March 31, 2006

The Scientist: Budget cuts imperil EPA library system

An article in The Scientist from March 10th describes the situation faced by EPA’s library system. The article has a number of links at the end.

March 30, 2006

Support EPA Libraries! Oppose FY 2007 Budget Cuts

ALA’s advocacy folks have created a web page designed to make it easy to tell your Congress members of your opposition to the proposed budget cuts to EPA libraries.

The page gives some useful background information and “talking points” about the situation, but leaves out the important fact that the proposed cuts are so severe that they would end up closing most of not all of the libraries in the EPA. These libraries house one-of-a-kind material and are an irreplaceable resource to EPA regulators as well as the public at large. Based on past experience of Federal library closures, it is likely that most of these unique materials will be discarded and not transfered to LC or other depositories. These library closures would represent a major destruction of knowledge and are being proposed in ignorance of the action’s significance.

So go to the link and contact your repesentatives.

SRRT Newsletter

The December, 2005 SRRT Newsletter (the latest one) is on the web. It’s recommended reading for those who wonder what SRRT as a group mainly does.

Occasionally the SRRT Newsletter features an article that comes from outside the group, which the editor wants to share with SRRT members. This issue has an interesting article about the Dalkey Archive Press in the context of the role of alternative publishing, especially in academia.

March 29, 2006

Okay, who will say they still haven’t gone too far Now?

Interested in using a phrase like “Feel Free,” “General Knowledge,” “Freedom to do what you want” or “That’s a great idea” but can’t because it would be trademark violation? Well, fear no more, Rentamark.com is here, with thousands of words and phrases in stock, ready for you to license for business purposes. “Thank God”?¢‚Äû¬¢ for Rentamark! I don’t know where we would be as a society without businesses like that helping us stay out of trouble.

Really quite interesting that they’re doing this – claiming words and phrases by a sort of intellectual property eminent domain and then making money from them by renting them to anyone who wants. Rental consists of having a limited, non-exclusive right to use the word or phrase. In other words, you are paying them to suspend the rights that they have claimed under trademark law for no purpose other than to charge money to do it. They are using the law to bring in money without contributing anything in return. Who can justify this economically?

I learned about them in this cute item in Mother Jones Magazine, which was today’s Library Link of the Day.

March 28, 2006

Not necessary to register now

Some readers will be happy about this: I’ve changed the settings so you don’t need to register in order to comment. We’ll see how it goes.

March 27, 2006

Questioning the Techie Mission

Now that I’ve officially had my blog for almost month, I can reflect a little bit. Things might still change, but I have to confess that at the moment I feel somewhat outside the mainstream of library blogging culture. My blog entries aren’t getting a lot of links to them and I don’t feel much a part of the library blogging “conversation.” It might be because I’ve presented myself from the beginning as not wholeheartedly into the blogging thing. But I think there is a bigger reason, and that is that most library bloggers write a lot about tech topics, and I don’t.

In fact, there is almost a presumption among library bloggers that “we” are mostly techie librarians with an overriding interest and concern with bringing state-of-the-art technologies and 2.0-ish web services into our libraries. Most library bloggers, it seems to me, are advocates of technology in libraries, and often practically missionaries. I question the value in being advocates or missionaries for technology, and question the assumptions behind that posture. Technology advances strongly and securely enough without the help of technology advocates, and as librarians there are more important ends to pursue (often with technology as part of the means, but always with explicit reasoning).

A common theme on library blogs is Why Don’t They “Get It?” The “they” here means usually older, not-so-techie librarians, and “getting it” means “understanding how information technology can change everything and already has changed everything for everyone and how it is the new and overriding mode of communication for libraries – right now.” There are some presumptions behind this theme, and the are:

  • That the techie librarians who make up the readership of these blogs represent young librarianship per se. This is probably not so accurate, because there are both lots of middle-aged techie librarians and lots of younger non-techie librarians.
  • That these techie librarians generally represent the mass of new, younger library users and potential users, who are equally techie and greater in number than out-of-date librarians realize. This is probably less accurate still.
  • That library users and potential library users are generally underserved at present because of the slowness of libraries’ adoption of new technologies. This is an assumption that can be questioned objectively, and may turn out to be true, but hasn’t yet really been tested. It is assumed irrationally.
  • That aside from any attention we might pay to our users’ demand or lack of demand for the newest technologies in our provision of library services (and in fact we pay little attention to this, at least not in an objective way), such technologies and all of their effects are automatically good. Technology is a cause to fight for, us against them. This is an assumption that many techie librarians make at a deep level, leading to a fervent zeal that seems very curious to those of us who fail to see its basis.

