University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame


Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

This Moreau First Year Experience reading addresses the topic of “Academic Success: Information Literacy.”

A critical information literacy is a fundamental requirement for doing academic research. The Association of College and Research Libraries has proposed a framework for developing a critical information literacy for students of higher education. This framework is comprised of 6 core concepts:

1. Authority is Constructed and Contextual

All information is socially constructed. As a researcher you must carefully evaluate the claims to authority of the information that surrounds you. All information is a product of its creator’s orientation to his or her particular sociocultural, economic, technological, and historical contexts. This is why various communities recognize different types of authority and place different weights on particular forms of argument and evidence. As an nascent academic researcher you are called to learn to judge the authority of the arguments you encounter, in order to make authoritative arguments yourself. To develop this skill:

  • Keep an open mind to varied and even conflicting perspectives
  • Subject both your own beliefs and and cultural practices and more authoritative sources to a critical but fair scrutiny

2. Knowledge is Both a Process and a Product

Knowledge production in academia takes the form of scholarly research, which researchers typically publish in blogs, conference proceedings, scholarly articles and books, and other media. However, the creation of polished scholarly research is product of a messy, iterative process through which researchers learn as much by their mistakes as by their successes. Researchers learn best by investigating and pushing the boundaries of current knowledge by working through a continuing cycle of creating, revising, and sharing information with others. Writing is one of the primary tools by which you will grow as a researcher, helping you to both document and analyze your own research and communicate what you learn with others. To develop this skill:

  • Understand scholarly research as a means of discovery, rather than merely the reaffirmation of prior held beliefs
  • Pay attention to the deeply interconnected practices of making knowledge and communicating it, understanding knowledge as both product and process
  • Learn to evaluate the differences in authority and credibility between particular information media—e.g., blogs, popular magazines, and peer-reviewed scholarly journals and books— and understand their role in the knowledge production cycle

3. Information has Value

One of the most valuable commodities in our contemporary society is information. Certainly, the value of information is demonstrated when it is used by individuals and organizations to effect civic, economic, and social change, and especially when we see it wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices. As a novice researcher, it may be challenging to understand the complexity of how we assign value to information in a media environment where information seems both free and plentiful. However, there is an important distinction to be made between the information available on the ‘surface’ Web and the information available through an academic library—namely, the degree of rigor and care with which it has been created and curated. Part of developing a strong information literacy, then, will be learning about publishing practices, intellectual property, and plagiarism, as well as building skills in citation management, in order to make informed and deliberate choices about the value of information you rely on to produce knowledge. To develop this skill:

  • Cultivate a respect for the original ideas of others, and a respect for the skills, time and effort needed to produce knowledge
  • Understand yourself as a contributor to the information marketplace, rather than merely a consumer of it, and carefully examine your own ethical role in the creation of knowledge

4. Research is Inquiry

Research is an investigative process which depends upon asking increasingly sophisticated questions—questions whose answers usually open new questions or lines of inquiry. Expert researchers practice several important habits which help them to organize and analyze the myriad information they discover in answering these questions. As a researcher you must develop effective search methods to help you continually refine your research question, as well as acknowledging the possibility of discovering information that may disprove or contradict your assumptions. By celebrating useful and fruitful disagreement, you will find that debate and dialogue serve only to deepen the conversations around knowledge. To develop this skill:

  • Develop intellectual humility, recognizing your own intellectual or experiential limitations
  • Understand research as an open-ended, iterative, and collaborative exploration
  • Cultivate intellectual curiosity about new questions and new investigative methods
  • Balance persistence, adaptability, and flexibility in research with a commitment to ethical and legal standards in gathering and using information

5. Scholarship is a Conversation

Research in scholarly and professional fields is a practice in which ideas are collaboratively formulated, debated, and weighed against one another over extended periods of time. Instead of seeking discrete answers to complex problems, expert researchers understand that a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives as part of an ongoing conversation in which information users and creators come together to negotiate meaning. While you may hope to make a significant contribution, you are not called to provide the definitive answer to a research question. In order to confidently enter this conversation, develop familiarity with the sources of evidence, methods, and modes of communication in your field. To develop this skill:

  • Understand that scholarship is a continuing conversation, of which you are an important but single voice
  • Develop an appreciation and respect for the responsibility that comes with entering the scholarly conversation, including properly citing others’ work
  • Recognize the value of diverse approaches, investigating the perspectives, methods and tools from your own discipline and others, where appropriate and useful

6. Searching as Strategic Exploration

Searching for information is typically nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternative research paths as new understanding develops. Expert researchers also realize that information searching is a complex experience, both intellectual and emotional, which proceeds both through directed inquiry and serendipitous discovery. Novice researchers use fewer search strategies, and search a limited set of resources, while experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. To develop this skill:

  • Be flexible and creative in recognizing patterns among information
  • Practice a dogged persistence and press on through the challenging initial stages of exploratory searching
  • Employ purposeful strategic search methods but be open to discoveries made serendipitously while searching
  • Understand that seeking guidance from experts, such as librarians, researchers, and other professionals, is a common part of the research process

Adapted from:

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