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HangingTogether: Wanted: your suggestions, gifts for librarians and archivists

Thu, 2016-12-08 20:09

It’s that time again…. The time when we come to you and ask, “What is the perfect gift to give the librarians and archivists in your life?” What have you had your eye on? What are you planning on giving, or hope to receive?

Leave your suggestions in the comments and we will share our compiled “best of” list next week!

(If you can’t wait or are looking for ideas, please check out our lists from 2014 and 2015.)


About Merrilee Proffitt

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DPLA: DPLA Board Call: December 15, 2016, 2:00pm Eastern

Thu, 2016-12-08 15:44

The next DPLA Board of Directors call is scheduled for Thursday, December 15 at 2:00 PM Eastern. Agenda and dial-in information is included below. This call is open to the public, except where noted.

  • [Public] Milestones, events, and other items of interest from the past three months
  • [Public] Teagle Foundation grant
  • [Public] DPLA at ALA Midwinter
  • [Public] Questions/comments from the public

District Dispatch: ALA, Rosen Publishing release new “Libraries Ready to Code” video

Thu, 2016-12-08 13:35

Today, ALA and Rosen Publishing released the video “Libraries Ready to Code.” Introduced during Computer Science (CS) Education Week, the video depicts coding activities in public and school libraries and underscores how libraries can increase exposure and access to CS learning opportunities for youth. The video will be used as an advocacy tool to increase awareness of library coding activities among decision makers, influencers and other stakeholders at all levels.

“Libraries are community hubs for learning a variety of skills relevant to modern life, and computational thinking skills learned through coding are among the most critical,” said ALA President Julie B. Todaro. “By showing what libraries can and are already doing to build a successful future for our nation’s youth, the Libraries Ready to Code video powerfully communicates the infrastructure of expertise and resources found in school and public libraries.”

Photo credit: Westchester Square Public Library (Bronx, NY)

Video sponsor and President of Rosen Publishing Roger Rosen added, “People today are not only digital information consumers, we are all digital producers – and the jobs of the future demand skills to create. Youth need places to practice and develop coding skills outside the traditional classroom environment, especially for girls and others who have less exposure to coding and computer science.”

As part of the Libraries Ready to Code project launched earlier this year, the video released today is the first in a series to come out in 2017. It features library professionals engaged with youth in coding activities as well as interviews with youth and parents:

“The library is a great place to introduce the ready to code concept because we’re public, we’re free, we’re easily accessible.”  – After School Services Manager (Queens, New York)

“It’s really not just coding. It is a way of thinking and perceiving and problem-solving.” – Teacher Librarian (Norman, Oklahoma)

“When I’m coding… I really feel like I accomplished something.”  – Student (Bronx, New York)

“Coding is the new literacy.”  – Parent (Norman, Oklahoma)

There is growing recognition of the need to provide young people with the requisite skills to fully engage in the economic and civic society now and in the future. This week the White House announced new actions related to its CS for All initiative, a plan to provide all U.S. students the chance to learn CS skills needed to be creators in the digital economy. ALA was one of the organizations recognized by the White House in their new fact sheet highlighting programs like Libraries Ready to Code that expose more students to CS education.

There is also growing awareness of opportunity gaps for girls and other youth who face barriers to developing digital skills. A recent study by the Pew Research Center indicated that low-income families, rural residents, African Americans, Latinos and people with disabilities are disproportionately disenfranchised by digital opportunity gaps. The Libraries Ready to Code video illustrates the ways public and school libraries are helping close the digital divide for many of these youth.

“Our nation’s school libraries assist tens of thousands of youth daily, and our public libraries serve all community members – regardless of where they live, where they come from or how much experience they have,” continued Todaro. “The equitable access to technology and training that libraries provide means more equitable access to opportunities – economic and otherwise – for everyone in America.”

The post ALA, Rosen Publishing release new “Libraries Ready to Code” video appeared first on District Dispatch.

Open Knowledge Foundation: How is our economy ordered by information? Reflections from the Open Knowledge International monthly reading group

Thu, 2016-12-08 12:15

Danny Lämmerhirt shares team reflections from the inaugural meeting of the Open Knowledge International Reading Group. This month’s topic examined the role that knowledge and data play for political and economic coordination. The team looked at Friedrich Hayek and Hernando de Soto and drew parallels from their work to how government information is managed and understood today.

‘Openness’ and ‘data’ have become the new spectres haunting society. From open government to open food – it seems that everything can somehow become “open” nowadays. In particular, concepts like open data seem to be a panacea promising to enable transparency and accountability, foster growth and economic efficiency, or empower civil society. The problem: these many shades of open obfuscate what we mean by “open”, what the historic, moral and political roots of concepts like open government data are, and whom these concepts eventually serve.

We decided therefore to start a reading group in which we dedicate time to share, read and reflect on literature that enables us to better contextualise our own work. We plan to organise a monthly session with interested OKI team members. In each session, we will discuss two core texts around a chosen topic. Those sessions will be shared in a blog post with the whole community. If there is demand or interest, we can open these sessions to the Open Knowledge Network – let us know in the comments sections below!

Here is a selection of topics we are interested in:

  • How was the idea of openness born and what are its moral, political and philosophical underpinnings?
  • If data is never “raw” but a result of political decisions, behavioural routines, legal frameworks or technological infrastructures – which realities of the world do data construct and how can we partake to shape the politics of data infrastructures?
  • Civil society is a term used and abused on many fronts – do we see civil society only as mere actors increasing economic efficiency?  Or is civil society expressed through political contestation?

We will try to explore and navigate the sea of unanswered question. Like every journey, we had to start somewhere. Here is a look at the content and discussion from our first session:

How is our economy ordered by information, and what roles do state and individuals play in it?

For our first session, we decided to focus on texts that examine the role that knowledge and data play for political and economic coordination. The first text, written by Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, promotes a revival of economic liberalism and is often been seen as a fundamental text to understand the neoliberal turn. The second text by Chilean economist Hernando de Soto discusses the role bureaucracies play in facilitating economic exchange.     

Friedrich Hayek – “The Use of Knowledge in Society”

Written 71 years ago, Friedrich Hayek’s essay  The Use of Knowledge in Society tries to reinvigorate liberal economics against (socialist) central planning and the expansion of state influence. When Hayek was writing his piece, state influence had gained significant political support across the western world. Hayek drew inspiration from his close friend, Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, who is the author of the book “The Open Society and its Enemies”.  

Hayek’s essay argues that economic planning demands knowledge which cannot be found in one place within society. He questions the usefulness of aggregated statistics to manage economy. Rational calculation in a complex society needs to be executed by individuals. “The man on the spot” has context-specific knowledge and knows best how to react to uncertain (economic) developments in society. The key for Hayek is, that such knowledge is not representable in data and cannot therefore be managed by central government.

Hayek asks how we can transfer knowledge between individuals to allow for the best coordination within society. For him individuals only need one common metric – the price of products – to coordinate their actions. This common metric does not need to be understood by people. What matters is that prices are meaningful enough to coordinate people’s interactions decentrally.

What we have learned:

Two aspects are striking when reading Hayek: 1) his critique of the representation of knowledge, and 2) his emphasis on individual expertise.

Hayek criticizes the meaningfulness of abstracted, statistical representations of the world. Interestingly, he questions what other authors have called a “trust in numbers”, and the potential to manage the world at a distance using abstracted facts such as numerical representations. Hayek does not consider it feasible to transfer tacit and contextual knowledge through data.  We can criticize that he de-politicizes data by assuming that individuals do not need to understand numbers in order to coordinate actions.

However, as we will explore in later reading sessions, it is these very statistics and data that are shaped by human assumptions (political and moral) and which have politics inscribed that shape our vision of the world. Instead of reducing the interaction of human knowledge to mere price calculations, it is possible to argue that society has to re-politicize the numbers and data that shape our world and undertake critical examinations what they are measuring.

Hayek stresses the importance of a decentral coordination of economic activities through individuals who know best how to coordinate their actions. Hayek’s ideas are closely related to economic liberalism: both are centred around uncertainty and that spontaneous, decentralised application of knowledge is best suited to bring about benefits for society. Hayek’s concept of knowledge proposes a solution to how to dispense with the need of conscious control.

While Hayek did not discuss open governmental knowledge to the masses, we can see that decentral coordination and this dialectic of social and economic liberalism has a revival in smart city initiatives,  open APIs and other technological applications. Governments may run hackathons to mobilise distributed knowledge and to create value and solve societal issues. Some authors argue that open APIs and other systems are a means of lean government – a move towards opening government’s data so that ecosystems of individual developers can take over actions normally managed within the public sector. Thus we see that openness touches upon a much larger issue – the relationship between individuals and the state – and how political power is distributed between both.

We wish to shed light on both issues – how we can understand scientific methods such as statistics (data literacy included) as well as how we can critique the political ideas behind them. Both themes eventually boil down to one question: how we define contemporary politics and the distribution of power.

Hernando de Soto – The Mystery of Capital

The second text we discussed was written by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto. De Soto was influenced by US economists, and is known as one of the key players in changing Peru’s economic policies from Keynesian to neoliberal ones. Our recent Cadasta fellowship for the Open Data Index inspired us to read this text. De Soto champions the idea that some nations impede their economic development through defective bureaucratic systems. Since they fail to document information on (land) ownership rights, they cannot capitalise on those assets. Even though written in an almost colonising tone the text is useful to understand the (economic) importance of bureaucratic data infrastructures and why land ownership data may be key information that should be provided by the government.

