May 31, 2006

Electronic Green Journal Editorial on EPA Libraries and Access to Environmental Information

Fred Stoss of the SRRT Task Force on the Environment has an editorial in the Spring 2006 issue of Electronic Green Journal on the threatened defunding of the EPA National Library Network. It’s an informative article with a useful webliography at the end.

May 30, 2006

Call for Papers: Information for Social Change

ISSN 1364-694X

CALL FOR PAPERS (Feel free to foreword this message to friends and colleagues.)

The summer 2007 issue of the online journal Information for Social Change (ISC) will focus on the urgent theme of library and information workers as political actors in times of war, civil war, military occupation, and social conflicts worldwide.

ISC seeks both contemporary and historical submissions that address such topics as:

— Library and information provision during times of war, civil war, military occupation, and social conflict that provide insights and practical strategies for potential library and information projects in regions of conflict worldwide.

— Profiles of library and information workers as participants and interventionists in conflicts, as political actors that offer some new possibilities for strategies of resistance, or that challenge networks of military or civil control worldwide.

— Access to library and information provision and the information needs of oppressed peoples for empowerment and emancipation during times of war, revolution, or social conflict worldwide.

— Dissemination of information about inside conflicts to the outside world. Here, ISC is particularly interested in explorations of how to protect the information provider in terms of privacy; confidentiality; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; peaceful assembly and association; and protection from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

Note: ISC has a special interest in receiving, publishing, documenting, and giving memory to information about conflicts on which very little information has been recorded to date.

Anyone interested in contributing an article, thought piece, bibliography, review, or other work related to the expressed theme is invited to share their ideas with issue co-editors Martyn Lowe ( AND Toni Samek (

The closing date for submission is December 10, 2006 (HUMAN RIGHTS DAY). Word limits are negotiable with Martyn and Toni.

For more information about ISC, see

Kathleen McCook thrown off HE-SL discussion list for addressing disinformation

Here is a bit of depressing but not surprising news. Kathleen de la Peña McCook was thrown off of the Higher Education Service Learning discussion list for addressing a bit of Bush administration disinformation. Dr. McCook is not some unhinged anarchist who goes around trying to stir up trouble on discussion lists. She is a distinguished senior library science professor and former director of a library school. Her message was based on a decision by ALA encouraging librarians to raise awareness of government disinformation. Apparently it’s okay to raise awareness of government disinformation, as long as it doesn’t have to do with our own present government, because that would be partisan.

What is the source of this idea that anything with political relevance is out-of-bounds in professional discourse? Our own professional values have political implications. How can we practice our profession responsibly without getting political? I don’t think we should accept these kind of speech-chilling decisions lying down. To reject politics may seem to some like being neutral, but it really isn’t. It is a decision that actively supports those currently in power. When the political issues that some want to avoid speak directly to our professional values (and if government disinformation doesn’t speak to our professional values, what does?) then the decision to make those issues off-limits in professional discourse is simply irresponsible. Again, what is the source of this idea that anything political is out of bounds in our own professional discourse, and why do most of us accept this idea? I’m all for neutrality at the reference desk, but as a profession we can’t avoid being an influence in one way or another; we should act with intelligence and responsibility, and not simply passively support the Bush administration.

I would like to see an organized response to situations like this.

May 29, 2006

Three from Progressive Librarian 26

I’ve put three articles from the latest issue of Progressive Librarian, issue 26, up on the web. They are:

Towards Self-reflection in Librarianship: What is Praxis? by John J. Doherty

The Context of the Information Behavior of Prison Inmates, by Diane K. Campbell

REVIEW ESSAY: Adult Literacy Practice and Theories ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù the writings of George Demetrion, by Kathleen de la Peña McCook

May 28, 2006

A Library 2.0 skeptic’s reading list

Steve Lawson at See Also, which is an interesting blog, has created an informative Reading list for Library 2.0 skeptics.

