Late last year I found myself in a bit of difficulty with my health savings account. An abrupt change in habit—I stopped going to psychotherapy—meant I had a hundreds of dollars sitting in my account that I needed to spend before December 31st or else gift back to my employer, something I was not interested in doing. There is no easier way to spend hundreds of health savings account dollars in than by buying a new pair of eyeglasses in Manhattan. I went into a store in Chelsea and said, literally, these words came out of my mouth: “Money isn’t really an object here.” The store sold me a pair of $650 frames.  

I’m not putting an old prescription into a pair of $650 frames, so I made an appointment to get my eyes checked, at an optometrist’s office, also in Chelsea. My doctor was very excited when he looked at my records and saw that it had been nearly five years since my last visit. “The machines we used to measure your eyes then are now obsolete!” The doctor proceeded to complete the refraction test to confirm my prescription, using the same large, clunking mass of lenses. This was the only part of the exam not covered by my insurance because it attends to my ability to see, not to any physical health problem, and my out of pocket cost was fifty bucks. Then the doctor set me up at two machines, one that had be watch a green plus sign until it disappeared several times, and another that had me stick my head into a large white bowl while wearing a patch over one eye, clicking a little clicker every time I saw a pale white light flicker somewhere in my field of vision.  

When it was all over, Dr. Behan sat me down to look at the results on his computer.  “This is the old technology and this is the new technology,” he said as he showed me to images of the nerve tissue at the back of my eye. Five years ago, the technology had indicated that I had slightly thicker nerve tissue than normal in my eyes. In 2015, the latest technology that made that tech obsolete indicated that I had slightly thicker nerve tissue than normal in my eyes. The difference was in the degree of density of the image, the granularity of the data and how it translated into visualizations that told the same story, but with a more colorful image in the latter case. I asked my doctor what the data meant for me and my eyes. “Well, really nothing. There isn’t anything that we would do in your case.” Big loud data, signifying nothing in terms of a change in how the world works.  

I was struck in that office by two things. First, Dr. Behan really and truly believed that the latest machine was the superior machine and the former machine was dully out of touch with today’s standard-bearer of eye nerve tissue measurement. Surely the first machine had represented a leap forward for Dr. Behan’s office; the latest technology is always the best we can do. Second, the data produced by the new machine relied on the old machine for its usefulness and value. Taking care of my eyes as I age requires comparison. Dr. Behan needs to be able to track changes in my thickened eye tissue in order to draw clinical conclusions about my status and what interventions I ought to be subject to. He concluded in December what he concluded in 2010: my thickened eye tissue is likely a genetic anomaly, one that means that my eyes might be different than yours, but they’re the same to me, and nothing to worry about. The tissue does sometimes signal a susceptibility to glaucoma, an eye disease that leads to blindness. Having my eyes checked at regular intervals lets the doctor track any changes, and intervene when those changes indicate that my eyes are in real trouble . 

How does the doctor compare data in a meaningful way when some of the data gathered is from unreliable, obsolete technology and some is state-of-the-art. How does the doctor compare data over my life span, when both science and capitalism requires a progressive narrative, one in which goods are always improving and therefore must be endlessly purchased in the name of improvement?  

I am interested in this paper to discover how the infrastructures we use contribute to that communication over time. Dr. Behan can compare the two data sets because, even though they are gathered by different machines, they are housed in the same infrastructure. 

Libraries are really just nests of interacting, interlocking standards. They guide everything we do, gaining us efficiencies as we deal with information swiftly and in groups, rather than bit by bit. We add books to our collections using standards that order materials according to a predetermined set of classificatory categories. We describe those books using a standardized vocabulary that allows us to collate books with similar content together. We don’t come up with brand new ways of ordering and describing with each new book, just like we aren’t born anew each day. We manipulate standards in order to make a hospitable location for each new item. And as we expand the number of books contained by our standards, we extend and deepen those standards. They become harder and harder to change, the work involved in revising or undoing altogether our standards more complex and expensive. Infrastructure scholars describe this as path dependence: we become bound to drive down certain roads because we have spent so much time building and maintaining them.  

Standards of classification and cataloging discipline new knowledge formations into old structures, ensuring that everything fits. As standards produce knowledge, they also produce power: the power to define what constitutes knowledge, to name it, and to decide the relationships between knowledge formations. If we think of the library as the field against which new knowledge is made, the power of the standards-makers and keepers extends to the creation of future knowledge, as queries retrieve information against the field of information already collected, collated, and ordered for use.  

