Evolving Discourse Communities

An article that has been discussed recently on the ILI-L discussion list (sponsored by the Instruction Section of ACRL) is well worth reading. “Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy” by Michelle Holschuh Simmons (published in portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5.3: 297-311) shifts the focus in information literacy efforts from finding and using information to the interpretive work of understanding both the context of the texts students use and the disciplinary conventions that shape it. Simmons argues that librarians are uniquely situated as mediators among disciplinary discourses and that by helping students understand the rhetorical underpinnings of texts we will help them “see that information is constructed and contested not monolithic and apolitical.” It’s well worth a look, since we frequently stumble when it comes to the aspects of information literacy that involve evaluation and understanding the ethical, economic, and social issues surrounding information called for in the IL Standards. This article is not available free online but can be found in some libraries through Project Muse.

I admit I thought of this article when reading a story in today’s Inside Higher Education. In “Too Much Information?” Scott Jaschik raises the issue of faculty members blogging before they have tenure. In part, this is really a genre question: will scholars take blogging seriously as a form of expression? how do blogs blend otherwise distinct genres – opinion, scholarship, personal narrative? is blogging is invading the space previously owned by journalists and public intellectuals, where speech is limited to those who hold the proper credentials? The more our genres morph and reinvent themselves, and as new kinds of discourse communities arise, the more agile we all need to focus information literacy on the critical work involved.

Another Take on the Digital Library

The Chronicle has reported that, like Google, Yahoo is in a project to digitize libraries – with a difference. Yahoo is partnering with a number of players in something called the Open Content Alliance, inspired by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive. Libraries will pay a minimal cost per page to add their volumes to the collection, but they must be either not under copyright or have permission of the copyright holder. The New York Times calls it a “challenge to Google” – for a number of reasons. Results won’t be available only through one search engine, entire texts rather than snippets will be visible, and – gasp! – books will be chosen specifically for the project, rather than entire libraries being scanned wholesale.

First we had Amazon’s Search Inside, then the Google project, now this alliance. All of them are interestingly different takes on making the full text of books searchable online, all of them with a different commercial bent and each with different strengths and weaknesses. One thing that they do reveal, though, is these publicly traded corporations all seem to believe there is a future in making books searchable. And each offers varous challenges to traditional notions of copyright in a digital world.

“Opinionated, Humorous, and Scathing”

Library Journal has a piece on blogging in libraries. One interesting comment: “unlike a transaction at the reference desk, blogs needn’t be neutral. In fact, many librarian-authored blogs are personal, opinionated, humorous, and scathing.”

The notion of neutrality came up in one of the Chronicle pieces on tenure that we’ve been talking about here. In arguing that tenure hampers our work, Deborah A. Carver says “librarians are also expected to maintain neutrality with respect to political, moral, or aesthetic views.” So where does that leave our bloggers?

Actually, I think what librarians must do is welcome a wide range of perspectives onto their shelves and through their doors. We shouldn’t provide services or instruction that push a singular perspective. We should be disinterestedly avid in the pursuit of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we should have nothing to say for ourselves (and therefore no need for academic freedom or tenure).

Nevertheless, this issue is a rich one when it comes to blogging because this truly is a new genre and the authorial voice, whatever its source, is rarely neutral.

Take A Look At The Online Discussions

Since we have a few posts about the Chronicle’s special report on academic libraries, I’ll just add that I’d encourage readers to go to the Chronicle site to take a look at the comments being added to the online discussions for the tenure debate articles and the one on left-wing echo chamber. I added my comments to both of the discussions if you want to see what I had to say about these issues. But I will say that Barbara and I don’t exactly disagree on the tenure for librarians issue, but she certainly feels more strongly that it is necessary than do I.

Statements On Future Of Libraries

Kept-Up Academic Librarian featured a post today about an article from the summer 2005 issue of Tennessee Libraries that offers interviews with 25 librarians on the future of libraries. The interviewees mostly discuss academic libraries. I found myself agreeing with as many as I disagreed with. I tend to see the importance of user education and the integration of ourselves and our resources into the teaching and learning process. That theme is mentioned, but perhaps not as strongly as I would have put it. I was at least pleased to see that John Shank, co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community was interviewed.