Facet Publishing have announced the release of the fourth edition of Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath’s Reference and Information Services, An introduction.
Designed to complement every introductory library reference course, Reference and Information Services, is the perfect text for students and librarians looking to expand their personal reference knowledge, teaching failsafe methods for identifying important materials by matching specific types of questions to the best available sources, regardless of format.
Guided by an advisory board of educators and practitioners, this thoroughly updated text expertly keeps up with new technologies and practices while remaining grounded in the basics of reference work. Chapters on fundamental concepts, major reference sources, and special topics provide a solid foundation; the text also offers fresh insight on core issues, including:
- ethics, readers’ advisory, information literacy, and other key aspects of reference librarianship
- selecting and evaluating reference materials, with strategies for keeping up to date
- assessing and improving reference services
- guidance on conducting reference interviews with a range of different library users, including children and young adults
- a new discussion of reference as programming
- important special reference topics such as Google search, 24/7 reference, and virtual reference
- delivering reference services across multiple platforms.
The previous edition was described by Collection Building as, “an irreplaceable source that can be recommended as an essential item for any library’s professional collection”, and by the Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries as, “A tool for library school students, new librarians, the public library reference desk, or anyone needing a general resource about providing information services and recommended tools of the trade.”
Kay Ann Cassell received her BA from Carnegie Mellon University, her MLS from Rutgers University, and her PhD from the International University for Graduate Studies. She has worked in academic libraries and public libraries as a reference librarian and as a library director. Ms. Cassell is a past president of Reference and User Services Association of ALA and is active on ALA and RUSA committees. She is the editor of the journal Collection Building and is the author of numerous articles and books on collection development and reference service. She was formerly the Associate Director of Collections and Services for the Branch Libraries of the New York Public Library where she was in charge of collection development and age-level services for the Branch Libraries. She is now a Lecturer and Director of the MLIS Program in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Uma Hiremath is Executive Director at the Ames Free Library, Massachusetts. She was Assistant Director at the Thayer Public Library, Massachusetts; Head of Reference at the West Orange Public Library, New Jersey; and Supervising Librarian at the New York Public Library where she worked for five years. She received her MLS from Pratt Institute, New York, and her PhD in political science at the University of Pittsburgh.
An integral resource for students and working professionals alike, Reference and Information Services: An introduction has served a whole generation of reference librarians. But authors Kay Ann Cassell and Uma Hiremath aren’t resting on their laurels. We spoke to them about the brand new fourth edition, discussing their collaboration and why reference librarianship is more important than ever.
How would you describe your collaborative process?
Harmonic! When we are beginning a new edition, we talk about the whole book and the changes that we want to make and then we each work on specific chapters. With Kay as an academic and Uma as a practitioner, we have mutually exclusive areas of expertise that makes it easy to segment the research.
Were there any surprises working together this time around?
How has virtual reference made things easier and how has it made things harder?
Entire books have been written on this. Suffice to say, the very factors about virtual reference that make things easier tend to make them harder as well. It is easier since the user and librarian can be anywhere and still able to communicate about both the question and the answer. Anytime/anywhere access to information, at the point of need, is certainly the defining advantage of virtual reference.
Virtual access, however, has an abracadabra quality. The user learns less about the incremental steps to finding an answer provided in face-to-face interactions so that, in effect, for every research question the user starts from scratch. Anytime access also requires the reference librarian’s constant attention to connectivity issues so critical to its success.
What are some suggestions for keeping up to date on reference sources, both as an individual and an institution?
There are many ways to stay up to date, both formal and interpersonal. Let us count the ways.
- Habitual reading of professional literature
- Attending conferences with exhibits by vendors
- Participating in webinars
- Routinely discussing information on new resources with colleagues
- Being alert to feedback from users
- Joining listervs that discuss reference materials
- Following pertinent blogs, twitter accounts, newsletters, websites
- Being an alert member of professional association.
Trustworthy, fact-based reference materials are more important than ever. How would you ethically handle a situation if you discovered that a library user was relying on sources that were questionable?
The use of questionable sources by users is something reference librarians face every day. It is, in fact, what makes reference librarianship so integral to good research! Reference librarians have always combated it by providing considered alternatives. Talking to users about the value of vetted resources and helping them understand the difference in authority and accuracy between a vetted resource and unfiltered Google results or social media discussions, is par for the course.
