Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Enabling Gender-Inclusivity in LIS Education through Epistemology, Ethics, and Essential Questions

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Enabling Gender-Inclusivity in LIS Education through Epistemology, Ethics, and Essential Questions

Article excerpt


Philosophical concepts can be intimidating or seem irrelevant for library practitioners and for students studying to become practitioners. However, as Budd argues (2001), "philosophical investigation of practice is not an abstract exercise, but is intrinsically connected to the nature of practice and is aimed at discovering how we act within our profession" (p. 80). Epistemology, or the branch of philosophy that studies knowledge and knowing, not only has relevance to LIS, but is foundational to the conceptual grounding of its practices (Budd, 2001). Epistemology underpins a wide range of LIS practices, but here the emphasis will be on using it as a starting point for discussions of gender and sexuality diversity, issues that LIS students should be prepared for when they enter the field, given the well-known role of libraries in providing information about diversity of gender and sexuality. Additionally, an increased focus on ethics in LIS education requires more foundational philosophical considerations across the entire curriculum (Britz & Buchanan, 2010).

Despite its value, the perceived difficulty of epistemology, or ignorance or fear of discussing gender and sexuality concerns, can limit widespread use in the classroom. Mangrini (2009) writes that "philosophy contributes in a direct and positive manner" to education, but in order to be effective, must be "communicable," citing McCutcheon's view that scholars write "in jargon that renders the work inaccessible to practitioners" (p. 46). Thus, essential questions (EQs) are proposed as a method of bringing the difficult but necessary concepts of epistemology, ethics, and gender diversity to LIS education in an accessible but rigorous manner.

EQs are not entirely new to LIS. Brown (2012) advocates for inquiry-based learning in LIS based on the framework of Karl Popper's rationalism. She describes the strategies of focused conversations and? EQs and how they relate to LIS, offering four reasons why inquiry-based models are particularly suited for LIS education:

1. Questions foster intellectual freedom

2. Questions are central to vetting information

3. Questions develop the capacity to anticipate and manage change

4. Questions promote reflection about practice (Brown, 2012, pp. 192-193).

Since epistemology concerns the natures of reality, truth, authority, agency, category-formation, and the representation and reliability of knowledge, all of the reasons above justify epistemically-derived EQs to discuss gender in an LIS context.

Budd (2003), in the context of the critical theory of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and of Jurgen Habermas's theory of praxis, contends that library and information science as a field is not particularly inclined toward theory, with many practicing librarianship in a state of what Bourdieu calls "epistemic doxa" or "unthought" (p. 30), which can contribute to a social ignorance to the impact of policies and actions (or inaction). For example, Greenblatt (2003) identifies several assumptions held by library staff about LGBTQ library users, such as assumptions that no LGBTQ users live in the community or use the library, and furthermore, that offering services "promotes their 'lifestyle'" (p. 22). The consequent invisibility or condemnation rendered to the LGBTQ people who do live in those communities violate the ALA's Core Values (2004) and Code of Ethics (2008), and assumptions such as these must be unearthed in the MLIS classrooms.

In a survey of LIS educators, several reasons stated in favor of educating toward an awareness of a diversity of perspectives are to "accurately reflect the diversity experienced in people's lived realities," "meet the needs of diverse communities," "develop empathy to view other people's assumptions," and "educate and provide a global perspective to parochial and narrow-minded cultural viewpoints" (Mehra, Olson, & Ahmad, 2011, p. 42). Information on gender diversity and sexual orientation, in particular, are topics often sought in the library because of the sensitivity of the topics (de la tierra, 2008). …

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