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Information Literacy Overview: The 6 Frames

A broad overview of information literacy within the context of higher education institutions.

Overview: Interacting with the Information Ecosystem

The Six Frames of Information Literacy

These concepts were outlined by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in 2015 to reimagine a framework for how an information literate student interacts with information environment around them. 


For a deeper dive into what Information Literacy means in the context of higher education, think about whether you (or your students) understand the concepts outlined below. Notice how the Frames work together in tandem to strengthen each other's core principles. 

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." (ACRL, 2015)

The important implication of understanding Scholarship as a Conversation is that sources should not be taken complete artifacts but rather as parts of a larger conversation that is happening in the literature. It is important for students to understand that to engage with this conversation they need to consult several sources on the same topic in order to gain a more complete understanding of the conversation that is happening around them. 


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." (ACRL, 2015).

An information literate student understands that Authority is not a static trait that some have and other lack. It is important when consulting sources to evaluate how their Authority is relevant to your information needs. You must place the authority of the author within the greater context of your research question. Experts may disagree on a topic, or have different perspectives. Always consider who your source is, and what makes them an authority on your particular information need. 

Information Has Value

All information has inherent value, and academic research is no exception. In the digital world where so much information and data is freely accessible at your fingertips, this concept may seem counterintuitive to some. But entire corporations are funded off collection and sale of information. 

"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. " (Frameworks, 2015)

No information is created in a vacuum, it exists in a specific temporal, cultural, and economic context that impacts its creation and its dissemination. Expert researchers consider these factors and seek out information from sources beyond the front page. Thinking critically about the value of information and how that impacts what information you are exposed to helps an information literate individual navigate our currently oversaturated data environment.

Research as Inquiry

Just like searching a database, conducting research is an ongoing, iterative process. In any given discipline, experts will conduct research to form conclusions, and challenge the conclusions of others. When those conclusions do not stand up, new ones are formed with the new data. This iterative process is how academic fields move forward, and when you conduct research you are taking part in the Inquiry. 

An information literate student understands this and is aware of the implications that come with it: some research questions may not have definitive answers, not all sources will always be correct, scholarly is not a synonym for true. (See the other Frame, "Authority is Constructed and Contextual," for similar points). This ongoing process is why critical thinking is such a vital skill for the beginner researcher to master. What do the sources say that is valid? What is questionable? How would you add your voice to the conversation?

Information Creation as a Process

It is important for the student to conceptualize research not as simple absorption of facts, but rather a synthesis of information that creates something new and original. The process of information creation can take many forms: experimentation, surveying, and study of existing research can all be collected into data. When you analyze that data and draw conclusions, you are taking part in knowledge creation. 

Researchers who understand that information is created also understand that the method and context of creation impact the information itself. The process may be scrutinized for accuracy, relevance, and recency (among other things) to determine the validity of the information they are looking at. Effective researchers also understand that because Authority is Contextual, that the creation process might be valid in one context but not in another. 

Searching as Strategic Exploration

It is important to understand that the search process is a process, and not a single step in your research journey. When conducting searches in catalogs and databases, the first thing you type in may not always lead you directly to the source you are looking for. Knowing how to modify your search to either narrow or broaden the scope of results will help you become a more effective researcher. Knowing the vocabulary of the discipline you are searching, as well as developing a list of key terms (with synonyms) for your research question can help to make your search results more relevant, but you should be prepared to try different things in your search to see which words or phrases in which combinations give you the best results.

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