Block I Illinois Library Illinois Open Publishing Network

2 Visions for Teaching in Libraries: Information, Technology, and Other Literacies


While librarians offer instruction on a wide variety of topics, information literacy has become a focal point for librarians engaged in instruction. In this chapter, we will take a closer look at the concept of information literacy, including how librarians have expanded traditional definitions of information literacy to encompass technology, media, and content creation; address affective elements of the information-seeking process; and adopt critical approaches to information. In addition, we will review the standards and frameworks librarians have developed that delineate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be information literate and guide instruction efforts.

Information Literacy

In 1989, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy issued its Final Report and created what would become the most common definition of information literacy: “to be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” The report gives several reasons why information literacy is important, including enabling people to make informed decisions about health care, education, and finances; to enhance job skills or retrain for a new career; and to participate in democratic processes. The authors also note that without information literacy, people are vulnerable to “propaganda, distortion, and other misuses and abuses of information,” a statement that feels prescient in our current era, where the Internet abounds with misinformation, and politicians and pundits hurl accusations of “fake news.” While the Final Report positioned information literacy as something that would be taught primarily within school and academic libraries, the document also presents information literacy as not merely an academic skill but an essential life skill for everyone at any age.

Since the publication of the Final Report, state and federal governments and international organizations have recognized the importance of information literacy (State Library of Iowa, 2013; UNESCO, 2020). In declaring October as National Information Literacy Awareness Month, President Barack Obama (Proc. No. 8429, 2009) echoed many of the same arguments as ALA, noting the problem of information overload and the need to “separate truth from fiction and signal from noise.” The Alexandria Proclamation (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 2005) declared that information literacy and lifelong learning are human rights that enable development, prosperity, and freedom.

Expanding Definitions of Information Literacy

Early conversations about information literacy focused on traditional research skills such as using the catalog and databases, identifying characteristics of sources such as books and periodicals, and, for students in particular, citing sources. With the advent of the web and a corresponding explosion of online and freely available information, librarians turned their attention to helping people navigate this new environment. Evaluation also took center stage as librarians became concerned with teaching people how to assess websites and other sources for credibility and cope with information overload. Librarians also began to take a more active role in teaching technology skills, including basic computer operations and email, to support individuals’ ability to access and use information.

While the incorporation of evaluation and technology skills considerably expanded the instructional work many librarians were doing, it still placed patrons as information consumers who wanted to access and use information created by others. The rise of social media platforms such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube allowed anyone with access to the web to create and share information, and librarians took note. Spires and Bartlett (2012) argue that individuals need the ability to not only locate and consume information but also to create digital content and communicate online. Mihaildis and Diggs (2010, p. 280) encourage librarians to reframe school libraries as centers for learning and adopt “more dynamic and participatory approaches” to information use that give students opportunities for interaction and creation, an idea that applies equally to other types of libraries. More recently, ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force (2020) echoed the need for skills in creation and communication as well as collaboration.

Mackey and Jacobson (2011) suggest that information literacy be reframed as “metaliteracy,” a set of skills that incorporates information, technology, visual, and media literacy, and supports critical thinking, creation, and collaboration. They write, “metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities” (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011, p. 62).

While terms like digital literacy and metaliteracy have not replaced information literacy, librarians now understand information literacy as a broad set of knowledge and skills used to access and evaluate information, technology, and media on a daily basis. In addition, librarians support patrons as they become information creators, from students writing papers and presentations to researchers sharing their findings through open-access channels to patrons using makerspaces to create podcasts and experiment with 3-D printing, all under the umbrella of information literacy.

Affective Aspects of Information Literacy

At the same time that librarians were discussing the knowledge and skills that individuals would need to be information literate, some researchers focused on affective aspects of information literacy, starting with the feelings people experience during the research process. Mellon (1986) identifies library anxiety as a common experience and attributes the emotion to unfamiliarity with library spaces, systems, and technologies. Although Mellon’s research focused on undergraduate students who were new to academic libraries, Kuhlthau (1991, 2004) shows that even longtime researchers experience negative emotions such as confusion, uncertainty, frustration, and disappointment during the information-seeking process, along with positive emotions such as optimism, confidence, and satisfaction. She argues that these emotions are a natural part of information seeking since individuals go through a process of sense-making as they work to understand new information and reconcile it with their previous knowledge (1991, p. 361). Both Mellon and Kuhlthau argue that librarians need to understand and attend to learners’ emotions during instruction.

Schroeder and Cahoy argue that librarians should go further and explicitly incorporate affective factors into information literacy standards in order to “reinforce for librarians and educators the importance of acknowledging and addressing students’ feelings and affective behaviors” (Schroeder & Cahoy, 2010, p. 136). Like Stripling (2008), they use the term “dispositions,” to refer to the habits of mind that govern behavior, such as curiosity, persistence, and flexibility (Schroeder & Cahoy, 2010, p. 136-37). Schroeder and Cahoy note that by 2007, dispositions already appeared alongside knowledge and skills in the American Association of School Librarians’ (2007) Standards for the 21st Century Learner but had yet to appear in guiding documents from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Dispositions eventually would appear in ACRL’s (2016) Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. Activity 2.1 provides an opportunity to think about affective elements of the research process.


