I’m sure most of you have already heard that the ACRL Board has decided to adopt the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. What I think is more interesting is that they deferred action on the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, choosing instead to take a wait-and-see approach. I think this is a very wise decision and applaud it. There certainly was no lack of concern about the Framework and the sunsetting of the Standards, as evidenced by many critical blog posts and the Open Letter to the ACRL Board, written by librarians in New Jersey which garnered many signatories including some big names like Megan Oakleaf, Esther Grassian, and Patricia Ianuzzi. I think the most concerning part of sunsetting the Standards to me (which I hadn’t thought of until I read the open letter) was the potential impact of this on accrediting bodies, state groups, etc. that have used the Standards to carve an important role for information literacy in these spaces. I don’t know that sunsetting the Standards will be as disastrous as described in the open letter, but it makes sense to be cautious.
I appreciate the tremendous work that went into the creation of this document. Knowing that it took me over a year to get my colleagues at Portland State to a final draft of our instruction program’s learning outcomes, I can’t imagine what an undertaking it would be to get such a theoretical document adopted by a national membership organization. Kudos to the Task Force, many of whose members I know and respect greatly. While I don’t love every aspect of the final product, I appreciate their Herculean effort and how difficult it must have been to incorporate so much feedback. Bravo!
While I disliked the tone of the Open Letter, I thought it was important to show how many librarians were dissatisfied with the recommendations of the task force. Everyone was allowed to comment on the Framework (via survey) through its various iterations, but unless someone posted their response to their own blog, the comments were not made public. We knew what our issues were with the Framework and maybe the issues of our colleagues, but only the task force saw the full scope of the feedback they were receiving. I think it might have made more sense to make the draft Framework available on something like CommentPress, where people could publicly comment on it. It would have increased the transparency of the process and maybe would have made people feel that their concerns were being heard.
I’m not entirely happy with the Framework, though it is greatly improved from its first draft (on which I published detailed thoughts). Metaliteracy (or transliteracy) has always felt to me like the “Library 2.0” of information literacy. Library 2.0 came into vogue, was overused, garnered a lot of conversation and controversy, and disappeared when everyone realized that Library 2.0 was just about being a good librarian (old wine in new bottles). The things described as metaliteracy may not have been in evidence in the Standards, but I believe they have been in evidence in the way librarians have approached information literacy (just look at the literature on library instruction of the past decade).
Threshold concepts, on the other hand, feel new (at least to me) and important. Threshold concepts have made me think about information literacy and learning in very different ways (maybe threshold concepts ARE threshold concepts!), but I find it odd that we are structuring a guiding document of our profession on two particular learning theories, especially two that are fairly new and not embraced widely across the profession. I think threshold concepts are a brilliant way of thinking about how students develop disciplinary knowledge, but it feels odd and presumptuous to structure our profession’s guiding document around them and around metaliteracy.
I also can understand why some people had issues with the idea of using the Framework for assessment. I know some have argued that the knowledge practices and dispositions are like outcomes, but most are written as outcomes that are impossible to measure. We can’t measure that a student “values”, “respects”, “understands”, “appreciates”, “sees themselves as”, etc. We can only measure their ability to do x which may mean that they understand and value something, but it may just mean that they can do x because they were told to for the assignment. I won’t know that a student “develop[ed] and maintain[ed] an open mind when encountering varied and sometimes conflicting perspectives,” but I can tell from how they used sources whether they only chose those that supported their argument or whether they integrated multiple perspectives.
That said, many of these knowledge practices and dispositions can be easily turned into outcomes at our own institutions and seem to cover most of the same ground as the Standards did, though in a more thoughtful, less mechanistic way. And I think the addition of “Searching as Strategic Exploration” helped a lot in ensuring the Framework covered similar ground to the Standards.
While the idea of incorporating more student self-reflection into our work is lovely and a good goal, in most cases, I don’t have the time to determine whether a student has crossed a threshold; I barely have time to assess whether they’re demonstrating a grasp of a learning outcome. And I can see why defining such an ideal makes this document feel so far from the reality most of us are facing.
