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ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (UNH Manchester Library): Searching as Strategic Exploration


Searching as Strategic Exploration

Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.

This Frame, the Library, and Our Learning Outcomes

The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies both possible relevant sources as well as the means to access those sources. Experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the cognitive, affective, and social dimensions of the searcher. Novice learners may search a limited set of resources, while experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. Likewise, novice learners tend to use few search strategies, while experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • determine the initial scope of the task required to meet their information needs;

  • identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information;

  • utilize divergent (e.g., brainstorming) and convergent (e.g., selecting the best source) thinking when searching;

  • match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools;

  • design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary, based on search results;

  • understand how information systems (i.e., collections of recorded information) are organized in order to access relevant information;

  • use different types of searching language (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language) appropriately;

  • manage searching processes and results effectively.


Learners who are developing their information literate abilities

  • exhibit mental flexibility and creativity

  • understand that first attempts at searching do not always produce adequate results

  • realize that information sources vary greatly in content and format and have varying relevance and value, depending on the needs and nature of the search

  • seek guidance from experts, such as librarians, researchers, and professionals

  • recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering

  • persist in the face of search challenges, and know when they have enough information to complete the information task.