Academic Libraries and Their Role in Combating Academic Dishonesty

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Academic dishonesty is not a new concern for institutions of higher education. For decades studies have focused on academically dishonest behavior in an effort to understand and quantify its existence within higher education. Within the past two decades, an additional caveat has emerged, from both researchers and observing members of higher education, suggesting that advances in technology are increasingly facilitating academic dishonesty, whether willful or not. In order to combat academic dishonesty, university and college libraries must take an active role as both instructional partners and non-judgmental sources of information about academic integrity, especially as related to proper and ethical writing practices.


The founding of the Center for Academic Integrity in 1992 [1] in an effort to consolidate knowledge about and establish a commitment to academic integrity in academic institutions across North America, [2] was a recent and clear signal that academic dishonesty is a significant and universal concern to institutes of higher education. [3] Academic dishonesty includes several subsets of behaviors which include plagiarism, cheating, falsifications, and authorship conflict. [4] However, acknowledgement of the exact hierarchy of academic dishonesty behaviors, or if there even is a hierarchy of behaviors which make up academic dishonesty is not consistently made explicit among researchers or institutes of higher education. [5] Nonetheless, academic dishonesty, in its many forms, has been and likely always will be an unfortunate part of higher education. [6] 


The vast majority of research on academically dishonest behavior documents the phenomenon among undergraduate students, with far less study focusing on the behavior among graduate students. However, graduate students are not immune to the dangers and pitfalls of academic dishonesty. Patti Schifter Caravello attempts to assemble and evaluate several studies focusing on academic dishonesty among graduate students in several different disciplines, and suggests that propensity for the behavior varies among academic disciplines. [7] Caravello introduces her literature review by explaining that no study can equivocally and explicitly demonstrate what percentage of graduate students participate in academically dishonest behavior because self-reporting may in itself, not always be honest. [8] A study by Wajda-Johnston [9] found that while 73.1% of graduate participants stated they had not cheated in graduate school, when asked about specific acts considered to be dishonest, only 24.8% could still maintain they had not cheated. [10] This indicates either confusion over what constitutes academically dishonest behavior or reservation in labeling some self-participating grey-area behavior as dishonest. Caravello cites an article by Anderson [11] which reported at least 20% of graduate student participants had knowledge of every form of academic dishonesty (cheating, falsification, plagiarism, and authorship conflict) within their academic department, with some forms of dishonesty being reported by as many as 63% of the participants. [12] 

Motivation of Academic Dishonesty

Caravello identifies seven explanations or motivations for academically dishonest behavior among graduate students identified in the research studies she examined; these include academic workload pressure, competition/grades, pressure from faculty, observation of faculty compromising academic integrity, inadequate training, observation of peers compromising academic integrity, and low risk of being caught or punished. [13] These motivations or explanations for cheating can be organized into three groups: 1) Environmental- department influence; 2) Environmental- institution influence; and 3) Intrinsic- student authority. Each group maintains a particular set of catalysts and resulting methods for prevention or correction.

The departmental environment's influence on graduate student academic integrity is of significant concern to institutions of higher education. Recent articles on the subject have shed light on some faculty's practice in curriculum adoption and presentation which in execution opposes the tenets of academic integrity. Claims have been made that faculty often use un-cited material in lectures and presentations, which undermines messages received by students about academic dishonesty; and, argument has been made that without demonstrating proper academic integrity, faculty cannot expect to uphold it in their courses. [14] Additionally, students who report knowing faculty will turn a blind-eye to minor infractions, or simply will not take the time to investigate possible cases of dishonestly are significantly more likely to participate in academically dishonest behavior themselves. [15] Recent headlines discussing the plagiarism scandal at in University of Ohio's engineering school ferreted out by graduate student Thomas Matrka has additionally illustrated the possibility of lacking academic integrity among professors influencing student behavior. [16] 

Institutional environmental factors that influence academic integrity include policy and the active implementation of policy for both students and faculty. Most studies indicate that students' awareness of policy, definitions and concepts surrounding academic integrity is not sufficient to prevent academic dishonesty. While intensified efforts to make policy more explicit are encouraged to support students, including provision of clear definitions and examples of honest and dishonest work [17] ; equally important are the institutions' efforts to evoke a strong sense of academic integrity among faculty. [18] Additionally, students in several studies indicate that they feel uncertain, uncomfortable, or even discouraged to notify faculty and/or administrators when academic dishonesty is observed. As a result, Baldwin et al. recommend that proper channels for reporting concerns of academic dishonesty be established and identified for students [19] ; this will reinforce both the practice of academic integrity and exhibit the institutions commitment to its pursuit. [20] 