This is a dramatic story, of course, one that creates for the librarian a role that perhaps she does not step fully into. After all, there is information retrieval, and then there is meaning making, and we have yet to standardize the production of meaning. And yet, I think this kind of dystopic vision of the powerful librarian making all the decisions and determining everything about what the future will hold and what we will know when we get there is analytically useful for understanding the ways that standards order so much of what librarians do. If the scholar is able to do her work without even noticing the knowledge infrastructures that make it possible—if JSTOR is just ‘great,’ and not a political assemblage—librarians do not have access to this kind of fiction. Because we make these systems, we cannot ignore them, nor can we ignore the ways they structure our everyday lives.  

 Much has been written about the problems of knowledge infrastructure standards. Joan Marshall and Sanford Berman started building the critique of library classification and cataloging systems in the 1970s, and that work continues today. Jenna Freedman at Barnard College lobbies the library of congress to add and change subject headings related to gender, sexuality, and race; Amber Billey at Columbia University fights to change the encoding of gender as a binary in RDA. As knowledge infrastructures change, the plain of contestation has changed as well. Algorithms dominate the landscape of search and retrieval, and critical studies of algorithms have followed as scholars and activists surface the ways that ideology forms and informs these mechanisms.  

These standards, of course, are tied to power: who determines the standard determines the ideological components of it.  

Librarianship works with these sorts of standards all day. We catalog and classify all manner of material using these systems, from the EZ Proxy standards that enable remote access to electronic collections to the RDF that enables linked open data projects. Our daily work can essentially be reduced to the generation, maintenance, and manipulation of various kinds of standards.  

Our professional identities are managed via the articulation of standards as well. Like other service professions, librarianship is shot through with a variety of behavioral standards that ostensibly tell us how to act and behave in accordance with consensus .  

This talk has its genesis in the debates around information literacy standards and frameworks that dominated the professional discourse of teaching librarians starting in 2013. The Association of College and Research Libraries is the professional body that generates standards for professional practice in academic libraries. The organization produces many different kinds of standards, including standards that define the operation of libraries and learning centers (e.g., Standards for Distance Learning Library Services) and standards that define different kinds of information literacies (e.g., Information Literacy Competency Standards for Nursing). ACRL defines standards as “policies that describe shared academic library values and principles of performance.” ACRL sees these standards as prescriptive texts, “ ACRL promulgates standards and guidelines to help libraries, academic institutions, and accrediting agencies understand the components of an excellent library.” In other words, standards don’t reflect practices at libraries as much as they are meant to determine them, as libraries use the standards to demonstrate compliance, make claims for resources to administrations, and generate conversations across governing bodies in higher education more generally. Standards are “rules” and “models” that drive “decision and actions in the academic community” and “suggest outcomes to be achieved.” These are prescriptive documents; they tell librarians what to do. 

My interest is in how these documents function in everyday life. People are not automatons blindly fulfilling the goals, objectives, and outcomes of external mandates. Instead, standards documents provide a kind of scaffolding or netting against which we both comply and resist. Indeed, this is what rules and regulations do: they produce resistance to themselves.  

I am less interested in the content of those rules and regulations than I am in the ways that the rules and regulations distribute power in a professional field. I have written elsewhere about the ways that standards produce professional identity and regulate who can and who can’t be a part of professional schemes.  

I am interested particularly in standards documents, because these are the documents that are most explicitly directed at ordering and homogenizing the work of practicing librarians. For example, we can compare two documents from the history of the American Library Association’s approach to teaching in libraries. In 1987, C&RL News published the Model Statement of Objectives for Academic Bibliographic Instruction [].  This document was prepared by the ACRL/BIS Task Force on the Model Statement of Objectives and approved by the ACRL Board of Directors and ALA Standards Committee. The document consists of an introductory statement followed by a set of general and terminal objectives with associated learning activities. For example, the first general objective is, “the user understands how information is defined by experts, and recognizes how that knowledge can help determine the direction of his/her search for specific information.” This general objective is amplified by five terminal objectives, including terminal objective three: “The user recognizes that disciplines use specific methods to communicate information.” This terminal objective is associated with three learning activities:  

a. The user recognizes that information sources can be recorded or unrecorded sources which may appear in different physical formats. 

b. The user recognizes that information sources go through various review processes to be accepted as credible by the research community. 

c. The user understands the processes through which information sources are accepted and disseminated in the research community. 

