Saturday, April 20, 2013

Something to think about

I hope everyone had a very good National Library Week.

I get that it was probably difficult to focus on libraries in this time of crisis.  Though the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing were essentially local, the ongoing ubiquity of social media made it a part of our lives like no other similar events in the past.  We were also part of the action; we all took part in the outrage, in the mourning, in the investigation, in the news cycle.  Bostonians tweeted and Instagrammed and Facebooked the heck out of the eerie quiet of their streets after the police ordered the city shut down.  They shared their anxieties and their hopes and the rest of us followed closely.

The crisis is over.  National Library Week is over too.  But what lingers--just one of the many senses that lingers--is that the current state of information technology ensures that there will never again be any such thing as a ‘local,’ ‘isolated’ incident.  Not in this country.  From here on out, we’re sharing everything.

It seems appropriate to me that the fire at the JFK Library was part of the initial mass of confusion on the day of the bombings.  Even now I can’t say with any certainty whether that had anything to do with the attack.  As things unfolded, confusion mounted, and the media did a really poor job of keeping us informed.  First we were misinformed, and at various points were we over-informed, but we were never quite just informed to the appropriate degree.  Some outlets did significant social and personal damage by seeming to incite neighbor to attack neighbor in one of the grimmest examples of media malfeasance I can remember.

Social media did its part to furrow brows during the five-day siege, as well.  Police had to request that overzealous Tweeple not broadcast the movements of investigators for fear of alerting the suspects to their movements.  It’s unclear what damage, if any, was done before that ban took effect--and the ban itself has troubling implications for the limits of First Amendment rights in the digital age.

Then came the capture of the surviving suspect, and with it the curious melange of celebration, bloodlust, confrontation, conversation and grandstanding that can only exist online.  I took part in a bit of it myself, against my better judgment.

It all goes to show that data and information do not merely sit, supine, before our eyes.  They don’t reside meekly behind our computer screens.  They are living, and they are wild, and they can possess us even as we create them.

It had been my intention before all this happened to start a library-focused blog this week.  It was National Library Week!  Perfect timing! Then we had a national tragedy and I held off, not sure if I should dive in at all until all was said and done, even if it meant missing out on ALA-promoted professional holy week synergy.  

But seeing all the missteps and pitfalls of media and social media this week, as well as the shining potential of both of them to be used as practical tool and as existential comfort--to connect the isolated, to bring together divergent viewpoints, to build understanding--I knew that just because Library Week had been superseded to a certain degree, these past five days had not at all lost their relevance to the serious consideration of the role of information professionals in our society.

I’m not at all prepared to say exactly what I mean by all this.  I’m not making any policy proposals, I’m not saying there should be librarian editors to every tweet or that police should hire us as consultants on free expression rights; I’m not saying that Wolf Blitzer could use a stern talking-to about recognizing valid sources of information and the etiquette of releasing information so gathered.  I might say all or some of those things later, but not right now.  I’m just saying that the events of this week have given me, in a very timely fashion, the most precious gift one can receive--something to think about.

Now, what will this blog be about?  A lot of things.  Some boring to some of you, a lot fun to most of you.  Most of it will be library related.  Some will be information science related.  A fair amount will be related to my interests, delivered with a librarian-relevant spin.

I do intend it to be somewhat radical.  I don’t count myself among those who think my profession is totally stagnant, but I am willing to give it a kick in the fanny when I think it deserves it.

So, just to run down some of the major features you can expect to see:

Librarianist Philosophy: I’ll be outlining my personal and constantly-evolving philosophy on what it means to be a librarian and information professional.  Everything that I think we must do and must be and how we must be and do them.  When one of them crystallizes in my mind, I’ll write a post on it.
Library Profiles: I like visiting libraries.  Now that I know what to look for, I like to enumerate for myself the pros and cons of a given library.  I will be sharing these enumerations with you, generally in the form of annotated photo essays.  Hewing to my biggest interests, I’ll focus on programming, layout and design, and collections of graphic novels, board games, etc., but I’ll try to touch on other important factors too.  (OPACs, I’m looking at you!)  I am happy to look at any sort of library and hope to collect quite a few from across the country and around the world.
Reviews: I’m most interested in doing board game reviews, because they’re my latest obsession and I think they pose an interesting challenge in terms of how to critique them.  It’s something I’m still learning about, so bear with me! I’ll also probably review graphic novels and books, as well as ‘library stuff’ like podcasts, webinars, conferences, conventions and classes I attend.  (Watch for my take on my first ALA conference later in the summer!)
Curricula:  I’m a big autodidact and I have a fascination with how to put together intellectual content to make it into something that not only informs, but instructs.  I’ve been following personal curricula for a few topics of interest since finishing grad school, and I’m interested in sharing my work with the world, since I’ve been doing it for nothing but my own edification.  (And maybe someday my employer will give me retroactive CEUs for them if I belabor it enough on here!)
Cool Tools: I keep coming across neat ways to present information.  I’ll try to share as many of these as I can.

And probably lots of other stuff as it occurs to me. Including superhero drawings and gifs of puppies doing cute things and reviews of Game of Thrones episodes (SPOILER ALERT).  I may also shamelessly promote the programs I develop at my two volunteer gigs, the Dunkirk Free Library and Dunkirk Historical Museum.

I hope some of you join me in figuring things out as we go along.  Thanks, everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Just added you to my 'blogroll; looking forward to your next entry. Perhaps I have a piece that could enrich your post on the David A. Howe Public Library when you turn to it...