Critical theory and transformative learning are deeply interesting to me, but I find the biggest hurdle in implementing them in the classroom is the nature of the kind of library instruction I’ve been able to do thus far. I am almost always a guest in someone else’s classroom with a limited time frame. There are very talented instruction librarians out there that find ways to incorporate critical theory into one-shot sessions (a common example I’ve seen is choosing search topics on a social justice issue relevant to the audience), but I know there is not enough time as a guest instructor to build a sense of trust that lends itself to open discussion and critical reflection. I’ve had better luck as a facilitator of a library student advisory group. There we were able to build a sense of community over a year before having the kinds of discussions that challenged any ideology (our focus was on textbook affordability and the relationships between publishers, libraries, and higher ed). That has been a great experience, but I have the luxury of time to slowly build trust and a co-learning environment.
One difficulty has been balancing the “support and challenge” of students that Wang, et al wrote about in the reading for this week. Our students are some of the most incredible people I work with, and sometimes I veer too far into coddling rather than challenging during discussions. They are just under so much pressure as it is! I had a group of students hardcore lamenting mask mandates in the library—just so, so frustrated and angry. I’ve had a few discussions with these students since then trying to balance empathy (wearing masks is not super fun) with challenging their perspective (who are we trying to protect by wearing masks?).
This is getting long now, but I’ve seen this kind of community/trust built in a short time for conferences. When Denver PL did their symposium on workplace racial equity in 2020, it was one of the first fully online conferences I had attended. I was blown away that their organizer had created a clear community agreement, time between sessions for reflection and decompression, and spaces for more vulnerable attendees to congregate by themselves. The symposium lasted a few days, but there was a sense of community, even in the tiny Zoom chats, because the organizer set clear expectations, made reminders, and attendees took responsibility to reinforce certain norms.