A more intractable challenge is the viral spread of misinformation in a hyper-networked world. Proactive measures to encourage digital literacy and critical thinking in users, such as those parsed so effectively in the Information Literacy poster available at ALA, is essential.
If you could give today’s LIS students one piece of advice, what would it be?
Kay Ann Cassell: Always be sure the information you use online is accurate and up-to-date. That means that if it is the first time you are using a site, you must evaluate it.
Uma Hiremath: Reference librarianship is a way of life. You never stop learning and you never stop finding the next best referral for your users.
The fourth edition of Reference and Information Services: An introduction will be published in June by Facet Publishing.
Stay up-to-date with all the latest books from Facet by signing up to our mailing list
This guest post from Sara Mannheimer and Ryer Banta is about introducing undergraduates to the foundations of research data management through something everyone can relate to—organizing personal digital files. You can read more about their experience in The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving which features their co-authored chapter, “Personal Digital Archiving as a Bridge to Research Data Management”
In 2016, we were both working at Montana State University Library, but working in totally different divisions. Sara was the Data Management Librarian with a focus on research data management and data management planning for faculty and graduate students. Ryer was the Undergraduate Experience Librarian, focusing on information literacy instruction and support for undergraduate students. In many ways it would seem that we were living in very different parts of the library.
Although our jobs were quite different, we connected over our shared conviction that undergraduates would benefit from learning fundamental research data management skills. Undergraduates are entering a data-driven job market, where skills related to data management are in high demand. In industry, data scientists are working in a wide variety of sectors, and in academia, researchers are increasingly required to publish research data. Tailoring research data management lessons to undergraduates also served a key student population at MSU. Montana State University is a mid-sized university with about 16,500 total students, about 14,000 of whom are undergraduates. So we knew that there could be a big potential impact if we could figure out a meaningful way to help undergraduates build research data management skills.
As we began to think about creating a useful and meaningful research data management related lesson for undergraduates, our immediate challenge was figuring out how to get over the hurdle of making research data management relevant. Most undergraduates do not encounter research data on a regular basis, and we wanted to connect research data management to their daily life, their current schoolwork, or ideally both. The instructional principle of making lessons relevant may seem to be fairly common sense, but it is also supported by constructivist learning theory. We dipped our toes into this rich area of scholarship while developing our lesson, focusing on a couple of aspects of constructivist learning theory. For anyone developing learning experiences, we highly recommend dipping your toes, and even diving headlong, into constructivist learning theory and related theories.
Constructivist learning theory encompasses several principles, but we focused on the principles related to active, student-focused discovery. Two core tenets of constructivist learning theory specify that:
- New learning builds on prior knowledge. By tapping into students’ past experiences, educators can create a learning sequence that extends from prior knowledge to the current lesson to a lifelong pattern of curiosity and learning.
- Meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks. Activities conducted in class should simulate activities that students will use in their class assignments and in their real lives. This strategy ensures that the skills students learn in the classroom have direct relevance to their lives outside of the classroom.
Applying these tenets provided us with new insights about how to make research data management relevant for undergraduates. Given that new learning builds on prior knowledge, we aimed to understand students’ prior knowledge regarding data, tap into students’ past learning experiences, and then build upon that knowledge in the classroom. Given that meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks, we aimed to teach concrete, relatable skills that could be practiced both during instruction and afterwards. We wanted to position research data management skills in the context of students’ current lives, rather than promising a theoretical applicability to an abstract future career.
Taking a cue from constructivist learning theories, we realized that we could start with data that students already use and manage on a daily basis, specifically their digital files on their computers. At the same time, we also realized that many of the basic principles of research data management are also found in personal digital archiving practice. These dual realizations helped us focus our lesson on principles and practices that could be immediately applied to students’ digital files. In fact, in our lesson, we designed activities that got students started on reorganizing their files following personal digital archiving best practices. We organized our lesson into four key sections:
- Set the stage. Students describe the use, importance, and challenges of data within their discipline or other personally relevant contexts. This step helps prepare students to apply the lesson to their own lives.
- Basics of personal digital archiving. Students discover basic personal digital archiving strategies and principles that are also used to manage research data. This step provides a foundation of knowledge that informs in-class activities.
- Apply learning with activities. Students apply personal digital archiving strategies and principles to organize and document their own files and data. This step provides students with hands-on experience with personal digital archiving strategies.
