thing 21: Social Justice



The articles linked in this “thing” both explore opportunities within the Framework to integrate social justice into information literacy instruction and offer critiques about how successfully these intersections have been articulated and emphasized. After reading one or more of the articles above, we invite you to continue the conversation by posting your own thread or responding to another person’s thoughts in the comments field. Here are a few questions to start your thinking on this topic, but feel free to start a conversation around any social justice topic that resonates with you.

  1. The authors of “Seeking Social Justice in the ACRL Framework” argue that the Framework lacks “explicit articulation of the ways in which social justice issues intersect with information literacy education” (Battista et al., 114). What do you think? In what ways does the Framework offer opportunities to infuse social justice into information literacy instruction? In what ways does it fall short?
  2. In early drafts of the Framework, the taskforce considered including a frame tentatively titled, “Information is a Human Right” but later decided that “social justice components were better served as pieces of other frames” (Battista et al., 114). What do you think? Should “Information is a Human Right” have been included in the final draft of the Framework? Are there other “social justice” frames that should be added?
  3. How can the Framework be used to build critical consciousness & encourage civic engagement in students? How might you use the Framework as it exists or modify it to empower learners?
  4. In what ways does the Framework encourage resistance to information inequities? In what ways does it teach conformity and/or enforce hegemonic knowledge? How does one help students understand and make the best use of existing systems of knowledge while at the same time prompt them to question the validity and structure of those systems?


  1. I think that to what extent the framework supports the discussion of social justice issues depends in large part on the values of the individual librarian (and/or library) and how they interpret and apply the frames. The frames about authority and context and value of information in particular certainly offer the chance to explore significant social justice issues, such as exploring whose voices are (or are not) represented by particular sources of information or in particular fields. However, there are other ways to interpret and apply these frames, too, so if this isn’t a conversation that is important to the individual educator it is likely the conversation won’t happen.

    I guess, therefore, the issue is really whether these social justice issues should be a more explicit part of the framework. I for one am unconvinced by the argument that we did not need a frame regarding information as a human right because aspects of this idea were covered by other frames. I am not sure why this means we couldn’t also have an explicit frame? It seems to me that several of the frames arguably overlap and bleed into one another. I know when I talk about one, I often find myself segueing to another without explicitly planning to discuss both. If we have overlap in other frames, what was the problem with having overlap in a human rights frame? You could make an argument that it is such a huge, vague concept that it is too much to cover in one frame, and that therefore the other frames are a better way to cover various aspects of it, I suppose, but under that argument I think perhaps this should be a more explicit aim of the framework.

    I do think there is some merit in the idea that because these social justice issues arguably conflict with other goals, like teaching students to use authoritative sources, having it as an explicit frame could be confusing and complicating. I also think perhaps it depends on your audience; while these higher level social justice concepts might be really important, for lower level undergraduate courses they may not be as important as getting them started on the concepts posed under the framework and ensuring basic searching skills, etc. Once we’ve taught them these skills, then we can move on to the higher level social justice skills in upper level courses or graduate school. For example, once they understand that authority is contextual, then we can talk about some of these higher level concepts regarding social justice and how we construe authority. I think these are, arguably, two levels of the same conversation.


  2. How can the Framework be used to build critical consciousness & encourage civic engagement in students? How might you use the Framework as it exists or modify it to empower learners?

    The Framework is less prescriptive than the Standards, and this allows librarians to add a social justice element to their instruction. I agree with Battista et al. (2015) that it is unfortunate that social justice was not explicitly included in any of the Frames; however, this allows librarians free rein to add it in where they see fit, given the scope of their information literacy class, the topic at hand, and on which particular frame they are focusing. Librarians can discuss social justice as an element in all of the frames.

    The frame “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” provides an opportunity to build critical consciousness. When discussing different types of authority, librarians can then ask questions along the lines of, “Who determined that these qualities are authoritative?” “Who are the people who created these stipulations?” “If someone has first-hand experience in the area a student is researching but does not have academic credentials, are they still a viable source? Why or why not?” This line of questioning will help students understand that authority has been constructed by people with the most power and will hopefully make them consider and/or challenge how authority is created.

