Waving the Framework

One time I heard an anecdote, likely apocryphal, about a meeting of allied leaders during World War 2. Roosevelt was having everyone drink martinis, which spurred a discussion about the appropriate proportion of gin to vermouth. Churchill poured himself a measure of gin, then, while looking at the French delegation, waved the bottle of vermouth over the shaker without actually adding any. The idea was that he didn’t want to add anything French to his London Dry Gin, and that just placing the bottle in proximity to the cocktail was enough to add its essence.

In a manner of speaking, this has been my approach to ACRL’s Draft Framework for Information Literacy as I prepare for the fall semester.

My library drafted our five student learning outcomes several years ago, and while they aren’t directly lifted from the old ACRL Standards, there’s a heavy influence. These SLOs drive our assessment program, and have been ingrained in the last couple of strategic plans. With that in mind, our outcomes were starting to show their age well before the first draft of the Framework was released in February. As the library has integrated new discovery tools, and the information landscape has continued its ceaseless shift, it’s become harder and harder to break different lessons into these neat little packages. I found myself saying things like “this activity is really focused on SLO 3, but I’m assessing it like it’s SLO 4… and it probably makes SLO 2 irrelevant…” (this quote is almost verbatim from a meeting with my chair). But when it comes to planning for the fall, how wise is it to rewrite our outcomes in response to what is still a draft document? I mean, we have a pretty good idea of what the final version is going to look like, but I’m assuming there will be still be changes, some of them substantial.

For that reason, I’m channeling Churchill and waving the Framework over my plans for the fall, but not actually adding anything. Don’t get me wrong, its essence is everywhere, but I’m holding off on doing anything too drastic. I know the point of the Framework being a “framework,” and not a set of “standards,” is that it’s open to interpretation. Each library is free, and even encouraged, to develop its own threshold concepts, and my library could do the same. This is great! But there are still a couple of things keeping me from updating my program’s guiding documents.

First, despite my enthusiasm for the revisions, there has been some hesitation from my colleagues. My campus has seen a rough year, with a lot of upheaval, and anything familiar is seen as a lifeline. So whenever I mention in a library meeting that I think we’ll need to dump our SLOs and rewrite a significant chunk of our strategic and assessment plans, well… it understandably doesn’t go over all that well. I’d just as soon wait for things to calm down before I dig in and really overturn the applecart.

The second reason I haven’t updated my program is that I still don’t entirely understand what I’m doing. I’ve had a few dozen intense conversations about threshold concepts, and read as much as I could find, but there are still a lot of questions out there. By and large, I think that’s very positive. The fact that so many of us are challenged means we’re free to seek new solutions. I’ve already heard about several new approaches to library instruction, and I’m sure the ACRL and LOEX conferences next spring will outline several more. And I’ve had my one good idea so far, but I’m not ready to move forward until I’ve figured out how some more of the pieces fit together.

The reason I’m thinking about all of this is that I’m wondering what our profession is going to look like in a few years. What kind of timeline are we all working on? How many libraries are going to dive in, headfirst, to incorporate the concepts in the Framework? And how many are going to hold onto the standards for another decade? How many libraries are (finally) going to recognize the weakness of one-shots? And how many are going to hand off information literacy to specific disciplines? Is it worth trying to convince colleagues of one approach or another?

I think some of these divisions have already started to present themselves, and they’ve spurred a lot of excellent discussions (especially Lane Wilkinson’s work). I’m just curious when, and how much, these discussions will inform practice?