Critical Literacy for Information Professionals

Apr 2016 | 192pp

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Critical Literacy for Information Professionals

Edited by Sarah McNicol

This edited collection explores critical literacy theory and provides practical guidance to how it can be taught and applied in libraries.

The approach taken in critical literacy is not to read texts in isolation, but to develop an understanding of the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic contexts in which they are created and read.

The book introduces critical literacy concepts in ways that are accessible to readers who are new to the subject while also appealing to those with greater knowledge by exploring critical literacy from a range of theoretical perspectives and linking these ideas to current debates in information studies.

Critical Literacy for Information Professionals also contains a series of practically-focussed case studies that describe tools or approaches that librarians have used to engage users in critical literacy. Drawing on examples from across library sectors including schools, public libraries, universities, workplaces and healthcare, these illustrate how critical literacy can be applied across a variety of library settings, including online and new media environments.

Contributed to by international experts from across library sectors, the book covers topics including:

  • radical information literacy as an approach to critical literacy education
  • critical literacy and mature students
  • physical and digital disability access in libraries
  • teaching critical literacy skills in a multicultural, multilingual school community
  • teaching media literacy
  • developing critical literacy skills in an online environment
  • new media and critical literacy.

Readership: The book will be essential reading for librarians, information professionals and managers in all sectors, students of library and information science, school and higher education teachers and researchers.

Introduction - Sarah McNicol


1. Renegotiating the place of fiction in libraries through critical literacy - Sarah McNicol
2. Death of the Author(ity): Repositioning students as constructors of meaning in information literacy instruction - Jessica Critten 
3. Reading health education comics critically, challenging power relationships - Sarah McNicol
4. Reframing librarian approaches to international student information literacy through the lens of New Literacy Studies - Alison Hicks
5. Using new literacies to discuss disability in the library - JJ Pionke
6. “Anyone can cook”: critical literacy in the workplace - Andrew Whitworth
7. Social justice, adult learning and critical literacy - Jennifer Lau-Bond


8. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Teaching Media Literacy - Michael Cherry
9. Curricular and extra-curricular opportunities to engage school students in critical literacy in England - Rebecca Jones
10. New media and critical literacy in secondary schools - Joel Crowley
11. Critical literacy and academic honesty: a school librarian’s role and contribution - Anthony Tilke
12. Engaging Undergraduate Communications Students in critical information literacy - Rachel Elizabeth Scott
13. Exploring pedagogical implications of students’ search mediation experiences though the lens of critical information literacy - Sarah Clark
14. Diffusing critical web literacy in a teacher education setting: initial reflections and future planning - Evangelia Bougatzeli and Efi Papadimitriou

“This book is definitely a welcome contribution to the already abundant literature on various kinds of information and media literacies – critical or not – and the majority of the chapters are potential candidates for inclusion in the reading lists of library program courses with information literacy in focus.”
- Information Research

"Essential reading for librarians looking to gain an understanding of critical literacy in order to improve their support services. This work will also be useful for academic librarians seeking practical ways to introduce the concept into their curricula."
- Library Journal​

"Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, and especially part 1 of the book, provides a great introduction to critical literacy and offers the reader several directions she or he could take for further study on this topic."
- Michael R. Mitchell, Bethel University, C&RL 

"In her introduction McNicol states that she wants the book to be the start of a journey where information professionals work to adapt their own practices to include more critical literacy approaches and readers could do a lot worse than using this collection as their roadmap."
- Claire Sewell, University of Cambridge, Journal of Information Literacy

'Overall, Critical Literacy for Information Professionals clearly established the importance of not only teaching students how to find information but why it is imperative to be critical of it. Readers of this work will be better equipped to deal with the evolving nature of technology and how it changes and affects the texts we read. Likewise, the authors’ focus on critical literacy will help empower learners to not only become better at assessing texts but also at expressing their own ideas in a constructive manner.'
- Drew Virtue, Assistant Professor, Western Carolina University, Research in Online Literacy Education (ROLE)

'Given the current cultural and political climates, learning about critical literacy theory and its various applications becomes even more relevant and important. One can see how critical literacy theory should be in the forefront of instruction today. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about this topic, especially instruction librarians interested in finding ways to teach critical literacy concepts. The application examples will inspire them to action.'
- Frances Krempasky, Lansing Community College Library, Against the Grain​


Sarah McNicol is a research associate at the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. She has worked as an Information Studies researcher since 2000, and has particular interests in information literacy; lifelong learning; and school and children’s libraries. She has published widely in the information studies field and has previously guest edited a number of journals including Library Review and Library Trends.



