Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline

Best Practices Initiative
Institute for Information Literacy

Approved by the ACRL Board, June 2003, revised January 2012 and January 2019.

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The “Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline” articulates elements of exemplary information literacy programs for undergraduate students.

The characteristics identify and describe notable features in information literacy programs of excellence. The characteristics are not, however, descriptive of any one program, but rather represent a set of elements identified through examination of many programs and philosophies of undergraduate information literacy.

In addition, though guided by the definitions found in the “Final Report of the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy” (1989), “A Progress Report on Information Literacy: An Update on the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report” (1998), and the “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education” (2015), the characteristics themselves do not attempt to define information literacy per se. Instead, the focus is on defining the elements of best practices in information literacy programming.

Although the characteristics are categorized and organized for ease of use and logical presentation, the order does not reflect any judgment of priority.

Purpose and Use

The characteristics are primarily intended to help those who are interested in developing, assessing, and improving information literacy programs involving all course delivery modalities. This audience includes faculty, librarians, administrators, and technology professionals, as well as others involved in information literacy programming at a particular institution. These characteristics represent a set of ideas that can be used when establishing, developing, advancing, revitalizing, or assessing an information literacy program.

The characteristics are descriptive in nature and are the result of an examination of many programs. They provide a framework within which to:

  • Categorize details of a given program
  • Analyze how different program elements contribute to attaining excellence in information literacy
  • Benchmark program status
  • Implement program improvement
  • Map out long-term development

It is important to note that no program is expected to be exemplary with respect to all characteristics as this list is not meant to be prescriptive. Rather, the characteristics are meant to serve as a guide when considering library and institutional contexts when establishing information literacy program goals and strategies.

Librarians are also encouraged to make use of the “Guidelines for Instruction Programs in Academic Libraries” for specific guidance on academic library involvement with information literacy programs.

Category 1: Mission, Goals and Objectives

The mission, goals, and objectives of an information literacy program:

  • Include a definition of information literacy in the mission statement.
  • Communicate the importance of the integration of information literacy across the curriculum for students’ academic pursuits, effective lifelong learning, and professional development.
  • Establish measurable outcomes for evaluation of the program in the goals and objectives that accommodate sequential growth of students’ skills and understanding throughout their education.
  • Align with the library’s stated mission, goals, and objectives statements to correspond with the larger mission statement, goals, and objectives of the library and the institution.
  • Are guided by ACRL documents on information literacy, such as the “ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.”
  • Accommodate input from and incorporate institutional stakeholders, clearly reflecting their contributions and expected benefits.
  • Appear in appropriate institutional documents.

Category 2: Planning

Planning for an information literacy program:

  • Articulates and develops mechanisms to implement and/or adapt components of this document.
  • Ties plans to library, institutional, and information technology planning and budgeting cycles.
  • Incorporates findings from environmental scans.
  • Accommodates the level of the program, department, and institution.
  • Encourages librarian, faculty, and administrator collaboration at the outset.
  • Provides a timeline for systematic revision.

Category 3:  Administrative and Institutional Support

Administration within an institution:

  • Assigns information literacy leadership and responsibilities to appropriate librarians, faculty, and staff.
  • Understands the nature of the work of instruction librarians as described in Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians
  • Provides sufficient funding to establish and ensure ongoing support for teaching facilities, current and appropriate technologies, appropriate staffing levels, and professional development opportunities.
  • Appoints and supports librarians and other professionals who exemplify and advocate for information literacy and lifelong learning; are knowledgeable about curriculum development and assessment of student learning; and apply appropriate processes in the systematic development of instruction, including analysis, design, development, implementation. and evaluation of instruction.
  • Rewards individual and institutional achievement and participation in the information literacy program.
  • Provides staff regular evaluations about the quality of their contributions to the program and areas for improvement.

Category 4: Program Sequencing

Program sequencing within the curriculum for an information literacy program:

  • Identifies the scope, depth, and complexity of understandings and practices to be acquired on a disciplinary level and at the course level.
  • Sequences and integrates understandings, practices, and dispositions throughout a student’s academic career, progressing in sophistication.
  • Uses local governance structures to advocate for institution-wide integration into academic or vocational programs.
  • Specifies the programs and courses where information literacy instruction will occur.
  • Is formalized and disseminated throughout the institution.

Category 5: Pedagogy

Pedagogy within an information literacy program:

  • Uses as a guide and as appropriate, the “ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.”
  • Employs diverse approaches to teaching and learning in order to improve student engagement.
  • Emphasizes learner-centered teaching.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to an inclusive learning environment.
  • Is suitable to the type of instruction (e.g., one-shot, dedicated course).
  • Uses relevant and appropriate information technology and other media resources to support pedagogy and learning.
  • Promotes critical thinking, reflection, and recursive learning.
  • Employs effective and well-known instructional approaches (e.g., flipped classroom techniques, scaffolding).
  • Contextualizes information literacy within ongoing coursework appropriate to the academic program and course level.
  • Works within the context of course content and other learning experiences to achieve information literacy outcomes.
  • Demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and universal design.

Category 6: Communication and Advocacy

Communication and advocacy for an information literacy program:

  • Identify and reach out to relevant stakeholders and support groups both within and outside of the library and the institution.
  • Clearly define and describe the program and its demonstrated value to targeted audiences.
  • Foster collaboration among disciplinary faculty, librarians, and other institutional stakeholders at every stage (planning, delivery, assessment of student learning, and program evaluation).
  • Identify goals shared with other curricular or extra-curricular programs and draw on these shared goals to engage in dialog with campus leaders and stakeholders.
  • Provide, in collaboration with other campus professional development staff, workshops and programs that relate to information literacy.
  • Use a variety of communication methods, including formal and informal networks and media channels.
  • Contribute to information literacy’s advancement by sharing information, methods, and plans with peers and stakeholders.

Category 7: Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment and evaluation of information literacy includes program performance and learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes assessment:

  • Acknowledges differences in learning and teaching preferences in the outcome measures.
  • Employs a variety of pre- and post-instruction outcome measures, for example, needs assessment, pre-tests, post-tests, portfolio assessment, oral defense, quizzes, essays, direct observation, anecdotal, and experience.
  • Focuses on learner performance, knowledge practices and acquisition, and disposition appraisal.
  • Assesses learners’ creative processes and products.
  • Includes learner-, peer-, and self-evaluation.

Program evaluation:

  • Follows a process for program planning, evaluation, and revision.
  • Measures progress toward meeting program goals and objectives (see Category 1 Mission, Goals, and Objectives).
  • Integrates with course and curriculum assessment, institutional evaluations and regional and professional accreditation initiatives.
  • Uses appropriate assessment/evaluation methods for relevant purposes, for example formative, summative, short-term or longitudinal.

Current version, approved by the ACRL Board, June 2003, revised January 2012