The Work of Patricia Knapp (1914-1972):
Relevance for the Electronic Era

Diane Worrell

School of Library and Information Studies
Texas Woman's University

(c) 1996 Diane Worrell School of Library and Information Studies, Texas Woman's University
The Katharine Sharp Review ISSN 1083-5261, No. 3, Summer 1996 []
    The writings of Patricia Knapp (1914-1972), academic librarian, library educator, and key figure in the Library College movement, focused largely on the fusion of academic librarianship with academic instruction. This paper examines selected writings of Knapp in terms of their relevance to library instruction in the electronic age.

  1. Patricia Knapp (1914-1972) was an academic librarian and library educator whose work focused largely on two topics, "the fusion of academic librarianship with academic instruction" ("Patricia Bryan Knapp," 1978) and the role of the undergraduate library within universities. As a major contributor to the Library College concept, Knapp is best known for her work with the Monteith project at Wayne State University, where she developed an experimental library instruction program featuring library-centered learning. Library-centered learning promoted the view that a college education should consist of a series of exercises in independent discoveries of the systems of ways and patterns in which knowledge is organized; this in preparation for life-long learning, rather than the usual accumulation of facts through lectures, assigned readings, and tests. The purpose of this paper is to examine Knapp's writings to determine if they remain valid today, with particular attention paid to their applicability in the current electronic environment. Although Knapp wrote on a variety of topics, this paper focuses upon her library instruction scholarship, and selected themes from Knapp's work are analyzed in relation to current literature.

  2. From 1945 to 1955 Knapp worked as a college librarian and assistant professor of English while studying for a doctorate at the University of Chicago. During this period, she wrote an article entitled "Suggested Program of College Instruction in the Use of the Library" (1956), in which she first articulated her view that library instruction should not merely be a fraction of the student's course of study but a central part of the student's college experience. This philosophy forms the basis of the Library College movement and was put into practice in the Monteith College experiment described below. Knapp commented that, "Competence in library use, like competence in reading, is clearly not a skill to be acquired once and for all at any one given level in any one given course. It is, rather, a complex of knowledge, skills and attitudes which must be developed over a period of time through repeated and varied experiences in the use of library resources" (p. 224).

  3. Competence in library use today obviously includes electronic information retrieval skills. Electronic sources constitute simply another format which must be mastered in the course of attaining library competence. Nipp (1991) stated that,
    [w]ith the exception of hardware mechanics and the availability of additional access points, bibliographic CD-ROM tools are no different from printed access tools; thus, their use should not alter the basic research process. Whether a CD-ROM product is a library's catalog or a periodical index, it simply automates one step in a multi-step process. The need for a basic understanding of the library--the arrangement of resources, library terminology, citation formats, holding tools, and services--remains the same. To truly take advantage of the CD-ROM format, users must understand it in the context of the process of which it is a part. (p. 42)

  4. Further, the view of library competence as a necessary component of a college education acquires even more urgency today because of the magnitude and complexity of information available in the electronic environment. Knapp's writings contain several themes which remain prominent in the current literature of library and information studies, especially as pertains to student use of electronic resources. These themes, which are explored below, include: the integration of library instruction with the curriculum, the importance of concepts and transferability, the low levels of student competence in library research, the complexity of library research competence, and the relationship between librarians and teaching faculty.


  5. In 1966, Knapp published the results of the Monteith project, an experiment in the library-college concept, in which she implemented the ideas put forth in "Suggested Program of College Instruction in the Use of the Library." Monteith College was an experimental college within Wayne State University, in which students had a close association with faculty, and learning was largely accomplished through independent study. Students received intensive and continual instruction in library use through planned units which were thoroughly integrated into the curriculum. By advocating a more vital relationship between the library and college teaching, Knapp maintained that course-relatedness in library instruction is not enough. The faculty member must communicate to the students the value of library competence, and library instruction must be an integral part of the curriculum.

