Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Inclusive Pedagogy for Library Instruction

Critical Information Literacy

This relatively short book is another excellent source for instructor librarians. In discussions about the genesis of the book, the authors pose the question, “Would ideas that didn’t always lead directly to outcomes find a home in our profession?” What a refreshing question to consider in the context of library instruction. This book represents a very comfortable home from which librarians consider the praxis approach, problem-based learning, and the necessity and possibilities of critique. It includes the work of librarian-practitioners, as well as librarians and scholars who are developing critical information literacy praxis and, recognizes those scholars who have established the relevance of critical pedagogy to library instruction.

The book is arranged into 5 sections that can be read in any order, starting at any point.

  1. Conceptual Toolkit – can be used to “jumpstart the librarian seeking new ways to conceptualize library instruction”
  2. Classroom Toolkit – blends theoretical approaches with concrete lesson plans and classroom strategies
  3. Teaching in Context – presents approaches to critical library instruction in specific settings – service learning, community colleges, and high school partnerships
  4. Unconventional Texts – presents strategies for teaching from a range of alternative media, including a thought-provoking use of comics
  5. Institutional Power – aims to critique problems of institutional power

Accardi, Drabinski and Kumbier want their “collection of provocative challenges to contemporary practice” to spur more dialog. Randomly selecting one chapter from each section might be a fun way for instructor librarians to engage colleagues in discussions about critical library instruction, especially those who are new to the issues.

Tags: Theoretical; Practical; Critical Information Literacy

Active learning used in one-shot library instruction is improved by the awareness of social constructivism. Critten and Stanfeld, both Assistant Professors and Instructional Services Librarians at the University of West Georgia, suggest that active learning done in information literacy classes should reflect the awareness that information is socially constructed. Also, students should be given the opportunity to engage in authentic learning, which allows them to connect what they are learning in the one-shot to their personal lives and interests. Three examples of social constructivist practices are introduced: group work and class discussion, in which students use their lived experiences to negotiate meaning, authentic learning, in which students focus on a problem or issue that impacts them personally, and reflection and making meaning, in which students are given the opportunity for metacognitive moments. Librarians are encouraged to think strategically about how they ask students to engage in active learning, differentiating it from guided learning, which would be a useful exercise for those librarians exploring critical pedagogy.

Tags: Critical Information Literacy

If one is new to Critical Information Literacy (CIL), this book is a must read. Even those well-versed in the tenets of CIL will find Downey’s presentation thoughtful and engaging. New instructor librarians as well as library directors will benefit from this book. It is a short read but packed with substantial information on Critical Information Literacy as distinct from more traditional (skills-based) information literacy. It also underscores the idea that instruction librarians often lack the theoretical underpinnings necessary for good teaching. Theory and praxis are essential. This book offers much for wider discussion.

Downey lays out in accessible language the foundations of CIL and takes the reader through the educational theory which provides context. Critical theory, critical pedagogy and critical literacy are discussed, with distinctions and definitions clearly articulated. Downey critiques traditional library instruction as represented in the old ACRL Standards which are viewed as too focused on assessment, falsely portraying neutrality and objectivity, being too mechanistic, and neglecting the sociopolitical, historical, cultural and ideological processes of knowledge construction. Downey acknowledges that the ACRL Framework published in 2015 represents some “progress toward teaching information literacy as a rich and complex set of ideas and skills… but the legacy of the Standards cannot be underestimated.” (p. 22)

Critical information literacy is rather a practice that promotes critical engagement with information sources. It considers students as collaborators. It recognizes the affective dimensions of research and (in some cases) has liberatory aims (p.41 & 42). CIL takes into account the complex power relationships that undergird all information, including its creation, presentation, storage, retrieval and accessibility (p.42). Addressing “the sociopolitical, economic and cultural aspects of all types and stages of information and the research process” is necessary (p.173).

Downey covers the following areas in 8 chapters:

  1. How critical information literacy fits within this context of critical education theories
  2. Teaching techniques of librarians
  3. Ideas on content that works in well in critical information literacy sessions
  4. How librarians have embedded critical information literacy, successful methods of implementation as well as barriers that tend to get in the way (p. 26 & 27).

This entire book provoked a sense of urgency to learn more and do more. Downey does an excellent job in directing the reader to other relevant articles and books. She is successful in her goals "to give librarians and others who are interested in teaching critical information literacy the inspiration, foundational knowledge and tools they need to get started with their own critical information practice” (p.27). We owe her our thanks.