The structure of broad goals broken down into more granular, “measurable” objectives and behaviors is mirrored in the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, put forth as a replacement for the Model Statement in 2000. The Competency Standards echo the Model Statement in structure, though the wording is different: goals become performance standards, terminal objectives become performance indicators, and learning activities are named outcomes.  

The Competency Standards retain the Model Statement’s content related to understanding format type, but the framing of that knowledge is different. In the Model Statement, format is related to a broad objective about disciplinary knowledge presumed external to the user until she masters the listed terminal objectives and learning activities. The Competency Standard reorients this knowledge to the student’s individual relationship to information: “The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.” Recognition of format is a performance indicator under this broader Standard: “The information literate student identifies a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information.” The Competency Standards also offer significantly more outcomes than the learning activities in the model statement, doubling them to six. In the Model Statement, understanding that knowledge is formed inside disciplines was an Objective. In the Competency Standards, this objective is reduced to Standard One, Performance Indicator Two, Outcome B. This tells us something about the differential ways the standardizing professional body has valued disciplinarity over time.  

Rhetorically, the two documents also articulate very different understandings of the role each plays in the work of professional librarians. The Model Statement is explicit about its purpose as a discourse-generating document:  

The primary purpose of the Model Statement is to generate thinking in the discipline of bibliographic instruction concerning the direction of existing instructional programs. It is intended to help librarians articulate and focus on what their instructional objectives should be and stimulate research into whether existing programs are achieving these objectives. As such, the Statement is not designed to introduce the new librarian to the field, nor is it designed to introduce an outside faculty member to the relevant concepts within the discipline. Rather, it is intended to serve as a statement of general direction for practicing librarians to review when examining current instructional programs or developing the keystones of new programs.  

The introduction to the Model Statement emphasizes its partial-ness, going to some lengths to qualify its standing as an official document from the professional governing body. It is meant to “generate thinking” rather than guide behavior, “intended to help” rather than determine the structure of teaching programs in academic libraries, only “a statement of general direction” and not a rigid set of rules to follow. The Model Statement is prescriptive only insofar as it sketches the outlines of a domain, naming goals, objectives, and learning activities in order to render them subject to debate. Indeed, the Model Statement is rooted in “structural flexibility…designed to permit as much flexibility is possible.” The Statement outlines concrete and fixed terminal objectives, but takes pains to paint these objectives as “suggested,” making clear that “the librarian may find that additional terminal objectives must be created in order to reflect the needs of the group in question.” Even as the document fixes in place a determined notion of what students should know, it calls attention to the gaps and fissures, inviting librarians to fill them.    

Contrast this with the rhetoric of the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Where the Model Statement address first its purpose, the Standards document begins with statements of fact:  

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” 1 Information literacy also is increasingly important in the contemporary environment of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources. Because of the escalating complexity of this environment, individuals are faced with diverse, abundant information choices–in their academic studies, in the workplace, and in their personal lives. Information is available through libraries, community resources, special interest organizations, media, and the Internet–and increasingly, information comes to individuals in unfiltered formats, raising questions about its authenticity, validity, and reliability. In addition, information is available through multiple media, including graphical, aural, and textual, and these pose new challenges for individuals in evaluating and understanding it. The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information pose large challenges for society. The sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively. 

The rhetoric shifts in the 2000 document from claims to a set of ideas worth thinking, writing, and wrangling with to confident assertions about what information literacy is and that it is “increasingly important.” Truth claims are not limited just to what librarians might define as a space of their own discourse and practice, but to the wider world and its “escalating complexity” and “uncertain quality and expanding quantity.” The document is future-focused and exigent, arguing that “the sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively.” The document then goes on to define those abilities, and locate them squarely within the practice domain of librarians.  

The fifth section of the Standards document directly addresses the ways that librarians should use the Standards in practice. In this document, that practice is always focused outwardly. The Standard provide “a framework for assessing the information literate individual.” Where the Model Statement was for the use of librarians to interrogate and articulate their own views on teaching and learning in libraries, the Standards are about the student in the classroom. Indeed, students are discussed as an audience for the Standards as well:   

Students also will find the competencies useful, because they provide students with a framework for gaining control over how they interact with information in their environment. It will help to sensitize them to the need to develop a metacognitive approach to learning, making them conscious of the explicit actions required for gathering, analyzing, and using information.  

