First, Jonathan Cope in Critical library instruction: theories & methods, argues that LIS scholarship does not actively question or acknowledge the role of social structures and social power in information literacy research. After surveying published articles in the field of information literacy he uncovered little acknowledgement of social structures and even less interrogation of power roles in the classroom. One step to fostering instruction that supports the aims of social justice is to look at the power roles in a given classroom and consider how they can be mediated. Bryan Kopp writes that librarians alone cannot accomplish all the tasks of social justice. Yet, one way to participate in this work is to remember that we work within larger institutions with broad educational goals. We are one step in a path towards critical consciousness. Kopp suggests that liaison activities with other instructors and administrations should include discussions on the definition of critical consciousness and what are students will look like as critical scholars.
Those are two ways librarians can support social justice, but how are librarians currently participating in the empowering effects of critical information literacy? Feminist pedagogy is used by Sharon Ladenson in her library instruction sessions to explicitly address the idea that how we understand and experience the world is rooted in our social position; this includes various elements of our identity including race, gender, and sexuality. She writes in Critical library instruction: theories & methods, that active learning techniques such as collaborative learning and inquiry guided learning support these goals. In a library class focused on American women and biography Ladenson guides student learning using these techniques and finds that students are encouraged to take ownership of the research process as a result.
On the other hand, perhaps the very concept of social justice needs to be interrogated more thoroughly, even by us librarians before we jump on the bandwagon. It’s great to foster democracy and critical citizens but as critics have pointed out how is social justice any different than plain old justice? F. Hayek took the critique a step further and explains that the way the concept of social justice is bandied about harms individual liberty as he lays out in The Mirage of Social Justice, “I am certain nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after the mirage of social justice.” Personally, I am inclined to philosophically side with Hayek, yet, the concept of social justice used by librarians often refers to respecting the autonomy of the student as described by Freire. I am a strong supporter of this teaching theory and practice, just less of a fan of the terminology. I don’t think Freire will mind me engaging in a little critical reflection.