Initial Thoughts on Nostalgia

If you are an American, it is likely that you produce nostalgia. Of course, there is the top-down flavor of nostalgia, which runs from television shows to the auctioning off of vintage brand names. The “directors and programmers and gatekeepers” have a solid grip on the production of big nostalgia, with a near-mythical forty-year time delay. While it’s high-profile, it’s not where the action is.

The photography duo Birdhead is known of constantly documenting the banality of their daily lives in Shanghai in the way we all do on Facebook and Instagram, but they do it with older techniques, because they “prefer the tactile appeal of analog film,” and “the current digital cameras look too ugly.” The combination of facebook-esque subject matter and an old-school vibe fit in perfectly with the way we make our own nostalgia. In addition to fitting in with the hipster’s infatuation with things retro, if not straight out old-timey, what we see is the production of nostalgia by each and every person using social media, where every picture, post and link is “a potential document to be consumed by others,” which turns the present into the past, fast.

Birdhead, The Song of Early Spring, 2012

The Brooklyn/Hipster aesthetic does the same thing, but on a much larger scale, especially in food, but also in other goods. The whole thing has become a brand where nostalgia is packaged and sold as fashionable luxury goods. What generation but those born into the digital world could produce such waves of nostalgia for profit and for pleasure? Nostalgia, more so than being a product of honchos in Hollywood, is a deeply social act, performed on a small scale by an entire generation.

Supposedly a bad thing, some researchers are now saying that our constant stream of making the present the past is good for us: it reinforces our connection to others through a common meaning of “the past,” but compared to honest-to-god homesickness (it used to be a disease of which you could die) nostalgia is fairly harmless, if not a great way to make a profit. In a dust-up between designer Jeremy Scott and stylist Ms. Fitz over who could claim the rights to 90’s nostalgia, the point was made that “it can simply belong to whoever most wants to claim it.” The reality is that there’s always plenty to go around because we all make nostalgia. All day, everyday.

Quote That:

Conflict around the “uptake of reading and writing instruction in part entails a clash of residual and emergent traditions, a clash between literacy pedagogy as “gift” and literacy pedagogy as commoditized, capitalist economic exchange epitomized in the last 100-year campaign to convert literacy education into a secular, industrial training. -Allan Luke, Pedagogy as gift, Pierre Bourdieu and Literacy Education p68-91.

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.

Not Worried About Circulation

 
The shocking truth about print books: 49% of our stacks has never circulated since 1996. #academiclibraries #printbooks
 
This tweet came through the other day, and frankly it didn’t bother me the way it used to. It leans on a little bit by Raganathan’s first law, which is “Books are for use.” If they’re not being used, then why keep them? I like to make the arguement that we can’t always anticipate how things will be used by others. Consider Mendelssohn’s “rediscovery” of Bach. Books are not just for current use, but they easily translate into future use.

There is some precedent for this; the logical methods of observation and refinement at the dawn of the Scientific Revolution enabled the creation and improvement of the microscope and the telescope. In turn, these tools both grew and shrank our sense of the world, enhancing the idea of hierarchies. Much social and scientific organization followed that path and destroyed its predecessors. We build the tool to change things, and then the tool changes us. -Quentin Hardy, How the Internet is Destroying Everything

This is the logic that leads most folks into a postmodern tailspin, where everything eats itself. It’s a fun place to be, and the revolutionary excitment is great, but it leaves you with a hangover. Hardy leaves his editorial with this thought on David Weinberger’s illustration of the internet as dragon eating-its-tail: “Instead of giving us of a new and better way of seeing the world, the Internet is a tool that embodies how we have wanted to see the world for some time. We have built it according to our new ideas about the world, and it gained a power that is destroying pre-existing structures.” Which is all that and then some, but:

Though of course, when a Harvard researcher values something because it affords a more accurate picture of reality, the end of hierarchy and a quest for ultimate understanding seems a long way off. -Quentin Hardy, How the Internet is Destroying Everything

 It’s pithy, but it stings because it is true. The internet relies on massive underlying power structures, they are just in different hands that those who made books, although there’s some overlap, clearly. A Harvard researcher is part of a big support system, that elevates his status and gives him or her a part in an institution where he can create something not only with broad impact, but lasting impact. Same for a New York Times writer. What shouldn’t be bought is the easy bill of sale for something that actively destroys lasting value in order to create current value, because frankly, Weinberger isn’t making that trade either.

So I am not worried about the end of books as material objects—in archives and private collections, at least. I think they will always be needed and valued. The changes that most college libraries are undergoing have created an era of unparalleled opportunity for collectors and teachers, like me, and who can foresee what the outcome of this reshuffling of printed materials will be? I look forward to the apocalypse as much as any romantic, but if we are witnessing new forms of creative destruction, I think we are also seeing a counterbalancing, reflexive trend toward the creative preservation of the past using both traditional and digital means. -William Pannapacker, We’re Still in Love with Books

There’s a lot of shifts coming up, and yes, it’ll be nice to have more shelf space, but libraries also need to protect the culture of learning over time, not just its resources. So yes to creative destruction, yes to weeding more, yes to being more criticial about the books we take in, but think about your core values as opposed to the values that are sold to you, because often, you’re paying a price. Value is more than money, and it’s our job to build value over time. That includes not just current use, but future use.