However, some of the hand-wringing I’ve seen on listservs about how the move towards the Framework and toward sunsetting the Standards is going to completely change their instruction programs seems crazy. Why does it have to? I haven’t met a librarian who told me that their library or institution requires them to be in lockstep with ACRL (maybe it’s the case at some, but I’m glad it’s not the world in which I live). ACRL isn’t exactly our accrediting body and my experience with accreditation is that they want you to be assessing outcomes, not “outcomes as defined by ACRL.” At Portland State, the outcomes we developed and adopted for our instruction program were loosely structured around and based on the Standards (among other documents like AASL’s) and I don’t imagine that it’s going to be a high priority to revise them in light of this change unless the library’s program of instruction changes. ACRL adopting the Framework doesn’t have change the way we teach unless we want it to. And while threshold concepts may impact some of our thinking and teaching, it does not mean we have to completely redo our outcomes or our rubrics if those are still what we hope to see from students and what we plan to assess. I don’t see myself using phrases like “format as a process” or “information has value,” even though I’ve been teaching (and will continue to teach) to many of the knowledge practices listed under those threshold concepts for years.
One thing that has made me bristle at the Framework is some of the paternalistic rhetoric I’ve heard about the Framework “moving librarians forward.” One person wrote that if we keep the Standards people will do nothing to move their instruction program forward. It makes me imagine backward librarians who support the Standards clinging to their old “BI” ways of teaching when there is this brilliant new way that they should be pushed towards for their own good. It reminds me of a lot of the rhetoric around Library 1.0 versus 2.0. The idea that libraries should have to change something that has worked and is working at their institution at all is silly. I also find the idea that this Framework is going to move people who are happy with the Standards forward silly. Is the Framework the law of the land? I love the idea of sharing new ideas and empowering people to make their own local decisions (not pushing them forward), and, in the end, I think that’s what the Framework will achieve.
The thing that surprised me the most from the task force was the complete dismissal of the idea of making linkages or crosswalks between Standards and the Framework. In looking at both documents, it seems a relatively easy thing to do, and Amanda Hovious at Designer Librarian has already made headway on this. My guess is that, in time, libraries, ACRL’s disciplinary sub-divisions, and other groups are going to develop learning outcomes based on the Framework and this will allay many of the concerns people have about it.
I do think that not sunsetting the Standards in the long-term could be problematic primarily because of what it will take to retain them. In coming up with a completely new document, the task force did not make changes to the standards (which was their original charge) because they recommended that the Standards be replaced instead of reworked. If the standards were kept, they would still require an overhaul, because ACRL (and plenty of librarians) found that it was not a match with current thinking about information literacy and instruction. On a practical level, maintaining two information literacy-focused guiding documents is a bear for the organization. Still, I think it was very wise not to sunset the Standards before we see how librarians take to the Framework.
In the end, it’s just a document, not a law, or even a “Standard” (a term which I dislike in association with information literacy and teaching). I appreciate the universe of things that have impacted my thinking about information literacy and teaching. Vygotsky’s Mind in Society. Threshold Concepts. The BEAM Model. Critical pedagogy. Carol Kulthau, Bob Schroeder, and Elyssa Stern-Cahoy’s explorations of the affective components of information literacy. The AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner which highlight some of the dispositional elements of information literacy. An amazing talk by Robert Farrell and Bill Badke on situating information literacy in the disciplines that they gave at Library Instruction West last summer. My experiences at Immersion. My experiences teaching and learning from my own successes and failures. Conversations with my colleagues on the job and within my larger network. The Framework will be another thing that I will read and may influence my thinking, but I feel no need whatsoever to be in lockstep with it.
We all should do what is best for the students at our institutions. We work in these weird spaces, mostly tucked into other programs’ curricula — sometimes as a regular component and sometimes at the whim of the instructor — and have to shape-shift to meet the unique needs and constraints of each situation. I am far more focused on the work the Developmental Education task force at my institution than the Framework, because of how embedded information literacy and library instruction currently are in much of the DE curriculum and how important it is for us to ensure it is embedded in meaningful ways in whatever the future DE curriculum looks like. I don’t see myself in the future talking “threshold concepts” with disciplinary faculty unless it seems like it’s an idea that is going to move the conversation forward. In some cases, we don’t use words like “information literacy” at all; we use terms like “research skills,” or “critical thinking skills,” or whatever is meaningful in that particular context. I’m more focused on the outcomes of the courses and programs I’m working with than those defined by our profession (though I see the value of locally defining what it is one’s library instruction program intends to achieve). The vision of information literacy as a discipline is lovely, but realistically, most of the time, we are playing the role of guests in someone else’s discipline. We can have our own goals and outcomes, but not defining them in concert with the disciplines we serve seems like a mistake.
What do you think of the ACRL Board’s decision? Will ACRL’s adoption of the Framework change your library’s outcomes or your approaches to teaching? If so, how?