Not only are students expected to achieve these competencies, they are expected to organize their own interactions with “information” according to the competencies outlined in the document.  

Where the Model Statement steered clear of universalism and prescriptivism, the Competency Standards document embraces both. In the Standards, information literacy is presented as universal: “[information literacy] is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education.” The status of being information literate as defined by the standards is necessary for everyone: “All students are expected to demonstrate all of the competencies described in this document, but not everyone will demonstrate them to the same level of proficiency or at the same speed.” The value of the competencies is not up for contestation; only the process can vary. Indeed, this is the rhetorical shift throughout the Competency Standards document. By naming the variable, the document rhetorically fixes what frames it. For example, the document acknowledges that “some disciplines may place greater emphasis on the mastery of competencies at certain points in the process, and therefore certain competencies would receive greater weight than others in any rubric for measurement.” The document concedes that disciplines approach information literacy differently, but in doing so implies that information literacy and rubric-based measurement are taken for granted as part of all disciplines. It is a nifty conceit, one that disciplinary faculty would surely contest, as would librarians whose work is about ‘selling’ this professional claim to expertise to teaching faculty who see little if any connection to the ideas contained in Competency Standards document.  

Another example: The Competency Standards document suggests that in some disciplines, “many of the competencies are likely to be performed recursively, in that the reflective and evaluative aspects included within each standard will require the student to return to an earlier point in the process, revise the information-seeking approach, and repeat the same steps.” Again, the document signals an appreciation for difference in various fields, but confines this difference to the order of steps or the patterns and processes of information use. How the competencies are mastered and deployed might vary, but the competencies as defined in the document remain rigid and universal in this conception.  

The statement of differences between these two documents relies on a “reading” of the Competency Standards that have been intensely critiqued. Less critiqued, if written about at all, is the Model Statement. A final rhetorical difference in these two documents is the stated purpose of each. The Model Statement is explicitly directed at producing discourse:  

The primary purpose of the Model Statement is to generate thinking in the discipline of bibliographic instruction concerning the direction of existing instructional programs. It is intended to help librarians articulate and focus on what their instructional objectives should be and stimulate research into whether existing programs are achieving these objectives. As such, the Statement is not designed to introduce the new librarian to the field, nor is it designed to introduce an outside faculty member to the relevant concepts within the discipline. Rather, it is intended to serve as a statement of general direction for practicing librarians to review when examining current instructional programs or developing the keystones of new programs. 

The Model Statement seeks to “generate thinking” and “help librarians articulate and focus on what their instructional objectives should be.” It does not describe the facts of the door, but instead opens it, positioning itself as a generator of research that attends to the local and intimate concerns of a professional circle. New librarians and faculty members outside the library are explicitly excluded from the group of people who would be interested in the document and find it useful; the Statement produces an intimate public, pulling together librarians to discuss and define for themselves the domain of their practice. The Model Statement is a document for use by librarians to interrogate the work that librarians do, with and among each other.  

In contrast, the Competency Standards are explicitly prescriptive. The Standards are meant to be implemented, not simply considered. The content of the Standards document is presented as a settled question. Up for review are institutional “mission and educational goals,” not to see if information literacy makes sense in a given context, but “to determine how information literacy would improve learning and enhance the institution’s effectiveness.” The question of whether this might always be true in all cases is rhetorically foreclosed. 

Placing these two documents next to each other, we can see that they serve very different purposes, and as such, deploy very different rhetoric. The Model Statement is concerned with internal professional exploration of bibliographic instruction, itself a term invented only in TKTKTK. The document asks librarians to consider a framework of goals, objectives, and learning activities, and invites them to change and revise them in response to local conditions. The Competency Standards take a different approach entirely. This document is focused outward. It does not invite a discussion of the merits of itself. The rhetoric of the Competency Standards is that of a hermetic and fixed world, one where all the conclusions have already been drawn, and all that is left is implementation. Implementation requires the buy in of other stakeholders in higher education, and this is the audience for the Competency Standards document. Librarians have used the Competency Standards to communicate with these stakeholders, to engage administrations and accrediting bodies in conversations that have led to the inclusion of information literacy as a core outcome in institutional planning documents as well as accreditation requirements. Information literacy entered the Middle States Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education in TKTK, and used language almost identical to that used by the ACRL documents:  

