Digital and Information Aliteracy

The role of cognitive bias and social effects in information seeking and knowledge construction is not a new topic in educational psychology. Charles West, my adviser for my master’s degree in educational psychology, published The Social and Psychological Distortion of Information in 1981 and his co-authored text Instructional Design: Implications from Cognitive Science (1991) has been a touchstone for me since I first encountered it in an instructional design course taught by his co-author James Farmer in 1994.  Careful consideration to constructing the learning environment and not just focusing on teacher performance has been a mantra for me. And, I have found a more contemporary resonance of this theme in Understanding by Design (2005) by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe as well (which is the one book I would choose if I could only suggest one text on instructional design to anyone who is involved with teaching or training design and delivery).

In 2002, I gave a talk at the Treasure Mountain Research Institute that focused on these issues titled “Illiterate or Aliterate? Information Literacy Challenges.”  In it I raised the question of whether we were designing information literacy instruction programs on the premise of information illiteracy but would have more success designing from the premise of aliteracy? What if the challenge is that students have information literacy skills and abilities – which we can see manifest in some contexts – but then lack the inclination or disposition to use those skills and abilities in other contexts? That would indicate that the instructional design challenge is one of motivation and engagement rather than solely knowledge transfer and skill development.

I have continued to incorporate these topics in various presentations (e.g., An Information Literate Life: Individual Experience and the Role of Libraries and Librarians, which also explored the concept of information privilege and the “information literate conscientious objector”).

More recently Bryan Alexander invited me to contribute an essay to an upcoming strategic issue brief that will be published by the New Media Consortium as part of the its digital literacy research initiative. My essay is titled “Self-Directed Digital Literacy Learning: Eliciting Learner Commitment” and I’m pleased to be able to provide a sneak peak of the opening paragraphs here:

“So many of the pieces one reads about digital literacy (or any of its companion literacies – information, media, computer, technology, etc.) present the learner as illiterate – in need of developing knowledge, skills, and abilities that the learner does not have and who will not gain unless they receive explicit instruction. In contrast, there is also the literature that puts forth the concept of the “digital native” who is born into intuitive knowing, doing, etc., by virtue of the technological milieu into which they were, quite literally, born and who are thus in need of no instruction.

This later notion is rather thoroughly critiqued by others so I will not make it my focus here. As to the former, of course it is no doubt the case that there are knowledge, skills, and abilities that learners do not have and that they could benefit from instruction (though I would still caution against the sine qua non perspective about formal instruction). But what of another possibility – one that I have observed repeatedly throughout my career – that of the learner who has the knowledge, skills, and abilities but does not use them? What of aliteracy?”

I am convinced that addressing aliteracy is the challenge we face in teaching for the goal of Information Literacy as a Way of Life. Recent months of discussion about “fake news” and the important of critical thinking has only strengthened my belief.

I’ll be discussing these issues, including curiosity as a key digital and information literacy disposition, as a member of the keynote panel for the “Library 2.017: Digital Literacy & Fake News” online conference on June 1, 2017. The online conference is free (register here).



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.



Faculty Are Lifelong Learners #txla16

20160419_154445I’m attending the Texas Library Association Conference (#txla16) this week as a candidate for ALA President.  I’ve already enjoyed meeting many Texas librarians and look forward to talking with more over the coming days. I can’t say enough in appreciation of the hospitality and welcome that Patricia Smith, Executive Director, and her TLA team extends to the candidates. What a warm and supportive welcome!

I also had the pleasure of being invited to lead a session today as well: Faculty Are Life-Long Learners; So, Why Not Teach Them Information Literacy?  I was thrilled that the session drew a crowd and not just academic librarians but many school librarians as well. It was great to have both of these communities together talking information literacy and outreach to instructors!

My handout is loaded in the conference app but the discussion brought forward so many additional ideas that I thought I’d combine my handout with everyone else’s ideas and summarize the session here. And, I’m also making good on the promise I made in the session that I would do so!

I started my sharing my philosophy that effective faculty development for information literacy starts with understanding the challenges that faculty are facing in their work. By understanding their challenges, we can position information literacy (and other library services) as solutions to problems rather than putting forth information literacy as another problem for the faculty to solve. Whether it is students who are not using credible sources in their papers, article manuscripts that do not fit with known publication outlets in their fields, a need for images to use in presentations that are not restricted by license or copyright, etc., information literacy instruction can come to the rescue.

The session then explored different aspects of faculty development programming: purpose, faculty role, program modes, and campus partners. Here is a summary of the ideas that emerged:

What is the purpose of the faculty development program that you are planning?

  • Individual Change
  • Organizational Change
  • Train-the-Trainers/Multiply Library Influence
  • Support QEP or Other Organizational Transformation Effort
  • Curricular Change – Support for Change Approved and/or Advocate for Change
  • Develop Faculty as Library Advocates

What is the role of the faculty that you are targeting for the faculty development program that you are planning?

  • Scholar/Researcher
  • Teacher
  • Service
  • Mentor/Advisor
  • Clinician
  • Recruiter
  • Activist
  • Library Advocate

What are possible program modes for the faculty development program that you are planning?

  • Workshops and Seminars
  • Discussion Groups
  • Assignment Design
  • Course Consultations
  • Selected Dissemination of Information
  • Institutes
  • Webinars
  • Self-Paced Learning
  • Games

Which campus partners could you collaborate with in development and marketing the faculty development program that you are planning?

  • Centers for Teaching/Learning
  • Academic Technologies
  • Distance Learning
  • QEP Office
  • Welcome Center
  • Facilities Management
  • Student life
  • Dual Enrollment Program Staff
  • Office of Research Services
  • Bookstore
  • Other Faculty Who are Library Advocates
  • Tutoring Center


At the end of the discussion, I asked each person to identify their next steps. What would they do …

  • In the next week …
  • In the next month …
  • In the next year …

What will you do?

