Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

Filed by the ACRL Board on February 2, 2015. Adopted by the ACRL Board, January 11, 2016.

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Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
Information Creation as a Process
Information Has Value
Research as Inquiry
Scholarship as Conversation
Searching as Strategic Exploration

Appendix 1: Implementing the Framework

Suggestions on How to Use the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education
Introduction for Faculty and Administrators
For Faculty: How to Use the Framework
For Administrators: How to Support the Framework

Appendix 2: Background of the Framework Development

Appendix 3: Sources for Further Reading

For current news and resources see the Framework WordPress site


This Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Framework) grows out of a belief that information literacy as an educational reform movement will realize its potential only through a richer, more complex set of core ideas. During the fifteen years since the publication of the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,1 academic librarians and their partners in higher education associations have developed learning outcomes, tools, and resources that some institutions have deployed to infuse information literacy concepts and skills into their curricula. However, the rapidly changing higher education environment, along with the dynamic and often uncertain information ecosystem in which all of us work and live, require new attention to be focused on foundational ideas about that ecosystem. Students have a greater role and responsibility in creating new knowledge, in understanding the contours and the changing dynamics of the world of information, and in using information, data, and scholarship ethically. Teaching faculty have a greater responsibility in designing curricula and assignments that foster enhanced engagement with the core ideas about information and scholarship within their disciplines. Librarians have a greater responsibility in identifying core ideas within their own knowledge domain that can extend learning for students, in creating a new cohesive curriculum for information literacy, and in collaborating more extensively with faculty.

The Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills. At the heart of this Framework are conceptual understandings that organize many other concepts and ideas about information, research, and scholarship into a coherent whole. These conceptual understandings are informed by the work of Wiggins and McTighe,2 which focuses on essential concepts and questions in developing curricula, and also by threshold concepts3 which are those ideas in any discipline that are passageways or portals to enlarged understanding or ways of thinking and practicing within that discipline. This Framework draws upon an ongoing Delphi Study that has identified several threshold concepts in information literacy,4 but the Framework has been molded using fresh ideas and emphases for the threshold concepts. Two added elements illustrate important learning goals related to those concepts: knowledge practices,5 which are demonstrations of ways in which learners can increase their understanding of these information literacy concepts, and dispositions,6 which describe ways in which to address the affective, attitudinal, or valuing dimension of learning. The Framework is organized into six frames, each consisting of a concept central to information literacy, a set of knowledge practices, and a set of dispositions. The six concepts that anchor the frames are presented alphabetically:

  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

Neither the knowledge practices nor the dispositions that support each concept are intended to prescribe what local institutions should do in using the Framework; each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation, including designing learning outcomes. For the same reason, these lists should not be considered exhaustive.

In addition, this Framework draws significantly upon the concept of metaliteracy,7 which offers a renewed vision of information literacy as an overarching set of abilities in which students are consumers and creators of information who can participate successfully in collaborative spaces.8 Metaliteracy demands behavioral, affective, cognitive, and metacognitive engagement with the information ecosystem. This Framework depends on these core ideas of metaliteracy, with special focus on metacognition,9 or critical self-reflection, as crucial to becoming more self-directed in that rapidly changing ecosystem.

Because this Framework envisions information literacy as extending the arc of learning throughout students’ academic careers and as converging with other academic and social learning goals, an expanded definition of information literacy is offered here to emphasize dynamism, flexibility, individual growth, and community learning:

Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.

The Framework opens the way for librarians, faculty, and other institutional partners to redesign instruction sessions, assignments, courses, and even curricula; to connect information literacy with student success initiatives; to collaborate on pedagogical research and involve students themselves in that research; and to create wider conversations about student learning, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and the assessment of learning on local campuses and beyond.


1. Association of College & Research Libraries, Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (Chicago, 2000).

2. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2004).

3. Threshold concepts are core or foundational concepts that, once grasped by the learner, create new perspectives and ways of understanding a discipline or challenging knowledge domain. Such concepts produce transformation within the learner; without them, the learner does not acquire expertise in that field of knowledge. Threshold concepts can be thought of as portals through which the learner must pass in order to develop new perspectives and wider understanding. Jan H. F. Meyer, Ray Land, and Caroline Baillie. “Editors’ Preface.” In Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, edited by Jan H. F. Meyer, Ray Land, and Caroline Baillie, ix–xlii. (Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2010).

4. For information on this unpublished, in-progress Delphi Study on threshold concepts and information literacy, conducted by Lori Townsend, Amy Hofer, Silvia Lu, and Korey Brunetti, see Lori Townsend, Korey Brunetti, and Amy R. Hofer. “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 11, no. 3 (2011): 853–69.

5. Knowledge practices are the proficiencies or abilities that learners develop as a result of their comprehending a threshold concept.

6. Generally, a disposition is a tendency to act or think in a particular way. More specifically, a disposition is a cluster of preferences, attitudes, and intentions, as well as a set of capabilities that allow the preferences to become realized in a particular way. Gavriel Salomon. “To Be or Not to Be (Mindful).” Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Meetings, New Orleans, LA, 1994.