2006 IPPY Awards

“The ‘IPPY’ Awards, launched in 1996, are designed to bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers. Established as the first awards program open exclusively to independents, over 1500 ‘IPPYs’ have been awarded to authors and publishers from throughout North America and around the world. This year’s awards attracted entries from all 50 U.S. States, 7 Canadian Provinces, and 16 foreign countries.”

May 25, 2006

Free Expression Policy Project Report on Filtering

Free Expression Policy Project at the Brennan Center for Justice has just released a major public policy report on internet filtering that “explains the effects of CIPA and then analyzes nearly 100 tests and studies that demonstrate how filters operate as censorship tools.”

It is interesting that this think tank produced such a major report on filtering at a point when the legal issues have mostly been decided. The report concludes, “Although some may say that the debate is over and that filters are now a fact of life, it is never too late to rethink bad policy choices.”

May 23, 2006

Poverty resources for libraries

The Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force of ALA/SRRT has a new web page collecting resources for libraries in providing service to poor people. We could all do a better job serving poor people, couldn’t we?

May 22, 2006

The Central Problem of Library 2.0: Privacy

Library 2.0 is a powerful idea that finds itself in an awkward predicament. It is an idea that has emerged out of what amounts to a separate discourse within librarianship, that of younger, web-centric librarians who have often have a sense that they are remaking the profession from the ground up for the digital future (and may be correct in having that feeling). The mainstream of librarianship, the older side of the profession, has by now heard of Library 2.0, but understands it poorly or not at all. That older side of the profession may be habituated to modes of practice that in some cases need to die off, but are also the bearers of much important knowledge – of principles and practices – on which the future of librarianship depends. The younger, web-centric generation of librarians is interested in this knowledge in theory, but to the extent that its discourse is separate and web-based it is not communicating with the older generation to the extent that’s necessary.

I’m an avid user of Web 2.0 types of sites. I use Livejournal, LibraryThing, Myspace,, and other sites with social-networking, personalized features and personal information sharing. I am rather addicted to those types of services. I am also at the older end of the user-base of those sites, and communicate more in my professional and private life with librarians of the baby-boom generation than with 20- and even 30-somethings. For that reason I see myself as something of a bridge between the two generational cultures in librarianship.

From the beginning of my involvement with the web, in 1996, I have felt strongly that libraries and the culture of librarianship must be extended into networked communication, with the principles of librarianship as well as the use of the “L” word firmly intact, to preserve the existence of a freely-accessible, non-commercial information and learning space as an alternative to the consumer capitalist information and entertainment space offered by media giants. I have raised questions about what the web medium does to the nature of communication and thought, but these questions have been aimed at directing the shift to the web with intelligence, not at simply avoiding it. I have also pointed it out when library-related efforts on the web have compromised their non-commercial nature without realizing it.

The basic idea of Library 2.0, to transform library services by making them more personalized, more interactive, and more web-based along Web 2.0 lines, has a logic to it that is ineluctable and exciting. I am strongly in favor of the Library 2.0 idea, but want to raise what I think is an important note of caution and consideration as we move forward with experiments with library services that are modeled on Web 2.0 principles. The difficulty that I think we have to grapple with in considering the Library 2.0 idea is that libraries and Web 2.0 services are based on serving two very different essential activities, and those activities have an opposite relationship to privacy.

Web 2.0 websites are, with some exceptions, based primarily on sharing information, but sharing information in a particular way: essentially, they are about seeing and being seen. Libraries are based on sharing information also, but in a different way: they are a place (virtual or physical) to find reading and to read. Reading is so necessarily private and so related to the process of thought as it has evolved over the centuries that its history is congruent with the history of the concept of the private, individual thinking mind in Western culture. In accordance with our conceptualization of the privacy of the act of reading, libraries have traditionally treated the privacy of readers as sacred. Privacy is a central, core value of libraries. This is the reason for librarians’ anger over provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act that can force libraries to reveal information about the reading habits of their patrons to the FBI and other government investigators.