The Library Website is the Classroom

This morning I came across the handout from a talk I gave at the 1999 ALA Midwinter Meeting at the ACRL Alliances for New Directions in Teaching and Learning Discussion Group. The title was “Virtual Futures: Developing New Models of Instruction” and my assertion was that libraries need to become “rich interactive learning environments” that “extend time and place.”

I couldn’t help but reflect on what changes we have seen in library websites since that 1999 talk, in which I strongly urged librarians to post copies of their print handouts online, given that this morning I also uploaded the slides from my presentation at the 2015 ALPSP Conference, Discovery is Delivery: Articulating a User-Centric Framework of Principles for Library Service Development, in which I discuss the robust discovery environment that is our library website at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Information literacy and instruction has been central to my career as a librarian from the time I discovered the specialty in library school. I have taught hundreds of course and thousands of students in ways that come immediately to mind – in a physical classroom, demonstrating, facilitating, giving feedback, etc. I find this work very rewarding and experience great joy in watching students take hold of their research topics and in working collaboratively with faculty on assignment and course design.

I also, however, practice my information literacy craft in another way that is less obvious but ultimately reaches even more students than I could ever reach directly in a classroom. For more than 20 years I have been serving on local, regional, and national teams that are responsible for the design and implementation of online research environments because I recognize that the library website is a classroom for our users. This is true for those who receive information literacy instruction directly and those who do not. My goal is to contribute to creating online research environments that support successful information seeking practices and serve the inquiry goals of our users.

I am also motivated by a desire to stop devoting our limited instruction time to training users to wrestle with systems that are at best cumbersome and are sometimes just plain broken. It demoralizes even the most dedicated instruction librarians I know to have to explain how to use library tools that are in desperate need of usability and user experience improvements. You may have watched Roger Schonfeld’s painful journey from citation to full-text PDF in Dismantling the Stumbling Blocks that Impede Researcher Access to E-Resources; imagine having the burden of teaching students that this is the way it is designed to work!

I’m pleased that, as Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I have been a welcomed and active partner in our discovery and delivery work since my very first months on the job in 2002 when I was appointed to “Access Task Force Working Group 1: Integrated Information Environment/Portals” that recommended the Library implement a federated search system and OpenURL resolver.It is a great strength of our library that we have always included public services, technical services, and technology services experts on our discovery system implementation teams, starting from when we implemented an automated library circulation system in the 1970s! I’ve been on groups that implemented Voyager, attempted implementation of WebFeat, implemented SFX, piloted and then decommissioned Primo, transitioned from OCLC FirstSearch to WorldCat Discovery, and created and continue to develop Easy Search.

With almost 15 years of work in this area at Illinois, I’ve been involved in many specific projects. I’m particularly proud of the work that Susan Avery and I did to assess Primo from an information literacy and student learning perspective (presented at LOEX 2014) and how our work has served as a basis for other librarians doing similar evaluations. I am also pleased with the results of a project that I coordinated to review a decade of user survey results [Graduate/Professional Survey (2004), Undergraduate Survey (2005); Faculty/Staff Survey (2006); LibQUAL+ (2008); Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey (2013);  LibQUAL+ (2014)] to investigate trends in user perspectives on discovery and principles for user-centered design. We found that our users consistently value seamless digital delivery, coherent discovery pathways, tools that are as simple as possible but not simplistic, tools that provide not everything but “my everything,” transparency, and independence. I also did a analysis of the reports library teams have written about our discovery systems. Library staff prioritize transparency, predictability/explain-ability, customizability, and co-development opportunities in information discovery systems.

Discovery is Delivery

Our user and staff principles are very complementary and serve as a strong, guiding foundation for the work of the Search, Discovery, and Delivery working group, which is responsible for continuing to develop Easy Search. While we have integrated WorldCat Discovery as a target in Easy Search, we have determined that Easy Search better meets the needs of our users as the default search box on the website than any currently commercially available discovery layer that could replace it. As an evidence-based organization, we will continue our assessment and analysis (see our Discovery Research Portal for a much longer list of studies than I have mentioned already).

As an information literacy librarian, I look forward to many years to come serving on working groups, task forces, implementation teams, and committees that will continue to seek the creation of the best possible discovery and delivery environments for our users. We have made progress but have a long way to go. I remain committed though. The library website is a classroom for which I am an instructional designer.





Information Literacy Leadership and Program Evaluation

We are fortunate to have two strong organizations in Illinois that provide professional development for academic and research librarians.

A fun fact – their acronyms share the same letters – CARLI and IACRL. CARLI is the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois and IACRL is the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries.

With Anne Zald

Last week they teamed up to offer an IACRL Pre-Conference Sponsored by CARLI on Curriculum Mapping. My long-time ACRL Immersion faculty colleague and fellow Illinois librarian, Anne Zald, gave an outstanding workshop in the morning on Curriculum Mapping to Integrate & Communicate Information Literacy.

I followed up with an afternoon workshop on Information Literacy Leadership and Program Evaluation: Using a Curriculum Map for Program Development. As part of this session, I gave an overview of logic models and how they assist with planning, assessment, and promoting information literacy programs.

The Cookies

Throughout the day, the conversations and questions were insightful and probing. There was so much energy around thinking deeply and strategically about our information literacy programs and how they align with campus curricula. (There were also some awesome cookies!)

The Illinois academic library community of practice is strong and the ideas that the day generated for making it stronger are very promising. I look forward to what’s next!