Activity 2.1: Affective Elements of the Research Process

Think about a recent time you had to research a paper, a health or financial question, a major purchase, etc.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  1. How did you feel when you realized you would need to do research?
  2. Where did you begin your search, and what kind of information did you find? How did the search results impact your feelings about your research process?
  3. What was the result of your research? How did you feel about the outcome?
  4. When did you feel best about your process? When did you feel most frustrated?
  5. Did anyone help you with your research? If so, how?
  6. If not, what kind of assistance would have been helpful?


Threshold Concepts

The idea of threshold concepts has also influenced librarians’ understanding of information literacy. Meyer and Land define threshold concepts as ideas that are foundational to a discipline and provide “a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress” (2003, p. 1). They also posit that threshold concepts represent “troublesome knowledge,” ideas that are challenging to understand and perhaps even counterintuitive, such as opportunity cost in economics and complex numbers in mathematics (Meyer & Land, 2003). Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011, p. 854) note that threshold concepts are so integral to a discipline that they may go unspoken by practitioners and instructors, leaving students struggling to understand key ideas and theories.

Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011, p. 861-64) argue that identifying threshold concepts for information literacy can help librarians recognize where learners struggle, thus providing avenues for more effective teaching. While early sets of standards presented information literacy as a set of discrete skills that could be acquired in an almost checklist-like fashion, threshold concepts position information literacy as a set of complex, interrelated understandings about the production, dissemination, and valuing of information that affect everything from news media to scholarly communication to social media use.

Hofer, Hanick, and Townsend (2019) used the results of a multiyear Delphi study to identify and develop five threshold concepts for information literacy in college students:

  • Authority: Expertise is conferred through rules and systems, while also being contextual to the user’s information need; information literate students know when to trust and when to question authority.
  • Format: Formats such as books, scholarly articles, and websites reflect a specific publication process; information literate students can recognize and use format for insight into the information creation process and the author’s intent.
  • Information Commodities: Information has monetary value and is also the intellectual property of its creator; information literate students know when to respect intellectual property laws and when to push back, and can follow conventions such as citation.
  • Organizing Systems: Tools such as catalogs, databases, and search engines are used to organize, describe, and locate information; information literate students can use appropriate tools and strategies to search for and share information.
  • Research Process: Research is a process of inquiry that encompasses both scholarly and non-scholarly information seeking and is shaped by community and disciplinary norms; information literate students understand research as more than a linear search for sources.

While Townsend et al. (2011) and Hofer et al. (2019) focus on applying threshold concepts to information literacy in higher education, Jacobson and O’Keeffe (2014) argue that threshold concepts are equally applicable to instruction in school libraries. Additionally, some authors have begun applying them to professional education in library and information science (McLaughlin & Tucker, 2017; Tucker et al., 2014; Yukawa, 2015).

It is worth noting that some writers question the applicability of threshold concepts to information literacy. For example, Wilkinson (2016) argues that the idea of information having value is not sufficiently troublesome to warrant being considered a threshold concept. Wilkinson (2014) also questions the theory of threshold concepts more generally, arguing that it lacks empirical evidence and that notions of transformative and troublesome are relative to the individual, rather than the discipline. Despite these criticisms, the idea of threshold concepts has been particularly influential in the development of ACRL’s (2016) Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, discussed in more detail later in this chapter.

Critical Information Literacy

Many authors have criticized traditional approaches to information literacy as overly positivist, treating information as a neutral good and reducing information literacy to a set of skills devoid of real-world context (Kapitzke 2001, 2003; O’Connor, 2006; Smith, 2013). Elmborg (2006, p. 193) argues that this model of information literacy reflects the “banking” model of education criticized by Paulo Freire, in which students are expected to accrue knowledge as dispensed by teachers, rather than learning to think critically for themselves.

Critical information literacy recognizes that information, both what is available to us and what we consider authoritative or correct, is shaped by cultural, political, and economic forces. Information is not neutral or objective but rather reflects and supports systems of power and privilege. Librarians who embrace a critical understanding of information literacy thus move from teaching skills for access and evaluation to helping learners understand, and perhaps question or challenge, the forces that shape information production and dissemination.

Doherty (2007) notes that critical information literacy also emphasizes the search for “Other voices,” those that are outside the information seeker’s personal paradigm. He suggests that too often librarians present websites and other non-scholarly sources as lacking credibility in comparison to traditionally published sources, when they should be presenting such sites as opportunities to uncover a wide array of voices and perspectives, including those that may be marginalized by Western worldviews and traditional publishing systems.

