Draft Framework for Information Literacy: Some Thoughts

In 2000 the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries.  In this same year I was a freshman in college and the internet was a new thing.  Most students were still using desktop computers, and the coffee shops were not yet full of people searching for outlets to plug in laptops.  I freely downloaded music from Napster with few thoughts of copyright issues because that was a conversation that was just getting started.  By the time I graduated there were more laptops at the coffee shops and Napster had filed for bankruptcy.  14 years later I have a powerful computer in my pocket and the time has come to rethink those 2000 standards.

The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education will soon replace the Standards for Information Literacy.  A draft of the first part of this new document was recently released, and the changes are significant.  It is clearly designed to address the changing information ecosystem by addressing trends such as the role of active learning and participatory culture in today’s learning environment, increased collaborative assignments that might require the use of multimedia resources and the role of student as creators (Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education FILHE, 2014).  In my personal experiences as a librarian I can attest to the rise of participatory culture and incorporation of active learning.  I’m seeing students work on more group projects and am seeing elements of the “flipped classroom” in the curriculum.  More students are asking about citing new media sources like YouTube and Twitter.  Given the vast changes that are going on, it seems a perfect time to revisit how we can best provide information literacy to the 21st century two-year college students.

What is changing?  The framework presents a new definition for Information Literacy that is expanded to include the value of critical thinking and the importance of collaboration.  The standards have been replaced by threshold concepts which are defined in the document’s glossary as “core or foundational concepts that, once grasped by the learner, create new perspectives and ways of understanding a discipline or challenging knowledge domain” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  For an idea of how the standards and thresholds compare, see the chart below:

Framework vs. Standards Table

Whereas the standards were broken down into performance indicators and outcomes the Thresholds are broken down into :

  • Knowledge practices (abilities)
  • Related metaliteracy learning objectives
  • Dispositions
  • Self-Assessments
  • Possible Assignments/Assessments

To get an idea of how the Threshold Concepts might work, let’s take a close look at the first Threshold Concept.  First of all, it steers away from the idea that there is one correct answer to a research query.  Instead, it encourages students to think critically about information.  The framework states, “While many questions can be answered by appeal to a single, authoritative source—the capital of a country or the atomic number of an element, for examples—scholarly research resists simple answers” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  The framework goes on to suggest the following in the dispositions section: “Learners who are developing their information literate abilities see themselves as contributors to scholarship rather than only consumers of it” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  I like this disposition for two reasons.  First of all, it focuses on collaboration and active learning.  Secondly, it ties into something I already discuss with students.  I am frequently asked why citations are important, and when this comes up I answer that writing papers is a way to share information and that the uniform style of citations makes it easier for those who are consuming the information to easily locate more information on the topic.  The new Framework gives me a better structure for working these kinds of teachable moments into my classroom sessions.  I feel like the simplicity and flexibility of threshold concepts will be helpful when working with non-traditional students who might be intimidated by the academic library.

Another addition to the new Framework is assignment suggestions.  I have previously written about the role of the librarian as teacher, and my hope is that including these suggestions will give us more opportunities to show administration and faculty our strengths as members of the academic team.  I’m also pleased that the assignments seem to be appropriate for all levels.  For example, an assignment suggestion for the first Threshold concept is: “Assign an entire class to conduct an investigation of a particular topic from its treatment in the popular media, and then trace its origin in conversations among scholars and researchers” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  I can easily see students benefiting from an assignment like this.  Rather than standing in front of them and lecturing about how there is a difference between popular and scholarly research, which is something that I regularly do, this gives them a chance to be an active participant.  I also think that including assignment ideas is helpful to new librarians.  Library school does not always prepare librarians for teaching classes, so including assignment examples in this document could give new librarians a place to start.  Finally, my most optimistic hope is that the inclusion of assignments and self-assessments is that it will help us make better arguments away from the one-shot information literacy sessions and provide a framework for faculty and administration to embrace more embedded librarianship and to be more collaborative.

So where do the unique needs of two-year college librarians come in?  In the introduction to the new threshold concepts, I was drawn to this quote: “An area that has not received much attention in the context of information literacy is the rise in professional master’s degrees at many institutions.  Students in these programs, who may have full time employment while completing their programs, have particular needs for efficient mechanisms for accessing and producing information” (FILHE draft, 2014).  Students who have full time employment while completing their program?  Sounds to me like this could apply to many two-year, non-traditional students equally as well as it applies to students in professional master’s degree programs.  As a matter of fact, we have written on this blog about how we teach and serve students whose lives are already busy trying to juggle the demands of family, school, and work.  The good news is that I think that the new Framework shifts away from teaching students how to use information only in the context of a formal research paper, and it takes into account different ways of information usage.  Two-year college librarians stand to benefit greatly from this change.

The draft Framework is not complete by any means, so I encourage you to take a look at it and give the committee feedback.  I think it is especially important that two-year college librarians be represented in this document’s creation (as the previous blog post reminds us), so I hope many of you read the Framework and fill out the survey.  The deadline for feedback is 5 p.m. Central on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, and the committee is asking that feedback be provided by filling out the form available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCVY3GW.  The next part of the draft will be released in April and will include more Threshold Concepts, Scenarios, and information on how to participate in a live online forum.

For more discussion on the new Framework check out the following:

Jacob Berg wrote about the Draft Framework in his blog: Beerbrarian.  He brings up some good discussion points regarding the appropriateness of including metaliteracy.

Barbara Fister wrote about the Framework on her blog: Library Babel Fish.  She makes note of how important it is that the new framework be inclusive and not privileged towards more traditional four-year college students.

Kulthau, C.C. (2013). Rethinking the 2000 Information Literacy Standards: Some Things to Consider. Communications in Information Literacy. 7 (2).


One thought on “Draft Framework for Information Literacy: Some Thoughts

  1. Overall, I’ve been impressed with the new “framework” rather than “standards” approach. But the “Format as Process” threshold concept has been bugging me, and I finally realized way. That title is too narrow to encompass the concept, and, I think, is a bit confusing. For example, a scholarly journal article may appear in different formats (printed in the journal and posted to the author’s website, for example), but is identical for all purposes other than citing. I think “Product as Process” would be a better title, and would encompass information sources that are different formats but essentially the same product. I’m curious what others think.


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