    Along similar lines, the frame “Information Creation as a Process,” especially when discussing scholarly articles and journals, is also a place to empower students to think about how authority and processes have been created. In the future, I may modify how I teach this frame. After discussing the difference between how peer reviewed articles and blogs are created, I may now ask students to consider who created the peer review process and why. And why, when we are deep into the digital information age, are things like blogs not typically accepted as a source in an academic paper? Who still controls the process of creation for academic sources? In discussing the frame “Scholarship as Conversation,” Battista, et al (2015) state that the frame, “does not look to the mechanisms that establish the ‘power and authority structures’” (118). By introducing student to the “mechanisms that establish the ‘power and authority structures’” and then by having them question whether or not these long-established structures are still valid today is one way to empower learners.


  3. How can the Framework be used to build critical consciousness & encourage civic engagement in students? How might you use the Framework as it exists or modify it to empower learners?

    The readings for this Thing 21 had two threads; the Framework and the theory of Threshold Concepts. I am going to attempt to address both, probably with limited success.

    Beatty declares that out role is to “resist[ance] rather than conform[ity] to the existing information regime.” (Beatty,2015) Beilin shows that Threshold Concepts are “a reification of privileged knowledge that is historically and culturally contingent” and as a result we are challenged in our instruction to answer the question “how does one teach students to understand and make the best use of existing systems of knowledge while at the same time prompt them to question the validity and structure of those systems?” (Beilin, 2015)

    My response to this is to search the Framework and find those moments where I can empower students to become active participants and critics in the acquisition and creation of their knowledge. I appreciate the authors we read that challenged the “value” of “scholarly” sources. We need to bring other conversations into research, especially when working at an institution that prides itself in its Liberal Arts curriculum. If we examine the Framework the language of “new perspectives” or “multiple perspectives” can be found in several sections.

    These are the moments I want to use to engage in more critical literacy:

    In “Authority is Constructed” the opening paragraph states “Experts view authority with an attitude of skepticism and an openness to new perspectives….and changes in schools of thought. And in its dispositions it declares that “Learners….develop awareness of the importance of assessing content…with a self awareness of their own biases and worldview” and “question traditional notions of granting authority…”

    In “Information has Value” one of the Knowledge practices state “Learners….understand how and why some individuals or groups…may be systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information..”

    In “Research as Inquiry” two of the dispositions state “maintain an open mind and a criticial stance; seek multiple perspectives during information gathering and assessment….”

    In Scholarship as a Conversation the opening paragraph includes the language “a given issue may be characterized by several competing perspectives” and “a query my not have a single uncontested answer.” This in conjunction with knowledge practices that “recognize that a given scholarly work may not represent the only or even the majority perspective on the issue.” And a disposition that “recognize(s) that systems privilege authorities…”

    As an instructor I need to seek out opportunities to allow students to move into “academic research expertise” (Battista et al, p. 117) while encouraging them to address the knowledge practices and dispositions listed above. Currently there is excitement at our institution about High Impact Practices (, and there is a chance the library can get more involved and include critical literacy in those practices.


  4. Perhaps this “Thing” would have been better placed at the beginning of the course, because it approaches the Framework holistically and points out a gaping hole that is readily apparent as we read the Framework; the Framework mentions social justice in roundabout, random, vague terminology, but there is very little concrete to support its vague claims.

    I’m going to follow a trail of thought I’ve been wanting to pursue for a while here . . . as i read the Framework for the 3rd or 4th time, I remember thinking quite clearly, why does this document only give lip service to information literacy within the context of social justice and human rights, when UNESCO has clearly defined information literacy as a basic human right? And Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science have been updated to the Five Laws of Media and Information Literacy for this new age of information universality.