Evangelia Bougatzeli, Laboratory Teaching Staff, Primary Education Department, Faculty of Education, Aristotle University, Greece

Michael Cherry, Teen and Youth Librarian, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Evansville, Indiana, USA

Sarah Clark, Associate Library Director, Rogers State University (RSU), Oklahoma, USA

Jessica Critten Assistant Professor and Instructional Services Librarian, University of West Georgia, USA

Joel Crowley, school librarian, Ark Burlington Danes Academy, West London, UK

Alison Hicks, PhD Candidate, Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, Australia and Romance Languages Librarian, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Rebecca Jones, Learning Enrichment & Support Co-ordinator, Malvern St James School, UK

Jennifer Lau-Bond, Adjunct Faculty Member, Professional and Liberal Studies Department, Roosevelt University in Chicago, USA

Efi Papadimitriou, Assistant Professor, Linguistic and Visual Literacy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

J. J. Pionke, Applied Health Sciences Librarian, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Rachel Elizabeth Scott, Assistant Professor and Integrated Library Systems Librarian, University of Memphis in Tennessee, USA

Anthony Tilke, teacher-librarian, international school sector

Andrew Whitworth, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, UK

1. Renegotiating the place of fiction in libraries through critical literacy – Sarah McNicol

In Chapter 1, Sarah McNicol introduces reader response theory and the idea that texts can be read from different ‘stances’, including a critical stance that questions whose viewpoint is being represented and who has power in the text. The chapter then discusses how fiction reading in libraries, and in particular reading groups, can make use of such a critical stance to support libraries’ work to promote inclusion.


2. Death of the author(ity): repositioning students as constructors of meaning in information literacy instruction Jessica Critten

In Chapter 2, Jessica Critten links similar ideas from reader response theory to information literacy instruction in a university library. She analyses the ways in which focusing on the student as the constructor of meaning, rather than on the text’s author as is conventionally the case, can empower students and open up a more complex discourse about our ideas of ‘truth’. She also explores the implications of such an approach within the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL, 2015) new Information Literacy Framework, in particular the ways in which authorship and authority are configured in this document.


3. Reading health-education comics critically: challenging power relationships – Sarah McNicol

Chapter 3 again uses aspects of reader response theory, but with a focus on health literacy and the visual medium of comics. In this chapter, Sarah McNicol considers how taking a critical approach to the reading of comics may empower patients by subverting conventional ideas around patient–clinician relationships, as well as working to overcome the stigma surrounding illness.


4. Reframing librarians’ approaches to international students’ information literacy through the lens of New Literacy Studies – Alison Hicks

Critical literacy is closely related to other conceptions of literacy, most notably New Literacy Studies and new literacies. Chapter 4 takes a New Literacy Studies approach, placing emphasis on the contextual and subjective aspects of literacy. New Literacy Studies is understood as a social practice that is embedded in broader social and cultural practices. Alison Hicks draws on her PhD work at Charles Strut University in Australia and makes use of this theory to explore and expose common misconceptions about international university students’ information practices. She demonstrates how New Literacy Studies questions a privileging of culturally dominant literacies and encourages us to view difference as an asset, rather than a deficiency.


5. Using new literacies to discuss disability in the library –  J. J. Pionke

In Chapter 5, J. J. Pionke, an applied health sciences librarian, focuses on students with disabilities and considers how new literacies are used in relation to new media. In particular, she explores how the notion of ‘mindsets’ (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006) can begin to start to change prevailing attitudes towards disability. She describes how this might be achieved by moving from an ‘abler’ culture that sees disability as an ‘add-on’ to an ‘includer’ culture that embraces the concept of universal design and accessibility for all.