For example, a librarian teaching traditional information literacy instruction in an academic library might explain the concept of peer review, emphasize that scholarly journal articles are a preferred source for college research papers, and teach students to access and search a database with a focus on retrieving peer-reviewed articles. A librarian who embraces critical information literacy would explain the peer review process and then lead a discussion that prompts students to consider what voices might be marginalized if they are outside traditional research structures. The librarian would then teach students to access peer-reviewed literature along with non-scholarly sources that reflect a diversity of ideas relevant to their topic.

Librarians can integrate critical information literacy approaches in a variety of ways, from helping learners develop meaningful research questions to analyzing popular and freely available sources like Wikipedia as legitimate information sites to selecting search examples that highlight issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to interrogating sources for bias (Cope, 2009; Hinchliffe, 2016; Jacobs, 2009; Pankl & Coleman, 2009). Hall (2010) argues that librarians should look for opportunities at the intersection of information literacy and praxis, where individuals can turn knowledge into action. She highlights the work of public librarians in South Africa who developed information literacy programs to address hunger through library/farm school partnerships and gardening activities.

Standards and Frameworks for Information Literacy

As part of defining information literacy, professional organizations have developed standards and frameworks that articulate the skills, knowledge, and dispositions people need in order to be information literate. Standards and frameworks are necessarily detailed, and, if you are new to working with them, may seem overwhelming. It may be helpful to think about another set of standards you are probably familiar with—those for getting a driver’s license. When people apply for a driver’s license, the state asks them to demonstrate that they have the necessary knowledge (the “rules of the road”) and skills (such as driving within the lane lines and braking smoothly) to be a safe driver. We also expect drivers to demonstrate proper attitudes about driving, such as obeying speed limits, yielding to pedestrians, and being courteous to other drivers. Activity 2.2 encourages you to think about other familiar standards.


Activity 2.2: Standards Are All Around Us

State-sanctioned guidelines for earning a driver’s license are one example of standards in daily life.

  • Can you think of other standards you encounter or use on a regular basis, either in the workplace or society?
  • How are these standards used to guide decision-making, regulate behavior, or promote best practices?


The information literacy standards and frameworks discussed in this chapter list the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be information literate. For example, we expect students to be able to recognize when they need to cite their sources (knowledge) and formulate a proper citation (skill), and, perhaps most importantly, to have the desire to adhere to ethical conventions and actually cite their sources when necessary (a disposition). Most standards and frameworks are written with a specific patron group in mind, such as students in the K-12 system or adults and families using public libraries and museums. Most instruction librarians utilize the standards most appropriate for the patrons they serve, although some librarians may work with multiple sets of standards. For example, school librarians look to information literacy standards written by and for librarians as well as more general education standards such as Common Core. In addition, all information professionals can benefit from familiarity with multiple sets of standards as a guide to thinking more broadly about the role of information in their patrons’ lives. Ireland (2017) writes about how the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education (ACRL, 2016) inspires her work teaching in a public library.

Standards Framework for Learners

In 2018, AASL published its National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, which included revised and interrelated standards for school libraries, competencies for school librarians, and information literacy standards for K-12 students. The information literacy standards, which are also available on AASL’s website, are known as the Standards Framework for Learners (AASL, 2017). While written as a guide for school librarians, the Standards Framework is also relevant to information professionals working with children in public libraries and museums.

The standards consist of six “shared foundations” that represent core educational concepts, each defined by a “key commitment” (AASL, 2017, p. 4-5):

  • Inquire: Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems.
  • Include: Demonstrate an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.
  • Collaborate: Work effectively with others to broaden perspectives and work toward common goals.
  • Curate: Make meaning for oneself and others by collecting, organizing, and sharing resources of personal relevance.
  • Explore: Discover and innovate in a growth mindset developed through experience and reflection.
  • Engage: Demonstrate safe, legal, and ethical creating and sharing of knowledge products independently while engaging in a community of practice and an interconnected world.

The six shared foundations are aligned with four “learning domains” (AASL, 2017, p. 7):

  • Think: cognitive domain
  • Create: psychomotor domain
  • Share: affective domain
  • Grow: developmental domain

Where the shared foundations and learning domains intersect, specific competency statements outline the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students should master. For example, at the intersection of “Curate” and “Think,” we see the competency “learners act on an information need by identifying possible sources of information” (AASL, 2017, p. 5), while at the intersection of “Include” and “Share,” we see “learners exhibit empathy with and tolerance for diverse ideas by contributing to discussions in which multiple viewpoints on a topic are expressed” (AASL, 2017, p. 4). Each intersection features two to four competency statements.

The theme of inquiry runs throughout the AASL standards. In its introduction, AASL (2017, p. 3) explicitly links students’ information literacy skills and the ability to persist in inquiry to college, career, and life success. In addition, the Standards Framework positions inquiry and information seeking as activities that happen outside of school as well as within formal school environments.