De Soto argues that the poorest countries already dispose of assets but cannot capitalise on them or turn them into revenue – hence they remain “dead capital”.  Developing countries often have no registries for land ownership rights, fail to document the territories on which buildings are built, or do not display business registrations. In short: the property rights of assets are not documented which prevents individuals to trade them, to enter a market, or to gain funding from the financial sector.

According to de Soto bureaucratic infrastructures are often not capable of documenting assets. The costs of registering a house are prohibitively high. If people illegally run a business on  a compound and save money to afford registration, they might be penalised afterwards for running the business. Public data infrastructures, their routines of registration, and the laws that should give people incentives to register are not attuned to process and protect legal persons and property rights. The result is that most people’s resources are commercially and financially invisible, and that informal ownership spreads.

What we have learned:

De Soto’s account has to interesting aspects. It suggests that

  1. Public information systems and bureaucracy may play an important role in fostering economic transactions that are visible to the (global) market. Here public information systems are crucial to display assets so they can be capitalised.
  2. It foregrounds (at least partially) that public information systems are shaped by laws, cultural factors and people managing and that several factors are important to make these infrastructures ready to incorporate information on a nation’s privately held assets.

Questions that still remain to be explored:

  • Can we really ignore cultural systems of bureaucracy in order to create a new order of information?
  • Is the weak bureaucratic systems in developing countries actually created because of a culture of poor infrastructure set up by colonialism?
  • Will making the invisible visible, like De Soto claims, actually help to gain financial power? What does it mean for beyond land rights? For example, does it mean that if my actions are documented online as data points they are worth more?
Next reading group sessions

For the next reading group session, we want to turn towards a critical assessment of data and their role in society. Following topics we would like to turn towards:

  • A critical theory of data?  How are data “cooked”, how do they work in the world, and how can we broaden our understanding of the infrastructures and politics that create them.
  • Civil society – an idea between economic liberty and social solidarity.
  • Fighting with numbers – how statistical activism uses numbers to change what counts
  • Uncertainty and impact: how these two ideas were born
  • New public management and the politics of audits and accountability

Library Tech Talk (U of Michigan): Designing a Link Resolver

Thu, 2016-12-08 00:00

Our link resolver at the University of Michigan Library is branded as MGet It. Its purpose is to provide a pathway to online articles and other electronic resources. On October 17th, we replaced the now old link resolver with a custom redesigned solution created using Umlaut, an open-sourced link resolver or “item service provider for libraries.”

Library Tech Talk (U of Michigan): Designing a Link Resolver

Thu, 2016-12-08 00:00

Our link resolver at the University of Michigan Library is branded as MGet It. Its purpose is to provide a pathway to online articles and other electronic resources. On October 17th, we replaced the now old link resolver with a custom redesigned solution created using Umlaut, an open-sourced link resolver or “item service provider for libraries.”

Cynthia Ng: Worklife Balance and Taking the Time Off

Wed, 2016-12-07 20:50
This is a personal reflection piece that I wrote while on vacation, where my brain compelled me to write this piece whether I posted it publicly or not. It certainly helped me to get this down, and maybe it’ll help other people reflect on their own worklife balance. Starting a Career is No Excuse Well, … Continue reading Worklife Balance and Taking the Time Off

Shelley Gullikson: Delight in the Research Process: Student Perspectives

Wed, 2016-12-07 19:49

In 2015/16, I interviewed 10 undergraduates and 7 graduate students, asking them very broad questions about their research process – how they got started, what they did when they got stuck – as well as some specific things about our website and subject guides. I did follow-up interviews with 7 of the undergraduates and 6 of the grad students on an even more amorphous topic: as they were engaged in a research project, what were the moments that made them really excited? What brought them delight in their research? Other projects then intervened, but I’ve finally got around to analyzing what students told me about delightful research moments.

As an aside, let me say how wonderful it was to listen to students reflect on what brought them joy. So much nicer than subjecting them to a frustrating usability test! It was a glorious way to spend my time.

Overall, a few themes emerged:

  • Having a sense of progress
    • Many of the students talked about either making steady progress or having breakthroughs. Finding the right article, or search terms that then broke the topic open for them. Brainstorming with someone to solidify or advance their ideas. Realizing that they had something to write about; that they were actually going to be able to complete the assignment or project.
  • Working with, or getting feedback from, other people
    • Brainstorming was a common theme, as was having someone read a draft and provide feedback. Receiving and acting on feedback would either help shape their ideas or hone the expression of those ideas.
  • Connection
    • Connection came in many forms: having a personal connection to a topic, connecting a topic to real people, feeling a connection with a professor or TA while working on the project, wanting their research to connect with the wider world or seeing how that could happen.

It was in this last point – connection – that I started seeing differences between undergraduates and graduate students, and I find these points of difference more interesting than the overall themes.

Undergraduates spoke more about feeling a connection to their topic; either the importance of choosing a topic of interest to them or the difference it made when their topic was one they were really interested in.

“Knowing that I was interested in that made it… it’s almost like regardless of how difficult it’s going to be, it’s not going to be a pain in my butt. Because I’m actually going to enjoy doing it even if it’s difficult.” (4th year student)

Graduate students spoke more about how their research would connect with the wider world.

“It is kind of also exciting to say, like, OK I think there’s a good chance that if I do this right and put it out, it will cause a discussion.” (grad student)

“I have to take these moments where I come back to where I started and think about who are the actual people involved in this and who, you know, how are these decisions actually affecting lives? And I think those are the moments where I’m like “Ah, yes, this is important. This matters to people.”” (grad student)

In talking about their research projects, undergrads used the word “interest” more while grad students used the word “important” more. And no, I didn’t make a word cloud (ick) but rather looked at word frequency as a way to check on my impressions.

A few themes seemed to be specific to undergraduate students. Although certainly no one used this word, the idea of “mastery” came up with several undergrads. They spoke about internalizing their topics, about getting better at organizing their time and their thoughts, improving their search strategies, getting better at writing, asking more for feedback.

“When it comes to doing an action you have to have a certain level of familiarity with the action, then eventually you say, like, this is what I do now… and feel proud of that. And then that helps you even perform better when you do that action the next time and it makes you that much more efficient and motivated.” (4th year student)

Getting good grades was a theme for undergraduates, always followed up with how getting a good grade made them want to continue to get good grades, so it made them want to work harder. Good grades also increased confidence, and many noted that this increased confidence led to better work habits, which then kept those good grades coming.

“Until that time I never got A in my, any subject. I used to get B, C. So that was so thrilling. And I was so, because I experienced after that, that when you get A, your confidence level just boosts.” (3rd year student)

“That moment I started to like that research because I came to figure out that it’s possible, like, I can do it as long as I work hard.” (4th year student)

Many of the undergraduates talked about how they found joy when writing began to come easily to them. Three students specifically talked about “flow” as they were writing and others described it in other words (and no, no one name-checked Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). Flow came in different ways and meant different things to them. One student said she could tell that she was interested in a topic if the words were still flowing after writing two pages. Another said the words were “flowing freely” during a presentation because he was so familiar with the literature. Others said that because they had a topic of interest, the writing flowed out.

“The more I read, the more interested I got on it. It allowed me to type more [laughs], like… words flowed freely.” (3rd year student)

Flow was clearly a good sign; a sign of interest, a sign of mastery, an indicator of delight.

So what does this mean for libraries? Well, I’m not sure yet; I want to mull it over a bit longer. If you have thoughts, please share them!

LITA: Jobs in Information Technology: December 7, 2016

Wed, 2016-12-07 19:37

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Yale University, Data and Database Administrator, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a job posting.

District Dispatch: Financial education resources for library staff

Wed, 2016-12-07 18:00

In order to better reach consumers and aid them in making financial decisions, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) works to identify resources and community partnerships that can help libraries offer financial education programming. Their hope is that public libraries will become a resource for consumers looking for information surrounding their financial decisions.

To that end, the CFPB provides libraries with access to free resources. These include:

  • Online resources. A time-saving, consolidated list of noncommercial, money-related websites, videos, and tools that have been reviewed and selected by financial education experts at the CFPB.
  • Free print materials. Easy-to-understand worksheets, informational guides, and handouts on a variety of money topics from the CFPB, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Securities and Exchange Commission and other government agencies.
  • Program ideas. CFPB shares ideas for money-themed programs and promising practices that have worked in libraries just like yours. They also include suggestions for resources and promotional partners.
  • Marketing materials. Bookmarks, standing displays, posters, screen savers, web banners and more. You can order these free materials, or download PDFs to add your logo and print them locally.
  • Library staff training. Participate in monthly webinars, or view past sessions to learn about personal finance topics and issues.
  • Partnership guidebook.  CFBP helps you think through the process of building and documenting collaborations that would work for your library, your partners and your patrons.

For more information, visit

The post Financial education resources for library staff appeared first on District Dispatch.

