Who to follow: Andrew Whitworth

Andrew Whitworth portrait
Andrew Whitworth

I mentioned a link about Andrew Whitworth in my Search + Research post on information literacy and I think he is certainly someone worth following in this class. Whitworth is currently the Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Manchester and Programme Director of the MA: Digital Technologies, Communication and Education. Last summer he published his book Radical Information Literacy: Reclaiming the Political Heart of the IL Movement. I hadn’t really heard much about him in my professional life (not so from the librarian perspective), but with my recent venture down the path of education/ONID and given my interests in technology, his name has come up a few times.

His info can be found here:

DISCLAIMER** I haven’t in fact read this entire book. I’ve read snippets and I’ve read plenty of articles and reviews. I’m basing my commentary on that of others and from the quotes and sections I have been able to read.

In his two part book, Whitworth looks at the past and the future of information literacy. Part I delves into the history of information literacy and examines key works that lay the groundwork for his transformative ‘radical’ approach. Part II is the more valuable part, where he ‘reconstructs’ information literacy, focusing his aim on ‘how information literacy can help social actors discover in practice, and not just in theory, their own potential to democratically transform structures of authority over information exchange, and then maintain scrutiny over this authority‘ (p. 2).

This concept of radical information literacy is based on looking at information literacy as a means to empower the people and use it in every day life, not just in the institutional setting where it’s taught. In his book, he does take quite a few hits at the library and information science (LIS) world, both the programs being taught and the professionals coming out of those programs, aka librarians, aka people like myself. His issue with this institution-taught information literacy is that it doesn’t focus on what’s truly important: “the empowerment of a population, helping them develop the skills and awareness they need to resist the information that is pushed at them by dominant interests in society” (“Conformity vs. Scrutiny, 2015). What good is achieving competentices determined by institutions if you aren’t using that literacy and learning to question the institution itself?

I agree with his large point that information literacy shouldn’t just be focused on this idea of obtaining competencies, which seems to be a point heavily hit on in education. I take issue with him blaming the LIS world because I think he’s out of touch. Now what individual librarians are going out and teaching (especially in the academic context) may well likely be compentence-heavy, but who is to blame for that? I can say from having gone through library school that it’s not THAT curriculum which is pushing competencies. Yes, ALA has done quite a lot of work in creating information literacy competency standards for higher education, but look what other supporters have endorsed those standards: both the American Association for Higher Education and the Council of Independent Colleges. I think he needn’t put the blame solely on librarians and the LIS curricula.

Overall, I don’t think this idea is quite so ‘radical’ as it should be. Real world application is key, especially in today’s society – we need to be teaching relevancy in the classroom. That said, I haven’t the slightest clue how to escape from the ideological hole of ‘competency’ that education has fallen into. It’s clearly not the most worthwhile measure of learning and that’s no new news either, yet we either refuse to climb out of that hole or have yet to come up with a viable ladder. Regardless, this radical IL is certainly an interesting concept and one that deserves attention.

One thought on “Who to follow: Andrew Whitworth

  1. The book looks absolutely fascinating. I’m putting it on my reading list right now. Not letting having never read a book stop me from commenting on it, I wonder if what you are reacting to in how he apparently blames the LIS world for some woes isn’t similar to how I sometimes feel aggrieved at the way online learning or educational technology folks are lumped together as straw-people for “reformers” and “rebuilders” to use to ply their ideas…

    What caught my eye most in the description of his book was “community informatics” and the idea of subjective and intersubjective perspectives in the context of information literacy. Those ideas are a part of my own thoughts on what I call information fluency…in fact, those are at the heart of what I consider to be fluency rather than literacy.

    Thanks for sharing this!

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