Privacy has been an issue for policy specialists in the development of the web from its beginning, as the Electronic Freedom Foundation and others have raised awareness of privacy issues with respect to a host of internet technologies and practices. Many internet users share these concerns about their privacy in theory, but think little of sharing highly personal information on blogs and social networking sites. Most of these sites offer users a degree of control over how their personal information is shared with other users, offering them the ability to limit access to some information to an immediate network of “friends,” but these users are often unaware of who all of these “friends” actually are, and often publicly share information for the benefit of one imagined ideal viewer without considering the agendas of potential other, less than ideal viewers. It may sound disrespectful, but I think it’s true that users of these sites often lack the maturity that’s necessary to make wise decisions about personal information sharing. Additionally, the degree of control that these sites offer to users in sharing their information with other users shifts the focus away from the original reasons for being concerned about privacy, which had to do with the ownership and use of private information by private companies and its accessibility by overzealous and possibly misguided government investigators. A Myspace user may feel confident in her ability to control who can view her profile and bulletin board postings, but Rupert Murdoch still owns her data.

As serious as privacy concerns may turn out to be, the features of Web 2.0 applications that make them so useful and fun all depend on users sharing private information with the owners of the site, so that it can be processed statistically or shared with others. This presents a problem for librarians who are interested in offering Library 2.0 types of services. If we value reader privacy to the extent that we always have, I think it’s clear that our experiments with Library 2.0 services will have uncomfortable limitations. This is probably going to lead many librarians to say that privacy is not as important a consideration as it once was. They will say that the Millennial generation doesn’t have the same expectations of libraries in terms of privacy that older generations do, and that we should simply adjust.

I think that we shouldn’t accept this idea without examining psychological questions surrounding information sharing and information privacy, and face the fact that a decade from now many of these young people will not have the same attitudes about privacy and information sharing that they exhibit in adolescence and young adulthood. Their decisions concerning privacy on blogs and social networking websites are motivated largely by an interest in being seen, noticed, admired, and potentially in gaining a degree of fame within their milieu. While this is a motivation that’s strongly present in any adolescent, an opposite, limiting motivation to protect oneself by keeping personal information private is a motivation that, by contrast, may have to be learned from painful experience. This should tell us that the Millennials may not have reached the time in their lives when they will have learned to place a high value on their privacy. In considering where to compromise reader privacy in offering Library 2.0 services, we should not be too quick to accept the idea that privacy is a concern that technological and cultural change is leaving behind. In many ways our privacy is diminishing, but many people’s relative lack of concern for it may have more to do with lack of experience in life than a real change in values. It may also be that in some real way the place of privacy in our culture is changing, but it is a question that is not easily answered and shouldn’t be approached too casually. It may take more time before we know the answer.

I would like to see more discussion of privacy in relation to Library 2.0 innovations. I also hope we will be very conscious of the ways in which these ideas sometimes offer to introduce new, social purposes to libraries, beyond just offering new ways of fulfilling already-existing purposes. As we transform librarianship, how aware are we of the full implications of our choices?

May 19, 2006

New Management over at LibrarianActivist

Danielle Dennie found new hands to take over the LibrarianActivist blog. They’re also Canadian – recent grads of the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario. Here is the announcement. Congratulations all around and best wishes to the reborn blog.

May 15, 2006

Print virtue and the ontology of the Bo-ring

Here’s a riddle: What does the musical interval of a fifth have to do with discussions of multiple literacies, the millenials, and Marshall McLuhan’s predicted decline of print literacy and the corresponding rise of a more multi-sensory way of being, thinking, and judging?

Answer: play the high note and followed by the low note of the interval of a fifth and it says something that the written word alone can’t convey: “Bo-ring,” spoken as a one-word argument against an idea or a statement whose expression fails to hold the attention of a thoroughly modern person. “Bo-ring,” in the age of print culture’s decline, is the new “stupid.”

