Dr. Terrence W. Epperson
Chair, Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize Committee
Progressive Librarians Guild
April 29, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize Winner Announced
(The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ) ‚Äì The Progressive Librarians Guild is pleased to announce the winner of the 2008 Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize. This year‚Äôs prize has been awarded to Miriam Rigby for her essay entitled ‚ÄúJust Throw It All Away! (and other thoughts I have had that may bar me from a career in archiving).‚Äù Ms. Rigby is currently enrolled in the MLIS program at the University of Washington‚Äôs Information School and plans to graduate in spring, 2008.
Essays were submitted by library and information science students from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Their papers considered such subjects as the USA Patriot Act, health literacy outreach, and humanism as critical librarianship. Ms. Rigby‚Äôs essay will be published in the forthcoming issue of Progressive Librarian, the journal published by the Progressive Librarians Guild. She will also receive a $300 stipend for attendance at the 2008 American Library Association‚Äôs annual meeting in Anaheim, CA, and an award certificate at the PLG annual dinner on June 29, 2008.
The Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize is awarded annually for the best essay written by a student of library/information science on an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries or librarianship. The prize is named in honor of Miriam Braverman (1920-2002), an activist librarian who was a longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild and a founder of the American Library Association‚Äôs Social Responsibilities Round Table. She was a strong proponent of the social responsibilities perspective within librarianship and an inspiration to younger librarians entering the field.
The Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) was founded in 1990 and is committed to supporting activist librarians and monitoring the professional ethics of librarianship from a perspective of social responsibility. For more information, visit the Guild‚Äôs website at: http://libr.org/PLG/
Following his brief essay about technology are snippets by eleven thinkers on technology which David included in his presentation as food for further discussion and thought.
Technology waits for no one? Thinking about technology, progress and responsibility in academic librarianship
Not long ago a computer scientist associated with the Bamboo project gave a talk at the University of Chicago in which he described that project. He proudly noted that while many of the professors who had heard him describe the project had initially been skeptical, after viewing his demonstration they had fervently embraced‚Äîand I use his own words‚Äîthe “magic” and the “miracles” that flow from Bamboo.
I have long thought that one of the persistent problems in librarianship is a widespread misunderstanding of information technologies. The discourse surrounding library technologies reveals desires and expectations appropriate to the marketing associated with them but rarely the critical reflection appropriate to an academic institution. In the library literature critics are either ignored, footnoted but not discussed, or attacked as being conservatives, luddites or Don Quijotes.
Computer scientists and information scientists are those who ought to have the clearest understanding of computers and information technologies; when we find them engaged in the marketing of magic and miracles we know that they are intellectually on the same level as Jimmy Swaggart. I do not exaggerate: to speak of magic and miracles is to proclaim one’s incapacity to understand, or, in the case of the salesman, the will to mystify and deceive, like the proverbial hucksters and charlatans dealing in snake-oils and psychic or religious healing. Unfortunately our Bamboo salesman was not an isolated freak; he seems to be representative not only of salesman-engineers like Bill Gates, Nicholas Negroponte and David Weinberger, but of many librarians as well.
Andrea Mercado’s hoped-for library school assumes that neither I nor George Steiner are capable of using the library, much less helping others use it. Her library will be run by tech-savvy marketers, not scholars. This is the heart of my interest and I have stated it before: the divorce between the practices academic libraries are supposed to support, and the widespread attitude that librarians are professionally occupied with knowing how to use information technologies, or worse, they (we) are simply information providers. I begin with a basic assumption: given a particular practice such as research in the sciences or humanities, the development and use of tools to support those practices requires a knowledge of those practices, not simply familiarity with the operating manual of some tool, whether online catalog, printed index or a Web2.0 application.
