Archive for the ‘librarianship’ Category

This is the second article in my growing critical information literacy bibliography. I was planning to cover one article a week, but have realised it would take me 3 years to finish the bibliography as it stands now. I’ll try to cover at least 3 a week and see if I can’t speed things up a little.

Alkan, N., & Ankara, T. (2008). The Importance and Influence of Philosophical Thinking for Librarians. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal), 207. 

This is where a critical practice of librarianship needs to begin. If we don’t take the time to seriously question what we do as a profession, we will never fully participate in changing society to the degree we are able. Overall, this article is a bit uneven and not directly related to critical information literacy, but there a few interesting things I would like to share. The authors present a number of reasons why philosophical thinking for librarians is important today. Here are a few of the more interesting:

PT maintains the connection of the librarian with theory and provides a means to strengthen the theory-practice relationship.

PT prepares the librarian for changes and innovations.

PT may motivate librarians to challenge problems that degenerate the society to which they belong.

PT equips the librarian with the discipline and habit of questioning why.


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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. 

Agada does provide a very nice quote from Gordon and Yowell which sums up the problem succintly:

“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.

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Now that exams are over, I will hopefully have time to start spending more time on this blog. I’ve been thinking a lot about critical information literacy the past few months, but I have spent most of my free time just trying to read as much as I can on critical education in general and related material. As usual when I start any new research, I get carried away and start reading very broadly and grab hold of every connection I stumble upon. My reading these past few months has included all of the articles I posted earlier as well as a collection of books on critical pedagogy, constructivism, enactivism and cognition, free education, and more, including the following titles:

Critical Constructivism Primer, by Joe Kincheloe

Finding Freedom in the Classroom, by Patricia Hinchey

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

A Primer of Libertarian Education, by Joel Spring

Compulsory Mis-Education and The Community of Scholars, by Paul Goodman

The Embodied Mind, by Francisco Varela, et al.

Introduction to Critical Theory, by David Held

Critical Pedagogy: notes from the real world, by Joan Wink

Education and the Significance of Life, by J. Krishnamurti

Some of these I’ve finished and some I’m still digesting and others are waiting in the wings. These have all been very rewarding and thought-provoking, but what does it all have to do with information literacy? I’ve been trying to relate everything I’m reading to information literacy specifically and librarianship in general. I believe that there is a very strong connection, but how do I explain this connection to others and how do I encourage other librarians to explore these issues themselves?

As I see it, there are two major problems with talking about developing a critical information literacy or a critical practice of librarianship. The first problem is the language of critical theory and critical education. Just providing a simple explanation of what is meant by these terms poses a serious problem. I may attempt such an explanation in the near future, but I’m not about to do so now. I highly recommend Joe Kincheloe’s primers on critical constructivism and critical pedagogy, published by Peter Lang as a way into this area of academic writing. I think it is necessary to take these ideas out of the closed academic environments they now inhabit and make them more accessible to everyone. This is something I hope to work toward in this space.

The second problem is a political one. It is a problem because anyone who finds fault with the current system and works to change it or abolish it is considered to be taking a political position, whereas those who contribute to the continuation of the current system by doing nothing are considered apolitical. Of course, this isn’t the case. Choosing not to act is just as political as choosing to act, it is simply easier. If you choose to criticise the current system and take steps to change it or abolish it altogether, you will most certainly be seen as a radical, a subversive, or a troublemaker by many colleagues and certainly by those who benefit under the current system.

To counter these two problems it is necessary to be well armed with a clearly developed theory and the ability to express this theory to anyone who might question your actions. This theory should then directly affect your practice which will in turn inform and further develop your theory. As I develop my own understanding of this theory and my ability to express it, I will share my findings here and in the classroom. I am hoping to help develop a teaching module as an introduction to critical information literacy for elementary school teachers as part of a foundations of education course. I’ll include some notes here on how this develops. In the meantime, the reading continues. Any suggestions?

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I am planning to update this blog much more regularly and I have a lot of things I want to add, I just haven’t been able to the past couple of weeks. I’m still getting caught up on things at work after 6 months of family leave (even though I’ve been back four months now!) and a 10 month old baby at home keeps me too busy to look at a computer when I get home.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the nature of my position as an academic librarian. What exactly is my role and do I have any larger mission or goals? Am I an educator, a curator, a guide, a service representative, a researcher, a scholar? Does my role as librarian extend beyond the campus? The role of the public librarian has always been much clearer I think.

If anyone has any ideas on this I would love to hear them. If you are not an academic librarian yourself, I would be very interested to know your impressions.

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