Power, Generalizations, and Information Literacy

This year my colleagues and I have focused our collective attention on the politics of information.  The actions of congress (tax reform, budget changes) and the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality make this topic a classroom imperative (if given the time, control of discussion, etc.).  If we do not address the relationship between power and information in the classroom we are not preparing our students to resist the structures and individuals who seek to maintain power by controlling access to information, nevermind producing information that speaks to their ideologies.

Earlier this month our local librarian community had a reading group, which focused on Maura Seale’s (2016) “Enlightenment, Neoliberalism, and Information Literacy.”  Seale (2016) critically evaluates the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education by addressing its liberal and neoliberal epistemological tendencies, which went unnoticed by me (which is proof of my own bias – a good reminder that I am not a neutral reader).  Both liberalism and neoliberalism emphasize the individual over the group and ignore, or “transcend” depending on how you feel about it, historical, social, and cultural differences to achieve a universal goal (Seale, 2016, p. 85).

The very definition of information literacy, in conjunction with a framework written around threshold concepts, emphasizes this focus on the individual and their progress towards an ultimate enlightened status of information literacy.  Thinking about it now, it seems ridiculous that every individual in the world could have the same target for understanding information.  The very notion that there is an objective truth about information needs, structures, processes, … well, I’m still growing.

Library and information science has fallen into a common trap of social science research – belief that our goals or conclusions can be generalized, that the work of some is representative of the whole (see Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010).  My primary takeaway from Seale’s (2016) article is that different students require different knowledge of information; their contexts change their understanding of and access to information.

[The education of metropolitan students in the global North] needs to be supplemented with responsibility to the other and rooted in recognition of difference in order to contest neoliberalism.  …Enlightenment notions of liberal subjectivity and rights are also important; they are aspects that are needed in subaltern education, so that subaltern cultures are able to act politically, within the institutions that are invested in those ideas. Seale, 2016, p. 88

This is a reminder to focus on the “local context,” emphasized by Emily Drabinski’s (2014) “Toward a kairos of Library Instruction,” of each class and each reference appointment.  In the places where the Framework does not successfully consider the context of power in regards to information, it is important to address these flaws.  Seale (2016) specifically mentions the failure of Searching as Strategic Exploration, Information Creation as a Process, and Research as Inquiry, which do not successfully recognize the constructedness of information systems and the complexities of knowledge production and the creation process (p. 83).

Active learning pedagogies allow for students to learn and contextualize new information according to their individualized experience.  As teachers, we have the opportunity to present problems in an effort for them to learn through inquiry, application of previous knowledge, and interactions with peers.  Through active learning and open discussions, metropolitan and subaltern students might interact with and learn from one another.

I have many more thoughts surrounding this theme and will continue to write.  I am challenged by these ideas and feel an ever-increasing need to reflect on my experiences in an effort to solidify them within my own mind and grow.


Drabinski, E. (2014). Toward a kairos of library instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 480–485.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Seale, M. (2016). Enlightenment, neoliberalism, and information literacy. Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1. Retrieved from http://cjal.ca/index.php/capal/article/view/24308


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