Library bloggers (and I recognize that there are loads of exceptions) tend to have those presumptions in common, and those presumptions make up a lot of the existing library blogging culture. This has certain significant results:

  • Library blogging culture, because of the commonality of technology promotion, feels alienating to librarians who don’t share that mission at any level (even if they are otherwise happy users and accepters of technology and sometimes see technology as a useful means to explicit ends).
  • Because of the dominance of the library blogosphere by tech promoters, the assumptions behind the tech-promotional mission of many librarians are unlikely to be questioned within their own culture.
  • The unquestioning enthusiasm for new technologies blinds some librarians to the complex and significant, and sometimes negative, social effects that these technologies can have, making nuanced and balanced decisionmaking within institutions more difficult.
  • Technology promotion is ultimately the promotion of products offered by major vendors, which leads to an increasing power shift in our institutions away from librarians and toward corporate players. These corporate players have put continuous effort into driving our decisions over the years and replacing our work with their own, and have real success in recent decades, ultimately changing the nature of libraries for the worse by compromising our purpose and public-interest character.
  • The focus on the promotion of technology as an end in itself can distract techie librarians’ attention away from the educational mission of libraries, so that as they learn more about technical tools, they learn less about the subtleties of interpreting and responding to user needs, and less about the bibliographic (electronic resources included) knowledge of subjects that’s needed to be a good reference librarian.

There has been little examination, that I am aware of, of technophilia as an ideology. It is an ideology, and a very strange one. As an ideology it is a lens through which things are are rendered according to a set of values in the act of seeing. But unlike the ideologies of Right and Left, these values don’t spring from any idea of what is essential to humanity, but from something else: a prioritization of the process of controlling and reshaping the world through the use of ever more complex tools, and of our own adaptation to that artificial world and to those tools. As ideologies go, seen at its root, it is rather perverse.

It would be saying too much to say that library bloggers hold to a perverse ideology of technology, and it wouldn’t be true. I’m sure most techie library bloggers don’t consider themselves as treating technology as an end in itself, but believe they see it strictly as a means: in their practice of librarianship they keep in mind the real ends of the enrichment, enlightenment and empowerment of their patrons. At the same time, however, I think that there are definite assumptions involved in the technology advocacy posture, and there isn’t necessarily anything supporting those assumptions. In other words, the techie mission is irrational: there would be less emphasis on technology within the library blogosphere if the bloggers involved were more objective about technology.

That is what I “get.” I wonder how many other librarians in my generation and younger agree? It is really rather hard to tell.

EPA Librarians’ Union Demands to Bargain Over Proposed Closings

AMERICAN FEDERATION of GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO

COUNCIL 238 (EPA)

CHARLES ORZEHOSKIE, PRESIDENT
P.O. Box 1127
Chicago, Illinois 60690

March 16, 2006

Ruben Moreno, Director
Labor and Employee Relations
USEPA Headquarters
Ariel Rios Building Mail Code:3631M
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Mr. Moreno,

This constitutes the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals # 238’s (AFGE Council 238 or the Union) Demand to Bargain over the closing and major reorganization of the EPA Headquarters and Regional libraries. We demand this right pursuant to Article 45, Supplemental Agreements and Other Negotiations During the Life and Term of this Agreement and Designated Representatives of the Parties of the Master Collective Bargaining Agreement between the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the AFGE.

The Council has recently been made aware of the following facts:

(1) On March 13, 2006, Tom Skinner, Regional Administrator for EPA Region 5, sent an e-mail to all EPA Region 5 employees, informing them that their library is closing. The e-mail announcing this closure acknowledged that there will be “some inconvenience” to it Bargaining Unit members. Mr. Skinner’s e-mail clearly shows that no provision has been made to provide core library services to EPA Region 5 scientists once the library closes. Similarly, no mention is made as to the responsible dispersal of the EPA Region 5 library collection.

(2) The EPA Headquarters library will be closing (or, perhaps is already closed), since 100% of its budget was cut ($500,000 total). No mention has been made as to how the EPA HQ library collection will be dispersed. No arrangements have been made to ensure that EPA HQ bargaining unit members will continue to have access to core library services.