Several skills, collectively referred to as “information literacy,” apply to all disciplines in an institution’s curricula. These skills relate to a student’s competency in acquiring and processing information in the search for understanding, whether that information is sought in or through the facilities of a library, through practica, as a result of field experiments, by communications with experts in professional communities, or by other means. Therefore, information literacy is an essential component of any educational program at the graduate or undergraduate levels. [] 

Like the Competency Standards document, the Middle States Characteristics of Excellence document names information literacy as a universally-applicable set of competencies that should be taught and mastered in all higher education contexts.  

The importance of embedding information literacy in accreditation standards documents was highlighted during the 2013 Middle States Characteristics of Excellence revision process. During this process, information literacy was briefly removed from the Standards. Feeling the basis for their claim to centrality in higher education, librarians raised a hue and cry until information literacy was included in the document again. In the 12th edition of the Characteristics, information literacy was embedded in Standard 11: Educational Offerings and elaborated throughout the text. In the 13th edition, information literacy falls under Standard Three: Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience. Here, information literacy is listed as one of several “essential skills” along with “oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning, [and] technological competency.” The argument librarians made during the Middle States standards revision process was that information literacy needed to be included in the document in order to facilitate librarians in their claims to resources on campus. As long as information literacy is listed as universally required across program, discipline, and institution, librarians can argue for their necessity on a given campus.  

Of course, it might be cynical to argue that information literacy as defined and described in the Competency Standards document is simply strategic. The defined competencies share much with the objectives defined in the Model Statement, and can some ways be seen as an expression of consensus around what matters in a teaching and learning library. But while fixed, these expressions of consensus are always subject to revision, a process built into the concept of standards themselves in the process documents of ALA. In ACRL, standards are reviewed annually to ensure they are functional (i.e., links are checked on websites) and every five years to see if the Standards require revision. ( 

In July 2011, 12 years after their adoption initiated a review process for the Competency Standards []. The process for revising the Standards follows that for generating new standards, a process outlined in some detail by ACRL []. In the case of the Standards revision process, a Task Force of “the best minds in the library profession” along with “experts” from related higher education fields and accrediting bodies convened in March 2013 to conduct this review. Two years of drafting, feedback, and redrafting resulted in the promulgation of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. The Framework was reviewed by the ACRL Board at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference, and was filed in February 2015 “as one of the constellation of information literacy documents from the association.’ [] The Framework purports to offer a new way of thinking about teaching and learning in libraries, one that differs significantly from the Competency Standards while echoing some of the calls for a flexible, discursively productive document that emerged from the  Model Statement.  

I want to analyze this document in relation to the Competency Standards first. How is the vision of information literacy it presents different from that presented by the Competency Standards? I am less interested in the level of individual information skills or concepts. Less interesting to me is whether the skill of defining an information need outlined in the Competency Standards is better described by the frame that addresses “Research as Inquiry.” I think reasonable people can have varying approaches to articulating this thing where one becomes curious, or is required by an assignment to become curious, and then moves out into the world to satisfy that curiosity. Some librarians and students think more mechanically than that, and the dispositions are themselves written mechanically in some ways, so the difference may be merely cosmetic. Instead, I am interested in the claims to novelty that the Framework makes, the way it pitches itself as entirely new, and what work this new-ness does. I am also interested in whether the Framework rhetorically aligns itself with the Model Statement’s commitment to generative work within the field based on the document, or whether the Framework aligns itself with the claims to universality and truth that the Competency Standards appeal to. What rhetorical work does the Framework do, and what does this work mean for librarians working in relation to these professional documents? 


The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Framework) moves between the two approaches to professional organizing documents that preceded it. The Framework explicitly rejects a prescriptive role, and names the aspects of the Standards that it is moving against. In the introduction, the Framers state, “the Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills.” Standards and learning outcomes formed the core of the 2000 Competency Standards document, and the Framework is deliberate and direct in its rejection of that role.  

