Monday, April 29, 2013

ACRL 2013 Conference Notes: Panel on Questioning Authority

ACRL Panel Session
Topic: Questioning Authority: Standard Three and the Critical Classroom
Date: Thursday, April, 11, 2013 at 8:00am

To be perfectly honest, this was not quite as described on the program. I thought it would be more about "teaching students to meet the objectives and outcomes of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards while questioning authority, challenging homogeneous norms, and examining ingrained bias. . . ." (from the program description). Instead, it was heavy focus on LOC classification and practically nothing on teaching (the one thing on teaching language to students was useful, but by the time it came up, too little, too late). It sounded exciting from the program, but it definitely did not deliver as promised. If I had been sitting near the door, I would have left and try to catch something else. In addition, the fact that they assumed everyone in the session had an online device (an assumption I find privileged and elitist to say the least), so they could follow along to some websites was not helpful. For one, the connection was not working up to speed, and the presentation literally ground to a halt. Instead of trying a "plan B" or simply at least telling us what they hoped to accomplished, they consumed time just hoping the sites would load. At any rate, here are my notes, sketchy as they turned out (any comments, as usual, are in parenthesis).

  • Starting with a discussion of authority critiques; basically, the way things work now. (This took my back a bit to my days studying theory in graduate school). 
    • Western-centrism
    • A "Procrustean bed." 
    • Imagine knowledge production as procedural and politically neutral.
    • Reinforce socioeconomic hierarchies.
    • Foreclose interrogation of the meaning of information and literacy. 
  • The illusion of authority. Our place in the classroom, where we also need to honor the knowledge the students bring in. (This reminded me of the work of Paulo Freire, some of which they are probably drawing upon. If interested, I have reviewed a couple of his books here and here. In addition, while I was finding those booknotes, I came across this presentation I listened to at JCLC a few years back that seems relevant and may go along with this).
  • Turn on its head the notion of Wikipedia as lacking authority (ok, I am willing to entertain this, up to a point). They do have an education program (which is nice, but I don't think it automatically washes all of Wikipedia's other sins away. Still, worth a look. I do like the idea of putting students in as information creators, but this is still Wikipedia).
  • On empowering non-catalogers to improve catalog access points.
    • Why? Who nominates headings for the catalog? Who approves them? What's the big deal? Selections, assignments. 
    • Example subject of "police brutality" versus "police community relations." Some may apply spin when it comes to selecting which subject heading to use. 
    • Example of using the term "victim" versus "survivor" for rape, molestation, etc. 
    • An idea to suggest subject headings, look them up in LC Linked Data Service (this is something I need to play with a bit more). The idea is to show students how the record works, and the page can be a teaching tool. This is the useful part: you can use it to teach students about language (While I am not sure how I could integrate this into a lesson yet, I can see the potential for it. As I said, I need to explore it a bit more first, but I think my other instruction librarian here would be interested in this too).
  • There are always opportunities to discuss and explore bias. Does not mean positive or negative, but bias is there. 
    • Smash the academy (this from a group of academics. Nice, but a bit ironic, as they pointed out. Anyhow, sounds like a nice slogan for a button and food for thought).
    • Idea: could pick a Wikipedia article and take it apart. Question how the information is presented and constructed, question and point out biases. 
  • Things to check out
    • @barnlib (Barnard Library's Twitter account. I have added it to my Twitter list to follow).
    • The Barnard Zine Library at
    • Presentation slides from the talk at  (Notice that their title is different than the title on the ACRL program? Their decision? Editorial decision? Either way, as I said before, the program description did not seem to really match the actual topic). 

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