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Information Literacy

This page is intended to support faculty in undertaking annual PLO assessment with a focus on the Information Literacy Core Competency. Faculty should freely use and adapt the definitions, criteria, and rubrics as they see fit to meet their disciplinary priorities. 


In response to the complexity of our information environments, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently revised its information literacy definition and adopted a Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education** (2014) to replace the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (1989).

In this framework, information literacy is defined as a set “of understandings, practices, and dispositions” paired with self-reflection resulting in adaptable, ethical, and informed interactions with a complex and changing information environment with the goal of discovering existing knowledge or creating new knowledge.   These interactions with the information environment will involve “finding, evaluating, interpreting, managing, and using information” (pg. 2).

The new framework includes six thresholds concepts (core ideas) in information literacy rather than learning outcomes (see the table below).  Each threshold concept includes abilities and dispositions that will be evident in learners, both novices and experts, who are developing or demonstrating an understanding of the concept.  As learners start to understand, reflect upon, and practice these threshold concepts, they will become increasingly information literate. 

Threshold Concepts – Information Literacy*

Learners who have a developed an understanding of this concept recognize that

1. Scholarship is a Conversation  

… scholarship is a sustained and evolving discourse that seeks to answer complex questions and considers different perspectives over time.  Scholarship is not linear and uncontested.
2. Research as Inquiry … research is an ongoing process to uncover and investigate complex questions often beyond disciplinary bounds.  Research questions extend beyond the academy as individuals, professionals, and society have varied information needs.  Not only researchers but also individuals and communities can contribute data and evidence to questions

3. Authority is Contextual and Constructed

… a resource’s “origins, the information need, and the context in which the information will be used” determine a resource’s suitability. Learners can evaluate information critically with “informed skepticism” and recognize authoritative resources whether they are traditional or unconventional. Pg. 7

4. Format as a Process

… there is a process behind the production of each resource. Knowing how information is created and produced for specific formats helps learners to evaluate the quality of a resource and illuminates benefits (e.g. the review process for an article) & constraints (the lack of currency of a book) of those resources.  
5. Searching as Exploration … research is an iterative inquiry process that involves determining a scope, accounting for limitations (e.g. time), and using suitable approaches and sources.  Depending on the information need and context, the learner may need to consult a variety of resources ranging from databases and books to observations and interviews.

6. Information has Value

… information is intellectual property produced for different purposes (e.g. financial, reputational).  The value of information is based on various factors such as the producer, intended audience, and the content.  Both creators and consumers of information have responsibilities to ethically use information.

*Threshold Concept: Threshold concepts are core ideas in a particular area or discipline that, once understood, transform perceptions of that subject.

Threshold Concepts and Learning Outcomes

Though the new framework does not include the outcomes-focused language of the previous Information Literacy Competency Standards, specific learning outcomes can be derived from these threshold concepts. 

For instance, outcomes associated with Threshold Concept #6: Information has Value might include

  • Outcome Example: Students will be able to use information ethically in their own knowledge production.
  • Outcome Example:  Students will be able to expertly evaluate information due to a thorough understanding of how knowledge is produced in their field of study.

Booth, Char and Brian Mathews. Understanding the Learner Experience: Threshold Concepts and Curriculum Mapping (2012). California Academic & Research Libraries Conference.

Information Literacy in the Disciplines

The ACRL also provides information literacy standards specific to particular disciplines, including 

Intersections with Other Learning Goals

As a core skill, information literacy can be expected to intersect in important ways with student development and demonstration of research or inquiry related Program Learning Outcomes. ACRL, for instance, encourages institutions to consider the Boyer Commission’s Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities with particular attention to embedding inquiry and Information Literacy into as many courses in undergraduate education as possible.

Similarly, information literacy will likely form an integral component of the student learning in relation to the other four Core Competencies – critical thinking, oral communication, written communication, and quantitative reasoning - the latter as it relates to the ability to evaluate the use of quantitative evidence in argument. 

Assessing Information Literacy

The ACRL has outlined performance indicators and outcomes for meeting the six criteria of information literacy presented in the definition section above.  These materials are a resource for refining current or drafting new tools and rubrics for assessing information literacy in the majors.

Library Collaboration

One goal of the UC Merced Library is to create research-ready students. UC Merced librarians are particularly interested in collaborating with faculty to ensure students demonstrate strong information literacy skills at graduation.  

Toward this end, the Library and its instructional librarians are resources for cultivating information literate students. Current instructional activities include in-person library instruction both at the library and in the classroom, online tutorials, workshops and reference services. 

Because students will only become highly proficient users and producers of information through the ongoing instruction, assignments, and interactions associated with their coursework and research experiences, UC Merced librarians are keenly interested in partnering with faculty to support students’ research experiences.  

What can this look like? 

  1. revisiting an assignment and determining how to integrate information-finding
  2. requesting librarians create a online resource (library guide or tutorial) needed for students to successfully complete an assignment
  3. discussing how to scaffold students’ research experiences into a course sequence
  4. inviting librarians to participate in the evaluation of a PLO aligned with information literacy

To request any of these services, please email us

Additional Resources

AAC&U VALUE Rubric is concise and aligns well with the ACRL Standards and Framework, though does not address the "Format as a Process" Frame in the revised Draft Framework


American Library Association. Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report (Chicago: American Library Association, 1989).

Association of College and Research Libraries. Draft Framework for Infomation Literacy for Higher Education

Association of College and Research Libraries. Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.

Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University. Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities.

Updated November 14, 2017