Day 2 // Critical Information Literacy

Jul 27, 2021

Goals for Today

  • Build on definitions of information literacy (IL) by learning about critical IL.
  • Consider how authority is constructed and contextual, specifically how expertise is constructed.
  • Imagine new ways to teach IL that do not ignore the social and political dimensions of information and knowledge.

Today's Sync Meeting

(optional; 2:00 Mountain/Denver time):

Your instructors for today are: Jessica Critten & Kodi Saylor (kodi.saylor Please feel free to email Kodi directly if you have any questions.

Introduction to Jessica and Critical Information Literacy

By Jessica Critten (Former Auraria Library colleague of Kodi and Karen's; now an instructional designer with CU Online) & Kodi Saylor

Hello everyone! Welcome to our little slice of the Information Literacy course. My name is Jessica Critten. Kodi and I will be working with you all today to explore the concept of  ‘critical information literacy’, which I came to know and love because of my background in critical theory and cultural studies. When I started teaching in libraries almost ten years ago I almost immediately became very unsatisfied with the "traditional" information literacy curriculum, which largely discusses information in uncomplicated ways: Scholarly sources are always good; Wikipedia is bad; Here is a checklist you can use to determine if a source is credible. It's much easier to teach this way, but it tells students that information is done, it's decided already--there's nothing to do but accept it passively. It also says that we can understand information separate from the processes that create it, and also separate from how we might experience it personally, emotionally, and culturally. I honestly still have a lot of issues with how librarians teach information literacy (see Kodi's discussion of the 'one-shot' model below, which, as the name suggests, is a one-time visit to a class to "talk about the library"; You've only got one shot to "get it"!) but I see some hope for the concept in the work of critical information literacy.

Tewell (2018) defines critical information literacy as “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.”

This definition emphasizes the library because ‘information literacy’ has come to be a central disciplinary focus for teaching librarians. However, information literacy and critical information literacy are the domain of all, and a useful concept for anyone engaged by questions of how information as a public good and commodity is created, disseminated, and interpreted within broader political, social, and cultural contexts.

As we develop in our foundational understanding of critical information literacy, you will begin to reflect on how this approach necessarily changes how we conceive of information, expertise, evidence and access in our teaching, and what these changes require in terms of time, privilege, and emotional labor.

Works Cited:

Critten, J. (2016). "Introduction" in Annie Downey, Critical Information Literacy: Foundations, Inspiration, and Ideas. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Tewell, E. (2018). The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy: Academic Librarians' Involvement in Critical Library Instruction. College & Research Libraries, 79(1), 10. doi:

Some additional readings on Critical Information Literacy:

Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A positivist epistemology and a politics of outformation. Educational Theory, 53(1), 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2003.00037.x

Noble, S. U., Austin, J., Sweeney, M. E., McKeever, L., & Sullivan, E. (2014). Changing course: Collaborative reflections of Teaching/Taking ‘race, gender, and sexuality in the information professions’. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 55(3), 212-222.

Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as disciplinary discourse mediators: Using genre theory to move toward critical information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297-311.

Async Activities: Read

Lesson: Exploring the implications of critical IL on the concepts of 'evidence' and 'expertise'

Introduction to Kodi & Implications of Evidence and Expertise

Hello! My name is Kodi Saylor, and I am a librarian whose primary job is teaching information literacy to first year students. Because I am a librarian, I am asked to teach in a 75-minute workshop or one-shot format as part of a class like English composition. Course instructors often ask me to address source evaluation, particularly I am asked to cover scholarly sources vs other sources of information in 75 minutes. Given the constraints of how I teach information literacy, I am dissatisfied with the conversation I am able to build about evaluating information and scholarly sources and expertise. I am experiencing a disconnect between my practice in the classroom and my values. Because in that very short class, there is a tendency towards binary thinking that sets up scholarly information in opposition to other kinds of information. Even if I manage to push at that binary, I find that students are quick to tell me that scholars or researchers are experts and everyone else is not. This is a problem for me.

Specifically, it is a problem for me because it does not allow for a rich discussion of who is missing from academic scholarship and bias in academic and scholarly ways of producing knowledge. Watkins (2017) discusses this disconnect and makes a compelling argument that “When librarians teach only Western authority, we are complicit in perpetuating a hegemonic concept of authority that only recognizes one way of knowing, one system of knowledge” (p. 13). And so Watkins (2017) asks, “How can we teach learners to value many kinds of knowledge and evaluate multiple authorities in a richer system of knowing?” and this question is at the core of what we are trying to think about today.

Works Cited:

Tewell, E. (2017). Resistant spectatorship and critical information literacy: strategies for oppositional readings. Information Research, 22(1), 1-12.

Watkins, A. (2017). Teaching inclusive authorities: Indigenous ways of knowing and the framework for information literacy in native art. In Godbey, S. A., Wainscott, S. B., & Goodman, X. Y. (2017). Disciplinary applications of information literacy threshold concepts. (pp. 13-24). ACRL

Async Activity: Reflecting on Expertise and Evidence

Brainstorm answers to these question:

  • What makes someone an expert? What makes an expert trustworthy?
  • What counts as evidence? In your classroom, office, or workplace?
  • What are you an expert in?
  • How do you handle situations of uncertainty? (i.e. What do you do when the best information is inconclusive, contradictory, or incomplete?)

Some additional readings:

Authority is Contextual and Constructed frame of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy

Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought in the matrix of domination. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment, 138, 221-238.

Shahjahan, R.A. (2011). Decolonizing the evidence‐based education and policy movement: Revealing the colonial vestiges in educational policy, research, and neoliberal reform, Journal of Education Policy, 26(2): 181-206, DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2010.508176

Sync Meeting or Discussion Board

We will discuss these questions at today's synchronous meeting (2:00 Denver time; see the time zone converter). You may also share thoughts on our discussion board. Please feel free to attend the meeting, use the discussion board or both – whichever you feel more comfortable with.

Join the day's Sync Meeting (2:00 Mountain/Denver time):

Share thoughts Tuesday Yellow Dig Question

Critical IL requires us to examine how concepts like authority, expertise, and evidence have been shaped by often dominant, oppressive, “Western” forces. Our discussion will focus on:

  • How do you currently discuss or frame the concepts of ‘authority’ and ‘evidence’ in your work?
  • How would you like to complicate the ways in which you construct authority? What does “authority” look like in your work, or for the people you support?
  • What are some examples of situations where voices that do not seem traditionally “authoritative” can serve as a great source of information for your work? (For example, Karen S. frequently works with students who are studying music business. For those students, exploring music preferences that teens share over social media can be a very useful source of information. It can be hard to convince students that the librarian supports this practice, though!)

Please feel free to bring in specific ideas from anything you have read, thoughts from the reflection exercise, and examples from what is going on in the world around us (COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter Protests in the US, etc).

Tuesday Reflection Journal Questions

Please take a little time to think & write about these questions in the reflection journal you're keeping for the week.

  • How is critical information literacy different from information literacy? Why does this distinction matter?
  • How does critical information literacy apply to your work?
  • How do you think about power in your information practice?
  • How can you disrupt dominant narratives of authority?
  • What are you going to do to learn more about critical information literacy?

One Last Thing to Read

This is a late edition, but The Contested One-Shot: Deconstructing Power Structures to Imagine New Futures, a guest editorial by Nicole Pagowsky in College and Research Libraries, gets at the heart of the many ways in which the one-shot fails to be an effective teaching method.  (You do have to click the full-text link to access the whole piece.) As this is a sub-theme of day 2, this piece will likely appeal particular to those in our track working in libraries.

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