Tags: Foundational; Theoretical; Critical Information Literacy

This chapter provides an excellent introduction to critical information literacy by exploring - and explicitly problematizing - the concepts of literacy, criticism, and information before bringing them together to consider what is critical information literacy. Elmborg crafts a deeply theoretical background though he does provide possible connections to how these theories might inform the day-to-day practice of librarians wrestling with the inherent white, middle-class values of higher education.

Tags: Theoretical; Foundational Work; Critical Information Literacy

Anne Jamonville Graf (a faculty librarian at Trinity University) writes here about critical reflection, and how it is crucial to a practice of critical information literacy. It allows the teacher librarian to learn from past successes and mistakes, as well as identify his/her values and goals for teaching.

Tags: Critical Information Literacy

Library instruction can be a challenging place to practice critical pedagogy, even for those librarians with critical dispositions. Keer, a Senior Assistant Librarian at CSU East Bay, articulates numerous reasons for this tension, including the lack of opportunity to build trusting relationships with faculty and students and the rise of neoliberalism in education, which commodifies information literacy as a workplace skill. Although its emphasis is on challenges, this article may provide some reassurance for those librarians with a critical mindset who find it difficult to use critical pedagogy in library instruction, especially when read in context with other chapters in the book.

Tags: Critical Information Literacy

This companion volume to Critical Library Pedagogy Handbook, Volume 1, edited by Pagowsky (Associate Librarian and Instruction Coordinator at the University of Arizona Libraries) and McElroy (Student Engagement and Community Outreach Librarian at Oregon State University Libraries & Press) provides thirty sample lesson plans to illustrate how critical pedagogy can be used in library instruction. In her forward, Safiya Umoja Noble notes this volume’s importance as a “collection of clear and direct pedagogical practices that can be implemented in a variety of classroom settings, in the context of a commitment to social justice and transformative engagement” (vii). This volume’s emphasis on praxis will be especially useful to those librarians who prefer practical applications over theory. Each lesson plan includes an introduction, learning outcomes, materials, preparation, session instructions, assessment, reflections, a final question, and a bibliography. The lessons address different instructional scenarios, but are always sensitive to the limitations of the one-shot.

Of particular note for inclusive pedagogy are chapters 1 (“Mapping Power and Privilege in Scholarly Conversations,” Wallis), 2 (“Moving Students to the Center through Collaborative Documents in the Classroom,” Smale and Francoeur), 6 (“Speaking Up: Using Feminist Pedagogy to Raise Critical Questions in the Information Literacy Classroom,” Ladenson), 9 (“Critical Engagement with Number and Images,” Photinos), 10 (“Critical Consciousness and Search: An Introductory Visualization,” Polkinghorne), and 20 (“From Traditional to Critical: Highlighting Issues of Injustice and Discrimination through Primary Sources,” Carbery and Leahy).

Tags: Practical; Critical Information Literacy

Melissa Kalpin Prescott, as an advocate for antiracist pedagogy, posits that we are all racialized, and we are continuously having our privilege or oppression reinforced. Prescott suggests that librarians look at their intersectionality, especially focusing on the race aspects, in order to be practitioners of antiracist pedagogy. She provides questions to help librarians to prepare to teach and to reflect upon that teaching when it is finished. There are definitions in this chapter that may prove to be helpful.

Tags: Structural Racism; Critical Information Literacy

Gina Schlesselman-Tarango (library instruction coordinator at California State University San Bernardino) and Frances Suderman teach students about the types of information sources that emerge and flow from a critical event. Sources that developed from the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman are presented to show how time and “sociohistorical context” impact those sources.

This lesson plan offers a varied list of sources and a useful “Deep Reading Handout” with provocative questions for small group discussion to be paired with a list of deeper questions for a larger group of students.

Tags: Practical; Critical Information Literacy

Haruko Yamauchi, faculty librarian at CUNY Hostos Community College, incorporates a critique of library classification systems (Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress) into the practice of searching for books, finding and using physical books, and evaluating books as sources. Students are given room to question the power and limits of the choices made to organize books in a system.

This hands-on activity can be performed with actual or substitute books and includes small group and class discussion with a focus on questioning.

Tags: Practical; Critical Information Literacy

The Inclusive Pedagogy for Library Instruction project (IP4LI) is a collaboration of librarians from several small, liberal arts colleges to discover resources and best practices for applying inclusive pedagogy in library instruction settings, particularly one-shot sessions. It is supported by a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.
Birmingham-Southern College Davidson College Furman University Sewanee - The University of the South University of Richmond Washington & Lee University