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this afternoon several ZSR library faculty gathered to listen to the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force Webinar. Below are my notes taken during the session and my own thoughts about it all at the end. The presenters were Craig Gibson and Trudi Jacobson, Co-Chairs of the Task Force. The forums (today’s was the 3rd) have all been recorded and the links are available online. I encourage anyone who is interested to watch one.


The original Information Literacy Competency Standards were approved in January 2000.

They were a seminal document for higher education, not just academic librarians. Since 2000 they have been used by numerous institutions in defining general education requirements, by accrediting agencies, and many disciplinary versions have been created including ones for Science and Technology, Political Science, and more.

Why changes are needed:

There was a review task force that looked at the standards and recommended that they needed extensive revision because the current standards don’t:

  • address the globalized info environment.

  • recognize students as content creators.

  • address ongoing challenges with a multi-faceted, multi-format environments.

  • sufficiently address the need to position information literacy as a set of concepts and practices integral to all disciplines

  • address student understanding of the knowledge creation process as a collaborative endeavor.

  • emphasize the need for metacognitive and dispositional dimensions of learning

  • position student learning as a cumulative recursive developmental endeavor

  • address scholarly communication, publishing or knowledge of data sources

  • recognize the need for data curation abilities

The committee has said the new standards must:

  • be simplified as a readily understood model for greater adoption by audiences both disciplinary and collegiate outside of ALA

  • be articulated in readily comprehensible terms that do not include library jargon

  • include affective, emotional learning outcomes, in addition to the exclusively cognitive focus of the current standards

  • acknowledge complementary literacies

  • move beyond implicit focus on format

  • address the role of the student as content creator

  • address the role of the student as content curator

  • provide continuity with the AASL standards

The new model will:

  • provide a holistic framework to information literacy for the higher education community

  • acknowledge that abilities, knowledge, and motivation surrounding information literacy are critical for college students, indeed for everyone, in today’s decentralized info environment

Threshold Concepts

The new model will be built on the idea of ‘threshold concepts’ – core ideas and processes in any discipline that define the discipline but that are so ingrained they often go unspoken or unrecognized by practitioner. Threshold concepts are thus central concepts that we want our students to understand and put into practice that encourage them to think and act like practitioners themselves. (definition from the Townsend article below). Two of the articles on this are:

Townsend, Lori, Korey Brunetti, and Amy R. Hofer. “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 11.3 (2011): 853-869. Project MUSE. Web. 16 July 2013.

Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising Within the Disciplines.” Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice – 10 Years On: Proceedings of the 2002 10th International Symposium Improving Student Learning. Ed. Chris Rust. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff & Learning Development, 2003. Google Scholar. Web. 1 Aug. 2013.

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 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.


Also included in the new framework is the idea of metaliteracy. 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 info using a range of emerging technologies.

Four domains of Metaliteracy Learning

  • Behavioral – what students should be able to do

  • Cognitive – what students should know

  • Affective – changes in learners emotions or attitudes

  • Metacognitive – what learners think about their own thinking

The draft will include lists of Threshold concepts (i.e. ‘Scholarship is a conversation’) and for each of these concepts, there will be dispositions (how students will feel about the concept) and knowledge practices (similar to learning objectives). There will also be lists of possible assignments that would allow students to master the concept.

Next steps – Timeline

  • December 1 – draft document released (may be later in December)

  • Mid-december – online hearing

  • Mid- january online hearing

  • In-person hearing at ALA Midwinter

  • Feb 7 comments on draft due

  • June – final report to ACRL Board (target date)


Not surprisingly there were lots of questions and comments in the webinar chat area and on Twitter (#ACRLILRevisions). Some question basing the whole new framework on the idea of threshold concepts and metaliteracy where there have not been many studies done on how appropriate these are for IL or other instruction. Others wondered if this would mean a new definition of information literacy. Lots of questions about how this framework would be implemented at 2-year schools or in places that had based significant things (like accreditation, gen ed requirements, etc.) on the old list of standards. Some worried that the concrete standards were being replaced by a more intangible ‘framework’ that would need to be defined by each institution.

My impressions:

There are a lot of unknowns at this point. Until we see the proposed list of threshold concepts it’s hard to say if the task force is hitting the mark. What I do think, however, is that a framework is much more flexible and has the potential to be more applicable across disciplines than the current list of standards. I understand the unease felt by those who have hung major initiatives at their institutions on the existing standards as they will have a lot of work to do. For us, we will need to look at our curricula for LIB100/200 and adjust as needed. Some of the things I liked most about what I heard were the moving away from the format-based focus and the recognition that we can’t just focus on skills anymore. There is a need to make our students more aware of the process of information generation and their place in that process because that is the first step in making them critical consumers and conscientious creators (and curators) of information. If what we teach them is really going to be transferrable to other classes and real-life situations, we need to make sure it is learned more holistically. I also think this framework will provide an increased space for discussion with faculty across disciplines and could give us some new inroads to helping faculty design assignments and work library instruction into their classes more effectively. More soon – I am sure this is not the last we will hear about this process.