(3) A “library steering committee” has been formed, consisting of senior EPA HQ managers and Regional SES managers. This steering committee will make decisions regarding the closure of EPA Regional libraries around the country. These decisions are being made without proper consideration of how the EPA scientists in Regional offices throughout the country will receive high-quality core library services. Also, these decisions are being made without adequate consideration of ensuring that AFGE Council 238 Bargaining Unit employees will have ongoing access to the technical studies, reports and other documents that EPA has produced in years past.

(4) On March 9, 2006, Lynda F. Carroll, Assistant Administrator for Management, Region 6, sent to Forrest John, President AFGE Local 1003, a memo with the subject “Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6 Library Closing”. This memo indicated that, “Region 6 library will be closing effective on the close of business September 30, 2006.”

Although it has been suggested that AFGE Council 238 might be involved in PDI concerning changes in EPA’s libraries the Council has never been provided formal notice concerning these changes. Nor has a PDI effort ever been undertaken. EPA’s scientists need library resources to help ensure that they can adequately perform their job duties.

Therefore, in view of the above, and while it is still not clear to AFGE Council 2238 exactly what is being proposed at this time, we are hereby notifying you of our intent to bargain over the changes to the EPA library system. Also, in accordance with Article 45 Section 2, AFGE Council 238 requests that the EPA explain all of the proposed changes and the impact of those changes to the designated Union representative.

(1) In order to protect the Union’s right to negotiate, AFGE Council 238 requests that the Agency maintain the status quo.

(2) AFGE Council 238 invokes its right to ask EPA management to cease its discussions of EPA library closures for FY 2007, and reinstate the $2 million budget cut to the libraries.

(3) AFGE Council 238 invokes its right to ask EPA management to continue its “library steering committee” discussions, but include AFGE representatives on that steering committee. The committee will continue to explore possible “efficiencies” within the EPA library network. With due consideration of how to provide core library services or ongoing access to EPA’s library collections, and AFGE Council 238 and management will work together to develop a Library Network plan for FY 2008.

(4) While it is not clear to AFGE Council 238 the impacts on the AFGE bargaining unit will be based upon what is being proposed by the EPA at this time, AFGE Council 238 is hereby notifying you of are intent to bargain over procedures and appropriate arrangements. In accordance with Article 45 Section 2, AFGE Council 238 requests that the EPA explain the proposed changes and their impact on the AFGE bargaining unit to the designated Union representative. Once the U.S. EPA has explained the proposed change and its impact on the AFGE bargaining unit, AFGE Council 238 will submit its counter-proposal on procedures and appropriate arrangements.

(5) Maureen Kiely, of Local 3607, EPA Region 8, will be the Chief Negotiator for this effort.

Charles Orzehoskie, President
AFGE Council 238

cc: Melissa Hatfield, Attorney
Labor and Employee Relations

Annenberg Center’s (Compromised) Principles for Net Neutrality

Last month the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC, an industry-centered think tank that focuses on the networked society, convened a group of scholars and industry insiders to discuss the hot issue of net neutrality, and recently released a statement that they say is intended to balance public and industry interests.

Their statement, in my opinion, underscores the imbalance in the policy debate in favor of private industry interests, who it should be remembered are allowed to operate a national and international infrastructure with very little regulation. We’re living in a time when experiments with infrastructure deregulation are old enough and complete enough to allow us to draw sound general conclusions, and it is very clear that privatization of infrastructure can be relied on to remove structures of accountability and work against the public interest (contrary to ridiculous promises – e.g. Enron). The fact that net neutrality is emerging as something that we have to fight for, and that it is a fight we may not win, is the first major sign of the negative consequences of a private-run, big-money dominated, underregulated internet infrastructure.

For a decent white paper on net neutrality that I wish the output of powerful groups like the Annenberg Center would at least somewhat resemble, see John Windhausen, Jr.’s Good Fences Make Bad Broadband: Preserving an Open Internet through Net Neutrality.

March 25, 2006

Filtering Irony in Missouri

ALA Online has a rather ironic story about a far-right political group that is suing public libraries in Missouri after finding that its website was blocked by their filters (Bess) as hate speech. The group is a racist grass-roots org called The Council of Conservative Citizens, among whose stated principles is that the United States is a nation of people of European descent and should fight to stay that way. They have a press release online about the lawsuit.

Their press release makes the point that since their website does not have child pornography, obscenity, nor can it be considered (legally) “harmful to minors,” its content is protected by the first amendment. CIPA in its original form did require filtering of hate speech (and as ugly as this group’s statements and ideas are, I’m not sure that everyone would agree that it contains hate speech), but this provision was actually struck down by the Supreme Court in the ALA lawsuit. Hate speech, at present, is considered by the law to be protected under the first amendment. So, this group’s lawsuit is probably a winner (and a publicity-generator for them).

