November 25, 2014
by Nathaniel Enright
“People always clap for the wrong things.”
— J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Award ceremonies have hit the headlines in recent days. Whilst Ursula Le Guin was honoured with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (Arons 2014) and widely celebrated for her acceptance speech which took aim at an increasingly avaricious publishing industry, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was honoured with the Global Legacy Award from Save the Children, prompting a torrent of criticism which highlighted Blair’s central role in Britain’s invasion of Iraq and his controversial business dealings in the Middle East (Sherwood 2014).
There’s just no pleasing some.
Of course, awards and accolades, distinctions and decorations are capricious things conforming at times to a whimsical logic all of their very own. Kissinger, Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin all won Nobel prizes for peace; Ghandi did not. Jean Paul Sartre and Lê Ðúc Tho both refused their Nobel citations. Stalin and Hitler both adorned the covers of Time magazine. The awarding of such honours—and more— has always generated their own controversies. Yet, the 2013 and 2014 W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction awarded by the American Library Association has been characterised by extreme silence. Sure, the W.Y. Boyd award might be the literary equivalent to retirement— an “award consisting of $5,000 and a 24k gold-framed citation of achievement”, says the ALA (2014) — but surely, somebody — anybody — out there in library-land noticed that the back to back winner was none other than former Lieutenant Colonel and Fox News Strategic Analyst Ralph Peters.
Well, somewhere down toward the end of the earth, I noticed. And I was angry. Admittedly, I’ve never read either of Peters’ (2012; 2013) prize-winning civil war novels; they may very well be the literary equals to The Killer Angels or Gone with the Wind though neither of Peters’ books made the Pulitzer short-list. To be clear, my anger was not simply a response to the literary merit of Peters’ books. No. The principle cause of my distemper was the jarring realisation that an organisation, which in 2011 unanimously passed a “WikiLeaks–Related Resolution”1 defending “public access to information by and about the government” and which vowed “to support whistleblowers in reporting abuse, fraud, and waste” (Office for Intellectual Freedom, 2011) was, in effect, endorsing — if only tacitly — the views of the outspoken Lieutenant Colonel. These views famously include placing WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, on a “kill or capture list” and suggesting that Assange was “guilty of sabotage, espionage, crimes against humanity” and therefore “should be killed” (Peters, 2010). Peters’ has also been a vociferous proponent of the death penalty for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and all other “leakers”.2 Peters’ public profile is one marked by increasingly ludicrous claims; he has become infamous for his contemptible and bizarre attacks on everyone from Barack Obama (“a fool and a weakling”) to Eric Holder (“weenie of weenies”) and even suggested whistleblowers were simply trying to “make treason cool”. I know I’m a long, long way away in Australia, but didn’t the ALA invite Daniel Ellsberg to speak at its Annual Conference? Am I the only one that can spot the tension?
And yet the inflammatory remarks made on Fox should be the least of our concerns. In a series of articles published in Parameters (1997; 1999; 2001)—a quarterly academic journal published by the United States Army War College—Peters outlines his reasons why an information society should be promoted. Gone are the humanist concerns with intellectual freedom and equality of access so enshrined within ALA doctrine. In their place, information becomes central to securing “Western cultural and economic dominance” (2001) serving as a “boot in the backside of those who move too slowly” (2001). For Peters, “what matters is the power of information to terrify men of decayed belief” resulting in the continued expansion of the American “empire at the expense of failing cultures”. Peters (1997) imagines a world where the global struggle to retain economic, cultural and military supremacy revolves fundamentally around the ability to “sort, digest, synthesize, and apply information”. “Information”, says Peters, “is at once our core commodity and the most destabilizing factor of our time” and as “more and more human beings are overwhelmed by information, or dispossessed by the effects of information-based technologies, there will be more violence”. In fact, says Peters, we should be “building an information-based military to do that killing”. Awesome.
I am certain that some folks will accuse me of unnecessarily politicizing the W.Y. Boyd Prize, and that Peters’ political opinions have nothing to do with the quality of his fiction. They are right. There are, to be certain, countless examples of exemplary art produced by maniacs with dubious political positions—Salvador Dali and Jorge Luis Borges spring readily to mind. But what is at stake here is not so much Peters awards as the credibility of the ALA itself. How is it that a prominent political commentator who routinely espouses views not simply contrary but hostile to some of the core principles of the ALA is awarded not one but two prizes for excellence? Is the WY Boyd Award so marginal that it does not matter? Have ALA members been too busy downloading Democracy Now! podcasts and watching The Daily Show to notice the poisonous yet commonplace vitriol of Peters? I am not sure and I’ve got a feeling an answer will not be immediately forthcoming.
We might yet console ourselves with Peters’ (2001) words: “I believe, firmly, that societies that embrace informational freedom will triumph”. Unsurprisingly, Peters follows with: “But the victory will not come without cost.” It is difficult now not to think that that cost was “informational freedom” itself. When Ursula Le Guin received her medal just few days ago she argued that in the future “we will need writers who remember freedom.” As the December 1 closing date for the 2015 Boyd Award draws near I would suggest that we need an ALA that remembers what defending intellectual freedom looks like.
But then again, there’s just no pleasing some.
1. To be fair, the adopted “Resolution on Access to and Classification of Government Information,” is a substantially weakened, less-politicized version of two explicit WikiLeaks resolutions put forward by ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT). For a clear elucidation of the process, see Al Kagan’s “Midwinter’s WikiLeaks Letdown.”