- Debrief to connect personal digital archiving to research data management. Students reflect upon the value of the personal digital archiving principles and practices for their own personal data and discover the connection and similarities between personal digital archiving and research data management. This step allows students to process the lesson and consider future applications of the skills they learned.
We have had success with this lesson, and we have found that teaching personal digital archiving practices can act as a bridge that connects key practices of research data management to students’ everyday lives. Personal digital archiving builds on students’ prior knowledge of their digital belongings, and allows students to learn through authentic tasks that have immediate relevance to their daily lives. We hope that other librarians and educators can adapt and reuse the basic instructional strategies that we developed in their own learning contexts. Critical thinking about managing digital materials—whether personal files or research data—is a foundational skill that will benefit students during their undergraduate education and in their future careers.
Ryer Banta is the information literacy and technology librarian at Centralia College (WA), where he manages digital resources and services, and helps learners develop information literacy and lifelong learning skills. His research interests include open education, instructional design, educational technology, information literacy, and user experience.
You can follow Ryer on Twitter @RyerBanta
Sara Mannheimer is the data librarian at Montana State University in Bozeman, where she facilitates research data management and sharing, and promotes digital scholarship using library collections and “big data” sources. Her research focuses on data management practices, data discovery, digital preservation, and the social, ethical, and technical issues surrounding data-driven research.
You can follow Sara on Twitter @saramannheimer
The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.
Find out more about the book and read a sample chapter here.
Join our mailing list
Sign up to our mailing list to hear more about new and forthcoming books.
Facet Publishing have announced the release of The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving, edited by Brianna H Marshall
Academics and the general public alike need help managing the digital information they create and save every day. But how can librarians and archivists translate their professional knowledge into practical skills that novices can apply to their own projects? The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.
Featuring contributions from experts working in a variety of contexts this practical resource will help librarians, digital curators and archivists empower people from all walks of life to take charge of their personal digital materials. Key coverage includes explanations of common terms in plain language, quick, non-technical solutions to the most frequent user requests and guidance on how to archive social media posts, digital photographs and web content.
Marshall said, “From the outset, my intention has been for this book to be used as a primer for information professionals who haven’t been quite sure how to approach personal digital archiving (PDA) yet. My hope is that they become not just informed but also excited to pass along critical skills that will help equip members of their communities to have a less painful and more fruitful PDA journey. I am convinced that sharing even simple principles for how to store, share, and preserve digital objects will benefit our users in both their personal and professional lives. The chapters are intentionally practitioner-focused so that after finishing this book, readers will feel ready to start conversations and make amazing things happen within their communities.”
Brianna H Marshall is director of research services at the University of California, Riverside. Previously, she was digital curation coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds master of library science and master of information science degrees from the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing.
With a growing requirement to produce reports and briefing documents based on the information you retrieve, library and information professionals in all sectors can learn from techniques used by journalists.
Spotlight is a movie that tells the true story of how journalists at the Boston Globe lifted the lid on a major cover-up in the Catholic Church. During their investigations, the team did everything you would expect investigative journalists to do: they door-stepped people; they confronted leading figures; they waited for hours in outer offices trying to grab interviews.
But the backbone of their research was a simple spreadsheet onto which they made entries from back issues of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory. It was this that enabled them to spot the suspicious patterns of behaviour that underpinned their revelations.
This kind of activity is increasing dramatically in importance. At the rocket science end of the spectrum it’s manifesting itself as big data, where analysts develop and employ applications to trawl vast quantities of data, looking for patterns that can be turned into e-commerce or other opportunities.
But the principle of applying critical analysis to retrieved data operates across the board – including to the human brain power that we bring to bear in carrying out literature searches. Of course, we mere mortals do face limitations, mainly in the tiny amount of content we are capable of evaluating within a sensible timescale compared with what computers can achieve – but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing it.
Ploughing has had its day
Turning your raw search results into a narrative report – one that enables your enquirer to reach a decision, make a recommendation or take action – is becoming the stock in trade of information professionals in a growing number of fields, including government, health services and law.
Information professionals who carry out desk research on their users’ behalf are the obvious and immediate beneficiaries of techniques such as these. But the skills are no less valuable for academic librarians, charged with fostering information literacy and encouraging good research practice in students doing assignments.
