Cruel optimism, or, this time will be different!




academic libraries, information literacy, information literacy theory, library instruction


Information literacy (IL) is an important means by which academic libraries prove their value within higher education and to broader (sceptical) society. Yet if IL is an array of sociocultural practices that are ultimately about how we find meaning in and engage with the world, then it cannot be taught or obtained in a classroom, even through the most carefully considered (critical) pedagogy. As a result, we find ourselves in a "stuck place", in a relation of “cruel optimism” (Berlant, 2011) with IL, a relation in which we return again and again to the thing we desire, with the expectation that this time, things will be different; everything will work out. What if academic librarians were to acknowledge and refuse the ambivalence of our cruel relation with IL and envision ourselves as helping students learn “how to library” instead? If we de-centred this particular version of IL within academic librarianship, what might we make room for? What alternative spaces for thinking might open up?






Anniversary of IL Special Issue 2024