The ACRL Information Literacy Constellation

In its first action on the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the ACRL Board stated that “we have accepted the Framework and it will assume its place among the constellation of documents used by information literacy practitioners” (

That metaphorical framing – constellation – stuck with me and over the past year I’ve been using it to explore ways to bring together and work productively with both the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards and the Framework (as well as the many other information literacy policy documents that the ACRL Board has adopted over the years, including the Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline, the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators, and the various subject and other specialty information literacy standards).

I have found the constellation metaphor to be very evocative.  What does it mean for stars to be in a constellation?  If we think about the night sky, we never see all of the constellations clearly.  There are stars, and by drawing connections among those stars and imagining what they might be symbolize, we bring different images into focus. As the earth rotates and the seasons change, the constellations that are visible to us change; so, there are aspects of positionality and relativeness when we think about constellations.

I believe the constellation metaphor is helping us see that it’s a matter of bringing a perspective to the information literacy documents and seeing which of them are in brighter relief for us at a given point in time and which are most useful for us to move our programs forward at that point in time.  Doing so will create the shapes or the images that we see and determine which needs to shine brightest in our situation, while at the same time aligning our local circumstances with national “sky” – the systems of articulation, transfer, and accreditation that concern our institutions and thus our libraries.

As the keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts “Implementing the New Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education at PCLA Libraries” Conference and in a session at the 15th Annual Illinois Information Literacy Summit, I had the opportunity to lead librarians through a process of exploring the constellation metaphor. It is truly amazing how many different constellations are discussed – from Pleiades to the Big Dipper – and each time participants also went a step further, unprompted, to bring in both the North Star and the Milky Way as additional metaphors.

Gemini.png At the most basic application of the metaphor, I personally have come to see the Framework and Standards through the lens of the constellation Gemini. The two documents are not identical, though they share a common touchpoint (the goal of bringing students to a state of information literacy). They each have their own shape, size, and components but we can recognize them as related. The fact that one exists does not diminish the other and the fact that they “hold hands” helps each bring the other into focus.

If I’m sharing this in a conversation, this is the point where someone usually says something like “okay Lisa, that’s great, but what does it mean practically?”  Good question because as librarians we’re practitioners so we need the pragmatic!

So, pragmatically, let me share how I’ve come to understand the Framework and the Standards working together. Since the Framework itself says that the frames present concepts and not learning outcomes, I see that the frames as helping us develop the pathways of student learning, the journey.

But, a journey needs a destination; we still need something else that we’re teaching towards. That is to say, we need the answer to the question “what will an information literate student be able to do?” That is the value of the Standards. The Standards set a destination. We may interpret the language of the Standards into our local dialect (as many libraries have done with the Standards over the past 15 years), but we can always map that local to the national because we have the shared language of the destination in the Standards.

Interestingly, as I have worked with this understanding, I have found it very easy to bring both the Standards and the Framework into my instructional design practice, which is heavily influenced by Understanding by Design (I identified a number of short introductions to this method for the PCLA conference mentioned above and they are linked from the conference materials). As I say often, with the Framework and Standards, it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both/and.

I’ll end this blog post with an excerpt of four slides from the PCLA keynote that show what it looks like to design a single class instruction session using the both/and approach to the Framework and the Standards through the Understanding by Design approach to instructional design. (I will admit that I’ve simplified here a bit because an information literacy instructional design should be put in the context of campus general education learning outcomes, major/minor program outcomes, etc. as well. I couldn’t work all that into a keynote though it is included in the one-day workshop that I give on information literacy instructional design.)

P.S. My gratitude to an academic library director whose background is information literacy practice and who holds an important high-level leadership position in ACRL (but who also asked to not be publically identified) for encouraging me to share how I’ve been approaching this. That director has heard from many librarians asking for practical guidance/training on how to use the Framework for instructional practice while still responding to the reality that their institutions require that their information literacy programs to have a set of standard learning outcomes for purposes of assessment, accreditation, and program evaluation. Or, to put it more bluntly, how to be creative practitioners in the classroom while also ensuring that our information literacy programs, and by extension our libraries, can be defended and justified in this “neoliberal” era.



