Saturday, September 20, 2008

Here come the Changebloggers

I met with Kathrin Ivanovic today at Remedy Tea Bar (nice place, first time there). She's one of a growing number of self-identified changebloggers. A new label, though not a new practice, changebloggers are "bloggers, podcasters and vloggers who are using their platform to make the world a better place", according to the Changeblogger Network on Ning. Lots of folks are creating audio or video blogs, podcasts or other self-expressive web 2.0 content. And lots of folks are committed to changing the world. Changebloggers are at the intersection of both (or at least those that are self-identified as such).

In my Venn diagram-craving mind, I see it like this:

Kathrin (whose own blog is Seeking the Cranberry) is working on creating a gathering, probably on November 22, for changebloggers in the Philadelphia area to meet, inspire and learn from one another. Sounds like an interesting group of people with great possibilities for synergy. More to come.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Inspiration from decades past

Sorting through old papers, I rediscovered the 82-page Honors Thesis I wrote in 1979 as an undergraduate at Penn State. I re-read it for the first time in decades, and was astounded by how fresh and relevant it felt to me today. It focused on a radical analysis of the institution of education, and was predicated primarily on three books which blew my mind:
Here’s a piece:
All three authors condemn the existing educational system. ... Illich accuses schools of making people overdependent upon institutional services (or treatments) and of initiating the entire culture into the Myth of Unending Consumption. Freire maintains that the banking concept of education reduces people to objects and submerges them in a “culture of silence,” thereby sustaining a state of oppression. Holt declares that S-chools act to stifle the intellectual and creative potentials of learners by placing them in a compulsory, competitive and coercive environment. ... Superficial solutions—such as changing the curriculum—only divert our attention away from the root of the problem. The necessary radical alternative, says Illich, “is the creation of a new style of educational relationship between man and his environment”.
These writers questioned the legitimacy of the institutions I took for granted; they envisioned a world in which individuals were empowered to enjoy the freedom and responsibility of navigating their own worlds and making their own meaning. They opened my idealistic undergraduate eyes to a profound and ecstatic reevaluation of my political and spiritual perspectives. In the intervening decades, that thrill has never left me. Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire and John Holt have all died. But I still enjoy the gift they gave me, the thrilling idealism that a radically different world is both necessary and possible. Unfortunately, these inspirational heroes are not around to see how the new Internet technologies (and the emerging social relations they enable) could help to realize their ambitious visions.

That’s my job.

That’s our job.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Libraries facilitating patron EXPRESSION

I'm frustrated by the seeming lack of commitment of libraries (especially community-anchored public libraries) to their role in facilitating patrons' ability to speak. Librarians entusiastically rally 'round the flag of "Intellectual Freedom", but they think of it almost entirely in terms of defending patrons' right to read stuff written by others. All very well and good, but it misses a giant (and, arguably, the most empowering) piece of the puzzle.

On its website, the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A makes the point that, "Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas." [emphasis added] But how seriously do most libraries take the mission of facilitating information dissemination? The answer is mixed.
  • Nowadays, many libraries provide support and assistance for helping their patrons disseminate information in the Web 2.0 environment, like by helping them create and use blogs, podcasts, picture sharing services, social networking, etc.
  • And, of course, most libraries have long provided one form or another of their "traditional" dissemination tools, e.g., bulletin boards, meeting rooms, display cases and Information & Referral (I&R) files.

But if a library, especially a public library, wants to genuinely facilitate the ability for their patrons (i.e., members of their local community) to disseminate their information, to express their ideas, to speak that which they find meaningful, then it ought to look at how people already do express themselves, and then provide local, community-specific assistance in helping more of their patrons do so, or to do so better. So, for example, such assistance could include providing:

  • tips, examples and referrals to local resources that can help them put their messages onto T-shirts, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, novelty items, etc.
  • addresses to local tattoo parlors
  • names of local venues for playing music, singing karaoke, presenting poetry or being a stand-up comic
  • easy to follow instructions for obtaining "group member license plates" or vanity plates from their state's department of transportation
  • tips and resources for publishing books or recording music (combined with a commitment to then add those resources to their collections)
  • addresses, tips and examples for writing letters to the editors of local newspapers

And, in addition to identifying these resources, the professional skills and orientation of librarians can be brought to bear on helping their patrons articulate their dissemination needs and understand the relative merits of different dissemination tools and strategies. (Another aspect of the reference interview.)

If librarians started from the premise that people want and deserve to express information as well as consume it, and that supporting "Intellectual Freedom" includes facilitating access to a variety of locally appropriate, content-neutral dissemination tools, then they would provide a profoundly empowering service to their local communities (and engage in a sustainable way to stay relevant in a library-threatened world).