If you say a person’s argument is unsound or falls apart because of some unconsidered factor, well, you may be right and you may be wrong, but either way you’re going to have to explain yourself using greater detail and subtlety than the original expression, and a rebuttal to your argument will have to go further still into that detail and subtlety, thus demanding progressively more and more of your audience’s span of attention and ability to concentrate. This is simply the nature of investigations which have literal truth as their goal, and follow from a strong interest that some people have in “getting it exactly right.” That interest in “getting it right,” in knowing the truth, is still a virtue today, but will perhaps not be such a virtue in the future, and probably already isn’t for a lot of people. The character of investigation into truth and of truth’s expression as we know it from the context of written, rational discourse derives, as McLuhan showed, from centuries of print literacy and is correspondingly shaped by the nature of the printed word as a medium of communication. Thus, print culture has a shaping effect not only in the way that people learn things (as advocates of multiple-learning styles like to talk about) but on the kinds of truth, in a very deep sense, that people learn and generate.

We can be somewhat specific about what print literacy is good for. Print literacy is good for engendering an intellectual separation between oneself and the world, so that one is able to make independent judgments and form abstract understandings of things, people, events, ideas, arguments, etc., by applying to them the standards of an individual mind full of the operations of logic, insight, questions, prior knowledge, and abstract moral principles. This individualistic, intellectual separation and independent judgment is an important virtue in our culture and is sometimes called “critical thinking,” in the broadest sense of the expression. This critical thinking allows us to be far more rational in our decision-making and in our everyday judgments than we would otherwise be, and much less likely to be manipulated by others. Those for whom critical thinking in this broad sense is a paramount virtue (and I am one of those people) usually think that most other people don’t have enough of it. To these rational individuals, in the beginning of the 21st century, many people are frequently saying, “Bo-ring!”

To say, “Bo-ring,” is, in effect, to say that there is something more important to be considered than an idea’s relation to the truth. It may even be to demonstrate a comparative lack of interest in what is the truth. “What could be less virtuous than that,” we critical thinkers wonder of people who say that we are “Bo-ring.”

New categories of virtue may be emerging in the era of print culture’s decline. A critical thinker might identify the new, non-boring virtue as “entertainment value,” since that is what seems to be most valued by those who find long passages of text, or lectures without slides, too boring to tolerate, and who always prefer more sensory stimulation and less intellectual content. Those who can better articulate the new, multi-sensory virtue from its own perspective might talk about it in another way, making reference to things like Grace, connectedness, “keeping it real,” life-energy, flow, Being-Here-Now, or not being paranoid. (Certainly, too much intellectual separation between oneself and the world can be pathological and dangerous to those who lack the strength to maintain that human connection, though history’s greatest intellectual heroes have embodied that separation in extreme degrees.)

Whatever the opposite of boring really is, if it is a virtue of the information age, many people clearly would rather be called stupid than boring. (This is a fact that I wish Al Gore and John Kerry had understood, in all of its implications.)

I am very attached to the print literacy that is in decline, and to the value of the skills of concentration that were once taught as part of a young person’s development into an adult, but are now regarded merely as a personality trait of language-oriented learners. Print literacy and the critical thinking skills that go with it are the underpinnings of a rationally-deliberating, democratic society (to the extent that any such thing has ever existed). I strongly believe that the discussion about learning styles, though it has some basis in real psychological differences, is mostly a cover for a broad, society-wide de-prioritization of print literacy in favor of communication media that are a) more fun, b) more sensory, c) more interactive, d) less subject to questioning and accountability with reference to rational standards of truth, and e) more capable of manipulating people, for both commercial and political ends. I am also aware that my own beliefs about this matter are conditioned by the historical culture of print literacy in the West, and may ultimately not be connected to anything truly universal. I just wish that more people saw the unique value of print literacy and were not under the delusion that media are content-neutral, and saw the breadth and historic implications of the contemporary shift in McLuhanesque terms. The contemporary shift is not simply an extension of the values of educational democracy into our society of experiential, visual, and auditory as well as language-oriented learners, and it is not simply an accomodation to the new generation of learners reared on video games, as though the What of their learning is not being changed by the How of their learning. It is a shift that for honest educators and librarians raises questions that go much deeper than questions about format, but actually concern matters of pedagogy and values at the deepest level, that make us ask, what are we here for as educators in the first place?