In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Critical Pedagogy, Critical Conversations: Expanding Dialogue about Critical Library Instruction through the Lens of Composition and Rhetoric

Wed, 2016-12-07 14:00

Image “prism” by flickr user Britt Reints (CC BY 2.0). No changes made to original image.

In Brief: As interest among academic librarians in critical pedagogy has grown, discussions about this concept and its implications for librarianship have been richly expanding our ways of conceiving of library instruction and of our (librarians’) instructional roles. At the same time, this concept is still a relatively new one for our field. We may thus benefit from further exploring debates about critical pedagogy that have occurred outside of librarianship. In this article I explore salient themes in debates about and critiques of critical pedagogy– particularly those evident in the field of composition and rhetoric–as a means of opening further inquiry into and dialogue about the possibilities and the challenges of critical pedagogy and, more specifically, critical information literacy instruction. With an appreciation of the value of inquiry and problem posing, I view my goal with this writing as not to suggest definitive answers about how librarians do or ought to teach, but rather to invite further thought, questions, and dialogue about how we teach and how we relate to students and fellow educators within our unique instructional contexts.

by Andrea Baer


As interest among academic librarians in critical pedagogy has grown, discussions about this concept and its implications for librarianship have been richly expanding our (librarians’) ways of conceiving of library instruction and of our instructional roles. This expanding interest is evident in the growing use of the term “critical information literacy,” which librarians Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins (2013) describe as “taking into consideration the social, political, economic, and corporate systems that have power and influence over information production, dissemination, access, and consumption” (4). A critical approach to information literacy instruction invites individuals to explore these highly contextual information practices and processes and how they engage with them, both as individuals and as members of various communities.

At the same time that discussions about “critical information literacy” and “critical pedagogy” have increased exponentially among librarians in recent years, this concept is still a relatively new one for our field. We may thus benefit from further exploring debates about critical pedagogy that have occurred outside of librarianship. As librarian Annie Downey recently noted in an interview about her recently published book Critical Information Literacy: Foundations, Inspiration, and Ideas, a productive new step for librarians interested in critical information literacy is “to look at, work with, and respond to the critiques of critical pedagogy” (Downey 2016a; Downey 2016b). This ability to explore such critiques, Downey comments, is a means of “remak[ing] critical pedagogy for our situations and contexts,” a process that critical pedagogist Paulo Freire described as essential to critical teaching (Downey 2016b).

Debates about critical pedagogy from the field of composition and rhetoric may prove particularly useful for instruction librarians, given the strong links between writing and information literacy instruction, both of which center largely on inquiry, knowledge creation, and critical engagement with information sources. Writing and information literacy education thus often overlap and complement one another, as many compositionists and librarians have been increasingly recognizing. These connections are apparent in a notable amount of library literature on critical information literacy that acknowledges composition and rhetoric’s extended engagement in discussions about critical pedagogy (a topic that became of particular interest to many compositionists around the late 1980s).

Critical pedagogy’s resonance for writing and library educators alike might be explained largely by the fact that both writing and information practices are inextricable from the social and political dimensions of language, discourse, and information creation and circulation. As this suggests, critical approaches to writing and library instruction ideally encourage students to consider how discourse and information sources reflect and are shaped by social, political, and structural contexts and conditions. Information science professor James Elmborg (2003, 2012) and librarian Heidi L.M. Jacobs (2008, 2013) have done significant work to demonstrate how writing pedagogy may help to inform critical information literacy. However, little attention has been given to debates in composition and rhetoric about critical pedagogy and how they may help to inform librarians’ instructional work.

In this article I explore salient themes in debates about and critiques of critical pedagogy– particularly those evident in the field of composition and rhetoric–as a means of opening further inquiry into and dialogue about the possibilities and the challenges of critical pedagogy and, more specifically, critical information literacy instruction. Given the cross-disciplinary relevance of much of critical pedagogy discourse, some of the literature considered in this article originates from other fields, namely education and gender and cultural studies. All of this work has, however, played a significant role in composition and rhetoric’s more discipline-specific discussions of critical pedagogy.

With an appreciation of the value of inquiry and problem posing, I view my goal with this writing as not to suggest definitive answers about how we, as librarians, do or ought to teach, but rather to invite further thought, questions, and dialogue about how we teach and how we relate to students and fellow educators within our unique contexts. I begin with a brief discussion of critical pedagogy as a concept and identify ideas and characteristics commonly associated with it. I then provide an overview of the general context in which debates about critical pedagogy emerged within the field of composition and rhetoric. This background serves as a foundation for exploring varying conceptions of and debates about critical pedagogy that have occurred within–and sometimes beyond–composition and rhetoric. Given the scope and focus of this article, I have not included a fuller discussion of critical pedagogy within the context of librarianship. Helpful introductions to this topic include James Elmborg’s “Critical Information Literacy: Definitions and Challenges” (2012) and Eamon Tewell’s “A Decade of Critical Information Literacy” (2015).1

What Is Critical Pedagogy?

While impossible to reduce to any single definition, critical pedagogy might be briefly described as a pedagogical philosophy that challenges the traditional content-centered “banking” model of education. Critical pedagogy instead favors a more democratic classroom in which the teacher and students interact and construct new knowledge as co-learners.2 In the critical classroom, individuals engage in reflection, dialogue, and “problem posing” in order to collectively explore “real-world” problems that have a personal relevance to students and to the larger social, political, and structural contexts in which they live. The ultimate goal of critical pedagogy, according to most critical pedagogists, is cultivating social awareness and a desire to work toward social justice (often referred to as “critical consciousness”). Critical pedagogy has its roots in the social critical theories of the Frankfurt School, as well as in educator Paulo Freire’s work, in particular his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1984) (which is commonly viewed as this educational approach’s beginning).3

While the general characteristics described above are commonly associated with the term critical pedagogy, people’s varying understandings of the concept and of what it looks like in the classroom make clear that critical pedagogy has no single, universal definition. Differing conceptions of critical pedagogy are reflected in debates about it, including those that developed out of the field of composition and rhetoric.

Critical Pedagogy Discourse and Debates within Composition & Rhetoric

Interest in critical pedagogy among composition and rhetoric scholars began to grow significantly in the late 1980s and became a prominent topic of discussion and debate by the 1990s. The enthusiasm for critical pedagogy among many in this field is perhaps unsurprising, given that many if not most compositionists have long appreciated inquiry-based learning, as well as the ways in which language and discourse are greatly shaped by social, political, and structural contexts and conditions.

While critical pedagogy prompted writing instructors to rethink their teaching approaches in fresh ways, many also found some students to be resistant to it. Such resistance is generally described in the writing studies literature in relation to two main themes: 1) students’ own learning goals, which are often described as more skills-focused and “instrumentalist” (particularly in the cases of many working class students who come to college with the hopes of better positioning themselves for great employment opportunities and social mobility) and 2) student pushback against course content that examines social privilege and related issues such as class, race, and gender (content that some students react to defensively or may perceive of as pushing a political agenda).4 Such student resistance served largely as a catalyst for debates about critical pedagogy in the writing classroom. Common themes of these discussions that are explored in this article include:

  • the central purpose(s) of writing instruction:
    To what extent should teaching focus on skills vs. on social and political issues? To what degree do these different instructional foci intersect or diverge?
  • questions of definition:
    What is “critical pedagogy,” and how does critical pedagogy discourse construct and use abstract and utopian terms like “empowerment” and “liberation”?
  • conceptions of teacher “authority”:
    What is the teacher’s role in a classroom that is intended to decenter authority and to function democratically? How might teachers reconcile the tension between their simultaneous roles as teachers and co-learners with students?
  • the role of politics, political ideology, and democracy in the classroom:
    Is critical pedagogy’s goal of “critical consciousness” potentially coercive, or does it offer a needed alternative to dominant and hegemonic ideologies that might appear “natural” but that reinforce oppressive social conditions? Can such teaching be truly democratic and dialogical? To what extent can critical pedagogy welcome varying perspectives, dialogue, and dissensus?
  • the role of critical reflection and reflective practice in teaching:
    How can critical pedagogists work to be cognizant of their own assumptions and biases? How might teachers bring confidence and expertise to their teaching, while also recognizing that they themselves may inadvertently reinforce dominant ideologies and structures that do not serve students? How can critical pedagogists resist an apparent tendency of some critical pedagogy discourse to imply a singular, “correct” approach to teaching?

Though questions about critical pedagogy like those listed above reflect critiques of critical pedagogy, many who have raised such questions have also been supportive of critical teaching approaches. Certainly some individuals involved in debates about critical pedagogy have expressed more reservation about it than others, but the themes above reflect less of a clear divide between individuals who are either “for” or “against” critical pedagogy than complex debates about the challenges of critical pedagogy and of reflective teaching more generally.

All of the scholarship discussed in this review of the critical pedagogy literature has played a significant role in composition and rhetoric’s more discipline-specific discussions of critical pedagogy, and most of the work I discuss is authored by compositionists. It is worth noting, however, that some of this literature originates from individuals’ related fields like education and gender and cultural studies. This reflects that critical pedagogy discourse, much like writing and information literacy instruction, has significant cross-disciplinary relevance.

