Workshop Justification

R. Hall asserts in “Public praxis” (2010) that while public libraries are working towards information literacy in some ways through technology access and instruction, reference services, and community partnerships, there is a general lack of scholarship and connection to information literacy issues within public librarianship. Meanwhile, community organizations committed to issues of information literacy and access and the digital divide frame the issues of “high-tech equity” as a problem of access within a distributive paradigm of technology “haves” and technology “have-nots.” (Eubanks). This conceptualization is flawed. Inspired by these writers and by the pedagogical work of John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Jane Addams, this digital literacy workshop was created to address issues of high-tech equity within a popular education framework in a public library setting. Popular technology workshops, or “technology for people,” “mix ‘systems designed for everybody’ with educational programs that combine practical/functional goals with technology skills training in order to increase people’s well-being financially, emotionally, socially, and intellectually” (Eubanks, 2007). It “reminds us that technology is not a destiny but a site of struggle” (Eubanks, 2012, pg. 155).


1. Introduction: Free Write and Share (5-10 minutes)

As documented in Dewey’s vision of popular education (and re-capped in Research Methods for Community Change), popular technology workshops “emphasize the involvement of community members themselves as sources of information and knowledge.” Therefore, starting the workshop with a sharing of experiences encourages participants to “begin to see that they are not alone, and their experience is not the product of their own failings or weaknesses but is part of something bigger going on. The common experience of oppression, exploitation, or exclusion that popular education uncovers then becomes the basis for a deeper analysis by the group, as they collectively analyze its underlying causes” (Stoecker, 161).

While beginning with a “free write” gives participants time to collect their thoughts and feel more prepared for the short sharing discussion later (as well as gives a buffer for potential latecomers to still be involved in this initial goal-determining), the introduction works towards taking the first steps on the path towards that shared understanding of “something deeper going on” that will produce collateral development of confidence and reduced anxiety and fears over new technologies and participants’ perceived level of expertise.

Brainstorm/Discussion: Concept Map (20 minutes)

This active learning activity is grounded in the progressive educational theories of Dewey and Addams, and the popular education pedagogy of Freire. The technology discussion questions are inspired by the sample questions posed by Eubanks in interviews of research participants, as documented in Appendix A, Box A.1 (2012, pg. 174). During these interviews, Eubanks and her interviewees began to draw the digital divide and the complexities which the women saw not represented in the traditional model.

Ex: (2012, pg. 38)

Image source: Eubanks, V. (2007). "Trapped in the digital divide: The distributive paradigm in community informatics." Journal of Community Informatics, 3(2).

Additionally, as documented by many learning theories and principles of instructional design, learner/participant engagement is boosted through activities that offer variety in “learning styles” and methodologies. Combining a discussion with a concept map allows for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning engagement, as well as flexibility for participants (including the facilitator) to speak, read (from the free-write cards or from new notes), draw, move, or listen in order to communicate with others in a way that best helps them understand and articulate concepts.

Finally, allowing participants to describe their own information-seeking processes allows for confidence-building and more of a “popular education” style discussion. Recognizing the already-existing experience and expertise of traditionally “non-expert” users also works to disrupt the technology “digital divide” in the same way that Eubanks’s drawing-discussions helped reframe the “digital divide” in the knowledge and experience of the women of the YWCA. Introducing “library anxiety” (Bostick, 1992; Mellon, 1986; Brown, 2011; Cooke, 2010) within this framework allows for critical engagement and disruption of a concept which, while not explicitly applied to public libraries (as often), has been used for decades by librarians to define the “deficiencies” of the public library technology user (“They are afraid to touch the computer without breaking it”; “they don’t use the catalog”; “they take Google at face value and don’t think to ask for help.”) Allowing participants the critical space to grapple with self-definition will both empower them to become more confident library/technology users, and also provide staff and administrators with much-needed insight and perspective on the library/technology anxiety issue.

Break: (5-10 minutes) OPTIONAL

Allows for bathroom break, movement, extended discussion, library tour, or movement from a meeting room to a computer lab as needed.

Technology Practice: (45-50 minutes)

Guided practice or “lecture”  (30 minutes)

While the previous discussion allowed for the kind of critical knowledge-building which is ultimately the goal of the facilitator (and perhaps the partnering institution’s), the goal of many information literacy workshops in a public library (from the administrator’s point of view as well as the participants) is to teach patrons technology skills they can use to become more “digitally literate.” Eubanks, Stoecker, and the others cited, as well as the previous discussion, work to disrupt this traditional conception of education and technology users. If nothing else, this workshop design demonstrates that critical social justice theory can be integrated not only into academic scholarship in community informatics but also into existing digital literacy “training” already being offered in public libraries and other community computing centers.

This “lecture” resembles a traditional “teaching technology” outline, but in reality is anchored in the previous discussion of information-seeking processes and power structures. Similar to the “popular technology” workshops described by Eubanks, skills training can happen, but only when participants understand how those skills will directly influence their lived experience in a positive way that also works to create a more just society. Learning technology skills without this kind of critical engagement simply works to recreate the structural inequalities that force “skills training” on the “have-nots” to make them properly fitting cogs in the larger social machine of “technology” and “progress.”

Practice (20 minutes)

Building on the work of Dewey and Freire and the foundations of experience-based and problem-posing learning theories, the short lecture will be followed by hands-on practice of the skills identified in the introductory discussion as specifically useful to the participants (as encouraged by Eubanks’s model of popular technology). Just as academic library instruction is most useful when related to a real, immediate information need like an impending assignment, this technology practice will be self-directed exploration, so as to be immediately relevant to information needs of participants (ideally previously expressed in the introductory “why did you come today” discussion).

Wrap-Up: Discuss, survey, and thank-you’s (5-10 minutes)

Just as every good reference interview requires follow-up, every good instruction session requires a wrap-up. Especially since the last 50 minutes have been hands-on “skills training,” participants will appreciate the opportunity to come back and share techniques they found helpful in their independent (or group) exploration, as well as reflect on earlier discussion points that may have needed “real-world” experiential learning to “sink in.”

Optional Assessment Tool:

A survey such as the one suggested provides facilitator and library staff with measurable assessment of achievement of affective outcomes of confidence and anxiety levels. Additionally, it provides participants opportunity for direct feedback, and shows staff and facilitator value their opinions and input, which also builds confidence, engagement, and rapport.


Bostick, S. L. (1992). The development and validation of the Library Anxiety Scale. Doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University.

Brown, L. J. (2011). “Trending now–Reference librarians: How reference librarians work to prevent library anxiety.” Journal of Library Administration, 51(3), 309-317.

Cooke, N. A. (2010). “Becoming and andragogical librarian: Using library instruction as a tool to combat library anxiety and empower adult learners.” New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(2), 208-227.

Eubanks, V. (2012). Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Eubanks, V. (2007). “Trapped in the digital divide: The distributive paradigm in community informatics.” Journal of Community Informatics, 3(2). Retrieved April 7, 2012 from DOAJ Directory of Open Access Journals, UIUC.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Touchstone. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Hall, R. (2010). “Public praxis: A vision for critical information literacy in public libraries.” Public Library Quarterly, 29, 162-175.

Mellon, C. A. (1986). “Library anxiety: A grounded theory and its development.” College & Research Libraries, 47(2), 160-165.

Stoecker, R. (2013). Research Methods for Community Change: A Project-Based Approach. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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