Trends in Information Literacy Instruction – March 2020

Welcome to the renewed and reinvigorated Trends in ILI – a seasonal roundup of recent publications from the Information Literacy Instruction literature. This month, we ask what do we call the community we serve? Are community colleges having a good time with the ACRL Framework? How do we get past grit and growth mind-set when teaching research? And should we be teaching students how to organize the information along with how to find it?

First, a debate about library patron semantics. Do we have students? Patrons? Customers?

Bell, S. (2019). Academic librarians’ c-word problem – From the bell tower. Library Journal. Retrieved from

In this editorial column from Library Journal, Stephen Bell argues that academic librarians should not shy away from the use of the word “customer” to describe the population we serve. Bell claims that public libraries have embraced the term and so should the academic library. “Higher education buys scholarship and sells learning, and most institutions word hard to gain customers we refer to as students, who give us their money in exchange for credentials.” Embracing the term, argues Bell, allows academic libraries to develop services and offer resources that are part of a “customer-driven” environment.

Holley, R. P. (2020). Academic library users are not ‘customers’: A response to Stephen Bell. Journal of Library Administration 60(1), 88-96.

This rebuttal points out several potential issues with the term “customer” as it relates to academic library patrons. First, terminology around the word “customer” and the idea of “customer service” are linked, but one does not necessarily need to call a patron a “customer” in order to provide “customer service.” Holley also points out that the service models and collections of academic libraries does not necessarily respond to customer demands in the same way that public libraries or businesses do, making the term “customer” incompatible with academic library activities.

The ACRL Framework and Community Colleges

In 2016, the Association of College and Research Libraries adopted the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (often shortened to the Framework) as a foundational document. Since then, many instructional librarians have been using it as a foundational document to guide information literacy instruction programs at Colleges and Universities.

Wengler, S. & Wolff-Eisenberg, C. (2020). Community college librarians and the ACRL Framework: Findings from a national study. College & Research Libraries 81(1), 66-95.

Adoption of the Framework has not been universal or without controversy. As a document, the Framework emphasizes critical thinking and threshold concepts over skills-based learning outcomes. It has faced criticism of being high-minded, impractical, and requires significant work to fully implement. In their national study, Wengler and Wolff-Eisenberg surveyed 1,201 community college librarians about their knowledge and implementation of the Framework into their information literacy instruction programs. Findings indicate that there is willingness to adopt the Framework, but librarians perceive that the challenges of the community college environment require particular attention whether in the form of increased professional development opportunities or in a revision of the document that pays closer attention to the needs of community colleges (rather than research universities).

Grit, growth mind-set, and library instruction

Tewell, E. (2020). The problem with grit: Dismantling deficit thinking in library instruction. Portal: Libraries and the Academy 20(1), 137-159. Retrieved from

In this article, Eamon Tewell examines the popular concepts of grit and growth mind-set that have become popular in recent pop culture and educational theory. These concepts rely heavily on the idea that success or failure depend largely on the students’ personal convictions and downplays (or ignores) the possibility of structural or systemic challenges that may impact student outcomes. In information literacy instruction, these ideals of grit and growth mindset lead to instruction that upholds (rather than examines) traditional publishing methods, focuses on skills rather than critical thinking, and ignores existing student experience. Critical information literacy instruction and culturally sustaining pedagogy offer salves that help to provide students with a more personal, meaningful, and inter-sectional approach to information creation and discovery.

Digital Stewardship as a Part of Library Instruction

Blackwood, E. (2019). Integrating digital stewardship into library instruction: An argument for student (and librarian) success. Journal of Academic Librarianship 46(1).

Who among us has not fallen into the trap of naming a document final.draft.2.0.FINAL.docx? In this brief article, Blackwood argues that digital stewardship (the care and management of digital objects) is a skill and practice that may be lacking, especially with students who are not accustomed to using file organization systems on desktop computers. Digital organization could find a home in information literacy instruction classes, but libraries also need to walk the talk and implement workflows that establish good digital stewardship hygiene.

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