7. Metaliteracy expands the scope of traditional information skills (determine, access, locate, understand, produce, and use information) to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments (collaborate, produce, and share). This approach requires an ongoing adaptation to emerging technologies and an understanding of the critical thinking and reflection required to engage in these spaces as producers, collaborators, and distributors. Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson. Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners. (Chicago: Neal-Schuman, 2014).

8. Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson. “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College and Research Libraries 72, no. 1 (2011): 62–78.

9. Metacognition is an awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. It focuses on how people learn and process information, taking into consideration people’s awareness of how they learn. (Jennifer A. Livingston. “Metacognition: An Overview.” Online paper, State University of New York at Buffalo, Graduate School of Education, 1997.


These six frames are presented alphabetically and do not suggest a particular sequence in which they must be learned.

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.

Experts understand that authority is a type of influence recognized or exerted within a community. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought. Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations. An understanding of this concept enables novice learners to critically examine all evidence—be it a short blog post or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding—and to ask relevant questions about origins, context, and suitability for the current information need. Thus, novice learners come to respect the expertise that authority represents while remaining skeptical of the systems that have elevated that authority and the information created by it. Experts know how to seek authoritative voices but also recognize that unlikely voices can be authoritative, depending on need. Novice learners may need to rely on basic indicators of authority, such as type of publication or author credentials, where experts recognize schools of thought or discipline-specific paradigms.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • define different types of authority, such as subject expertise (e.g., scholarship), societal position (e.g., public office or title), or special experience (e.g., participating in a historic event);
  • use research tools and indicators of authority to determine the credibility of sources, understanding the elements that might temper this credibility;
  • understand that many disciplines have acknowledged authorities in the sense of well-known scholars and publications that are widely considered “standard,” and yet, even in those situations, some scholars would challenge the authority of those sources;
  • recognize that authoritative content may be packaged formally or informally and may include sources of all media types;
  • acknowledge they are developing their own authoritative voices in a particular area and recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability, respecting intellectual property, and participating in communities of practice;
  • understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • develop and maintain an open mind when encountering varied and sometimes conflicting perspectives;
  • motivate themselves to find authoritative sources, recognizing that authority may be conferred or manifested in unexpected ways;
  • develop awareness of the importance of assessing content with a skeptical stance and with a self-awareness of their own biases and worldview;
  • question traditional notions of granting authority and recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews;
  • are conscious that maintaining these attitudes and actions requires frequent self-evaluation.

Information Creation as a Process

Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.

The information creation process could result in a range of information formats and modes of delivery, so experts look beyond format when selecting resources to use. The unique capabilities and constraints of each creation process as well as the specific information need determine how the product is used. Experts recognize that information creations are valued differently in different contexts, such as academia or the workplace. Elements that affect or reflect on the creation, such as a pre- or post-publication editing or reviewing process, may be indicators of quality. The dynamic nature of information creation and dissemination requires ongoing attention to understand evolving creation processes. Recognizing the nature of information creation, experts look to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information. Novice learners begin to recognize the significance of the creation process, leading them to increasingly sophisticated choices when matching information products with their information needs.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • articulate the capabilities and constraints of information developed through various creation processes;
  • assess the fit between an information product’s creation process and a particular information need;
  • articulate the traditional and emerging processes of information creation and dissemination in a particular discipline;
  • recognize that information may be perceived differently based on the format in which it is packaged;
  • recognize the implications of information formats that contain static or dynamic information;
  • monitor the value that is placed upon different types of information products in varying contexts;
  • transfer knowledge of capabilities and constraints to new types of information products;
  • develop, in their own creation processes, an understanding that their choices impact the purposes for which the information product will be used and the message it conveys.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • are inclined to seek out characteristics of information products that indicate the underlying creation process;
  • value the process of matching an information need with an appropriate product;
  • accept that the creation of information may begin initially through communicating in a range of formats or modes;
  • accept the ambiguity surrounding the potential value of information creation expressed in emerging formats or modes;
  • resist the tendency to equate format with the underlying creation process;
  • understand that different methods of information dissemination with different purposes are available for their use.

Information Has Value

Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination.

The value of information is manifested in various contexts, including publishing practices, access to information, the commodification of personal information, and intellectual property laws. The novice learner may struggle to understand the diverse values of information in an environment where “free” information and related services are plentiful and the concept of intellectual property is first encountered through rules of citation or warnings about plagiarism and copyright law. As creators and users of information, experts understand their rights and responsibilities when participating in a community of scholarship. Experts understand that value may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices. However, value may also be leveraged by individuals and organizations to effect change and for civic, economic, social, or personal gains. Experts also understand that the individual is responsible for making deliberate and informed choices about when to comply with and when to contest current legal and socioeconomic practices concerning the value of information.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • give credit to the original ideas of others through proper attribution and citation;
  • understand that intellectual property is a legal and social construct that varies by culture;
  • articulate the purpose and distinguishing characteristics of copyright, fair use, open access, and the public domain;
  • understand how and why some individuals or groups of individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information;
  • recognize issues of access or lack of access to information sources;
  • decide where and how their information is published;
  • understand how the commodification of their personal information and online interactions affects the information they receive and the information they produce or disseminate online;
  • make informed choices regarding their online actions in full awareness of issues related to privacy and the commodification of personal information.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • respect the original ideas of others;
  • value the skills, time, and effort needed to produce knowledge;
  • see themselves as contributors to the information marketplace rather than only consumers of it;
  • are inclined to examine their own information privilege.

