Magazine article Radical Teacher

Teaching Note: Black Lives Matter in Information Literacy

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Teaching Note: Black Lives Matter in Information Literacy

Article excerpt

For many academic librarians, teaching information literacy is a core component of librarianship. Depending on one's institutional context, this can happen in one-on-one interactions at a reference desk, in course-integrated instruction sessions (in which a librarian visits a class to teach students about finding credible sources for a term paper), and/or in a credit-bearing course.

Most people think of librarians teaching students to access books or articles, but information literacy involves much more. The Association for College & Research Libraries (ACRL) defines it as "the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning" (ACRL 2015). This can be taught as a "neutral" practice. For example, we can teach students to evaluate information sources according to a simple checklist, usually including the authority (often focused on formal credentials) of the author, publication date, and purpose of the piece, without having to examine the power structures that enabled that author to become an authority or the ideological biases represented in the piece.

Critical information literacy (CIL) pushes us to raise the questions that get left out of that "neutral" approach. CIL asks practitioners to acknowledge that the range of information available, the learners, and those teaching information literacy are all socially situated entities. It is important to teach the ways in which "the existing information system mirrors the larger social and political order, which is characterized by a radically asymmetrical distribution of power, and is shot through, systematically and structurally, by racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, and class oppression" (Beilin 2015). From this perspective, teaching Black Lives Matter should be a component of information literacy.

At the University of West Georgia, I teach a course titled "Information Literacy and Research." The course is not required, but it is included as one of the electives students may take to fill a core curriculum requirement. It covers a range of topics related to library-based research, including how to find, access, and evaluate appropriate information sources and how to use that information ethically. I employ CIL by encouraging students to examine the power structures involved in all of the concepts we discuss. I set the stage for this on the second day of class with a lesson that asks students to think critically about the university itself, and how that affects everything else that we will discuss throughout the semester.

We begin by watching a video posted on the University College of London's YouTube channel: "Why is my curriculum white?" (UCLTV 2014). This 20-minute video features students questioning the whiteness of the established canon in their respective fields, asking why more non-white and non-Western scholars are not included in the curriculum, and discussing the effects of that exclusion on themselves and their perceptions of academia.

After watching this video, I ask students to search online for the demographic profile of students and faculty at our university. Our student body is 53.2% white and 36.0% black/African American, while our faculty are 81.4% white and only 6.6% black/African American (UWG 2016). Most very quickly find data reported on various websites. After the students have a few minutes to search, I ask for a volunteer to share the website they found on the instructor computer. This opens a range of discussion topics for the remainder of the session: evaluating the reliability of the sites they found, asking where those sites are pulling their data from, and discussing why any of this matters in a class about library research.

Drawing connections between this video, the demographics of our university, and information literacy leads to questions about how we construct authority and what information gets left out of those constructions. …

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