George Steiner recently argued that progress in the “hard” sciences and technology (technosciences, Hottois would say, since he claims they are now inseparable) opens new paths into the future, while progress in the humanities and social sciences leads to deeper understanding of the past, which is to say of ourselves. Part of that work of understanding must be understanding technology, not just past technologies, but today’s and our imaginations for tomorrow’s as well. Only when we understand can we decide whether or not some change is progress or regress. Yet our understanding of what happens today will certainly change as the consequences of today’s actions gradually unfold. Like the inventors of DDT, the inventors of information technologies have almost no grasp of what they are actually doing and what these technologies will mean to future generations. Our understanding can never be “once and for all” because the future will reveal what we could not imagine, much less know, today.
Both the development and use of technologies require some understanding of technologies, human beings, human society, nature and how all these jointly shape and change the world. Most of those understandings are unconscious, unstated, unexamined and immensely consequential. To leave those assumptions unexamined simply means that we can never speak of progress, nor of regress, but only of change, stripped of all evaluation and interpretation. The practices of philosophy, the social and ecological sciences and humanistic scholarship are oriented towards bringing to light those assumptions, examining them, and criticizing them in light of the philosopher’s, the scientist’s and the scholar’s theories. These in turn are undeniably shaped by desires, hopes, ethical, political and metaphysical assumptions, commitments and intellectual or pathological orientations. Dissent and debate arise more often out of these latter desires and orientations than out of theory because our lives matter to us in ways that theories never can.
For Hottois, Virilio and Ellul the development and use of technologies of any sort must be accompanied by critical examination from as many perspectives as life provides. Without that critical activity, we shall be submitting ourselves blindly to a truly archaic servitude; technology as a “god”is far more cruel and inhuman than the divinities, priests, kings and tyrants of the past precisely because of the power and efficacy of our technologies. It is not by accident that this activity‚Äîcritical inquiry in pursuit of understanding‚Äîhappens to be‚Äîor at least formerly was‚Äîthe raison d’?™tre for the existence of the academic library. And I argue and urge that librarianship be firmly rooted in that activity and not simply a chase to learn how to use the latest or the most popular technologies on the market. As Andrew Abbott put it, ” the future of serious library scholarship lies in a critically constructive and intense engagement with technology, not a running from it or a welcoming embrace.” Librarianship always involves an interpretation, a symbolic accompaniment of technologies, not simply their use.
“Technology waits for no one” Ms. Mercado claims, but technology is not going anywhere. WE are going somewhere, even if we do not know where, and we make technologies to aide us in doing what it is that we want to do. It is that “we” that we must not forget, for it is that same “we” that brings us both GoogleBooks and the Gulag. Among librarians, discussions of the Internet, the Semantic Web, Library2.0 and so on are all too often evidence that we are not engaged in the lucid, critical examination of our ideas and their incarnation in technologies and techniques, but rather irrationally and archaically enslaved to the magic and miracles hawked in the marketplace.
Vico: De antiquissima Italorum sapientia ex linguae latinae originibus eruenda libri tres. [Gianbattista Vico. English translation available from Cornell Univ. Press: On the most ancient wisdom of the Italians.]
Verum et factum convertuntur. (The true and the made are convertible)
Verum esse ipsum factum. (The norm of the truth is to have made it, or: The true is precisely what is made)
[Commentary by Verene: The true for Vico is something that is made by mind, the principle of human or divine knowledge. Making, for Vico, is combining elements into a whole. the whole may be a word, an idea, or a thing. As legere (to read) is to combine writen elements into words, so intelligere (to understand) is to combine in mind all the parts of a thing in order to express the most perfect idea of it. … God knows completely because God’s mind reads and combines all the elements of things in terms of both their inner nature and their outer appearance. The human mind, because it does not make the actual nature of the things it knows, never can understand things fully. What is true for the human mind is made by combining the elements of things in their outward existence.]
Marx: Thesen ?ºber Feuerbach, #11.
Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es k??mmt darauf an, sie zu ver?§ndern. (The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.)
