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Where should our information literacy standards come from?

October 7, 2011

From the ACRL? Or from the disciplinary organizations?

The ACRL Information Literacy standards have often frustrated me.  I struggle to find their usefulness to my day-to-day work, since the content of most of my information literacy sessions comes from conversations with the professor of the class, and are geared directly to student assignments.  As such, use of the standards usually involves fitting what I’m already doing back into the structure of the standards.  And because the standards are meant to apply to all disciplines, they suffer from being both too vague and too specific at the same time.

I also don’t find them very useful when it comes to convincing faculty members that their students need to learn information literacy skills.

On the other hand, the information literacy standards that come from disciplinary organizations like the ACS and the APA might actually be useful.

First, the faculty members might actually care about them.  Let’s be honest, when was the last time a faculty member was concerned about their students meeting the standards set out by the ACRL?  They are busy enough trying to meet their own standards and goals.

Secondly, because the disciplinary standards have been developed by faculty in the disciplines, they are more likely to align with the skills needed in those particular disciplines.  They are more likely to provide practical guidance about what to teach students, how papers and projects can be geared to meet the standards, and how this can be assessed.

Oh, and the disciplinary standards are typically shorter.

Am I abandoning the ACRL standards completely?  Probably not. But I would encourage librarians to make sure they are aware of any education related standards and outcomes set forth by disciplines they work with.  It might be useful.

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9 Comments
  1. Hi, I’m a librarian from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands). We see the ACRL standards as a tool for making our information literacy training stronger in terms of didactic. It is a promotional tool to show that we have thought about the quality of the training and its place in education. The library is not always seen as an education department and to make sure that our courses are based on international standards, indicates that we are teaching versed.

    • I think I want more than that. I don’t just want to be able to point to the standards and say, “See, we’ve thought about this.” I’d like standards to be useful, at the day-to-day level, and to be a tool I can use when working with faculty members to design appropriate information literacy classes and assignments.

  2. For Physics, I would recommend looking at this 2006 Report of the Joint APS-AAPT Task Force on Graduate Education in Physics. http://www.aapt.org/Resources/upload/2006-20Grad_Ed_Report_Revised_Final.pdf Page 12 has a small paragraph on information fluency.

    • Thanks for the link, Joe. I think it’s interesting that when they talk about information fluency, they don’t mention any library organizations. And the report they refer to is not published by a library organization, but by Wiley as a part of their Higher Ed stuff. I think this (and the others) provide some evidence that the disciplinary organizations aren’t paying attention to our information literacy standards

  3. Nancy Churchill permalink

    I believe that for information literacy standards to be relevant that they must be comprehensive, organized and, developed by a group to provide information for a particular population. And I think that it could be immensely helpful to individuals if various related organizations could agree to use the same set of standards since individuals might well be associated with more than one organization.

    I think it could be helpful if there were one set of standards for a particular academic field of study just as there are particular styles for research publication within various academic fields.

    Moreover, I’m of the opinion that all individuals will not, through practice or need, meet every standard of a comprehensive outline of such. Rather I think that they might successfully make a unique path of accomplishment therein. That path might be determined by an instructor’s requirements, by recommendation of a leader in the field, by suggestion of someone else or by the individual herself . In this way individuals could be identified as information literate for meeting particular skills and competencies within the standards.

    To develop a list of stands for this purpose I think that its authors need to observe the skills and competencies already achieved by many successful individuals in a wide variety of fields and then compile their findings to decide on a set of standards.
    Most importantly,

    I believe that individuals attempting to meet the standards could determine which standards they think they have already met and could provide concrete evidence of such. Instructors who are assisting these individuals to further improve their information literacy might best encourage students and model ways in which they themselves are growing their own information literacy. For modeling skills and encouraging efforts are best practices for helping others gain new skills and competencies.

    I believe that any negative comments in regard to how individuals do not meet standards (even among colleagues) is both inappropriate and counterproductive to information literacy. To remain effective in the use of information technology and managing information we all must be growing and refining our information literacy skills and competencies. And many of these practices imply the understanding of effective social skills.)

    My experience as a public school teacher for many years and now a public library assists my understanding that even with my college degrees that I will still learn from anyone else that I assist. Actually I marvel at those who have somehow managed to still function adequately from day to day amidst those who are considered much more information and computer literate. I strive to encourage others along the information literacy learning path they choose; I especially enjoy the resultant amazing and completely unexpected benefits to my own information literacy growth.

    • “I’m of the opinion that all individuals will not, through practice or need, meet every standard of a comprehensive outline of such.”

      Nancy, I think you make an important point here. Many of our users have no need to acquire many of the skills listed in the ACRL standards, and the ones they do need will vary from person to person and discipline to discipline.

      Wayne Bivens-Tatum over at the Academic Librarian has a related (and much more thoughtful post) called The Myth of Information Literacy: http://blogs.princeton.edu/librarian/2011/04/the_myth_of_information_literacy/

  4. Lisa Hinchliffe permalink

    Just want to make sure you know about the subject specific standards ACRL has worked to develop in partnership with faculty/disciplinary associations. On http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/index.cfm, you can find ones for Anthropology/Sociology, Literatures in English, Science/Technology, Teacher Education, Political Science, and Psychology.

    Lisa Hinchliffe (disclosure: past-president of ACRL)

  5. Thanks for the link to ACRL Information Literacy standards.

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