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ACRL’s New Information Framework: Why Now and What Did It Discover?
Volume 40, Number 2 - March/April 2016

It’s been more than a year now since the ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) launched its Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education ( The document is the result of a complete reexamination of what it means to be information-literate in today’s digital age. The report’s analyses and recommendations are being closely examined, and its implementation is starting at colleges and universities
around the country.

We recently had the chance to have an in-depth telephone discussion with Sharon Mader, one of the leaders behind the creation of the new Framework. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Can you say a bit about your background as a librarian and your involvement in information literacy?

Over the course of my library career over the last 39 years, my passion and focus have always been instruction and information literacy. My background includes serving as chair of ACRL’s Instruction Section, being a founding faculty member of the ACRL Immersion Program for instruction librarians, and serving as the current chair of the IFLA [International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions] Information Literacy Section. I retired as the Dean of Libraries at the University of New Orleans in February 2015 and started a new position the next day at ACRL as Visiting Program Officer for Information Literacy with responsibility for the launch and implementation of the new Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education.

Sharon Mader
Sharon Mader, visiting program officer for information literacy at ACRL.

What were the driving forces behind creating the new Framework? And who is it designed for?

The previous Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were published in 2000, and they came up for their cyclical review in 2011. A task force was appointed to revise it, but reported back that because the whole landscape of higher education, teaching, and the role of students as information creators had changed so dramatically over the last several years we needed to rethink these standards entirely. The Framework is built around conceptual understandings that are central to information literacy and draws upon the foundations of the Understanding by Design [Association for Supervision & Curriculum De velopment, 2nd Edition, March 2005] work of Wiggins and McTighe, threshold concept theory, and meta-literacy. After extensive work by the task force and feedback from practitioners in the field, the new Framework was presented to the ACRL board in February 2015 as a dynamic new direction to be explored and used by the profession.

The Framework is geared for those in community colleges and up, though we still need to be sure to be mindful and address the bridge between secondary school and higher education. It is intended to foster collaborations among librarians, faculty, and other educational partners.

What would you say is the biggest change in the new Framework since the last set of standards from 2000?

I’d say that it is the fact that the new Framework is not based on a step-by-step definition of information literacy, but instead is based on a much more integrated set of core competencies. So, for example, the previous version laid out what an information-literate student could do, but this new Framework is much more aligned with how teaching and learning has changed. We also found that in order for information literacy to have its greatest impact, it has to be integrated into the context of specific disciplines, so it is important for librarians to collaborate with various discipline-specific faculty to discover the essential understandings they want students to have. The threshold concept foundation means we need to look at the places where students get stuck, and then go back to those “places” and work with the students in showing them how to get past those barriers. The full Framework document can be found at

How and where is this new Framework being implemented so it has an impact on students’ information literacy capabilities?

The Framework helps surface the essential questions to use when determining what we want students to learn. So, for example, say you are doing an instruction session; you would need to first develop the learning outcomes. And those outcomes would inform how you would assess what the students learned. That assessment could be narrowly focused toward specific skills learned in a single short session, or it could be a much larger general education outcome assessment as well. For example, a much broader outcome might be that, upon graduation, freshmen will have achieved a certain level of information literacy and critical thinking skills. Part of the assessment too is to make sure we know that they really did learn those skills, which we can assess by having students do active learning exercises to demonstrate how and what they are learning.

Do you have any specific examples of institutions where you see the Framework being put into action?

It is still early on, so we are working with librarians as they begin using this Framework and keeping track of results. We want to facilitate people sharing what they are doing . We hear about their experiences via forums like conferences and on listservs so we can identify best practices. Anyone can subscribe to the Framework discussion list at There are many conferences at the local, regional, and national level. The ALA Annual Conference in June 2016 [Orlando, Fla., June 23–28] will offer a preconference and other programs on the Framework. Past conferences include the LOEX Fall Focus Conference in November 2015, which provided many good examples of the integration of the Framework into instruction ( The recent ACRL publication, Teaching Information Literacy Threshold Concepts: Lesson Plans for Librarians, offers 34 detailed examples of how practitioners are using the Framework in instruction at institutions around the country (

We also are using our IL Framework website ( to provide resources and examples of how people use the Framework . We’re also developing an online “sandbox” where people can submit and share lesson plans, assignments, assessments, and other Framework resources for their colleagues to use and adapt in their own settings.

Stepping back a bit, where would you say the whole effort to enhance student information literacy stands? What are some of its biggest successes and biggest challenges?

The current direction for enhancing student information literacy is to integrate information literacy and the library into the larger teaching and learning endeavor and to have librarians collaborate with faculty in the disciplines to embed information literacy into the curriculum. On the institutional level, we continue to work to have the importance of information literacy recognized as part of what students need to accomplish by the end of their time in college. Of course, some institutions are more advanced than others here. One specific initiative we are trying to get more known and accepted falls under a scholarly communications initiative, which is to encourage institutions to gather and organize faculty and student research in digital repositories. This creates a place and experience where students can learn about scholarly communication and how research is shared and serves to facilitate a learning-by-doing practice.

Allowing students to deposit their works in repositories also is an excellent way to provide experiential learning about copyright and open access. Librarians and faculty can have conversations with students about whether or not they want their work freely available or with restrictions. This will inform them about intellectual property and help them better understand the importance of respecting different forms of copyright when doing their own research.

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In addition to being co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, Robert Berkman is author of Find It Fast: Extracting Expert Information in the Age of Social MediaBig Data, Tweets and More, 6th edition. (2015, CyberAge Books).


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