Illich: Computer literacy and the cybernetic dream. [Ivan Illich. Rivers north of the future: the testament of Ivan Illich. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2005. From chapter entitled Computer literacy and the cybernetic dream.]
For S., a statement is an utterance; behind each utterance there is somebody who means what she says. … For F., words are units of information that he strings together into a message. … As the two mind-sets confront each other, both can harden into ideologies. … For the anti-computer fundamentalists a trip through computerland, and some fun with controls, is a necessary ingredient for sanity in this age. Those of you who study computer literacy sometimes forget its importance as a means of exorcism against the paralyzing spell the computer can cast. But I know many F.s who, under this spell, have turned into zombies, a danger Maurice Merleau-Ponty clearly foresaw almost thirty years ago. He then said‚Äîand I quote‚Äîthat “cyberneticism has become an ideology. In this ideology human creations are derived from natural information processes, which in turn have been conceived on the model of man-as-a-computer.” In this mind-state, science dreams up and “constructs man and history on the basis of a few abstract indices” and for those who engage in this dreaming “man in reality becomes that manipulandum which he takes himself to be.”
Steiner: My unwritten books. [George Steiner. My unwritten books. NY: New Directions, 2008. From chapter III: The tongues of eros.]
It is the seemingly wasteful plethora of languages which allows us to articulate alternatives to reality, to speak freedom within servitude … Without the great octave of possible grammars such negation and “alterity,” this wager on tomorrow would not be feasible. …
The true catastrophe at Babel is not the scattering of tongues. It is the reduction of human speech to a handful of planetary, “multinational” tongues. This reduction, formidably fueled by the mass market and information technology, is now reshaping the globe. …
The most compendious of dictionaries is no more than an abridged shorthand, obsolete even as it is published. … speech is molded by gender. Women and men often do not purpose or signify the same thing when uttering or writing the identical word. Not taking “No” for an answer is a symbolic pointer. Shifts in meaning and intentionality within and across generations are constant. … This looks to be so in our accelerated present, between age groups separated by the very mechanics of information. Thus different levels in society, different localities, genders, age groups can come close to mutual incomprehension. The fountain pen does not speak to the iPod. …
In essence the political is the negation of the private, although it may well be its enabling framework. … Questionaires, officious documents to be filled out, the rampant vulgarities of interviewers and inquisitors, the “candid camera,” and the yapping of the phone seem to me to be the nightmare unleashed by the technologies of information. Bear in mind the meanings of the term “informer.” In the name of clinical efficacy, of national security, of fiscal transparency our private lives are scrutinized, recorded and manipulated. Concomitantly, the arts of solitude, of guarded discretion, of that inviolate silence which Pascal placed at the heart of true civility and adulthood have withered.
XI Rawlinson: Reibadailty
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers of a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
From Caroline Nappo of the UIUC GSLIS PLG chapter:
Last week the University of Illinois GSLIS chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild hosted a panel discussion titled “What is a ‘Progressive Librarian’?” Our guests were Carolyn Anthony, Sanford Berman, Allison Sutton, and Anke Voss. Professor Abdul Alkalimat moderated the discussion.
An audio recording of the panel is now available online:
I would like to propose that the current era in librarianship, which is normally characterized as a “period of rapid change,” is perhaps better described as a period of denial. It is a period in which librarians are scurrying to disassociate themselves from their own profession as it tends to be thought of, with a sense of desperate shame.
What am I talking about? I’ll exaggerate a bit to make my point. I’m talking about librarians who say,
We’re not about books! We’re about computers! Don’t associate us with books! We don’t want to be saddled with that! When people hear the word “library,” we want them to think words like “Future,” “Hi Tech,” “Information Age,” and “Shiny Gadget!” Fellow librarians, don’t even use the word Book! It’s a no-no! Bad word! Hurts! Pretend you don’t even know what one is!
