This month I almost forgot to renew my BC Library Association (BCLA) membership. I originally got membership as a student for free but now that I’m a totally legitimate professional, it costs money, so it’s something I can easily let slip through the cracks. But letting my membership lapse would be kind of awkward and weird at this point since I’m now officially a co-chair of BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) with David Waddell. Woo!
In his “passing the baton” email to the BCLA and IFC lists the outgoing chair, Jon Scop, commented on how it’s kind of interesting to have an intellectual freedom leadership position going from one male children’s librarian to two male children’s librarians. To me it seems obvious that children’s librarians would be big intellectual freedom advocates.
This was banned books week in the states, and it’s totally commonplace at this point to note how many challenged books are kids’ books like Captain Underpants. Minors are a chunk of our society with very little power and there’s a huge swathe of society that wants to protect kids from ideas adults don’t want them to have. I see my role as a children’s librarian as serving kids, not their parents or teachers, which is quite fundamentally anti-elitist and subversive (one of the things I love about librarianship).
Saying “I can’t let you see that” to a segment of community members just because they don’t have a bunch of legal rights (to vote or drink or go to war or whatever) is kind of anathema to the librarian ideal. While teens are fierce defenders of their own intellectual freedom, librarians are natural adult allies, especially since we don’t have any real power over them (I suppose we can kick them out of the library), just expertise to offer. As a children’s librarian, part of my job is to take seriously what kids are interested in pursuing when they are looking for help, and not saying “Ugh, more Fairies/Pokemon/Sparkly Vampires?”
One of my formative kidbrarian experiences happened on my first day working a refdesk (which I blogged at the time). I’m still proud of my instincts to bring the 12-year-old kid over to the shelf where we kept Mein Kampf. In one of my post-MLIS job interviews I was asked what I’d do with an 11-year-old girl asking about Fifty Shades of Grey. In that interview I fucked up. I tried to make myself more hireable by waffling a bit and adding some more questions to my reference interview to make sure the kid knew it wasn’t a book for kids. Seriously, I hate that I did that and I totally blame the whole job-search process for making me less than confident in my ideals and whether someone would actually hire a kids librarian who wouldn’t blink at giving an 11-year-old steamy fanfic. That’s the kidbrarian I want and try to be.
Yesterday I was in a middle school talking to a bunch of 8th graders about the library and why we’re relevant to them. This was one of the things I stressed to them. In the eyes of our library, once they’re 13 they have adult cards and we won’t tell anyone what they’re borrowing. I told them that we don’t care if they want to read Pokemon comics (or other materials “below their level”) or Anais Nin. If we find something for them and it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. That’s the whole point.
Anyway, all that is to say that youth librarians make total sense as intellectual freedom defenders (but I won’t subject you to my theories of why it makes sense there’d be a confluence of male children’s librarians doing this stuff, because I wouldn’t want to paint any other librarians with my weird gender-role identity issues). I’m looking forward to working with BCLA’s IFC on these issues, but as always whatever I say is just me talking, not official views on anything unless I clearly mark it as such. You can read our blog and follow us on Twitter.
I’ll in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto from June 16-27, but will still be on Twitter and responding to email.
I wrote a post on what I learned on my non-summer non-vacation on Librarianautica.
In our presentation for libr559m, which our group did on (my) Thursday, Dean asked us what we’d learned that we hadn’t known before in creating our project. At the time I mentioned the technical stuff about working with Drupal. Afterwards I was asking myself how much of this course was just me performing. I mean, I grew familiar with a bunch of tools over the course of the past 6 weeks, but I had some pretty firm social media habits coming into the course, so it’s not like I’ve now discovered Google Reader and nothing will be the same again. (Glogging isn’t really for me.)
I think the biggest thing I learned (apart from generally being impressed by my study buddy’s insight and principles, but that’s not really the domain of the class) was how relatively painless it can be to work with people across so many timezones. I didn’t feel disconnected from the class even though we didn’t share a hemisphere. That in itself is an experience that’s useful.
Another question Dean asked at the end of our presentation was whether I ever feel information overload. I assume this is because I’ve been pretty visible in my quasi-prolific use of these tools (though if you check the Storified summations of the class you’ll see a lot of other people posting more than me on Twitter). I think that’s where my performing this class kind of comes in. Normally I’m more of a lurker. I use these tools but for my own benefit, to suck things into my own head. I was trying to take the opportunity of doing a class in social media to work on being a more active producer in this sphere. If you take your classes as a means of developing yourself professionally, well, if I’m going to be paid to be on Twitter someday my employers would want to see some results, not just that I’m full of neat tales from BoingBoing. I think I’ve got a better handle on being a visible social media producer now. For what it’s worth, my Klout score jumped quite a bit since the course began.
I think I’m negotiating a good balance between being a social media user (which I was) and an evangelist (which I won’t ever be). Finding some middle space there seems like a good result, and a good use of three of my precious credit hours for the degree.
I’ve tried before and I’ll probably try again, but I can’t get immersed in Second Life. It’s the lack of story there. You make yourself look how you want (or find you’re unable to) and then you stand around listening to music or whatever. A few years ago on my second attempt to get into it I signed up to go to a reading of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Snow Crash is a novel about the kind of immersive second world SL is trying to be, but it all feels so clunky, so much more about just being in SL than about what’s going on.
I guess it comes down to my gripes about content in the social mediasphere. I find myself agreeing with the lack of Big Ideas in social media (though one of my classmates noted that some of the thinkers quoted in that article are also on Twitter).