Another theme in the Standards Framework is that equity and inclusion should be a central feature of school librarians’ work. The shared foundation “Include” specifically addresses issues of diversity, while themes of social responsibility, equity, and inclusion appear implicitly and explicitly throughout the document. In one example, Lechtenberg and Phillips (2018, p. 58) highlight the shared foundation “Inquire” and write, “inclusive inquiry also asks us to think about how we question representation; do we teach learners to probe the stories they read, the resources they use, and the perspectives they seek for inclusiveness?” Similar connections with equity work can be made when working within the “Collaborate,” “Curate,” “Explore,” and “Engage” foundations.

While the Standards Framework does not mention critical information literacy explicitly, its emphasis on inquiry, personally relevant information seeking, diverse perspectives, and equity and inclusion reflects a critical approach to information literacy. As we adopt the Standards Framework in our classrooms, we can use a critical information literacy lens to find ways to integrate attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion more explicitly in our practice.

Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education

ACRL developed the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education to outline the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by college students. The creation of a framework made up of “interconnected core concepts” was a deliberate move away from the standards-based approach taken in the earlier Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2000). Foasberg (2015, p. 702) argues that the Framework uses a social- constructivist model that positions knowledge as something “constructed and reconstructed through social interaction,” in contrast to the earlier document’s positivist approach “which assumes that information is objective and measurable.”

The Framework is structured around six frames:

  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual: Information resources derive value from their author’s expertise; what is considered authoritative may differ by community and is contextual to the learner’s information need.
  • Information Creation as a Process: Information sources are created and disseminated through varied processes; these processes affect the nature and authority of the final source.
  • Information Has Value: Information is a commodity with financial value, governed by intellectual property laws; these affect its creation and availability.
  • Research as Inquiry: Research is an iterative process of asking questions, developing answers, and asking new, more complex or nuanced questions.
  • Scholarship as Conversation: Communities of scholars and professionals engage in dialogue that leads to new discoveries, insights, and interpretations over time.
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration: The iterative nature of research requires that learners consult and evaluate a range of sources and that they evaluate and refine their search strategies as they proceed.

The Framework defines each frame and suggests corresponding knowledge practices (understandings and skills) and dispositions. For example, the frame “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual” includes the knowledge practice, “learners who are developing their information literate abilities define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event),” and the disposition, “learners who are developing their information literate abilities question traditional notions of granting authority and recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews.” While the individual frames represent complex concepts, the knowledge practices and dispositions translate those concepts into knowledge, skills, and dispositions that librarians can help students develop through information literacy instruction.

While the Framework does not explicitly use the term “threshold concepts,” it was clearly influenced by the work of Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011). Three of the frames reflect the authors’ original suggestions (format as process, authority is constructed and contextual, and information as a commodity), while another frame reflects later suggestions related to understanding metadata and database structure (Townsend et al., 2011; Hofer et al., 2012).

Seeber notes that in addition to threshold concepts, the Framework draws directly from critical information literacy. He writes, “Researchers are encouraged to question how and why information is produced and disseminated, as well as how and why they could, or could not, use that information to achieve their goals” (Seeber, 2015, p. 159). Seeber goes on to argue that while the Framework was developed with academic research in mind, it positions information literacy as a real-world skill with value outside the classroom. In doing so, it challenges librarians to address the complexities of information creation and dissemination as part of their instruction, rather than offering students simple rules and guidelines that prioritize certain types of information such as scholarly journals.

Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills

Information professionals in public libraries and museums can look to Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) (n.d.) as a statement of the competencies adults need for personal and workplace success. In its report announcing the creation of the standards, IMLS notes the importance of out-of-school and lifelong learning for both children and adults (2009, p. 4) and states that through their material and digital collections, libraries and museums are uniquely positioned to “promote curiosity, learning by doing, and discovery” (2009, p. 6). They encourage librarians and museum professionals to take a more intentional approach to education, particularly in the development of lifelong learning skills (2009, p. 6).

Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills takes a metaliteracy approach, folding together information, media, and technology literacy with learning and innovation skills, life and career skills, and contemporary themes such as global awareness and civic and health literacy. As the name implies, the focus is on tangible skills. However, in many areas, the document does identify dispositions. For example, under “Learning and Innovation Skills,” IMLS includes the standard “demonstrate imagination and curiosity,” while “Civic Literacy” includes, “exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national, and global levels.”

Other Standards

Many other library and information science organizations have proposed information literacy standards as well. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (2006) published the Guidelines on Information Literacy for Lifelong Learning, while in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) has developed the Seven Pillars of Information Literacy (SCONUL, 2011). The International Society for Technology in Education (n.d.) has created the ISTE Standards for Students, addressing information, technology, and communication skills. These standards are clear, concise, and very relevant to librarians in school libraries and public library makerspaces.

In addition, ACRL and disciplinary associations have created numerous sets of subject-specific information literacy standards. ACRL offers standards in nine subject areas, including journalism (ACRL, 2011), psychology (ACRL, 2010), and science and technology (ACRL, 2006). These disciplinary standards are particularly relevant for academic librarians working with upper-division students in their major courses and graduate students. Law librarians, particularly those working in law schools, can look to the American Association of Law Libraries’ (2013) Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency. Archivists can consult the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy, developed jointly by the Society of American Archivists and the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of ACRL (2018).

