Friday, October 21, 2016

Libraries, Librarians, and Balance

For anyone reading this blog who is from the planet Zebulax (just wanting to see if anyone gets the obscure reference), it is election season here in the US. It's an interesting time in the best of circumstances, especially in the age of social media, as partisans of one side or the other rush to support their candidate / cause with information from one source, while the other side brings in their sources to refute them.This particular election cycle is one of the most partisan and divisive ever, according to many pundits, and so the need to evaluate information critically is perhaps more important than it has ever been for our electorate. Many of the sources of information that people rely upon are biased. This is not a shock - most people are biased in one way or another. The challenge - well, ONE of the challenges - for information consumers in this day and age is learning to recognize bias and to make judgements about what they read based on this.

And VOILA! This is now an infomercial for the importance of Information Literacy. Wait, what? The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has had standards - and now, a Framework -  for information literacy for over 15 years. Borrowing more directly from the previous version of the Standards:

"Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:
  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally" 
The new Framework looks different from the older standards - but at its core is the understanding that students need to understand some core  / foundational knowledge and skills (referred to in the Framework as threshold concepts). Whether we are students or not, we all will go through our lives as consumers of information resources. To be knowledgeable consumers, we need to develop an understanding of the elements that go into acquiring and exercising this knowledge that can be applied through our lifetime.

Librarians are not any more or less biased than any other segment of the population, IMO. Where we differ from others is that our job - our purpose - is to do our best to put our biases aside when working. Article 7 of our Code of Ethics says "We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources" Or as one of my professional idols Barbara Fister wrote in her Library Babel Fish blog for Inside Higher Education put it so eloquently today, "The use of the phrase “politically correct” in this election cycle has positioned free speech as a thing conservatives and libertarians defend against liberals, progressives, and members of minority groups, but as PEN points out, it’s something that is valuable and valued across the board. It’s certainly not something the left should cede to the right just because discussing race, ethnicity, sexuality, and social justice is fraught and difficult...
...In libraries and across campus we have to achieve a balance. You are welcome here, and so are you. We stand for a diversity of voices, and we are against censorship. There’s nothing inconsistent in that, nor is that a bland kind of neutrality, a non-position."

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