We’re not about intellect and studying or anything dull! We’re about video games and dance dance revolution! We’re about being hip! We have a new image and we must thoroughly suppress the old image because nobody likes it! Nobody likes a Plain Jane! Nobody likes a bookworm! We want them to like us and that means that we have to shed the old image of dull boring studiousness! We must portray a new glitzy, fun, with-it image! “Intellect and Studying,” to the extent that we admit any association with it at all, should become for us like granny-glasses as a fashion accessory for a party girl – a cute referent only, not something that should ever be taken to really describe us!
Times have changed! Government programs are out, and private industry is in! We must privatize, and if we can’t privatize, we have to imitate the corporate guys, because they’re winners! We want to be winners too, not losers eating government cheese! Libraries are a business and we need to start acting like it! Bring in the corporate sponsors and kick out the bums who can’t pay! It’s a lean mean world and if we want to survive in it we’ve got to go toe to toe with the MBA’s. If you want the library to be for losers, then get outa town! We must suppress all this depression-era loser crap about the Public Good. Socialism is a thing of the past!
And, they are beginning to say,
I don’t want to hear the expression, “Bibliographic Control” ever again! People think we’re control freaks! They think we’ve all got OCD! We need to show them that we don’t need to control anything in our libraries at all! And we’ll prove it! Down with controlled vocabularies! Up with folksonomies! Down with scholarly authority! Up with cooperative, user-generated content! We’re so 2.0, we want to let the users control everything! Sure, it will become a little unclear what we’re here for after a while, but no role at all is better than being thought of as a control freak! “Control!” The word has such a shameful sound! Don’t say it! That is not us!!
Plainly, there’s some repression going on. Librarians are repressing elements of the core of librarianship as a result of a self-image problem. The “image problem” is not about “changing how they see us” so much as it’s about accepting ourselves as librarians. We shouldn’t be afraid of being about books. We shouldn’t be afraid of being about intellect. We shouldn’t be afraid of being publicly funded and for the public good. And, we shouldn’t be afraid of being about bringing information under control. Now, if the whole of society were about those things, there might be a problem. But those things have their place, and that place is the library. And that is the way it should be. It concerns me that in this era of “rapid change” librarians seem to have so little confidence in themselves as librarians, that we seem to want to be something else, seem embarrassed or ashamed to be what we are. We don’t need to change our image. We need to re-affirm our image. We might find that we’re more appreciated than we realize.
I rarely read Annoyed Librarian. When I do it’s usually because Word Press tells me that she’s linked to a Library Juice posting, and I go and see what she wrote. I’m usually shocked by how rude and vitriolic this anonymous person is. I went to her site today looking to see if I could find more evidence that “Yachira Gonzalez” is actually Jack Stephens, and I was pretty surprised to find that on her entire front page of 25 or so postings I agreed with about 70% of what she said. (Or should I say that she agrees with me, since I’ve been writing about the same issues for nine years and have expressed consistent views throughout that time.) This surprised me because I am both part of the group she satirically calls the “regressive librarians” and a supporter of ALA, both of which she attacks in a manner that makes me think she wants to be some kind of Ann Coulter of librarianship.
What does her anonymity accomplish? It allows her to express herself with a rudeness that a person in our profession could never get away with and expect to be hired (e.g. Chuck “Chuck0” Munson, whose online tantrums have kept him out of work for about a decade). Does our profession really need that? One thing it’s done is to create a very polarizing image about her, which makes it oddly surprising to me to find that I agree with her on many things. Is it good to create such a misleading image? Another thing her anonymity does is allow her to smear people, not anonymous themselves, who deserve at least to know who is attacking them, for accountability’s sake.
Accountability is the key. Because I post under my real name, I am personally and professionally accountable for the things that I write.
It seems to me that just about everything that Annoyed Librarian says in her blog could be said in a more respectful way. Most of her opinions in themselves are not beyond the pale. What is beyond the pale, and what she couldn’t express without anonymity, is all the anger and hatred toward the people in the profession with whom she strongly disagrees (and doesn’t respect).
