Interpreting, not measuring: mapping and the Cambridge Information Literacy Framework

The Master’s resource I’m creating is “mapped to” the new Cambridge Information Literacy Framework. I keep saying this, or writing this, and subsequently the phrase has lost practically all its meaning to me. So I thought I’d take a breath, and think about what I’m talking about when I talk about ‘mapping’. And this moment of reflection seem to imbricate quite neatly with some Feelings I’ve had about the framework itself, as I’ve been getting comfortable with it. So I thought I’d blog.

I really don’t think I’m about to say anything controversial (it would be unlike me, for sure), but just to be super clear: these are my views, don’t necessarily represent my employer, or CILN, etc.

there are two inescapable facts about the information literacy framework: it’s broad, and it’s imprecise

The framework neither prescribes nor proscribes, neither advises nor cautions. This has the effect of eliminating any possibility of measuring a teaching session or a teaching programme or a resource against it. It isn’t an analytics tool, nor a lesson plan. It is simply not possible to assess the quality or impact or whatever of how we teach our students information literacy, or of how they learn, using the framework.


I think it’s an entirely positive thing that the framework doesn’t have the level of detail nor the purpose to facilitate any kind of quantifiable activity. I don’t want to be ranked against it, and I don’t want the teaching that we do to be measured against it. I don’t want us to be doing anything against it, or to have any relationship with the framework that is antagonistic or combative in essence. It’s the Cambridge Information Literacy Framework, Janet, not the Cambridge Information Literacy Excellence Framework.

Instead, of thinking about mapping-as-measurement, then, I’d compel us to think about mapping-as-interpretation. This, I think, would have (at least) two implications.

first, mapping-as-interpretation solidifies the idea that there’s no ‘right way’ to use the framework*

In my experience of interpreting the framework to create the Master’s resource, I’ve paid varying amounts of attention to it. At the beginning it was a useful set of entry points, and later a helpful caution against my Arts and Humanities bias. It’s functioned as a source of shared vocabulary, and as a vocabulary to avoid (depending on my interlocutor). I’ve treated it instrumentally at times, and at others I’ve been influenced by its spirit. I’ve never felt beholden to it, nor that I could contradict it entirely. I’ve occasionally forgotten all about it.

And it might all seem rather convenient but I think this sort of haphazard, interpretative approach is a legitimate one. If the framework were narrower, or bolder, then it might swerve into being a tyrant, into something that restricts us, or tells us what to do and how to do it.

second, mapping-as-interpretation underlines the fact that there’s no right way to teach information literacy**

We know this. We know that the four elements of the framework – resource discovery, critical assessment, managing information, creating and communicating – are equally valid but not equally vital. So I’m cautious of any activity that treats these four elements as a gold standard, or as a set of learning objectives. We almost certainly want to assess and reflect upon our information literacy teaching, but let’s not do it singularly in reference to a Google doc.

In the Master’s resource, the four elements won’t appear in equal measure, and they definitely won’t appear as discrete topics. In terms of determining the content of the resource, the framework performs a function, a very much surmountable function. It provides a set of markers, not a set of boundaries. Instead, what determines the way and the extent to which they feature in the Master’s resource is not their presence in the framework, but resource delivery, pedagogies, technologies, audience, purpose, context.

let’s talk about good, not best, practice

Context is the important thing here. Mapping-as-measurement rubs up far too closely against ideas of ‘best practice’, which is a concept I would ban immediately were I ever in charge of anything. Mapping-as-measurement simplifies and commodifies what we do. It turns the framework into a policy document, and heaven knows we have enough of them already.

The potential of the framework lies, for me, in its ability to help us to, or remind us to, question and think critically about what ‘good practice’ looks like, in a way that acknowledges our context and our agency. If we give ourselves the freedom to see mapping as interpretation, then we give ourselves the freedom to make use of the framework in cautious and sensitive and creative and disobedient and brazen and multiple and overlapping and evolving ways. In ways that recognise our power, and its power. If this is the case, then mapping activities can only be done in context, and in conversation with those who are best placed to understand that context.

So when I next tell you that the Master’s resource is mapped to the information literacy framework (and please note ‘mapped to’, not ‘mapped against’), this is what I mean: a critical, ongoing process of questioning and negotiating and interpreting. A process of considering how the framework shapes and is shaped by the resource I’m developing. A process of exploring how they are mutually influential and co-constitutive. This, my friends, is an assemblage***.

The framework is still so new at Cambridge that we’re still negotiating how we work with it. But I’d ask us to consider what might happen if we treat it as a sort-of manifesto, as something that can openly challenge us, and that we can openly challenge in return, and not as a tokenised checklist. Something that might guide us, but that we might also overrule. It gives us not a shared way to define and measure what we do, or what information literacy means; instead, it gives us a shared starting point to reflect, discuss, and be critical.


Have fun at LILAC, everyone.



*to be clear, there are definitely wrong ways to do this
**there are definitely wrong ways to do this too
***this is what happens when everyone goes off to the LILAC conference and I’m left at home holding the framework

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