Libraries and Critical Thinking: No Better Time Than Now

It is a depressing time to be both an American and a person who thinks that facts matter. We have a President who denies the reality of climate change; claims that performing a study into whether voter fraud occurred is in and of itself grounds for concluding that voter fraud occurred; and, of course, prefers “alternative facts” [sic] when the way the world actually is turns out not to be in his liking. Donald Trump’s world is a zero sum game where if you’re not a winner you’re a loser, and there’s no grey area between terrific and disaster. And this is, like, the first week.

But though Trump is as pernicious an enemy to critical thinking as we’ve seen in quite some time, this current state of affairs provides librarians with an opportunity to (re)establish ourselves as educators whose primary business is helping learners distinguish fact from fiction. Carl Rogers once said that when doing research “the facts are friendly.” I can think of no better credo for the information literacy enterprise, and no better message that we could hope to deliver to our students.

Librarians, I’ve always believed, are in the very business of evidence: we teach learners how to use reliable information so they can construct their beliefs based on the best evidence available to them. Whether helping a student find an article in a database; learn how to cite something in MLA; or write an annotated bibliography, all our efforts boil down to helping learners base their beliefs on the evidence.

The present situation affords us a unique opportunity to use our creative powers to make this expertise explicit, and help both students and other campus faculty see our value in the realm of critical thinking. There are any number of ways to do this that fall squarely within the realm of librarianship. And the best ways, in my opinion, will be lessons that maintain our neutrality in the face of politics and and our allegiance to the facts, whatever they may happen to be. Facts are not political, no matter what this, or any other government administration may prefer you to believe.




Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Libraries and Critical Thinking: No Better Time Than Now

  1. Hi Kevin, Thank-you for the read 🙂 I wonder if you’ve missed something really important that many librarians also miss and should, I think, be at the top of the list – confirmation bias. If we’re not aware of it and taking appropriate steps to deal with it, we can never truly use information as evidence. For this reason, I use it as the first and ongoing step in info evaluation. I find that students respond thoughtfully to it. I’m not a US citizen, but from what I see of the current president and his supporters and similar politicians and their supporters in my own country, confirmation bias and postfact catch people up in a vicious cycle that operates on a spectrum from simple lack of awareness to pure manipulation. So, confirmation bias is critical to us all as we think and as we work with information and misinformation. Thanks for blogging your thoughts for all to read 🙂 Sandra

    • OOOPS!! Listening to Mr Trump continually whinging on Australian news programs over the last fortnight, prompted me to realise that I’d used “postfact” instead of “post-truths”. Next thing I know, I’ll be saying “fake news” & “extreme vetting” – GROANNNNN 😦 Sorry about that & thanks again for a most interesting blog!! And, perhaps most importantly, good luck for the next four years!!!!!! Sandra

  2. Kevin Michael Klipfel

    Hi Sandra, thanks for your comments.

    I agree that cognitive bias is important when thinking about belief construction. I remember in college one of my philosophy professors (I was a philosophy major) talked about how most people reason from their conclusions (the things they already believe) and try to find premises that support them. But what we’re SUPPOSED to do is reason from premises to the proper conclusion. I think that’s a really important point and a deep core of what we’re trying to teach in info lit: to reason FROM the evidence to conclusions, rather than the other way around.

    So in addition to introducing to framing our teaching in terms of helping students reason from the evidence (sources) in order to form their beliefs, I agree that it’s also important as info lit educators to discuss cognitive bias (and how we can try to avoid it) as librarians. So I see it as complementary, rather than an impediment, to centering our source instruction as an appeal to critical thinking about evidence.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Pingback: Evaluating information | A Librarian's Reflections

  4. Hi Kevin, I thought of you and your readers when I read this article & the comments (though I have to catch up on all of them – this really generated some discussion). The Conversation – Some food for thought for librarians here me thinks. Sandra

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