Intrinsic factors which are known to influence academic integrity receive dominant focus in the majority of research, and have in the past been recognized as the primary, if not sole, motives for academic dishonesty. One intrinsic factor which can affect academic integrity, both positively and negatively, is the student's self-perception of understanding or knowledge of the subject. [21] While there is some indication that student perception of faculty knowledge of literature pertaining to their subject field is a deterrent for academic dishonesty, students who feel inadequate at expressing their views of an unfamiliar subject are more likely to plagiarize than their more confident peers. [22] Graduate students in disciplines such as business and engineering are at a greater risk for academic dishonesty as a result of self- or externally- imposed emphasis on earning grades rather than learning material; these students may see plagiarism or cheating as low-risk means of keeping up with professional environment requirements. [23] Possibly the most significant intrinsic factor motivating or facilitating academic dishonesty, which relates predominantly to plagiarism, is ignorance or unfamiliarity with proper writing habits. Students who are unaware of proper citation styles, use of paraphrasing and quoting, and common knowledge concepts are at high risk for what may be called accidental or ignorant academic dishonesty. [24] Finally, common thought indicates that academic dishonesty can, and may often be, a direct result of students with low or unethical personal academic standards; however, the majority of research indicates this suggestion holds true for only a small percentage of students committing academic dishonesty. [25] 

Institutional Efforts to Promote Academic Integrity

The vast majority of research on academic dishonesty among graduate students suggests that increased emphasis on ethics and proper practice training are necessary to promote academic integrity; however, study results indicate that ethics courses alone have little if any positive effect on academic integrity. [26] Caravello suggests this inclination to promote ethics education is thus an emotional response to the phenomenon based on the perceived primary contributing factor of a lack of ethics, not on the primary contributing factors detected in research. [27] Policy and related punishments for violation thereof are also suggested, but some researchers worry threats of penalty should not be the primary motivation for proper completion of assignments. [28] Additional concern is raised when faculty are found lacking academic integrity, leaving policy without teeth or seemingly-hypocritical; thus, it is suggested institutions and departments evaluate and work with faculty to ensure proper practices are followed and appropriate examples provided for students. [29] Finally, research suggests additional training specifically focused on key aspects of academic dishonesty such as plagiarism, paraphrasing, cheating, and rights of use should be provided for all students, and should include examples of both what should be done and what should not be done. [30] 

Technology and Academic Dishonesty

Within the past twenty years, technology has evolved significantly, and increasingly occupies a more dominant role in academe. Though the benefits of these technological evolutions are indisputable, and include increasing ease of access, composition, research and communication, many experts blame modern technology for academic dishonesty. [31] However, while it can be argued that the cut and paste nature of electronic information may be conducive to academic dishonesty, it can hardly be labeled the cause.

Plagiarism and authorship falsification are significant concerns, as students are able to cut and paste together patchwork documents or purchase complete papers from online sources. While purchasing papers is clearly a violation of academic integrity, research findings regarding student perceptions of electronic information illustrate a growing concern over accurate and complete understanding of free-use. Research indicates a growing misconception among students that because information found online is available freely, it may be used without citation. [32] 

However, just as developments in technology have made it easier for academic dishonesty to take place, they have also made it easier to detect. [33] Web-based services such as and Google can be used to analyze submitted documents against online documents for excessive or inappropriate similarities. [34] As tudy by Mark McCullough and Melissa Holmberg of 210 master's theses using detected 57 possible incidents of plagiarism which should be further evaluated by the instructor. [35] However, paper mills where students can purchase pre-fabricated papers exist as part of the invisible Internet, and because they are not indexed in the same manner as other Web sites, are not always detectible through these systems. [36] 

Academic Libraries as a Partner for a Solution

In an environment where scare tactics are the traditional method of deterrence, [37] academic libraries maintain a unique position in the higher education environment with respect to academic integrity. As both the source of information for students and partner in instruction for faculty, libraries can fill an effective and necessary role in the fight to combat academic dishonesty.

Library Training for Academic Integrity

Because of the inextricable nature existent between the resources libraries provide and their necessary use by students, libraries maintain a prime locus and opportunity to provide students with comprehensive training and instruction on academic integrity and legitimate and proper use of resources as documented support. As purveyors of information, libraries and librarians have an academic and ethical obligation to provide students with information or instruction on how to properly use resources and information in their courses, and personal and professional lives. [38] Proper use of information can be conveyed using lectures, seminars, and/or paper or Web-based documents. [39] 

In 2003 University of Tennessee (UT) Library developed a series of plagiarism workshops. Initially intended to primarily serve undergraduates, the popularity of the workshops and demand for services for additional audiences resulted in modifications being made to the program tailored to the needs of faculty and graduate assistants. [40] In addition, the library developed a guide about plagiarism and an information literacy tool kit to assist students and faculty in discerning proper use and citation of sources. Through these efforts, the UT Library found that collaboration and communication with both students and faculty were critical to the success of development and implementation of effective academic integrity initiatives. [41] 

Rather than simply teaching students how to properly cite information, Emily Dust Nimsakont suggests that a more significant lesson can be taught by educating students on why proper citation is important; and, she recommends that academic integrity initiatives should see to make students more aware of intellectual property and how violations of rights directly affect their own learning and creative processes. [42] Academic integrity should be an integral part of the research process en bloc; [43] and thus, should be approached with students multiple times over the course of their academic career. [44] Several researchers have emphasized the importance of providing examples [45] for student reference in concert with direct instruction on writing with academic integrity, or more specifically without academic dishonesty. [46] 

