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2019 ACRL President's Program

Discussion, information, and additional resources for the 2019 ACRL President's Program. Opinions expressed by blog authors are their own and do not express the views or opinions of their employers or of ACRL.

More than a Thought Experiment: Designing Anti-Oppressive Events and Instruction

by Hallie Clawson on 2019-04-15T07:00:00-05:00 | Comments

This week's post comes from Amanda MeeksTeaching, Learning, and Research Services Librarian at Northern Arizona University. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page.

As a profession, we are overwhelmingly homogenous—cis, straight, white women make up the majority. When we design instruction, events and other outreach around this homogeneity instead of seeking out and celebrating difference, we render many in our communities invisible. As we begin the reflective process of redesigning our practice to make it explicitly anti-oppressive, we can more intentionally acknowledge the ways our institutions were not designed for, or with, marginalized groups within our society and how this design flaw has had a greater impact. This is an issue that needs to be continuously addressed on both individual and collective levels, instead of perpetuating a homogenous culture and continued oppression of those groups and individuals. In this blog post, I am providing an activity and zine I developed, based on design thinking practices, that can help guide those involved in creating events, programs, and instruction sessions within libraries.

Design thinking has impacted the way many libraries write mission and vision statements, create strategic plans, and carry out service and user-design initiatives. I know I have seen my fair share of Post-It notes and whiteboard exercises in my library and at library conferences. However, these strategies are rarely examined critically by library workers who employ them to guide design processes and may come off as superficial thought experiments if done without care. It is problematic that these processes originated with, and are still often centered on, selling “products” over people. We need to foster a practice that pushes us to consider how we work within communities of individuals with different identities and experiences from our own. Empathy and reflexivity are the primary components of design thinking that I have found most useful in my own efforts to intentionally offer both formal and informal learning opportunities that are anti-oppressive and prioritize agency.  Through careful event facilitation and instructional practices, the aim is to reflect on and fix power imbalances .

I recently co-presented two national workshops about incorporating student experiences in the learning environment: the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) and the Critical Librarianship and Practice Symposium (CLAPS). The goal of both workshops, was to look at learners’ needs in an event or classroom setting while also considering who they are and their myriad experiences. It is critical to start thinking about how we, as librarians, can truly support and care for students with different (sometimes very different) experiences from our own. When we design events and instruction, I believe libraries and librarians often design for the majority and dominant culture without realizing it, instead of groups and individuals who have been historically marginalized. What if we radically shift our practice to focus on the most vulnerable learners in our classrooms and on our campuses and start designing for them, as well as with them? This is a process has informed my work in developing intentionally affirming events such as Womxn/Trans/Femme Maker Nights and Thinking Through Making programs as well as information literacy lessons and course instruction.

Inclusive library events and affirming instruction will look different in each context. The zines presented here were used in the workshop settings mentioned above, but they may be utilized in other contexts as well. The activity and zines rely on personas, or fictional characters, archetypes, and potential learners alongside a narrative or common bias. This is meant to situate them within our contexts, challenging librarians to reflect on how our events or instructional practice impact learners on a personal level. The activity might be used as an individual and ongoing process, as you plan events and instruction; or it may also be used within your department or organization to spark conversations around improving the way we design for inclusivity. In your context, this may look like increased representation across learning materials, incorporating narratives that learners identify with, and using their interests and values to work with them and make learning empowering and more accessible.

Event and instructional design is an iterative process that neither starts nor ends with this reflective activity, but this can be used when and where it makes sense for your practice and planning. Additionally, I encourage you to remix these materials for your own purposes, create new personas, and remember that this process is multifaceted, incremental, and will take time. You will make mistakes and you will run into barriers, but the more often we practice this individually or collectively, the more it will become the norm and the easier it becomes.

To use the zines:

  1. Each zine can be printed and used with a group or individually. If you are interested in events, particularly those related to makerspaces, the Making on Purpose zine will be useful. If you are interested in information literacy instructional design, then the Empathic Design zine will be relevant. Download the PDF that best meets your needs.
  2. To print, use 11”x17” paper, select the double-sided print setting and flip the print along the short edge when printing.
  3. You’ll then fold your sheet of paper according to one page zine instructions, making sure the cover of the zine is oriented correctly.
  4. INDIVIDUALLY: read through the zine and all five personas. Choose one persona to advocate for and reflect on how you would advocate for this person through your work.
  5. IN GROUPS: discuss the questions on the last page of your zine, as they relate to the personas you are individually advocating for.
  6. As you finish, unfold your zine to find more opportunities for self-reflection, including questions and prompts and a VENN diagram, that you may discuss with others or write about.

  Cover and first page of the downloadable "Empathetic Design" zine

Additional Resources:
If you would like to explore this work further, the National Equity Project provides resources and tools to work towards equity in educational settings and the Inclusive Design Guide can be used to develop services, built environments, workshops, and physical products.


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