But if the law is on their side, it doesn’t quite mean that the irony is too. The historical fact is that the use of filters in libraries has been a conservative cause from the beginning, and the filtering companies themselves have close ties to conservative Christian groups. The inclusion of “hate speech” and other non sex-related categories in internet filters is not based on the first amendment but on the demands of mostly conservative parents. That the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website was blocked by Bess and that they now have a promising lawsuit against several libraries can be interpreted in any of several ways:

  • That overblocking by filters like Bess is real and affects not only liberal causes such as breast cancer awareness and sex education but also conservative causes like promoting racism (sorry, couldn’t resist that);
  • That the Council of Conservative Citizens can be considered so beyond the pale that a conservative-dominated internet filtering industry is comfortable blocking their site in the “hate speech” category;
  • That society is confused about hate speech and offensive speech generally, and isn’t sure what’s protected and what’s not, or what should be, or why.

If this suit wins, it seems to me that one part of the outcome could be to reinforce the idea that overblocking by filters that results in a loss of access to protected speech is something that can be legally remedied (even though the whole category in which their site was blocked is protected by the first amendment, because it’s still a form of overblocking). It could also build the impression that it is not only liberals who are opposed to or concerned about the affect of internet filters on access to information, but conservatives, too, giving opposition to filtering a more mainstream image.

Delicious stuff…

March 24, 2006

ALA Election Endorsements

I still haven’t received my ALA ballot, so I may be a little late in sharing this information. But if you haven’t voted yet and you’re interested in knowing how I plan to vote, read on.

I’m happy to have the opportunity to vote for Loriene Roy for President, and I hope you will also.

For Council, I plan to bullet vote to get more bang for my buck, a practice which I recommend to those who want their vote to count as much as possible. I will be voting for:

  • Herb Biblo
  • Tiffani Conner
  • David Easterbrook
  • Ginny Moore
  • Mark Rosenzweig
March 19, 2006

Information Literacy versus “The Librarian’s Stamp of Approval”

Ten years ago, in the Spring of 1996, I was learning of my acceptance to library school and introducing myself to the world-expanding wonders of the internet. (I intend that sentence to be read without irony, as I can recall clearly what a revelation it was when I first browsed the web, sent and read emails, and chatted online, and how immediate was my awareness that my life would be forever changed by this technology.)

I remember the way the web was discussed in the news media and in my library school classes during that time period. In the popular mind, there was both anxiety and excitement about the democratizing aspect of the web and how it would enable both popular dissent and popular deception and irrationalism. What a threat it could be, people thought, that just anyone could put up a web page as “real”-looking as something that came from an authoritative source, and “fool people.” Librarians, anxious about comparisons of the internet to a “huge library in your own home,” immediately saw that the public’s anxiety could work to our advantage, and that it might in fact be the salvation of our social relevance. “Librarians,” we said to each other, “can be the professionals the public looks to for help sorting out the good from the bad. We are, after all, information experts.” And so began the thread of discourse that, based on the librarian’s role in selecting authoritative reference materials, attempted to place the librarian in the role of gatekeeper to the “good information” on the web. The idea of the librarian’s stamp of approval of internet resources was born.

Librarians do indeed evaluate reference materials for authoritativeness as a source of facts; that is one of the primary criteria. But rather than the rule for collection development, evaluation of reference materials is really a special case. Outside of the reference collection, decisions about what to buy are not based so much on the question, “Can I trust it?” but on a host of other questions relating to relevance in terms of the mission of the library (as well as to a concept of quality and also to the limitations of cost). What was disregarded in this discourse about the librarian’s stamp of approval was the fact that the wide-ranging, incredibly diverse internet is not analagous to a reference collection, but to a whole library and something much broader than a library. The internet is more than something to refer to as a reference for facts. In fact, the audiences and purposes of the billions of pages on the web are broader and more diverse than any library. What this means is that any decisions about what to include in an internet directory would, if based on standard ideas in collection development, have to deal not so much with authoritativeness as with a much expanded idea of relevance, because there is no one institution in question and no one mission at play.