Being within a web of people of varying perspectives and backgrounds, and, to be sure, varying relationships with the world, is part of being a human being. It is not something that you can just label “politics,” say you hate, and wash your hands of by adopting a pseudonym. People’s intolerance of views they don’t like (which varies among groups and time periods) is a bad thing, and can provide a general justification for anonymity. But if I think about what I read on Annoying Librarian’s blog today, I didn’t find any opinion there that would make her intolerable to the library world if 1) she said who she was and 2) treated her colleagues with due respect. Not that I could expect her to out her real self at this point, given her Ann Coulter approach to things so far.
I realize that it can be uncomfortable to be written about on a blog in a critical way. In light of that I’ll say that Annoyed Librarian shouldn’t take it personally. In fact, she doesn’t have much of a right to, since she is only known to us as a mask. If we knew who she was in the first place, the situation itself would not be the same.
You could call it a bombshell if what the New York Times is reporting now were not already well known by skeptical observers, but it’s significant that the Times is reporting it, and that it’s being picked up by TV outlets. The big news is that “military experts” who have been been giving “objective analysis” of Bush’s war on TV outlets have essentially been planted by the Pentagon to put out positive spin.
Thanks, New York Times, but where were you in 2002? 2000? 2004?
A group of four researchers have published findings in the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that articles in medical journals are often written by drug companies and publishers, with legitimate scientists added as authors when the articles are submitted. Their research was based on court documents related to the Vioxx trial.
This is a further example of why information literacy instruction should not teach a facile reliance on “reputable sources.” Those “reputable sources” are often vulnerable to distortion by corporate interests. Our teaching needs to go a bit deeper, as limited as our time and teaching opportunities may be. In response to this idea, I’ve heard the objection that we shouldn’t teach our students to be cynical. My response is that to be responsible educators we need to teach them about reality.
The reason to hope is that a lot of people do care. Lots of people in the scientific community are pissed about this kind of thing. The authors of the article in JAMA are calling for “drastic action”:
Journals should require each author to specify the role he or she played in the research and writing, a requirement JAMA already has in place.
Clinical-trial registries should include the name of the principal investigator.
For-profit companies that sponsor research should not be primarily responsible for collecting and analyzing data, or for writing the manuscript.
Any author who does not disclose financial conflicts of interest should be reported to his or her department chair or dean.
It sometimes seems that the pressure of big money moves things in one direction inexorably, and nothing will change until the unsustainability of the resulting system is proven and everything crashes down. It’s worth remembering the times in history, though, when people have gotten pissed off enough to fight back. History has its revolutions and periods of strong reform. Not everything ends in famine, plague, chaos and anarchy. But it is difficult to figure out what is needed to wake our society up from its long nap in front of the television…
Editor: Alison Lewis
Published: April 2008
Printed on acid-free paper
Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian presents essays that relate to neutrality in librarianship in a philosophical or practical sense, and sometimes both. They are a selection of essays originally published in Progressive Librarian, the journal of the Progressive Librarians Guild, presented in the chronological order of their appearance there.
