Information Services Today: The Consistency of Change in Our Information/Learning Landscape

April 10, 2015

Given all we read and hear every day, we could easily (and mistakenly) assume that being overwhelmed by information and a rapid technology-driven rate of change is a new phenomenon—but it’s also relatively easy to discover what a consistently-important challenge the flow of information and the pace of change has been, if we delve into Sandra Hirsh’s newly-released anthology Information Services Today: An Introduction.

Information_Services_Today--CoverWhile the entire book is—among other things—a richly rewarding exploration of the changing nature of librarianship/the work of information professionals, one important moment of change- and information-management revelation comes in Christine Pawley’s contribution (Chapter 2, “Libraries and Information Organizations: Two Centuries of Experience”) as she writes about how “new technologies lead to information overload”: “…William S. Learned noted a ‘phenomenal improvement in speed and accuracy of communication’ and complained that even the trained student finds the time required thoroughly to examine a topic in an unfamiliar field almost prohibitive”—not today, but in 1924 (Information Services Today, pp. 13-14). If we pursue this theme by revisiting Sarah Houghton’s “Being Wired or Being Tired: Ten Ways to Cope With Information Overload” (originally published online July 30, 2008 in Ariadne), we find the reminder that “As far back as the sixteenth century people were complaining about the wide range of information they had to consume in order to contribute to society.”

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverAny of us involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries and other learning organizations viscerally know and understand the feeling of being overwhelmed by information and change. We recognize that an important component of our learning-facilitation efforts is to help learners come to terms with the changes they face within any learning opportunity. We also are struggling to find words evocative enough to describe what we do so we recognize the ever-expanding breadth and scope of our work and offer terminology that helps others understand how much what we offer has changed. And we do understand that the goal of “keeping up” with educational technology and even with the basics of how to learn in a world where the way we learn is continuing to evolve (e.g., through the flipped classroom model, through massive open online courses—MOOCs—and through innovative blended-learning opportunities) is about as easy to reach as the pot of gold at the base of a rainbow.

At a certain level, it’s somewhat comforting to read those words that Learned wrote in 1924 and that Houghton wrote in 2008: we realize that others have faced and survived the challenges we continue to face. It’s also comforting and inspiring to read those words within the context of Information Services Today’s book-length exploration of our changing learning and information landscape: we see that the nature of library collections is changing—but that has always been true. We see that the nature of libraries is changing—but that, too, has been true for many decades. We see that library users’ expectations are changing—another consistent element within the library and information services world. We see that the tech tools that information professionals use continue to evolve and that the need to continually upgrade our skills is essential—but the best of our current and former colleagues have always recognized that their work required and continues to require a commitment to lifelong learning. And I suspect many of my best training-teaching-learning colleagues in a variety of learning environments would have little argument that continual learning and a responsiveness to change are among the requirements and the pleasures of the work we do.

The theme of change is particularly apparent in Lisa Gregory and Amy Rudersdorf Information Services Today chapter on “Digital Resources.” As they discuss a digital librarian’s roles (cataloger, collector, educator, legal expert, manager, negotiator, researcher, and technologist), we see some terms that would be familiar to most librarians/information professionals as well as to many trainer-teacher-learners, and we see some terms that reflect how quickly our professions are evolving. Nowhere is the need for adaptability among all of us more apparent than in the section about technologists: “The technology skill sets needed by digital librarians are as varied as the technologies that surround us. However, most digital librarians should—at the minimum—have a basic understanding of content management systems, databases, some metadata standards, and web technologies (p. 102)”—advice that can easily guide our training-teaching-learning colleagues to greater opportunities for success.

All of this would seem to be the fodder for nightmares among those who despair of ever keeping up with the flow of information and the rate of change within our lives. But some of what we gain through contemporary learning experiences themselves is an understanding that keeping up has long required an ability to sift through what comes our way. Filtering out what is less important. Applying what we can apply. Relying on our colleagues and other members of our personal learning networks to help us fill the gaps we face. And developing what might be coined as yet another form of literacy: “information-overload literacy”—the skill and the ability to know when it’s time to step away from the flood of information and rapid pace of change long enough to relish what we have absorbed.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by Information Services Today: An Introduction, which includes Paul’s chapter on “Infinite [Lifelong] Learning.”


Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Communities Dealing With Violations  

October 5, 2014

We shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that our communities—onsite as well as online—are less safe than we expect them to be. But we are. Because we really do want to believe the best of people even though so many of them/us prove to be less than worthy of that trust. Which is probably why “trust” and “community and collaboration” are among the important aspects of online learning currently receiving attention both in the Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and the Open and Connected Learning MOOC (#oclmooc) communities of learning.

ccourses_logoThese two connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) are creating a wonderful sense of what is possible in well-managed and well-supported communities of learning. They are also providing ample opportunities—some of them unanticipated—for us to celebrate the positive side of online interactions and to react and respond to the less savory side of the online world—rather than abandoning online interactions completely.

Posts by two of our colleagues—Alec Couros and Alan Levine—recently made us aware of what happens when others violate that trust. Couros describes how he and others had their trust violated through an unethical practice known as “catfishing”—a form of Internet fraud in which “individuals or groups create false identities to lure victims into online, romantic relationships.”  There are the obvious victims: the men or women who fall for the fraudulent online postings. There are also the less obvious victims: people like Couros and Levine, who discovered that their photographs have been used as part of the fraudulent online accounts that entrap people who haven’t fully developed first-rate digital literacy skills, including what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.”

oclmooc_logoAn experience two online learning colleagues described earlier today reminded me that regardless of how digitally literate we become, we are going to have to ready for and confront online violations within our communities—particularly when we least expect them. It serves us well to be as prepared as possible to react strongly and positively when that moment arrives. My colleagues—both well versed in online interactions via a variety of mainstream platforms including Twitter and Google+ Hangouts—had their moment today when someone posing as a member of one of their learning communities joined a Hangout they were facilitating. Before they knew what was happening, they were exposed to an obviously unwanted sight: a close-up image of the man’s genitals. They quickly shut the session down, and then engaged in a debrief of what we all might learn.

This is where our connected learning efforts provide positive options for us. While recognizing that we’re never going to be able to completely eradicate this unwelcome behavior, we also recognize that the best way to combat it is to shine light on it. Connect with others to share resources and ideas of how to most quickly push it aside so our communities remain as positive and unsoiled as they possible can be (e.g., by publicly disseminating guides like Google’s “Report Abuse in Public Video Hangouts in Google+”). And make sure that, for every individual subjected to this sort of violation, thousands of other people are vigilantly acting together to object to and push away those unwanted acts of aggression.

I hope my colleagues will follow through on their plan to document what happened to them. I hope that all of us find ways to marginalize those who want to make our communities less than they should be. And I hope that we take the time to do what I’m about to do: support our proactive colleagues by drawing more attention to their best work—like the work of Sarah Houghton, who blogs as Librarian in Black.

Librarian_in_Black--Sarah_HoughtonSarah is a trusted and cherished colleague who tirelessly addresses issues—like face-to-face and online harassment—consistently, directly, and often with a sense of humor even when she is documenting the most distressing, disgusting situations imaginable. Many of us—after moving beyond the initial shock we felt upon reading what she was describing—stood up and cheered (privately and publicly) when she first described the levels of harassment to which she had been subjected by members of her profession; we supported her because what was done to her hurt (and continues to hurt) all of us, and we wanted to be sure that others knew that when they disrupted our community, we would do all we could to stop the disruption. When she addressed the controversy brewing around efforts to create a code of conduct for conference attendees, we were right there with her to be sure those posting anonymous obscene responses were drowned out by calls for positive action. And when Sarah recently wrote a deeply personal article about the toll violations have taken on her, we were quick to publicly and vocally outnumber the first anonymous respondent who was naïve enough to believe that abusive comments online would be allowed to stand unchallenged on our virtual community’s turf.

