Monday, September 23, 2013

The "Digital Natives" Myth and Library Science Education

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a "digital native."


Now that we all agree this group of people doesn't exist, let's define the term. Here I turned to ur-digital native text, Wikipedia.
Oh, the irony of the placement of that "citation needed."

Now let's stop using that term. It's ageist, classist, and it's flat out untrue, both as an abstract concept and as a term that purports to describe some aspect of reality.

One's proximity to technology does not make one a native. Nobody is born with the above skills, nor is anyone placed in a crib or bassinet next to a tablet, smartphone, or a copy of Python for Dummies.
I got this image from Amazon, but buy the book
from an independent bookseller, please. 
The term is sometimes used as a cudgel against librarians born before said "natives." It is a tool of marginalization and silencing, as if the year of one's birth confers some sort of technological expertise that others should defer or cater to.

Jenny Emanuel, Digital Services & Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois, Urbana, recently published an article that should put the use of this term to rest. She surveyed students at fifty American Library Association-accredited Masters of Library and Information Science programs, as well as newly minted librarians, by degree. Three hundred and fifteen survey responses and twenty in-depth interviews later (20) it is clear that at least among this sample, there is no such thing as a digital native.

Instead, there are a group of people that are, by dint of birth year, on average, slightly more comfortable using recent technological advances to communicate than people older than them, but the younger group of librarians and librarians-to-be is not comfortable using this technology to create, as evidenced by figure 2 on page 24, in which participants express a desire to learn to program.

That is to say, Millennials are using technology, and no doubt their communications create knowledge, but they are consumers of the technology, not creators of it.

Some of the interviewees raise issues of age, class, and geography.
not all considered themselves a digital native, very tech savvy, or able to pinpoint exactly what their tech skills are. Most, however, did believe that there were differences in technology use and attitudes between librarians who were younger versus older librarians. (26)
when pressed, not all considered themselves digital natives.... Rachel grew up in a poorer home that always got technology second-hand, and she always thought they were behind others. Although her family first had an Apple Computer in the 1980s, she did not recall using it, and just thought of it as a sort of “new appliance” in her house. Her family did not emphasize technology use and saw it as something not worth investing in until they had to, which gave her a different perspective of using technology only as necessary and as “one of those things that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with.” Samantha grew up in a rural area that only had dial-up Internet, which embarrassed her and did not work as well as she thought it should, so she did not use it, leading to a belief that she did not grow up on the Internet in the same way as her peers. Because of this, she did not consider herself a digital native. (27)
A few interview participants mentioned the tech skills of people even younger than they are, or current college students they work with. Betty did not see younger coworkers understanding what is needed to develop or understand the back end of technology and believed younger workers do not use technology to communicate as effectively as they could. Edward, who works at a for-profit career college that has many poorer and nontraditional students, stated, it is “not just the 50 year olds, but the 18 year olds who don’t know how to attach documents to an email.” (29)
Thus, a group of people, librarians and librarians-to-be, that one would think would express comfort with technology instead present a much more nuanced picture. The myth of the digital native has implications for library and information science programs as well.

Page 23
Perhaps there is room for Code Year, or Coders for Libraries to fill what is a clearly expressed knowledge vacuum in MLIS programs.

It's an interesting article and I encourage librarians of all stripes to read it. I also encourage librarians of all stripes to stop using the term "digital native," or its friend "born digital."

Emanuel, J. (2013) Digital native librarians, technology skills, and their relationship with technology. Technology and Libraries, 32(3)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Final Thoughts on New Librarianship, the Wrap-Up Post

In order to have a "New Librarianship," there must be an old version or versions to replace. And yet, if one looks around, much of what R. David Lankes terms New Librarianship has been with us for a while. There is a certain amount of forgetting that goes into New Librarianship, and Lankes knows this, as he mentions it in the preface to his Atlas and he links to Elaine Harger's Progressive Librarians Guild review (pdf) of the Atlas during the final week of the course. An atlas is, after all, a collection of maps. Maps illuminate some things, but obscure others, and deliberately so.
I have to admit (as Lankes himself frequently does) that there is much here that is not new to librarianship at all. (Harger, page 92)
Indeed, a cursory glance at the discussion board for the course reveals that librarians have been practicing New Librarianship for some time now. To wit, the discussion of librarianship as a (false) choice between remediation and advocacy is filled with stories of New Librarianship in practice as well as nuance that rejects Lankes' binary language.

What Lankes has done here, and to be fair, this is by no means all he has done, is to name it and codify it. This behavior, New Librarianship, is now a brand. New Librarianship is observed and named by Lankes. That is, New Librarianship, with conservation theory at its center, is based on empirical evidence.