2. On a segment on Fox, Peters declared: “I do not believe in leaks, I would execute leakers, they are betraying our country”.
American Library Association 2013, ‘Cain at Gettysburg‘, viewed 25 November 2014
American Library Association 2014, ‘W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction‘, viewed 25 November 2014
American Library Association 2014, ‘Hell or Richmond’ by Ralph Peters wins the 2014 W.Y. Boyd Award‘, ALA News, viewed 7 June 2014
Arons, R 2014, ‘We will need writers who can remember freedom: Ursula Le Guin and last night’s N.B.A.’s‘, The New Yorker, November 20, 2014, viewed November 24
Office for Intellectual Freedom 2011, ALA Council Unanimously Passes WikiLeaks-Related Resolution, American Library Association, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 1997, ‘Constant Conflict‘, Parameters, vol. XXVII, pp.4-14, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 1999, ‘Our New Old Enemies‘, Parameters, pp.22-37, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 2001, ‘The Plague of Ideas‘, Parameters, pp.4-20, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 2010 (a), Lt. Col. Ralph Peters Goes Off On Holder, Assange & Obama Over WikiLeaks & The Response, online video, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 2010 (b), Newest Wikileaks “I would execute leakers” LT. COL. Ralph Peters- Newest Wikileaks Release, online video, viewed 25 November 2014
Peters, R 2012, Cain at Gettysburg, Forge, New York
Peters, R 2013, Hell or Richmond: A Novel, Forge, New York
Sherwood, H 2014, ‘Save the Children staff furious over ‘global legacy’ award for Tony Blair‘, The Guardian, 26 November, viewed November 25 2014
IFLA approved its first Internet Manifesto in 2002. This provided an early recognition of the vital role that the Internet plays in the work of library and information services, and ensuring that individuals and groups have free access to information and can freely express themselves.
The world has changed significantly since 2002 both physically and digitally, and we now have a greater experience and understanding of the role of the Internet and digital resources in our services, and in developing connected societies where individuals have the skills that they need to exploit the opportunities that technologies can bring. We also have a greater understanding of the threats that can be posed through the Internet including the impact on human rights of inappropriate monitoring and surveillance, and from criminal activity.
See: Internet Manifesto 2014
This update to the Internet Manifesto reflects this experience and reinforces the vital role of library and information services in ensuring equitable access to the Internet and its services in support of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression.
The Internet Manifesto 2014 was endorsed by the IFLA Governing Board in August 2014.
The FAIFE Committee will review the IFLA/UNESCO Internet Manifesto Guidelines in the coming months, in light of the Internet Manifesto 2014.
November 24, 2014
The Sustainability Round Table is collecting information on books, articles, websites, blogs, social groups, and projects that fall under the umbrella of Sustainable Libraries. Please use this form to suggest resources or projects that will become part of our SustainRT Sustainability Database.
Please contact Eileen Harrington (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
1. Nature of the Award
1.1 The award shall consist of $1,000, given annually to a graduate student who is working on a dissertation on the philosophy of information (broadly construed). As we see it, the range of philosophical questions relating to information is broad, and approachable through a variety of philosophical traditions (philosophy of mind, logic, philosophy of information so-called, philosophy of science, etc.).
2. Purpose of the Award
2.1 The purpose of this award is to encourage and support scholarship in the philosophy of information.
3.1 The scholarship recipient must meet the following qualifications:
(a) Be an active doctoral student whose primary area of research is directly philosophical, whether the institutional setting is philosophy or another discipline; that is to say, the mode of dissertation research must be philosophical as opposed to empirical or literary study;
(b) Have completed all course work; and
(c) Have had a dissertation proposal accepted by the institution.
3.2 Recipients may receive the award not more than once.
4.1 The Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Doctoral Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of Information is sponsored and administered by Litwin Books, LLC, an independent scholarly publisher.
5.1 Nominations should be submitted via email by June 1, 2015, to email@example.com.
5.2 The submission package should include the following:
(a) The accepted dissertation proposal;
(b) A description of the work done to date;
(c) A letter of recommendation from a dissertation committee member;
(d) An up-to-date curriculum vitae with current contact information.
6. Selection of the Awardee
6.1 Submissions will be judged on merit with emphasis on the following:
(a) Clarity of thought;
(c) Relevance to our time;
(d) Evidence of good progress toward completion.
7.1 The winner and any honorable mentions will be notified via letter by July 1, 2015.
Jonathan Furner, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA
Ron Day, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University
John Budd, School of Information & Learning Technologies, University of Missouri
2014: Patrick Gavin, of the University of Western Ontario FIMS, for his dissertation propsoal, titled, “On Informationalized Borderzones: A Study in the Politics and Ethics of Emerging Border Architectures.”
2013: Steve McKinlay, of Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia, for his dissertation proposal, titled, “Information Ethics and the Problem of Reference.”
November 21, 2014
“To the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks, from the heart. My family, my agents, my editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as my own, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice in accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long – my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the imagination, who for 50 years have watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.
Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.
Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. Its name is freedom.”
