ACRL Framework for Information Literacy
Authority is Constructed and Contextual
Authority of information, or the effect or influence it will carry with researchers and students, "is entirely dependent on the context in which it is used and by whom. Authority is not synonymous with expertise and expertise does not guarantee authority. Authority may be the result of exposure, disciplinary familiarity, or prestige... It is imperative that students understand how authority may be constructed and why some information comes to be regarded as more trustworthy and valuable than others." (Bravender, et al. Teaching Information Literacy Threshold Concepts, p. 63).
EXAMPLE: abortion and ethics
A philosopher, a religious minister, a politician, a lawyer, etc. might all be considered an "authority" on responding to ethical questions about abortion. Authority will be constructed by the reader or community seeking information. The contextual nature of authority lies in the purpose for which information is sought.
"If authority is constructed, we need to find ways to determine why we should trust the information we are encountering." (Badke, Research Strategies, pp. 31-32).
Questions to Ask:
- What are the author's qualifications?
- How good is their evidence?
- How have their biases influenced what they are presenting?
- Does the information meet my needs?
- Is the information relevant to the question?
"Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means of influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination."
Students and other researchers must eventually learn that information is a commodity and its production and distribution is influenced by legal and socioeconomic interests. While the vast amount of resources retrieved online can lead to the perception of plentiful information being freely available and usable, this is seldom the case. Intellectual property has "value" and its creators and disseminators hold rights under intellectual property law, and under the norms of scholarly conduct.
"As creators and users of information, experts understand their rights and responsibilities when participating in a community of scholarship." In addition, they understand that "value may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices." By the same token, "value may be leveraged by individuals and organizations to effect change...for civic, economic, social, or personal gains."
Questions to Ask:
- Am I giving credit to ideas of others through proper attribution and citation?
- Do I understand the premise of fair use when copying published materials for my information needs?
- Do I recognize that not all information is freely available, and that some groups may have limited access to and the ability to disseminate information? What are my privileges in terms of information access and contribution of my own work?
"Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences...Experts recognize that information creations are valued differently in different contexts, such as academic or the workplace...Recognizing the nature of information creation, experts look to the underlying processes as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information."
One fairly recent issue regarding the creation of information regards format. Much information today is created, packaged, and delivered in an electronic or digital format. In "pre-digital" times, the packaging of information could sometimes cue researchers or consumers into the type of information one was accessing. Picking up a Reader's Digest magazine versus Journal of Social & Personal Relationships would present to the user various indicators of the type of content and level of scholarship each contained. Some of the distinguishing attributes of sources are sometimes lost in the digital environment.
"With the advent of digital publishing there are still a multitude of processes that underlie the creation of information objects...In order to appreciate the timeliness, accuracy, complexity, and other attributes of information, people need to understand the purpose and processes behind its creation." (Bravender, et al. Teaching Information Literacy Threshold Concepts, p. 87-88).
Regardless of format, knowing that there is a process in creating any piece of information is important.
"For a scholar, how a piece of information was assembled is often as important as what appears in the final form...The kind of venue an author chooses for publication-scholarly article in a journal, popular article in a magazine, or blog-speaks to how it was developed." (Badke, Research Strategies, p. 33)
Questions to Ask:
- Does the work include data gathering of some kind (interviews, experiments, observations)? Is it reporting original research?
- Is the work providing an overview or summary of research done by someone else?
- If the work is presenting facts or statistics, can the information be verified in other sources?
- Is the work presenting an opinion? If it is opinion without supporting data or facts, then reliability of the source would be highly questionable.
- If the source is a blog, personal website, or presented through some social media format, can the background and qualifications of the creator be assessed?
- How current is the topic being researched? What will be the effect on types and formats of sources one will choose?
Bravender, et al state that as teachers and researchers, we realize that "the creation of information and its reasons for dissemination are the underlying determinants of its value in research" even in the midst of changing formats"(p.88). The authors also contend that "limiting research to scholarly journal articles implies that quality information can only be found in scholarly databases, when scholarly conversations are going on everywhere." (p.89) Yes, peer review is "designed to safeguard accuracy (p.89). But, accuracy can be determined in other formats through "thorough examination" and fact-checking via other sources.
"Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field...Many times, this process includes points of disagreement where debate and dialogue work to deepen the conversations around knowledge. This process of inquiry extends beyound the academic world to the community at large, and the process of inquiry may focus on personal, professional, or societal needs."
