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
Makerspaces are drawing new users into libraries and engaging them as never before. Edited by technology expert Ellyssa Kroski, The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook, is a must-read for any librarian using technology in teaching and learning as well as those considering whether to set up a makerspace, or with one already up and running.
Ellyssa Kroski said,
The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook aims to be an essential all-in-one guidebook to the maker realm written specifically for librarians. I hope it will inspire readers through practical projects that they can implement in their libraries right now. The book is jam-packed with instruction and advice from the field’s most tech-savvy innovators, and will be well-suited for any librarian seeking to learn about the major topics, tools, and technologies relevant to makerspaces today.
- Shows readers how to start their own makerspace from the ground up, covering strategic planning, funding sources, starter equipment lists, space design, and safety guidelines
- discusses the transformative teaching and learning opportunities that makerspaces offer, with tips on how to empower and encourage a diverse maker culture within the library
- delves into 11 of the essential technologies and tools most commonly found in makerspaces, ranging from 3D printers, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and wearable electronics to CNC, Lego, drones, and circuitry kits.
Ellyssa Kroski is Director of Information Technology at the New York Law Institute, as well as an award winning editor and author. She is a librarian, an adjunct faculty member at Drexel and San Jose State Universities, and an international conference speaker. Her professional portfolio is located at www.ellyssakroski.com.
Teamwork is a vital element in many environments, especially in library education. Collaboration in Libraries and Learning Environments discusses the role of libraries in higher education and their role in this shifting environment. Support is the primary aspect of many libraries in higher education now, and with the advent and advancement of internet methods, libraries must be on the ever cutting edge to reach out to their patrons. With advice on how to build these services when it’s unsure what the next year will bring, understanding the needs of the student, leadership within the library, working with other libraries, collaboration, and much more…Collaboration in Libraries and Learning Environments is a strongly recommended read for library science collections, not to be missed.