 
 
 

“Occupy” and going Back to the Future

I’m occupying LIS research literature. I’m indignant that its impact on practice is minimal, and I don’t believe it is only practitioners’ lack of application or researchers’ lack of skill – it’s a gap that both sides need to help fill. For practitioners, this may come in the form of a shift from relying on anecdotal information in making decisions about services and collections; for researchers, it could be a focus on how the results of a study are communicated.

-Eric Frierson, “Occupy the Research and Practice Divide

I like where Frierson is going with this, I’d love to see more research I can use, and conversely, would like to see more work time justified to do so, I would also like to raise a rhetorical question: is this really part of the “Occupy” strategy? This is a call to more actively participate in a already existing system, which is to say, engage it and support it by participation and/or resistance. It’s not a perfect system, and I’m a part of it too. But Occupy calls for things beyond that. By way of Slavoj Žižek in the Parallax View, Occupy starts at Bartleby’s “I’d prefer not to.”

It requires a look back to a much less institutionalized time to really see some radical work being done, and to some extent, I don’t think that PHD programs nor in general, viewpoints that diminish “anecdotal” perspectives will be the primary movers, if you are strategically invested in the “Occupy”, a better place to look would be further back in history, and also, to the public libraries. It’s not that theory and practice should not meet, but that “Occupy” exists in a space much different than our own, and while institutions can and should engage in the discussion, the real action is more dynamic. As the occupiers of Taqhir Square wrote to those in Oakland:

We stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized, and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy, real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy.

The research arm of librarianship is full of privatized interest and buracracy. They are over-policed and interested in protecting the status quo: “information” over wisdom and knowledge, statistics over a view of life which is full of humanity. If librarianship is going to thrive, it’s not going to be in those journals, nor in the endless hype cycles of library blogging on trendy, technologially driven topics. It’s got to be about people. Over at Monoskop, a extended piece by architect Nikki O’Loughlin examines the practices of public libraries in the United States. O’Loughlin unearths various models for the distribution of books in public space, both urban and rural. These set up a confluence between spaces in people’s lives and the presence of knowledge artifacts that might interest them for whatever reason. By doing this, dialogs across life-spaces could happen, with the library directly involved. All of this is facilitated by an inexpensive and transferable technology (books, in this case). The a heavily institutionalized library just can’t do this with the same aplomb, and digital products don’t provide the physical, social space for interaction, on top of their barriers to entry. I’m not recommending slavishly reproducing the past, but rather to look at times of radical change and how libraries dealt with them. What was that about doomed to repeat it?

Read the whole thing, breath in the radical and stop thinking about theory and practice as seperate. That only holds you back. Librarians, join your 1% to your 99%.

 

Heritage = history+ innovation

As we rethink collections, I think we are seeing them more as assets in the sense I have discussed here, as investment is driven by a stronger sense of how they will be used to generate value in research and learning. Of course, some libraries have thought this way for longer: think of how a busy public library manages its collection. And of course, some libraries will continue to have a mission-driven responsibility to collect significant portions of the scholarly record, although we will probably see more collective approaches here.

-Lorcan Dempsey, “Collections Are Library Assets

It’s nice to see a nod to the meaningful in day-to-day library work, “a stronger sense of how they will be used to generate value in research and learning,” but it rings hollow. Dempsey even points out the negative reaction that business-speak engenders in the scholarly community, but he still employs it. My fear is that by doing so, we take a good idea and force it to the easiest way to understand “value,” which is money. It’s fine for Walmart, but if libraries are going to derive thought from the world of commerce, maybe we should look to places where commerce intersects with something besides cheap, disposable goods:

#36  Luxury is about subtracting the ordinary and adding the meaningful.

#13  If Luxury brands don’t incarnate a cultural truth, they become just empty, expensive products.

-Agenda Inc. “50 Thoughts on Luxury

Libraries cannot content themselves with being “value-positive” or “mission-driven.” Those things are merely ordinary to the everyday existence in today’s world. If we really intend to have meaningful libraries, then the goal should be to move services and collections beyond the expected. Libraries are already expensive, it’s good not to make them meaningless, too. I’ve heard of classes that aim to open doors to other worlds for their students. In light of that, we should aim higher than imitating corporate methods of thinking. Given the state of the world economy and its discontents, perhaps we should look to better analogies:

#33 Heritage = history+ innovation

Gamification and Bad Marketing

Art by Skinny Coder

Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior…. Gamification offers instructors numerous creative opportunities to enliven their instruction with contests, leader boards, or badges that give students opportunities for recognition and a positive attitude toward their work. -Educause, 7 Things You Should Know About Gamification” (Emphasis in original)

As a librarian and advocate for information literacy, I’m weary of gamification, especially in higher education. I have two big issues with it. Gamification is primarily a marketing term, developed in the wake of apps like Foursquare that businesses use to promote themselves to customers by giving higher reward levels through interaction with the app and the business. Essentially, it is an interactive third-party advertising platform. By promoting the use of marketing style in higher education, we promote the perpetuation of those behaviors in our students, as opposed to finding ways to engage them that also allow them to challenge market-driven behavior, or at least be free from it. Broadly conceived, gamification does little to promote critical engagement with information technology or the larger, market-driven economy, and has much greater potential to do the opposite.