Simply ploughing through a linear list of unstructured search results, hoping that the most useful ones will pop out at you, isn’t an efficient way of going about the task. Taking our cue from those Boston Globe journalists, we can get far more out of our results by turning them into a flexible dataset.
To do this, you might be able to make use of your chosen reference management package. This should at least save you time by automating the presentation of each document’s bibliographic characteristics, and you may then be able to add extra customised fields for the further ways in which you want to arrange your search results.
You may also find that you have to add ‘grey’ literature – short reports, articles from non-mainstream sources, website content, ephemera – manually. Obviously making these manual additions could be time-consuming, but it will probably be time well invested because, once entered, the reference management software will treat these non-standard documents just the same as the others, ensuring a uniform format for every document and allowing you to create bibliographies automatically.
So if you can use a reference management package to automate at least part of the process, that should save you a great deal of time at the next stage. But if you can’t, you could use any application that will support this kind of matrix structure – a spreadsheet or database package, the table function in a word processed document, or any proprietary software that can be used for project management purposes.
You may also be able to automate some of the process by making use of the text-to-table conversion function that comes with your word processing package – although the resulting table may need so much repair that you may be no better off than if you had done the whole thing manually in the first place.
Letting you change your mind
Obviously the more you can automate the better – but whatever means you decide to use to restructure your search results, you will need to satisfy yourself that your chosen approach will enable you to:
• work with documents taken from any source you choose, not just mainstream ones
• describe those documents using whatever headings you want
• sort and re-sort the documents using multiple criteria determined by you.
What sort of criteria? Well, subject topics clearly – but you (or your student) will also need to be able to sort the documents according to how useful they’re likely to be in answering the enquiry. There’s a really good principle for ranking documents in this way: Must Know; Should Know; Could Know.
Must know documents are the handful of retrieved results that are so comprehensive and so authoritative that you’re going to use them as the basis for your report (or your student as the basis of their assignment).
Should know documents might provide evidence supporting the main findings, or include case studies demonstrating how the techniques outlined in the Must Know documents would work in practice.
Could know documents include the rest of your viable results. They’re potentially useful in terms of detail, but they’re not going to add a great deal more to your enquirer’s overall understanding of the subject.
Crucially, organising your documents in this way enables you to change your mind whenever you need to. If you find you’re now not so keen on the documents that have come to the top as Must Knows, it’s the work of minutes to rethink, re-categorise and sort again.
Get this far, and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that your report can practically draft itself. But to complete the job, you do need to be able to deploy another key skill: strategic reading. We’ll look at that in a follow-up blog.
You can also check out Tim Buckley Owen’s blog article on what library and information professionals learn from the ‘Dodgy Dossier’.
Find out more about Tim Buckley Owen’s Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time 7th edition from Facet Publishing
Tim Buckley Owen BA DipLib MCLIP is an independent writer and trainer with over 40 years’ experience of information work – at Westminster Central Reference Library, the City Business Library, and as Principal Information Officer at the London Research Centre. He has also held strategic media and communications posts at CILIP, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Library & Information Commission.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in April 2017. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy
Most college students have been exposed to more technology than students of previous generations. This does not make them technology experts. Students do a lot of searching online for information. This does not make them expert, or even good, searchers. Thanks to Google, students can always find information on any topic. This does not mean that they have found true, accurate, useful information and does not make them expert finders of information. Students need instruction and guidance in learning how to find, evaluate, select and use information, just as they need instruction and guidance in learning anything else. They are not born “information literate” and frequent, uninstructed Googling will not make them so.
The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education
The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (the Association of College and Research Libraries’ new “guide” to Information Literacy) is meant to explain the theory behind information literacy and the threshold concepts that students must incorporate into their thinking to become information literate.
The Framework document says:
“The Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills…..Neither knowledge practices nor the dispositions that support each concept are intended to prescribe what local institutions should do in using the Framework; each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation, including designing learning outcomes.”
How to teach students information literacy
While the “framework” provides a description of what a person who is information literate looks like and does with regard to information, the framework does not provide the answer we all want–How do we get our students to that goal? The bad news is that the Framework is not going to help answer that question. The good news is that everything we have created up to this point is still relevant. While some lessons may need to be updated and/or broadened to incorporate new types of information delivery or new groups from whom we can get information, the core of what students need to know to become information literate remains the same. Students need to know how to find information, how to evaluate information, how to select information, how to apply information to a problem, and how to use information ethically and legally.