The Purpose(s) of Writing Instruction

Chief among the debates in composition and rhetoric about critical pedagogy has been the question of writing instruction’s central purpose(s) (an issue particularly relevant, though not limited, to first-year writing programs). To what extent should the composition classroom be about teaching writing, to what degree should it be about critical thinking and awareness of social and political issues, and in what ways do the aims of teaching writing, critical thinking, and social awareness intersect or diverge? Most compositionists engaged with critical pedagogy would likely argue that writing instruction ideally helps to make visible how language and rhetoric are inevitably social, political, and ideological. From this perspective, critical thinking and writing require awareness of the larger social, political, and cultural contexts in which discourse occurs. Critical pedagogy thus would seem a valuable means of approaching composition. At the same time, classes that concentrate foremost on teaching about ideologies and social issues could potentially neglect learning about and engaging with the writing process.

The view that critical pedagogy neglects the central purpose of writing instruction has been strongly expressed by Maxine Hairston (1992). In a reaction against composition and rhetoric’s “critical turn,” Hairston argues that critical pedagogy places politics and ideology over the teaching of writing and thus does a disservice to students. From her perspective, critical pedagogy’s prevalence in the field is a step backward, a return to the false notion that writing instruction is not in and of itself a worthwhile pursuit. In Hairston’s view, the new critical model of teaching “envisions required writing courses as vehicles for social reform rather than as student-centered workshops designed to build students’ confidence and competence as writers” (Hairston 1992, 180). Hairston’s argument calls attention to the fact that the field of composition and rhetoric has often struggled for recognition within academia, as writing instruction has frequently been perceived of as a “service” done in the name of preparing students for the “real” academic work they will do in other disciplines. College writing instructors have worked to challenge the notion that writing is a mechanical skill and that composition instruction is remedial and basic. (This situation may sound very familiar to many librarians who similarly struggle to communicate to other educators that information literacy cannot be reduced to point-and-click skills.)

Responses to Hairston’s much discussed essay make apparent that many found her argument reactionary and unbalanced, though some in the field also expressed agreement with Hairston that critique of critical pedagogy had been thus far largely absent and needed (Trimbur et al. 1993). Hairston’s essay, while perhaps reactionary, sparked more critical discussions about critical pedagogy, as it drew more attention to challenging questions that critical pedagogy has presented for writing instruction and for teaching more generally.

In contrast to Hairston, compositionist Gwen Gorzelsky (1998) articulates a more middle-of-the-road approach. She advocates for balancing different learning goals and priorities–namely, students’ goals and interests (which she describes as often more skills-focused or instrumentalist) and those of the instructor (which for critical pedagogists tend to center more on social issues). Gorzelsky’s emphasis on negotiation of students’ and instructors’ goals implies that a balance can be struck between the need for developing both practical writing skills and critical awareness of the social and political dimensions of language and discourse. Moreover, students’ and critical teachers’ goals need not be mutually exclusive, as is evident in the interconnections between developing writing abilities and building understandings of language as socially and politically situated.

Questions of Definition

Both Gorzelsky’s and Hairston’s work point to a fundamental question about what critical pedagogy is and what it looks like in the writing classroom. But despite the varied conceptions of and debates about critical pedagogy, it has often been spoken of–both within and beyond writing studies–as if it is a singular, unified concept. As education professor and philosopher Ilan Gur-Ze’ev (1998) notes, “‘[c]ritical pedagogy’ has many versions today” (463). These varying understandings of critical pedagogy (as well as of critical theory) make it difficult to generalize about the possibilities and the problems that critical teaching presents. Relatedly, the varying conceptions of critical pedagogy reflect many of the questions and debates that have arisen about its possibilities and limitations.

Related to the varied conceptions of critical pedagogy is the challenge of defining terms frequently used in discourse about it. On the surface descriptions of education as democratic, liberating, and empowering can sound inspiring and may seem difficult to take issue with. Compositionist Heather Thomas-Bunn (2014), drawing from the work of Douglas Walton (2001), points out that these “persuasive definitions” of critical pedagogy (as defined by Walton) evoke feelings and attitudes that few would want to challenge. This may contribute to a reluctance to have critical conversations about critical pedagogy, as was the case for Thomas-Bunn while teaching as a graduate student. She reflects that at that time she and her peers, new to teaching writing, were particularly unlikely “to reject—or even question—something defined as ‘emancipatory,’ egalitarian, and ‘liberating.’ To do so would be to risk looking foolish, naïve, or unfeeling” (2014). This hesitation to express both sympathy for and critique of critical pedagogy is not unique to graduate students, as is suggested by other scholars like Robert Durst (1999) and Elizabeth Ellsworth (1989), who similarly discuss the challenges of questioning critical pedagogy’s idealism.

A number of scholars within and outside of composition and rhetoric have, however, called into question utopian and universalist language that characterizes some critical pedagogy discourse. Jennifer Gore, a feminist education professor, asks teachers who generally appreciate critical and feminist pedagogical approaches to examine critically the rhetoric of those pedagogies. In her 2003 article Gore gives particular attention to terms like “empowerment.” From her perspective, the term “empowerment” is often constructed in critical pedagogy discourse in ways that, despite good intentions, “might serve as instruments of domination” in a number of ways (331). For example, the term “empowerment” often presents the teacher as the agent of change, while students are described in more passive terms that imply that the teacher is the primary individual with the ability to “empower.” Gore furthermore argues that the universalist and utopian rhetoric of “empowerment” often results in neglect of the specific historical, social, cultural, and structural contexts in which particular individuals or social groups might affect social change. She quotes the work of Jana Sawicki (1988), who asserts that “no discourse is inherently liberating or oppressive…. The liberatory status of any discourse is a matter of historical inquiry, not theoretical pronouncement” (Sawicki 166; Gore 337).

An additional limitation of “empowerment” rhetoric that Gore considers is a tendency to give limited attention to the importance of teacher self-reflexivity–that is, self-reflection on how educators may inadvertently reinforce dominant power structures and dynamics that run counter to the ideals of critical pedagogy. Related to this is the tendency in much of critical pedagogy discourse to imply that the teacher will help students arrive at universal “truth.” This stands in contrast to a view of truth as contextual and varied, open for interpretation, and varying for different individuals and social groups. In Gore’s words,

[a]s part of academic discourses, the constructions of empowerment…often reveal a “will to knowledge,” characteristic of much of intellectual work, that is so strong that the need, desire or willingness to question one’s own work is lost in the desire to believe that one has found “truth,” that one is “right.” (343)

This impulse in much of academic work is evident as “a tendency to present the discourses in a fixed, final, ‘founded’ form which protects them from rethinking and change” (343). Instead, Gore believes “critical and feminist pedagogy need to pay much closer attention to the contexts in which they aim to empower” (345). Gore’s work reflects an appreciation for how context is essential to reflecting on both teaching and on language.

Teacher Authority

Gore’s discussion of the terms and rhetoric of critical pedagogy discourse reflects other questions frequently raised about the role of teacher authority. What role should the teacher as a subject expert and as an authority figure play in such a classroom? What do teacher authority, dialogue, and democracy look like in a critical classroom? How are decisions made about a class’s curriculum, assignments, logistics, and general structure? Can teachers facilitate a truly egalitarian environment when in most institutions they are still expected to give grades and to evaluate student learning according to certain standards? These questions have been notable points of debate in the broader discourse about critical pedagogy, as well as in discussions focused particularly on the teaching of writing and rhetoric.

English and composition professor Patricia Bizzell (1991) explores such issues in her essay “Power, Authority, and Critical Pedagogy.” She points to more relativist conceptions of classroom authority that acknowledge the value of teacher authority and that have been expressed by many critical pedagogists, including Freire. As Bizzell notes, Freire’s descriptions in Pedagogy of the Oppressed of a democratic classroom and teacher authority have often been interpreted without a full understanding of the historical and pedagogical context in which that text was written (that is, a class of Brazilian peasants working under a feudal system) (66). Bizzell challenges the idea that teacher authority has no place in the critical classroom and calls for more complex conceptions of teacher authority that acknowledge the teacher’s subject expertise and leadership role while also valuing student agency and voice.

Compositionists David L. Wallace and Helen Rothschild Ewald (2000) give particular attention to the tension between teacher authority and student agency in their book Mutuality in the Rhetoric and Composition Classroom. They propose an “alternative pedagogy” that shares critical pedagogy’s co-existing commitments to teach about social issues and to support student agency through a democratic and dialogic classroom. As Wallace and Ewald contend, classroom mutuality involves “teachers and students sharing the potential to adopt a range of subject positions and to establish reciprocal discourse relations as they negotiate meaning in the classroom” (3). From their perspective, “resistance to the dominant culture” should not be “the only option open to students” (5), for “privileging resistance can in itself become an expression of a teacher’s absolute authority if it, too, is not up for negotiation” (21). The authors thereby complicate Freire’s idea of “critical consciousness” as the ultimate goal of teaching. Through this approach, Wallace and Ewald seek to reconcile the tension between critical pedagogy’s insistence on egalitarian dialogue, on one hand, and, on the other, any imperative that students adopt certain ideological stances or take certain political or social actions.

