DLIS Professor Co-Leads ALISE Social Justice Workshop

Dr. Rioux co-leads the workshop, standing left
Dr. Rioux co-leads the workshop, standing left

The 2015 ALISE Academy Workshop held in Chicago this January brought together LIS faculty for a professional development session in regards to social justice issues in librarianship. The ALISE Academy, a half-day annual event, included 65 presenters and a four-hour workshop lead by a team of three, including DLIS’s Dr. Kevin Rioux.   Other workshop leaders included Nicole A. Cooke of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Miriam E. Sweeney from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama. Together, this group spoke to an audience of peers about how to incorporate social justice into a LIS course curriculum.

Dr. Rioux presented a metatheory driven context for the need to incorporate social justice into LIS curricula.   Standing firm on the idea that social justice has long since been a component of library and information science, Dr. Rioux addressed the political nature of social justice issues combined with the fact that librarianship is not a politically neutral profession. As such, to teach through a social justice lens enriches an LIS education by preparing students for “socially-relevant careers”. In conjunction with practical approaches presented by an ignite-style session of 8-minute talks, workshop attendees gained both metatheory and practical takeaways from the session.

In a brief interview with Dr. Rioux, he notes that a decade ago, nobody in the LIS profession truly engaged social justice issues as related to the field. After the initial shock of the explosion of new technologies, librarianship has accepted the changes as a result of emergent technologies and adapted accordingly. Now is the time for librarianship to move past the smoke and mirrors created by the fuss of technology, he says, and return to field fundamentals and help communities. Today, as income disparity, race and diversity are gaining attention, it is time to address the role these issues create in communities and libraries should play an active role in facilitating social justice through information services.

To address social justice in the field, Dr. Rioux offers three takeaways from the workshop. First, the access to information is a human right. Secondly, libraries should adopt open source software initiatives as answers to bridging the digital divide. Lastly, libraries should look to makerspaces as tools for information literacy. This combination of metatheory and practice should ease libraries into taking a stance for social justice.

In the classroom, Dr. Rioux understands that social justice cannot be taught solely through common topics like poverty and race.   In his course this spring, Social Justice for Information Professionals, Dr. Rioux plans on tackling tougher topics, such as white privilege, and taking the experience of other professionals at the conference to welcome a greater number of topics under the social justice umbrella. Dr. Rioux reflects on a conversation with one such professional and she reminded him, “We’re all outsiders about something”. To familiarize LIS students with these sensitive topics will better prepare them to tackle greater community issues they will eventually serve.

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