Bridging the gap between theory and practice: critical information literacy teaching in Canadian higher education
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The 2016 publication of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy led to extensive discussions in the academic library community on the theories and practices related to information literacy teaching in higher education. In particular, discussions regarding librarians’ understanding of new critical perspectives on information literacy have come to the forefront. Following a review of the literature on the concept of critical information literacy and library pedagogy, a gap was identified regarding the understanding of information literacy teaching theory and practices in higher education in Canada and, in particular, in the province of British Columbia (BC). In the autumn of 2017, research was conducted to address the question: How are librarians in B.C. higher education applying critical information literacy in their practice? The mixed methods study involved participant librarians drawn from the 25 public higher education institutions in the province who provide leadership for their institution’s information literacy programmes. The first phase of the research involved a survey which sought information on existing practices and librarian understanding of theory underpinning those practices, with a focus on the concept of critical information literacy. Of the total population of 25 public institutions, 24 survey responses were received from 22 institutions. For the second phase, 13 individuals, representing 13 different institutions (from the total population of 25 institutions), agreed to follow-up, semi-structured interviews. The in-depth interviews were conducted across institution types, sizes, and geographic regions in the province. Information related to awareness and application of theory in practice was gathered. An inductive approach was taken to analysing the qualitative data in both the surveys and the interviews, with the survey data forming the basis for the further exploration of themes emerging from the interviews. Quantitative data related to the particular institutions provided an opportunity to compare and contrast institutions, and to determine whether institution type and location has an impact on the application of critical information literacy in higher education teaching. Themes arising from the research provide an understanding of how and why practices occur as they do, and recommendations for further research and information sharing are identified by the researcher and the participants. Creating a common definition for critical information literacy within the province, and professional development mechanisms that focus on librarian understanding of the theories underpinning critical information literacy, will improve the ability of librarians to work more closely with faculty to teach information literacy across the curriculum.