That’s what we do for Sarah. That’s what we do for our #ccourses colleagues. That’s what we do for our #oclmooc colleagues. And that’s what we do for ourselves. Because we care. Because we trust that connected learning and connectivist MOOCs and the care and cultivation of our online communities matters. And because we must.

N.B.: This is the ninth in a series of posts documenting learning through #ccourses and #oclmooc.  


Festina Lente and Social Media: Thinking Before We Post

September 6, 2013

Festina lente, the wonderfully evocative Latin expression commonly translated as “make haste slowly,” is a mantra we need to share with our social media learners who express concerns, in the early stages of their efforts to effectively communicate with the myriad resources available to them, about how to control their online content and presence.

Filoli--Festina_Lente--2013-05-04

Festina Lente plaque over gate in Filoli Gardens, south of San Francisco

It’s that bit of guidance that suggests we should think before we act; avoid the “ready, fire, aim” sequence that leads to so many regrets; and temper our obsession to use speed-of-light communication tools in a moment that is almost certain to expand over a much longer period of time than anything we can imagine at the moment we post something online. It’s also a great way to remind them that there really is no absolute control or room for second thoughts once our words are published in the virtual world.

This tantalizingly contradictory guidance to act quickly and with consideration to avoid disasters is certainly not unique to situations in which we post social media comments in haste. We can really only imagine the “what-could-we-have-been-thinking?” recriminations harbored by key players after the existence of the previously-secret White House taping system was revealed and contributed to the end of the Nixon administration. Or after videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrikes and photographs of the torture and abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib were released.

But those are world-changing revelations, far from the minds of most of us when we decide to “like” something on Facebook, use the “favorite” tool to call attention to a tweet, or post on our social media platform(s) of choice the latest fleeting thought we have before thinking about what a long life that thought may have online. Those of us who attempt to be thoughtful about what we cast out into the virtual world often mistakenly assume that by being diligent about our Facebook privacy settings and using allegedly secure means of online communication, we are establishing some sort of control over who sees what we choose to share online—an idea repeatedly debunked through numerous articles about Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policies, the ways other gain access to information we erroneously assume is ours to control, and the ways prospective and current employers as well as school officials review online content for a variety of reasons.

The latest report documenting how little control we have over our online content appears in an extremely detailed New York Times article published today: “N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web.” This is far more than the significant story it appears to be about how National Security Agency employees were building “entry points”—intentional flaws—into the encryption products that were supposed to assure privacy in online communications; it’s also an enormous reminder that regardless of what we do to try to control our online content, there’s someone out there capable of overcoming those controls if the motivation to do so exists.

New_Digital_Age--CoverBut we really don’t even have to dive into the Spy vs. Spy world of surveillance to respond honestly to our learners’ questions about how to approach our online postings and overall presence. Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, in their book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, provide an extreme example of what happens when we post without thinking about potential repercussions: “In February 2012, a young Saudi newspaper columnist named Hamza Kashgari posted an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Muhammad on his personal Twitter account,” leading to “thousands of angry responses, death threats and the creation of a Facebook group called ‘The Saudi People Demand Hamza Kashgari’s Execution.’…Despite his immediate apology after the incident and a subsequent August 2012 apology, the Saudi government refused to release him. In the future, it won’t matter whether messages like these are public for six hours or six seconds; they will be preserved as soon as electronic ink hits digital paper. Kashgari’s experience is just one of many sad and cautionary stories” (p. 56). (We can only assume that Kashgari somehow missed reading about Salman Rushdie’s experiences—and wonder why Schmidt and Cohen see this as something that won’t matter “in the future” after documenting that it already occurs.)

Which brings us back to our roles as trainer-teacher-learners helping others to work as effectively as possible online: invoking festina lente as a guiding principle before we post will not give them—or us—the level of control we crave, but it might lead to better experiences overall online—as long as we don’t let it keep us from saying what we and wonderful colleagues like Sarah Hougton know must be said.


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