Critical thinking, while often used as a mere buzzword, is clearly relevant to the mission and expertise of librarians who teach, as well as the newly adopted ACRL Information Literacy Framework. Especially now, as students encounter fake news, radically conflicting viewpoints in the media, and apparent authorities who disregard facts, librarians are in a prime position to develop the skills necessary to empower students to navigate this tumultuous sea of ideas. First year college students may be a particularly important population to target for developing critical thinking skills, as they are building foundational skills and cognitive habits in their first years of college. However, it’s not clear in the literature how comfortable academic librarians are with teaching critical thinking, or what their attitude toward the concept may be. It may be necessary for instruction librarians to recast their thinking regarding library instruction in terms of this important concept.
In this study, 20 academic librarians across the country who teach first year students were interviewed using a revised version of the protocol developed by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (http://www.criticalthinking.org/files/Commission%20Study%20Appendix.PDF). The interviews were transcribed and coded for themes to determine how first year instruction librarians conceive of and use critical thinking in their teaching. By asking librarians about their approaches to teaching first year students, the researchers discovered common library instruction methods for teaching critical thinking, how librarians perceive the relationship between critical thinking and information literacy, and areas for growth in library instruction programs hoping to collaborate in promoting critical thinking.