Librarians should also attend to educational standards that may incorporate elements of information literacy or impact their workplace and non-librarian colleagues. National standards such as the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association, 2020) and the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2013), as well as state educational standards, have a significant influence on the curriculum in K-12 settings. In most cases, these standards are complementary to those developed by librarians, and librarians should not feel forced to choose between them but rather strive to show how their work supports students’ attainment across multiple sets of standards. For example, many standards address the ability to evaluate information, as shown in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1: Comparison of Standards that Address the Ability to Evaluate Information

Standard Age Competency Statement
Next Generation Science Standards High School “Evaluate the validity and reliability of multiple claims that appear in scientific and technical texts or media reports, verifying the data when possible.”
Common Core State Standards Grades 9-10 “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.”
Standards Framework for Learners K-12 “Learners gather information appropriate to the task by systematically questioning and assessing the validity and accuracy of information.”


Moreillon (2013) shows how librarians can develop a matrix that maps the connections among disciplinary standards, information literacy standards, and reading and learning strategies used in the classroom. AASL (n.d.) offers crosswalks that map the commonalities among the Standards Framework for Learners and other well-known information and technology literacy standards. Activity 2.3 is an opportunity to explore these commonalities in more detail.


Activity 2.3: Comparing Standards

Select two sets of standards, one for information literacy and one for education. (In addition to the education standards mentioned in this chapter, you can locate standards on the websites of disciplinary organizations and your state board of education.)

  1. Review both sets of standards to familiarize yourself with their format and content. In what ways are the standards similar? Different?
  2. Starting with the education standards, locate a specific competency that reflects information literacy.
  3. Next, review the information literacy standards. What is the corresponding competency in the information literacy standards?
  4. Work with a small group of peers to compare your findings and identify additional parallels between the education and information literacy standards.
  5. Having identified these parallel standards, how could you use this knowledge in your instructional design or when collaborating with non-librarian colleagues?


Most librarians will become deeply conversant with the standards that are most relevant to their daily work. However, because our patrons practice information seeking throughout their life and in varied contexts, librarians should be familiar with other pertinent standards. For example, high school librarians may work most often with the Standards Framework but can look to the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education and Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills to reflect on the skills students need to be college- and career- ready, while subject liaisons in an academic library will need to be familiar with disciplinary standards as well as ACRL’s Framework.

Working with the Standards

Because they articulate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to be information literate, the standards and frameworks can guide us as we plan instruction. For example, a librarian reviewing ACRL’s Framework might note that college students should be able to “give credit to the original ideas of others through proper attribution and citation.” In reflecting on the library’s instructional program, the instructor might conclude that while all course-related workshops include a short section on citations within research papers, librarians could be doing more to educate students about proper attribution practices for other situations, such as when they use images in presentations or music clips in student films. To facilitate this, the librarian might create short lessons on attribution that can be integrated into other workshops as well as a library guide for use at the reference desk and on the library’s website. Activity 2.4 is a practice exercise in using standards to design instruction.


Activity 2.4: Using Standards to Design Instruction

Select one of the following competency statements. How could you help patrons develop information literacy by integrating the stated competency into an existing workshop or developing a new workshop?

  • From the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education
    • Match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools.
    • Persist in the face of search challenges and know when they have enough information to complete the information task.
  • From the Standards Framework for Learners
    • Ethically using and reproducing others’ work.
    • Involving diverse perspectives in their own inquiry processes.
  • From the Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills
    • Use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information.
    • Understand both how and why media messages are constructed and for what purposes.


Another way instruction librarians use standards is to show that their work supports broader educational or organizational goals. In this case, the librarian may start with a program or workshop idea and then identify an appropriate standard that validates its value. For example, librarians in a public library might note that they frequently receive questions about selecting health insurance at the reference desk and decide to collaborate with a local nonprofit to offer workshops on the basics of health insurance. As part of seeking a grant to support their work, the librarians point to the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Museums, Libraries, and 21st Century Skills, which states that people should be able to “obtain, interpret, and understand basic health information and services and use such information and services in ways that enhance health” and “use available information to make appropriate health-related decisions.” Activity 2.5 is a practice activity to align a workshop idea with a standard.


Activity 2.5: Aligning Workshops with Standards

Select a set of standards appropriate for the type of library in which you would like to work. Then, select one of the following topics:

  • Citing sources
  • Creating a résumé
  • Finding primary sources
  • Using Twitter
  • Conducting genealogical research

Imagine you have been asked to teach a workshop on this topic and would like to show how the workshop aligns with the standards you have selected. Review the standards, looking for where they mention your chosen topic or related skills. What competency statements within the standards best match the knowledge, skills, or dispositions that would be taught in the class?