  6. The integration of library instruction within the curriculum remains an unresolved issue, as is evidenced by the number of articles in bibliographic instruction literature dealing with this topic. A quick search of the past five years in the Library Literature database identified over a dozen references concerning the integration of library instruction into the curriculum, and in the words of one librarian, "...too often library instruction is an add-on exercise or a half hour on how to do your term paper better. Rarely is the library instruction woven into the fabric of the course" (Dowell, 1986, p. 165). Dennis and Harrington (1990), in describing the outcomes of a Teaching and Technology Conference held at Earlham College, concluded that there is an "unfinished agenda for incorporating bibliographic instruction into the curriculum" (p. 50).


  7. Knapp maintained that students must learn basic principles or concepts which can be generalized to many information seeking situations. Knapp made several recommendations at the completion of the two-year Monteith project. She wrote, "[w]e have concluded that library instruction at the college level must stem from a unifying theoretical concept of the library and one which embraces the bibliographic organization of scholarship." The unifying concept she proposed is teaching the "intellectual processes involved in retrieval of information and ideas from the complex system our society uses to organize its stored record" (1966, p. 81). Knapp called this the "system of ways." The user's pathway through the system of ways depends upon where the student is and where he or she wants to go. The student must learn the complex ways of the library system as they relate to the ways of the scholarly communication and the student's current status and information needs.

  8. Contemporary scholars in library instruction continue to champion concept-based instruction, and Knapp is frequently credited with being one of the first librarians to promote this approach for library instruction (Kobelski & Reichel, 1981; Lockwood, 1979, p. viii; Kuhlthau, 1987, p. 24). Baker and Sandore (1988) noted that research, professional experience, and the literature of electronic instruction has provided a "clear indication that we need to use models that provide searchers with an overview of online system use, and that instruction must be concept-based" (p. 4).

  9. Knapp's system of ways model is generic and applies to the total information environment. Kohl and Wilson (1986), in studying concept-based versus tool-based library instruction, promote an approach similar to Knapp's systems of ways:
    The traditional, tool-specific approach does not seem as helpful as an approach that focuses on helping students develop a more complex, appropriate, and individualized research strategy for themselves....If bibliographic instruction is to be effective, it needs to be recast into an approach that begins with the student's research question rather than the library tool and that focuses on understanding how information is organized rather than simply explaining the mechanics of how to use library tools. (p. 210)

  10. In an analysis of library instruction in the electronic environment, Shill (1987) cautions librarians against emphasizing "the use of individual access systems, such as online catalogs or personal computers, rather than on the systematic treatment of evolving information-access needs in an increasingly electronic, distributed-use environment" (p. 438). Knapp's concern with instructing students in the system of scholarly communication closely parallels Keresztesi's (1982) analysis of how the development of scientific disciplines relates to their bibliographic topography (organization) and maturity. Undoubtedly, Knapp would have been intrigued by the ways in which electronic technologies are changing the landscape of scholarly communication.


  11. In her description of the Monteith experiment, Knapp (1969) noted that students often think they know more about library research than they actually do, and they are uncritical in their choice of sources (p. 41). Similar statements abound in the recent literature concerning student use of electronic formats, and several researchers have written about the "satisfied and inept user" (Plutchak, 1989). Steffey and Meyer (1990), in a study of CD-ROM use, concluded that users were so pleased with the electronic indexes, that it did not matter how satisfied they were with the number of citations retrieved or with the value of those citations. In a study of patron database selection, Allen (1990) found that 20% of students selected the least appropriate database for their subject matter, and another 58% were unable to select the most appropriate database. Miller, Kirby, and Templeton (1988) found that of 500 search statements input by students, 37% produced no results because of errors, while 75% indicated lost opportunities due to a lack of searching skills. Ironically, despite poor results, user satisfaction was high. Thus, students tend to overrate their competence in library research and underrate its complexity.


