Information concepts



I’ve been thinking about the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (PDF). I was never a big fan of the current ACRL Standards, mainly because I find them too unwieldy – 5 standards, 22 performance indicators, 71 outcomes, if I counted correctly. I much prefer Ranganathan’s Laws for their directness and simplicity. Less legal mumbo-jumbo and more poetry. The other issue with the standards is that they seem to reduce information literacy to using the library to write undergraduate research papers. The ACRL came out with standards for visual literacy a few years ago, which basically substitute “visual” for “information”, which further cements that reductive view. As I see it, information comes in many formats and flows through many channels, and we may come up with new formats and channels at times. So an expansive view of information is in order.

The Framework is built around a set of information literacy threshold concepts. I’m just going to jump over the literacy threshold and call them information concepts. It’s easier that way. They’re not quite up to the standard of Ranganathan’s Laws, but they flow off the tongue a little better than things like “The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.” Here are my primitive thoughts on each frame.

Scholarship is a conversation

Conversation implies an interaction among voices, meaning people are writing to be read, and writing based on reading. Standing on the shoulders of others, as it were. Conversations also shift and evolve over time. Old ideas get revised and refuted. New ideas get discussed and debated. Knowledge doesn’t stand still. Conversations have language, which may be specialized or esoteric. And conversations can be open – we can join in, contribute and ask questions – if we have enough of an understanding of the language to participate.
How are our students engaging with scholarly conversation?

Research as inquiry

It’s about questions more than answers. It’s never really done. We gain knowledge and understanding through exploring ideas, and that knowledge and understanding leads us to ask further questions.
How are our students engaging in inquiry?

Authority is constructed and contextual

A person’s reputation is built from accomplishments and experiences, and the community’s evaluation of them. Reputation and expertise in one area may not transfer to another.
How do our students question/evaluate authority?

Format as a process

The online environment can obscure the format of information products. Newspapers, research journals, and encyclopedias may all look like websites online, but there are different processes that go into generating different products in the information cycle. An awareness and understanding of those process is key to evaluating the information.
How do our students understand the information cycle?

Searching as exploration

It’s looking around, not just looking something up. Solving a complex problem may require multiple diverse resources, which may need to be sought through a variety of methods and strategies. Exploration means going beyond what is online to other types of documents, and beyond what is written down to human and institutional knowledge. This entails learning how to make observations and how to ask good questions.
How do our students engage in exploration?

Information has value

Value has a number of implications with regards to ownership and economics. We place on the information we create, and on information about us. We, as a society, negotiate this value, and also rights of ownership. Social, economic and political factors come to play in these negotiations, and impact what we can do with information and how we use it.
How do our students understand the value of information?


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