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Library Association Standards for Information Literacy ACRL and ARLIS/NA

Information literacy instruction (ILI) is a widely discussed topic in library and education circles. The specifics, however, of what constitutes an information literate individual and an effective approach to information literacy instruction are often points of debate. This is especially true in higher education settings where the responsibility for teaching information literacy (IL) skills may rest with faculty, librarians, or some combination of the two and coursework may range from a one-hour workshop to a semester-long class. This wide variation in program requirements often results in confusion over many aspects of ILI, including how to measure IL skills. Professional library associations, however, have recognized the importance of setting consistent and measurable objectives for IL skill development and many have provided concrete standards on which to base student learning assessments. The ACRL and ARLIS/NA competency standards for IL are useful tools that provide a solid set of core standards for teaching and assessing college students.

Professional Associations and Information Literacy Standards

Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
As a division of the American Library Association, the ACRL is concerned with issues related to librarianship within higher education; this focus makes ILI a natural priority for the ACRL, which states that part of its mission is "to improve learning, teaching, and research" (ACRL, 2011, What is ACRL, para. 1). As such, Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education was published in 2000 (and endorsed by several educational oversight organizations by 2004) to assist librarians with teaching and evaluating the IL skills of students. Twenty-two related performance indicators that all information literate students should be able to demonstrate support the five core standards outlined in the document. The performance measures are followed by various outcomes that would demonstrate a student's mastery of IL concepts. In addition to these particular measures, the ACRL suggests that discipline-specific performance measures could be useful and should be developed to align to the specific information needs within particular fields (ACRL, 2000, Information Literacy and Assessment, para. 1).

The ACRL standards focus on information literacy as a set of skills that enable students to locate, understand, synthesize, and utilize information. Students are expected to develop skills in locating different types and sources of information and in determining the quality and reliability of the information. Information literate students are also aware of how information can be used ethically and legally, including knowledge of correct citation practices in order to avoid plagiarism. ACRL (2000) contends that all of the characteristics possessed by information literate students lead to a pattern of lifelong learning (Information Literacy Defined, para. 3). Additionally, the ACRL addresses the importance of information technology (IT) skills as a support for IL, while defining a clear boundary between the two so as to avoid confusion where IT savvy might be mistaken for IL. They state, "information literacy initiates, sustains, and extends lifelong learning through abilities which may use technologies but are ultimately independent of them" (ACRL, 2000, Information Literacy and Information Technology, para. 3).

Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)
ARLIS/NA is an organization dedicated to advancing the field of art and design librarianship, which occurs primarily within higher education institutions and to a slightly lesser degree within museums. In light of the clear connections to higher education, in 2007 ARLIS/NA developed a discipline-specific set of IL standards, the Information Competencies for Students in Design Disciplines, that are closely related to the ACRL standards for IL. Building off of the ACRL competencies, the ARLIS/NA IL standards provide highly specific measures for achievement in nine different segments of the art field, ranging from architecture and art history to studio art. Each of these particular sets of standards and performance measures are divided into beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels (as opposed to ACRL, which does not separate the measures by difficulty level). Additionally, each section begins with a set of general competencies that cut across areas within the art and design field (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 4).

General ARLIS/NA competencies for students in design fields closely follow the ACRL standards for all college students, requiring the development of skills such as identifying information needs and selecting and evaluating information sources (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 12). The area specific competencies, however, exhibit an understanding of the specific information needs and research approaches required in creative disciplines. This is measured through tasks such as understanding particular resources that are appropriate within a given field; for instance, the art history performance measures specify that students should know how to search and arrange images within the ARTstor database and become familiar with image copyright (p. 18). These performance measures are meant to support the IL competencies that are universal across fields, while providing specific criteria that librarians and faculty can use to assess whether art and design students are able to effectively utilize discipline specific information. Since the competencies and objectives are highly specific, the ARLIS/NA standards document is twice as long the ACRL standards document.

Advocacy and Engagement in Information Literacy
Both the ACRL and ARLIS/NA are invested in promoting information literacy standards in higher education. Each institution includes a statement in their respective standards document regarding the importance of promoting ILI to faculty and administrators. Since ACRL is a larger organization, their IL efforts are more visible, including a standing Information Literacy Coordinating Committee with five additional subcommittees. These committees work to support members in ILI endeavors, and maintain a webpage specifically devoted to tacking trends and resources in the field (ACRL, 2011, Committees). ARLIS/NA does not maintain a separate web space or committee devoted to ILI, but does recommend specific IL resources for art librarians within the standards document. The group is also committed to updating the standards and adding more disciplines as needed—a task that shows a continuing commitment to ILI.

Both organizations produce several publications, a review of which shows that IL is an oft-included topic. The last two issues of Art Documentation by ARLIS/NA, for example, contained five articles related to IL—roughly one quarter of the entire contents. A review of recent issues of College & Research Libraries by the ACRL showed a strong, though slightly less prevalent, showing of IL articles. College & Research Libraries News yielded even less IL related articles, preferring to focus on the use of social networking tools. A quick review of Facebook and Twitter revealed that neither organization is currently using these networks to advocate for ILI. That said, this lighter focus on IL articles and posts as of late may be due to the extensive advocacy, resources, and support available via the ACRL IL website; it may also be due to the fact that most academic librarians are on board with ILI initiatives at this point, so less writing is necessary to pull support.

Reflections and Conclusions
As an aspiring academic librarian, the ACRL IL standards are an important resource for me to use and understand. They offer both a set of best practices and a set of student outcomes on which to base information literacy lessons; perhaps more importantly, they are increasingly recognized by faculty, administrators, and accreditation organizations as the measure of what an information literate college student can accomplish. The standards provide specific language and direction for identifying how students should showcase their IL skills—an important point in transcending the vagaries and confusion that often surround ILI in a higher education setting. The standards also root IL firmly within the scope of library instruction, helping to provide support for an active librarian presence in the areas of teaching. The ACRL standards form an essential base for ILI, but my interest in specializing in art librarianship makes the ARLIS/NA standards an even more indispensable tool.

The research needs of students in art and design often differ from those in other fields (particularly at an undergraduate level). The basic need for information skills is the same, but the methods, tools, and outcomes of the research process may not be. As an undergraduate I frequently sought information to inform my creative practice and assist in verbal art critiques, which is a different end than researching for a paper. Professors in the design disciplines are aware of this, and thus the need to convince them that "traditional" ILI is necessary within the context of the art field is much greater. The ARLIS/NA standards provide specific benchmarks to measure the skills of art and design students in a number of area-specific contexts and provide language and suggestions for working with faculty to tailor instruction to meet these highly specific needs. This specificity is key in advocating for the role of IL within creative disciplines—an area that demands the highest levels of IL skills and yet exhibits the lowest recognition of this need. Evaluation, awareness, articulation, research savvy, and critical thinking are the hallmarks of success within artistic practice—skills that align perfectly with both the ARLIS/NA and ACRL IL standards. ARLIS/NA simply provides a way to frame, align, and advocate for ILI with the interests of those in creative fields—both students and faculty—at the center of the practice.

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2000). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Retrieved from

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2011). Committees. Retrieved from

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2011). What is ACRL? Retrieved from

Brown, J., Carlin, J., Caswell, T., Crowe, E., Gervits, M., Lewis, S., . . . Parker, J. (2007). Information Competencies for Students in Design Disciplines. Retrieved from Art Libraries Society of North America website: