Information Literacy: A Relevant Tangent

Hello. I’m the librarian. I’m here because we’re talking mostly about the same thing. I am working to bring a related set of learning concepts – information literacy – into harmony with the RSD framework. The overlap is obvious. The service one can render to the other might be powerful.

That being said, information literacy in the library world is changing. If you’re familiar with the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education from the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), you might have a bland taste in your mouth (and for good reason, but that’s a conversation over strong drinks). Don’t leave! I have great news!

ACRL is currently revising, for release in January 2015, an entirely new, qualitative approach to information literacy. The current Standards read as a list of decontextualized learning objectives that easily devolve into “push-that-magic-button-and-information-will-appear” (which immediately leads into panicked shouts of, “No! Not that button! Wikipedia is naughty!”). The new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education honors the complexity of the information landscape. We’re talking information ecosystems, people. This librarian is excited to finally start saying it how it is. And the Framework doesn’t sacrifice usefulness in favor of pure theory. In fact, (you know, to bring us back around to our actual point of gathering), I think it might greatly inform how we can move students from one RSD Facet of Research to another. Let’s get that scaffold skill-set, spiral thingy going.

Because the Framework is new and still in process, I can’t claim expertise. But let me outline the significant pieces of the 2nd draft published in June 2014 (Update 11/13/14 – 3rd Draft now available). I know you’ll recognize at least a few of the theoretical approaches.

Frames/Threshold Concepts

Frames are the core concepts that students must master in order to meaningfully navigate an information ecosystem that is inherently relational, highly contextual, and where “students must ‘make meaning’ of an extremely mutable set of information resources and processes, and must tolerate ambiguity within a learning environment in which fixed reference points are becoming less ‘fixed’” (ACRL, 2014, pg. 24). The Framework directly addresses threshold concepts, those “gateway” concepts that divide a novice who is dependent on step-by-step instructions from a nimble expert in any disciplinary arena. Threshold concepts target “bottlenecks of understanding,” challenges or gaps (pg. 25) that most often keep students from moving, if you will, from one RSD facet to another. ACRL has identified six core information literacy frames (threshold concepts)(pg. 2):

  1. Scholarship is a Conversation
  2. Research as Inquiry
  3. Authority is Contextual and Constructed
  4. Format as Process
  5. Searching as Exploration
  6. Information has Value

Knowledge Practices

This is where it gets practical. These are the listed abilities an information consumer-creator must have in order to navigate the information ecosystem with increased skill. They are not listed in a vacuum, but instead attached to one or more of the framework/threshold concepts. And they are suggestions meant to be used, discarded, modified or multiplied based on the local (think polytechnic, disciplinary) ecosystem.


And this is where it gets pedagogical. The draft Framework document points out two poignant truths that we can’t ignore, but rarely give ourselves permission to consider. First, threshold concepts are inherently “troublesome,” making students feel insecure as they struggle to move from one level to another. Second, that students learn best as whole people, with their affect moving together with their cognition. The Dispositions section of the Framework will provide pedagogical guidance to faculty or self-reflection tools for students to help create a whole-person openness to learning.

ACRL notes that the finished Framework will be followed by the creation of a databases of assignment prompts to assist instructors.

ACRL. (2014, June 17). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from

Update 11/13/14

The 3rd Draft of the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education was posted yesterday.  Final draft is due out in January, but I don’t suspect it will differ much from this one.


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