6. ‘Anyone can cook’: critical literacy in the workplace – Andrew Whitworth

Another related concept, that of radical information literacy, is introduced by Andrew Whitworth in Chapter 6 as an alternative approach to critical literacy education in the workplace. Radical information literacy emphasises the importance of dialogue in the methods and processes that control and redistribute authority over information practices and Andrew argues that this can maximise the capacity for ‘stewarding’, or taking responsibility for a community’s technological resources by all members of a community.


7. Social justice, adult learning and critical literacy – Jennifer Lau-Bond

The final theoretical approach considered is one that connects critical literacy to adult education theories, specifically Knowles’ (1980) notion of andragogy; McClusky’s (1970) theory of margin; and Mezirow’s (2000) conception of transformative learning. In Chapter 7, Jennifer Lau-Bond writes about her experiences as an instructor and librarian at Roosevelt University, where she has drawn on each of these in her interactions with mature students. Each of the theories and methods described draws on ideas of critical literacy, as well as the wider social justice agenda integral to Roosevelt’s ethos.


8. A picture is worth a thousand words: teaching media literacy Michael Cherry

Chapter 8 is based on a project designed to teach incarcerated youth literacy skills beyond traditional reading and writing, with a focus on critical media literacy. Michael Cherry, a teen and youth librarian, describes the design of a media sensitization programme for at-risk young people run by the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Indiana, in collaboration with a nearby Youth Care Center. He describes how young people have responded to this initiative, which is intended to empower them to make choices about media and the way it impacts on their lives.


9.  Curricular and extra-curricular opportunities to engage school students in critical literacy in England – Rebecca Jones

In Chapter 9, Rebecca Jones, a school librarian in the UK, writes about opportunities in the curriculum in English schools, as well as extra-curricular opportunities, to integrate critical literacy into schools. She focuses on the role of the school librarian in a range of activities, including project-based learning and mock elections, and explores how these experiences frequently lead to changes in students’ thinking and can translate into practical actions beyond the classroom.


10. New media and critical literacy in secondary schools – Joel Crowley

Joel Crowley, a librarian at an academy school and sixth form in London, also discusses the ways in which critical literacy has relevance for those working with secondary school students, but he focuses on the role of new media. In Chapter 10, he considers how students make use of new media and how the school librarian can support them in engaging with resources such as Wikipedia and YouTube in a more critical way.


11. Critical literacy and academic honesty: a school librarian’s role and contribution –Anthony Tilke

Anthony Tilke, another school librarian, but one who has worked in Singapore and now works in the Netherlands, considers critical literacy in relation to a more conventional facet of information literacy instruction: academic honesty. In Chapter 11, he presents a short case study focusing on the potential involvement of the school librarian in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.


12. Engaging undergraduate communications students in critical information literacy - Rachel Elizabeth Scott

In Chapter 12, university librarian Rachel Elizabeth Scott writes about her experiences teaching undergraduate students studying a communications course at the University of Memphis. A key component of her approach is ‘giving voice’ as students are encouraged to actively contribute to sessions and take a critical questioning approach to the exploration of sources to construct a compelling speech.


13. Exploring pedagogical implications of students’ search mediation experiences through the lens of critical information literacy – Sarah Clark

In Chapter 13, Sarah Clark explores the critical literacy skills of first-year composition students in a community college. In an exploratory multiple case study of their information-search mediation encounters, she examines their lived search-mediation experiences using data gathered via interviews and visual data generated by participants. She then reflects on the potential implications of these experiences through the lens of critical information literacy.


14. Diffusing critical web literacy in a teacher-education setting: initial reflections and future planning – Evangelia Bougatzeli and Efi Papadimitriou

In Chapter 14 Evangelia Bougatzeli and Efi Papadimitriou describe an intervention to raise critical web literacy skills and awareness that was implemented within a Greek university teacher-education syllabus. They outline activities and approaches that information professionals may wish to work with teaching staff to introduce into similar courses and syllabi elsewhere. The authors reflect on the particular challenges of introducing such a course within a traditional education system that is highly focused on knowledge transmission. Promisingly, they show how this type of approach can start to have an impact on trainee teachers over a period of time.


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