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Social Work: Companion Document to the ACRL Framework: 3. Information Has Value

Created by the ACRL/EBSS Social Work Committee, 2020

Social Work Perspective

Social Work Practice

Social Workers pursue social change on behalf of and in partnership with some of the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our society. This pursuit requires greater sensitivity and knowledge about oppression as well as cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers' understanding of power wielded by individuals and organizations with access to information affects how they make practice decisions and shape social policy.

Social workers understand their own information privilege and how systems of knowledge creation and dissemination may marginalize some individuals or groups. They leverage their critical understanding of these dynamics to make informed decisions as both information consumers and creators.

Social Work Education

Social work librarians curate collections of resources in various formats to preserve and provide access to knowledge in the fields of social work, psychology, sociology, and other relevant disciplines. They partner with faculty to find appropriate materials for their courses and provide research guides to facilitate independent learning and knowledge discovery.

As students learn to create, distribute, and utilize information as a means to effect social change, social work librarians teach them how to access knowledge from the library's collection and other proprietary sources. Students learn that access to information is a privilege that affects both social workers and their clients and they come to understand the importance of questioning individuals and organizations that hold power and influence with regards to information. 

Lack of access to quality information is an ongoing challenge for social workers as the bulk of scholarly literature exists behind a paywall (Pendell, 2018). It’s worth asking "if teaching students to use expensive, licensed databases...is effective for students once they separate from the university" (Pendell, 2018, p.1050). Considering this, it's crucial to teach social work students about open access, fair use, and to ensure proper credit is attributed to sources (See Also Frame 1: Authority is Constructed and Contextual and Frame5: Scholarship as Conversation).  

Connection to Professional Standards (NASW)

National Association of Social Workers: Code of Ethics

Value: Social Justice 

  • "...particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals" and "to ensure access to needed information..."

Ethical Standard 4.08(a) & (b) -- Acknowledging Credit 

  • Social workers should take responsibility and credit, including authorship credit, only for work they have actually performed and to which they have contributed....[and] honestly acknowledge the work of and the contributions made by others.”

Value: Integrity 

  • "Social workers are continually aware of the profession's mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them.”

Ethical Standard 5.01(c) & (d) -- Integrity of the Profession

  • "Social workers should contribute time and professional expertise to activities that promote ...competence of the social work profession...[through] teaching, research…[and] contribute to the knowledge base of social work and share with colleagues their knowledge related to practice, research, and ethics...seek[ing] to contribute to the profession's literature and to share their knowledge at professional meetings and conferences.”

Ethical Standard 5.02(b) & (c) -- Evaluation and Research

  • “Social workers should promote and facilitate evaluation and research to contribute to the development of knowledge…[and] critically examine and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work and fully use evaluation and research evidence in their professional practice.”

Value: Competence 

  • “Social workers should aspire to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession.”

Connection to Professional Standards (CSWE)

Council of Social Work Education: Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards

Competency 1: Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior

  • "Social workers recognize the importance of life-long learning and are committed to continually updating their skills to ensure they are relevant and effective."

Competency 2: Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice

  • “Social workers apply and communicate understanding of the importance of diversity and difference in shaping life experiences in practice...present themselves as learners and engage clients and constituencies as experts of their own [life] experiences; and apply self-awareness and self-regulation to manage the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse clients..."

Competency 4: Engage In Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice

  • "Social workers know the principles of...culturally informed...approaches go [towards?] building knowledge…[and] understand the evidence that informs practice derives from multi-disciplinary sources and multiple ways of knowing"

Examples of Learning Objectives and Activities

1. Learning Objective: Recognize differences in systems of publishing and dissemination for different source types

2. Learning Objective: Recognize how linguistic barriers and differential access to publishing support affect authors in different regions

  • Activity 1: Assign student groups different types of information sources covering the same topic to compare. (e.g. academic article versus local news coverage by a Sinclair-owned outlet, policy briefs from two think tanks on opposite sides of the political spectrum, scholarship from a US-based and a non-Western scholar writing for their home audiences). Facilitate a discussion of these questions:

    • How might the legal and socio economic interests of sources such as think tanks,  corporate, or government underwriters influence information production and dissemination in your assigned sources? How might these impact your assessment of their value?

    • Do these sources reveal any ways that information is utilized “by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices”? How so?

  • Activity 2: Facilitate a discussion of these questions.

    • As a user and creator of content in the world of social work information, what are some of your “rights and responsibilities when participating in a community of scholarship”? 

    • Does your access (or lack thereof) to quality information reflect its value? If so, how?

3. Learning Objective: Recognize differences in information access based on organizational affiliation.

4. Learning Objective: Demonstrate how differential information access impacts practice.

  • Activity: Simulate different levels of information privilege in a group activity where groups must research the same topic, but within the limits of their group’s assigned information access status.