Agada, J. (2001). Deconstructing the At-Risk Student Phenomenon: Can Librarian Values Salvage Education for the 21st Century? In H. Thompson (Ed.), Crossing the Divide: Proceedings of the 10th National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries (pp. 81-88). Association of College Research Libraries.
From the introduction:
“This paper offers a critical perspective on the at-risk student phenomenon, and its implications for academic libraries. It contends that the focus of reform efforts on learner deficiencies, rather than inequities in the learning and social relations in society, position schools to reproduce, rather than eliminate risk factors in education. Educational practices, which sustain cultural dissonance and lowered expectations for at-risk students will be examined for illustration. These practices are then juxtaposed and contrasted with the librarian values of social equity, and cultural diversity. The enhanced instructional role for academic libraries offers the library profession an opportunity to impact the educational system with its values. Strategies for doing this are proffered.”
Agada does an excellent job of making his case against the education system’s efforts to address the needs of at-risk students. Strangely, though, he doesn’t mention the essential work on the issue of cultural and social reproduction in schools by Pierre Bourdieu. I would highly recommend reading the following articles by Bourdieu to supplement the material presented by Agada:
Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R. K. Brown (Ed.), Knowledge, education and cultural change: papers in the sociology of education (pp. 487–510). Taylor & Francis.
Bourdieu, P. (1974). The school as a conservative force: Scholastic and cultural inequalities. In J. Eggleston (Ed.), Contemporary research in the sociology of education (pp. 32-46). Methuen.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. In J. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory of the Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241-58). Greenwood Press.
“The school learning environment affirms and rewards those who exhibit the dominant cultural capital, which the teacher often exhibits by virtue of her race, ethnicity or class. White middle class male students are therefore better socialized in the cultural capital espoused by the school. In contrast, at-risk students experience cultural dissonance due to the conflict between what is learned from the home environment, and the demands and expectations of the hegemonic educational system (Gordon andYowell 1994).”
In terms of the implications for academic libraries, Agada draws attention to the disconnect between the often stated values of the profession and its practices:
“The library profession shares with education, the contradictions inherent in its professional value systems and practice. For example, glaring inequities in access to library services in the society attest to unfulfilled promises of
democratic access to information and social equity.”
Agada questions the idea of library neutrality (which reminds me that I still need to get hold of a copy of Questioning Library Neutrality, Edited by Alison Lewis) and makes the case that academic libraries also play a role in reproducing the inequalities present in the dominant culture:
“In supporting the curricula needs of their patrons, academic libraries have focused on building collections of “quality” and “authoritative” resources that portray the racist, sexist and class interests of mainstream literature. Free and democratic access to such collections helps to sustain cultural dissonance for at-risk students and their communities, and further undermine their self-concepts and sense of self-efficacy.”
Agada challenges us to work against all obstacles to actively practice what we preach: “the librarian values of cultural diversity, social equity and democratic access to information.” He leaves us with a number of strategies.
“Academic librarians ought to educate themselves about at-risk students and their communities, and support research and documentation of knowledge about them. They should also advocate infusion of critical information literacy skills and culturally diverse content in all academic curricula and library resources. Secondly, as academic librarians engage in their instructional roles, they must provide opportunities to connect with every student in the class by using curricula content and teaching methods that draw on students’ cultural backgrounds, experiences, interests and learning styles, irrespective of subject matter being taught (Agada 1998a).”
“When students come with diverse cultural backgrounds and life conditions, democratic (physical) access to information alone is unlikely to equalize opportunities for all. Rawls’ theory of social justice argues for going beyond provision of equal opportunities to ensuring diverse but optimal learning outcomes for each student (1971).”
“Although all meaningful learning must be contextualized within the cultural capital of each student, the educational system also needs to emphasize the acquisition of multiple perspectives— so that students can appreciate the perspectives of and empathize with the Other.”
“Working with a diverse staff would also help majority staff adapt to a multicultural patron body. Atrisk
students should therefore be hired as aids and trained to teach library use to their peers.”
These very welcome strategies should help prompt a discussion within academic library units about the best way to address the needs of all our users. Missing from this paper, however, are real strategies for incorporating these values into our instruction. This is something I’ve been struggling with for some time. I simply can’t seem to get away from the one-off library sessions in which I usually have no more than an hour or two (at most) to address every aspect of library use and information literacy. These sessions are seldom more than broad overviews and quick how-to’s. I’ve made very strong connections with many faculty members who are supportive of incorporating aspects of critical information literacy into their courses, but as of yet, I have been unable to bring these ideas to the classroom. Unless we are able to break through this barrier, the answer to the title question will be no.