The second issue is this: the application of superficial gaming elements to education gives the impression that education in itself is not strong enough to hold interest on its own. We’ve all had bad days in a classroom, but using what any student can see to be a blatant bid for their attention sends the wrong message. Due to the use of superficial elements of gaming (points, badges, leaderboards), it overlooks the parts of games that make them truly wonderful: characters, narratives, and the balance of challenging yet rewarding gameplay. Education can be rewarding in its own right when we find ways to actively engage students in the subject matter itself, not in a system of superficial rewards:

Game developers and players have critiqued gamification on the grounds that it gets games wrong, mistaking incidental properties like points and levels for primary features like interactions with behavioral complexity. That may be true, but truth doesn’t matter for bullshitters. Indeed, the very point of gamification is to make the sale as easy as possible.. – Ian Bogost, “Gamification is Bullshit”


Ian Bogost, who develops games and teaches at Georgia Tech, delivered those lines to a symposium held by the Wharton School of Business on gamification. His understanding of Bullshit is derived from Harry Franfurt’s On Bullshit, whereby bullshit is defined as something which is used to conceal, impress or coerce, with no interest in truth or untruth.  I believe that gamification is a form of low-level coercion designed to impress students with a superficial knowledge of gaming, and as a result divorces real understanding both of the subject at hand and games by mixing the two in the name of an easily repeatable model of active engagement.

If we are going to use marketing methods to engage students, it is in our interest to aim higher than merely following the trends. Truly successful marketing  is driven by services or products that are either a) is attached to someone’s identity or b) is something they cannot live without and cannot procure themselves. As the art of using words, images and sound to connect people to those services and products, marketing rightfully deserves serious consideration. It is in our interest to do so in a truthful and open manner, otherwise, we run the risk of just giving our patrons and students something that does not hold truth in any regard: bullshit.

Houston, we still have a problem.

This is an extremely thorny coupling of quotes, but I’m hoping that in the tangle, we can start to think critically about how we address and adopt new technologies in information literacy instruction. These are real and ongoing issues that have been around for 20+ years and still are not even close to being out in the open in the IL literature. Searching LISTA with “information literacy” and either “race,” “ethnicity,” or “digital divide,” the most you’ll get is 49 results. Instead, the 826 articles hat come up with the “digital divide” search come from information and communication science and research.

There are connections between information literacy and information technology that have real impacts that are wholly unexamined. Despite our best intentions, we’re all a part of it.

1986

“As a first step, we might do well to dispel the notion that information literacy is something that comes neatly packaged with information technology. Not only are there practical limits to the diffusion of technology, there are still greater limitations on the ability of machines, in and of themselves, to inform and instruct.”-William Demo, The Idea of “Information Literacy” in the Age of High-Tech, p.20.

2006

“Toward the end of making the Digital Divide a central issue in curricula and pushing professional organizations to take public stands on technology policy issues, Selfe and Moran call on teachers to find ways to use any and all tools available in the project to expand access now. They suggest that given the expense of cutting edge technologies and the fact that here is always some new cutting edge software package or hardware tool being sold as the next great answer, the job of promoting digital literacies and writing abilities might often be best accomplished with lower end tools.” -Adam J. Banks, Race, Rhetoric and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground, p.19.

Quote that:

We must decide who we are rather than be given an identity. In our freely improvised music there is the
opportunity to apply a continual stream of examination. We search for sounds. We
look for the meanings that become attached to sounds. And we have to decide – on
the basis of observable responses – on the musical, cultural and social values that
reside in whatever configurations emerge. The search is surely for self-invention and
social-invention. This is an opportunity to make our world. If we do not act to make our
world then somebody else will invent a world for us.

-Edwin Prévost, noise & capitalism p58.

Consider this:

In addition, our publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.).

-Overdrive Media, 2011

Who is ready to start defining ourselves? I love librarianship, but the massive inferiority complex it maintains has to stop now. I’m sure publishers would like to pretend that without libraries supporting digital books, we as librarians are cutting people off, but what about getting the best deal for our patrons? Librarians are willing to continue funneling taxpayer money into private hands while getting worse and worse deals for that money. Librarianship needs to search for those sounds and explore, not take what is given.