Moving from Standards to Framework by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

“I am not sure how to use the Framework for Information Literacy. I haven’t really had time to look at it.”

These were the words of an instruction librarian. I was at a poster session at ALA Annual in Orlando, and I had a great conversation with this librarian about her poster. Now, the conversation was turning toward the Framework.

She said, “each year, we use the Information Literacy Standards to assess our program. I do not really understand how I would do this with the Framework.” She seemed concerned that the Framework forced her to undergo some undefined process.

I asked her if she assess every single indicator in the Standards. She gave me an inquisitive look along with a small laugh. “Of course not,” she said. Their library has selected specific outcomes that are most relevant to their library. Their accreditors (and therefore their institution) do not define the outcomes for them. Thus, their librarians ignore many of the outcomes (or at least they do not formally assess them). They have taken a broad document outlining information literacy (the Standards in this case)  and synthesized it into something useful for their institution. Most of us have spent many hours rewriting outcomes in the Standards into documents that can be applied in our institutions.  I told her that moving to the Framework involved the same process, and, I would guess, it could involve many similar outcomes that they already assess.

Since the acceptance of the Framework, some librarians remain unclear on how to transform this document into practice. What do we do with it? Since its inception, I have viewed this process as one similar to the ways we’ve adapted the Standards to meet our needs.

The knowledge practices under each Frame are written in the language of learning outcomes. ACRL has indicated that these knowledge practices are not intended to be exhaustive (i.e. libraries can add more if needed). Therefore, they are not definitive standards. , But, the knowledge practices are intended to hit the breadth of learning under each Frame. Thus, these knowledge practices would be a great starting point.

As mentioned above, the outcomes we already assess would be an additional starting point. Thinking about where these fit into the Framework and how they may need to be revised presents an opportunity to reconsider what we assess. The Framework is purposefully broader than the Standards, so translating current practice to the Framework will necessarily open up broader conversations around information literacy with our librarians and our faculty.

I remember a conversation with accrediting agency representatives back in 2012 during the the Summit on the Value of Academic Libraries organized by ACRL. At this Summit, librarians, assessment officers, and college executives explored ways that we could demonstrate the value that we present to students and our institutions. Participants asked the accrediting representatives what they expected us, as libraries, to report to them.  These representatives emphasized that they did not offer definitive outcomes for libraries, but left it up to libraries and the larger institution to define outcomes and measure how well the outcomes were achieved. This view has been echoed by accrediting agencies during the writing of the Framework.

As a community college librarian with limited staff and resources, there was no way that my library could possibly assess all of the outcomes of the Standards every year. We did what most libraries did (except for the largest libraries with full teams devoted to assessment). We refocused the Standards to make them manageable. We strategically assessed (not assessing everything every year), so that we could produce meaningful outcomes that actually changed practiced. The Framework is great for small libraries (and especially for Community Colleges) as it allows us to utilize the umbrella document for guidance but to create outcomes that are most applicable for our curriculum which is what most of us do already.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the recent book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.