Student-led innovation: Bringing social justice to LIS education

Justice Legg of America. Image credit Flickr user JD Hancock, CC-2.0

Justice Legg of America. Image credit Flickr user JD Hancock, CC-2.0


The idea I’m going to propose at the end of this introduction came to me during the ALISE Academy at the ALISE (Association for Library and Information Science Education) conference in January. The discussion was about integrating social justice topics more intentionally into the LIS curriculum. Talk turned to administrative barriers (university politics, departmental politics, etc.). A comment was made — not by Liz [EDIT: Liz = a classmate of mine who is also very into social justice], though she was there — about the push needing to come from students. Proper channels and all that.

My LIS community is not made of my classmates. It’s made of librarians and students on Twitter. I’m in my last semester and this is the first time I’ve been in a class with people I had class with in previous semesters. So when you say to me that the push for something needs to come from students, my thoughts don’t turn to proper channels, they turn to Hack Library School.

So what I’d like to do for my next few posts is to share my ideas for how students can bring social justice issues into their courses even if their professors don’t. I’ll organize these posts by my school’s core curriculum,  but I hope that you will comment with additional ideas based on the courses and assignments in your own programs.

Course One. Organization of Information.

General topics covered: theory and principles of information organization, metadata, indexing, thesaurus design, controlled vocabulary, relationship of information organization to information access.

Assignments: reading reflections (for asynchronous online class sessions), metadata exercise, thesaurus exercise, research paper.

Social justice ideas:

A. The metadata exercise in this class was to choose two metadata schemas and a digital publication, and to create the metadata for that publication using the chosen schemas. Additionally, the assignment included an evaluation component including a comparison of the two schemas. For this assignment, the social-justice-minded student could…

  1. Choose an online publication about a social justice issue.
  2. In writing the evaluation, include consideration of whether the chosen metadata schema is more or less likely to support access.

B. The thesaurus exercise was to choose a topic and build a thesaurus with at least 25 relevant terms. For this assignment, I built a thesaurus about foster care. This assignment can easily be an opportunity for the social-justice-minded student to learn more about a social justice issue. Topics could be as narrow as the digital divide or homelessness or as broad as poverty or discrimination.

C. The research paper was to write about any topic covered in the course. I wrote my paper about Library of Congress Subject Headings and controversial and/or emerging subjects. There are a lot of opportunities to write about access issues related to controlled vocabularies. How is access supported by organization of information? How is access inhibited by organization of information? What is taught when our controlled vocabularies treat straight, cisgender white American* men as the assumed norm and only specify subgroups for people who do not fit in all five of those categories. (*Assuming a US-developed controlled vocabulary; I hope that American isn’t a default in, say, Germany.)

Add your thoughts.

What were the assignments for your program’s equivalent of my school’s organization of information course? How would you suggest a student interested in social justice integrate this subject into his or her work?

9 replies

  1. Becky, let me just say I LOVE your idea, and the idea in general of “bring[ing] X issues into their courses even if their professors don’t.” (If you can’t already tell, the “rogue library student” mission is one of the things I love most about HLS). I’d be interested to see the completed assignments that come out of this post; I know we have many civic-minded readers and I think I could learn a lot just from seeing their work! I had to complete a similar assignment as that thesaurus exercise in my first year, and I did it on junk food… not exactly a great contribution to the library profession :).

    Great work, and I’m excited to see what else you come up with!!


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