ACRL Asked and I Answered

As a past president of the Association of College and Research Libraries (2010-2011), it was a particular pleasure to respond to the questions that the ACRL Board asked of the candidates for ALA President. The answers were published in the March 2016 issue of C&RL NewsIn print, the responses are grouped by question. I have provided a copy of my answers below for anyone who would like to see them as a complete set.


Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe
Candidate for ALA President

Introductory Statement:

I want to thank the ACRL Board for these questions and the opportunity to share my thoughts with ACRL members. As an academic librarian, ACRL has been my division home. As a past ACRL President (2010-2011), I know well the achievements of ACRL members and staff. As a donor to ACRL Friends, I am confident that my funds are put to good use. For more information about my candidacy for ALA President, please visit and also be in touch via email (, Facebook ( or Twitter (@lisa4alaprez or @lisalibrarian).

  1. What do you see as the most important issues facing our profession, particularly for academic and research librarians? With respect to these issues, what should ALA do to address them? What skills do you bring to ALA to help address these issues and move the association forward?

The most important issue for our profession today is understanding the information needs of our communities and continuing our historic success in transforming our libraries to meet those needs. ALA is a platform for collective action and empowerment of libraries and library workers through which we can collaborate and implement solutions that cannot be achieved by a single institution or individual. ACRL exemplifies this for the academic library community.

I have a long track record of providing leadership in decentralized organizations that are managing multiple priorities. When I served as ACRL President (2010-2011), I brought together hundreds of people (members and staff) with divergent viewpoints to create the ACRL’s Plan for Excellence. We also launched the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative, shifted College and Research Libraries to an open access model, and re-structured the division committees, among other things.

My work as the information literacy coordinator at the University of Illinois at Urbana depends on successfully deploying strategies of persuasion and partnership for programmatic development. In 2015, I also served as coordinator for strategic planning at the University Library, engaging people across the organization in a highly participatory and inclusive process to draft the library’s recently adopted Framework for Strategic Action.

  1. ACRL’s Plan for Excellence identifies goals that heighten the impact that librarians have upon the Value of Academic Libraries, Student Learning, and the Research and Scholarly Environment. In what ways would you, as ALA president, work with ACRL and its partners to advance or promote these goals?

As ALA President, I would welcome the opportunity to highlight the work of ACRL and academic and research libraries in broader conversations about the impact that libraries have on their communities. I have continued to lead a component of the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Initiative – specifically serving as co-lead facilitator of the Assessment in Action project – and am familiar with how the ACRL Plan for Excellence serves as the foundation of ACRL’s programmatic development as well as a springboard for engagement with the broader higher education community in building visibility for the impact of academic libraries on their communities.

Many other divisions and units within ALA are also undertaking projects under the rubrics of impact and value. I do not wish to homogenize these efforts because each group has unique considerations and circumstances; however, as ALA President, I would be in a position to harmonize the results into clear, coherent, and compelling messages about the value of all types of libraries to policymakers, funding agencies, and other stakeholders. I know that academic libraries sometimes are missing from some of the national discussions on the importance of libraries, and ACRL can count on me to be inclusion of academic libraries in these conversations.

  1. How do you define diversity, and what experience have you had advancing diversity in the library profession?

The definition of diversity in ACRL’s Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries reflects my own understanding of diversity and its importance in our libraries and society. My own work in advancing diversity has focused on mentorship. I have served as a mentor in the ACRL Dr. E. J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program – one mentee relationship is getting near to a decade long now – as well as in local programs at the University of Illinois. As Head of the Undergraduate Library, I championed a successful program to recruit undergraduate student workers from diverse backgrounds into graduate school and the library profession.

Recruiting to the profession is, however, only one aspect of creating inclusivity and equity. More recently I have added to my efforts a focus on retention in the profession and what it means for libraries to be a workplace of choice. If we are to move towards attaining our diversity goals, we need to understand all of the factors and considerations that are impacting diversity in the profession.