Wallace and Ewald furthermore argue that classroom mutuality is inseparable from teaching writing and rhetoric, for language reflects and offers particular ways of relating to others. More specifically, they note that “classroom speech genres,” which shape much of classroom discourse and interactions, reflect the relationship between language and power that is so significant to writing studies (7). Teachers, they believe, can foster greater mutuality in the classroom through 1) employing more dialogic speech genres (which diverge from the traditional question-response structure of much of classroom discourse), 2) designing course assignments and curricula to open more room for student choice, and 3) regarding students’ “interpretive agency” (that is, students’ current and developing views, which may or may not reflect the teacher’s view of “critical consciousness”) (6).

English professor Jennifer Trainor (2002) similarly emphasizes the importance of “the rhetorical frames our pedagogies provide for students as they structure identity,” particularly as students are asked to engage in conversations about social issues (647). This approach offers students models for developing their own ways of speaking about their personal and social experiences and identities.

Gwen Gorzelsky (2009), interpreting and agreeing with Trainor’s perspective, states that without drawing from such rhetorical frames writing teachers “risk mobilizing an explicitly angry, racist consciousness among those white students who see no way to examine their privilege from a rhetorical position that allows them a sense of integrity rather than guilt or self-hatred” (65). In other words, she points to the potential for students whose political views differ from those of the instructor to feel alienated and to respond in reactive or even hostile ways, a dynamic that is likely to exacerbate rather than to alleviate divisiveness. (These concerns seem particularly important, given the intense polarization evident in much of public and political discourse in 2016.)5

Gorzelsky seeks to address the potential for students to respond in reactionary ways to critical pedagogy when she proposes that writing teachers “must help students find rhetorical stances that allow them to undertake such work while constructing a viable identity for themselves” (65). Reflecting on her observations of an intermediate writing course in which the instructor “used rhetorical moves that consistently encouraged students to thoughtfully evaluate their own and others’ views,” Gorzelsky concludes that students do engage constructively in issues key to critical pedagogy “when the classroom ethos strongly supports their agency–their ownership of their developing ideas and texts” (66). In such an environment, “students manage their personal and intellectual boundaries” while the instructors’ “rhetorical moves support[] those boundaries” (66). In the context of the course she observed, such an approach encouraged reflection and engagement that contrasted the defensiveness that many instructors have seen from students when confronted with issues of social privilege.6

Politics, Political Ideology, and Democracy in the Classroom

The tension between teacher authority and student agency intersects with one of the most salient questions of concern about critical pedagogy: the degree to which it is truly democratic and dialogic and whether such teaching might mask attempts to promote a particular political agenda or ideology. Media studies professor Elizabeth Ellsworth (1989) has argued, for example, that “[s]trategies such as student empowerment and dialogue give the illusion of equality while in fact leaving the authoritarian nature of the teacher/student relationship intact” (306). Similarly, English professors Gregory Jay and Gerald Graff (1995) contend that “the proper outcome of critical pedagogy is already predetermined” (203). Analyzing Freire’s explanations of critical pedagogy in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Jay and Graff assert,

However much Freire may insist on teaching “problem-posing” rather than top-down solutions, the goal of teaching for Freire is to move the student toward “a critical perception of the world,” and this critical perception “implies a correct method of approaching reality” (103). … [T]he teacher in this scenario is positioned as the knower of truth who will bring their students into the light.
(Jay and Graff 1995, 203; Freire 1984, 103)

This notion of the teacher as the owner of truth, of course, is incompatible with Freire’s other descriptions of student agency and collective knowledge building through open dialogue. Jay and Graff point to inconsistencies in Freire’s various descriptions of critical pedagogy as dialogic, emancipatory, and as consciousness-raising.

English professor Richard E. Miller (1998) offers a similar critique of Freirian rhetoric. Miller identifies a “tension between the Freirian insistence on a collaborative methodology…and a practice that, almost magically, produces people who know exactly what to think about injustice and how it should be redressed.” According to Miller’s analysis, those who resist Freire’s pedagogy are deemed by Freire to be “lost to ‘false consciousness’” (14). Such a rhetoric of critical pedagogy constructs what English and education professor Lil Brannon (1993) describes as a “masculine heroic narrative…the teacher as critical warrior” (460). This construction of the teacher exists in tension with the emphasis in much of critical pedagogy discourse (including Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) on the teacher’s ongoing reflection on their simultaneous and sometimes conflicting roles as co-learner and authority figure.

Critical Reflection, Reflective Practice, and Teaching

The inconsistencies in Freire’s representations of the teacher as on one hand critically reflective and on the other seemingly enlightened raises questions about the role of reflective practice in critical pedagogy discourse. Through reflective practice, educators ideally negotiate their positions as co-learner and teacher, as they seek to remain cognizant of their own limitations as educators. As compositionist Robert Yagelski (1999) writes, critical pedagogy requires “a delicate balancing act between acknowledging and using one’s legitimate authority as a teacher on the one hand and, on the other, taking appropriate measures to undercut that same authority so that it does not inhibit the effort to foster critical consciousness in students” (41). This paradox presents a tremendous challenge for teachers, one that has no straightforward answers.

As Yagelski notes, the contradictions in Freire’s writing reflect the difficulty of balancing the positions of teacher as authority and as co-learner. Reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Yagelski observes that on one hand Freire thoughtfully explores the “student-teacher contradiction”–that is, the way that a teacher’s authority can work against a student’s development of “critical consciousness.” These textual moments, however, exist alongside others in which Freire constructs the narrative of the “teacher-as-hero” [as described by Lil Brannon (1993)]. Freire’s descriptions of critical pedagogy ([both in earlier works like Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1984) and in later ones like Pedagogy of Hope (1994)] indicate that “Freire’s own position as teacher, his own identity as liberatory educator, is much more conflicted and complex than he seems to let on” (Yagelski 1999, 42).

The reinforced narrative of “teacher-as-hero” that is present in much of the literature on critical pedagogy runs counter to the kind of honest self-reflection that is often described as essential to critical pedagogy. The image of the heroic teacher may contribute to a dualistic image of “good” and “bad” teachers that, according to K. Hyoejin Yoon (2005), characterizes much critical pedagogy literature. In “Discipline and Punish: A Model Pedagogy” Yoon argues that often this professional discourse “tend[s] to trivialize and even demonize the experiences of teachers whose efforts at decentering power did not leave them feeling self-satisfied and magnanimous but, instead, grasping for control, respect, and authority.” This rhetoric “invites the reader to identify with the speaker and conspire in disparaging the ‘bad teacher’” (728). Binary conceptions of teachers and their teaching as good/bad are clearly not helpful. Fortunately, such punitive rhetoric appears, based on my reading of the literature, less prevalent than constructive ways of discussing critical educational practices.

Yagelski’s work is one example of a more encouraging discourse about critical teaching. Drawing from the Zen concept of non-dualism, which contrasts dualist conceptions of the self, Yagelski (1999) offers an alternative to the “teacher-as-hero” narrative. While some critical pedagogy discourse may encourage teachers to identify strongly with their positions as teachers, and while such identification can to some extent be a source for meaningful teaching, Yagelski sees a need to remember that “good teaching is not about the teacher” (italics in the original text). Rather, teaching is foremost about students’ learning. Thus, “the teacher’s agenda must ultimately become secondary to the student’s needs even as the teacher’s identity remains a central part of the student’s education” (43). By embracing such a perspective, Yagelski believes that writing instructors might be better able to “avoid the dogmatism that characterizes too much of our scholarly and public discussions about teaching writing.” In so doing, “we accept the uncertainty that comes with acknowledging that we, the teachers, may not know exactly what is right for all our students all the time—or even most of them some of the time” (46).

Though Yagelski’s audience is writing teachers, his conclusions are relevant to educators across disciplines. He describes what, to me, is the kind of reflection and open-mindedness that fosters learning in all human beings, in our varied experiences as both teachers and learners. It is also a reminder of how challenging teaching can be, particularly when engaging with critical pedagogies and reflective practices that present valuable–but sometimes uncomfortable–opportunities for teachers to examine self-doubts and questions that can often arise when teaching.


The debates about critical pedagogy that have been considered here have relevance across disciplinary and professional lines. At the same time, such work in composition and rhetoric is particularly relevant to information literacy instruction, which shares common roots in literacy education. Because writing instruction has historically had a more central role in college curricula in the United States than has information literacy instruction, it may be unsurprising that compositionists have engaged over a longer time period in discussions about critical pedagogy. Debates about critical pedagogy over the past three decades, especially those occurring in composition and rhetoric, may help librarians to think more deeply about the possibilities and challenges of critical teaching approaches in general, as well as in the more specific context of library and information literacy instruction. Because the questions that have arisen about critical pedagogy’s possibilities and limitations have no single or easy answers and will vary considerably in different teaching and institutional contexts, we (librarians) need opportunities through which to explore these complexities more fully with one another. Being aware of the critiques of critical pedagogy can help us as individual teachers and as a professional community to continually reflect critically and constructively on how we engage with students and with other teachers.

