The Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium: Reflections, Revisions, and New Works

ACRL announces the publication of The Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium: Reflections, Revisions, and New Works, edited by Yvonne Mery and Anthony Sanchez, an anthology that provides a toolkit for critical library pedagogy that recognizes how knowledge is created within historical and deeply politicized contexts.

Learn more about The Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium in this excerpt from the introduction by the editors, licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.


Perhaps you sense it already—academic librarianship is due for a major paradigm shift. Job requirements are changing, work-life balance expectations are shifting, and researchers are using libraries differently. Supporting social justice movements and empathic approaches to counter the disinformation, hatred, and violence in our world through community building and mutual understanding is more urgent than ever. Moreover, the existential threats to the library profession, such as dwindling budgets, rising costs from major publishers, and the shifting nature of information and truth in the twenty-first century, continue to rise. Educators in the field are at odds between the care and support of the student body and the demanding needs of the administration and proving value in the academy. Librarians are still delving into this very fray, however, with new ideas about community, feminism, education, and social change. These collected chapters are an attempt to capture the essence of that spirit with works from new and familiar voices in the field.

The works presented here expand on past presentations given at the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium (CLAPS) held biennially at the University of Arizona Libraries (UAL) since 2016. CLAPS is a collaborative effort of UAL staff and has traditionally been a free event that aims to bring together educators and students to discuss issues related to critical pedagogy. The focus of CLAPS has and continues to be information literacy and instruction, but past presentations have covered a wide range of librarianship practices, including the peer-review process, hiring practices, makerspaces, and cataloging. An impetus for releasing this book was to allow more library practitioners to learn about CLAPS and get to know the types of issues CLAPS addresses.

Learning Outcomes

This anthology will provide readers with a toolkit for critical library pedagogy that recognizes how knowledge is created within historical and deeply politicized contexts. Authors working in library or disciplinary teaching fields explore intersections between information literacy and critical pedagogy. We presuppose a reader’s awareness that critical pedagogy recognizes that our education system is shaped by hegemonic political and economic forces, often to the detriment of politically and culturally marginalized students. Through this recognition of the systemic oppression of students (and therefore all peoples), critical librarianship and pedagogy seek transformation of the education system, and ultimately people’s liberation, as a praxis.[1] Authors provide current thinking, as well as assessment and reflection, on their practices of teaching students how to recognize and critique the oppressive power structures inherent in educational systems. The work done by librarians is analyzed in a way that reveals the socioeconomic frameworks that drive the costs of our labor.

Topics explored include the advent of neoliberalism in higher education, social justice, white fragility, supporting neurodivergence in education, and disability rights activism. Furthermore, keeping in mind that “your theory determines what you want to do in terms of helping people grow,”[2] works use lenses such as queer, intersectional, feminist, and critical race theory to examine subjects. Also featured are authors’ experiences and practices for sustainable teaching, facilitating dialogue in the classroom, and using tools such as user experience or empathic design. It was imperative to us, as editors of this collection, that the voices in this book be a more expansive representation of librarianship, and in particular of those practicing critical librarianship. Contributors come from a variety of institutions, including universities, community colleges, medical libraries, and special collections. Many are reference and instruction librarians, but there are also scholarly communication librarians, disciplinary professors, and graduate students. Contributors also represent a diversity of race, genders, and sexual orientations. We hope that readers will be inspired to develop their own praxes for incorporating critical pedagogy theory into their practices as educators—both within the library and in higher education in general.


The book explores five main themes: Critical Pedagogies in the Classroom, Feminist Library Practices, the Labor of Librarianship, Practices of Care, and Community Archives. Each section is outlined below.

Critical Pedagogies In The Classroom

Facilitation Skills for Critical Library Instruction, by Amy Gilgan

Gilgan examines how facilitation skills can be used in critical information literacy instruction. Specifically, the author discusses how intergroup dialogue pedagogy and multipartial mediation have informed their library instruction. Although these techniques often require multiple sessions to implement and develop, Gilgan includes tips for how to apply them to one-shot library sessions.

Anti-ableism in Library Instruction: Considerations for Neurodivergent Students, by Paige Crowl and Elizabeth Carol Novosel

By challenging and countering ableism in the classroom, authors provide an expansive overview of key concepts, such as invisible disabilities and ableism, related to disability and neurodivergence in the context of higher education. The authors compare and contrast the medical and social models of disability and also outline challenges faced by disabled students, providing an accessible overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for all librarians and concluding with practical applications of UDL for library instruction.