Research as Inquiry

Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

Experts see inquiry as a process that focuses on problems or questions in a discipline or between disciplines that are open or unresolved. Experts recognize the collaborative effort within a discipline to extend the knowledge in that field. Many times, this process includes points of disagreement where debate and dialogue work to deepen the conversations around knowledge. This process of inquiry extends beyond the academic world to the community at large, and the process of inquiry may focus upon personal, professional, or societal needs. The spectrum of inquiry ranges from asking simple questions that depend upon basic recapitulation of knowledge to increasingly sophisticated abilities to refine research questions, use more advanced research methods, and explore more diverse disciplinary perspectives. Novice learners acquire strategic perspectives on inquiry and a greater repertoire of investigative methods.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • formulate questions for research based on information gaps or on reexamination of existing, possibly conflicting, information;
  • determine an appropriate scope of investigation;
  • deal with complex research by breaking complex questions into simple ones, limiting the scope of investigations;
  • use various research methods, based on need, circumstance, and type of inquiry;
  • monitor gathered information and assess for gaps or weaknesses;
  • organize information in meaningful ways;
  • synthesize ideas gathered from multiple sources;
  • draw reasonable conclusions based on the analysis and interpretation of information.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • consider research as open-ended exploration and engagement with information;
  • appreciate that a question may appear to be simple but still disruptive and important to research;
  • value intellectual curiosity in developing questions and learning new investigative methods;
  • maintain an open mind and a critical stance;
  • value persistence, adaptability, and flexibility and recognize that ambiguity can benefit the research process;
  • seek multiple perspectives during information gathering and assessment;
  • seek appropriate help when needed;
  • follow ethical and legal guidelines in gathering and using information;
  • demonstrate intellectual humility (i.e., recognize their own intellectual or experiential limitations).

Scholarship as Conversation

Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.

Research in scholarly and professional fields is a discursive practice in which ideas are formulated, debated, and weighed against one another over extended periods of time. Instead of seeking discrete answers to complex problems, experts understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together and negotiate meaning. Experts understand that, while some topics have established answers through this process, a query may not have a single uncontested answer. Experts are therefore inclined to seek out many perspectives, not merely the ones with which they are familiar. These perspectives might be in their own discipline or profession or may be in other fields. While novice learners and experts at all levels can take part in the conversation, established power and authority structures may influence their ability to participate and can privilege certain voices and information. Developing familiarity with the sources of evidence, methods, and modes of discourse in the field assists novice learners to enter the conversation. New forms of scholarly and research conversations provide more avenues in which a wide variety of individuals may have a voice in the conversation. Providing attribution to relevant previous research is also an obligation of participation in the conversation. It enables the conversation to move forward and strengthens one’s voice in the conversation.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • cite the contributing work of others in their own information production;
  • contribute to scholarly conversation at an appropriate level, such as local online community, guided discussion, undergraduate research journal, conference presentation/poster session;
  • identify barriers to entering scholarly conversation via various venues;
  • critically evaluate contributions made by others in participatory information environments;
  • identify the contribution that particular articles, books, and other scholarly pieces make to disciplinary knowledge;
  • summarize the changes in scholarly perspective over time on a particular topic within a specific discipline;
  • recognize that a given scholarly work may not represent the only or even the majority perspective on the issue.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • recognize they are often entering into an ongoing scholarly conversation and not a finished conversation;
  • seek out conversations taking place in their research area;
  • see themselves as contributors to scholarship rather than only consumers of it;
  • recognize that scholarly conversations take place in various venues;
  • suspend judgment on the value of a particular piece of scholarship until the larger context for the scholarly conversation is better understood;
  • understand the responsibility that comes with entering the conversation through participatory channels;
  • value user-generated content and evaluate contributions made by others;
  • recognize that systems privilege authorities and that not having a fluency in the language and process of a discipline disempowers their ability to participate and engage.

Searching as Strategic Exploration

Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.

The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies both possible relevant sources as well as the means to access those sources. Experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the cognitive, affective, and social dimensions of the searcher. Novice learners may search a limited set of resources, while experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. Likewise, novice learners tend to use few search strategies, while experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • determine the initial scope of the task required to meet their information needs;
  • identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information;
  • utilize divergent (e.g., brainstorming) and convergent (e.g., selecting the best source) thinking when searching;
  • match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools;
  • design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary, based on search results;
  • understand how information systems (i.e., collections of recorded information) are organized in order to access relevant information;
  • use different types of searching language (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language) appropriately;
  • manage searching processes and results effectively.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • exhibit mental flexibility and creativity
  • understand that first attempts at searching do not always produce adequate results
  • realize that information sources vary greatly in content and format and have varying relevance and value, depending on the needs and nature of the search
  • seek guidance from experts, such as librarians, researchers, and professionals
  • recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering
  • persist in the face of search challenges, and know when they have enough information to complete the information task