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Instruction through virtual reference: mapping the ACRL framework

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The purpose of this study is to examine teaching intent of information literacy threshold concepts via asynchronous reference transactions. Instructional content in academic librarians’ replies to research requests are analyzed for and mapped to threshold concepts contained in the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) framework.


The author mapped the instructional content of a research request reply template to the content of the ACRL framework, then took a random sample of research requests using the template during the calendar year 2016. Additional instructional content provided in the sample replies was also mapped to the framework.


In providing written instruction for students to create searches from keywords and search subject-specific databases, every frame is at least partially addressed in the template except Scholarship as Conversation. However, individual librarians adapt the template to teach as needed and there are examples in this case study of teaching aspects of all six frames asynchronously.

Practical implications

This study provides support for librarians to teach the threshold concepts of the ACRL framework asynchronously at the point of need during virtual reference, and the effective use of a research reply template to accomplish this instruction.


Few recent studies examine instructional intent in asynchronous/email reference. This study examines teaching the ACRL framework via reference rather than instructional sessions. A portion of this research was presented as a poster at the 2017 ACRL Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Keywords: ACRL framework; Academic libraries; Information literacy; Library instruction; Reference services; Virtual libraries; Virtual reference

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Libraries, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, USA

Publication date: June 8, 2020

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