to have certain elementary and foundational skills to use Credo and other applications.”
Credo’s own research has revealed employers’ concern that potential employees (today’s graduating college students) don’t have those basic skills. Credo’s information literacy initiatives can help solve that problem by giving students “the ability to think critically and apply themselves to a problem in an analytical way, regardless of what field they go into after college.”
Plans for the Future
Credo’s courseware is built on the edX platform, instead of on a proprietary Credo one. “We are not competing on the platform side. In a very short period of time, there’s been a glut of LMS providers popping up and so we wanted to focus on the content,” Singer says. The company is currently assessing “a build versus partner approach”—it doesn’t yet have “a direct integration into toolsets that let students actually create portfolios of content.” Credo’s database offers functionality such as setting up permalinks and instant citations, but Singer wants to make it possible for students to use Credo to build a set of content assets they can present to a professor or to a peer group from within the platform. There are publishing tools in the marketplace that would accomplish this goal, and Credo is currently assessing potential partners. “And if any of those work, we will come out with a minimum viable product within probably by Q2. If those don’t work for us, then what we’re going to do is we’re going to build our own out as we look at what those products are,” he says.