Given the context-dependent nature of teaching, as well as the reality that teaching is uniquely personal for any individual educator, I have not attempted to offer particular answers to the questions raised in the debates that have been explored here. However, I would like to suggest some general considerations that we, as librarians, might bring to reflection on our teaching. Perhaps one of the most valuable principles that critical pedagogy offers to information literacy instruction is an emphasis on context. As Christine Pawley (2003) writes in “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling,” “Information never stands alone—it is always produced and used in ways that represent social relationships. And these representations and relationships are not merely a matter of chance or individual choice but reflect the underlying patterns that structure society” (433). However, as Pawley also observes, “the conceiving of information as a thing—the ‘reification’ of information—has permitted us to treat it as a commodity” (425). In recognizing and exploring information and information practices as inextricable from social, political, historical, and structural contexts, we can engage along with students and fellow educators in information literacy instruction that extends far beyond mechanical skills.

Such an approach can actually work in tandem with teaching about tasks that may initially appear purely procedural. For example, while many teachers and students perceive of database searching as merely perfunctory, a critical and context-centered approach to database searching can emphasize how information systems reflect and often privilege certain conversations and voices. Relatedly, students and teachers might explore how various information and retrieval systems are reflections of intersecting and diverging discourse communities and the discursive practices, language, and systems through which they exchange and develop knowledge.

At the same time that the contextual nature of information and information practices can be explored both within and beyond stand-alone library sessions, a continued challenge is how we engage more fully in teaching information literacy from a critical perspective, given the unusual position we often occupy as educators (that is, as class visitors who are usually not the instructor of record). Because stand-alone library sessions limit the depth with which librarians can engage with students in more complex and conceptual aspects of information literacy (though such instruction also does not preclude this), the rich potentials of critical pedagogy reflect a need for examining librarians’ instructional and institutional roles both within and beyond the one-shot model.

Librarians’ expanding instructional roles and approaches have already illustrated great potential for continuing to extend and to deepen critical approaches to information literacy within and beyond the library classroom, as our pedagogical work extends beyond individual library sessions and as we communicate the significance of information literacy to higher education. Michelle Holschuh Simmons (2005) and Nora Almeida (2015) have made compelling arguments that our odd insider/outsider role has a power that often goes unrecognized. Our unique cross-disciplinary perspectives and the fact that we do not usually assign grades may enable us to engage more fully with students as co-learners engaged in a process of inquiry. Yvonne Nalani Meulemans and Allison Carr (2013) have moreover argued for the need to value and to assert our expertise and our roles as equal partners with disciplinary faculty as we build more meaningful and collaborative relationships with them.

At the same time, our profession continues to struggle with the widespread view of library instruction as mechanical and of librarians as guest lecturers. Here again we may find it useful to look at compositionists’ similar efforts to challenge misconceptions of writing as remedial and of the writing teacher’s work as perfunctory [see, for example, Mike Rose’s “The Language of Exclusion” (1985)]. Much of our own professional literature also encourages us to reconsider our traditional teaching roles in relation to the institutional structures and cultures in which we work. [See, for example, Christiansen, Stombler, and Thaxton (2004); Julien and Pecoskie (2009); and Meulemans and Carr (2013).] We can give such scholarship increased attention, as we consider the interconnections between our professional positions, the relationships we have with students and with fellow educators, and the structural and institutional conditions of our workplaces. While reflection on structural conditions can be frustrating, such dialogue can also help us to examine what assumptions we may be bringing to our pedagogical work and to explore new possibilities that are available to us but that might not otherwise come into view.7

Conversations about critical pedagogy within the context of literacy education are also reminders of the power of language to both reflect and to shape the ways we experience and perceive the world and the ways we relate to others. This includes how librarians, other teachers, and students talk about and approach information literacy. The relevance of language to our instructional approaches can be extended to how we discuss critical teaching approaches. Given that there is no singular definition for “critical pedagogy,” just as there is no singular way to engage (or not to engage) with it, perhaps it is more accurate to talk about “critical pedagogies.” The plural form of this work might help us in exploring how our pedagogical philosophies and approaches are situated within our particular teaching contexts. In other words, we might dialogue further about our varying conceptions of critical pedagogies, how these conceptions help to inform our teaching practices, and the tensions and challenges we experience in relation to critical pedagogical praxes. In speaking of critical pedagogies, we might further grow critical and inclusive conversations about critical pedagogies. We can hereby affirm how our individual teaching praxes are enriched by both our varied and unique individual experiences and perspectives, as well as by our collective community and the conversations and efforts that emerge from it.


Reflection on the issues raised by critical pedagogy debates is especially important at this historical moment, given how social and ideological divisions in the United States have become increasingly apparent in public and political discourse, particularly since the beginning of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign and election. Now more than ever we need open, respectful dialogue, conversations through which people listen and in which everyone’s human dignity and worth is respected and affirmed. As I was writing this article, one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in U.S. history was coming to a close. Tensions and injustices that have been present in the United States for centuries now seem much harder to ignore. The hurts and divisions in the United States that have become painfully apparent this presidential election cycle are also increasingly palpable in many classrooms and on many campuses, including mine.

It is often easy for me to feel paralyzed by the current political climate, and I know I am not alone in that experience. At the same time I see a growing number of efforts being made within and beyond higher education to foster more open dialogue, listening, and reflection. Such processes are vital to cultivating deep learning, cultural sensitivity, and civic engagement. Debates about critical pedagogy can help us explore how critical teaching can encourage true dialogue. Relatedly, considering these debates may help us prevent the potential for students to experience critical teaching as indoctrination, intimidation, or silencing, all of which might become unintended catalysts for reactionary and oppressive ideologies.

While I have not suggested easy answers to the many questions that critical pedagogy discourse raises about teaching, I do wish to affirm the value of critical pedagogy’s emphasis on reflection and dialogue, which is especially crucial to encouraging the deep listening and thinking that is especially needed in our country now. The questions raised through critical pedagogy debates have no simple answers; instead they invite us to approach our teaching as a process of open inquiry. Hopefully we will continue such exploration as long as we are librarians, teachers, and world citizens. I believe we can do a great deal of meaningful and needed work, as individuals and as community members, and within and beyond our local institutions. For me engaging in that work means pushing past my sense of paralysis. It means remaining hopeful.

My warm thanks to the reviewers of this article, Patrick Williams (Librarian for Literature, Rhetoric, and Digital Humanities Research and Scholarship at Syracuse University) and Sofia Leung and Bethany Messersmith of the ITLWTLP Editorial Board. Their thoughtful feedback has helped to make this piece more inclusive, coherent, and relevant to both the immediate and future historical moments. Thank you also to the entire ITLWTLP Board for the interest and energy they gave to considering and publishing this article.


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Wallace, David L., and Helen Rothschild Ewald. 2000. Mutuality in the Rhetoric and Composition Classroom. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Walton, Douglas. 2001. “Persuasive Definitions and Public Policy Arguments.” Argumentation and Advocacy 37 (3): 117.

Yagelski, Robert P. 1999. “The Ambivalence of Reflection: Critical Pedagogies, Identity, and the Writing Teacher.” College Composition and Communication 51 (1): 32–50.

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  1. Elmborg (2012) acknowledges the difficulty of defining terms like “information literacy” and suggests that it might be viewed “as a complicated set of interwoven practices” and as something that “exists in relationships between people and information rather than as an identifiable thing in its own right” (77). Tewell (2015), reviewing the library literature on critical information literacy over the past decade, gives particular attention to limitations of mechanical and skills-based conceptions of information literacy. He similarly advocates for alternative ways of understanding information literacy as contextual and socially situated. Many of the themes explored in Elmborg’s and Tewell’s articles–namely Elmborg’s emphasis on literacy education and Elmborg and Tewell’s challenge to procedural approaches to information literacy–are evident in composition and rhetoric discussions on writing pedagogy in general and on critical pedagogy in particular.
  2. In the “banking” model of education that Paulo Freire describes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the teacher “deposits” knowledge into students’ brains. Within this “banking” model the teacher is considered the all-knowing authority and purveyor of truth.
  3. The Frankfurt School’s philosophers and theorists held the view that human liberation and social change are possible through a process of enlightenment that involves identifying and questioning dominant and oppressive ideologies that function to uphold the status quo while marginalizing those who present a challenge to it. According to this critical social theory, it is largely through uncovering hegemonic conditions and structures commonly perceived of as “natural” that social change and liberation become possible.
  4. See, for example, Smith (1997), Durst (1999), Tinberg (2001), and Beech (2004).
  5. The potential for a polarized classroom environment that Gorzelsky describes seems to parallel much of what is occurring in the broader political discourse in the U.S. right now, as many whose economic hardships have been largely ignored and who have felt marginalized by the political establishment have responded affirmatively to divisive and often hateful rhetoric toward that which is perceived as “Other.”
  6. I would add to Gorzelsky’s points that establishing class ground rules is an important part of cultivating such learning environments: all participants will likely benefit from committing to treating one another with respect and dignity and knowing that others are expected to do the same. A useful resource on establishing ground rules and engaging in difficult classroom discussions is the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching’s “Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics.”
  7. The fact that our professional community is still predominantly white, female, and middle class suggests that this process of identifying and challenging hidden assumptions may be especially valuable, as our profession works to be more inclusive.

OCLC Dev Network: Using CONTENTdm’s APIs to Customize Your Site and Access Your Data

Wed, 2016-12-07 14:00

Using CONTENTdm's API suite, developers can unlock the full potential of their metadata and images.

