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Challenging Authority: The ACRL Framework as a Stimulus for Critical Thinking about Competing Narratives in Latin American History

  • Pierce College, Puyallup, Washington, United States


It might be assumed that academic libraries would be relatively free of the biased, faulty information unearthed in high school textbooks as exposed by James Loewen in 1996. One would think that subject-specific reference works especially, with their reputation of being scholarly and neutral, would be free of the problems found in the textbooks Loewen examined. However, that is not the case. The call for proposals for the 2017 SALALM conference asked members to consider the challenge of balancing Northern and Southern perspectives about Latin America. To answer the question with another question, this author asks: is it a perspective – or something else – when a narrative omits half the facts? Or when the narrative is so distorted that it prevents readers from gaining even a cursory grasp of an event? While it is a cliché that history is written by the victors, this does not excuse information professionals from allowing flawed narratives to repeat themselves indefinitely. It is useful to consider the consequences of fossilized propaganda. What was the impact of generations of students who never received the full story about the U.S. role in Brazil’s 1964 coup? In Chile’s 1973 coup, or Uruguay’s, or Argentina’s in 1976, and so on? How might these generations’ incomplete educations have affected their voting choices and perhaps the course of U.S. foreign policy? Librarians, with their concern for social justice and multiple points of view, are well placed to respond to any imbalance of Northern and Southern perspectives through conscientious collection development. As teachers of information literacy, they must also model how to critically evaluate traditionally authoritative sources in order to prepare students for navigating an information landscape marred by omission, distortion, and whitewashing.
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