Information Literacy and Social Justice at LMU

students at whiteboard
Students examine the biases of their news sources

One of the primary objectives of academic librarians is to help students understand the complexities of the information ecosystem: its underlying structures, how it can be navigated, and how it can be used for specific purposes. We often refer to this as “information literacy.” At the William H. Hannon Library, when we teach students how to search for information, we additionally ask them to consider the voices who are present in information sources and to identify whose voices are missing. This in part has come to be known as critical information literacy. “Critical information literacy differs from standard definitions of information literacy (ex: the ability to find, use, and analyze information) in that it takes into consideration the social, political, economic, and corporate systems that have power and influence over information production, dissemination, access, and consumption.” (Gregory and Higgins, 2013)

Recently, we sat down with Elisa Acosta, Library Instruction Coordinator for the William H. Hannon Library, to talk about critical information literacy and the promotion of social justice in the classroom.

Tell me about how LMU library is promoting social justice in the classroom?

It originally started with Rhetorical Arts and the Jesuit rhetorical traditions. Students have to pick a topic that confronts an ethical question or social justice issue. We discovered that students needed help understanding and articulating what is considered a social justice issue. So we revised our standard research exploration worksheet to help tease out the social justice aspects of their topic: what groups are affected, what voices are missing, etc.

Why are librarians leading the charge?

Last year, with LMU’s Inauguration Day Teach-In and the prevalence of discussions around “fake news,” we saw a renewed interest among students in how information is created and what social/political/economic forces are at play in how information is produced, disseminated, and accessed. Fake news is not new, even though it has a convenient hashtag now. Being information literate is not just about finding a scholarly article. These skills have real-world implications.

students in the classroom
Elisa Acosta and Aisha Conner-Gaten talk with students about information bias during LMU’s Inauguration Day Teach-In

What are some of the classes you are working with? 

In addition to the Rhetorical Arts courses, we’re working with Women and Gender Studies to examine Wikipedia. Before, I didn’t know much about the “average wikipedian” but when I started connecting it to Women and Gender Studies coursework, I realized how many voices (non-white, non-male) are missing from Wikipedia. We take Wikipedia for granted so asking students to directly engage with it offers us the opportunity to question the ways in which information is constructed and contextualized. When students see how these questions have immediate implications for their life, you give them an AHA moment! It makes library instruction more relevant and it connects directly to the mission of our organization.

What are other AJCU/Catholic libraries doing?

We are part of the California Catholic Colleges for Information Literacy Task Force that includes University of San Diego, Saint Mary’s College, University of San Francisco, and Holy Names University, the goal of which is to develop, design, and implement a collaborative information literacy project. When we first came together, we looked at our common Catholic and Jesuit missions and decided to develop information literacy lesson plans centered around a social justice framework and share that with other institutions through CORA.

You presented on this topic at a recent academic conference. Could you tell me about where you presented and what the response was?

We presented at the Association of College and Research Libraries Annual Conference to as many as 200 other academic librarians and educators. I think many in the audience were unaware of the strong tradition of social justice thought and advocacy in many Catholic institutions and so were surprised to see this come out of our group. You can find some of the lesson plans we created on CORA using the “CA Catholic IL Project” and “social justice” tags.

What future plans do you have to continue promoting social justice in the library classroom?

We’re thinking about mapping information literacy to the Catholic social teachings. The Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education has already been mapped to social justice objectives by Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins (University of Redlands). We are continuing to explore what social justice means and how it affects what we do in the classroom. We’re creating lesson plans that incorporate social justice perspectives, adapting to current events, examining how algorithms affect information access, and planning future work with Wikipedia.

Thank you, Elisa, for sharing your current work with us. What do you think? What types of workshops would you like to see the library host? Are you interested in co-sponsoring a workshop with the library? Contact Elisa if you have any ideas for future workshops or critical information literacy-focused programs.