Open Knowledge Foundation: How to ‘unlock’ the value of fiscal data for civil society: experiences from the OpenSpending community

Wed, 2016-12-07 10:30

OpenSpending is one of Open Knowledge International’s current projects. It is a free and open platform for citizens looking to track and analyse public fiscal information globally.

Over the years, we have learned about numerous examples of fiscal data uses from the OpenSpending community. Also, we learned that obtaining fiscal data can be the most difficult part in making data available to the public. We reached out to the community and collected a few examples on “unlocking” fiscal data.

Dónde van mis impuestos (Where are my taxes), Spain

This microsite is the work of Civio, a Spanish non-profit organisation that develops tools to unlock the civic value of data and thus promote transparency. Their project “Donde van mis impuestos” allows citizens to track how their tax money is being spent. First, the Civio team downloaded the information in HTML from the Treasury’s website. Data was separated in thousands of small files, breaking down the budget across a number of different dimensions. To finalize the data mining, the team parsed, consolidated and cleaned the raw data.

After launching the website, Civio received requests from regional and local public administrations in Spain. Now, the project is collaborating with about 15 local public administrations all across Spain to develop custom versions of the site for them. At this stage, the authorities provide the data in Excel format, whereas previously this data was only available in PDF format.

The team is using the website as leverage to convince authorities to release the data in open formats, also ensuring access to execution data every month or quarter, even lists of payments to third parties. Most recently, they created a website for Barcelona and the region of Baleares, and are now working on a website for Madrid., Centre for Public Administration Research and OK Austria

The Austrian open spending portal holds spending and budget data of all Austrian municipalities. The spending data from all 2100 municipalities in Austria was acquired from the National Bureau of Statistics in Austria. Due to legal reasons, the team is only allowed to publish the data of those municipalities who agree. Therefore, the team has sent login details to all mayors. More than 910 municipalities have – with two simple clicks – made this data available on the platform. The platform is free of charge for the municipalities.

70% of the Austrian population live in a municipality that is part of OpenSpending Austria, Approximately 85% of the municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants use the platform.

See more at

Examples from a few other countries

Sinar Project, Malaysia:

  • Filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request
  • Went into meetings with authorities to make the case for open fiscal data

Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society, Macedonia:

  • Partnered with other civil society organizations in the country which work closely with the municipalities. These organizations were willing to share the data that they had already collected
  • Scraped the data from the website of the Ministry of Finance

AfroLeadership, Cameroon:

  • Organized information workshops to present the necessity of involving citizens in the budget cycle to diverse stakeholders (Mayors, Supreme Audit Institutions, Civil Society Organizations, Journalists, etc.)

Open Burkina

  • Scraped the PDF file from the Ministry of Finance website;
  • Discussed with the Direction of the budget and the Direction of public procurement to have extracts from the database

Open Knowledge Brazil:

  • Signed letters of commitment with the authorities to have access to fiscal data

What is your experience? Please share your example of “unlocking” fiscal data here:

To browse existing datasets and to upload your data, visit OpenSpending. For questions, OpenSpending team is available via OpenSpending discussion forum, on in the OpenSpending chat room, or on the OpenSpending issue tracker.

M. Ryan Hess: Luddites, Trumpism and Change: A crossroads for libraries

Tue, 2016-12-06 23:24

“Globalization is a proxy for technology-powered capitalism, which tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society.”
– Om Malik

Corner someone and they will react. We may be seeing this across the world as change, globalization, technology and economic dislocation force more and more people into the corner of benefit-nots. They are reacting out of desperation. It’s not rational. It’s not pretty. But it shouldn’t be surprising.

Years ago at a library conference, one of the keynote speakers forecast that there would be a return to the analog (sorry my Twitter-based memory does not identify the person). The rapidity of digitization would be met by a reaction. People would scurry back to the familiar, he said. They always do.

Fast forward to 2016, where the decades-long trends toward globalization, borderless labor markets, denationalization, exponential technological change and corresponding social revolutions has hit the wall of public reaction. Brexit. Global Trumpism. Call it what you will. We’re in a change moment. The reaction is here.

Reacting to the Reaction

People in the Blue Zones, the Technorati, the beneficiaries of cheap foreign labor, free trade and technological innovation are scratching their heads. For all their algorithms and AI, they didn’t see this coming. Everything looked good on their feeds. No danger could possibly burst their self-assured bubble of inevitability. All was quiet. It was like a clear blue, September 2001, morning in New York City. It was like the boardroom in the Federal Reserve in 2006. The serenity was over in an instant.

Since Brexit, and then Trump’s election, the Glittery Digitarians have initiated a period of introspection. They’re looking up from their stock tickers and gold-plated smart watches to find a grim reality: the world is crowded with people that have lost much ground at the expense of the global maelstrom that has elevated a very small, lucky few to greatness. They are now seeing, as for the first time, the shuttered towns. The empty retail stores. The displaced and homeless.

Suddenly their confident talk of personal AI assistants has turned from technolust to terror. Their success suddenly looks short-sighted.

Om Malik wrote in his recent New Yorker op-ed, that Silicon Valley may soon find itself equated with the super villains on Wall Street. He posits that a new business model needs to account for the public good…or else.

I recently read Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity by Douglas Rushkoff. If you haven’t read it, now would be a good time. Like Bernie Sanders and others, Rushkoff has been warning of this kind of reaction for awhile. The system is not designed for the public good, but only around a narrow set of shareholder requirements. All other considerations do not compute.

My Reaction

Let me put this in personal perspective.

In my work, I engage the public in “the heart of Silicon Valley” on what they want from their community and what’s missing. What I hear is concern about the loss of quiet, of connection to others, of a pace of life that is not 24/7 always a click away. This is consistent. People feel overwhelmed.

As one of the chief technologists for my library, this puts me in a strange place. And I’ve been grappling with it for the past few months.

On the one hand, people are curious. They’re happy to try the next big thing. But you also hear the frustration.

Meanwhile, the burden of the Tech Industry is more than inflated rents and traffic. There’s a very obvious divide between long-time residents and newcomers. There’s a sense that something has been lost. There’s anger too, even here in the shadow of Google and Facebook.

The Library as a Philosophy

The other day, I was visited by a Eurpean Library Director who wanted to talk about VR. He asked me where I thought we’d be in ten years.

I hesitated. My thoughts immediately went back to the words of despair that I’d been hearing from the public lately.

Of course, the genie’s out of the bottle. We can’t stop the digital era. VR interface revolutions will likely emerge. The robots will come.

But we can harness this change to our benefit. We can add rules to heal it to our collective needs.

This is where the Library comes in. We have a sharing culture. A model that values bridging divides, pooling resources and re-distributing knowledge. It’s a model that is practically unique to the library if you think about it.

As I read Rushkoff, I kept coming back to the Librarian’s philosophy on sharing. In his book, he contends that we need to re-imagine (re-code) our economy to work for people. He recalls technologies like HTTP and RSS which were invented and then given away to the world to share and re-use. This sounded very ‘librarian’ to me.

We share knowledge in the form of access to technology, after all. We host training on new maker gear, coding, robotics, virtual reality.

Perhaps we need to double-down on this philosophy. Perhaps, we can be more than just a bridge. Maybe we can be the engine driving our communities to the other side. We can not just advocate, but do. Have a hackathon? Build a public alternative to the Airbnb app to be used by people in your town.

Know the Future

In the end, libraires, technologists and digitarians need to tell a better story. We need to get outside our bubbles and tell it with words that resonate with the benefit-nots. And more, we need that story to be backed up with real-world benefits.

It starts with asking the community what kind of world they want to live it? What obstacles keep them from living that way? And then how the library and technology can help make change.

We have the philosophy, we have the spaces and we have public permission. Let’s get to work.

District Dispatch: Getting #ReadytoCode during #CSEdWeek

Tue, 2016-12-06 22:08

Throughout CS Education Week we are talking about the Libraries Ready to Code project to share some of the themes and recommendations that emerged over the course of the past year’s work. Some of the issues librarians we interviewed raised repeatedly relate to getting started in coding activities for youth.

Yesterday, Ready to Code advisory committee member, Crystle Martin wrote about three ways for “novice librarian coders” to implement coding activities in their libraries:

  • Work with older teens with coding skills to facilitate programs
  • Use existing programs like those offered by the Coding for All project
  • Learn along with youth and design coding activities as co-learning experiences.

Today we are cross-posting an interview with #ReadytoCode researcher and YALSA CS consultant, Linda Braun, and Alyssa Newton, Assistant Director and Teen Librarian at the Onondaga Free Library in Syracuse New York that originally appeared as a YALSA Snack Break in October 2016. Alyssa’s advice for getting started? “Definitely be flexible! Try different things. Get support from your administrator for finding time to develop your programs and seek out professional development opportunities.” She has a number of other recommendations for building a strong coding program for and with youth. In the 16-minute video you’ll hear how Alyssa is partnering with a local middle school, community members and area businesses to guarantee youth learn coding and computer science literacy as well as why and how she sets goals for her programs. Other topics covered in the video include the importance of focusing on teen passions and interests and being ready to learn alongside teens for successful coding activities that go beyond coding and bring out computational thinking skills – which are the real end game for libraries.