Seen in terms of a carefully-selected, authoritative reference collection, the idea of a “librarian’s stamp of approval” has a certain attraction, the attraction of security. But once you acknowledge that the internet is not analagous to a reference collection but to the world of publishing as a whole, an approved list of websites becomes analagous to an approved list of books. Now, it is often appropriate for librarians, doing readers’ advisory, to recommend a book or a website to a patron based on an understanding of their specific information need – their specific problem, perspective, educational background, and sometimes taste – and the ability to do this, to apply our knowledge of the information world to an individual’s situation through interpretation and empathy, is part of our professional role. (We understand that relevance is relative.) And it is also often appropriate for us to publish indexes and bibliographies that pull together resources on a topic for a particular audience according to particular standards. But it has never been appropriate for us to publish a list of “approved books,” selected from the totality of the published record, for an audience of all people. Such a thing would obviously be seen as a totalitarian conception.

Over the years, as we and the public have gotten used to the internet, we have come to conceptualize our role in relation to the internet somewhat differently. Rather than answering the question, “Can I trust it?,” we now tend to answer orienting questions like, “What is this?,” “How does it relate to my need?” and “Where does this come from?” Helping to teach users how to answer this type of question for themselves, and how to decide whether a resource is right or wrong for them rather than right or wrong in some universal sense, is now how we see our role in teaching information literacy. How we translate this educational role into a web presence is an unsolved problem, but I think most of us are, at this point, unsatisfied with simply telling patrons whether a website is “good” or “bad,” and feel that if we give patrons that kind of oversimplified, easy answer we are robbing them of an educational opportunity and pandering to their laziness.

This is why, after considerable soulsearching, I am uncomfortable supporting the Librarians’ Index to the Internet in their campaign to have their full funding restored. As you have probably read, this year’s California State Library budget cuts their funding in half, which has implications for their staffing. Librarians tend to support LII because they represent a major presence for librarians on the internet. (The website statistics for LII are undeniably impressive.) But LII is the primary manifestation on the internet of the “librarian’s stamp of approval,” their slogan being “Websites you can trust.” I think this “stamp of approval” orientation of librarians to the internet is a part of the past, so I think I rather support the funding cut. Now I think the creative work ahead is to find ways to make the librarian’s real role as an educator and an orientor to information, with the consciousness that “relevance is relative,” more present in the web environment. I welcome with enthusiasm projects that work in that direction.

Political Data-Theft at the Brecht Forum

“Two principal computers at the Brecht Forum were removed last night in what appears to be a politically targeted theft. The Brecht Forum is a 30- year old community-based center that offers seminars, lectures and classes in political organizing and progressive analysis to local activists, organizers, students and the public. The computers taken contain the databases and financial records of the organization.”

Read the article, published yesterday in Global Alternative, the web-zine of The Institute of Globalization Studies in Moscow.

March 18, 2006

PLG calls for Bush’s impeachment

Resolution Condemning the Actions of President George W. Bush and Calling for Impeachment Proceedings

WHEREAS, democracy is a core value that defines, informs, and guides our professional practice;

WHEREAS, the American Library Association affirms the responsibility of the political leaders of the United States to protect and preserve the freedoms that are the foundation of our democracy (ALA Resolution on the USA Patriot Act and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Public Library Users); and

WHEREAS, the actions of the current President, George W. Bush, have violated that responsibility in unprecedented ways and threaten the very foundations of a democratic government; those actions, arguably involving the commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” are as follows:

Entering into an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, based upon fabricated and erroneous information;

Crafting of policies adopted since September 11, 2001, including provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act (Public Law 107-56) and PATRIOT ACT II and related executive orders, regulations and actions, which threaten fundamental rights and liberties by:

a) expanding the authority of federal agents to conduct so-called “sneak and peek” or “black bag” searches, in which the subject of the search warrant is unaware that his property has been searched, thereby increasing the likelihood that the activities of library users, including their use of computers to browse the Web or access e-mail, may be under government surveillance without their knowledge or consent;
b) granting law enforcement and intelligence agencies broad access to personal medical, financial, library and education records with little if any judicial oversight;
c) permitting the FBI to conduct surveillance of religious services, internet chat rooms, political demonstrations, and other public meetings of any kind without having any evidence that a crime has been or may be committed;
d) diminishing personal privacy by removing important checks on government surveillance authority;
e) reducing the accountability of government to the public by increasing government secrecy;
f) granting expansive new immigration powers to the Attorney General which are subject to abuse, particularly with regard to immigrants from Arab, Muslim and South Asian countries; and
g) expanding the definition of “terrorism” in a manner that threatens the constitutionally protected rights of Americans.

