Developing Social Consciousness

It has been discussed here on the Hack Library School Blog why LIS education must include social justice curriculum. Many schools are starting to incorporate this into their programs through electives or requirements to varying degrees of effectiveness. Information professionals need social justice and equity, diversity, and inclusion curriculum to develop their social consciousness, to use a term I first heard from Marcellus Turner. The Seattle Public Library’s Chief Librarian. The University of Washington’s Helene Williams recently wrote about her work as an educator in including EDI in LIS education. However, students do not have the kind of timeline or often power as educators do, so how what can we do now to help ourselves and our classmates better develop this vital consciousness?


University of Washington’s MLIS program is known for integrating social justice in their program. They require one social justice course and many other courses integrate social justice even when it is not the main learning objective. The directed field work projects also require an aspect address social justice. For those in programs with a different or less emphasis on social justice, looking at syllabi and asking peers can help you get an idea of how courses do or do not incorporate social issues. You can also explore what kind of research the professor does, asking questions such as, “Do they work with or highlight underrepresented communities? How?” “Does their research consider the implications for unequally distributed power?” There will be courses in any program that are not socially conscious, and in these you can raise questions to get you, your classmates, and professor talking about how the course content may be viewed through different lenses. For any presentations or projects you can bring in sources and perspectives that consider social issues in a way that is relevant to the primary course topic. Once the course is over you can also write in the course review or evaluation that you wish the course had better included social issues and why it matters for the particular subject area. Becky Katz wrote more on bringing social justice to LIS education a few years ago that is still useful and relevant. You can even try getting credit from outside your program, looking at other graduate courses that are directly about social issues. I have done this and the process for getting credit towards my degree mainly involved explaining how the course is relevant to my career goals and how the program does not offer something similar.


For those who are residential students or live near a college or university, campuses large and small have a plethora of free or cheap events for students to attend, many of them about social issues. Even if you live near a campus you are not a student of, their events are often open to community members for free or at a reasonable price. Searching beyond the campus too can yield interesting and educational events. Places to look are the library, city-hosted events, non-profits, museums, archives, bookstores, radio stations, theaters, and sometimes even parks. The events can include passive ones like lectures, exhibits, art shows, poetry readings, and theater and music performances. These can be great to take a break from homework while also learning about social issues in a different format from the classroom and meeting people outside your program. There may also be opportunities to  help your school be more inclusive, equitable, and diverse that students can participate in. For example, I attended a diversity summit with UW’s iSchool that brought students, staff, and faculty together to discuss specific issues within our school and what kind of solutions we would like to see implemented. I was able to have my voice heard and see others’ perspectives. Your campus may also host one time or weekly discussions related to a specific social issue. No matter the event or frequency, getting outside your program is a great way to have your perspective challenged, learn in a new way, met new people, have your voice heard, and know your campus or city better.

Social Media

As so much of our own biases are non-conscious and take ongoing work to shift, social media can be a great way to grow social consciousness in an everyday manner. You can follow artists, organizations, and news sites to come across articles dealing with social issues There are also hundreds of great accounts to follow on social media that get you thinking about privilege and other people’s experiences in bite-sized pieces every day. Instagram is my primary way of doing this as it is a great space for artists, activists, etc to challenge the dominant culture through media. Some of my favorite accounts to follow are: @curbprisions, @shoutyourabortion, @thegoodmenproject, @theimtiredproject, @mckensiemack, @NMAAHC (the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture), @nowhitesaviors and @effyourbeautystandards (to name a few). I really value how so many artists have made apparent my own biases and created content that challenges them in a healthy and productive manner.

Also check out Conrado’s recent article on attending a conference by National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, and Sheila’s Reading & Resources List: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Which issues are important to you? What kinds of events does your city or campus hold, or what do you wish they held? Who do you follow on social media that challenges your perspective and furthers your awareness?

Featured photo by Joybot

Hanna Roseen is a first year residential MLIS student at the University of Washington with interest in public librarianship and archives. She is currently studying abroad in Europe taking a course examining how innovation works in library, information, and museum services, practices, and designs in the Netherlands. Read about her shenanigans and learning here

2 replies

  1. I enjoyed reading this article and viewing your web page. Awareness about social issues is important to everyone but, unfortunately, some people live in a bubble. How I don’t know with so many news items addressing issues in this country alone. It made me feel good to see that you and other younger people (I am in my 60s) are aware of issues and not always afraid to leave your comfort zone. I work in a university library in Virginia (for nearly 19 years now) and have witnessed a few librarians who were indifferent toward patrons who were from the surrounding neighborhood (a depressed area) and it sickened me. Now, after all these years, I am thinking of attending school for an MLIS myself but in a public library or special library. I feel like I have earned my chops as a library specialist and now it is time for the next phase in librarianship.


    • Thank you! You should go for it – I am really enjoying it. The program I am in at the University of Washington does a pretty good job at incorporating social justice.


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