Monday, May 21, 2012

Is Information Snobby? Is Craft Beer?

The library where I work doesn't do a lot of reader's advisory; we're an academic library with a very limited selection of books that, on average, people read for pleasure instead of scholarship. But I'm hesitant to label this a "public library issue," and move along. Librarians, you should care what gets read. But first, some background, via Andy Woodworth's blog, Agnostic, Maybe. Be sure to check out the comments on those posts; there's a spirited back and forth.

I wrote this in 2008:
Information, and access to it, is a powerful leveling tool.  By teaching patrons to access information, librarians and other library staff make it possible for students from traditionally underserved backgrounds to have the same access to information as more advantaged groups.  This equality of opportunity also plays an important role in civil society and democracy.
Now, we can have an argument about whether or not Twilight is information, and whether or not it contributes at all to civil society. Here's one pro: Benedict Anderson defines nationalism as an "imagined community" in which people who will never meet engage in the same thoughts and same activities and, knowing this, develop feelings of affection and affiliation. In Anderson's argument, these communities are spread and fostered, in large part, based on the rise of the printing press, which disseminates information, including novels, at speeds previously unknown and unheard of. Anderson draws no distinctions, at least in the initial outlay of this argument, between high and low culture, speaking only to "print-capitalism." While the internet has played a role in fragmenting popular culture, take a gander at the Twilight book sales, and you'll see that commonalities are alive and well in the twenty-first century.

I'm comfortable in a world in which all texts are valid, though I'm also comfortable saying some are more valid than others. If Twilight is what gets you reading, then I'm okay with that, because I think of popular fiction as a gateway to something more. Is that snobbish? Maybe. I'm also comfortable being called that name. I have thick skin, and I suppose if the shoe fits....

The concept of something pop, something low or middlebrow as a gateway to something more, something subjectively better, is widely applicable. It's getting warm out, so in particular, wheat beers and witbiers. InBev, which owns Budweiser, makes a wheat beer called Shock Top. You've probably seen it. Miller Coors has Blue Moon. You've definitely seen it. These are gateway beers. They are conscious attempts by large companies to make a beer that is "like" craft. They are not. No matter, though, because these are the beers that will get you into craft beer, such as Allagash White. Who will do this? A good bartender, or, because we are nothing without titles, a beer director, or a friend whose opinion you respect. Such a person will see you with a Blue Moon or Shock Top, and recommend the next level up. I feel comfortable saying that nobody in the history of the world, ever, who has had Allagash White and Blue Moon prefers the latter. And so Blue Moon and its ilk are useful idiots. Yes, there is a teleology here.

And so it is with information. Some information is craft, some is not. Information is better than no information, and craft information is the best information of all. It is my hope that librarians practice craft information to the extent possible at their workplaces and in their lives.