August 26, 2020

DEI in Information Literacy Instruction

“While systemic racism is unlikely to be dismantled through information literacy instruction, naming the issue systemic racism and its prevalence in the information environment (something the Framework fails to do), providing counterstories in the classroom, and creating a supporting learning community are important antiracist steps that can lead to librarians and students working together to address white supremacy in their universities and beyond.” (Rapchak, 188)

Before we begin this month’s blog post, we want to acknowledge both the limits and the possibilities of art library information literacy instruction in impacting systemic racism. As Marcia Rapchak notes in her 2019 article (above), we cannot expect to single-handedly solve these issues as teaching librarians, but our actions can still have a cumulative effect. It’s important to take whatever steps we can in whatever arenas of our lives we have power in.

For folks new to exploring DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in the context of information literacy, it will probably be helpful to know more about some of the key concepts, such as critical pedagogy, critical information literacy, and critical librarianship—which encompasses work both in information literacy and in other arenas of librarianship.

Critical pedagogy originated with Paolo Freire’s 1968 Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and holds that, contrary to the ideals of neutrality often espoused by professors (and librarians), teaching is inherently political, and that it is the role of the instructor to encourage students to engage in activism and work for social change and justice. Many of the principles of critical pedagogy are already broadly accepted as best practice in information literacy instruction, such as engaging with students as equals in the learning process, and as active participants in the class rather than passive receptacles for information.

Critical information literacy and critical librarianship are extensions of critical pedagogy into library instruction and librarianship, respectively. Critical information literacy is “a way of thinking and teaching that examines the social construction and political dimensions of libraries and information, problematizing information’s production and use so that library users may think critically about such forces.” (Tewell, 10) Though we’ll be focused on information literacy in this post, other areas of librarianship also address DEI in important ways—you may be interested to look further into critical cataloging, for instance, which addresses marginalization issues in metadata and classification.

One of the places DEI has the potential to be addressed in information literacy instruction is in relation to the ACRL Framework. (In some cases, as Rapchak argues, this may mean expanding beyond the Framework to make your instruction antiracist in ways the Framework does not address.) The Frame “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” is an especially useful Frame for making your instruction more critical and inclusive, and for raising student awareness of issues of power and marginalization in academia. Alex Watkins, in the Teaching SIG’s 2020 virtual conference presentation “Reimagining the Frame: Connecting Art to the Framework in Theory and in Practice,” provides one great example of how to do this when teaching with native art. By explicitly discussing indigenous forms of knowledge and encouraging students to question the Western system of authority as a natural default, students both develop a more inclusive, critical understanding of scholarly authority and a better understanding of native understandings of art.

Outside of the Framework, one strategy to decentralize whiteness in your instruction sessions is to be intentional about the sample searches and topics you use in your classes, in-class activities, and out of class assignments. By planning ahead, you can avoid defaulting to a heavily white, male, Western canon and instead build in topics that feature art, artists, and art issues from BIPOC. To that end, we’ve created a shared document for Teaching SIG members to collectively brainstorm more diverse and inclusive sample searches and assignment topics for art instruction. We’ve only just begun, so please add as much as you can think of!

Obviously, this post only scratches the surface of DEI in information literacy. There are many other people doing this work, and we’ve included just a handful of sources you might find interesting for further reading. We hope this at least helps orient and inspire some of our members, and we’re excited for future discussions on the issue as a SIG.

Further Reading:

“Critcat | Critlib.” Accessed August 24, 2020.

Gregory, Lua, and Shana Higgins. 2017. “Reorienting an Information Literacy Program Toward Social Justice: Mapping the Core Values of Librarianship to the ACRL Framework.” Communications in Information Literacy 11 (1): 42.

Lampert, Nicolas. A People’s Art History of the United States : 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements. Nicolas Lampert. New York, NY: The New Press, 2014.

Rapchak, Marcia. 2019. “That Which Cannot Be Named.” Journal of Radical Librarianship 5 (October): 173–96.

Tewell, Eamon C. 2018. “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy: Academic Librarians’ Involvement in Critical Library Instruction.” College & Research Libraries 79 (1): 10–34.

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