I think we need to ask those most basic questions about pedagogy and the What of learning as a part of our approach to the “hot” questions our profession is facing at the moment, having to do with formats, the millenials, the web, networked information, Library 2.0, and the rest. So, I am recommending some McLuhan, and for good measure, this article about propaganda by Aldous Huxley, which relates in an interesting way…


“Critical thinkers can be parodied either as disgruntled and bitter subversives, or as elitist mockers of others’ well-meant efforts. The pejorative associations surrounding the word critical have meant that advocating critical thinking is a form of social and educational bad taste.”

– STEPHEN D. BROOKFIELD; Developing Critical Thinkers, 1987. Quotation from International Education Quotations Encyclopaedia, by Keith Allan Noble (Open University Press, 1995).

May 10, 2006

Open letter from Patricia Polacco RE: International Reading Association Conference

This open letter has been circulating elsewhere, but deserves the widest circulation possible, in my opinion….

“I’m sharing this open letter from Patricia Polacco because it raises chilling questions about intellectual freedom. Many of you heard Polocco speak at the ALSC preconference last year and will recall that she was very critical of NCLB.”

Kathleen T. Horning
ALSC Vice President / President Elect

Urgent Notice….

To All Educators, Librarians, and Media Specialists

Regarding the cancellation of my appearance at the IRA in Chicago for May 2 and 3, 2006

A few months ago I was approached by The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, OH to appear at the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. I was to be part of 5 events. Speeches, ‘meet and greet’ and book signings.

I was happy to accept the invitation which, I assumed, was coming from the I.R.A. and my publisher. It is always such an honor for me to speak and interact with teachers and librarians from around the country.

But, then, a very disturbing turn of events transpired. My staff started receiving phone calls and emails from this firm in Ohio requesting that I furnish them with a detailed written outline of what I intended to include in my speeches. I assumed, of course, that this was asked so that a synopsis of my content could be included in a printed brochure furnished to the conferees.

You can imagine my astonishment when I finally called this firm and learned that this was not the reason. They requested my written outline because their ‘client’ wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND MANDATE…as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company who manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country.

It was then that I closely reviewed all of the emails (I had not up until this time because I had been doing school visits and was not home until now) I then realized that the “client” that this firm referred to, but never names, was indeed, SRA/McGraw Hill! I also learned from the Officials of the IRA that SRA/McGraw Hill was indeed sponsoring the event that I had been invited to. I was shocked!

This “firm” insisted that my speech be “upbeat, non-controversial, and non-political”…I countered with the fact that the plight of the American teacher is far from “upbeat” and they are caught in the vice grip of the most controversial and political LIE that has ever been perpetrated on the American teacher.

I was also quite mystified as to why SRA/McGraw Hill would even select ME and invite me to be a part of their program knowing how strongly I feel about this entire situation.

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers…I truly believe they are among the last hero’s we have in our country…but I always mention the destructive path that is laying wasted to our schools and that is the No Child Left Behind Mandate!

I did mention to them that I considered this broaching “censorship” and a violation of my freedom of speech.

Finally, after receiving numerous emails from this ‘firm’ that got more and more ‘insistences’…I finally sent them a written refusal to alter my speeches in any way, Certainly I can moderate their length, but I refused to alter the content. I made them aware if they truly had a problem with this, then they could “un-invite” me to be part of their event.

Needless to sat, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferees will be led to believe that it is I who cancelled this event. The cancellation was the choice of SRA/McGraw Hill and was generated by a blatant attempt to CENSOR my remarks and the content of what I say to teachers, which is a clear infringement of my constitutional right to freedom of speech. I pride myself on being an advocate for America’s teachers as well as being one of the most reliable speakers at conferences in our country.

My lawyers and I have set a formal request to SRA/McGraw Hill through their representative, The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post the following signs outside of each venue at the conference where I am scheduled to speak.


Call anyone you know that was either going to attend my events, or that did and were disappointed and tell them why this happened.

