The Future Of The Standards

The new model will provide a holistic approach to information literacy for the higher education community. The revision task force envisions creating a foundational document that will acknowledge that abilities, knowledge, and motivation surrounding information literacy are critical for college students, indeed for everyone, in today’s decentralized information environment. It will underscore the critical need for faculty members and librarians to collaborate to effectively address information literacy education.

The current standards are showing their age, because they don’t:

  • address the globalized information environment
  • recognize students as content creators as well as consumers and evaluators
  • address ongoing challenges with student learning in a multi-faceted, multi-format, media-rich environment
  • sufficiently address the need to position IL as a set of concepts and practices integral to student learning in all disciplines
  • allow for open-ended and dynamic thinking about learning in the fluidity of the current information environment
  • adequately address student understanding of the knowledge creation process, as a collaborative endeavor
  • emphasize the need for metacognitive and dispositional dimensions of learning throughout ALL steps of conducting research
  • position student learning of information concepts and practices as a cumulative, recursive, developmental endeavor (but instead suggest that information literacy is “additive” in increments)
  • address scholarly communication, publishing, or knowledge of data sources
  • recognize the need for data curation abilities.

Two new elements underlie the model being developed: threshold concepts and metaliteracy. Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti describe threshold concepts and their criteria, as based on the work of Jan Meyer and Ray Land:

…Threshold concepts are the core ideas and processes in any discipline that define the discipline, but that are so ingrained that they often go unspoken or unrecognized by practitioner. They are the central concepts that we want our students to understand and put into practice, that encourage them to think and act like practitioners themselves. Meyer and Land propose five definitional criteria for threshold concepts:

  • Transformative—cause the learner to experience a shift in perspective;
  • Integrative—bring together separate concepts (often identified as learning objectives) into a unified whole;
  • Irreversible—once grasped, cannot be un-grasped;
  • Bounded—may help define the boundaries of a particular discipline, are perhaps unique to the discipline;
  • Troublesome—usually difficult or counterintuitive ideas that can cause students to hit a roadblock in their learning. (Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti, 2012, 387-88) [1]

The metaliteracy conception of information literacy, which has numerous points of intersection with threshold concepts, will be incorporated:

Metaliteracy builds on decades of information literacy theory and practice while recognizing the knowledge required for an expansive and interactive information environment. Today’s lifelong learners communicate, create, and share information using a range of emerging technologies… Metaliteracy expands the scope of traditional information skills…to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments… (Mackey and Jacobson, forthcoming) [2]

Metacognition, or thinking about one’s thinking, and individual dispositions are also being incorporated into the new framework.

The task force envisages that for each threshold concept, there will be a description, a list of dispositions that learners need to have or cultivate, a set of knowledge practices, or abilities, related metaliteracy learning objectives, and several example assignments or assessment ideas. The entire framework will have additional elements, such as a working, current, definition of information literacy, a glossary, a resource list, student self-assessments and sample scenarios for different settings. The framework will emphasize the need to work closely with disciplinary faculty members, and other educators, as closely as possible. We hope that a sandbox will be set up, to allow instruction librarians and faculty members to share their work, with an indication of what worked well and what did not.

Task force members, and the ACRL Executive Committee and Board, fully understand the need for outreach, both within and outside the library community, about this initiative. In addition, feedback is very important and will be solicited throughout the process. We also recognize the need for abundant educational opportunities, provided in a variety of modes.

Coonan wrote in a 2011 paper about a new model of information literacy that aligns well with the thinking of the task force members:

…information literacy cannot be reduced to rote mastery of functional skills, and…its provision should not be left solely to library or support departments, and thus segregated from core academic practice and thought. Far from being a supplementary, optional or remedial adjunct to the academic curriculum, this paper situates information literacy as a continuum of skills, behaviours, and approaches and values that is so deeply entwined with the uses of information as to be a fundamental element of learning, scholarship and research. [3]

Information-related abilities, understandings, and propensities are not learned once and for all, but rather honed throughout one’s lifetime. As the revision task force drafts the new model, it will give attention to the connection with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards, workplace readiness, and lifelong learning.


[1] Hofer, A., L. Townsend, and K. Brunetti. (2012). “Troublesome concepts and information literacy: Investigating threshold concepts for IL instruction.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 12(4), 387-405.

[2] Mackey, T., and T. Jacobson. (forthcoming). Metaliteracy: Redefining Information Literacies to Empower Learners. ALA Editions/Neal-Schuman.

[3] Coonan, E. (2011). A New Curriculum for Information Literacy: Transitional, Transferable, Transformational. http://ccfil.pbworks.com/f/ANCIL_final.pdf

One Response to The Future Of The Standards

  1. Jim Nichols says:

    We are eager to see this work move forward. In anticipation of updating the standards we have already done some work on threshold concepts and metaliteracy which I have summarized in a blog post: The Future of Information Literacy in Higher Education

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