Friday, February 21, 2014

Critical Information Literacy

Hall, Rachel. "Public Praxis: A Vision for Critical Information Literacy in Public Libraries." Public Library Quarterly, 29.2 (2010): 162-175. (Full-text available through UW-Madison Libraries) 

Hall’s piece speaks to both the Heidi Jacobs and the Deborah Brandt articles. Like Jacobs et al., she makes a case, evoking not only Paulo Freire but John Dewey, that the values that inform critical information literacy are core values of librarianship. What makes her article different is that she is making this case for public libraries, which she argues (writing in 2010) have been strangely silent on the subject of information literacy. Like Jacobs she argues that information literacy is not simply about “depositing” a set of technical skills to meet learners’ “deficits,” but has important social and political dimensions that speak to the social role of libraries (i.e. their democratizing mission). I think that Hall would agree with Brandt that literacy learning occurs within larger “systems of unequal subsidy and unequal reward” that go beyond individual merit and family background. Whereas Brandt’s focus is on showing how economic and historical forces value (or devalue) different kinds of literacy, Hall’s focus is really on what role public libraries might or should play in assisting learners in contemplating and counteracting some of the resulting inequalities (in this regard, she briefly discusses a UNESCO-sponsored information literacy campaign in So. Africa). As to why this might be relevant for LIS professionals, I'm guessing that the question of whether or not libraries should view their mission as being value-neutral receptacles [and dispensers] of information or should see themselves as agents “empowering an informed and democratic society” is a worthy topic of discussion.

When searching for the Hall article I found a few illustrations of information literacy in action that help me flesh out the concept. While these might fall short of the goals evoked by critical information literacy (and are not specific to libraries), they still seem like good examples that lean toward “empowering” individuals/communities and I thought I'd include them FYI:

A couple of modest “cases” described in a short article in the Journal of Information Literacy (UK) by Widdowson and Smart entitled “Information literacy in public libraries” (Full-text  available from UW-Madison Libraries);

A Web site ( for digital information literacy for UK older adults mentioned in the same article;

An NPR tech story (11/25/13) about digital literacy for seniors in the US;

A recent article (Jan 23, 2014) in Madison’s Isthmus newspaper about the Simpson Street Free Press (a youth journalism project) that has been challenging the student achievement-gap since 1992.  

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