The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) is drafting a revision of their information literacy standards, which were last issued in 2000. It will now be a flexible framework (henceforth "framework"), rather than a set of prescriptive standards.
This has been an admirably inclusive and transparent process. The task force that is developing the framework has released two drafts, and solicited input via Survey Monkey and conference calls. There will also be an open forum to discuss the framework during the June American Library Association meeting.
In addition to these formal channels, a lively conversation in the blogosphere and on Twitter has developed. My overall sense is that people are impressed by the breadth of the proposed revision, but hesitant to fully endorse the framework. This is because it is unclear how to apply the framework in real-world settings, in which librarians often only have one-shot opportunities to present concepts of information literacy. (This was the pulse about the emerging framework at the recent California Conference on Library Instruction.) There is also concern about overuse of jargon or words without clearly understood definitions, such as "metaliteracy." Donna Witek and Jacob Berg have offered excellent critiques.
The discussions continue, and the new framework will be issued this fall. The complete drafts are extensive documents that merit broad consideration from librarians, faculty members, accreditors and students. This post is my effort to contribute to that ongoing conversation, by expressing my endorsement of key components of the framework. My support for two components is unequivocal: the introduction of "threshold concepts" into library parlance; and subsequently the introduction of threshold concept # 4, which that "authority is constructed and contextual." Further details below.
As part of the effort to make the framework more flexible and less prescriptive, a guiding principle in the new framework is that of "threshold concepts." Threshold concepts have been delineated for many fields. They are the core concepts a student needs to succeed in any discipline.
Mastery of these thresholds indicates "no going back" to a previous, more simplified understanding. Based on the seminal work of Meyer and Land, thresholds concepts are: transformative (students understand why something is a particular way, not just that it is so); integrative (these concepts allow for drawing connections between different fields); irreversible (no going back); troublesome (because they challenge previously settled understandings); and bounded (ie, discipline specific.)
Except for boundedness--which is a questionable concept for any field if we truly wish to be interdiciplinary--all of the other components of thresholds apply to information literacy. For students to be truly skilled consumers and creators of information, they will need to cross every threshold. The draft framework proposes sample assignments that can assist students with this. These assignments are guides and not mandates. The framework leaves it to librarians at local institutions--in partnership with faculty members--to flesh out the specifics.
After defining threshold concepts, the framework details several such concepts that are applicable to information literacy. I am in love with # 4, for the reasons described below.
Threshold Concept # 4: Authority is Constructed and Contextual
The concept in full: "Authority of information resources depends upon their origins, the information need, and the context in which those information resources were created and will be used. Experienced researchers understand that the level of information quality needed for a particular purpose varies, will ue various types of evaluative criteria to match that purpose, and will trust the authority of that information with an attitude of informed skepticism, remaining open to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought."
Crucially, this concept holds for all information types--from the venerable textbook that is now in its 10th edition to this blog post you are reading. Authority for any particular source is never automatically conferred, given an awareness that all authority is constructed and contextual.Intelligent skepticism is key.
This means we can no longer say, "Always go to peer-reviewed journals and never cite Wikipedia." Instead we say, "Use any source that is appropriate to the information need at hand, as long as you can justify your selection."
Perfect! This is information literacy for the 21st century. Bravo to ACRL for putting forth such a bold ideal.