Reaching Threshold Concepts In Information Literacy & Legal Research

Barbara Fister over at Library Babel Fish made some interesting observations about threshold concepts and information literacy after reading a book called Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. 

Academic librarians have been kicking around the idea of threshold concepts ever since a revision of the familiar information literacy standards proposed that we could rethink our approach to instruction in the art and craft of inquiry. The new Framework proposes several big ideas that could inform the learning that happens in our libraries. They describe the kind of learning we design our libraries to nurture, but which is largely dependent on faculty in the disciplines who create the learning situations that will most profoundly influence whether our students cross these thresholds or not. 

To determine how librarians might use threshold concepts Fister read the book, Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle.

The book addresses two questions: “what do we know about writing?" and “how can what we know inform curricula and assessment of student writing?” 

Below are the threshold concepts in the book that struck a chord with Fister as paralleling the meaning-making moves we are actually talking about when we say “information literacy.”
  • Writing is a social and rhetorical activity
  • Writing is a knowledge-making activity
  • Writing involves making ethical choices
  • Writing speaks to others through recognizable forms
  • Texts get their meaning from other texts
  • Writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies (Literacy itself is not ideologically neutral.)
  • Writing is linked to identity (something that seems critical as students begin to recognize their own authority to construct knowledge)
  • Failure can be an important part of writing development (and of conducting research)

Now imagine replacing each instance of "writing" or "text" with "research," "information literacy," or "source."

For students to reach these threshold concepts and make connections, law librarian, for example, need assistance from their colleagues. 

Rather like librarians who are committed to information literacy, writing scholars are committed professionals who are often seen as people who merely provide a service. They have to negotiate sharing their disciplinary expertise with recognizing the role faculty in other disciplines play in developing students’ writing abilities. Instruction librarians have a similar dilemma – we feel responsibility for a kind of learning that largely happens in other people’s classrooms. Helping ensure that faculty across the disciplines feel both prepared to enable that learning and committed to making sure it happens is one of the biggest problems we face.

To have our students truly reach these thresholds in information literacy, we must get buy-in from our colleagues to reinforce legal research across the curriculum. 


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