ACRL: if we are putting everything on the table — how about “change literacy” too?

March 10, 2014, 3:16 pm

ACRL is working to redefine Information Literacy: draft. I’m very happy to see that Threshold Concepts are making it into the conversation. I would like to offer one suggestion: change literacy. I have a forthcoming essay in portal that will hopefully be out this summer, but here is an unedited snippet that touches in the concept. In short, I view the ability to anticipate, create, adapt, and deal with change (in the broadest since) as a vital fluency for people today. If we treat change as a literary then we can better prepare students for the challenges they will face tomorrow.

Forthcoming in portal (July 2014):


Librarians have long been invested in literacy. Historically this involved advocating for reading, and several decades ago information literacy emerged as a focal point for academic libraries. Today new literacies such as data, visual, digital, health, and financial are taking shape. But with these changes, libraries’ motivating force remains consistent: a desire to help prepare people to be active and effective participants in a rapidly evolving society.

In Alvin Toffler’s groundbreaking book, Future Shock, he claims, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” When projecting our educational objectives going forward, perhaps we should consider another form of fluency: change literacy.


Processes like this provide a framework for exploring the future and the changes we can anticipate.
From: Teaching About The Future (Bishop & Hines)

While change literacy offers students (and faculty) a competitive advantage as they enter the workforce – the aptitude to monitor information, mine data for strategic insights, and apply and adapt ideas accordingly – it could also assist in expanding the reach of the library. If the library’s legacy identity is as keepers of information and their emerging role is as collaborators in knowledge production, perhaps another new variant could be as facilitators of change.

Granted, many will find this concept of change advocacy seemingly out of place coming from librarians, whose reputation is often more associated with collecting the past, rather than pondering the future. But therein lies the potential. Futurism, more than anything else, is about change. It reveals how we think, feel, act, and adapt to uncertainty. Through transformations already underway (learning spaces, collection migration, software development, new literacies, new liaison roles, and so on) many libraries are primed to serve as role models for organizational change. Successfully embracing and enacting a future-oriented program will position libraries not only to demonstrate a capacity and comfort with change, but the ability and expertise to help others shape their futures as well.


We should be comfortable talking about the future… in all of its various forms. From: Teaching About The Future (Bishop & Hines)

Change literacy offers intriguing potential, from preparing students and faculty to be more competitive to playing a vital new role in assisting with institutional change. While libraries may appear to be veering in a drastically different direction, I believe change literacy heralds a natural progression of the library profession. Librarians would maintain their foundation as stewards of knowledge and merge that expertise with a new role as practitioners of futurist knowledge creation. This transformation adds a new chapter to the library narrative—from places that collected information, to spaces where people used information, to partners that help users imagine future possibilities and design pathways to get there.

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