What librarians can do to support political participation, youth activism and resistance
0 Context: young people and information
0 Young people’s political attitudes
0 Critical information literacy
0 Brief overview of methodology and methods
0 Tentative findings
0 Librarians’ role in supporting political agency
Young people and information
0 Often assumed that young people don’t know how to
find the ‘right’ information – just “googling” things
0 Suggestion that young people lack intellectual
curiosity and don’t seek out information – reliance on
0 Suggestion that many lack critical thinking skills
Can the application of
critical pedagogical theory to
information literacy help us
understand how we can
support young people to
develop political agency?
What does this mean in
relation to youth activism?
People need to be able to find and use information
in order to understand how the political system
works, and participate in formal and informal
political activities. Librarians and libraries can and
should support this.
Libraries contribute to democratic ideals:
0 Information provision
0 Equity of access
0 Independent learners
0 Intellectual freedom
0 Public spaces
What have libraries got to do
with politics and activism?
Librarians teach information literacy skills:
“Information literacy is knowing when and why
you need information, where to find it,
and how to evaluate, use and communicate it
in an ethical manner.”
Chartered Institute of Library
and Information Professionals
These abilities are useful both within and
beyond the context of formal education.
0 An educational movement which gives students the
opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and
sense of responsibility necessary to engage in a
culture of questioning.
0 People “should…be educated [in the fullest possible
way] in order to be able to participate”. Giroux 2011,
“Critical pedagogy currently offers the best,
perhaps the only, chance for young people to
develop the knowledge, skills, and sense of
responsibility needed for them to participate in
and exercise the leadership necessary for them
to govern the prevailing social order.”
Giroux 2012, pp.116-7
Critical Information Literacy
Critical information literacy aims to
“reverse trends of exclusion from political
participation and enable people to participate in
the decisions and events that affect their lives.”
Whitworth 2009, p.118
Where do young people get
About politics, current events and things that help them form opinions about the world.
0 Media: newspapers, tv news, tv programmes, radio,
0 Internet: news websites, google, twitter, facebook,
How do they perceive these sources?
0 Trust newspapers, radio and television more
0 Trust people (family and friends) less
0 Not very concerned or aware of potential bias
0 Aware of audience demographics
0 Emotional reaction/relationships with
“I have an opinion on the news where I
find news really depressing and bad. I
don’t really like to watch it because I find
it puts me in a bad mood! Whereas
magazines cheer me up.” (P16)
“I guess it’s probably because I’m bored
that I look at newspapers rather than
because it’s got to be useful.” (P24)
How do they use these sources?
0 Passive exposure
0 Forms of media are whatever parents choose
0 Choose familiar sources on google
0 Find an answer quickly
0 Sometimes check with an authority figure
What are their key concerns?
Reflect the social issues most sensationalised by
How do they feel about politics?
0 Not perceived as something relevant to their lives
0 Often think they ‘have’ to follow their parents’ beliefs
0 Not sure what it is or how it works
0 Not sure what the differences are between parties
How do they feel about the
world around them?
But they don’t think of the things they care about as
What do they know about politics?
0 Varying levels of knowledge about local and national
politics and civic rights
0 Lack of knowledge about where to find facts about
0 Don’t feel formal education teaches them enough
0 Want school to teach them about facts and processes
0 Enjoy discussing current events in class but don’t
often talk about things with their friends
0 Not aware of ‘alternative’ ways of getting involved
“I argued with one of my friends about
Margaret Thatcher and then afterwards I
realised it was stupid, cos we both don’t
really know!” (P2)
“When Maggie Thatcher passed away I
was always talking to her [grandma]
about what she did and things like that,
past events that have happened in
What should librarians be doing?
0 Asking young people how they understand things,
as well as what they want and need.
0 Finding out where young people get information
0 Pointing young people to reputable and
‘alternative’ sources of information.
0 Teaching young people to search for and evaluate
0 Fostering a sense of curiosity and a questioning
0 Libraries as trusted ‘third space’
0 Safe and inclusive spaces
0 Users not customers
0 Less authority/hierarchy than other ‘educational’
locations and roles
0 Internet access
0 Study space
0 Discussion space
A way of helping young people understand “the political
dimensions of information, as well as the often
oppressive ‘discourses’ and ‘economies’ that inform
both the academic and non-academic information they
consume”. (Critten 2014)
Introducing young people to the concept of “ideology”
and how it manifests in information they encounter.
0 Research skills – searching, referencing
0 Discussion skills
0 Inclusivity/safe space awareness
0 Young people are not a homogeneous group; research into
the different ways they understand politics and information
can be useful to help us understand how to help them.
0 Work seeking to help young people become informed and
engaged needs to consider non-formal methods of
participation, even if that’s just discussing concerns, as
0 Libraries are ideal providers of critical information literacy
instruction, and must engage with the political issues
surrounding pedagogy to effectively apply critical theories
0 CILIP Information Literacy Group (no date) Information Literacy.
[Online] Available from: <http://www.informationliteracy.org.uk/>
0 Critten, J. (2014) Disrupting the Discourse: Ideology and Cultural
Studies in the Information Literacy Classroom. [Unpublished
presentation handout from 2014 LACUNY Institute].
0 Giroux, H.A. (2012) Education and the Crisis of Public Values. New York,
Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
0 Whitworth, A. (2009) Teaching in the relational frame: the Media and
Information Literacy course at Manchester. Journal of Information
Literacy, 3 (2), pp.25–38. Available from:
0 Image CC xkcd.com
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