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Teaching Toolkit

a professional development resource for liaison librarians at Brock University

Critical Librarianship

Drawing from critical theory and critical literacy, critical information literacy asks librarians to "consider the historical, cultural, social, economic, political and other forces that affect information" (Gregory and Higgins 2013). Applying critical theoretical approaches to our teaching practice encourages us to disrupt the status quo, to value the knowledge and experiences of our students, to resist mechanical methods of teaching and learning, and to bring about social change. 

Critical information literacy:

  • "...aims to understand how libraries participate in systems of oppression and find ways for librarians and students to intervene upon these systems." (Tewell 2016)

  • ..."looks beyond the strictly functional, competency-based role of information discovery and use, going deeper than the traditional conceptions of information literacy that focus almost wholly on mainstream sources and views” (Downey 2016)

  • resists "banking" education (teachers depositing knowledge into passive students); develops "critical consciousness" in students and teachers (Freire 2000; Elmborg 2012)

Incorporating critical information literacy

How can you incorporate critical information literacy into your instruction? 

Critical information literacy is about putting students at the centre of our teaching. Many of us are already doing this by engaging students in class discussions, using hands-on and active learning strategies, and using student examples when demonstrating a search. A few more ideas:

  • Use examples that can help raise critical consciousness, like demonstrating a search using terms like gender wage gap, or women in engineering.
  • Encourage discussion and active participation; act as facilitator rather than lecturer; emphasize hands-on learning (egalitarian classroom practices).
  • Choose examples and activities that students can relate to (e.g. current events).
  • Respect and value student experience and contributions.
  • Use library and information literacy topics (evaluating information sources, peer-review, understanding search results) as an opportunity to discuss marginalized voices, oppression, constructions of authority, privilege, etc.

Selected readings

Accardi, M.T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (2010). Critical Library Instruction: Theories &  Methods. Duluth, Minnesota: Library Juice Press.

Accardi, M. T. (2013). Feminist pedagogy for library instruction. Sacramento: Library Juice Press.

Downey, A. (2016). Critical information literacy: Foundations, inspiration, and ideas. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Gregory, L. and Higgins, S. (2013). Information literacy and social justice: Radical professional praxis. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

Pagowsky, N., & McElroy, K. (2016). Critical library pedagogy handbook. Chicago, Illinois: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Tewell, E. (2016). Putting critical information literacy into context: How and why librarians adopt critical practices in their teaching. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, October 12, 2016. Retrieved from

For more resources:

Critical Library Instruction: A Reading List