At the same time, the Framework does not position itself as the Model Statement did, as a prompt for librarians to think about and consider “big ideas.” Instead, the Framework describes its “heart” as the articulation of “conceptual understandings that organize many other concepts and ideas about information, research, and scholarship into a coherent whole.” These concepts are informed by backward design principles of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, two educational theorists whose approach to instructional design emphasizes defining desired learning outcomes, designing assessments, and then developing classroom activities that will lead students to understanding. The Framework is also informed by “threshold concepts,” a theory of learning based on identifying the ideas that unlock a field of knowledge for students. These concepts are transformative, troublesome, irreversible, integrative, bounded, discursive, reconstitutive, and liminal. Finally, the Framework “draws significantly upon the concept of metaliteracy.” In the Framework introduction, metaliteracy is described as a “renewed vision” of information literacy that accounts for a range of elements of learning that were excluded from the narrowly prescriptive standards document, including behavioral, affective, cognitive, and metacognitive engagement with the information ecosystem” as well as “critical self-reflection.” These learning theories that might have been fodder for discursive engagement in the context of the Model Statement and go unnamed in the Standards document, play a different role in this most recent iteration of professional teaching practice documents.   The Framework then consists of six “frames,” each of which draws on threshold concept in information literacy, buttressed by a set of knowledge practices and dispositions which, like a TKTK, look like prescriptive, measureable outcomes that, with a slight shift, appear as general descriptive statements. 

The Framework explicitly rejects the “prescriptive enumeration of skills” put forward by the Comptency Standards. The knowledge practices and dispositions may look like prescriptively defined learning outcomes, but “neither the knowledge practices nor the dispositions that support each concept are intended to prescribe what local institutions should do in using the Framework; each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation, including designing learning outcomes.” In the particulars, the desired outcomes for students articulated in both documents are in some cases strikingly familiar. For example, compare the ways the two documents describe the capacity to reflect on gaps in knowledge and seek information to fill those gaps:  

Standard Four: The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose. 

Performance indicator one: The information literate student applies new and prior information to the planning and creation of a particular product or performance. 
Outcomes Include: 

  1. Organizes the content in a manner that supports the purposes and format of the product or performance (e.g. outlines, drafts, storyboards) 
  1. Articulates knowledge and skills transferred from prior experiences to planning and creating the product or performance 
  1. Integrates the new and prior information, including quotations and paraphrasings, in a manner that supports the purposes of the product or performance 
  1. Manipulates digital text, images, and data, as needed, transferring them from their original locations and formats to a new context 

The Competency Standards define information literacy in part by the ability to organize research, articulate and integrate—e.g., synthesize—old information with new, and transform different kinds of media into the context of new information production.  

These skills persist in the Framework, despite that document’s claim to novelty. For example, the sixth frame, Searching as Strategic Exploration, claims that, “Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.” This reflective, iterative process appears in the Competency Standards as part of Standard 4, Performance Indicator Two, which claims that, “the information literate student revises the development process for the product or performance.” The related outcomes offer concrete activities that demonstrate this competency. Recursivity and reflection include “maintain[ing] a journal or log of activities related to the information seeking, evaluating, and communicating process” and “reflect[ing] on past successes, failures, and alternative strategies.” The Framework offers eight knowledge practices as part of its related Frame, several of which capture a similar set of approaches to research, including the ability to “manage searching processes and results effectively” and “design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary, based on search results. In the Framework, the elements of a reflective process are defined much more extensively, but both documents name a reflective process as essential to information literacy.  

In the Model Statement, the reflective aspects of searching are not named. The closest the Model Statement gets is an acknowledgement that the research topic or question can change, though it does not describe the ways that the research process itself contributes to that narrowing. General objective 1, Terminal Objective 4, Learning Activity B identifies the skill in this way: “The user understands that the initial question may be too broad or narrow to investigate effectively and that adjustment in scope, direction, or timeframe may be needed.” Interestingly, this capacity to reflect on one’s own question  falls under the objective related to the ways that information is understood by experts. The individual’s research process is outside the scope of the Model Statement.  

Are there ways of thinking about information that are new in the Framework document, or can each of the objectives from the Competency Standards be mapped against the Framework? Mapping the relationships between the two was some of the first work that librarians undertook in response to the new document, as Ian Beilin pointed out []. Amanda Hovious developed a crosswalk chart [] in January 2015 that mapped the ACRL Standards against the new Framework, linking the two so that librarians used to working with the Standards and who wanted to continue to use that set of ideas to structure their own teaching could do so. She found a roughly one-to-one linking between the two. The Framework concept “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” captures Standards One and Four, “Information Has Value” captured Standard Five, and so on. While Hovious sets off her effort with the claim that “This chart is NOT an equation of the old standards to the new, it is a CORRELATION,” the two-column grid format certainly evokes an identity between the two. Hovious pulls out “Scholarship is a Conversation” as an idea about information literacy that is “mostly new.”  


