Clive Thompson from Wired Magazine — one of my favorite techno-journalists — writes that tools like Twitter can help us develop a “sixth sense” about the people in our networks. All those seemingly mundane facts like “having homemade bagel & lox for breakfast!” and “reading Vonnegut during flight delay…” can add up to give us a picture of what’s happening in the lives of those around us. As librarians, we can use Twitter to help our communities develop a sixth sense about who we are and what we offer, and we can also use it to develop our own sixth sense that will help us tune into the wants and needs of our communities, too. For instance, if you see a lot of chatter in your network about the recent PBS documentary Copyright Criminals, you can schedule a showing at your library and then send a tweet about the event to all your Twitter followers!
December and January have been all about launching B Sides, our lovely new open access electronic journal for the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science! We hope the site will be ready to go live at the beginning of spring semester on January 19th, when we will begin soliciting submissions from current SLIS students and alumni.
As the founding editors, my colleague and I have been busy rounding up faculty sponsors, setting up the peer review process, customizing the content management software, working with a graphic designer, and meeting with both the University’s ITS department and Digital Library Services. Whew! In the meantime, here’s a little snippet from our homepage to give you an idea what B Sides will be all about:
Lev Vygotsky located the Zone of Proximal Development between a child’s “current development level and the level of development the child could achieve ‘through adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’” (Vygotsky, as quoted in Woolfolk, 44). He wrote that children are always on the verge of being able to solve certain problems, and that they just need some structure, clues and reminders to help them. This Zone of Proximal Development is the area “where instruction can succeed, because real learning is possible” (ibid). Carol Kuhlthau built on Vygotsky’s claims when she described her theory of “zones of intervention.” She studied the information gathering process of high school students, and noticed that doubt, confusion and anxiety often prevent students from knowing how to move forward in their work. When uncertainty prevails, mediators can intervene in the search process. “Mediators” can be friends, family, librarians, teachers—in other words, any capable peer or adult who can provide the student with some clues or structure to help her find her way.
The freedom to access and create information is the most important ethical consideration of a librarian’s work. This is true of both public and private librarians. Democracy depends upon an informed citizenry, which in turn depends upon the freedom of information. Whether librarians serve the public or a private organization, they should not seek to censor or repress the information that their users seek.
Individual information seekers in a democratic society must be held accountable for their own use of information. If librarians were liable for the information they help discover, intellectual freedom would be destroyed. Librarians would withhold information that isn’t necessarily “accurate” to save themselves from being punished in a court of law. This is true for private as well as public libraries, and would have particularly disastrous effects on research communities. Even in rigorous research environments, “accurate” information is not always the most valuable information. New scientific hypotheses, for instance, often disprove the accuracy of previously recorded information. Rather than worrying about information liability, librarians should be concerned with discovering “more” and “useful” information. Conflicting viewpoints are necessary to challenge existing hypothesis and promote stronger research.
“The necrophilous person loves all that does not grow, all that is mechanical. The necrophilous person is driven by the desire to transform the organic into the inorganic, to approach life mechanically, as if all living persons were things.” (Fromm, as quoted in Freire, 72)
The inherent danger in reification is that when we attempt to explain or describe a concept, we could transform what is fluid or living into a static thing. When we theorize about education, for example, which is a very fluid and complex concept, it is tempting to try to make the reality of education—i.e. education-in-practice—fit into our static theories and definitions about education, rather than the other way around. This is what Freire called “oppression—overwhelming control. . . nourished by love of death, not life.” And Fromm: “he loves control, and in the act of controlling he kills life” (ibid).
Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola problematize book-love. Quoting several writers, they argue that books objectify cultures and worlds by encouraging people to imagine linear, concrete selves. Continue reading
In the 2006 film, Idiocracy, Luke Wilson plays a “completely average” army librarian named Joe Bauers whom the Pentagon inadvertently sends 500 years into the future. The world in which Private Bauers arrives is “a world awash in symbols,” to borrow a phrase from the linguist James Gee. When Bauers goes to the hospital, the triage nurse does not ask him traditional diagnostic questions. Instead, she listens to him describe his symptoms and then pushes corresponding buttons on a plastic panel covered with symbols. For example, an “ouchy head” symbol denotes a concussion. Or a headache. Or traumatic brain injury—etc. As you might imagine, Private Bauers is not impressed. In Idiocracy, this use of symbols to perform a complex task such as diagnosis is meant to suggest the simplification and subsequent collapse of a great nation once its people have forgotten how to read, write and speak “civilized” language—in other words, when they have lost their literacy.
It’s an absolutely free gift from MIT to the global community—or at least those who have access to the Internet: MIT’s visionary Open Course Ware (OCW) website offers free content from over 1900 MIT courses for the edification and education of humankind, including course descriptions, syllabi, calendars, reading lists, assignments, answer keys, study materials, exams, lecture notes, video lectures and “related resources” that the instructor hopes will supplement the course material. It’s a truly visionary resource that embraces the philosophy of open access. However, the content itself hasn’t been adapted for use outside the classroom, so it can be difficult for the casual online student to understand how best to interact with the materials.
A few weeks ago, Wired magazine published a great article by Clive Thompson on “the New Literacy“, debunking that tired old argument that TV, computers & texting are destroying literacy and civilization.
Au contraire, what Andrea Lunsford found in a recent study at Stanford is that more young students are generating so much more creative content in their free time than any previous generation, and that this content is often highly nuanced — they know how to assess their audience and adapt their tone to get their point across. And my favorite quote from the article: “The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision.”
At my public library I encourage teenagers to blog, create podcasts and produce YouTube videos. I want them to see themselves as creators of content rather than mere content consumers. I think this is utterly empowering for them, and it’s fantastic to see some exciting & innovative research coming out of Lunsford’s study to validate these objectives!
Update: 10/26/2010 — An updated version of this article is now available in Public Library Quarterly: Vol. 29, Issue 2, p. 162
This paper was a labor of love; it was written for my Literacy and Learning course with James Elmborg this semester. In trying to understand why public libraries haven’t paid as much attention to “information literacy” as school and college libraries, I ended up writing about how public libraries can devote themselves to the “continuous process of forming whole human beings—their knowledge and aptitudes, as well as the critical faculty and the ability to act” (IFLA ), and about why I think it’s important for them to do just that. I also talk about Paolo Freire; John Dewey; Web 2.0; New Literacy Studies; and information literacy programs at public libraries in the province of Mpumalanga, South Africa.
Continue reading below to see the full text of the paper, or click here to download the pdf.
So this is what I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks instead of posting to my blog… I’m trying to graduate from Library School (just two semesters left — halfway there!), and this is one of the projects I was working on this semester in my Information Policy class.
If you want to read about Obama, Britney Spears, Admiral John Poindexter, and the Department of Defense’s creepy plan to collect all kinds of data on you and then mine that data to predict whether or not you’re a terrorist, this is the article for you! OK, so that’s kind of unfair — I really only mention Obama and Britney Spears in passing. But I’m hoping its still an informative and entertaining piece on important things happening with your electronic health records RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.
I am too bedraggled and brain-frozen right now to do any cool “click here to cut to the rest of the article” things, so for the time being it will just be a PDF: Your Liberty and Your Health: Protecting Electronic Health Records on the Nationwide Health Information Network.
More to come in the next few days: a lovingly-written paper on Critical Information Literacy in Public Libraries (an issue near and dear to my heart), and a rundown of the Iowa Library Association’s Technology Petting Zoo, which is happening this Friday.
(*edit: my brain is working much better today. Full text available below:)