On the threshold of Information Literacy: using Threshold Concepts in IL

6014699888_4674de39b7_mSometimes I find myself getting way too excited about teaching information literacy. You can probably tell when I’m excited, because I’ll start to talk really fast. And get animated. I’m excited about a good search result. I’m such a librarian.

But I try and check myself when I get like this. Because let’s be honest, not many students are excited about finding stuff like librarians are. In essence, we mostly don’t meet mini-librarians in the making during our sessions.

And, often when I start getting excited about information literacy, that’s sometimes at the point when I can visibly notice my students slipping away. Maybe not their attention; but definitely their comprehension. Because we’ve reached the stage where they’re having difficulty grasping a concept. And I quickly remember that I’m not here to give students an MLIS degree in 60 minutes. I firmly believe that. I am not training mini-librarians.

And yet, maybe we’ve got something to learn from this mind-frame. In a basic way. The concepts or ideas that are like second nature to us librarians, but really tricky for others to grasp; what if we focused on these? What if we spent our efforts unlocking those troublesome, often abstract, concepts of research; would that make IL more contextualized and comprehendible?

Jan Meyer and Ray Land refers to these points as threshold concepts; ‘conceptual gateways’ that might lead to inaccessible knowledge, but once mastered: ‘a new way of understanding, interpreting, or viewing something may thus emerge – a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view’ (Meyer and Land, 2005, p. 373).

A recent article on Threshold Concepts in Information Literacy seeks to identify some threshold concepts for information literacy by collecting data from information literacy instructors. A number of concepts were devised, including: ‘research solves problems’ and ‘good searches use database structures’. The concept threshold below is especially relevant to us at the moment as we teach our first years about annotated bibliographies:

What makes a book a book and a newspaper article a newspaper article has nothing to do with how one accesses it… but with the process that went into creating it. Understanding this principle helps students navigate the information they find online and evaluate it according to the process underlying its creation (Hofer, Townsend and Brunetti, 2012, p. 403).

Hofer, Townsend and Brunetti do a great job of devising concept thresholds for information literacy, and because I often think that threshold concepts are unique to individuals, I’m sure there are more concepts that may emerge, based on our students’ experiences. And what’s the best way to identify these threshold concepts? From students themselves. By observing those moments when you’re losing your students. While observing your students in the midst of their research activities. Both in-class, and perhaps at the reference desk. And if we can focus on these troublesome, threshold concepts, and find ways to teach them, so that students’ perceptions are changed, aren’t we unlocking some of the doors to information literacy?

Just another way I think IL teaching is about teaching process, not product.


Meyer, J. and Land. R. (2005) ‘Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning’, Higher Education, 49, pp. 373-388.

Hofer, A., Townsend, L and Brunetti, K. (2012) ‘Troublesome concepts and information literacy: investigating threshold concepts for IL instruction’, portal: Libraries and the Academy, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 387-405.

Photo Credit: renedepaula via Compfight cc

edlibbs 2.0

So it’s been a while since there have been any ad-libs about about education or info literacy around these parts. And there’s a reason.

So, some of you might know that right at the start of 2013, I took a job offer to move from Ireland, to Vermont, USA to take up an Assistant Director position in Champlain College Library, with specific responsibility for IL. I’ve been here over a month now, and I’m still adjusting to new surroundings. Mostly, though, I’m really enjoying the changes that this opportunity has brought me.

So, aside from saying goodbye to family and friends back home, this really wasn’t a difficult decision. This role allowed me to look further (and closer at the areas in IL that I’ve been excited by for the past few years: student-centred, inquiry-driven learning; IL assessment (both programatic assessment, and student assessment); and fostering the ideas of the librarian as a teacher.

I get to be a leader again. I’ve held this role before, and wanted to get back to that place. I get to lead our team of teaching librarians.

I’ve lots to learn in this role. And that’s what excites me the most. I get to work with a great team who are innovative, excited and engaged. And we talk about our instruction. Every week. And we get excited. And draw on white boards to explain what we’re thinking. It sounds kooky. But I’m loving it.

So things have been quiet here. But I’ve found my bearings, and I’m ready to go. Edlibbs 2.0. Here we go.