Fearing for Their Lives: Implications of Children and Youth as Generators of Informational Texts and Literacy

In 1974, Paul Zurowski coined the term “information literacy” (IL) (Badke, 2010, p. 48) and brought attention to the burgeoning production and complexity of information and the need to study and understand it, given its power and possibilities for shaping/influencing daily life. Writing in 2013, Zurkowski made clear that “[w]ays must be found to enable ordinary[,] every day citizens [to] produce and wield countervailing power to effectively restrain” “special interest money” (p. 2). For Zurkowski, “a combination of IL and a Direct Democracy movement, offer the library community such an opportunity to remodel itself while building, along what [he called] “The Direct Democracy Coalition for Citizen Rights and Responsibilities,” the power to address … [the] “issues” he identified then. Quite clearly, Zurkowski had deep ethical concerns about the socio-economic and political life of citizens around the world. He identified IL and information professionals including librarians, as significant to creating a more just and equitable world for all. My paper is embedded in critical, sociocultural/sociohistorical perspectives (Freire, 1970) and informed by Zurkowski’s vision, and Lloyd’s (2012) “people-in-practice” perspective about IL. I highlight contemporary examples of children and youth in the practice of “generating” (Zurkowski, 1974), and simultaneously using informational texts and literacies to agentically ‘speak truth to police power,’ thereby alerting society of their lived realties of fear and injustice. The Canadian information landscape is characterized by “a range of state statistics and figures related to the disappearance and death of Indigenous women and girls…” (Scribe, 2018, p. 48). Jonnie et al.’s (2019) compelling work of youth advocacy is provoked by fear of going missing and winding up dead through misrepresentation/dehumanization, absence, and need for information, and desire for safety. This takes place in the face of what Amnesty International (2021) describes as “appalling statistics … consistent with previous estimates from sources such as Statistics Canada that have long pointed to a greatly disproportionate level of violence against First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls” (para. 4) in Canada. My presentation employs “description, analysis, and understanding of experiences” to illustrate their value in understanding the “life worlds” of those we serve as information professionals (Bruce, p. 12), in places marked by ongoing colonial oppression. I was guided by theory of phenomenography (1981) and Bruce’s (2013) application of it to IL research. I feature epistolary writing of adolescents along with relevant interpretive/theoretical frameworks, such as Indigenous feminism (Joyce, 2020) and reader response theory (Rosenblatt, 1978). This work instantiates critical youth agency/IL practices through centering multimodal literature produced by youth for the purposes of sharing information about life-threatening phenomena characterizing their life-worlds. Thereby, illustrating youths’ critical awareness of, and need for the “transformative and empowering” possibilities of IL itself, in and beyond their contexts (Bruce, 2013). Furthermore, my presentation offers insights about IL practices for youth in underserved populations and their resistance to indifference and argues for, and contributes to scholarship about the phenomenographic, “experiential [and relational] perspective” (Ibid).


  • Amnesty International. (2021). Missing and murdered indigenous women and girls: The facts. Retrieved from https://amnesty.ca/blog/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-facts/
  • Badke, W. (2010). Foundations of information literacy: Learning from Paul Zurkowski. Online, 34(1), 48–50.
  • Bruce, C. S. (2013). Information literary research practice: An experiential perspective. In S. Kurbanoğlu et al. (Eds.), European Conference on Information Literacy: Proceedings, ECIL 2013, CCIS 397 (pp. 11–30). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
  • Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.
  • Jonnie, B., Shannacappo, N., & Shingoose, N. (2019). If I go missing. James Lorimer & Company.
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  • Marton, F. (1981). Describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10(2), 177–220.
  • Mithlo, A. M. (2020). “A Real Feminine Journey”: Locating Indigenous feminisms in the arts. Meridians, 19(1).
  • Rosenblatt, L. M. (1978). The reader, the text, the poem. Southern Illinois University Press.
  • Scribe, M. (2018). Pedagogy of indifference. Canadian Woman Studies, 32(1/2), 47–57.
  • Zurkowski, P. (2013). Information literacy is dead …. Long live information literacy. In S. Kurbanoğlu et al. (Eds.), European Conference on Information Literacy: Proceedings, ECIL 2013, CCIS 397. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Barbara McNeil
University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

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