Here are 6 suggestions about how to offer students the concepts and skills that will set them on the road to information literacy.
1. Take them from the familiar to the less familiar to the unfamiliar.
Everyone I know uses Google on a regular basis. The single search box is convenient, doesn’t require anything in the way of search strategy or specific language. Most people have no idea that Google has an advanced search, much less how to use it. In fact, Google no longer offers a link to its advanced search page from the basic search page. Instead one must click on “settings” and select the advanced search.
Have students do a Google search for global warming in the single search box. They will get links to millions of pages returned to them. Show them how to get to the advanced Google search page and have them use some of the search options to transform a giant search into something with a meaningful result. From there, you might transition to a subject specific database, where students will find much more targeted information, making more of the information they find applicable to their information need.
2. Make students mentally stretch to make a lesson more memorable
If you want students to evaluate the information they find, ask them to determine what qualities make information credible, accurate, and reliable. You can then ask them to evaluate information you supply against their list of criteria. The supplied information may provoke changes in the list of evaluation criteria. For example:
- The hoax website Dihydrogen Monoxide should make students consider evaluation of the content
- The website offering a scientific study on feline reactions to bearded men should make students consider evaluation of the bibliographic references.
- The website of Dr. David Duke, a white supremacist, should make students consider the author and author’s credentials.
3. Selection and application of information is critical
There are thousands of webpages devoted to the recent Brexit from the European Union, many of them able to pass the evaluation test. But every website does not provide information relevant to the same information need. So a student seeking to answer a question about the effect of Brexit on Poland will need to select information targeting that effect and not information about how the term Brexit was created.
I have found it useful to put students into teams to role play a “real life” situation. Students become researchers who must provide information to the CEO of the company they work for. The CEO will base a decision about the future of the company on the information supplied. Big money is at stake, as well as job security for the researchers. The information must be on the CEO’s desk within the hour. A class presentation allows for discussion and critique of sources selected, sources discarded, sources undiscovered, and so on.
4. Get students to think about the consequences of plagiarism
Ethical concerns for students about the use of information usually center on the issues of citation of sources and plagiarism. Students I have spoken to know they need to cite sources. They know there are penalties for plagiarism, sometimes very harsh penalties. They simply don’t know when to do it. Is a citation required for paraphrasing? Is a citation required for a quote? How does one cite a quote from one person in a document from another person? Providing students with a little practice in thinking through what a citation is for and what it accomplishes will go a long way to providing them with the answers to their questions. As to the format for citations, there is software that will do that—much of it free. Direct students to those tools and they will be forever grateful.
Get students to think about the ethical, economic and social consequences of plagiarism. Have them look into the specifics of incidents of plagiarism that have had serious consequences (George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord vs. the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine, for example). Discuss the nature of intellectual property and fair use.
5. The role of the individual in the information world is expanding
Students are both consumers and producers of information. Students should be made aware that they can create and disseminate of information and discuss what that means for them in terms of both opportunity and responsibility. For some audiences the student can be an authority. Students can add perspective and new ideas to groups working on projects or problems by participating in blogs, listservs and other interactive discussion groups. Students can create their own publications for issues of importance to them and make those publications available to the world.
Have students subscribe to and follow a blog that covers an academic topic over a specified time period. Ask them to write about or discuss their experience, considering the positive and negative aspects of this form of communication, the quality of the information, the variety of people who participate, and whether or not the blog helps move the world forward in terms of the subject under discussion.
6. Apply the same skills to the “real world”
Students often fail to understand that what they learn in one classroom can often be useful in the next classroom, and that concepts and skills they learn in an academic setting can translate to applications in the “real world”. The human brain works by analogy—comparing new information to information already in storage and looking for similarities. The use of analogies in the classroom can help students think about how one idea might apply in a completely different situation.
Get students to brainstorm steps to take when gathering information for a term paper. Write the ideas on a flip chart or white board. Ask students to then suggest non-academic scenarios where the same process could be helpful. (Buying a cell phone, planning a two-week vacation in an unfamiliar location, writing an annual report for work, finding a nursing home for an elderly relative, etc.)
