can’t argue with that

no horn blowing except for anger signIt seems as if Charlottesville was several years ago. It was a shock, seeing Nazis and white supremacists carrying torches on the campus of the University of Virginia campus, then invading the town carrying guns and the kind of gear that you’d think belonged to an angry offshoot of the Society for Creative Anachronism, unleashing threats, violence, beatings, and even murder. There was outrage, but since then there has been a strange drift toward accepting white supremacy. It’s fueling candidates for office. It shows up on talk shows where hosts say America won’t be America if we don’t get rid of immigrants.

This is nothing new. What’s new, I think, is the way in which social media and journalism are trying to negotiate new forms of expression and argument in the midst of the vast and immediate distribution of text, images, and video through new channels. I’m trying to figure out how to help students understand the information they encounter, and our usual discussions of evaluation of sources simply doesn’t apply without a broader grasp of the sociotechnical moment we’re in. Understanding events like Charlottesville and the hate-inspired violence that keeps happening is likewise impossible without understanding the ways information outside the library flows. Continue reading “can’t argue with that”

responsible freedoms

freedom 99 centsSupporting intellectual freedom is a bedrock principle for libraries, yet it carries with it a host of issues. Public libraries deal with challenges to books, displays, and programs constantly. They have policies and procedures in place to smooth the path, yet it’s not always a simple matter. For two years in a row, library staff in Utah were forced to remove a LGBTQ display because the library system director (who does not have library training, though he has an MBA) thought it was too controversial. This year, when required to replace their LGBTQ display, they created a “libraries are for everyone” theme, which managed to skirt the ban while including LGBTQ folks.

Similar challenges were launched last year at libraries in Texas and North Dakota, where the library directors pushed back. I wonder, though, if those libraries have had a similar display since. Nothing like having a state legislator say the library had promoted “an ideology of sexual fluidity, promiscuity, experimentation and deviation” to put a chill on things. (The North Dakota lawmaker also complained they didn’t include anti-LGBTQ books in the display to show “both sides.”) Meanwhile, in Iowa a group protested the presence of LGBTQ books in the Orange City library. The group includes in their arguments that the library should avoid encouraging people to learn about sexuality because gay people are in danger of committing suicide. Gee, I wonder why? The same group attacks local churches and church-affiliated colleges in Iowa for theological error and “false teaching,” but the library seems a particular focus for their activism.

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who’s welcome here?

It Can't Happen Here posterTo continue my posts relating core library values to our broader information landscape, I am going to scramble them up a bit. I had intended to go alphabetically (an order that does not seem absolutely obvious and natural to many of our students – they probably have a point, there). But when the American Library Association adopted a revision to a statement about how intellectual freedom applies to meeting rooms it created a storm of discussion and anger, so it seemed right to skip right ahead to intellectual freedom and why this library value matters beyond libraries. And is no simple matter.

Intellectual freedom means librarians strive to represent all perspectives and resist censorship that’s based on partisan or doctrinal disapproval or bias against a work’s creator. That’s pretty foundational for libraries, just as debating ideas freely is foundational to higher education.

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it’s the attention economy, and it’s stupid

eyeballs (jade market)This coda to my last blog post is, in part, inspired by John Warner’s latest discussion of replacing human teachers responding to writing with machines that can read for structure and grammar but not for meaning, because meaning is not required to prove you can write. (In fact, according to the people selling this program, being able to write nonsense according to formula is proof you can write well! As if writing and meaning are separate categories.)

It’s also inspired by a piece in the New Yorker about people who believe the earth is flat and have the evidence to prove it – because there’s an abundance of evidence to prove just about anything you want, right now, and being able to “do the research yourself” is somehow affirming, a form of liberty. You don’t have to trust traditional authorities. You can find the truth yourself, online, and you’ll find a community of people who will agree with you to confirm your free thought.

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access means more than abundance

pile of metal wasteWhen I made an informal survey of academic library mission statements a few years ago, access and service were the two values most commonly mentioned. Now that we’re practically drowning in information, why is access still so commonly named as a library’s primary purpose?

On average, over 6,000 scientific articles are published daily. Over 6,000 books are published, not counting those that are self-published. That’s just the tip of the content iceberg. Every day, according to various estimates, 1.45 billion people log into Facebook to share photos and links. Half a billion Tweets are sent. A billion hours of video content are watched on YouTube. Google responds to over 3 billion search requests using the 130 trillion webpages it has indexed. Meanwhile libraries have steeply reduced their acquisition of books and are beginning to let go of journal bundles. (Sweden just told Elsevier where to get off, and others here and abroad are deciding Big Deals are bad deals.) With all this abundance, combined with austerity in library budgets and expanding productivity demands made on everyone, what does information access even mean?

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a values proposition

open doorI gave a talk last week in which I got to develop some ideas I’ve been pondering lately – how the values that underpin libraries could inform where we go with the information technologies that play such a large part in our lives. Libraries are popular and librarians are trusted. That could be simply nostalgia or romanticism at work; people don’t generally know a lot about the work librarians actually do, but it seems significant that an institution that has been around long enough to develop a robust set of values persists when, by all accounts, it doesn’t belong in the modern world.

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system restore

I was invited to speak to members of PALNI, an organization that has developed an interesting model for “deep collaboration” among libraries at private colleges in Indiana. Here’s the text (also available as a pdf).

system restore (title)Thanks so much for inviting me to speak to you today. Full confession: I have never watched an entire episode of CSI Anywhere. I turned an episode on years ago but just couldn’t get over the fact that people who do forensic work for police investigations aren’t actually detectives and that few investigations use all that science because it’s too expensive. In fact, I’m such a feminist killjoy that it bugs me that we pretend we have scientists on hand to solve crimes when there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in evidence rooms across the country because DNA testing is too expensive and so many police organizations would rather spend the money on facial recognition systems and predictive policing schemes than on actual crime victims. Which is actually kind of related to what I want to talk about today.

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from schooled skepticism to informed trust

trust sign

Mike Caulfield has written a handy (and free!) classroom-ready book about fact-checking and provides useful case studies for students and anyone who wants to fine-tune their bullshit detector. Also, he has explained why simply studying a document for clues (a checklist approach) doesn’t work and four moves you can make instead: corroborate, trace the story’s origin, confirm (aka “read laterally”), and don’t get stuck in a rabbit hole (“circle back”). I have to also give a tip of the hat to Marc Meola who made a very similar point back in 2004, though we didn’t need it quite so badly back then.

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