The “3 I’s” of Information Literacy Design

With the ACRL Framework and metaliteracy and metacognition on every academic librarian’s mind, what does good information literacy design look like now? Actually, not much different than before the framework, but I think there is more awareness that the “old way” of doing things was not all that effective. In today’s post, I will lay out my thoughts on the matter.

In trying to come up with a way to simplify the discussion of good information literacy design (and make it easier to remember), I’ve categorized it into three areas — what I will call the “3 I’s.” The “3 I’s” of good information literacy design encompass elements that should be present in all information literacy programs. They are as follows:


Information literacy is always practiced within the context of something else, so it makes sense that it should always be integrated or anchored within the context of a course or discipline. Otherwise, transfer becomes problematic (this conclusion comes from the research about transfer in critical thinking, which shares many similarities). That is why I do not recommend standalone information literacy courses, unless they are anchored within a discipline (e.g. nursing, teacher training) or integrated into a learning community.

Integrated information literacy reflects the community of practice concept that is central to the ACRL Framework. While anchored courses and learning communities may not be feasible in all academic settings, integrating information literacy within courses across the (core) curriculum is a reachable goal for most institutions.

Well, isn’t that already being done with one-shot sessions?

Not really. One-shots don’t represent integration in any meaningful way. Integration is a holistic and seamless part of a course. In one-shots, information literacy is usually shoehorned into a course.

There are a number of strategies that I have written about in previous posts for holistically integrating information literacy into courses, including the interactive syllabus, Google Docs, and embedding the library (not just the librarians).  Another approach is through the development of a dispositions rubric based on the ACRL Framework. This kind of rubric can easily be shared with students as a core reference in any course that requires the practice of information literacy skills. By creating a rubric that identifies the dispositions of an information literate student with examples of associated actions (knowledge practices), students are provided a metacognitive tool for gauging their own information literacy progress. In addition to the rubric, librarians can provide scaffolds that help students achieve the goals of the rubric. Such a tool would also be invaluable for classroom instructors, who would then be able to intentionally plan the course’s projects and assignments with the rubric in mind.


Inquiry is at the heart of information literacy. We have a question, we seek out information on the topic. And information literacy skills help us sift through the world of information to find the good stuff.

In a perfect world, students would always be motivated to find the good stuff, but sometimes things get in the way of that. Like metacognitive miscalibration and self efficacy and self regulation. Addressing those issues is essential to improving students’ success (not to mention habits of mind) when it comes to improving inquiry skills.

Engagement in scholarly pursuit is also a necessary component of developing strong inquiry skills, and engagement can depend on approaches to inquiry. There are four types of inquiry: confirmation, structured, guided, and open. There is a tendency in higher education to focus on open inquiry, where students ask a question and then find the answer. But, is open inquiry really the best approach, especially for first- and second-year students? My thought on that is no (in most cases). Why? If we are serious about teaching students a set of specialized knowledge practices to develop their information literacy dispositions as laid out in the ACRL Framework, they are going to need a bit more guidance. Besides that, most students at the lower undergraduate level are not developmentally ready for open inquiry, at least in terms of their reasoning skills. In other words, open inquiry may lead to loss of student engagement for the developmentally unready student who lacks the metacognitive and self regulated learning skills that are necessary for information literacy (maybe that’s why so many fall back on the comfort zone of Google).

I think that a better approach to inquiry in lower level undergraduate students is guided inquiry, where more support in the planning and design of the research process for a shared question or goal provides the scaffolding that many students still need to become information literate. Guided inquiry is more common in K-12 environments, but when used with first- and second-year students, it provides a nice entry point into the ways of thinking and ways of doing that go on in a scholarly community of practice. Kulthau’s approach to guided inquiry is a great place to start.


Interaction reflects the very essence of communities of practice. In an information literacy community of practice, there are three types of interaction: student-student interaction, student-librarian interaction, and student-content interaction.

Student-student interaction takes place with peer teaching, peer modeling, peer review, and discussions. Peer teaching and peer modeling can be supported by librarians through such means as library-sponsored study groups or peer research assistant programs. Peer review of the various steps in the research and writing process (outlines, bibliographies, synthesis) should be encouraged. And discussions, whether in-class or online, allow students to share what they are learning about the research process with each other.

Student-librarian interaction provides students with insight into the expert ways of thinking and doing that are so important in learning information literacy habits of mind. An ever-present connection to the library, one that ensures student awareness and access to library resources (including librarians) both off and on campus, is a necessary step in making this happen. And it is more likely to happen when integrated approaches to information literacy design are utilized (see above).

Student-content interaction includes all the ways in which students interact with library resources, including library instructional resources. This includes, but is not limited to, easy-to-navigate library web sites, resource guides that avoid information overload, and library tutorials that reflect the principles of multimedia learning.


On Becoming Legitimately Information Literate (Conclusion for Analyzing the ACRL Framework)

The last six posts explored the knowledge practices of the ACRL Framework through the lens of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), a framework that describes the relationships between knowledge and knowers. LCT identifies four distinct specialization codes that define knowledge-knower relationships as illustrated in the figure below. Each quadrant in the figure represents a different way in which legitimacy might be defined within a social field of practice (i.e., discipline or profession).

Disciplines that define knowledge as the primary basis of legitimacy (see upper left quadrant) include science and math. In those disciplines, the possession of specialized knowledge reigns supreme, and the dispositions of knowers are far less important.

On the other hand, disciplines that emphasize “the right kind of knower” include art, literature, and the humanities, where specialized knowledge is defined by the dispositions of an exemplary knower (e.g., artist, writer). To become a legitimate knower means to cultivate one’s knowledge or skills through communities of practices, with the goal of reaching an apex of exemplary practice.

In the relativist range, anything goes, so I suppose that anything is legitimate.

The fourth specialization code is the elite code (upper right hand quadrant). This is where BOTH specialized knowledge AND the dispositions of knowers define legitimate practice. And this is where I see the ACRL Framework fitting. Why? Because the ACRL Framework defines both specific knowledge practices AND the dispositions of information literate students (the implications of that continue below).

Source: Slideshare presentation on the work of Karl Maton, epistemological access and social justice by Ria Vosloo (

What are the implications of this analysis?

First of all, it revealed to me that the ACRL Framework needs additional work to fully define a legitimately information literate student. Many of the knowledge practices in the ACRL Framework really describe the knowledge itself rather than what can be done with that knowledge (knowing in action). While this indicates to me the importance of specialized knowledge in academic information literacy, it does not reconcile the knower with the knowledge needed. Perhaps we need to rename what is currently “knowledge practices” to “knowledge processes,” and then list a set of exemplary knowledge practices that better define the process and frames. That would certainly make the ACRL Framework a much more useful tool for practitioners (including classroom instructors).

Secondly, it is important to recognize that the addition of “dispositions” to the ACRL Framework is really what sets it apart from the old standards. That addition brings in the constructivist philosophy. However, to really emphasize the importance of knowers in the framework, I think it would help to make the dispositions and knowledge processes included in the framework more integrative. It would create that reconciliation I alluded to above.

Finally, by viewing the ACRL Framework as an elite specialization code (a combination of dispositions and knowledge), we must radically change the way information literacy is taught. It is no longer just the knowledge aspects that need to be addressed. It is also the dispositions. The question is, how do we foster these dispositions? This is where the library becomes a constructivist learning environment, where librarians aim toward developing communities of practice both informally (e.g., clubs, study groups, mentoring, peer tutoring) and formally (e.g., embedded libraries, integrated information literacy instruction) and where we begin helping students make connections between what they need to know and how they need to act to become legitimately information literate.