This article is more than 5 years old.

For me, the main theme of this year’s LOEX was Critical Pedagogy. Critical pedagogy has been buzzing around the library instruction world since at least 2005, but has its roots in the works of authors such as Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and Henry Giroux, to name a few. I hesitate to define critical pedagogy, but I’ll try by saying it is a pedagogy that concerns itself with designing learning situations in which students are empowered to question traditional oppressive power structures, be it capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, etc…

Clockwise: Andy Warhol Bridge, University of Pittsburg building, mural at Duquense, Skyline, and a group photo at Phipps Conservatory.
Of course you know it wouldn’t be a proper LOEX without a bit of sightseeing. Clockwise: Andy Warhol Bridge, University of Pittsburgh building, mural at Duquense University, Pittsburgh Skyline, and a group photo at Phipps Conservatory.

Critical Pedagogy in Library Instruction

There was quite a bit of talk about the role that critical pedagogy can play in library instruction. One practical example would be teaching students about the white, patriarchal assumptions made by traditional information organizational schemas, like Library of Congress subject headings. (Relevant example, it took until 2016 to switch from “illegal aliens” to “unauthorized immigrants). There are several more great examples in the slides of: Eamon Tewell’s “The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy”

Several photos from the Phipps Conservatory.
Several photos from the Phipps Conservatory. Sorry for the potato quality pics from my phone.

Critical Library Practice

What’s cool is critical pedagogy is not just for librarians with instructional responsibilities. Critical library practice is for everyone in the library. (The Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship recently dedicated their entire opening journal issue to critical library practice). Archivists, access services, and resource services have been engaging in critical practice for years, so this is probably nothing new to them. Nevertheless, I’m happy to see these conversations happening with such frequency and urgency now. You can read more about Jeremy McGinniss’s ideas for engaging in critical pedagogy with student workers here:


Critical pedagogy is an important movement (maybe the most important movement) happening in library instruction and I think it deserves thoughtful reflection. It seems like it’s no accident that these conversations are ramping up at the same time as local conversations about campus climate and national conversations on racism, sexism, homophobia. transphobia, and other oppressive movements. I’m excited to work on this moving forward. Recently I’ve been having students edit Wikipedia, which is a great introduction to some of these ideas. I’m hoping to have some time this summer to brainstorm more ways to successfully implement critical pedagogy in my own classroom.