2019 IS Annual Virtual Discussion Forum Digest

Title: Challenging Deficit Thinking in Academic Libraries: Ideas and Applications

Convenor: Eamon Tewell, Head of Research Support & Outreach, Columbia University

Joined by panelists:

  • Yi Ding, Online Instructional Design Librarian, California State University, Northridge
  • Chelsea Heinbach, Teaching & Learning Librarian, and Rosan Mitola, Outreach Librarian, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Amy Pajewski, Student Success Librarian, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

This virtual discussion will take place on Tuesday, June 11 at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific. Register now at https://ala-events.zoom.us/webinar/register/5f1d4d3c8d922b98c5b9141539e44ee6


What is deficit thinking, and how is it present in libraries and education? The idea that people fail because of personal attributes they have not developed is pervasive and damaging. In education, deficit models focus on a learner’s weaknesses, including the knowledge, motivation, experiences, or cultural values that they presumably lack. This perpetuates major problems, including overly individualizing educational achievement and placing the blame for a lack of learning on the student, ignoring the issues around them.

This panel will question deficit models in library instruction and information literacy, and present alternative approaches to apply with students and colleagues. Participants will find out what deficit models look like in information literacy and library instruction, and learn about teaching strategies that aim to oppose systemic inequalities rather than have students simply adapt to them.

We will discuss:

  • Different perspectives on how deficit thinking is manifested in academic libraries, especially in relation to international students, first-generation students, and teacher-librarians’ practices
  • Approaches to dismantling deficit models of education, through pedagogy, outreach, and communities of practice
  • Ways to teach information literacy that recognize and affirm students’ strengths and experiences
  • Factors that can make difficult or facilitate the exploration of alternative pedagogies

Discussion Questions

  1. What is deficit thinking? How and why does it occur in library instruction and information literacy?
  2. What alternative models are there to deficit thinking?
  3. What changes have you made to your teaching or other work to counter deficit thinking?
  4. What barriers are there to moving past deficit thinking? How might we overcome them?

Recommended Reading

Dudley-Marling, Curt. “The Resilience of Deficit Thinking.” Journal of Teaching and Learning 10, no. 1 (2015). https://ojs.uwindsor.ca/ojs/leddy/index.php/JTL/article/view/4171

Heinbach, Chelsea, Brittany Paloma Fiedler, Rosan Mitola, and Emily Pattni. “Dismantling Deficit Thinking: A Strengths-Based Inquiry Into the Experiences of Transfer Students In and Out of Academic Libraries.” In The Library With The Lead Pipe (Feb. 6, 2019). http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/dismantling-deficit-thinking/

Morrison, Kim L. “Informed Asset-Based Pedagogy: Coming Correct, Counter-stories from an Information Literacy Classroom.” Library Trends 66, no. 2 (2017): 176-218. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/686890

Tewell, Eamon. “The Problem with Grit: Dismantling Deficit Models in Information Literacy Instruction.” LOEX Annual Conference (May 5, 2018). https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1rYott7k-_WYi_fPmgqqr36THefKJGljcBichqv4U4OY/present?slide=id.p5