INFO 281-20
Seminar in Contemporary Issues (2-Units)
Building a Critical Culture: Information Ethics, Diverse Communities, and Critical Librarianship
Summer 2022 Syllabus

Jennifer A. Ferretti

Office Location: Virtual
Office Hours: Fridays, 11 am PT or by appointment

Syllabus Links
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Canvas Information: This 2-unit course runs from June 10th through August 5th. The course will be available on Canvas on June 10th at 6 am. 

You will be enrolled in the Canvas site automatically.

Course Description

Professional values and conduct in LIS professions—codified or cultural—can uphold the status quo, leaving patrons and workers out. In this course, students will engage with critical theory and practice as means to critique, interpret, and understand how professional values can impact marginalized and diverse communities. Critical theory, a social theory that aims to critique and change society as a whole, has been part of MLIS studies for over 10 years, and its desired outcome to ensure information ethics, workplace equity, and more, remains even more relevant today. 

Course Requirements


There are four assignments using different approaches for building a critical culture within LIS. A grading rubric will be provided for each assignment. For more information, please refer to the Canvas site.

Assignment 1 (20% of grade): Critical Conversations (reading discussion) (CLO #1, CLO #2, CLO #3)

Students will be automatically added to a group discussion with no more than 6 other students. Each student will post two quotes from the readings that either resonated with them or that they disagree with and post an explanation for the pulls with enough substance and detail for a fellow student to respond to. Each student will then respond to at least one other student's post in either agreement or disagreement, with substance. This assignment is dependent on each student completing the readings with enough time to respond to one another. 

Assignment 2 (20% of grade): Prompted Reflections (CLO #1, CLO #2, CLO #3)

The purpose of submitting reflections throughout the course is to encourage thoughtful and balanced assessment of class topics and to demonstrate your learning, assumptions, gaps, and knowledge. You will be expected to critically engage with concepts and theories introduced to you in this course by making connections between your observations, opinions, and experiences. Through this type of reflection, you can assess a theory or approach based on your experiential reflection and evaluate your knowledge and skills within this field. Reflection is an important part of a critical praxis. There are three prompted reflections throughout the 8-week course. Each reflection should contain at least one citation. 

Assignment 3 (40% of grade): Issue Brief (CLO #1)

The final project of the course is to submit an Issue Brief of roughly 1,200 words (not including references) that suggests a change to one of three professional values or codes of ethics. The brief will consist of a cover page with an executive summary; an introduction that illustrates why the change is important; a description of the issue (which will be the majority of the brief); recommendations for change; and a list of references. 

Assignment 4 (20% of grade): Peer Review of Issue Brief (CLO #1, CLO #2)

Each student will review one peer's in-progress Issue Brief. The purpose of peer review is to receive feedback on your writing from a fellow student, rather than only the instructor. Both the author and peer reviewer can benefit from this process. For example, we become better writers when we are reviewed by more than one person; our writing improves when we read different authors; and giving feedback requires critical thinking and even reflection. Peer review is a way to participate in the LIS community of practice. 

Course Calendar

The course calendar is subject to change with fair notice.

Week Theme Main Activity Assignment
1 Introduction to Building a Critical Culture Read through the syllabus and assignments. Introductions on Canvas. 

Submit Reflection 1. 

Critical Conversations Week 1. 

2 Professional Values and Information Ethics Begin thinking about the Issue Brief and potential proposals. Reflect on Twitter thread (provided through Canvas). 

Submit Reflection 2. 

Critical Conversations Week 2. 

3 Debates, Responses, Case Studies Continue working on the Issue Brief. 

Critical Conversations Week 3. 

Submit Issue Brief topic and at least three sources.

4 Race, Identity, and Libraries Begin writing the Issue Brief. Suggested: Start with the explanation of the issue.  Critical Conversations Week 4. 
5 Critical Theories and Critical Librarianship Continue working on the Issue Brief. Suggested: Section on recommendations. 

Submit Reflection 3. 

Critical Conversations Week 5. 