Librarians as Instructors in Academic Integrity

In order to emphasize their role as instructors, librarians should accentuate academic integrity education as opposed to academic integrity training. The semantics encapsulated in this concept are meant to illustrate the librarian and student as intellectual participants in an evolving field. Rather than dictate to students proper practice, librarians are encouraged to use participative instruction, and encourage students to view the library as a testing ground of sorts. [47] 

Some concern exists that because librarians rarely have regular or scheduled interaction with students, they are at a disadvantage when providing instruction. [48] However, Lise Buranen views the librarian's relative position within the academic institution to the student as a significant advantage for the purposes of academic integrity instructional issues. Librarians, she notes, establish a significant amount of knowledge about both proper use of resources and subject matter; and thus, are viewed by students as knowledgeable authorities from whom they may seek advice. [49] 

In addition, because the library is already a crucial part of research, librarians are positioned to aid in traditional research elements such as choosing a topic and resources, as well as proper use of references and citations. [50] This closeness to student research coupled with subject field knowledge can thus help students more accurately determine what information constitutes common knowledge and what information requires a citation. [51] With this form of collaboration, academic integrity lessons are proactive and educational, as opposed to reactive and, often punitive. And, by using this form of open-education, libraries can help to significantly reduce the number of accidental incidents of academic dishonesty.

Finally, and possibly of most consequence to students, librarians have no ethical, professional, or legal obligation to report violations of academic integrity. [52] As a result, librarians may be viewed by students as non-judgmental sources of information regarding proper use of information. This increases the likelihood a confused or uncertain student will seek help from someone able to provide accurate information without fear of retribution or rebuke. [53] Additionally, it allows the librarian to correct actual student attempts and emphasize grey areas on a student-by-student basis; [54] in this way, instruction can be tailored to each student to stress areas needing improvement without overly reiterating understood topics.

Library Solutions to Academic Dishonesty

As guardians of knowledge, librarians are logical proctors of the proper utilization of that knowledge, and thus, should be active participants in preventative measures to combat academic dishonesty. [55] Academic librarians should be dynamic members both in development of academic integrity instruction, [56] tools, and guides, and in the implementation and promotion of these programs and resources. [57] Because librarians are able to engage students during the research process, they are able to serve as knowledgeable yet judgment-free experts which students will likely feel naturally inclined to consult for assistance. [58] However, in order for programs and aides to be utilized to their fullest possibility, the library must work in concert with faculty and the institution to promote these services and their benefit to the students and higher education as a whole.

Library resources and training to promote academic integrity should be available in several forms and methods. In addition to conducting lessons, tutorials, and/or lectures, libraries should offer one-on-one counseling, as well as independently accessible guides, Web-tutorials, or handouts. [59] By offering several options, the library increases the likelihood that more students will take advantage of the academic integrity services provided. If possible, the library should work closely with the institution's writing lab to better understand localized needs and trends relating to academic integrity. Library should work very closely with faculty to promote library services and establish better consistency concerning academic integrity throughout the institution.

Because some research indicates confusion over copy-right and free-use is blurring the lines of academic integrity for some students in our increasingly digital age, libraries should develop workshops, lectures, or tutorials (Web-based or in person) which address these issues with a particular focus on Internet and electronic resources. [60] By educating students in proper use of Internet sources regarding content and referencing, the library will not only promote academic integrity, but will also contribute to the world of knowledge and research by improving resource selection criteria and skills among students. Students may be especially receptive to instruction of this nature because of its immediate and beneficial outcome of improved work products.


The battle to promote academic integrity is a continual effort which must be undertaken jointly by students, faculty, libraries and institutions of higher education. [61] Because the library is both a source of reference information and style information, librarians maintain a special role as knowledgeable guides able to help navigate students through and out of the murky waters of academic dishonesty. Through the use of lectures, instructional session, one-on-one consultations, Web-based guides and tutorials academic libraries can assist students in developing strong academic integrity by providing them with knowledge and confidence to locate and utilize resources properly and with discernment.

However, the library cannot combat academic dishonesty alone. Student perception of the need for academic integrity is crucial. [62] Studies suggest that being aware of policy is not a strong enough deterrent; and, as a result, focus should be placed on emphasizing the benefits to the student and their contribution (or detriment) to the greater body of knowledge within academe.

Table 1 - Summary of Studies Reviewed by Caravello [1] 



Participants Reporting Dishonesty

Type of dishonesty, if noted.

Vacha-Haase (1995) [2] 




Sandler & Russell (2005) [3] 



Authorship conflict

Love & Simmons (1998) [4] 




Acadia study, Anderson (1993) [5] 


> 40%


Prior (1998) [6] 



Authorship conflict

Brown (1995) [7] 




Martin (2005) [8] 




Langlais (2006) [9] 

Science & Engineering



McCullogh and Holmbern (2005) [10] 




Baldwin, Daugherty, Rowley & Schwartz (1996) [11] 




Bilge, Shugerman, & Robertson (1998) [12] 



Authorship conflict

Dans (1996) [13]