Again, to the Atlas, which, on page 14, shows that Lankes has a mission first and foremost, and needs a worldview that fits the mission. He works backwards to get to ontological and epistemological issues, rather than using it as a starting point. It is an interesting choice.

Taken from the Atlas website.

New Librarianship is an inductive approach posing as a deductive one because the latter is seen as more scientific, more prestigious. This makes the use of Conversation Theory all the more puzzling. Though it posits that knowledge is created through conversation, there are other worldviews that support Lankes' mission, librarianship serves communities while simultaneously being a part of those communities, and the "grand challenge" that accompanies it.

Take, for example, Jurgen Habermas' work on the public sphere, which could comfortably fit libraries and librarianship, while also discussing, and see below for more, class.
  • Libraries house and further rational discourse through the organization of collections coupled with the principle of unfettered information access. 
  • The field enacts the principle of critique and rational argumentation through the commitment to balanced collections, preserving them over time, and furthering inclusion through active attempts to make collections and resources reflect historical and current intellectual diversity. 
  • By their very existence libraries potentially verify (or refute) claims to authority in making current and retrospective organized resources available to check the bases of a thesis, law, book, article, policy etc. continuing the process of debate which lies at the heart of the public sphere and democracy. 
  • By policy and practice, my field has sought to reach out to those not served - or sometimes not wishing to be served! - to make access to information and education more widely and universally available. (John Buschman, On Libraries and the Public Sphere)
Alternatively, (post)structural approaches deny Habermas' rationality and complicate not only the relationship between libraries and communities, but also Lankes' views on how conversations influence our behavior.
  • The library-community interplay shares a natural affinity with Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "field." 
  • Conversations can be treated as micro-dialectics. Neo-neo-Hegelianism, anyone? Or at least a discussion of how outside forces, slightly more on this below, effect librarianship. 
  • Feminism
In addition, though not (post)structuralist, there is a lot of John Rawls, Richard Rorty, and Robert Dahl in what I term "democratic approaches" to librarianship. It is also worth asking, as at least one librarian has, if we need more or new theory, as opposed to refining what we already have.

While Lankes is explicit about both rediscovering practices that never went away and about the origins of his thought process, but then seems to forget them throughout both the Atlas and the course. These "rival" approaches all share an ideological transparency that is missing from Lankes' course and Atlas. They show their work and directly promote a worldview from which all else flows, whereas in this course it is usually unclear on whether theory informs practice or vice versa.

Lankes' relationship to observable, empirical phenomena is no doubt informed by his worldview, but he selects the former before the latter, which confuses many a librarian who's taken the course. Two other conflations, facts with behavior and constructivist theories of learning with constructivist worldviews, also mar the course. Lane Wilkinson has done masterful work tackling the latter of these. For the former, at times it seems as if Lankes himself is still unsure of the distinctions.

Labeling his librarianship as "new" also allows Lankes to designate some practices and behaviors as old, implying, or explicitly stating, that they are not worthy of continuation. Take the concept of collections, for example.

Over the past few months, numerous librarians have called for explicit agendas for librarianship. There is much about New Librarianship that needs to be made (more) explicit. To that end, Lankes' course is most welcome, but more work needs to be done, as much of this course and the book it comes from seems to take place in a vacuum, impervious to or ignorant of the outside forces that really will shape librarianship, as they always have: economics and politics.

In this vacuum, given conversation theory as applied to libraries, what are the theories and testable hypotheses that follow? What would be, what could be, to use Lankes' words, "well validated" in this barren world?

Lankes graciously links to his critics, but he can afford to. After all, he's the one with the Atlas, with the brand. And he's done a tremendous service to the profession with this Atlas, the course, and his generosity in discussing them. I can't recall the last time I saw so many librarians energized by something in the profession.

Finally, much digital ink has been spilled, and I'll link to none of it here, about Massively Open Online Courses as "disrupting" education. There is nothing remotely disruptive about this MOOC. There are lectures, readings, and assignments. All that's missing is a physical location. Online education, based on my small sample size of this course, webinars, and my online Masters of Library and Information Science program, looks very much the same as online education in 2005, when I helped to develop a distance-learning version of a Political Science course for a DC-area university. And in turn that looks similar to a "regular," brick-and-mortar course.

More thoughts on New Librarianship here.

Friday, September 6, 2013

What America Has Done to Beer: The Session

Anyone with any inkling of my online, in-person and blogging presence in the American beer world since 2000, will know that the whole of my beer experience in that time has been colored by, sits against the backdrop of, and forms the awkward juxtaposition to, my English beer heritage and what has been happening the USA in the last few years. Everyone knows that I have been very vocal about this for a very long time, so when it came to thinking about what would be a great ‘Session’ topic, outside of session beer, it seemed like that there could be only one topic; ‘What the hell has America done to beer?‘, AKA, ‘USA versus Old World Beer Culture‘.
- Our Session Leader, Ding

More than climate or genetics or anything else, drinking behaviour is governed by culture. And that culture is created by the laws that govern it.
- Pete Brown

I still like that. Pete probably thought of it over a decade ago but it still rings true. It is also likely reversible and transposable, too. Culture and beer create law in a way as well.
- Alan McLeod (Source)

What has American done to beer? We've made it more awesome.