Patron Perspectives on Information Literacy

Most information literacy frameworks are written by librarians and information professionals and therefore reflect their conceptions of information literacy and the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they believe patrons need. However, a few researchers have investigated how users conceive of and value information literacy. Lloyd notes that such studies help librarians understand how information is used in a wide variety of educational, work, and everyday contexts, and simultaneously challenge and enrich librarians’ notions of information literacy by allowing “other voices and other ways of knowing to be heard and represented” (Lloyd, 2005, p. 84). Dawes (2019) argues that understanding patrons’ conceptions of information literacy can improve outreach and collaboration.

In one of the most well-known studies, Bruce interviewed faculty and staff at two Australian institutions of higher education regarding their use of information in the workplace. From their responses, she identified seven conceptions of information literacy (Bruce, 1998):

  1. Information Technology: Using technology for communication and information retrieval
  2. Information Sources: Knowledge of specific types of sources and how to locate them
  3. Information Process: Planning and executing a search strategy
  4. Information Control: Storing information for later retrieval through personal organization systems, including physical, digital, and mental systems
  5. Knowledge Construction: Building a personal knowledge base
  6. Knowledge Extension: Using information, prior knowledge, and personal perspectives to gain new insights
  7. Wisdom: Using information ethically for the benefit of others

Bruce notes that for her participants, technology is a focal point for the first few conceptions but diminishes in importance in the latter conceptions as information and critical thinking become more central. Bruce argues that we need to understand how non-librarians conceptualize information use in order to teach information literacy effectively. While Bruce’s findings reflect the technology available at the time and may feel dated to modern readers (for example, social media does not appear in any of the conceptions), her patron-centered approach to understanding information literacy was groundbreaking and shares a common ethos with critical information literacy’s emphasis on the value of information to the user.

Subsequent researchers have found other groups hold similar conceptions to those identified by Bruce. Maybee (2006) finds that undergraduates hold three of the same conceptions: information sources, information seeking process, and building a personal knowledge base. Smith and Hepworth (2012) find that teens and adolescents share the information sources, information seeking process, knowledge control, and knowledge construction conceptions.

At the same time, researchers have uncovered additional conceptions not identified in Bruce’s study. Smith and Hepworth (2012) find that the young people in their study also held conceptions related to receiving information from others and using information for a task. Lloyd (2005, p. 85-86), in her study of firefighters, finds that textual sources are viewed as limited and inadequate for the needs of the job and that social sources (information received from colleagues) and direct experience are rated as crucial ways of knowing. In a study of refugees, Lloyd and Wilkinson (2019) also identify the ability to tap into social sources as an important form of information literacy. Studies by Maybee (2007) on undergraduate women, Yates (2015) on patient experiences with health information literacy, and Dawes (2019) on college faculty also add to our understanding of patron conceptions of information literacy.


Instruction librarians offer workshops and course-related instruction on a wide variety of topics. Much of this work falls under the umbrella of information literacy: the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that empower individuals to use technology effectively; to locate and evaluate information in a multitude of forms, from books to social media; and to create new knowledge and solve problems for school and work assignments, in their personal lives, and in their communities.

Key takeaways from this chapter include the following:

  • While early definitions of information literacy focused on search skills for library resources, librarians currently understand information literacy as encompassing a wide array of knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to information, technology, and media. Current definitions of information literacy position individuals as information creators as well as consumers.
  • Critical approaches to information literacy recognize that information production systems elevate some voices while marginalizing others. Librarians should assist patrons in uncovering potentially marginalized perspectives, rather than reifying certain forms of scholarship over others. In line with critical pedagogy, discussed further in Chapter 5, critical information literacy also emphasizes inquiry and the learner’s agency in the information-seeking process.
  • Professional organizations, including AASL, ACRL, and IMLS, have developed standards and frameworks that define information literacy and guide the work of instruction librarians. Standards developed by other organizations may include competencies related to information literacy and are also relevant to the work of instruction librarians.
  • Research on how patrons conceive of information enriches librarians’ understandings of information literacy and our ability to work effectively with learners.

Key Standards

American Association of School Librarians. (2017). Standards framework for learners.

While AASL’s standards for school libraries and competencies for school librarians must be purchased via ALA Editions, the text of the Standards Framework for Learners, along with valuable explanatory material and resources for implementation, is available on its website for free.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education.

Essential reading for reference and instruction librarians in academic libraries, the Framework is also relevant to librarians working with teens and adults in special and public libraries.

Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2009). Museums, libraries, and 21st century skills. ED507729.

This report presents the text of the standards along with a discussion of the importance of twenty-first century skills in lifelong learning, case studies of innovative programs, and a self-assessment tool for libraries and museums.

Suggested Readings

Bauder, J., & Rod, C. (2016). Crossing thresholds: Critical information literacy pedagogy and the ACRL framework. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 23, 252–264.

Bauder and Rod provide numerous examples of teaching strategies that support critical information literacy and are compatible with the Framework. Useful for high school and academic librarians seeking practical teaching ideas.

Downey, A. (2016). Critical information literacy: Foundations, inspiration, and ideas. Library Juice Press.