This is pretty exciting. In the Library with the Lead Pipe, the library practice journal that started as a blog, is announcing their creation of a non-profit for developing library projects and librarians’ professional development. It is called Library Pipeline. They write:
In Brief: We’re creating a nonprofit, Library Pipeline, that will operate independently from In the Library with the Lead Pipe, but will have similar and complementary aims: increasing and diversifying professional development; improving strategies and collaboration; fostering more innovation and start-ups, and encouraging LIS-related publishing and publications. In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a platform for ideas; Library Pipeline is a platform for projects.
November 14, 2014
Library Juice Academy/Library Juice Press is seeking one or more assistants to help us with our presence with our exhibit at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago, January 30th through February 2nd, 2015. This will involve helping us set up and break down the booth, assisting us in staffing the booth, and ideally some help with receiving some shipments and transporting them to the exhibits hall for setup (should be possible to do in one load in an average-sized car). Compensation will be $30 per hour, with the number of hours negotiable and based on how many helpers we enlist and what else you want to do during the conference. Additionally, if you are willing to receive shipments and transport them in your car, you will get to keep the pair of folding bookcases that we will have shipped.
The ideal person will have prior familiarity with our publications, so that we can feel confident in your ability to represent them well at the booth and show enthusiasm. We will have all of our books on display, and will also be promoting our online professional development courses.
If this opportunity interests you, please contact Rory Litwin, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 13, 2014
NASKO 2015: Producing Knowledge Organization
Call for Participation
Conference Venue: University of California, Los Angeles
Conference Dates: June 18 – 19, 2015
“Producing Knowledge Organization” offers a provocation to examine the assumptions we – as scholars and practitioners – encounter, produce, and communicate through the theories and practice of knowledge organization. As a field with a particular perspective on knowledge, cognition, language, interpretation, institutions, technological change, representation, meaning-making, and social organization, Knowledge Organization has long grappled with complex, multi-dimensional concepts and approaches. How, and to what extent, do our ontological commitments, epistemic assumptions, and ethical values shape the ways we represent and organize knowledge in our various systems? How do they shape our research, and can our research reveal the ways they operate in Knowledge Organization? What kinds of Knowledge Organization research and evaluation approaches should we pursue? What goals do we want to set for ourselves? What might the process of setting those goals entail? What partnerships should we build? What audiences should we seek? And how will the concepts and practice of knowledge organization change as we contend with radical shifts in information technology, the labor of knowledge organization, and the traditional authorities of knowledge organization?
Possible topics to explore include: Theory of KO, history and foundations of KO, legacy and emerging KOs, epistemological status of KO, sociocultural studies of KO, Domain Analysis approach to KO, socio-technical approach to KO, new challenges in teaching KO, the future of KO, and anything else.
Proposals for research papers, position papers, posters, and a doctoral symposium are welcomed. Acceptable languages for conference submissions include English, French, or Spanish. Graduate students are especially encouraged to submit proposals. Proposals should include the name(s) of the author(s), their complete mailing and e-mail addresses, and their telephone numbers. Please send proposals in Word format to the NASKO 2015 Program Committee: email@example.com.
Research and Position Papers:
Proposals should include a title and be no more than 1500 words with citations (citations not included in word count). Proposals should situate themselves within the extant literature of knowledge organization, and have a clearly articulated theoretical grounding and methodology. Those that report on completed or ongoing work will be given preference. Diverse perspectives and methodologies are welcome.
Proposals should include a title and be no more than 250 words with citations (citations not included in word count).
This is an opportunity for doctoral students to discuss their research in progress in a 15-minute presentation. Proposals should consist of a 500-word abstract with citations (citations not included in word count) and a one-page CV. Students will also have the opportunity to attend a general advising session to discuss their CVs, service commitments, and how to approach the job market. Students accepted into the doctoral symposium will have their conference registration fees waived.
All accepted papers will be published online. Authors whose papers ranked highly during the peer-review process will be invited to publish their papers, in full, in a future issue of Knowledge Organization.
January 30, 2015: Submission deadline
March 27, 2015: Notification to authors
May 4, 2015: Final copy submission
Jonathan Furner, University of California, Los Angeles
Patrick Keilty, University of Toronto
Kathryn La Barre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Gregory Leazer, University of California, Los Angeles
Hur-Li Lee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee
Jihee Beak, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Julia Bullard, University of Texas at Austin
Grant Campbell, University of Western Ontario
Thomas Dousa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Melanie Feinberg, University of Texas at Austin
Melodie Fox, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Jonathan Furner, University of California, Los Angeles
Rebecca Green, Online Computer Library Center
Lynne Howarth, University of Toronto
Michèle Hudon, Université de Montréal
David A. Jank, Long Island University
Elin Jacob, Indiana University
Patrick Keilty, University of Toronto
Barbara Kwasnik, Syracuse University
Gregory Leazer, University of California, Los Angeles
Hur-Li Lee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Aaron Loehrlein, University of British Columbia
Shawne Miksa, University of North Texas
Christina Pattuelli, Pratt Institute
Richard Smiraglia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Rick Szostak, University of Alberta
Joseph Tennis, University of Washington
Nancy Williamson, University of Toronto
November 12, 2014
The French Government has declared books an “essential good.” Daniel Mendelsohn and Mohsin Hamid in the NYT yesterday explore the idea of doing the same thing in the U.S. Here is a brief excerpt:
Whatever the cultural reasons, books in France are indeed an “essential good” — the designation coined by the French government that served to justify the very concrete steps it has taken over the years to protect its precious literary culture. The most prominent of these are laws outlawing the advantages (deep discounting combined with free shipping) that big chains and Amazon enjoy over independent booksellers in the United States and other countries. These help explain a phenomenon that inevitably strikes American visitors to France today: As even big chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble have faltered here, every block in central Paris seems to sprout at least two small, intelligently stocked bookshops.
November 11, 2014
Elaine Harger sent the following note to PLG members this morning…
Yes, 25 years ago, about 20 librarians from up-and-down the east coast met in NYC for the first meeting of what became the Progressive Librarians Guild. We didn’t have a name until the midwinter conference of ALA in Chicago in 1990, but on Nov. 11, 1989, librarians from as far away as Boston and Washington DC and Minneapolis gathered at the Empire State College School of Labor Studies, where I was librarian, to discuss how we could bring critical and leftist perspectives and activism into librarianship.
So, today, I’m sending greetings of solidarity to each and every one of you, along with deepest thanks to everyone who has given freely their time, energy, and creativity to PLG activities — from organizing and participating in meetings, to contributing to the journal and various incarnations of newsletter and bulletin, to carrying out the Braverman Essay Contest, making and managing listservs and websites, finding great restaurants and other venues for PLG get-togethers, for establishing and running PLG chapters, and handling the bank account, membership lists, and doing all the mailings. This little organization could not exist without your efforts and dedication.
As Che Guevara wrote in a 1965 essay Man and Socialism in Cuba, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”
And, although I don’t think of myself as much of a revolutionary, I do hold great love toward all you PLGistas!
“I’d say I’m a revolutionary optimist. I believe that the good guys – the people – are going to win.” Amiri Baraka, 1934-2014
November 7, 2014
Call for Papers
The Big Deal: 3rd Milwaukee Conference on Ethics in Knowledge Organization
May 28-29, 2015
The role of ethics in knowledge organization has moved from the background to the foreground. Objectivity and literary warrant alone have been shown to be insufficient for ethical knowledge organization. Ethical concerns have been demonstrated in the roles of exclusivity and point-of-view, the relationship between literary and cultural warrant, in the creation of knowledge organization systems that embrace socio-political symbolism, and in the evolution of standards and professional best practices for the implementation of knowledge organization. Following the success of conferences held in 2009 and 2012, The Knowledge Organization Research Group joins with the Center for Information Policy and Research of the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to present the Third Milwaukee Conference on Ethics in Knowledge Organization. We welcome papers and posters on any aspect of ethics and knowledge organization including but not limited to: bibliographic standards, cataloging and indexing best-practices, classification, controlled vocabulary, technology, the professions, cultural, economic, political, corporate, international, multicultural and multilingual aspects of knowledge organization.
Tina Gross, Catalog Librarian/Associate Professor, St. Cloud State University
Joe Tennis, Associate Professor, University of Washington, and President, International Society for Knowledge Organization
Call for Papers
We invite submission of proposals which will include name(s) of presenter(s), title(s), affiliation(s), contact information and an abstract of 750 words for papers; 300-500 words for posters.
All abstracts will be published on the website of the UWM, Knowledge Organization Research Group (KOrg). Full papers will be published in a special issue of Knowledge Organization.
Submit proposals via email to Inkyung Choi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstracts due: February 16, 2015
Notification of acceptance by: March 16, 2015
Full papers due: July 16, 2015
The Program Committee:
Melissa Adler, University of Kentucky, USA
Jihee Beak, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Allyson Carlyle, University of Washington, USA
José Augusto Chaves Guimarães, Universidade Estadual Paulista, Brazil
Jane Greenberg, Drexel University, USA
Birger Hjørland, The Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark
Lynne C Howarth, University of Toronto, Canada
Joyce Latham, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Patrick Keilty, University of Toronto, Canada
Hur-Li Lee, Conference Co-Chair, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Jens-Erik Mai, The Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark
Steven J. Miller, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Hope A Olson, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Sandra Roe, Milner Library, Illinois State University, USA
Richard Smiraglia, Conference Co-Chair, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Joe Tennis, University of Washington, USA
Michael Zimmer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies
The Center for Information Policy Research
The Knowledge Organization Research Group
November 5, 2014
In light of the 2014 midterm elections, I am sharing a passage from Morris Berman’s book from a few years ago, The Twilight of American Culture. Berman has generously agreed to let me share this passage, which is about the deplorable state of ignorance of the American people. The facts and data in this passage are a bit old, but all signs suggest that things have gotten worse since then, not better.
The Twilight of American Culture, pp. 33-40.
Turning to Item (c),The collapse of American intelligence, we find a picture that is unambiguously bleak. The following data are going to seem invented; please be assured, they are not.
– Forty-two percent of American adults cannot locate Japan on a world map, and according to Garrison Keillor (National Public Radio, 22 March 1997,) another survey revealed that nearly 15 percent couldn’t locate the United States (!). Keillor remarked that this was like not being able to “grab your rear end with both hands,” and he suggested that we stop being so assiduous, on the eve of elections, about trying to get out the vote.
– A survey taken in October 1996 revealed that one in ten voters did not know who the Republican or Democratic nominees for president were. This is particularly sobering when one remembers that one of the questions traditionally asked in psychiatric wards as part of the test for sanity is “Who is the president of the United States?”
– Very few Americans understand the degree to which corporations have taken over their lives. But according to a poll taken by Time magazine, nearly 70 percent of them believe in the existence of angels; and another study turned up the fact that 50 percent believe in the presence of UFOs and space aliens on earth, while a Gallup poll (reported on CNN, 19 August 1997) revealed that 71 percent believe that the U.S. government is engaged in a cover-up about the subject. More than 30 percent believe they have made contact with the dead.
– A 1995 article in the New York Times reported the results of a survey that revealed that 40 percent of American adults (this could be upward of 70 million people) did not know that Germany was our enemy in World War II. A Roper survey conducted in 1996 revealed that 84 percent of American college seniors cannot understand a newspaper editorial in any newspaper, and a U.S. Department of Education survey of 22,000 students in 1995 revealed that 50 percent were unaware of the Cold War, and that 60 percent had no idea of how the United States came into existence.
– At one point in 1996, Jay Leno invited a number of high school students to be on his television program and asked them to complete famous quotations from major American documents, such as the Gettysburg address and the Declaration of Independence. Their response in each case was to stare at him blankly. As a kind of follow-up, on his show of 3 June 1999, Leno screened a video of interviews he had conducted a few days before at a university graduation ceremony. He did not identify the institution in question; he told his TV audience only that the students he had interviewed included graduate students as well as undergraduates. The group included men, women, and people of color. Leno posed eight questions, as follows:
1. Who designed the first American flag?
Answers included Susan B. Anthony (born in 1820,) and “Betsy Ford.”
2. What were the Thirteen Colonies free from, after the American Revolution?
One student said, “The East Coast.”
3. What was the Gettysburg Address?
One student replied, “An address to Getty;” another said, “I don’t know the exact address.”
4. Who invented the lightbulb?
Answers included Thomas Jefferson.
5. What is three squared?
One student said, “Twenty-seven;” another said, “Six.”
6. What is the boiling point of water?
Answers included 115 degrees ?.
7. How long does it take the earth to rotate once on its axis?
The two answers Leno received here were “Light years” (which is a measure of distance, not time,) and “Twenty-four axises [sic].”
8. How many moons does the earth have?
The student questioned said she had taken astronomy a few years back and had gotten an A in the course but that she couldn’t remember the correct answer.
It is important to note that not a single student interviewed had the correct answer to any of these questions. Leno’s comment on this pathetic debacle says it all: “And the Chinese are stealing secrets from us?”
– A 1998 survey by the National Constitution Center revealed that only 41 percent of American teenagers can name the three branches of government, but 59 percent can name the Three Stooges. Only 2 percent can name the chief justice of the Supreme Court; 26 percent were unable to identify the vice president. In the early 1990s, the National Assessment of Education Progress reported that 50 percent of seventeen year olds could not express 9/100 as a percentage, and nearly 50 percent couldn’t place the Civil War in the correct half century–data that the San Antonio Express News characterized as evidence of the “steady lobotomizing” of American culture. In another study of seventeen year olds, only 4 percent could read a bus schedule, and only 12% could arrange six common fractions in order of size.
– Ignorance of the most elementary scientific facts on the part of American adults is nothing less than breathtaking. In a survey conducted for the National Science Foundation in October 1995, 56 percent of those polled said that electrons were larger than atoms; 63 percent stated that the earliest human beings lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (a chronological error of more than 60 million years;) 53 percent said that the earth revolved around the sun in either a day or a month (that is to say, only 47 percent understood that the correct answer is one year;) and 91 percent were unable to state what a molecule was. A random telephone survey of more than two thousand adults, conducted by Northern Illinois University, revealed that 21 percent believed that the sun revolved around the earth, with an additional 7 percent saying that they did not know which revolved around which.
– Of the 158 countries in the United Nations, the United States ranks forty-ninth in literacy. Roughly 60 percent of the adult population reads as much as one book a year, where book is defined to include Harlequin romances and self-help manuals. Something like 120 million adults are illiterate or read at no better than a fifth-grade level. Among readers age twenty-one to thirty-five, 67 percent regularly read a daily newspaper in 1965, as compared with 31 percent in 1998.
– In a telephone survey conducted in 1998, 12 percent of Americans, asked who the wife of the biblical Noah was, said “Joan of Arc” (reported on National Public Radio, 13 June 1998.)
– In 1997, as a hoax, the attorney general of the state of Missouri submitted a proposal to an international academic accrediting agency (not identified) to establish an institution he named Eastern Missouri Business College, which would grant Ph.D’s in marine biology and genetic engineering, as well as in business. The faculty would include, inter alia, Moe Howard, Jerome Howard, and Larry Fine–that is, The Three Stooges; and the proposed motto on the college seal, roughly translated from the Latin, was Education Is for the Birds. The response? Academic accreditation was granted.
Now, this story was reported on the radio program “Car Talk,” hosted by National
Public Radio, and I have no idea whether it is true. It itself could be a hoax. But what I
find interesting is that I am unable to dismiss it out of hand, a priori, as a joke. In fact,
it could very well be true–which ambiguity itself is a sign of the times.
– In 1998 the Massachusetts Board of Education instituted a literacy test for teachers, pegged at the level of an exam for a high school equivalency diploma. Of the eighteen hundred prospective teachers who took it, 59 percent failed. In response to this, the interim commissioner of education, one Frank Haydu III, announced that the passing grade would be lowered. The board finally reversed the decision, and the commissioner resigned. But that 59 percent of a large group of potential teachers had severe problems with high school spelling and punctuation, and that an educational administrator would declare this no obstacle to the performance of their jobs, are as good indicators as any of the twilight phase of our nation.
– In a similar vein, when the College Board, which administers the SAT exam to high school seniors applying to college, discovered that the average verbal score had dropped from 478 in 1963 to 424 in 1995 (this on a scale from 200 to 800,) it “recentered” the scoring so that 424 became 500, and 730 became 800 (a perfect score.)
? According to the Wall Street Journal (31 March 1989,) only 10 percent of applicants in Chicago were able to meet the minimum literacy standard for mail-clerk jobs, and the Motorola Corporation reported that 80 percent of all applicants screened nationally failed a test of seventh-grade English and fifth-grade math.
These kinds of horror stories are multiplying in our culture at an alarming rate, and they are corroborated by the most casual observations that many of us now make on a daily basis. It is as though America has become a gigantic dolt-manufacturing machine. We now see common words misspelled on CNN, for example, or on labels in supermarkets (CAESER SALAD.) Below are some personal anecdotes; I am guessing you have a list of your own.
Item: A fancy restaurant I had lunch at in Salt Lake City, bearing an elegant carved wooden sign done in Art Deco style, listing hours of operation, with the word Sunday spelled “S-u-n-d-y” on it–actually carved into the wood. A sign outside of a hospital clinic in Washington, D.C.: INFANT, CHILDERN, & ADULT CARE.
Item: A visit I made a few years ago to several creative writing classes at a college in the Midwest, only to discover that not a single student in any of these classes had ever heard of Robert Browning, whereas I was memorizing “My Last Duchess” when I was in high school. A colleague at this same school telling me that one of his students, a twenty-year-old male, told him that he had never read a novel.
Item: The growing inability, which I have observed over nearly three decades of teaching, of the majority of undergraduate students to analyze an argument, or identify the evidence for an argument, or construct a grammatically coherent sentence. Essays turned in with sentences such as “In this paper I are going to show that . . . “ My asking one student, in all innocence, what her first language was, only to be told it was English.
Item: A listing in the Portland Oregonian (10 April 1998,) under “Literary Events”: “Hear works from William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot read allowed.” (Such a notice is itself, one might venture to say, a literary event.) An announcement on National Public Radio (early in 1999) that they would be interviewing Edmund White, author of a book on Marcel “Prowst” and recipient of a “Guh-genheim” fellowship.
Item: A phone call I make to the foreign currency department of a major commercial bank because I have received a bill from Holland and need to know the guilder-dollar exchange rate. The clerk can’t find a listing for Holland because, as it later turns out, it is listed as the Netherlands. “Is Holland the same as Denmark?” she asks me.
Item: I am asked to give a lecture at a southwestern university on the “crisis of American intelligence,” and the talk is written up for the school newspaper by a student in her late thirties. In an article of fewer than 250 words, there are seven errors of elementary grammar and one completely incoherent sentence. (I am guessing that this was not a deliberate attempt to satirize the lecture, which would, in fact, have been wonderful.)
Item: An interview I have for a job as an editor of publications for a national higher education association. The association–I’ll call it the NA–has, as part of its declared mission, “the improvement of the quality of liberal arts education.” What it means by this, however, is not the preservation of any type of core curriculum or academic standards, but the moving of students toward “social action” (vaguely defined) and the acquiring of hands-on skills useful for jobs in the twenty-first century. (For this purpose, the NA receives heavy corporate funding.) In the course of the interview, I raise the issue of knowledge for its own sake of knowing what makes oneself, and society, tick. The NA president, who is conducting the interview, stares at me for a moment and says, “Well, that’s fine, if one is interested in a withdrawn or contemplative life.” I say, “I don’t think it necessarily leads to that.” “What else would it be good for?” she asks, almost angry now. And, much the way I might have to explain the concept to a college freshman, I reply, “Well, ideally, at least, such an education changes your sensibilities. Its aim is the transformation of the psyche. Students can be very active in the world, but they have a much larger understanding of what the world is about, and how they fit into it.” My interviewer nods imperceptibly; it’s obvious she has no idea of what I am talking about. And I think: This woman is a leader in the field of higher education, and she has literally no idea of the deeper meaning of a liberal education. Whereas my influence on higher education is virtually nonexistent, hers is enormous. It’s not that through her influence students learn to scoff at a nonutilitarian notion of a liberal education; rather, they never get to learn that such a notion even exists.
November 3, 2014
Back in May 2014, I interviewed the multitalented New York-based activist, performer, and technologist Hadassah Damien, whom I had originally met in January during a librarian-techie trip to Haiti. We spoke about technology, education, and related topics.
MM: How would you describe yourself and your work?
HD: I would describe the work that I do as cultural work and as a technologist, so I’d say I’m a cultural worker and a technologist and that those worlds cross over sometimes, and sometimes don’t. The cultural work is a lot of community arts work, and political art, public performance-type work that has a real art-ivist, activist dimension, and a lot of work that’s trying to promote social change through promoting ideas of liberation and moving those into using cultural forms to change hearts and minds. And also, a lot of the work that I do is about making spaces for more people’s voices to have a platform. And that mindset completely informs the way I think about technology. I’m a self-taught technologist, so I didn’t go to school for computer science, I didn’t go to school for really anything technology-related. Although I did do a graduate program at the CUNY Grad Center from 2011 through 2013, and in that I did a certificate program track that was called Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, the ITP program. But for the ten years or so before I took that program, I had always been sort of autodidactic around technology. Like, as soon as I got a computer, I started realizing I could record things on it, and make things on it. And I started using computers because I wanted to make digital art, record the work that I was doing, record poems that I was writing…
MM: So it kind of pushed you into learning how to do that stuff.
HD: Totally. And that was, like, 2001. I was recording on whatever free automatic program came on a Windows PC. And then I started learning how to make websites because I was doing cultural work, and I wanted to promote that work, and also I was often doing a lot of work with groups. So I was like, oh, there’s all these people, we have all this art we’re making, let’s go on tour, let’s tell people about our tour, let’s tell people about our shows—and so I wanted to use the web as a platform to sort of create some cultural history and cultural narratives and event advertising, all of that together. In 2003 or ‘4, I started to teach myself HTML. And I think I basically started realizing that it was relatively easy to learn this stuff. It wasn’t hard, it was just kind of many steps and complicated. But not difficult.
MM: One of my ballet teachers will sometimes say about a movement, “It’s not hard, it’s tricky.”
HD: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s great framing. To me, when I’m trying to teach people technology or talk about a technical process, it’s the way I like to frame it: “You can totally do this, it’s just—you have to follow all the right steps in the right order. Do that, you’re fine. Don’t do that…We all know what happens, things break.” [laughs] I think my teaching is so totally informed by my personal process to figure out interfacing and using technology, which was just sort of like, “Try it! Look at what people have built!”
MM: I wrote down a line from one of your posts: “Part of my mandate is to empower people to control their own media and means of production rather than take over and leave folks confused.” So can you talk more about that in your approach towards technology and intimidation?
HD: That’s actually a really good question. To me, this also sort of plays into both a feminist and a liberationist approach to the world in general, where I find technology to have this masculinist, over-logical, kind of ableist edge where it’s like, “You can build anything! You have to build it like this!” And then there’s this aggro sort of builder culture in technology that I think a lot of people find intimidating, and I found intimidating at times. I really want to not tell people that they can’t do the work of the thing they want to build, but to actually be as thoughtful and inclusive about the way in which I’m walking with people as they learn. And I think that also is informed by the pedagogy certificate program that I went through, because there was a lot of thinking about teachers as collaborators and about teaching as a more horizontal process, as opposed to a top-down distribution of information. Just in terms of how people retain information, and what does it mean for someone to actually feel like they’re truly engaged and truly empowered and truly part of a building process of anything, right? And this goes whether it is a performance piece, whether it’s a meeting, or a facilitated conversation, or a class, or a group project that requires technology. There are ways to actually help people feel like their contributions are important no matter what they are, and that they can up their skill level and learn new things, without being like, “You’re a fuck-up! You didn’t close that tag!” Or, “You don’t write in C++ and Java and whatever! You don’t know anything!” Like—god, why? There’s actually no need to be like that. It’s competition, a domination culture mindset. It’s not really helpful. So, yeah, if I’m thinking about wanting to share information, I’m often thinking—even if I’m working in technology—like an activist. Or like a community organizer. How do you move a group of people into an extra skill set, into comprehending more skills, without making somebody feel stupid, or without holding up sort of weird masculinist principles of, “You have to do it right the first time!” It’s not the army, it’s not boot camp, it’s learning. It should be exciting and interesting.
MM: So, following that, does it ever come up that communities you’re working with want to use all the proprietary stuff that everybody’s heard of, and do you ever kind of step in and push them towards open tools that may be less commonly used or more difficult to use, or have more of a learning curve?
HD: That’s also a good question. I remember, for the last couple cycles I’ve worked with this big volunteer-run community event called the Femme Conference that happens every two years. A big part of my task was to sort of make all the technology for everyone to use. And I remember very clearly having a friendly debate with folks about what platform we wanted. Like, do we need a BaseCamp? Do we want Google Docs? Do we want to look at Crabgrass? What are people going to use? We had a pretty fleshed-out debate about it. And we ended up going with Google Docs, which as an information activist, worries me, because I know when people put information into Google Docs, then Google can mine the words and—we don’t know what Google’s doing with our information. But we know they’re doing something. It’s going on their servers, something’s happening with it, that feels creepy. Also there’s privacy issues. But what I thought was actually more important was that people agreed on a tool they felt comfortable using so that they could get their work done. And people were willing to stretch within that tool. This small step was itself revolutionary, in that getting some folks to move to a place where they were using Google Forms was big for them. So rather than being some sort of anarchist purist about, “Well, even though you stretched to learn Google Forms, it’s still not good enough, because we’re not using an open source tool for the revolution!”—that would be a shitty way to move somebody through using technology, right? So my attitude was like, hey, here’s problems with Google, but you actually need to get work done.
And I think that is to me an activist struggle—how do we do things with our principles and also get our tasks done when there’s always so much to do, more than any of us as humans can get done? If there were a smaller group, or a group that could all be in the same place, or a group that had a longer lead time, I think I might have pushed more for other technology platforms. Because I do think that there is something prefigurative about using technology that has a similar political vision of the world as the work that’s being done. And I think that holding those two things together can make doing the work something that has fewer qualifications to it. For myself as an activist in some groups I run with, people are like, “Well, we want the revolution,” and everyone has their own idea of what that’s going to be. [laughter] But in the meantime, I still have to go to my job, because I work in capitalism. You’re like, “Well, I still have to go to work, so…” And that is true. So, for myself, I work with a good worker-owned coop. I sort of try to figure out working within capitalism to the best of my ability.
MM: And that’s Openflows.
HD: And that’s Openflows, yeah. But still, we are all working in capitalism. That’s fine. So, to parallel, it’s like, “Well, okay, I went into this project, I have to use some kind of tool.” Knowing that that tool is going to be embedded in a bigger system of something that we’re working against, what tools are possible to pick that are still closer to the overall vision or urge behind the work? And that is, I think, why open source tools are actually much more interesting and worthwhile to use. Because they remind us that there’s no neutral interaction that we have with the things around us, including technology. (more…)
November 1, 2014
Library Juice Press is happy to announce the winner of the Second Annual Library Juice Paper Contest. Michelle Caswell’s paper, titled, “Inventing New Archival Imaginaries: Theoretical Foundations for Identity-Based Community Archives,” was judged by the award jury to be the best paper out of 25 submitted in this year’s contest, in a blind process in which identifying information was removed from the papers submitted. Jury member Ryan Shaw wrote of Caswell’s paper,
“In her chapter Caswell moves fluidly between reporting on her experiences co-founding an identity-based community archive, explaining and showing how to use concepts from postcolonialist theory, and making a case for an archiving as activism. She does each equally well, and despite its multiple purposes the chapter is a single cohesive piece. It was also a pleasure to read: Caswell has a journalist’s flair for communicating complex ideas clearly and telling a story.”
Cawell’s paper was published as a chapter in Identity Palimpsests: Archiving Ethnicity in the United States and Canada, Litwin Books, 2014. Michelle Caswell is an Assistant Professor of Archival Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA.
The Library Juice Paper Contest winner receives an award of $1000. The intention of this contest is to encourage and reward good work in the field of library and information studies, humanistically understood, through a monetary award and public recognition. Papers submitted may be unpublished, pending publication, or published in the year of the award. Any type of paper may be entered as long as it is not a report of an empirical study. Examples of accepted forms would be literature review essays, analytical essays, historical papers, and personal essays. The work may include some informal primary research, but may not essentially be the report of an empirical study.
The critera for judgment are:
– Clarity of writing
– Originality of thought
– Sincerity of effort at reaching something true
– Soundness of argumentation (where applicable)
– Relevance to our time and situation
The jury for this year’s award consisted of Toni Samek, Professor, School of Library & Information Studies, University of Alberta; Ryan Shaw, an Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science and Emily Knox, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Entries in next year’s award are due September 1st, 2015.
Library Juice Press is an imprint of Litwin Books, LLC specializing in theoretical and practical issues in librarianship from a critical perspective, for an audience of professional librarians and students of library science.
Library Juice Press
P.O. Box 188784
Sacramento, CA 95818
October 26, 2014
IRIE Call for Papers on Global Citizenship
Guest Editor: Jared Bielby, Univ. of Alberta, Canada: email@example.com
Globalization via the digital age is upon us, demanding a new ethics and an intercultural awareness while the dialectics of globalism and cyberspace mandate a committed reflection on what the synthesis between the digital realm and global citizenship entails. In many ways, the borders that previously separated us as citizens physically and culturally have begun to dissipate, replaced by a call for an intercultural accountability and a form of global citizenship that, on one hand, surpasses borders, patriotism, and nationalism alike, but while on the other, demands an understanding and respect for the cultural idiosyncrasies among us, acknowledging the unique existential paradox of universal citizenship that posits each of us as both stranger and citizen on a commonly shared globe.
What is cosmopolitan in the digital age? Is a global digital citizen the same as merely a digital citizen? While talk of digital citizenship has increased in recent years, usually centered on a capitalist drive, encouraging a full electronic participation in society and a responsibility to digital commerce, many questions remain unanswered. Is the netizen the citizen of a democratic state, and of digital democracy? As a citizen of the world interacting online, how will one’s “rights” and “duties” be determined? And are these “rights” universal, and in such a case, what does “universal” mean? What are the legal parameters of netizenship, and what will they be as globalization further takes hold? Is democracy critical to citizenship, or is it not? What are the political landscapes of global citizenship in the digital age? And last of all, is the concept of digital citizenship even tangible? Is it real?
This issue of IRIE will explore the cultural and ethical dimensions of global citizenship in a digital age, looking at the implications, challenges and future of a digitally constructed globalization. We welcome the exploration of, while not restricting to, the following subject areas:
– Defining “rights” and “duties” in terms of digital citizenship
– Universal rights in the digital age
– Intercultural perspectives on citizenship
– Exploration of the digital divide in terms of citizenship
– Borders and nationalism
– Digital citizenship as defined by responsible use of technology
– Governance, law and/or civil rights in terms of globalization
– Ontology, identity and themes of belonging & alienation
– Social justice in terms of cyberspace vs. “real” space
– Global information flow and developing power structures
Deadline for extended abstracts: December 31, 2014.
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