Information Studies for Social Justice: Praxis in an Undergraduate Course, by Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins

This work recounts the experiences and approaches to weaving student discussion and media production on social justice movements of academic librarians for their undergraduate library studies course. Zinesters will rejoice as Gregory and Higgins analyze their students’ artistic and intellectual expressions in their final semester project to support their teaching praxis that “growing into one’s voice is to become empowered.” This chapter is an exciting exploration of how students create community in the classroom, engage with social justice issues, define their own voices, and contribute to the arc for social justice.

Feminist Library Practices

What Is Authority? A Feminist Investigation of Personal Experience as Knowledge in Student Research and Writing, by Martinique Hallerduff and Hannah Carlton

Feminist pedagogy and the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education both challenge traditional ideas of authority, including encouraging students to use their personal experiences as authoritative sources. In this chapter, the authors discuss a research study they conducted that looked at how students use their personal experiences as forms of knowledge in their writing. The authors also discuss how teaching librarians can encourage students to view their personal experiences as authoritative and use them in their academic research papers.

Situated Data: Feminist Epistemology and Data Curation, by Scout Calvert

Calvert discusses a framework for data curation that is more critical and objective and is informed by feminist epistemology. This new framework, which she calls “situated data,” looks at data sharing as a critical part of library practice and one that will allow for fairer and more just views of the world. Calvert also discusses how this new framework can be easily implemented by library practitioners and can also be used for collection development, cataloging, and classification. Calvert also provided a thorough discussion of feminist epistemology and the philosophy of science.

The Labor of Librarianship

Acting “As If”: Critical Pedagogy, Empowerment, and Labor, by Rafia Mirza, Karen Nicholson, and Maura Seale

Here the authors offer a perspective on some of the shortcomings of critical library pedagogy in the library classroom. They argue that critical library pedagogy, when mainstreamed into institutions with all their pitfalls, positions the instructor in a role of power that takes the teeth out of its liberatory and subversive potential. They consider how to reimagine the application of critical library pedagogy in higher education to create a more just environment for both librarians and students, moving beyond a classroom that feels as if it is a safe space but is really not.

Beyond Sustainability and Self-Care, by Veronica Arellano Douglas, Emily Deal, and Carolina Hernandez

Current self-care models often place the burden of self-care on librarians, and the structures in place in current library teaching programs lead to overworked and overwhelmed librarians. In this chapter, the authors explore engaged pedagogy and how it can help teaching librarians become better teachers as they care for themselves and their students. The authors discuss why teaching librarians should consider not only what their students need but also what they themselves need to thrive as teachers.

Practices of Care

Academic Library Labor as Community Care Work, by Siân Evans and Amanda Meeks

Discussing the role of empathy in labor, Evans and Meeks assert the potential for academic libraries to become loving, caring, radical spaces. The authors examine their experiences working in academic institutions, community organizing with grassroots organizations, and creative practices in an exploration of the library’s radical potential, offering frameworks for understanding care work and thoughtfully conveying the urgency of enacting change within libraries in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Practice of Connection: Applying Relational-Cultural Theory to Librarianship, by Anastasia Chiu, Veronica Arellano Douglas, Joanna Gadsby, Alana Kumbier and Lalitha Nataraj

This chapter uses the authors’ personal stories to examine how they have implemented relational-cultural theory in their professional lives. Each story looks at a different aspect of academic librarianship, including working with teaching faculty, onboarding as a new employee, conducting workplace relationships, consulting with faculty on scholarly communication issues, and building empathy and connection in the classroom. These stories show how relational-cultural theory can help us see how our work affects all of those around us, including ourselves.

Community Archives

Community-Based Archives and Their Pedagogies, by Jamie A. Lee, Kristen Suagee-Beauduy (Cherokee Nation), and Samantha Montes

The authors introduce their qualitative research about community-based archives (CBAs), sharing meaningful first-person descriptions of what CBAs mean to those who create them. The authors explore the depths of naming practices in the archives and their potential for empowering underrepresented communities and building new historical narratives that challenge the status quo. They challenge the reader to think of fingerweaving as a metaphor and method for understanding how the archives might be created in a way that represents those traditionally pushed to the margins. Their chapter is a call to action for teachers and archivists who want to apply lessons learned from CBAs to shift the paradigm.

 [1]. Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary ed., trans. Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2012), 54–55.

[2]. Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking, ed. Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 100.