Downey provides a concise, readable introduction to critical information literacy and using critical pedagogy in library instruction.

Foasberg, N. M. (2015). From standards to frameworks for IL: How the ACRL framework addresses critiques of the standards. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 15, 699–717.

Foasberg explores how the Framework positions knowledge as a social construct and students as participatory leaners. An excellent introduction to the larger ideas behind the Framework.

Folk, A. L. (2019). Reframing information literacy as academic cultural capital: A critical and equity-based foundation for practice, assessment, and scholarship. College & Research Libraries, 80, 658-673.

Folk argues that while academic librarians have embraced critical information literacy, they have not changed their assessment and scholarship practices to address issues of equity and inclusion. She presents the cultural capital model as a potential framework and makes suggestions for instructional and research practices that further equity.

Freedman, J., & Robinson, A. A. (2019). School librarians level up! Knowledge Quest, 47(5), 10-15.

The authors, both school librarians, outline a variety of instructional activities that support the shared foundation “Explore” in the Standards Framework for Learners. This short article is packed with inspiring ideas for librarians seeking to implement the Standards Framework.

Hofer, A. R., Hanick, S. L., & Townsend, L. (2019). Transforming information literacy instruction: Threshold concepts in theory and practice. Libraries Unlimited.

Following a cogent introduction to threshold concepts and their application to information literacy, the authors identify and discuss five threshold concepts. Final chapters connect threshold concepts to assessment and provide strategies for incorporating the concepts in instruction.

Lechtenberg, K., & Phillips, J. (2018). Speaking up for equity takes courage—but the standards have your back. Knowledge Quest, 46(5), 56-63.

Lechtenberg and Phillips show how concern with equity and inclusion runs throughout the Standards Framework and suggest concrete actions librarians can take to further equity through information literacy instruction. The article concludes with a helpful table of questions librarians can ask to interrogate their work.

Schroeder, R., & Cahoy, E. S. (2010). Valuing information literacy: Affective learning and the ACRL standards. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10, 127-47.

While the authors’ recommendation that ACRL fold dispositions into a set of revised standards has come to pass, this article is still a relevant and cogent explanation of the importance of attending to affect in teaching information literacy.

Seeber, K. (2015). This is really happening: Criticality and discussions of context in ACRL’s Framework for information literacy. Communications in Information Literacy, 9, 157-63.

Seeber discusses how the Framework incorporates critical information literacy, particularly through its emphasis on context.

Wilkinson, L. (2014). The problem with threshold concepts. In Sense and Reference: A Philosophical Library Blog.

Wilkinson provides a concise and cogent critique of threshold concepts and their application to information literacy.


Achieve. (2013). Next generation science standards.

American Association of Law Libraries. (2013). Principles & standards for legal research competency.

American Association of School Librarians. (n.d.). Standards crosswalks.

American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st century learner. American Association of School Librarians.

American Association of School Librarians. (2017). Standards framework for learners.

American Association of School Librarians. (2018). National school library standards for learners, school librarians, and school libraries. ALA Editions.

American Library Association. (1989). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2006). Information literacy standards for science and technology.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2010). Psychology information literacy standards.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2011). Information literacy competency standards for journalism students and professionals.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education.

Bruce, C. S. (1998). The Phenomenon of information literacy. Higher Education Research & Development, 17, 25-43.

Cope, J. (2009). Information literacy and social power. In M. T. Accardi, E. Drabinski, & A. Kumbier (Eds.), Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (pp. 13-28). Library Juice Press.

Dawes, L. (2019). Faculty perceptions of teaching information literacy to first-year students: A phenomenographic study. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51, 545–560.

Digital Literacy Task Force. (2020).

Doherty, J. J. (2007). No shhing: Giving voice to the silenced: An essay in support of critical information literacy. Library Philosophy and Practice.

Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192–199.

Foasberg, N. M. (2015). From standards to frameworks for IL: How the ACRL framework addresses critiques of the standards. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 15, 699–717.

Hall, R. (2010). Public praxis: A vision for critical information literacy in public libraries. Public Library Quarterly, 29, 162-75.

Hinchliffe, L. J. (2016). Loading examples to further human rights education. In N. Pagowsky & K. McElroy (Eds.), Critical library pedagogy handbook 1: Essays and workbook activities (pp. 75-84). ACRL.

Hofer, A. R., Townsend, L., & Brunetti, K. (2012). Troublesome concepts and information literacy: Investigating threshold concepts for IL instruction. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(4), 387–405.

Hofer, A. R., Hanick, S. L., & Townsend, L. (2019). Transforming information literacy instruction: Threshold concepts in theory and practice. Libraries Unlimited.

Institute of Museum and Library Services. (n.d.). Museums, libraries, and 21st century skills.

Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2009). Museums, libraries, and 21st century skills. (ED507729). ERIC.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2005). Beacons of the information society: The Alexandria proclamation on information literacy and lifelong learning.

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2006). Guidelines on information literacy for lifelong learning.

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE Standards for Students.