Scott McCloud in his talking about comics has a bit about how characters are drawn and how that affects us as readers. A very detailed drawing gives us information about that specific person, whereas a more abstract drawing lets the reader put more of herself into it, to fill in more of the gaps. Immersive environments like Second Life are mixing those up. The more detailed your avatar can be the more the gaps between what’s happening to it and to you become visible.
I remember back in the ’90s my first time playing a MUSH. It was based on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I went in expecting to have slots to fill in and skills to work on so I could become whatever kind of character it was possible for me to be in that world. The fact that I could be a Thief-Taker, just by saying I was and acting like I was, was so astounding to me I was immediately intimidated by the freedom. I still feel that way now when I’m staring at a blank page to fill with text. Anything at all can go there. You don’t have to fit into CPU cycles when you’re dealing with text. Your immersion is based on skills with language that humans have been working on for thousands of years.
That’s why I can get immersed in the flow of information on Twitter. It’s text. I’m a text person. Doing photos and screencasts using avatars and all of that doesn’t excite me. I don’t feel I’m part of a world I’m not helping to create in my mind. I love the old text-based computer games, even though the limits were very apparent. You had to learn the rules so you knew that “Take Boat” wasn’t the kind of language it wanted. Working within limitations becomes immersive once you’ve really taken it up.
Now this isn’t to say I don’t get immersed in videogames. Once it gets out of the way and I’m taking part in telling a story, I’m there. I played Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas not for the random gratuitous violence (yes, you’d go off on a five-star wanted rampage every once in a while but that wasn’t the point), but because it was a classic gangster story. That’s what I want out of any environment, really. Hell, I love the stories embedded in the numbers in baseball boxscores. That’s what I need for immersion, characters instead of customizable avatars.
This is, of course, good to know. Because if I’m like me, there might be more. And that’s why if I’m bringing a library into a space it’s to tell a story, and to help our users tell a story and imagine one. Not just about the library but about the community it’s a part of (be that physical or digital).
One of the things I love about an aggregated informational world is the idea that if you’ve got enough information flowing past you things will wash up on shore. In the Wesch video there’s a bit about how a person finds significance based on our relationships/contrast with other people. That flow of what you and other people care about is important for significance I guess. You see how people who make stuff you care about care about certain things and you learn what you feel about things.
Journalism is about working yourself up into a lather over something you previously felt nothing about. It is diametrically opposed to what you do as a novelist, which is to very slowly discover what you feel about things. – Kazuo Ishiguro
I feel like aggregating information aids in both of these acts. You need that flow to see what other people are getting into a lather about and sometimes you can get into that lather too. There’s something to be said for having a pile of information you’re barely reading until you see people talking about the same thing so many times and it just bubbles up seemingly everywhere. I love that, especially when news is breaking.
And then there are the people who do the librarian/journalist type aggregation themsleves like @acarvin the NPR journalist who’s become the go to retweeter for the revolutions in the Middle East. He’s being the human in the middle putting an eye on things (and sometimes he, like others, gets fooled).
I can see how these software bits and the fancy learning environments are good for bringing information together but man oh man do I ever like the idea of the infopro (ie the person not the tool) as aggregator supreme. In a much more modest way I’ve been trying to play that kind of role in this class, going through the twitterstream and putting the conversations into a more followable format on Storify. This is not the most efficient means of aggregation, I realize. That Wesch video is talking about automatically pulling in everything tagged anthropology on Flickr, but I’m sure a lot of those pictures are absolute shit. If we’re filters we’re filters sifting for treasure. And it’s not easy.
The other day Jessamyn West posted a commencement address I really enjoyed, which included this:
Some of what I do is go places that “my people” don’t go to, represent us, and then come back and tell my folks what I found there, whether it’s being a techie at a librarian conference, a librarian at the tech conference or a rural librarian at the big city meeting. The world needs people who stay and people who roam, cross-pollinate, bumblebee style.
Sometimes I was surprised that I’d be one of very few people in my communities speaking out cogently and clearly for my ideas, against filtering, against digital rights management, for copyright reform and open access, that sort of thing.
Dorothy Day who founded the Catholic Worker movement sometimes called this isolation of idealism the “long loneliness” and said it could only be solved by the love that comes with community. I feel that by sharing your ideas and ideals with others, you’re not as lonely.
I don’t know, this idea of streams of information merging with each other and being separated out is important and kind of beautiful. I don’t know about the wisdom of crowds but I do love cross-pollination and that’s something that works if you’re aggregating across different ideas.
Following up on my last post, I’m not so sure that “web 2.0 itself implies creativity.” I mean, I get the Clay Shirky idea that making something is better than watching Gilligan’s island so making LOLcats is fine, but I think remix culture allows for a lot of laziness.
Some of the most interesting Web 2.0 projects I’ve seen are about rewarding creators who can work outside the traditional model. Molly Crabapple’s Week in Hell (she’s locking herself in a room to create for a week) raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter (over five times her original goal so now they’re going to make more stuff with the extra money). She’s helped raise the question of whether Kickstarter is more important/useful than Arts Council grants for artists.
So yes, social media is helping fuel that kind of creativity, but it’s important to note that people are giving her this money because of her talent. The connections are about funding and supporting creativity, not inspiring it.
I love Neil Gaiman as much as the next person, and his presence on Twitter is huge. But, I don’t love him because of that social media scene. I love the work he does. Making meaning from the banal is a nice idea about social media’s relationship to creativity, but the fact is that most of the banal is still pretty banal, even when it’s aggregated.
I guess I’m saying that “fostering connections, building networks, creating new knowledge” isn’t creative in and of itself. It has to be supportive of some actual talent.
I wrote a post about social media being only a means of supporting creativity on Librarianautica.