Allow me to explain:

Americans doing beer is like Americans doing anything else. We put a man on the moon, because we could. We put turnips in cask ale (yes, I've seen this, and it turns me into this person). We eat crap,

and we drink it, which is why Bud Light is the top selling beer in the States.

We make a wide array of beer styles in the States, and we make them better than you. Our Kolsch-style ales -- take a bow, Schlafly! -- can beat out the German ones in a blind taste test. So can our witbiers. Thanks, Allagash White! And with about 2500 breweries, and more on the way, American beer has something for everyone.

The reason you can add hops to a beer to make it taste or smell like a wide array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other plants? American experimentation. That's our culture. We want more, and we want more extreme. We went with high gravity stouts and India Pale Ales, check the infernal Beer Advocate and Rate Beer ratings, and we've swung the other way, too, hence "session IPAs" and low ABV sour German ales. That is to say, we make messes, and we clean them up. Most of the time.

The reason you can get an excellent robust porter made in Sweden isn't because of Alain Pugsly's hard work in the UK, it's because he came to America, and we spread the gospel of craft beer, of good beer. We're a cultural amplifier.

See this?

That's because of America.

How much of this is sustainable? Quite a bit, I reckon. No doubt there is bad craft beer out there, and the marketplace will sort that out soon enough.

Oh, and your drinking culture. It's not great, either. Tu quoque. Safeway Lager in the park? Three litres of it! What's the most popular beer in the UK? Carling? Crap lager, just like here, just like everywhere. And maybe that's our "fault," but American beer is slowly trying to right that wrong. To wit, the great state of Oregon, where "Oregon-made craft beer comprised more than 17 percent of all bottled and draft concoctions made in the state." (Source)

There's another phrase for a session at a pub, by the way: binge drinking. Let me google that for you:  It ain't pretty.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Still More Thoughts on New Librarianship, Week 4: Elitism

Though I completed R. David Lankes' New Librarianship Massively Open Online Course in early August, many people did not, so I saved my thoughts on the final week of the course until now.

Lankes begins with a discussion of lending versus sharing, and though he does not explicitly mention economic terms, he hints at them. Sharing, according to Lankes, will allow a library, and a community, to, in the words of former President Bill Clinton, grow the pie.

Via Giphy, as always.
Present in the tension between lending and sharing is the debate between libraries as organizations that are collection-centric versus those that are community-centric. A collection-centric library is less of a public good than a community-centric one, because in the former a lent item benefits one or a few people at a time, whereas a shared item, be it physical or digital or metaphysical, has the ability to effect a larger number of people at a given time. I could bring in John Stuart Mill here, as well as a discussion of rivalrous goods and excludability (both those pages need work, by the way), but our eyes might glaze over.

Slide from the course.

To Lankes, while the collection of items is shrinking in many libraries, it is, as a concept, not going anywhere. The roles of libraries are changing, and the community is now, in many ways, the more important collection. Thus librarians should move away from the word "user." People are members of a community, they're doing more than checking out books, more than receiving lent items. Call them members.

The Grand Challenge to librarians, according to Lankes, is "how to coordinate a knowledge infrastructure (technology, people, sources, permissions) to unlock the potential and passions of Society."

But the death of the user also means a death for libraries. Lankes seems to have forgotten that the modern history of libraries is founded, in part, upon a patron (yes, that word)-client relationship. That is to say, we librarians have something users want. We are in a position of authority and power. The elitism present in this relationship is not something that is going to die easily. It is ingrained into libraries. While discursive structures can be made and unmade, as is the potential with all social constructs, it will not be an easy task.

The library, then, should be a focal point, a place where the community comes together to create and share. The mobilization, however, of the community by the library makes me a bit uncomfortable. Although the library is a platform, the existence of a platform is not enough. If you build it, people won't just come. They need a reason.

There is something statist, corporatist, about the library-community relationship that I would like to see fleshed out. As I librarian, I want my building, my online space, to be a third place, but it is a slippery slope from collaboration and sharing to extraction. We do what we do to benefit a community, not to benefit a library at the former's expense. Would Lankes, or any other librarian, be happy if a community realized its full potential, its aspirations, without a library, through some other means?

Though Lankes outlines the relationship between the library and the community, and though he says the library is a part of the community, Lankes himself uses binary language when discussing this. Old habits, old discourses, die hard.

More thoughts on previous weeks of the New Librarianship MOOC here.