To summarize, students need to learn basic concepts and skills in order to become information literate as students and as citizens of the world. Make students active participants in their own learning. Allow them to stretch their understanding through discussion and exploration. Get them to actively participate. Ask them to grapple with the big ethical and social questions. The instruction you have already developed is likely still relevant and useful so don’t start from the beginning, but build on what you have already created.
About Teaching Information Literacy Reframed
Teaching Information Literacy Reframed by Joanna M Burkhardt offers a starting point to understanding and teaching the six threshold concepts listed in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, an altogether new way of looking at information literacy.
Joanna M. Burkhardt is a full professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and Director of its branch libraries in Providence and Narragansett. She coordinates the branches’ information literacy program.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in August 2016. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy
Critical literacy is an approach to learning and teaching that has gathered momentum in recent years as it has become widely used in classrooms around the world. Critical literacy is not just important for formal education settings however. It is also relevant for libraries because it is an approach that can engage students (or other users) in more active forms of reading and more creative ways of critiquing texts, as well as equipping them with skills and strategies to challenge social and political systems.
What is critical literacy?
Critical literacy differs from most models of information literacy because it is not simply about the ability to evaluate information for features such as authenticity, quality, relevance, accuracy, currency, value, credibility and potential bias. Instead, it addresses more fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge.
One way of describing critical literacy is as a process that, ‘challenges the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development’ (Shor, 1999). This description highlights two key components of critical literacy. Firstly, it has a focus on practical action and community engagement. Secondly, critical literacy is concerned with the social and cultural contexts in which traditional, digital, multimedia and other types of texts are both created and read. Critical literacy is not about studying texts in isolation, but developing an understanding of the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic contexts in which they are created and read. It involves an explicit commitment to equity, social justice and inclusion.
Authors and readers
A fundamental notion of critical literacy is that all texts are constructed(by one or more authors) and serve particular interests or purposes. As texts are written or created by people, who all have their own views of the world, no text is completely neutral and objective. For example, when they write, an author makes conscious and unconscious choices about what to include and exclude and how to represent the things or people they depict.
However, it is not just the author who has an important role. Just like authors, all readers have their own experiences and knowledge whichthey bring to a text. This means that each person interprets a text differently and multiple ways of reading a single text are not just possible, but inevitable. In contrast to more conventional approaches to resource evaluation, with critical literacy there is no single ‘correct’ way to read and respond to a text.
This means that critical literacy can allow students to move beyond merely retelling information to become actively engaged with texts as they start to exercise their power as readers to interrogate what is written and question the ideological standpoint of the author to form their own interpretations. Critical literacy also helps students to see connections between texts they read and the ‘real world’ as they come to realise how the experiences and opinions of both the author and reader are integral in shaping any text.
Some practical examples
Critical literacy is a theory that is highly relevant to the practical work of library and information workers across all sectors including academic, schools, public, workplace, prisons and health. In the case of public libraries, it can support social inclusion activities and offer alternative ways of framing reading promotion. In healthcare settings, critical literacy approaches can empower patients and challenge stigma. When working with young offenders, or at-risk young people, critical literacy can help to improve decision-making skills. In schools, it can have a role both within subjects such as Communication studies and in extra-curricular activities. It can also enhance the school librarian’s role within the school as they become engage in debates around the use of new media and academic honesty. When working with both undergraduate and post-graduate university students, critical literacy can move the librarian’s contribution to the learning process far beyond the simplistic database demonstration session to a more active, questioning approach that can profoundly impact on how students interact with information. Critical literacy can also support librarians’ work with particular user groups. For example, in the case of international students, disabled users; or adult learners, critical literacy can help to reframe difference as an asset rather than a deficit.
There is no doubt that adopting a critical literacy approach in a library setting can be highly challenging. Teaching students that there is no single ‘correct’ way to read a text and that evaluating a resource is not a process which can be reduce to a simple checklist requires considerable time, skill and confidence. However, the potential benefits can be immense.
These are just some brief examples of the ways in which critical literacy can be used within libraries and information services. Is your library using (or planning to use) critical literacy approaches in any way? If so, please let us know.
Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, edited by Sarah McNicol, provides a foundation of critical literacy theory, as applied to libraries, combines theory and practice to explore critical literacy in relation to different user groups, and offers practical ways to introduce critical literacy approaches in libraries.
Sarah McNicol is a research associate at the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in March 2016. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/why-should-critical-literacy-matter-information-professionals