As debate over the Standards and Framework developed, a distinctly localist approach began to emerge. Librarians split into camps, arguing that the Standards were the best way to frame and teach about information literacy [] while others advocated for a sunsetting of the Standards and the centrality of the new Framework for teaching librarians [I don’t even know who anymore]. A third strand of argument emerged that discounted the Framework altogether, arguing that information literacy practices should be defined and implemented locally, in fact that this is the only way that standards, guidelines, and frameworks actually work in practice. Meredith Farkas argued that she’ll be “keeping it local,” suggesting that the unifying power of the ACRL documents is actually quite soft:  

However, some of the hand-wringing I’ve seen on listservs about how the move towards the Framework and toward sunsetting the Standards is going to completely change their instruction programs seems crazy. Why does it have to? I haven’t met a librarian who told me that their library or institution requires them to be in lockstep with ACRL (maybe it’s the case at some, but I’m glad it’s not the world in which I live). ACRL isn’t exactly our accrediting body and my experience with accreditation is that they want you to be assessing outcomes, not “outcomes as defined by ACRL.” At Portland State, the outcomes we developed and adopted for our instruction program were loosely structured around and based on the Standards (among other documents like AASL’s) and I don’t imagine that it’s going to be a high priority to revise them in light of this change unless the library’s program of instruction changes. ACRL adopting the Framework doesn’t have change the way we teach unless we want it to. And while threshold concepts may impact some of our thinking and teaching, it does not mean we have to completely redo our outcomes or our rubrics if those are still what we hope to see from students and what we plan to assess. I don’t see myself using phrases like “format as a process” or “information has value,” even though I’ve been teaching (and will continue to teach) to many of the knowledge practices listed under those threshold concepts for years. 


Reading the documents of the past and the form that they take can help us explain what Geoffrey Bowker has called “the numinous present” (p. 2). Bowker is writing in the context of knowledge production and transfer in the sciences. These are disciplines that explicitly depend on the past for their articulations of knowledge. The literature review is an example of the way the past is recounted in the service of constructing a present. Facts produced by past experiments are reiterated, placed next to each other in sentence and paragraph, becoming more unassailably true each time they are repeated until they are naturalized, and no longer need citation. In the context of the individual article, the literature review produces the present warrant for the article itself. Naming everything that has come before is a precursor to anything that can come next. This is “scholarship as a conversation” in the narrowest, most closed sense. The conversation takes place between a perfectly remembered past and the small intervention that is now exigent in the present.  

Bowker is concerned with how the sciences order and make accessible the facts that comprise the palimpsests of their present and, in turn, their future. He asks how taxonomies and nomenclatures, databases and spreadsheets, and other infrastructures of knowledge govern how knowledge is produced and how it counts. Bowker sees standards as a part of this ordering project. He begins with a discussion of email. Email does not feel complicated and standards-bound as we’re sending it. A click here, a click there, some typing, and I have communicated to you what I am bringing to the office potluck dinner. Beneath this pedestrian exchange lies a complicated set of standards, or “a shared set of handshakes” that makes the exchange possible.   

Bowker argues that the infrastructures in which ideas, facts, and settled questions settle and rest, the structures that contain them and convey them from the past into the future, are themselves powerful modes of determining what those ideas are. He asks us to turn our attention from content to form, regarding the infrastructures of knowledge as the objects of analysis, rather the knowledge itself.  

In his chapter “Databasing the World,” Bowker addresses the infrastructures natural scientists use to store and convey knowledge. He is interested understanding how scientists have “gone about trying to code and store the information that is necessary in order to replicate in small the archive of the history of the life” (p. 109). Efforts to order an understanding of the natural world require systems that document what we know. Once that knowledge is documented, it in turn becomes the stuff of research questions. The results of that scientific research are then presumed to move science progressively toward the “truth,” a term used to describe the most recent conclusion housed in the knowledge infrastructure.  