According to William Badke (Research Strategies, 2017), research is esssentially about discovery. In his view, it is not the summation of previously answered questions. Rather, it is a "problem-addressing exercise, an inquiry that takes you from an issue to a potential resolution." (p.35).
The ACRL Framework connects to each frame, "knowledge practices" and "dispositions", basically, behaviors and attitudes regarding finding, evaluating, and using information. The questions below, which the student or researcher should be asking, reflect some of these practices and dispositions:
Questions to Ask:
- Have I given thought to what interests me about the subject area?
- Do I have a problem statement around which I can formulate a research question or thesis statement?
- Is my scope of investigaton manageable and am I able to break down a complex research question into smaller/simpler ones?
- What kinds of information do I need to address the research question? Will it involve collection of data? Where and how will I obtain this?
- Where will I look for information? Will I be using books, reference sources,and journal or magazine articles, current news sources, and do I know how to find such sources? How will I evaluate my sources for credibility, presence of bias and other evaluation criteria? Have I sought multiple perspectives regarding the topic?
- How will I organize the information and synthesize ideas obtained from my sources?
As the student or researcher concludes these various processes, the task of analysis,interpretation and presentation of the research unfolds. While hopefully answering the proposed question, the researcher will understand that gaps most likely still exist. They will understand that all research contains limits, and they will develop their own "intellectual humility".
"Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and understandings.
In Research Strategies, William Badke points out that "We tend to think of knowledge as a static body of all that we know." But, "how does knowledge develop?" (2017, p.36). What we come to define as knowledge develops over time, among multiple conversations interactions which may take place via written texts, person-to-person or between groups, as well as through more modern means of communication such as media broadcasts, podcasts, blogs, and other social media. Bravender, et al, assert that "information seekers need to find, read (or watch), interpret, and understand more than one piece of information; they need to understand that each is just one voice of many within a larger scholarly conversation" (2015, p. 12).
Experienced researchers tend to seek out more than one perspective. This part of the Framework also points out that while "novice learners and experts at all levels can take part in the converstaion, established power and authority structures may influence their ability to participate and can privilege certain voices and information" ("Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education," American Library Association, 2015).
Most ideas emerge "through a history of earlier versions of those ideas, so there is little that is absolutely unique" (Badke, p. 36).
As one develops ideas, "a process of interaction with others also working in the field begins. It is a conversation" involving multiple viewpoints, disagreements, and suggestions. A history of conversations builds over time. Eventually, as progress is made, creation and dissemination of "new" knowledge takes place; conference presentations, journal articles, dissertations, and books become the concrete vessels of new information.
Questions to Ask:
- Am I able to identify the contributions of those working in a certain discipline that covers my topic? Can I identify articles, books, and other scholarly pieces that contribute to disciplinary knowledge?
- Am I giving attribution to relevant previous research and properly citing the work of others?
- Do I recognize my own abilities to contribute to the scholarly conversation, and participate as such at an appropriate level (e.g. local online community, undergraduate research journal, conference or poster presentations)?
- Do I understand that a given scholarly work might not represent the only or even the majority perspective on the topic or issue?
- Do I recognize that "systems privilege authorities and that not having a fluency in the language and process of a discipline disempowers their ability to participate?"
"Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternative avenues as new understanding develops.
When first learning about research, the student researcher will utilize a limited number of resources, databases, etc., usually beginning with Google and Wikipedia, and sometimes not going any further. Experienced researchers "might search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope." Also,novice researchers tend to use fewer search strategies; advanced researchers likely employ a number of search strategies and will be more familiar with terminology, alternative terms, etc. associated with their discipline and sometimes other disciplines.
Questions to Ask:
- Have I identified the major concepts of my problem statement or specific research question?
- Am I using relevant terms that reflect my research problem? Can I identify alternative terms or synonyms that might also be used in this discipline?
- After my initial browsing of my topic in Google, Wikipedia, or other freely available resources, do I know where to search for the most relevant,reliable, research-based information?
- Am I able to examine initial search results and determine how I might refine my search strategy? Is there anything about my topic that needs re-focusing?
- Can I recognize when assistance from others (i.e. professors, librarians, or other professionals) is needed, and that this may occur at various stages of my research?