We begin with Progressive Librarian editor Mark Rosenzweig’s editorial, “Politics and Anti-Politics,” which provides a philosophical framework for considering the historical role of “neutrality” within the profession of librarianship. It is followed by Peter McDonald’s “Corporate Inroads and Librarianship,” which exposes the outsourcing of library functions in various settings and advocates for the retention of local professional involvement and humanistic values. Sandy Iverson provides a post-modernist and feminist critique of neutrality or “objectivity” in “Librarianship and Resistance.” Steven Joyce revisits the so-called “Berninghausen debate” surrounding issues of social responsibilities within the American Library Association in the 1970s and relates it to a similar conflict within the profession over homosexuality in the 1990s in “A Few Gates Redux.” In “Activist Librarianship: Heritage or Heresy?” Ann Sparanese relates the circumstances surrounding her now-famous “saving” of Michael Moore’s book Stupid White Men and the motivations behind her own decision to act rather than remain a passive, neutral observer. Robert Jensen provides useful insights into the impossibility of remaining neutral with his comparison of librarians to professionals working in journalism and higher education in “The Myth of the Neutral Professional.” Jack Andersen’s “Information Criticism: Where is It?” looks at librarianship’s inability to critique and analyze the information it deals with and places the blame for this on the profession’s embrace of a technological and managerial discourse that overlooks practical use and societal impact. Likewise, John Doherty challenges librarianship’s lack of critical self-awareness in “Towards Self-Reflection in Librarianship: What is Praxis?” and provides practical examples of his own attempts to integrate the ideas of educational theorists into his practice of bibliographic instruction. In “The Professional is Political,” Shiraz Durrani and Elizabeth Smallwood examine the library within a global context, then narrow their focus to innovative practices in public libraries in Britain, providing a concrete example of a needs-based youth advocacy program. Lastly, Joseph Good critiques neutrality as a form of moral relativism in “The Hottest Place in Hell.” Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, “neutrality” no longer means “impartiality” or “objectivity,” but too often lapses into what might be better termed “indifference.” These essays are presented in the hope that they will stimulate further interest in and debate about the concept of neutrality within the library community, if not provoking the downright opposite of indifference.
Now available from Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, as well as library book jobbers.
Carmen D’Avino created a lot of recognizeable animation in the 60s and 70s, some of it for The Electric Company, a PBS show for graduates of Sesame Street that I remember well. Here’s his animated bit about Libraries for The Electric Company:
Tim Brown has a post in Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, about the “death of zines,” claiming, as though no one had heard the idea before, that zine culture is dead and has been replaced by the internet. There’s something a little bit too obvious and common sense about the idea, and like much that is common sense and obvious, easily disproven by a closer look at reality.
A zine scene exists, just as a punk scene exists.
Likewise, a jazz scene exists where young musicians play in the bebop style first created in the late 40s and early 50s. It isn’t new, but many people like it, and not only people from that generation. (I love that kind of music.) I don’t think Tim Brown would say that bebop is dead.
So that’s the way I see the zine scene. It is a part of Generation X culture, and seems like it must be dead to many people because Generation X is entering middle age (or already well into it), and many people who once read zines now feel too old for them, and feel that it was a part of their youth, like punk music. But many Gen Xers still make zines and still play punk rock, and many younger people like that style as well (just as there are young people who continue to adopt the hippy culture of the 60s here and there, or go to 80s nostalgia dance clubs to dance to music that was made before they were born). And many Gen Xers have a certain nostalgia for the youth culture of their era, which also keeps it alive.
Now that we are close to a century into the age of recorded media, there is an unprecedented cultural situation of the past being available to the present. It is such a determining factor of our time that it can be difficult to identify a movement or style that belongs to the present but not to any time in the past. The challenge when approaching many cultural objects is to imagine what it must have been like when that kind of thing was new and had never been seen or heard before. I think that challenge exists for zines, and that that is what makes them a part of the past as well as the present, though they are still being made. I think it is something that makes the preservation function of zine libraries important; however, I think that in terms of preservation, zines being made today are far less important to preserve than the ones from the 80s and early 90s, which at that time were an original response to the cultural situation, rather than simply participation in an already established form, often for nostalgic “style identity” reasons.
One interesting intersection that may emerge is between the zine scene and the letterpress community. Letterpress people use old printing technology to do very fine and very creative work, publishing chapbooks in very small runs. One thing that digital technology seems to be doing to print is enhancing the “magical” qualities of the physical object as artifact, which leads to an emphasis on fine physical details. Perhaps zinesters are becoming craftspeople. Something that digital media can’t reproduce is the unique texture of physical materials…