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Critical information literacy for the development of political agency

Smith, Lauren (2014) Critical information literacy for the development of political agency. In: IFLA World Library and Information Congress Satellite Meeting, 2014-08-14 - 2014-08-15, Limerick Institute of Technology.

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This paper explores the educational role of libraries in the form of information literacy instruction, and considers the ways in which critical theoretical approaches to information can help citizens to develop political agency – the abilities that empower them to engage in the political world around them. It considers the political position that libraries take when they engage with educational issues. The presentation discusses initial findings from fieldwork conducted in a school in the United Kingdom, which researched young people’s conceptions of political information, how they interact with information sources and how this relates to their sense of political agency. The research sought a deep understanding of the topic and took a phenomenographic approach. A combination of questionnaires, repertory grid interviews and focus groups, were used to explore how the participants conceive of political information, how they interact with the information to which they are exposed and with one another when discussing political issues and how they position themselves within their political world. The research is working towards recommendations to contribute to the development of a critical approach to information literacy instruction, which will make recommendations as to how educators supporting young people’s information literacy can engage with the cultural and contextual needs of their learners through the methodological and theoretical approaches taken in this research. The paper concludes that critical information literacy would be of benefit the development of young people’s political agency. Participants’ experiences and conceptions varied, but a commonality between them is an apparent gap between their concerns about their own futures and that of the world around them, and their understanding of their potential to play an active role as informed citizens. Initial findings indicate that there are a number of ways in which information literacy could apply specific critical theories in practice.