  12. Knapp (1970) argued that library competence is complex and stated that,
    [t]he faculty has limited understanding of the intellectual processes involved in sophisticated library competence. We must avoid technical, high schoolish programs of instruction in the use of the library, developing and using, instead, individual self-teaching devices to convey such how-to-do-it skills to those students who need them....Since we are far from secure in our own understanding of the intellectual processes in library use, we must also strive to overcome this weakness by attempting constantly to identify and make explicit these processes in our own work. (p. 39)

  13. Knapp's emphasis on the complexity involved in library competence has even more relevance in the electronic age. Not only has a new format been introduced, but the electronic format shares many of the same complexities of print along with new complexities such as multiple access points and boolean logic. Oberman (1991) has suggested that the world of information has become so complex and the modern electronic supercatalog offers such an overwhelming array of information choices that users become confused and anxious. The complexity of the online environment, according to Oberman, underscores the need for library instruction to address cognitive objectives such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information sources. However, in order for librarians to develop instruction which meets these objectives, they must have collaborative relationships with teaching faculty.


  14. Knapp was also concerned with the relationship between the librarian and the teaching faculty. In "The Library, the Undergraduate and the Teaching Faculty" (1970), she analyzed the social structure of colleges and universities in relation to the librarian's low position in the pecking order. Knapp maintained that the professionalization of the disciplines, wherein faculty come to identify more with their discipline than with their institution, causes excessive emphasis on research, inadequate concern for teaching, and fragmentation and compartmentalization of the institution. Further, the librarian is a generalist within an organization of specialists. All these factors contribute to a lack of attention to the overall program of general education and to weakened support for libraries and library instruction. Knapp recommended that librarians enlist support for library instruction from the faculty instead of by administrative fiat; that they offer maximum support for faculty teaching; and that they view library use skills not as an end in themselves but as a means to support faculty teaching objectives. Knapp initially argued that library use instruction should be presented by the teaching faculty, because she felt this enabled students to see library competence as an integral part of the real business of higher education. However, due to difficulties encountered in the early stages of the Monteith experiment, Knapp later altered this position and recommended that the librarian present the instruction with the faculty member's active collaboration.

  15. The relationships between librarians and teaching faculty remains problematic today, as evidenced by the dozens of recent citations to articles on this topic. In 1990, Dennis and Harrington argued that many library programs dealing with electronic information technologies actually fulfill the wishes of librarians, not faculty members and student end-users; that librarians often gauge the success of electronic instruction from the librarian's viewpoint; that librarians' library-centered views of information technologies often prevent them from appreciating faculty concerns; and that librarians should look at technologies from the faculty viewpoint in order to develop effective library instruction programs (p. 48).In a 1988 article about search behavior, Nahl-Jakobovits and Jakobovits (1988) stated that,
    [t]he old model has evolved into a routine, unquestioned expectation regarding the librarian-professor relationship: librarians are generalists who know about the location of information while professors are experts who know the information in a field. The contrast here is between `knowing about knowing' (the librarian) versus `knowing' (the faculty). This model leads to the idea in library education that the preparation of librarians should include majoring in an academic discipline to acquire a deeper knowing and to facilitate communication with scholars. (pp. 401-2)

  16. Two recent studies (Thomas, 1994; Thomas & Ensor, 1984) of faculty attitudes toward library instruction found that many faculty believed students should learn library skills on their own, just as the faculty themselves had learned library skills. Thomas reported that although 68.3% of faculty had used electronic library sources, only 28.6% mentioned computerized library instruction in their courses. Of faculty who introduced computerized searching to their classes, only 36.9% reported that instruction provided by a librarian was their method of choice, and 45.1% of those faculty preferred to do it themselves in their lectures (Thomas, 1994, pp. 220-1). Clearly, the relationship between librarians and teaching faculty has not improved appreciably since the advent of electronic library technologies.


  17. The major themes of Patricia Knapp's work remain as relevant today as they were when she began writing 40 years ago. The popularity of specific electronic tools such as ERIC, Medline, PsycLIT, and the World Wide Web threatens to bring renewed emphasis on tool-based instruction. If the study of history is valuable in informing present practice, the most significant lesson we can learn from Knapp is that progress in the electronic era will not be served by a return to tool-based instruction for popular electronic resources, despite great demand for such instruction.