I am very disturbed by this on may levels. It seems that we Americans are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitution “guaranteed” rights.

I am insulted and very offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profi from the misery for our teachers and school children. Profits and money seem to matter much more that truly making changes to our educational systems that would truly help our children. I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.

Yours faithfully,
Patricia Polacco

May 9, 2006

“Facts Count”: Examination of David Horowitz’s Dangerous Academics book

Free Exchange on Campus, a coalition of academic and public interest groups formed in response to David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights” initiative campaign, has just released a major report refuting Horowitz’s book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. The coalition’s researchers introduce the report…

After conducting interviews with the professors in Mr. Horowitz’s book and fact-checking Mr. Horowitz’s evidence, the Free Exchange on Campus coalition has drawn the following conclusions:

  • Mr. Horowitz’s book condemns professors for actions that are entirely within their rights and entirely appropriate in an atmosphere that promotes the free exchange of ideas.
  • Mr. Horowitz’s research is sloppy in the extreme and, we believe, manipulated to fit his arguments.
  • In our view, Mr. Horowitz’s conclusions are based on faulty premises.
May 8, 2006

More on the Mansfield situation, from a Mansfield professor

Christopher Phelps, a history professor at Ohio State University, Mansfield, asked me to post his letter to the Dispatch in response to their coverage of the situation involving the anti-gay book selection for the freshman “unifying reading experience” and the subsequent harrassment charge. Here it is:


“Newspaper off base in criticism of harassment reports”

May 06, 2006

As a member of the faculty of Ohio State University at Mansfield, I write in the hope of providing a more precise rendering of a recent conflict on campus.

The campus’ head reference librarian told The Dispatch in an April 21 news article that he was accused of “sexual harassment” by the faculty for what the reporter called his “tongue-in-cheek” suggestion that a book called The Marketing of Evil be assigned to all incoming students as part of a first-year reading experience. A subsequent Dispatch editorial (April 26) condemned the faculty for requesting an investigation into sexual harassment.

In actuality, the faculty assembly in March decided not to request an investigation as a body. Two individual professors did file reports, but in reference to “harassment based on sexual orientation,” or discrimination, not sexual harassment. Such a referral does not imply judgment. It merely notifies the human-resources office that discrimination might have occurred.

Our faculty believes firmly in free speech. We believe intellectual freedom is critical to the life of a university. We do not fault investigators for concluding that no harassment occurred.

We believe, however, that The Dispatch is wrong to condemn the faculty members who made the referrals. University policy obliges anyone who knows of a possible case of discrimination to report it, for the obvious reason that secondary parties must be encouraged to refer such matters lest victims suffer privately, leaving the university liable and injustice unaddressed. The two faculty members who filed reports, neither of them gay, perceived that their gay colleagues were finding the workplace inhospitable.

Referral of the dispute to human resources was not an act of intellectual oppression. It was an attempt to restore an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance to the campus, including the freedom of consenting adults to love whomever they wish without discrimination.

Dispatch columnist Joe Blundo has done an excellent job of conveying the ludicrousness of The Marketing of Evil (“Left vs. right: All opinions should be heard,” Tuesday). Quite apart from demonstrating its unabashed bigotry, his column makes it clear that this is a book wholly unsuited to the purpose of introducing undergraduates to the life of the mind. Why would a reference librarian, entrusted with guiding students to the best possible sources, recommend such a screed?

But the news media’s coverage has missed a crucial point: the discrimination reports did not focus on the book suggestion so much as the librarian’s unyielding defense of the book, even after the revelation of its bigotry, his disparagement of faculty expertise and his forwarding of others’ e-mails to an outside organization. The claim that his proposal was tongue-in-cheek is belied by the fact that when he was employed at Lakeland Community College in 2004, he displayed an antigay book prominently, provoking controversy there, as well.

Our faculty seeks a university that is a beacon of intellectual freedom, high scholarly standards and freedom from discrimination based upon sexual orientation. I look forward to the day when we can say with assurance that our library manifests the same principles.