  1. Membership organizations, such as ALA and ACRL, need to demonstrate their value to recruit and retain members. What does ALA need to do to keep the organization relevant to academic and research librarians, particularly those new to the profession? How can ALA continue to engage members and non-members as travel and professional development funds are being reduced or eliminated?

Delivering value is a challenge for both libraries and library associations. Just as academic libraries need to understand the needs of their communities and meet them so too do ALA and ACRL. I am excited about new efforts in this arena that are underway in both ALA and ACRL.

Two of the specific actions that I have promised in my Candidate Statement ( are particularly relevant to the question of engagement. First, I commit to using ALA President funds to support promising examples of digital inclusion and to share those practices across the association. ALA policy allows us to conduct our work virtually, and ACRL has been a leader in experimenting with possibilities. We need to share practices across the association and align resources with those practices.

Second, I believe that ALA needs to systematically re-examine the viability of holding two conferences per year and the effect of doing so on member engagement and the ecosystem of division and state conferences. Given the strength of the ACRL Conference, I look forward to engaging ACRL leaders in these discussions.

  1. Managing research data (acquiring, storing, organizing and analyzing it) is a subject of great interest both in and beyond higher education. ACRL is currently exploring how it might provide educational opportunities related to research data management to its members. As data management becomes more widely used in analytical methods in academic and scholarly research, as well as government and industry, how can ALA support divisional efforts to make sure we are helping our members to thrive in this new research environment?

Research data services is a great example of how academic libraries recognize information needs in their communities and transform library organizations to serve these needs. Managing research data is a very complex and fast-changing area of work and requires partnerships within our institutions as well as across industry and government.

As ACRL leaders know, ACRL is not the only division whose members are engaged in this work. This is a good example of a case where ALA needs to be a platform for divisions and other units working together. At times, unfortunately, ALA structures and policies can create barriers to partnerships. If elected ALA President, I anticipate taking an active role in helping the association develop creative solutions to working collaboratively on issues and challenges that cross organizational lines. By doing so we can create value for our members and better meet their needs through professional development and program support.

  1. There has been much written about net neutrality and the dangers that changing existing policies might mean for websites, organizations and other information agencies and content providers. In what ways will the end of net neutrality affect college and research libraries, and what steps might we take to protect our interests?

The end of net neutrality will mean first and foremost even greater disparity in information access for our communities. A very challenging aspect of this is that such inequality and injustice can be obscured by complex business arrangements, contracts and licenses, and even competing interests within our own higher education institutions.

We will have an opportunity to play an important role locally within our institutions. Our scholarly communications and information literacy librarians will be key players in educating and working with our user communities about the impacts of the end of net neutrality on teaching, learning, and research. Engaging our user communities will be necessary to build coalitions for advocacy and communication.

Fundamentally, we must focus our interests in alignment with the interests of our user communities. We must be active and vigilant in monitoring legislative changes, understanding and documenting their impacts, and choosing strategically how we approach our advocacy work. I am a comfortable and confident public speaker and as ALA President I would use those talents in partnership with staff and member leaders to address challenges to net neutrality.


ACRL President (2010-2011)

I had the honor of serving as President of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2010-2011. As a division president, I worked closely with Mary Ellen Davis (ACRL Executive Director), the ACRL Board of Directors, Roberta Stevens (who was ALA President that year), all of the other division presidents, and many other ALA and ACRL staff.  That experience was very formative of how I think about the role of the ALA President and the priorities that I highlight in my Candidate Statement.

Lisa (ACRL President) and Mary Ellen Davis (ACRL Executive Director) at the ALA Inauguration in  2010

It was a very busy and productive year. There is a detailed annual report online but I thought I might also share some of the highlights:

We could accomplish so much because of the generosity of ACRL members in contributing their time and effort to our collective work. It was an honor to lead the association as President and to support the community in achieving so much, which included ensuring that groups had the resources that they needed and doing everything possible to remove barriers and obstacles when they appeared.