We Made It. Let’s Keep Going.

Earlier this week, the ACRL Board voted to file the Framework for Information Literacy (PDF), which means, amongst other things, we can finally stop calling it the “Draft Framework” (thank goodness). I’ve been following this process pretty closely for the last year and a half, and have written about it, presented about it, talked with colleagues about it, and corresponded with members of the Task Force who helped write it. Putting aside all of the debates over the Framework and the Standards and Threshold Concepts and Metaliteracy and whether or not Information Literacy is a really an “academic discipline,” I’d like to go on record as saying that I’ve been working in academic libraries, in one capacity or another, for a decade now, and the conversations I’ve had in the last year were the first time I felt like I was genuinely part of a community.

I don’t mean to say that there wasn’t already a community of practice present in librarianship, only that it was something I hadn’t fully appreciated until this year. The revisions process made me a better, more thoughtful librarian, and the conversations that it sparked made me feel, for the first time, that I had something to add to librarianship, both at my current library and throughout the profession. And I know from talking with my friends and colleagues that I’m not the only one who has had this experience. Maybe it’s just that a bunch of us are moving on from being “new librarians” at the same time, but I think that the process of commenting on the Framework and shaping its creation was incredibly important for those of us who take information literacy seriously. I feel like we now have a stake in the profession that we didn’t all have before.

This sentiment has been on my mind for the last few weeks, in anticipation of the board’s decision at Midwinter. And while I’m very pleased they adopted the Framework, I was also admittedly surprised and disappointed by their decision to keep the Standards as well. While I had some reservations at first, I’m now squarely on “Team Framework,” and have (perhaps misguidedly and unfairly) seen it as a dichotomous relationship. It’s either “Framework” or “Standards.” “Qualitative” or “Quantitative.” “Active” or “Passive.” “Open” or “Closed.” And, yes, on my more hyperbolic days, “Good” or “Evil.”

I appreciate Meredith Farkas’s point that there has been a lot of criticism of the Framework, and that ACRL’s “wait-and-see approach” will give more librarians time to get comfortable with the new document while still using the Standards. I also see how the rhetoric to “move librarians forward” could be seen as paternalistic. I’m sure the ACRL Board is aware of the tensions and reservations that have manifested themselves over the last few months, and is attempting to be as diplomatic as possible.

That said, I don’t view the Framework as being a “top down” mandate, or something that came out of left field. A big reason I supported this process is because it came from a group of working librarians who speak with students on a daily basis, in the classroom. The Framework looks like the kind of thing I have been trying to do in my own practice, and I agree with Troy Swanson’s feeling that “Now is the time.” If the document challenges readers with too much “theory” or “educational jargon,” all I can say is that it was written by everyday librarians for whom the Standards just didn’t work anymore (see Lauren Wallis’s excellent letter explaining why).

Putting it another way: Librarianship didn’t get invaded; we’ve traced the calls, and they’ve been coming from inside the house. To say that the Framework is alien or beyond the scope of librarianship is, to me, more an indictment of the commenter than it is of the Task Force. A review of the literature over the last several years shows that the ideas and language in the Framework have been in play for quite a while, and have come from librarians working at all levels. Are there rival views and valid concerns with the Framework? Yes, of course. But when we collectively charged a group of our peers with drafting something which represented what information literacy in higher education should “look like,” the document we have now seems, to me, to be fairly emblematic of the profession’s ambitions.

Perhaps the biggest reason I am in favor of the Framework is because… well… it’s a “framework,” not a “standard.” I believe very strongly that learning is recursive and subjective and contextual, and that empiricism doesn’t really have a place in what I try to do when I’m speaking with students. I’m not anti-science, I’m just dubious that anything that can’t be standardized, controlled, and measured is inherently groundless. The “empiricism issue” is a frequent criticism of the “Threshold Concept” model, and I think that Lori Townsend, Silvia Lu, Amy Hofer, and Korey Brunetti offered a pretty convincing rebuttal of their own.

For my part, what really makes me excited about the work that I do is my feeling that we’re not fixed points of data, and neither is our “information.” It’s what makes humanity (and the information with which we interact) so cool and interesting and worth studying. It’s on the move. It changes. It’s never standardized. And in its way, the Framework recognizes and celebrates that. It calls on each librarian, and each learner they meet, to practice agency in their approach to information. It’s a scattered and messy and beautiful process, and one that’s unique to each of us.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate a point I made a few months ago, which is that this process- the conversations, the debates, the ideological differences- has made librarianship better. I used to worry that librarianship was too passive and accommodating to what outsiders expected of us, and didn’t have any agenda of its own. For me, that concern has effectively been put to rest. I disagree with a lot my colleagues, and a lot of them disagree with me, and that is awesome. I see it as another indication that information literacy has a vibrant future, one which will include heated discussions that will, in turn, spark new ideas.

Kind of like how every other academic discipline operates…