    I realize that information literacy as a human right is a bold thought; imagine this enormous idea that each human should have equal and unfettered information access for their own growth and development and decision-making, for the growth and development and decision-making of their communities and cultures, and to allow them to make information contributions of their own. It’s such a simple concept, but sometimes, the most simple concepts are hindered by greed, power, corruption, and other facets of authority that we don’t always associate with the “library” and “information” world.

    I want to respond to the the question posed by Battista, et al. in the article, “Seeking Social Justice,” “to what end do we teach information literacy, and to what end do we help students become critical and engaged citizens?” (pg. 20)

    My students are only going to be as information literate as I encourage them to be within the classroom atmosphere. If I encourage and allow them to be brave and bold in their questions and to embrace curiosity as a “habit of the mind” within the classroom as I teach library instruction, then they may be more willing, more apt to embrace information curiosity and skepticism after they leave the classroom and my teaching. When I allow them to ask the questions and lead the searching, they are empowered to find their way through the morass of information that we deal with on a daily basis – for their projects, for their personal lives, etc. Nothing beats asking good questions; I hope to show and teach my students how to ask good questions. Good questions lead to good answers – the answers we need to succeed, to find our way out of the fog, to know how to make informed decisions at the polls, how to choose our doctors, how to complete and file tax forms, and how to find sources for coursework. By the end of library instruction, my goal is for my students to feel a bit more empowered to evaluate information, in all of its containers, and to make information contributions of their own that others will be able to evaluate. Curiosity doesn’t have a price tag; neither does skepticism. Both are required if you want to be engaged as a critically-thinking, information literate human in this world.


  5. The Framework attempts to address inequities with the Information Has Value Frame and Scholarship as Conversation Frame highlighting the fact that the system does not treat all producers of information as equals. Arguably, that Frame also inadvertently reinforces the notion that information that is paid for is of better quality than that which is offered for free. In looking over the Framework, I do think the specifics are vague enough that they can be applied to searches for many different types of information and don’t have to automatically translate to existing “authoritative” structures.

    Even with Research As Inquiry, there are many knowledge practices which highly suggest focusing on library-related topics such as keywords, controlled vocabulary, the implication of database usage…etc. but one could also argue that matching search strategies and search tools could go beyond software and into the street.

    I wouldn’t oppose more specific language related to social justice but I wouldn’t have opposed more specific language in other areas of the Framework as well. I think it’s up to the profession and users to continue to push the boundaries. Just as the Standards weren’t the definitive document for all time, the Framework won’t have to be either.


  6. The Framework certainly allows us to bring social justice issues into our instruction. Battista et al (2015) note the Framework’s language around social inclusion (p. 115). Even in a one-shot session we can point out whose voices are unheard in the results we find. Sometimes the students themselves bring up these issues. In fact we model inclusion by listening to our students.

    This last point brings up one critique of the Framework. Beatty (2014) reminds us that the Framework does not define “expert.” While that comment is true, an expert is not something we become once and for all: Even the learned keep developing their knowledge. Perhaps the Framework should define “expertise” rather than “expert.” Still, we can be up front about our learning–formal and informal. We can acknowledge student and faculty expertise in their own realms.

    Battista et al (2015) state that “awareness should lead to action (p. 115).” While I agree with their noble intentions, I don’t think the Framework needs stronger wording on that front. Overly prescriptive wording can privilege certain actions over others, for ex. more vocal “storm the barricades” action over quieter “behind the scenes” action. Would doing so be another form of marginalization (i.e. “My social justice work is better than yours.”)?

    The Framework is not perfect. Indeed it should be subject to critique. All the same it gives us the flexibility to address social justice in ways that make sense in our settings. It gives our students room to explore what issues speak to them and what actions suit their own talents.


    • “The Framework is not perfect. Indeed it should be subject to critique. All the same it gives us the flexibility to address social justice in ways that make sense in our settings. It gives our students room to explore what issues speak to them and what actions suit their own talents.”

      I totally agree, and I said something similar regarding how it would depend on the individual librarian and his or her program how this would be incorporated.

      I guess the only flaw with that, though, is whether that makes for a very inconsistent experience. Some students may get a lot of discussion on this issue, while others may get very little.



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