reactions to acrl intersections white paper

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2013). Intersections of Scholarly Communication and Information Literacy: Creating Strategic Collaborations for a Changing Academic Environment [White paper]. Retrieved from

In this paper, the ACRL calls for examining “the changing scholarly information environment and its impact on our roles in further developing information fluent communities.” Well, it’s more of an assertion than an inquiry. Basically, technology has significantly changed academic publishing and how students interact with information. In turn, we need to be responsive and strategic with how we deal with scholarship and teach students.

All parts of the information cycle are now accessible (that is, we’re able to consume & create more information thanks to advances in technology) to members of the university. But this access and use of that information is a double-edged sword, as there’s a flawed & complex system that underlies it that needs to be managed and understood by every party in the process. And then our profession needs to be well-versed in this new ecosystem and able to instruct, advocate for, or help students understand its different aspects as they move forward in their interactions with it.

The ACRL frames their solutions to these issues as “information fluency,” which apparently isn’t information literacy, or rather it’s a more idealistic vision or high level version of information literacy. I’m not sure if this is precise, but if information literacy is a set of abilities, then fluency seems to be both those abilities as well as a macro understanding of how to negotiate knowledge in society. As they describe it in Chapter 7:

…the socioeconomic context of knowledge production, the legal situation regarding the intellectual property rights of authors and creators, and critical thinking about the most appropriate platforms and technologies with which to create and distribute new knowledge.

From here, they dive into the how by putting on their instructional design hats and briefly considering ways to help students understand scholarly communication activities. Everything from classroom interventions to campus wide initiatives are touched upon as possible actions. Also of note are their “Sidebars,” where they present brief case studies of activities or programs that have taken place at various institutions. And they conclude with a hope that this white paper generates conversation.


Overall, this struck me as an aspirational but lengthy effort, and one that caters to an audience that perhaps doesn’t see teaching as a priority in their own institutions. Otherwise, it’s just preaching to the choir. The paper seems less about discovering strategic areas between the two (which may just reveal a personal ignorance of what a scholarly communication librarian does) and more about declaring why and how we need to do more teaching in a variety of ways–and here’s an example of why, say, the involvement of scholarly communications is important here.

On the positive end, It does seem to touch on the major issues in scholarly communication that I think everyone should be at least aware of such as digital initiatives in classrooms, resource access in open online courses, and independent platforms for (sometimes) crowd sourcing interdisciplinary research. And it manages to touch on a wide range of issues in an optimistic manner without the need to address the elephant in the room. To me, that was this subtle whisper that if we don’t address some of these areas, someone else will.

But I’m not sure if folding in issues of organizational change or introducing ideas like transliteracy was necessary. With my own work, I know that integrating scholarly communications into a curriculum presents enough of a challenge without necessarily confronting the reader’s understanding of literacy in of itself. And in this case, the paper gave just enough information to be confusing. It either should have dedicated another chapter to it or left it out altogether. Otherwise, they possible water down the message and potentially hurts the sale. It’s like trying to sell lemonade on the street, but also asking your customers to be green and bring their own tumblers. I know why one would want to mention these things, but what are you asking the reader to do?

Still, there were interesting–at least novel to me–ideas around how we talk about teaching scholarly communication. In Chapter 4, they describe the life cycle of information as having or being a “social life.” I’m very fond of framing information in this way rather than as just a “cycle,” which sounds a bit too sterile abstract now–something that’s not connected to our lives.

Also, I’m on the fence about information fluency. I like the way it sounds, but I’m not sure if we need to introduce another concept in the information literacy universe–or even if it has gotten attention in recent years, I’m not sure it needed to be mentioned in this context. But this is an area I’ll actually be exploring further next week at a one-day conference.

As someone knee-deep in trying to figure out these issues, I found this document useful. It’s definitely presented a lot of ideas that I generally support or needed refreshing on. But I also think that some of it was a little extraneous or advanced (perhaps privileged is a better word?) considering they seem to want to target a large audience. One of these chapters could be enough to challenge a person for a while, let alone twelve, but maybe I’m not giving people enough credit.

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