6 Dis/ability and Libraries Complete the in-progress Issue Brief for peer review. 

Submit Issue Brief for peer review. 

Critical Conversations Week 6. 

7 How We Gather, How We Change Complete peer review and accompanying worksheet. 

Submit Peer Review Worksheet. 

Critical Conversations Week 7.

8 Final Project Working Session. Finalize your Issue Brief. 

Submit finalized Issue Brief. 

Submit the Peer Review worksheet with post-review author comments.


  • Assignment 1 (20% of grade): Critical Conversations (reading discussion)
  • Assignment 2 (20% of grade): Prompted Reflections
  • Assignment 3 (40% of grade): Issue Brief
  • Assignment 4 (20% of grade): Peer Review of Issue Brief

Late Work

Half of the assignments require collaboration from peers, which means the class is depending on work submitted by the assigned deadlines. Interaction with your peers is imperative to the learning community of this course. Success depends on timely submissions of assignments. If you have to submit late work, please contact me before the due date. 

Course Workload Expectations

Success in this course is based on the expectation that students will spend, for each unit of credit, a minimum of forty-five hours over the length of the course (normally 3 hours per unit per week with 1 of the hours used for lecture) for instruction or preparation/studying or course related activities including but not limited to internships, labs, clinical practica. Other course structures will have equivalent workload expectations as described in the syllabus.

Instructional time may include but is not limited to:
Working on posted modules or lessons prepared by the instructor; discussion forum interactions with the instructor and/or other students; making presentations and getting feedback from the instructor; attending office hours or other synchronous sessions with the instructor.

Student time outside of class:
In any seven-day period, a student is expected to be academically engaged through submitting an academic assignment; taking an exam or an interactive tutorial, or computer-assisted instruction; building websites, blogs, databases, social media presentations; attending a study group;contributing to an academic online discussion; writing papers; reading articles; conducting research; engaging in small group work.

Course Prerequisites

INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204, other prerequisites may be added depending on content

Course Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Students will evaluate the historical and contemporary context of race and identity to propose new standards for professional values, conduct, and ethics.
  2. Students will understand professional values, conduct, and ethics and how they might impact marginalized communities.
  3. Students will understand critical theory within LIS practice.

Core Competencies (Program Learning Outcomes)

INFO 281 supports the following core competencies:

  1. C Articulate the importance of designing programs and services supportive of diversity, inclusion, and equity for clientele and employees.
  2. D Apply the fundamental principles of planning, management, marketing, and advocacy.


No Textbooks For This Course.

Grading Scale

The standard SJSU School of Information Grading Scale is utilized for all iSchool courses:

97 to 100 A
94 to 96 A minus
91 to 93 B plus
88 to 90 B
85 to 87 B minus
82 to 84 C plus
79 to 81 C
76 to 78 C minus
73 to 75 D plus
70 to 72 D
67 to 69 D minus
Below 67 F


In order to provide consistent guidelines for assessment for graduate level work in the School, these terms are applied to letter grades:

  • C represents Adequate work; a grade of "C" counts for credit for the course;
  • B represents Good work; a grade of "B" clearly meets the standards for graduate level work or undergraduate (for BS-ISDA);
    For core courses in the MLIS program (not MARA, Informatics, BS-ISDA) — INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204 — the iSchool requires that students earn a B in the course. If the grade is less than B (B- or lower) after the first attempt you will be placed on administrative probation. You must repeat the class if you wish to stay in the program. If - on the second attempt - you do not pass the class with a grade of B or better (not B- but B) you will be disqualified.
  • A represents Exceptional work; a grade of "A" will be assigned for outstanding work only.

Graduate Students are advised that it is their responsibility to maintain a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA). Undergraduates must maintain a 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

University Policies

Per University Policy S16-9, university-wide policy information relevant to all courses, such as academic integrity, accommodations, etc. will be available on Office of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs' Syllabus Information web page at: Make sure to visit this page, review and be familiar with these university policies and resources.

In order to request an accommodation in a class please contact the Accessible Education Center and register via the MyAEC portal.

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