Some examples: In his work on the problem of determining the acceleration of the moon, Matthew Stanley describes the reliance of contemporary astronomers on the data gathered by astronomers of the past. Understanding and predicting this motion required scientists to calculate observed changes in the location of the moon over time using large historical sets of data about eclipses. The problem faced by these scientists was that the word ‘eclipse’ and its meaning are not stable over time. The 19th century British astronomer George Airy accepted Herodotus’s description of the total eclipse at the battle of Thales as a data point; American astronomer Simon Newcomb, writing at the same time, suggested that this report of an eclipse was not trustworthy, suggesting that the reports from Herodotus and others reflected instead the fog of war: the drama of the battlefield led the historian to report a total eclipse as part of the poetics of the scene, when likely it was merely night time (Raw Data book, p. 80).  

Another example: Susan Solomon, a meteorologist, used weather data to prove that Robert Falcon Scott’s failed expedition to the South Pole failed not because he relied on ponies instead of horses, or due to a failure of colonial passion upon seeing that he had lost the battle to the pole to the Norwegian, Roald Amundson. Instead, Solomon argues, the exceptionally cold weather caused the expedition to fail. Hers is not an ideological argument but a scientific one, relying on comparative temperature measurements across time. Such comparison depends on infrastructures that mirror each other. In order to make a claim about the relative coldness, one must be able to compare the low temperatures on the Ross Ice Shelf in 1912 and in 2012 and be sure that the comparison involves the same two kinds of things. The capacities of the thermometers, their calibration and what they are calibrated to, what the temperature numbers represent, how often and at what time of day measurements are made, and the format and preservation of the list of numbers for transfer from the expedition to the camp and on to the research lab must be parallel in order for the comparison to support a claim to truth. In her defense of Scott on the grounds of cold weather, Deborah Solomon spends several pages articulating the symmetry between the two infrastructures of weather documentation. The quality of the instrumentation and its accurate calibrarion in the 21st century is taken as a given. Scott’s infrastructure includes “the finest thermometers of the day…meticulously calibrated at Kew before departure” and “temperature and wind data were taken hourly at Cape Evans during the Terra Nova expedition, using multiple instruments” (p. 111). The expedition meteorologists, George Simpson and Charles Wright, “worked around the clock to ensure a continuous data stream” and relied on turn of the century solutions to problems now accounted for by computerization such as swinging thermometers in the air to get accurate readings not unduly influenced by settled pockets of colder or warmer air hovering near the surface of the Antarctic ice. Multiple people on the expedition recorded the temperatures in notebooks, providing verification of the data and guarding against mistakes.  

Solomon argues that Scott and his companions perished on their walk home from the South Pole due to abnormally cold weather. Her argument relies on proving that the temperatures were in fact abnormally cold. She does this not simply by listing temperatures. Solomon acknowledges that data gathering and recording has changed across time, and much of her work is about documenting the ways in which the data gathering processes on the glaciers of Antarctica in 1912 at the moment of death are similar to the data gathering processes of today. Hers is an argument about infrastructure. Solomon builds her case for the accuracy of temperature and wind reporting systems in 1912. The accuracy and validity of contemporary weather gathering infrastructure is presumed to produce valid and accurate data. Only the 1912 infrastructures are “historical” and therefore not taken for granted.  

The terrain of the debate opened by Solomon is ostensibly about the reasons for Robert Falcon Scott’s death on the Ross Ice Shelf. Her claim is that Scott died due to abnormally cold weather. She makes this claim against others that posit alternative reasons for Scott’s death: poor planning, scurvy, insufficient colonial mettle. Undergirding her argument is an argument about infrastructures of scientific memory and the transmission of fact from the past to the present. What this paper attempts to do is shift the discussion away from claims of truth about both the past and the present: Scott may have died for myriad reasons, and even if this question were an interesting one—I think if one is not British and tied to a sense of that country’s heroic 19th century story, the demise of the Scott party is a curiosity akin to the Donners in the Sierra Nevada—the more interesting question is what facilitates this conversation in the first place.  

Meterologists compare weather data for many reasons, not only to build historical cases. But the extent to which data and science have been used to make claims about the past makes the work that they do of interest. This paper suggests that there might be gains to make in terms of understanding the work of power if we understand the ways that infrastructures convey truth, fix narrative, and determine what counts as true in the present. Given that truth matters a lot, this analysis can also help us understand the distribution of resources in the field of the social.  

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