Critical thinking: the librarian’s meme

The role of the librarian in fostering critical thinking in every field of learning has grown in importance. Terence Huwe recommends three strategies for librarians who want to nurture effective research and critical analysis.

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Academic politics seem more benign, dealing as they do with theory and "administrative jujitsu" as powerful groups seek the upper hand. For example, the pervasiveness of economic thought throughout the social sciences, while exciting, also poses a fundamental challenge for scholars whose disciplines perceive "value" and "motivating factors" through different lenses. The STEM fields have fared better: "human factors"and usability have found their way into engineering, software and medicine.

Three strategies for librarians

As critical librarians or simply as critical thinkers, information professionals face a new opportunity to advance a balanced agenda for effective research in the real world of daily life. I can think of three strategies to consider—all of which emphasise activism, just as Mr Civallero calls for.

Get involved in curriculum development

Library expertise is a unique skill set that receives far too little air-time in the datastream of society. As research generalists, we possess a readiness to find facts everywhere and deploy them to advantage. In universities, academic librarians are in a unique position to take the voice of moderation as the curriculum evolves—and to provide reliable historical evidence to guide the debate. Beyond the academy, U.S., librarians working in law firms and non-profits can also influence policy at the fundamental level, by offering balanced analytical reviews of all information sources.

Notate, document, and multi-cast

Since the fall of 2016 we have seen a mass movement within the profession to respond to the growth of questionable, or even outright "fake" news. We have already seized this new opportunity, using our research and interpersonal skills to interpret the sea of ideological prevarication we are awash in. The crucial strategy is to form a cohesive and critical voice that supports advocacy factual evidence, and to document, publish and multi-cast reliable information directly into the datastream.

Become discoverable

These two strategies lead directly to the third: we need to be more discoverable, via all media. This might mean "cataloging" reference librarians with live links to humans from within the online catalog; a greater presence video sites such as YouTube; the creation of focused online publications and blogs that promote our skills daily; or perhaps all of these.

Libraries are foundations for critical thinking, and digital libraries accelerate our prospects for being discovered and heard. We are needed more than ever, but the greatest need lies not within our own professional world, but in the world at large. To be heard in this greater sphere, we may have leave the safety of the known and embrace the tonic of the new.

Terence Huwe is Emeritus Director of Library and Information Resources at Institute for Research on Labor & Employment, University of California, USA.  He is a member of the conference advisory board for Internet Librarian International and will be chairing a panel debate - The Post-Fact Landscape on Day Two of this year's conference.

Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash.

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