Ireland, S. (2017). For your information: Using information literacy in public libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57, 12-16.

Jacobs, H. L. M. (2009). Posing the Wikipedia ‘problem’: Information literacy and the praxis of problem-posing in library instruction. In M. T. Accardi, E. Drabinski, & A. Kumbier (Eds.), Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (pp. 179-198). Library Juice Press.

Jacobson, T. E., & O’Keeffe, E. (2014). Seeking—and finding—authentic inquiry models for our evolving information landscape. Knowledge Quest, 43(2), 26-33.

Kapitzke, C. (2001). Information literacy: The changing library. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44, 450–456.

Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A positivist epistemology and a politics of outformation. Educational Theory, 53, 37–53.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 361-371.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services (2nd ed.). Libraries Unlimited.

Lechtenberg, K., & Phillips, J. (2018). Speaking up for equity takes courage—but the standards have your back. Knowledge Quest, 46(5), 56-63.

Lloyd, A. (2005). Information literacy: Different contexts, different concepts, different truths? Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 37, 82-88.

Lloyd, A., & Wilkinson, J. (2019). Tapping into the information landscape: Refugee youth enactment of information literacy in everyday spaces. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51, 252–259.

Mackey, T. P., & Jacobson, T. E. (2011). Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy. College & Research Libraries, 72, 62-78.

Maybee, C. (2006). Undergraduate perceptions of information use: The basis for creating user-centered student information literacy instruction. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32, 79–85.

Maybee, C. (2007). Understanding our student learners: A phenomenographic study revealing the ways that undergraduate women at Mills College understand using information. Reference Services Review, 35, 452–462.

McLaughlin, J. L., & Tucker, V. M. (2017). Citation Indexing and threshold concepts: An essential ah-ha in student learning. Journal of Education for Library & Information Science, 58, 236–244.

Mellon, C. (1986). Library anxiety: A grounded theory and its development. College & Research Libraries, 47, 160-65.

Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways to thinking and practicing with the disciplines. ETL Project Occasional Report 4. Edinburgh, Scotland: Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses Project.

Mihaildis, P., & Diggs, V. (2010). From information reserve to media literacy learning commons: Revisiting the 21st century library as the home for media literacy education. Public Library Quarterly, 29, 279-92.

Moreillon, J. (2013). A matrix for school librarians: Aligning standards, inquiry, reading, and instruction. School Library Monthly, 29(4), 29-32.

National Governors Association for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2020). Common core state standards. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers.

O’Connor, L. (2006). Librarians’ professional struggles in the information age: A critical analysis of information literacy. [Doctoral dissertation, Kent State University]. OhioLINK.

Pankl, E. & Coleman, J. (2009). ‘There’s nothing on my topic!’ Using the theories of Oscar Wilde and Henry Giroux to develop critical pedagogy for library instruction. In M. T. Accardi, E. Drabinski, & A. Kumbier (Eds.), Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (pp. 3-12). Library Juice Press.

Proclamation No. 8429, 74 F.R. 51445 (2009).

Schroeder, R., & Cahoy, E. S. (2010). Valuing information literacy: Affective learning and the ACRL standards. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10, 127-47.

Seeber, K. (2015). This is really happening: Criticality and discussions of context in ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy. Communications in Information Literacy, 9, 157-63.

Smith, L. (2013). Towards a model of critical information literacy for the development of political agency. Journal of Information Literacy, 7, 15-32.

Smith, M., & Hepworth, M. (2012). Young people: A phenomenographic investigation into the ways they experience information. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 62, 157–173.

Society of American Archivists. (2018). Guidelines for primary source literacy.

Society of College, National and University Libraries. (2001). Seven pillars of information literacy.

Spires, H. A., & Bartlett, M. E. (2012). Digital literacies and learning: Designing a path forward. Friday Institute White Paper Series.

State Library of Iowa. (2013). Governor proclaims October information literacy awareness month.

Stripling, B. (2008). Dispositions: Getting beyond “whatever.” School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25(2), 47-50.

Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold concepts and information literacy. portal: Libraries & the Academy, 11, 853–869.

Tucker, V. M., Weedman, J., Bruce, C. S., & Edwards, S. L. (2014). Learning portals: Analyzing threshold concept theory for LIS education. Journal of Education for Library & Information Science, 55, 150–165.

UNESCO. (2020). Communication and information: Themes.

Wilkinson, L. (2014). The problem with threshold concepts. Sense and Reference: A Philosophical Library Blog.

Wilkinson, L. (2016). Revisiting the Framework: Is information creation a process? Sense and Reference: A philosophical Library Blog.

Yates, C. (2015). Exploring variation in the ways of experiencing health information literacy: A phenomenographic study. Library & Information Science Research, 37, 220–227.

Yukawa, J. (2015). Preparing for complexity and wicked problems through transformational learning approaches. Journal of Education for Library & Information Science, 56, 158-68.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Instruction in Libraries and Information Centers Copyright © 2020 by Laura Saunders and Melissa A. Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book