The Information Literacy Framework: Confessions of a One-Time Skeptic

Happy New Year!

I start my 2015 blogged year with a post about the new Framework for Information Literacy, partially in response to the petition from NJ librarians and partially because our work on the committee is now complete and I feel a little less weird about writing a blog post about the work, since I am a committee member. (Side note: I joined the committee late in 2013 to provide representation for liberal arts/small colleges.) This post does not represent the committee officially in any way.

Honestly, I sort of ignored some of the early work of the Task Force rewriting the Standards. I mean, I was in complete agreement that the Standards needed to be updated but I also largely ignored them when I taught. I’ve worked at a community college, a medium sized public university, a large public university, a liberal arts college and a master’s level Jesuit college now and most of my best teaching did not happen because I referred to or based it on The Standards. But, when I first read the then draft of the Framework and attended an online forum back in 2013, I was a bit skeptical. Honestly, I have always bristled at the term metaliteracy, because I thought our profession didn’t need new terminology, just new ways of approaching students, teaching, and assessment. I’ve always said that I don’t care what you call it, I care how you do it. But, the term metaliteracy was never my jam. In an April 2014 face to face meeting, our committee talked a lot about it and, in the last draft, I feel it is still present, but not as front and center as it once was and I am comfortable with that. Secondly, I really did not understand the threshold concepts or the approach at all. Well, I’ve since learned more than I thought I ever would. 🙂

So, once I became more comfortable with the document and really saw how hard the whole Task Force was working on it, I respected their work and I saw a place for our work within our profession. In my experience with ACRL and ALA, I have never seen a committee be so thorough with the feedback they received, both positive and negative.

I have friends, very close friends, who disagree with the document, or pieces of it. That’s fine. I can respect their opinions and I think they respect mine. This document, to me, is the beginning of a new place for information literacy. I think it’s a document that serves as a Framework and a tool for librarians to be empowered to have conversations with university administration, faculty, and others, about teaching and learning, and about information literacy as a discipline and where our students are.

No, it is not a “Standards” document with a check list of skills. But, honestly? As a new instruction librarian, I referred to that little turquoise booklet a few times and then I thought, this can’t be all there is to teaching. I need some imagination in this stuff because even I’m bored.

And so began my forcing myself to have real conversations with faculty. I’d ask them things like, “What do you wish your students were able to do?” “What kind of work do you think they could create?” “What do they come to this school being able to do?” “What does a graduate of X college look like?”

Those conversations, and the gathering of some assessment data, were what got my library a golden chance at building an information literacy program integrated into our curriculum as part of our SACS accreditation. No one from SACS ever asked me if we used “The Standards” to write our plan or our definition. They were impressed with our imagination and the way we planned to work closely to collaborate with faculty to write and assess assignments, redesign courses, norm rubrics together, and host interdisciplinary workshops. In fact, we often spent time at those workshops defining information literacy across the disciplines. What does this term mean to a chemist, as opposed to a historian?

This brings me to the petition from the NJ librarians (which now includes more than just NJ librarians). People I admire and respect greatly have signed the petition. That’s their right. But here is my response to them, not as a member of this committee, but as someone with 14 years of experience in information literacy instruction (and a few more teaching years as a history TA).

My thoughts:

I, personally, was on the fence about sunsetting the Standards–only in terms of how long they should stay around. But I am not now. The Old Standards cannot coexist with this Framework. People will cling to that old document and do nothing to move their instruction, their program, or campus IL discussion forward. As it exists, the Old Standards are not compatible with the new Framework. If you feel that strongly about the Old Standards, print out a few copies and keep teaching to them.

The word Standards is important, sure. But I cannot believe that calling a document The Standards is what will get you respect and traction on a campus in order to build real information literacy into a curriculum. Also, I do not believe that it is the existence of a document called The Standards that helps us align with any outcomes in regards to accreditation. I do not believe that encouraging each campus to develop their own outcomes and instructional plans sets us back as a profession. In fact, I think it moves us forward.

Personally, I believe someone or a group of someones will eventually map the Old Standards to the Framework. I mean, if it’s important to someone, they’ll do it. Also, I totally think that there is a lot of hard work ahead of us as librarians. My own institution is going to work on learning outcomes, guided by the Framework, that work with our new core curriculum. But, I also believe that I have seen such amazing, positive energy come out of the drafts of the framework already, that I believe we are at a turning point in information literacy. I have been invigorated to hear others talk about this Framework, and even I was a skeptic once.

We can all agree to disagree, but at the end of the day, we are (I think) here to foster creativity, critical thinking, and student learning. I believe The Framework will help us do that.

For more excellent thoughts on The Framework, check out Troy Swanson’s post, too.

One thought on “The Information Literacy Framework: Confessions of a One-Time Skeptic

  1. I agree with quite a lot here and I think the key is what was threaded throughout your post: people need to do what makes sense locally and use the terms and ideas that resonate with faculty and other stakeholders at their institution. I had a lot of issues with the Standards, but the biggest one was the complete lack of affective and dispositional outcomes that are so key to developing research and critical thinking skills. These aren’t just mechanical tasks like tightening bolts. There’s a way of thinking and approaching things that is key to success.

    That said, I think people will “do nothing to move their instruction, their program, or campus IL discussion forward” with or without the standards/framework/purple spaghetti monster. I’m only skeptical that the existence of the Framework will move anyone but those who grok threshold concepts (like me and many of my colleagues) forward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *