April 3, 2013
In the Library with the Lead Pipe published an interesting editorial this morning titled, “DIY Library Culture and the Academy,” though editorial may not be exactly the right word for it, because mostly it is a call for discussion of the ideas it presents. Library Juice Press is mentioned as an example of a DIY project, and so as you might guess I have some comments.
Lead Pipe editors Emily Ford and Micah Vandergrift both refer to the history of DIY, Emily stating that it is (in a way) what academic librarians have been doing all along, and Micah calling on the specific meaning of DIY in punk culture as a standard we should be keeping in mind. I would like to talk about it in terms of something that happened in the 60s and 70s that was called the “new careers movement,” and what sociologists of the professions at the time were calling “the revolt of the client,” because it was an important DIY moment that relates to this one. I am drawing these comments largely from a couple of papers written by sociologist Marie Haug: her 1969 paper with Marvin Sussman titled, “Professional Autonomy and the Revolt of the Client,” in Social Problems 17.2, and her 1975 paper titled, “The Deprofessionalization of Everyone?,” in Sociological Focus 8.3, which was a response to an influential paper by Harold Wilensky in 1964 titled, “The Professionalization of Everyone?”
Marie Haug developed a concept of deprofessionalization in response to the idea first proposed by Daniel Bell (famous for the term “the information society”), that the rapid proliferation of knowledge and technology would give more power to professionals and would also increase the share of knowledge-work as part of the economy, as machines would gradually take over all of the less-skilled work. Haug thought about this idea in terms of something that had begun happening in the late sixties, which sociologists termed “the revolt of the client.” What this referred to was the way “the person on the street” had started to feel alienated by the authority of professionals of whom they were clients, started to see them as “The Man” and started demanding the right to take care of needs that the professions had a monopoly over fulfilling, at the street level. Simultaneous to this revolt against the authority of the professions were some other social changes that had begun to enable non-professionals to perform some of these roles. Haug focuses on the medical profession, but we can see how the same changes gave power to people working in paraprofessional or non-professional roles in various institutions or outside of institutions completely. Haug observed that the professions’ monopoly on knowledge was being eroded by the general increased level of schooling, and also by the rise of computers, since data-driven software allowed for professional knowledge to be codified for access by non-professionals (essentially what happened later with desktop publishing software). So Haug argued that contrary to the main stream of the sociology of the professions at the time, these factors would lead to a loss of autonomy for professionals, who had previously enjoyed a strong monopoly on the knowledge on which their practice was based. In medicine specifically, the “new careers movement” was the beginning of the trend of giving nurses and nurse practitioners more of the privileges of MD’s in terms of basic medical practice. There was a gender element to the new careers movement and the revolt of the client in addition to a class element. So, I think that moment is important to think about in the context of DIY, because it links what are now a couple of separate meanings that DIY may have – the punk idea that Micah Vandergrift evokes in order to talk about the political reasons behind DIY, and on the other hand the power that desktop software gives people to do a lot of things pretty well that formerly required a professional (like desktop publishing). At the time of the “new careers movement,” the social trend toward deprofessionalization that Haug saw just beginning was motivated at one level by the desire for a sort of revolution in a political sense, and was enabled at another level by mass education and computerization.
While the rise of the new careers movement and the erosion of the professions’ monopoly on knowledge might seem simply like something to celebrate, Haug was concerned that it would lead to an increase of power for the bureaucrats who worked in professional institutions, resulting in less autonomy for professionals. This does seem to have happened and seems still to be happening (and in an ironic way may be part of the impetus for DIY practice among professionals now). At the same time, she acknowledged that people did become empowered outside of the professions in meeting needs formerly in the total purview of the professions. There is a certain way, however, I think, in which changes that enable DIY and sub-institutional work can redistribute and veil professional control as much as they can undo it. The reason for this is way software that makes use of professional knowledge in a codified form has decisions embedded into it, so that what for the professional may be questions of judgment to apply in various different contexts become software limitations of which users may not be aware, not having the background of a professional who can articulate the questions that the software has already answered for the user. Software that empowers us also makes decisions for us, decisions that are by nature outside of our focus as we are using it. (This is part of the argument for open source software.)
As librarians, we occupy an ambiguous position in the space defined by these changes. We claim an area of professional expertise but do not claim a monopoly over it; in fact, our professional ideology goes against the monopoly of knowledge on which professions are traditionally based. Our self-defined role is to empower people with knowledge, yet we try to protect our status as a profession as having a unique ability to do it. We also occupy an ambiguous position as designers of systems at the same time we are users of systems in which professional knowledge is embedded that we don’t necessarily have access to (think about the opacity of function of next-generation discovery tools). This may mean, in Haug’s terms, that we function both as professionals, with authority over a knowledge domain and a need to protect our autonomy from encroachment by the bureaucracies of our institutions, and as allies of clients who want solutions outside of the professions, in pursuit of an opening-up of professional privileges (though copyright battles, through access to medical and legal knowledge that we can share, etc.). In light of this, I think DIY work can accomplish a number of goals. First, it can enable us to do things that our bureaucracies have made difficult for us to do, despite the fact that we are ostensibly the professionals in our organizations. Second, it can demonstrate for our users that we are their allies who work in the same “DIY consumer space,” meaning that we understand the limitations they confront or feel that they confront. Third, DIY tools that are sold to consumers can afford us the benefits of professional knowledge outside our own fields without the cost of high-level business-to-business deployment, which we can’t control as individuals anyway.
I think there is also a dark side to observe, as well as a danger in attempting to understand DIY entirely through a historical lens, and that is that the kind of DIY affordances we are talking about are a part of a major economic shift that has taken place over the last half-century, away from Fordist production toward more software-driven, small-scale, customizable production and the different economic relations (and subjectivities) that Post-Fordism entails. There is a lot written about these changes in the field of political economy, but I would like to mention one article that relates to DIY specifically: Yiannis Mylonas’ article in Triple C, titled, “Amateur Creation and Entrepreneurialism: A Critical Study of Artistic Production in Post-Fordist Structures.” (Full disclosure: Mylonas has a chapter in the upcoming Litwin Books title, Piracy: Leakages from Modernity, edited by Martin Fredriksson and James Arvanitakis.) Mylonas suggests that the DIY orientation is a part of the transformation of everybody into an entrepreneur, i.e. the spread of neoliberal subjectivity. So, I am careful about getting behind it as a “cause,” though I like to take part. Furthermore, I can admit to having the ambition to bridge the gap between DIY voice and institutional voice, and to cross that bridge, as entrepreneurs generally do.
- Rory Litwin was an academic librarian prior to working full time as a small press academic publisher and continuing education provider with Litwin Books, Library Juice Press and Library Juice Academy.
February 27, 2013
Award for Ongoing Doctoral Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of 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).
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, information science, media studies, 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, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
January 30, 2013
Please note that the deadline has been extended to midnight Friday, February 15th
*Call for Participation (NASKO 2013) *
*Transition Cultures, Transition KO: Evolving Exploration, Critical Reflection, and Practical Work *
ISKO C/US invites submissions of abstracts for its Fourth North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization (NASKO 2013) to be held June 13-14, 2013, in Milwaukee, WI, USA.
*Conference Venue*: Continuing Education Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
*Conference Dates:* June 13-14, 2013
*Deadline for Proposals*: *January 31, 2013*
“The essence of Transition is in its name. It describes the era of change we are all living in. The Transition idea is about us all being an engaged, active part of that change.”
–Transition Towns Movement
Transition is a grassroots movement that pulls on communities to improve local and global conditions in a sustainable way. Similarly, the KO community contributes to the greater good both locally within our own institutions and globally through interoperable systems, standards, and technologies. In the spirit of transition, the Fourth North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization (NASKO 2013) conference invites participants to come together to forge and strengthen the connections that will shape the future of knowledge organization.
Proposals for research papers, position papers, posters, unconference topics and a doctoral symposium are welcomed. Acceptable languages for conference submissions include English, French or Spanish. Graduate students are especially encouraged to submit proposals.
Topics to explore include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Theory of KO
• History of KO
• Legacy and emerging KOSs
• Epistemological status of KO
• Domain Analysis approach to KO
• New challenges in teaching KO
• KO research sustainability
• The future of KO
• Sociocultural studies of KO
*Research and Position Papers:* Proposals should include a title and be no more than 1500 words long. 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.
*Posters:* Proposals should include a title and be no more than 650 words long.
*Unconference Sessions:* Proposals of topics for sessions driven by attendees. The unconference will include 30-minute breakout sessions with two or three topics per session, depending on attendance. The proponents of the topics selected will be hosting the session and deliver a final lightning talk.
*Doctoral Symposium:* 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.
Proposals should include the name(s) of the author(s), their complete mailing and e-mail addresses, and their telephone and fax numbers. Please send proposals in Word or .rtf format to *email@example.com *
*Publication: *All accepted papers will be published online. The papers most highly-ranked during the peer-review process will, with permission of the authors, be published, in full, in a future issue of Knowledge Organization.
February 15, 2013: Submission deadline.
March 8, 2013: Notification to authors.
May 8, 2013: Final copy submission.
*Bursaries for students*
ISKO C/US will offer a limited number of bursaries for students presenting at the conference. Application guidelines will appear on the ISKO C/US website later this year:
Cristina Pattuelli, Pratt Institute, New York
Kathryn La Barre, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Richard Smiraglia, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee
Hur-Li Lee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee
Arsenault Clément, Université de Montréal
Clare Beghtol, University of Toronto
Melanie Feinberg, University of Texas, Austin
Melodie Fox, University of Washington
Jonathan Furner, University of California, Los Angeles
Lynne Howarth, University of Toronto
Michèle Hudon, Université de Montréal
Elin Jacob, Indiana University, Bloomington
Barbara Kwasnik, Syracuse University
Aaron Loehrlein, University of British Columbia
Elaine Ménard, McGill University
Elizabeth Milonas, Long Island University
Hope Olson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Joseph Tennis, University of Washington
Nancy Williamson, University of Toronto
See website for details: http://iskocus.org/nasko2013.php
October 24, 2012
The 2013 LACUNY Institute -
Libraries, Information, and the Right to the City
April 5, 2013
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Christine Pawley – Former director of the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Wisconsin – Madison and historian of print culture in America.
Jessa Lingel – Doctoral student at Rutgers and author of “Occupy Wall Street and the myth of the technological death of the library.”
In recent years movements of scholars and activists have advanced a concept known as “the right to the city.” As the noted geographer David Harvey puts it “the right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.” Situated at the heart of a global metropolis the Library Association of the City University of New York
(LACUNY) is in an excellent position to initiate this dialogue.
The 2013 LACUNY Institute committee welcomes proposals that examine how library and information professionals engage in such social transformations. The majority of the world’s population now resides in urban areas making questions surrounding the city central to understanding the shape of the 21st century. The goal of the 2013 institute is to create a dialogue about how library and information professionals can (or should) move beyond being guarantors of access and become engaged in communities’ production of knowledge. We consider “the city” to be the public sphere broadly defined (i.e., proposals that examine these issues in small communities are welcome). The massive technological transformations of recent years have changed the nature of both libraries and the public sphere. At the 2013 LACUNY Institute we would like to explore the roles of libraries and information in the polis of the future.
Here are few examples of subjects that would be considered appropriate:
Librarians and social movements
Libraries and public services
The ethics of representation
Services to traditionally marginalized groups
Critical information literacy
The ethics of user generated content
The ethics of neutrality
Libraries and civic engagement
Open access and the public’s right to information
We look forward to your participation in the spring of 2013!
Submission of proposals for papers should include:
name(s) of presenter(s)
abstracts of 300-500 words.
Presentations will be 20 minutes with time allocated for questions and discussion.
Full papers will be published in a special issue of Urban Library Journal.
Submit a 300 to 500 word abstract to this webform or email a word document with the above information to firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline: December 21, 2012
Notification of acceptance: January 25, 2013
October 18, 2012
I have just done an interview with Maria Accardi for the Library Juice Academy news blog. Maria is teaching a class next month called, “Changing Lives, Changing the World: Information Literacy and Critical Pedagogy.” This course is based on part on work that she did leading up to her co-editing the book published by Library Juice Press in 2010, Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods. Maria talks about how she teaches this class in a way that is designed to let participants’ own experiences and insights play a big part in the learning process, and what this class was like when she taught it previously.
August 14, 2012
In a Library Juice blog post some time ago, Rory Litwin recommended an essay by Karl Mannheim entitled “Conservative Thought.” In the essay, Mannheim argues that political groupings can be distinguished by specific “styles of thought” (though a style of thought will not be limited to politics). Styles of thought characterize more than just the subjective thinking of individuals. At the same time, they are not entirely objective. Individuals participate in a style of thought which will survive their coming and going, but it does not exist apart from the individuals. Mannheim goes on to illustrate this by describing the style of thought that made up the German conservatives of the 19th century. In essence, Mannheim was trying to answer the questions, “who were the German conservatives and what was it that made them a distinct and coherent political group?”
This got me thinking about what unifies political groupings today which led me to read George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and Chinni and Gimpel’s Our Patchwork Nation. Each of these works examines political identities in recent U.S. politics more or less in the manner that Mannheim sought to make sense of the political identity of 19th century German conservatives. Lakoff examines what distinguishes conservatives from liberals. His attempt to discover a master trait that explains all or most of this political divide comes closest to Mannheim’s attempt to find a “style of thought” that governs German conservativism. In contrast to this, Frank examines the distinctions between moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans, and liberals. Here the similarity with Mannhiem is that Frank defines conservative Republicans in opposition to liberals rather as Mannhiem defines conservativism in opposition to Enlightenment rationalism. Chinni and Gimpel take a slightly different approach by positing and examining twelve different “nations” within the United States, each composed of counties having similar demographic characteristics. It is noteworthy that Lakoff contrasts two abstract ideological systems as does Mannheim, while Frank and Chinni and Gimpel approach the question more concretely by distinguishing specific policy positions and character traits that hang together sociologically.
There is much in each of the three works on the U.S. political landscape to recommend them. Chinni and Gimpel is perhaps best; however, each of them underestimates the complexity of political groupings within the U.S. If librarians are to understand better our patron populations and their relations to politics, we’ll need to see deeper into the body politic than any sociological assessment thus far has seen and we’ll need to be sympathetic to a multiplicity of political perspectives. We need not abandon our own political views, but to accurately understand the views of our patrons, we must see them as complex rational individuals and avoid the easy shorthand of political stereotypes.
Of the three works under examination here, Lakoff’s book is the most ambitious in that it purports to identify a master trait that distinguishes liberals from conservatives; however, in doing so, it becomes the most superficial. Lakoff believes that American politics are driven by two models of the family: the Strict Father Model and the Nurturing Parent Model. These models serve as frames for how conservatives and liberals respectively think, not just about family life, but also about politics and other spheres of life. Lakoff argues that conservatives implicitly have recognized that emphasizing the values inherent in the Strict Father Model reinforces voters’ tendency to employ these values when thinking about politics. After emphasizing this family model for four decades, conservatives have established in the electorate a way of thinking about politics that prevents voters from accepting (and sometimes even understanding) the policies advanced by liberals.
Lakoff’s theory is initially attractive, as one often can see ties between the family models and a number of Republican and Democratic political positions; however, as important as family dynamics are to establishing our world views, the idea that all of the variations within U.S. politics are rooted a single social-psychological character trait that admits of only two values overlooks the complexity of the political world in the interest of theoretic simplicity. I suspect that Lakoff’s dichotomy was both generated by and helped to entrench the Red-Blue vision of U.S. politics that has done so much to mask political reality. Mostly, the Red-Blue divide is an artifact of our two party system which requires people of quite diverse opinion to band together against a single political opponent. Were our two party system to be transformed into a multi-party democracy, the importance of the two family models might quickly disappear.
In contrast, Frank’s work distinguishes three political groupings: moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans, and liberals. Mostly, Frank examines the two Republican groups. Frank’s thesis is that the working class population of Kansas has become hopelessly distracted by hot button social issues and has been fooled into voting for moderate Republican politicians who are undermining their economic interests. Working class conservatives are trading away their economic future in exchange for lip service from moderate Republicans on social issues. While there is something to this argument, it fails to understand economic issues from the conservative’s perspective. Frank clearly is viewing the question from a liberal perspective, i.e., that one’s attitude toward the legal framework regulating economic activity should be based on how well-off that framework will make you. I suspect that this view may not be shared by the great majority of working class, conservative Kansans. Instead, they are – true to their words – “values voters,” but not simply in the sense of caring about abortion, “traditional” marriage, and prayer in school. They also bring their values to economic questions, particularly, the values of personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, respect for fair play, and most of all meritocracy.
Republican doctrine has long opposed taxes and regulation. They are seen as alien impositions on the main business of America which is, on this view, business. Taxes and regulations are merely ways by which the productive members of society are made to support and defend politically powerful, but unproductive, members. If one sees the main activity of life as making a living within the constraints of a fair system of rules, then such a point of view may seem not unreasonable. Surely, many if not most working class people in Kansas find making a living an all-consuming activity. This is particularly true of people who are self-employed or sell their labor job to job. For them, taxes (no matter how progressive) are an obstacle to getting ahead or even just staying afloat. Furthermore, regulations on businesses limit the kind of economic activity that they believe is necessary to remain in business or simply remain employed.
In addition to this, the ideology of individualism, personal responsibility, and fair play can seem to trump government assistance for the disadvantaged. Material well-being may certainly be an important value for the conservative working class, but if earning what you acquire is a greater value, then taxation, regulation, and social programs can be seen as undermining this more important meritocratic value. Living in a meritocracy might mean that one is not made as well-off as one might otherwise be, but getting what you deserve and only what you deserve seems to be important to the ideology of the working class conservative.
Of course, what liberals will find missing in this analysis is the importance of equal opportunity. A libertarian economic order provides only the legal pretense of an equal starting point for economic success. It does not recognize the unequalizing effects of such things as sex, gender, and racial prejudices, and especially class privileges; but in the case of the Kansas working class, the degree of inequality of opportunity may not seem so great as to justify liberal programs like affirmative action, housing assistance, publically financed health insurance, and food stamps. They may find their own situation is too close to the beneficiaries of public assistance to be sympathetic to transferring any of their wealth or opportunity to the least well-off. To speak productively with the working class conservatives, one might do well to speak in meritocratic terms, but to emphasize how the accidents of birth undermine meritocratic values. The liberal needs to make clear and convincing that what is preventing the working class from realizing the deserved benefits of their own efforts is not transfers of wealth to the least-well off, but systemic advantages accruing to the richest of the rich in our society. The liberal must make the case that these advantages distort meritocracy much more than social programs for the least well-off and that social programs are a way to rectify distortion of a meritocracy.
Chinni and Gimpel’s Our Patchwork Nation is motivated by the desire to avoid the Red-Blue dichotomy that Lakoff examines. Instead, Chinni and Gimpel divide the electorate into twelve distinct communities, and maps them onto the nation county by county. Hence, one county may be part of “Tractor Country” while the neighboring county is part of “Immigration Nation.” Very much is gained by this nuanced analysis, but even here, there is a tendency to disregard minority populations within counties or even majority populations. For example, “Immigration Nation” is composed of counties that have a large Hispanic population: on average, 44% of the people who live there are from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. This, of course, is enough to make these counties significantly different from others that do not have such a high percent of Hispanics, but labeling the county part of “Immigration Nation” masks the other 56%. Counties in “Evangelical Epicenter” are composed significantly of white fundamentalist Christians, but they sometimes contain a significant number of African-Americans who are the essential (though seldom the majority) element of “Minority Central” counties. All of this is simply to say that the demographic constitution of Chinni and Gimpel’s twelve communities are more complex than their labels can allow and that much more must be considered to understand adequately the electorate. In all fairness, though, a single work can only do so much. Theory can never completely describe reality, but theorize we must.
After reading Lakoff, Frank, and Chinni and Gimpel, I am led to think that Mannheim’s investigation into “styles of thought” and other sociological studies of its kind must be handled with care. The best of them might reveal some subset of features of an electorate, but they are more likely to lead one into the trap of thinking that one’s theory about political ideologies is more accurate and stable than it is. Political groupings in the U.S. may have much less to do with a shared political ideology or “styles of thought” and much more to do with a two party system that requires uneasy alliances. Applying these insights to our patron populations can help keep us from falling into the trap of serving a cardboard cutout of a patron. Instead, it may remind us to serve the patron who actually stands before us.
August 8, 2012
Emily Ford does a great job with this overview of library philosophy in In the Library With a Lead Pipe: What We Do and Why We Do It, published this morning. Much of it is a review of the literature in this important thread of LIS scholarship, covering a span that runs from 1934 up to some very recent work. Full disclosure: she includes a Library Juice Press publication in her discussion.
May 17, 2012
At ALA in Anaheim, Wayne Bivens-Tatum will be signing copies of Libraries and the Enlightenment, from 10am to 11am on Saturday the 23rd at the Litwin Books/Library Juice Press booth (booth 2769).
We are offering a discount on this book if you purchase it between now and the conference and bring it to the book signing. You can purchase it here:
For more information about the book, you can read the preface online…
March 8, 2012
Something that never fails to charm me is discovering the ways that acquaintances use the library, especially when it comes up before they find out that I work there. That’s what happened one day in our main library when I bumped into someone I know from the salsa socials, and it turned out that he’s a regular at one of our philosophy discussion groups. My library system has two long-standing philosophy discussion groups, and their existence also makes me happy. It’s not an activity that will ever make it onto a bus ad or be the object of a grant proposal. They wouldn’t work in every branch. And when we have “vision”-type conversations about the library, we rarely if ever mention this sort of program – you won’t hear, say, “How will e-books change the library, and how can we strengthen our philosophy discussion groups?”
A PhD candidate I know told me she sees a push among new LIS students towards thinking of the library as place. People in the field are also considering the future of library buildings as print (and DVD!) collections surely dwindle. Can public libraries thrive as sites of creation, learning, and connection?
We’re all familiar with the long-held idea of libraries as “fostering democracy,” which has for a while struck me as being part of the overpromising that we librarians do. (Library historian Wayne Wiegand recently argued against the “conventional thinking and professional rhetoric grounded in a user-in-the-life-of-the-library perspective [that] identif[ies] the public library as a neutral agency essential to democracy because, we’ve convinced ourselves, it guards against censorship and makes vital information accessible to all.”) But I think that these philosophy discussion groups and similar programs that encourage reflection and peer education may be as close as we can come to this ideal.
I asked my two colleagues who run these programs to elaborate on them. Ed D’Angelo – also the author of the Library Juice Press-published Barbarians at the Gates of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good – has been leading a philosophy discussion group twice a month at a south Brooklyn branch for just shy of nine years. And Nomi Naeem, in the social sciences division at our main library, has been running a monthly program for the last seven years. An average of 16 people attend each of Ed’s discussion groups, with a core of about half a dozen who make it to nearly every meeting. Nomi sees 15-20 people at his programs, with 10-15 regulars.
Ed chooses readings from the Web and databases and makes copies of selected articles, representing a range of views on the topic, for meeting attendees in preparation for the following discussion. His group is a topical discussion group and as such might read excerpts or summaries but never entire books. Similarly, Nomi’s group rarely reads full books and usually discusses, in his words, ”topics of current and educational relevance which are explored from multiple perspectives: natural science, social science, arts, humanities, East, West, premodern, modern, postmodern.” Topics are selected in consultation with the participants.
(Ed) The context of our discussions partly determines the content of our discussions. Since we are a group of strangers meeting in a free public space to discuss whatever we agree to discuss, we discuss topics of common public interest. And since it is a philosophical discussion, we attempt to subject our discussion to logical analysis and to search for the fundamental or root principles behind the topics we discuss. In practice that means that most of the topics revolve around some social issue or other, and since most social, political, cultural or economic issues are ultimately rooted in moral problems, many of our discussions concern moral issues.
What does everyone talk about? Ed’s past topics include the following:
- Is there a right to health care?
- What is democracy?
- The general assembly model of democratic decision making at Occupy Wall Street
- Is ignorance bliss?
- Does philosophy make you happy?
- Extra-terrestrial intelligence (the Fermi Paradox, etc.)
- Why be good?
- Forgiveness and revenge
- Manners and etiquette
- Pride and arrogance
- Moral egoism
- Islam and democracy
- Capital punishment
- Romantic love
- Should prostitution be legalized?
- Economic inequality
And here are some of Nomi’s past topics:
- The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Boton
- The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless, and Endless by John D. Barrow
- Philosophy and cultural identity
- Philosophy, gender and culture
- Philosophy and banned books across cultures
- Philosophy and personal relationships
- Philosophy and ethics – East and West
- Why read Spinoza now?
- Philosophy and the modern media
- Philosophy and everyday dilemmas
- Philosophy and Machiavelli
- Philosophy and Buddhism
- Philosophy and violence
- Why read Plato now?
- Philosophy and consciousness
- Philosophy and death
- Philosophy and American history
- Philosophy and world history
- Philosophy and human rights
I asked about group dynamics and memorable moments.
(Nomi) One time a devout Christian approached to hug a Muslim after a heated debate on religion. After the regular discussion, the patrons get together again for coffee. Some of them have formed strong friendships (inter-racial, cross-cultural, etc.) because of attending the philosophy discussions together. The discussions are not without laughter and forgetting despite [the] gravity of some sensitive topics such as religion, race, class, sexuality, gender, identity, politics, war, unconscious (biological, cultural, political, personal). Philosophy indeed is everybody’s business.
(Ed) The philosophy discussion group is not a democratic polity, but a democratic society requires public discussions on topics of common interest such as the ones we have in our group. Unfortunately, very few people in our society, including those who are college educated, are prepared to have these types of discussions, or have any experience with discussions of this kind. [...] One of the obstacles, besides lack of education in relevant subject areas, is an inability or unwillingness to listen to others and to different points of view, and a lack of etiquette or respect towards other participants. Many people come to the group only to have a platform to broadcast their own ideas, but are not willing to listen to anyone else or to engage others in conversation. There is also a tendency to reduce all arguments to ad hominems and to personalize beliefs. When we are discussing a philosopher, for example, members of the group will immediately ask about the philosopher’s life and draw conclusions about the philosopher’s ideas based on their biography. Disagreements in the group have too often been taken as personal insults and devolved into fights.
I take these as challenges, not as irremediable problems. One of the chief successes of the group has been that members who stick it out long enough do eventually overcome these challenges and learn how to carry on a rational discussion with strangers in a public space on topics about which they disagree. This is not something that happens suddenly in a dramatic moment – the dramatic moments are marked by hostility and madness – but something that happens slowly over a long period of time.
One regular member of Ed’s discussion group who now lives out of state sent me some feedback of his own. After noting that the library branch is only blocks from his alma mater of New Utrecht High School – an institution associated with two of the Three Stooges and “Welcome Back, Kotter” – and referencing “12 Angry Men,” Mike went on: “THIS is the Philosophy Group. An exploration of subject to be sure, but at least as interestingly, an exploration of people, their experiences, likes and dislikes and, yes, biases. [...] I could describe the personalities in brief form, but I won’t. I leave that to your most vivid imagination. What I will say is that no subject is ever discussed in a sterile vacuum. The insights are wide, deep, sad, humorous, often ‘off-the-wall’ but always entertaining, stimulating and enlightening. This is where Ed has learned, quite imaginatively, to ‘herd cats.’ Of course, there is also the group dynamic where over time, people get to know about one another: their problems, families and joys.”
Jing, who attended the same discussion group in high school and part of college, wrote: “I give the Group a lot of credit because it is my observation that there is a ‘market’ for philosophy among the young and the very old. This may be due to the former’s adolescence and creativity, and the latter’s earned right to contemplate. In either case, I think the library’s programming would benefit a lot from giving this area more development.”
I’ll end with some of my colleagues’ thoughts on the role of these sorts of programs in the public library.
(Ed) If the purpose of the public library is to provide information to the public in order to facilitate public discussions that sustain the democratic process, then the philosophy discussion group offers in microcosm a perfect model of the ideal public library. [...] I hope, too, that some [attendees] will learn an even more important lesson, which is that learning is an ongoing process and one that can be largely self-directed as your research on one topic leads you to another. The philosophy discussion is not a passive process of learning, but one which requires active participation.
(Nomi) Development of an informed and educated population who can distinguish between truth and propaganda is one of the foremost values of public librarianship. Besides, what brought me to librarianship was not just the love of books but a hope that I perhaps can rise above my own natural narcissism, and the powerful forces of cultural conditioning, tribal propaganda and parochial identity (religious, political, national, ethnic, etc.) which human children are subjected to from the moment they start breathing. […] Being a work is progress is the only identity I want to subscribe to and [I] always hope to be mindful of what Spinoza said: ‘I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.’
March 7, 2012
The most recent Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR had a story about a different kind of archive: a vault containing seeds from the world’s grains, for preservation purposes. Central to the story is the Global Crop Diversity Trust.
This is interesting in a number of ways. One rather academic question it raises is whether seed vaults are about preserving information or preserving life. It’s easy to make the case that seeds are a format for storing genetic information, but this involves an abstraction of the information they contain from the natural context where the DNA functions. We can think of seeds as carriers of information only because we have developed a technological mode of relating to nature that enables us to separate and extract information, made up of mathematical values or discrete signs (like the DNA code), from natural processes so that we can intervene in them. The seeds in the vault could be used to map their genomes at a later time (pure information), or they could simply be planted. If they are simply planted, we could say that we are retrieving the information contained in them, but this may only be to apply the abstraction of “information” that belongs to a more scientific way of using a seed. Is it information if it is never put in informational terms? Our concept of information has a history, and its history is linked to modernity…
February 15, 2012
The latest issue of InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies (Volume 8, Issue 1) is available at interactions.gseis.ucla.edu.
Table of Contents:
Stop Speaking For Us: Women-of-Color Bloggers, White Appropriation, and What Librarians Can Do About It
By Julia Glassman
How Much Knowledge Can They Gain? Women’s Information Behavior on Government Health Websites in the Context of HIV/AIDS Prevention
By Jing Chong
The Making of Violent Masculinities: Exploring the Intersections of Cultural, Structural and Direct Violence in Schools
By Shenila S. Khoja-Moolji
An Examination of Institutional Factors Related to the Use of Fees at Public Four-Year Universities
By Alaine Arnott
Book Review of “Gifted and Advanced Black Students in School: An Anthology of Critical Works”
By James M. DeVita
Book Review: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
By Patricia Garcia
Book Review: Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John B. Thompson
By Rory Litwin
Book Review: Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law by Dean Spade
By Z Nicolazzo
Book Review: The Fourth Paradigm by Tony Hey, Stewart Tansley, and Kristin Tolle
By Clinton Joseph Regan
February 6, 2012
If you’re headed to the iSchool conference, something to read if you haven’t yet is a paper that was rejected for inclusion in the 2008 iSchool conference, by Jonathan Furner and Anne Gilliland, both professors at the UCLA School of Information (officially an iSchool). It’s titled, The Humanistic iSchool: A Manifesto. I am very much down with the program of making information studies more humanistic. There is a lot of progress being made at UCLA along those lines, though judging from the fate of this paper in 2008, there is opposition to the idea…
January 16, 2012
Susan Cain offers a most welcome statement in yesterday’s New York Times: “The Rise of the New Groupthink.”
December 14, 2011
CALL FOR PAPERS
2nd Milwaukee Conference on the Ethics of Information Organization
June 15 – 16, 2012
Information organization, like other major functions of the information professions, faces many ethical challenges. In our literature, ethical concerns have been raised with regard to, topics such as, the role of national and international tools and standards, provision of subject access to information, deprofessionalization and outsourcing, education of professionals, and the effects of globalization. These issues and many others like them have serious implications for quality and equity in information access. The Information Organization Research Group and the Center for Information Policy Research of the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee join in presenting this second conference to address the ethics of information organization.
Like the first Ethics of Information Organization conference held in Milwaukee May 2009, this conference (June 2012) welcomes papers on ethics and any element of information organization from cataloging standards to tagging; subject access; technology; the profession; cultural, economic, political, corporate, international, multicultural and multilingual aspects.
INVITED SPEAKERS WILL INCLUDE:
Opening Speaker: Jens-Erik Mai
University of Toronto
Closing Speaker: Richard Smiraglia
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Other invited speakers will be announced
We invite submission of proposals for papers which will include: name(s) of presenter(s), title(s), affiliation(s), contact information and abstracts of 300-500 words. Presentations will be 20 minutes. Time will be set aside for questions as well as broader discussion. All abstracts will be published on the Web site of the UW-Milwaukee Information Organization Research Group. Full papers will be published in a special issue of Knowledge Organization.
ABSTRACTS DUE: February 15, 2012
NOTIFICATION OF ACCEPTANCE BY: March 15, 2012
FULL PAPERS DUE: July 15, 2012
Submit proposals via email to: Hope A Olson, Conference Chair (holson [at] uwm.edu)
CFP poster available here
November 8, 2011
Call for Chapters
Piracy: Leakages From Modernity
Edited by Martin Fredriksson (Linköping University) and James Arvanitakis (University of Western Sydney)
Published by Litwin Books
We are inviting proposals for chapters for an anthology on Piracy planned to be published by the end of 2012.
‘Piracy’ is a concept that seems everywhere in the contemporary world. From the big screen with the dashing ‘Jack Sparrow’, to the dangers off the coast of Somalia; from the claims by the Motion Picture Association of America that piracy funds terrorism, to the political impact of pirate parties in countries like Sweden and Germany. While the spread of piracy provokes responses from the shipping and copyright industries, the reverse is also true: for every new development in capitalist technologies, some sort of ‘piracy’ moment emerges.
This is maybe most obvious in the current ideologisation of Internet piracy where the rapid spread of so called Pirate Parties is developing into a kind of global political movement. While the pirates of Somalia seem a long way removed from Internet pirates illegally downloading the latest music hit or, it is our assertion that such developments indicate a complex interplay between capital flows and relations, late modernity, property rights and spaces of contestation. That is, piracy seems to emerge at specific nodes in capitalist relations that create both blockages and leaks between different social actors.
These various aspects of piracy form the focus for this book, preliminary entitled Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. It is meant to be a collection of texts that takes a broad perspective on piracy and attempts to capture the multidimensional impacts of piracy on capitalist society today. The book is edited by James Arvanitakis at the University of Western Sydney and Martin Fredriksson at Linköping University, Sweden, and published by Litwin Books, USA. It is open for recently unpublished articles from all academic disciplines and we particularly welcome contributions by young and emerging scholars.
If you want to contribute to this book please send an abstract of no more than 1000 words to Martin Fredriksson (martin.fredriksson [at] liu.se) or James Arvanitakis (j.arvanitakis [at] uws.edu.au). Deadline for abstracts is December 1, 2011.
University of Western Sydney