Our library has a journal article reading club and yesterday we read the famous Delphi study that’s at the center of the ACRL Framework. And then I realized I haven’t posted about a Frame this week. So, here you go. I’ve already looked at “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” “and “Information Creation is a Process.” Today I’ll look at the next frame in line: “Information has Value”
The Draft Framework: Information Has Value
This was originally the last of the six draft frames that I reviewed way back in 2014 [link] and I thought it raised more questions than answers. Here’s the original text:
Information has Value acknowledges that the creation of information and products derived from information requires a commitment of time, original thought, and resources that need to be respected by those seeking to use these products, or create their own based on the work of others. In addition, information may be valued more or less highly based on its creator, its audience/consumer, or its message.
Experts understand that this value designates information as intellectual property, and therefore, recognizes three important dimensions of value. First, information can act as a commodity, and as such, creators can use their work for financial, reputational, social, or civic gains. These motivations may determine how information sources are shared whether given freely, offered for sale, or leased for temporary access. Information users have responsibilities as both consumers and creators of information based on the work of others. Academic and legal practices such as proper attribution of sources and complying with copyright are a result.
Second, as intellectual property, information sources are affected by economic, sociological, and political influences. The means of production may privilege some voices over others. Some search systems may privilege some sources over others due to economic incentive. Experts understand the consequences of selecting appropriate research methods (such as applying the correct statistical analysis to data), the limitations of publishing practices (such as scholarly journals’ lack of interest in publishing negative research results), and the boundaries to accessing the information ecosystem (such as populations without internet access or obstacles created by paywalls).
Finally, experts recognize that their online activity and information they contribute to online sites can be used for economic gain by the sites themselves. Such uses may include personal information harvested from social media sites or advertisements placed on “free” web tools or apps. One’s online presence is monitored, tracked and, ultimately, monetized.
As I argued, this Frame had two primary flaws: it concealed a morally suspect take on copyright and intellectual property and it didn’t go far enough in addressing social justice. At the time of this draft, lots of librarians agreed that the Frame seemed to encourage deference to the broken copyright system currently in place. Jacob Berg had a good take. Hopefully that got cleaned up in the final version. My other concern was that the Frame was underdeveloped in how it addressed economic, social, and political influence. At heart the draft could be summarized as three general ideas:
- Information is sometimes treated as a commodity
- The flow of information is affected by economic, social, and political influences.
- Web services can use the information you provide for their own economic gain.
The Frame addressed the first idea by reminding readers to cite sources properly and to abide by copyright legislation, which lead to the first problem. But, the Frame completely failed to address the second and third ideas. Experts recognize that information is affected by social, economic, and political influences? So what. What do experts do about it? Web services track you? That’s not interesting. What would be interesting would be some account of what experts do about online privacy and security.
But, two flaws weren’t enough to chase me away and I thought the Frame was mostly all right.
The Official Framework: Information Has Value
Let’s see how things have changed:
Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. Legal and socioeconomic interests influence information production and dissemination.
The value of information is manifested in various contexts, including publishing practices, access to information, the commodification of personal information, and intellectual property laws. The novice learner may struggle to understand the diverse values of information in an environment where “free” information and related services are plentiful and the concept of intellectual property is first encountered through rules of citation or warnings about plagiarism and copyright law. As creators and users of information, experts understand their rights and responsibilities when participating in a community of scholarship. Experts understand that value may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices. However, value may also be leveraged by individuals and organizations to effect change and for civic, economic, social, or personal gains. Experts also understand that the individual is responsible for making deliberate and informed choices about when to comply with and when to contest current legal and socioeconomic practices concerning the value of information.
Well, it’s certainly shorter! And at first blush it seems to be even more closely aligned with the way I re-wrote it as three general ideas. Two of which are now wrapped into the first paragraph. The third idea (about online privacy) is now entirely absent, having been moved to the knowledge practices. And they clearly took to heart the criticisms pertaining to copyright; the official Frame softens the language, putting the ball in our courts and letting us decide “when to comply with and when to contest” intellectual property laws and practices. They also cleaned up the knowledge practices and dispositions on this account, removing the disposition that had experts respecting “the academic tradition of citation and attribution.” I’d call that a win.
What about its failure to really dig in on social justice? I think they did a rather good job, actually. “Experts understand that value may be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices. However, value may also be leveraged by individuals and organizations to effect change and for civic, economic, social, or personal gains.” That’s pretty danged good. And that first sentence was originally a disposition about under-representation that I suggested they replace with marginalization (i.e., purposeful under-representation). I’m going to pretend they took my advice. They also included a disposition about understanding “how and why understand how and why some individuals or groups of individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information.” Again, pretty good. Finally, if you look down in the dispositions, you’ll see they address “information privilege.” That’s actually another suggested edit I made. Actually, if you look carefully, you’ll see that almost every suggestion I made–even the tiny ones– found its way into the final version. That’s a total win!
Granted, the new frame does introduce some new flaws. The disposition about valuing the process “needed to produce information” was changed to valuing the process “needed to produce knowledge,” which falls into the old “confusing-knowledge-with-information” trap. Seriously folks, librarians should know that information production and knowledge production are connected, but they aren’t interchangeable.
Overall, this is my favorite Frame yet. Not only do I agree with the underlying sentiments, but it also encourages us to ask critical questions about the Framework itself. For example, what is the value of the Framework? How does that value compare to the value inherent in the old Standards? Many of the people on your listserv railing against rescinding the old information literacy standards are actually abiding by this Frame as they question the value of the Framework. In many local contexts, there are social, economic, and political realities that make the Standards more valuable. So, it’s a good thing that some libraries are rejecting the Framework! We can also ask what economic, social, and political influences affected the development of the Frame? Which voices were underrepresented? And so on. And it’s this Frame that I think of when I look back over how the Framework developed over time. Thinking of the CFPs for threshold concepts in information literacy from before the Framework was even finished. The ACRL selling books on threshold concepts while the Framework tries to escape threshold concepts (we were just “influenced” by them!). The Delphi study itself. The way the Framework went from being a star in the constellation of ACRL’s information literacy documents to being the centerpiece. Reflecting on the past few years, it’s clear to me that the development of the Framework was based as much on social and political concerns as it was on research or theory. Probably more so.
Overall Grade: A-
As a whole, I think the Framework is an embarrassment, but I’ll admit it does have a few bright spots.