  18. Knapp's observations about the complexity of library research competence have even more significance in the technological era, because information access has never been more complex. Critics may argue that the client-centered paradigm calls for library information systems which conform to the user's needs, rather than the user having to learn the library's "systems of ways." However, an integrated system of knowledge organization which fits the needs of all users has yet to be designed; thus, for the foreseeable future users will still need to navigate multiple "systems of ways" for both electronic and print formats in order to achieve information literacy.

  19. The perennial problems Knapp identified, namely integrating library instruction with the curriculum, developing professional partnerships with faculty, communicating the importance and complexity of library competence to the academic community, and providing effective instruction, have remained unchanged and apply equally to the traditional and electronic environments. In addition to the major themes discussed here, Knapp also promoted learning "by experience" and the value of small group discussion, both components of active learning methods which are now recognized as essential elements of effective library instruction. Recently Sydney Pierce (1992) challenged librarians to identify our "dead Germans," or principle theorists, in library and information studies. In spite of the surprisingly small amount of scholarship on Knapp, she would clearly be a candidate for a list of our "dead Germans."


Allen, G. (1990). Database selection by patrons using CD-ROM. College & Research Libraries, 51(1), 69-75.

Baker, B., & Sandore, B. (1988). Effective information retrieval: A model for teaching and learning. Paper presented at the LITA Second National Conference, October 4, 1988, Boston, MA.

Dennis, N., & Harrington, N. D. (1990). Librarian and faculty member differences in using information technologies: A prerequisite for developing effective bibliographic instruction programs. Reference Services Review, 18(3), 47-52.

Dowell, C. V. (1986). Weaving library skills into the curriculum. RQ, 26(2), 165-167.

Keresztesi, M. (1982). The science of bibliography: Theoretical implications for bibliographic instruction. In C. Oberman and K. Strauch (Eds.), Theories of bibliographic education: Designs for teaching. New York: Bowker.

Knapp, P. B. (1956). A suggested program of college instruction in the use of the library. Library Quarterly, 26(3), 224-231.

Knapp, P. B. (1966). The Monteith College library experiment. New York: Scarecrow.

Knapp, P. B. (1970). The library, the undergraduate, and the teaching faculty. Paper presented at the Institute on Training for Service in Undergraduate Libraries, University of California, San Diego, August 17-21, 1970, pp. 3-39.

Kobelski, P., & Reichel, M. (1981). Conceptual frameworks for bibliographic instruction. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 7(2), 73-77.

Kohl, D. F., & Wilson, L. A. (1986). Effectiveness of course-integrated bibliographic instruction in improving coursework. RQ, 26(2), 206-211.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1987). An emerging theory of library instruction. School Library Media Quarterly, 16(1), 23-28.

Lockwood, D. L. (1979). Library instruction: A bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Miller, N.; Kirby, M.; & Templeton, E. (1988). MEDLINE on CD-ROM: End-user searching in a medical school library. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 7(3), 1-13.

Nahl-Jakobovits, D., & Jakobovits, L. A. (1988). Problem-solving, creative librarianship and search behavior. College & Research Libraries, 49(5), 400-408.

Nipp, D. (1991). Back to basics: Integrating CD-ROM instruction with standard user education. Research Strategies, 9(1), 41-47.

Oberman, C. (1991). Avoiding the cereal syndrome, or, Critical thinking in the electronic environment. Library Trends, 39(3), 189-202.

Patricia Bryan Knapp. (1978). In B. S. Wynar (Ed.), Dictionary of American Library Biography (pp. 289-290). Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Pierce, S. (1992). Dead Germans and the Theory of librarianship. American Libraries, 23(8), 641-643.

Plutchak, T. S. (1989). On the satisfied and inept user. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 8(1), 45-48.

Shill, H. B. (1987). Bibliographic instruction: Planning for the electronic information environment. College & Research Libraries, 48(5), 433-453.

Steffey, R. J., & Meyer, N. (1990). Evaluating user success and satisfaction with CD-ROM. Laserdisk Professional, 3(5), 35-44.

Thomas, J. (1994). Faculty attitudes and habits concerning library instruction: How much has changed since 1982? Research Strategies, 12(4), 209-223.

Thomas, J., & Ensor, P. (1984). The University faculty and library instruction. RQ, 23(4), 431-437.