Defeating “literacies”

The need to organise information in a meaningful way doesn’t diminish in a post-paper environment, and neither does the desire to discover new ideas. Curation and assisted discovery will take new forms as we bring together speakers, hands-on learning, online information and interactive storytelling. Librarians who ignore these opportunities are unlikely to have a future. Those who embrace them now should expect an exciting one. -Hugh Rundle, Blogs and the Post-Paper Library

Libraries, in their own way, do excel at making connections between information and ideas, but more importantly, they serve as a connection between people. Not just “patrons and patrons,” or “students and staff,” but also between “author and reader.” I mean active readers, who take what it is they read and bring it out into the world, the readers Foucault had in mind:

“I don’t write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me.” –Michael Foucault (?) (thanks to the shrinking librarian, the best thing about the heart libraries on the internet)

Some days, I want to retire the word “literacies” from my personal vocabulary not because it is unhelpful, but because it is too helpful.  It’s nice to have an expression that validates what we do when we teach, but sometimes when I’m preparing to do an IL session, I feel lost among overlapping definitions and competing disciplinary fields. In those cases, I look for inspiration in doing, and remember that the thing we excel at is being that connection between people, a connection that we provide for one reason, which is not to prove to anyone that a person is “information literate,” but to give them some tools so that they may act upon the world.


Technology and Human Rights (a little politics)

The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom to access and distribute information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Vinton Cerf rightly states that, ” technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself.” I believe that the same applies to libraries. Libraries support rights through attemps to create equitable (sometimes) access to technology, digital or otherwise. Further down the line, Cerf drives home his thesis–creators of technology need to support human rights. 

So, a tip from a man who helped draft the UN Declaration of Human Rights:

Those in positions of political responsibility, economic power and intellectual authority, in fact our whole society, must not give up or be overwhelmed by the current dictatorship of the financial markets, which is a sure threat to peace and democracy. –Stephane Hessel, Time for Outrage! p. 23

As librarians, we sit at an important intersection of communication, access to knowledge, education, technology, and the market. The question is, are we critically examining our relationship to financial markets? I’m not going to lead a total call against them, or “capitalism,” but time is well overdue to look at how even  the most well-intentioned actors and collaborators with profit motives affect our daily practices.

On the value of the humanities…

For ultimately, to take advantage of the vocational potential of humanities study as we propose is not to sell out to the corporate world, but to bring the critical perspective of the humanities into that world. It is a perspective that is sorely needed, especially in corporate and financial sectors that have lately been
notoriously challenged in the ethics department, to say the least. -Paul Jay and Gerald Graff, Fear of Being Useful