Question Authority!

  • Why are some people’s ideas respected and considered credible?
  • Who gets to decide who is or is not an authority?
  • Should we suspect the findings of academic sources that may have been tainted by white privilege, sexism, socio-economic bias, and cisnormativity?
  • Is something written by a person with real life experience, even if they don’t have academic credentials, any less credible?

PHOTO CREDIT: Duncan C. (2013, December 27). Question authority. Retrieved from

CSN librarians and our colleagues at academic libraries across the country think about these questions. A lot. In fact, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), our national organization, considers “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” to be a threshold concept. Not capable of being learned in a single class or memorized for a quiz, at some point we may cross a mental threshold and get it. Or we may not.

In our library instruction program and in our conversations with students, we hope to move our community toward crossing this threshold, working to “critically examine all evidence—be it a short blog post or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding…to ask relevant questions about origins, context, and suitability for the current information need [and] come to respect the expertise that authority represents while remaining skeptical of the systems that have elevated that authority and the information created by it.” (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2016)

We care about this because understanding who has authority, how they got it, its limits, and how to become an authority, is a hallmark of an information literate person, and critical to being a global citizen.

This is the first of several posts on threshold concepts and how they relate to the teaching and learning at the heart of CSN Libraries’ mission.

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016, January 11). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved October 5, 2017, from ACRL: Association of College & Research Libraries website: