To consider and articulate my teaching philosophy, I look to a few foundational elements of my teacher identity– my trajectory towards librarianship, my pedagogical influences, my commitment to information literacies and the exploration of information landscapes.
Essential to my teacher identity is my attendant identity as a librarian. Yet, this identity does not match the quintessential image of a librarian — one surrounded by books in a venerable and noble building. Instead, I believe my gravitation to librarianship was truly a pull towards learning and expression. Upon my first reading of the Library Bill of Rights (a document which attempts to outline the profession’s values) certain actions and ideals resonated with me. Firstly, the document describes libraries as forums for information and ideas, which called to my mind experiences of learning, not those bounded by a classroom, but, rather those that emerge in experiences through interactions with others (people- words- images- signals). Secondly, the document advocates inclusiveness of all materials and people irrespective of origin, age, background or viewpoint. Instead of restriction or denial, the library is imagined as a place that cultivates access and expression.
In living a librarian-identity, I have encountered many contradictions to the very ideals, which first compelled me. Many aspects of librarianship are anchored in relationships of power and access. Ossified norms as well as constraining structures limit the interrogation of these relationships, which, in turn, threatens the open exchange articulated in the Library Bill of Rights. Yet, the sentiments remain foundational to understanding my teaching-librarian identity.
I began teaching, as I imagine many do, by emulating the teaching practices of those who taught me, who influenced and impressed me. As I grew into my place in the classroom, I also grew uncomfortable with many of these inherited practices. Then I began reading critical pedagogues, including Paulo Freire, Peter McClaren and Henry Giroux among others. I came to understand teaching and learning as politically contested acts– I came to see education in relation to other social and cultural dynamics. Reading these theorist helped me to reconcile the tensions between my values and practices and established an enlivened commitment to continually scrutinize my teaching.
I found so much resonance between critical pedagogy and my notions of librarianship. Freire believed that a critical consciousness would empower individuals– that with a critical frame students would come to understand that nothing is beyond scrutiny or examination, that, in fact, knowledge is socially constructed. He was committed to helping students generate their own knowledge through inquiry and examination– instead of imposing or depositing established ‘truths’. I could not help but think of the principles of access and expression captured in the Library Bill of Rights. Both value sets promote social justice and the cultivation of intellect.
Furthermore, the student role, as described by critical pedagogy, is far more active and central to educational episodes. Principles of critical pedagogy hold that learning should be shaped by authentic problems and experiences of students, thereby making learning meaningful. Through dialog, teachers may facilitate students’ inquiry as they develop their identities and create new understanding. These principles extinguish the notion of the teacher as gatekeeper and instead position the teacher as co-investigator and facilitator.
Any emancipatory curriculum must emphasize student experience, which is intimately related to identity creation…knowledge must be made meaningful before it can be made critical.
Through dialogue, reflecting together on what we know and don’t know, we can then act critically to transform reality.(F Liber 99)
Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, incomplete beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.” 84
My formal exposure to IL began with the ACRL (2000) Higher Education Competency Standards for Information Literacy, but my understanding of IL quickly departed from the ACRL guiding document. I came to see IL not as a nominal literacy but rather as a complex of attitudes, values, habits and skills that an individual cultivates throughout a lifetime. I began to resist IL definitions that simplify human information practices and portray IL as a functional skill-set generalizable across contexts.
Instead, I prefer to frame information literacies as a way of knowing how information and knowledge are socially produced and influenced within a specific context, between people and through specific tools. Each context– its unique community– will assign specific values to information, will dictate how information is created and disseminated, and will privilege modalities and norms of discourse. The concept of information literacies, with which I align, encourages learners – to scrutinize information landscapes, or contexts – to accept, elide, change or reject codified norms – to recognize how landscapes both define and reflect social and cultural values of ownership, access, legitimacy, authority and control.
I imagine an active and purposeful individual negotiating and shaping information landscapes in which she visits or resides. The individual not only scrutinizes, but also explores, plays, internalizes and contributes to these landscapes– in doing so, she connects with and measures the meaningfulness of information to her identity, her inquiry and her knowing. This is the enactment of information literacies as I conceive of them. In other words, information literacies, in essence, are “a way of knowing the many environments that constitute an individual’s being in the world “ Lloyd 2007.</p<
I embrace the complexity of the information landscapes in which we live today— where modes of information exchange and knowledge sharing are in constant flux. With the evolution of new modalities and genres, there has been a meshing of formal and informal communicative acts, which, in my mind, make transparent, previously obscured, processes. The acts of thinking, reading, and writing no longer need be solitary actions- in thinking, one may share questions and reflections through social media among peers, colleagues or strangers — in reading, one may curate and compile works of interest, be they research publications, links, images, sound bites or memes — in writing, one may elicit comment and revision from others through pre-publication and collaborative writing platforms. And naturally, thinking-reading-writing are not consecutive acts but deeply entwined components in the process of meaning making and knowledge building– all made more open and transparent in modern contexts.
The openness of new information landscapes is restructuring notions of audience, reader, writer, viewer, curator, consumer, producer. Lower barriers, to access and agency, enable many of us to choose participation in broader contexts and in our own processes of learning and knowledge building. While openness brings to mind inclusiveness and opportunity, I do not blindly accept these are guarantees. Instead, I welcome the conversation around evolving notions of authority, rigor, and credibility, because in these conversations we invite scrutiny of information landscapes — very much in the spirit of critical pedagogy and my understanding of information literacies– we ask:
- What information is made significant?
- How, through what streams and in what mode, is information shared?
- How does this mediate understanding and exchange?
- What voices are included or excluded?
- What relationships of power guide this context?
- What situational characteristics define this context?
- What counts as knowledge (and by what measure)?
- How is knowledge co-constructed?
As a teaching librarian, I hope to design dialogic learning experiences where students and I, as co-investigators, continually scrutinize information landscapes. Through this scrutiny, I hope that we can critically approach inquiry and expression thereby actively engage in our worlds.
Literacy does not only transform individuals but is also the condition for individuals’ power to transform society. Limberg et al. 2013, 98