Approval of the use of torture (including practices such as hooding, shackling, drugging, sleep deprivation, etc.) in the interrogation of suspected terrorists or their suspected accomplices in his “war on terror.”

Illegal detainment of so called “enemy combatants” and others who are jailed on the merest suspicion, refusing them legal counsel and either holding them indefinitely or secretly deporting them.

Authorization of warrantless electronic surveillance of people within the United States, including U.S. citizens, by the National Security Agency (NSA).

Promoting policies that erode the division of Church and State.

Openly asserting executive power in attempts to override the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Judicial system, thus ignoring the system of checks and balances fundamental to democratic government.

WHEREAS, librarians are among the preeminent defenders of intellectual freedom and government openness in the US; and

WHEREAS, intellectual freedom, our primary value as librarians, is seriously violated by the current political climate which allows for suppression, attack and even criminalization of dissent; and

WHEREAS, the Library Bill of Rights states that libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas; and

WHEREAS, the broad social responsibilities of the American Library Association are, in part, defined in terms of the contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society, and the willingness of the ALA to take a position on current critical issues with the relationship to libraries and library service set forth in the position statement (ALA Policy Manual, 1.1); therefore it is

RESOLVED, that the Progressive Librarians Guild join with others demanding that President George W. Bush, as the head of the administration that is leading the U.S. in its current political direction, be presented with articles of impeachment as stipulated by the Constitution with a view to removing him from office; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that PLG calls on its members and all others in the library community to urge their elected representatives to support HR635 of the 109th Congress calling for an investigation into possible impeachment proceedings; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that this resolution be forwarded to the President of the United States, to the Attorney General of the United States, to Members of both Houses of Congress, to the library community, and to others as appropriate.

Approved by the Coordinating Committee of the Progressive Librarians Guild
March 15, 2006

Progressive Librarians Guild
c/o Rider University Library
2083 Lawrenceville Road
Lawrenceville NJ 08648

http://www.libr.org/PLG

Not teaching a man to fish

I said earlier that I would comment further on Rick Anderson’s provocative recommendation that we not “teach a man to fish” at the reference desk. What he was saying was that it is a waste of patrons’ and students’ time to teach them how to use our abstruse database interfaces when their time would be better spent reading and thinking, that these database searching skills are only applicable in library settings and simply constitute barriers that we should overcome for them. This recommendation is tied to the idea that we should abandon the educational mission of libraries.

Although I hate what I think Anderson really stands for (a neoconservative interest in bringing market values into libraries and deprofessionalizing librarianship), I have to agree with the idea that we might be wasting our time teaching the mechanics of database searching. My reasons are slightly different from his. I think these mechanical skills are easily learned by the current generation of students, and that we should teach them about what is not so second nature to them: how to intellectually discriminate and evaluate information resources for value and appropriateness. In the process of helping a student use a database or use the catalog, the really valuable interactions don’t concern the features of the database or how to make it work. They have to do with teaching students how to figure out what a piece of information is and isn’t about; to consider where it comes from; to consider its intended audience. It’s teaching them how to use the descriptive information to figure out if the item is going to help them. This is an area of information literacy that is concerned with helping students and patrons to better understand the intellectual world. I don’t think we as librarians do as much of this as we could; I think we are too focused on mechanics and computer literacy in our information literacy instruction.

As for the relevance of our teaching mission, I think that more and more it’s what we have to offer that keeps us relevant; that is, our teaching activities are some of the only things we have to offer that people aren’t finding ways to do for themselves (or that are done by paraprofessionals or by software). I think that the teaching mission – helping people understand the world of information – its ins and outs, its ecology, its relationships and differences, its connection to intellectual communities and ideological projects – is positively at the core of our work and increasingly the source of our relevance (at least for reference librarians).

March 17, 2006

Web action in solidarity with French students

From March 16th (yesterday) through midnight tonight (European time) there is a global electronic political action in support of French students, who are presently on strike in protest of their government’s new labor rules, which support precarious employment conditions that French students view as a threat to their futures. The strike and the demonstrations, which have involved violent clashes, are a serious threat to the current French government, which will probably revisit its new rules.

The electronic civil disobedience action this weekend in support of the students is a “virtual sit in” on French government web servers.

The virtual sit-in setup is a web page with a grid of frames that call on pages on French government servers, and refreshes them frequently. It is a simple, well-designed tool and an interesting action. I have the page running on my computer, reloading those frames every couple of seconds, and I plan to keep it running all day.