Upcoming events
On Thursday, December 8 from 3:00-4:00 Eastern time, members of the #ReadytoCode advisory committee will hold a Tweet Chat, where the floor is open to share your own experiences and engage in conversation with other library staff providing youth coding activities

Join the conversation throughout the week @youthandtech #ReadytoCode #CSForAll and #csedweek.

In case you missed the previous #ReadytoCode posts check them out:

The post Getting #ReadytoCode during #CSEdWeek appeared first on District Dispatch.

District Dispatch: ALA joins new network advocating for technology rights and opportunity

Tue, 2016-12-06 21:09

Today the American Library Association (ALA) announced its participation with a new coalition calling for greater rights and opportunity for all in national technology and media policymaking. The ALA joined 16 other organizations in signing onto “Technology Rights and Opportunity” principles advocating for policies that ensure freedom of speech and equality of opportunity for all, while expanding the ability of the internet to drive economic opportunity and education.

Photo credit: MIT News

“As an association representing libraries, librarians, library professionals and stakeholders, ALA is proud to be part of a large coalition advocating for technology rights and opportunity,” said ALA President Julie Todaro. “Libraries serve all constituents, including people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“Anyone with a library card in any community in America has access to computers at their library and can get free training to learn how to use them, enabling everyone to access and use the vast amount of information and research available. Nearly every library in the country offers everyone a secure internet connection. This equitable access to technology and training means more equitable access to opportunities – economic and otherwise – for everyone in America.”

An estimated 33 million U.S. households do not use the internet at home, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, and nearly twice that number have low levels of digital readiness. The results also indicated that low-income families, rural residents, African Americans, Latinos and people with disabilities are disproportionately disenfranchised by digital opportunity gaps.

“Libraries are well-positioned to work with everyone in learning about new technologies and how they can be harnessed for improving daily life,” said Todaro. “Decision makers at local, state and federal levels, government agencies and other public and private entities should look to libraries to get our country up to speed technologically in a way that preserves all our civil rights.”

The affiliation with the new working group is one of ALA’s many collaborations with partners in pursuit
of a society with opportunity and fairness for all. As part of this work, ALA recently launched a new series of briefs on national issues in which libraries could be instrumental in making progress. The first three were launched in November:

Additional briefs will be forthcoming in December and January.

The post ALA joins new network advocating for technology rights and opportunity appeared first on District Dispatch.

LITA: LITA Conference Buddy Program

Tue, 2016-12-06 19:45

Apply now for the LITA Conference Buddy Program for the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting

LITA is excited to announce a new program designed to make conference attendance more approachable, foster inclusion, and build connections. Inspired by the GLBTRT Buddy Program, we hope that this program will help us to foster stronger relationships among LITA members who attend conferences and also make attendance more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone who participates. We will be offering this program for the first time at Midwinter 2017.

For more information or to apply, see the Conference Buddy website:

The deadline to apply will be January 1, 2017.

If you have any questions about the program, please contact the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at:

DPLA: Call for DPLAfest 2017 Session Proposals Now Open

Tue, 2016-12-06 16:00

DPLA is seeking session proposals for DPLAfest 2017, an annual conference that brings together librarians, archivists, and museum professionals, developers and technologists, publishers and authors, educators, and many others to celebrate DPLA and its community of creative professionals.

Proposals should be related to digital libraries, broadly defined. This year, we are particularly interested in proposals at the intersection of digital libraries and:

  • Social justice
  • Copyright and rights management
  • Public engagement
  • Analytics, assessment, and impact
  • Metadata/data quality
  • Collaboration across types of institutions and sectors
  • Training, professional development, and technical literacy
  • Open educational resources
  • Open access content, including use and reuse
  • Technical infrastructure of interoperability including
    • International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) integration
    • ResourceSync
    • Linked Open Data
    • Repository systems
    • Aggregation technologies
    • Search and discovery

We also encourage proposals that highlight digital library work being done in and/or focusing on our host city – Chicago!

The deadline to submit a session proposal is Tuesday, January 17, 2017

View full Call for Proposals and Submission Form

Open Knowledge Foundation: Making sense of government spending: Open Knowledge Finland use OpenSpending to collaborate with Finnish Government

Tue, 2016-12-06 11:05
Tampere, Finland (public domain)

This piece is written by Jaakko Korhonen and Joonas Pesonen of Open Knowledge Finland

At the end of October a team using OpenSpending tools held a pitch for high-ranking Finnish Government officials in “Hack the Budget 2016,” a competition organised by Open Knowledge Finland (OKFFI) and the Finnish Ministry of Finance.

For the hack, the competition team used OpenSpending to create visualizations with fiscal data from the Ministry of Finance’s website. Our goal was to harmonise Finnish Government expenditure data from 2002-2015 into a Fiscal Data Package, an internationally comparable format. We were proposing that combined datasets enable exploration of alternative costs from budget data for citizens, NGOs, businesses, party-political organisations and public officials.

See the whole dataset here:

Our proposal to use OpenSpending to present government fiscal data was selected as the winner of the hack. We are going to work with the government in the near future to implement OpenSpending in Finland. Also, we plan to train a number of users to create fiscal packages and publish them.

These are some of the recommendations we formulated for the Government of Finland:
  • Harmonised data model. Publishing data in a nationally harmonised data model would enable calculating the alternate cost and project impact analysis already when planning projects. Technology is now available.
  • Compatible model for publishing data packages enables pursuing real-time budgetary situational awareness.
  • Data package model can be taken into use with marginal cost in municipalities, government offices and in NGOs, enabling leadership of funded operations with information, and more transparent funding decisions.
  • Frictionless Data is better than Excel because different applications can be run on top of it very flexibly. A short staff training suffices.

The prize for winning the hack was qualifying for Ultrahack, where the team will continue to develop on the idea and make use of OpenSpending tools. We have initiated discussions with the Ministry of Finance in Finland and are also scheduled to present the work to the Minister of Finance in Finland.

Tara Robertson: liberating our yearly planning meeting

Mon, 2016-12-05 23:59

I’m a huge fan of Liberating Structures. Despite the name being a little hokey they are great facilitation techniques that are designed democratize participation and come up with different, new and better ideas.

I’ve been dabbling in using these in regular weekly meetings, in community meetups, in facilitating panels and to make a conference talk more engaging (and avoid doing a Q&A session). Our work team has a yearly planning meeting and I wanted to try using Liberating Structures to structure our planning. Most of my team are on the more introverted side of things, and I wasn’t sure if these would work. I’m new to stringing together Liberating Structures and wasn’t sure the meeting would flow well.

The meeting ran extremely well and I credit the activities and our team being willing to try something new. It was really satisfying for me to bring something useful to my team, as my skills are pretty different than those of most of the people I work with. My coworker also had the great idea to get out of the office and meet somewhere new. Thank you to the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre for letting us use one of their meeting rooms.

Agenda (3 hour meeting) 1. What was your biggest accomplishment at work this past year?

1-2-All (10 minutes)

“let your time together be generous” was the takeaway for me from @sambradd’s book launch

A photo posted by Tara Robertson (@tara.robertson) on Oct 29, 2016 at 5:10pm PDT

Something that Stina Brown said during the Vancouver book launch for Drawn Together Through Visual Practice, an amazing book on graphic facilitation was “let your time together be generous”. Stina said that when she works with groups she values generosity and builds this in to her facilitation so that people might make new connections and develop new relationships. I was thinking about this for our team and I wanted to make space for my teammates to reflect on work they were proud of and ensure there was time to share that. I realized after that this was also a litmus test of trust levels on our team.

2. What have we accomplished in the last year?

Every year we are surprised at how much we’ve accomplished in the previous year. We individually brainstormed ideas on to sticky notes. We then shared them and grouped them into common topics. This bit took about 20 minutes.

Then we mapped them to the Ecocycle planning chart and talked about what we needed to let go of and what we needed to nurture. The themes were of different levels of granularity and we split some of our client relationships into needing growth and those that are at a mature stage. This took about 30 minutes.

4. What must we stop doing to make progress on our deepest purpose?

TRIZ (35 minutes)

I asked people to brainstorm ways that we can make things more difficult for the students that we serve, including things that are completely over the top. Some of the ideas that people came up with were pretty funny, like only being open 2 hours a day like many embassy passport offices. Then I asked them to think if anything we’re currently doing resembles anything on this list. We were all a little surprised to uncover some of these links.

TRIZ was a good way to step outside how we normally look at things and get a fresh perspective on what we’re doing. As the facilitator I was most unsure about this exercise and it was probably the one that worked the best.

5. What is your 15 percent? Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority?

15% solutions  (20 minutes)

As the department coordinator (and holder of the work credit card) I have a lot of freedom to try new things. I have a great working relationship with my director and she gives me a lot of freedom and independence, which I value a lot. This is one of the things that makes me happiest about my current job.

Everyone I work with is really smart but I want to foster a work culture where people feel empowered to try new things, take risks and fail safely. I thought this would be a useful way to wrap up our planning meeting.

Liberating Structures 2 day workshop

I’m super excited to be part of the facilitation team for BCcampus’ two day Liberating Structures workshop in February 2017. I’m already learning lots from the rest of the team and I hope to learn more about stringing together individual activities so they flow well for a workshop or planning meeting. I’m also excited to meet Nancy White, who is leading this workshop. It’s going to be really useful and a lot of fun–I hope you’ll join us!