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Posts Tagged ‘Generation Y’


There are reasons our lives take the paths they do. Access to information is something I’ve understood and felt passion about on some level from a relatively young age. I recall visiting my local library aged about 15. They were considering adding lending charges to their collections, and had a blackboard and chalk out in their library as a form of consultation.

One opinion stuck out – someone had written “what price knowledge?” A fair point, but one I had to disagree with. I can’t tell you what I wrote (nothing very pithy I’m sure) but I wished, at least, to convey that for those who had nothing knowledge with a price was knowledge made unavailable. Thus was a public librarian born, far more than in my appetite for the written word.

Thus it was that I was heartened to hear of the Aotearoa People’s Network. It launched just over a year ago, and I was privileged enough to be at a conference organised by Puke Ariki and South Taranaki District Libraries at the right time to glean a number of first impressions. People were frustrated and confounded at the new (and new kinds of) people coming into their libraries with no idea of the way we do things. As someone who was comfortable around computers and who had some experience working in libraries with public computer systems, I spent my time assuring them that these troubles were growing pains, that they had welcomed a good thing into their midst. The one matter I heard that truly concerned me was APN’s use of filtering software.

I was fortunate enough to find an opportunity to to an APN representative a little later on last at an AnyQuestions team meeting last year in Christchurch. As an addenda to the session we were to meet one of the people responsible for the new system.

Now, diplomacy isn’t my strong suit. I have strong views on filtering. I believe we shouldn’t do it in public libraries for the same reason we don’t otherwise censor material that hasn’t been delineated as acceptable by the chief censor. I’m not alone in this – it’s based on the LIANZA Statement on Intellectual Freedom. So, I asked this person how her group justified filtering given this particular foundation of public library practice.

I’d like to say her response was articulate and forthcoming, that she described the evolution of thought that underpinned this to me quite major decision, but she wasn’t. My question was dismissed and, I gathered, somewhat tiresome. The filtering question was a closed one. I was bringing up irrelevancies.

I didn’t then have any kind of standpoint to pursue this matter, so it just had to remain a questionmark in my head. A more recent piece of information (care of a longtime internet associate, Thomas Beagle) demonstrates that internet filtering has been happening at the top level in New Zealand for at least a little while, care of the Department of Internal Affairs. Thomas’ article (and its predecessors – please follow his tags as the link isn’t parsing in WordPress) detail efforts by the government to introduce an at-this-stage-voluntary system of filtering to ISPs in New Zealand.

All of which says to me that filtering is simply a part of the way government in New Zealand is looking at the world, and APN can’t be held to blame if its political taskmasters have required filtering as a requirement for greenlight. If this is the case, it certainly goes a way to describing why an open question asked by an information professional in a room full of information professionals was answered with obfuscation.

So filtering’s here to stay. Computerworld NZ suggesets it might not be all that bad. But what is the longterm effect of it? I’m speculating,but I have an anecdote from my personal experience that might paint a part of the picture.

A few years ago I had the acquaintance of a teenager who was a regular in the library at which I was working. He came in to use the computer centre, so he was a good young brain to pick for a young view matters digital. He was a big bebo fan and I asked him whether his school had filters to prevent him using it when he should be studying.

Yep, he answered, but it didn’t matter much, because they used proxy servers to get around the filters.

What happened, I asked, when the schools found out about the proxy servers?

They block them, he replied, but it only takes us a few days to find new ones to use.

So you see, I believe what filtration actually does is to train young hackers well. You can come up with the best system in the world, and I’d still rather we spent the time and effort in getting to our young people and educate them honestly, acknowledging their power and ability in the digital world.

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A teaching student comes to the desk of my public library. She comes across as intelligent, capable, library friendly – she knows what she’s looking for and how to articulate it.

She’s looking for information on different types of pen through the ages as a backgrounder to a lesson plan. She’d like book references if possible, and they have to be useful to her and potentially useable with primary age children as well.

As is often the case, what we needed wasn’t there – there were no works to hand on the subject itself, the how it works books didn’t cover the full range of options and the titles on writing only had a limited amount of information on writing instruments.

I asked if she had looked on the web. She said she had but she hadn’t found anything useful. I suggested we start with a quick look at Wikipedia.

“Oh no,” she said “we’re not allowed to use it.”

I’d like to tell you that I felt a professional conflict, but I didn’t. This interaction wasn’t the first time I’d been asked by help for students whose instutions wanted them to stay away from Wikipedia, or google, or any number of modern bugbears. My response is tailored to the student’s age and need, but is generally the same: a touch of subversion for the better good.

Thus, I explained that her institution was right, and that she oughtn’t use Wikipedia as a final reference, but that we might use it as a secondary source, and go better armed from there. As I had anticipated, the site had an excellent page on pens giving us not only the full list of pen types (including reed pens, new knowledge for me) but an exhaustive coverage of the subject. I finished the interaction by strategising with her how to proceed with her online research using terms and links garnered from the source.

Educational institutions with an aversion to wikipedia/google/etc. is not a new thing. Schools lock these sites out of their inhouse computer systems, but I had felt that culture had become less entrenched over the last few years.

I recent post to one of the listservs I read showed that the issue is still bubbling away under the surface. The author, a school librarian, cited a recent incident in which a parent doing some background research for her child on Newberry Award winner Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on Wikipeda found “pornography”. The article was cited as justification for the kinds of hands-off policies educational institutions have towards internet sources. (Why the article wasn’t about how children can only learn by doing their own homework I can’t tell you).

This is a hard one to respond to. Pornography, particularly when notionally directed at children, is a hot button. As the earlier interaction was still on my mind I decided to investigate further. Fortunately, with Wikipedia, this is eminently possible.

Wikipedia holds a revision history for the Mrs Frisby page, as it does for all the pages it contains. It tells us that at 1.36 PM on May 19th this year, an unknown user from IP 173.28.107.171 (ie someone locateable if a true offence is being committed) altered the page to include some obscene material.

I say obscene rather than pornographic, because the half-paragraph of text while offensive is clearly not written to arouse. I would estimate the writer’s age to be between maybe 10 and 14, probably male. Read the text yourself if you’re interested.

While I can understand that an adult reading this would be offended, it occurs to me that this random mishmash of meaningless acts is exactly the approximation of adult concerns children invent for themselves on the winding path from complete innocence to full agency. Try reading a Goosebumps sometime. Aimed at primary age children, and absolutely shocking to an adult.

An hour and three minutes later, SilentAria, a Wikipedia editor of what seems to be good, longstanding reputation reverts the page to its last good revision. He or she sends the anonymous vandal a politely worded message explaining the philosphy of Wikipedia, encouraging their positive contribution and warning of their banning should they continue. The vandal has not posted since.

Now, I’m not saying we should expose our young people to this kind of content. What I am saying is that this content was there for one hour, a blip in the evolution of a page that has existed since October 2004. I’m reminded of the comparision of the risks of flying in an airplane versus crossing the street – in this case, the television that’s on in the home every night  is far more likely to bring potentially upsetting content to children than this hour’s worth of transient and well-hidden filth.

A concept I intend to explore more fully at a later time is that of information literacy education needing in the modern information culture to go beyond a set of procedural rules – and believe me, “no wikipedia” is one of the most blunt, basic procedural rules an institution could put in place in this context – and change our approach into on vastly more dynamic.

Let’s not ask “is this source reputable”; let us learn to ask “is this source reputable today.

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Several librarian blogs have recently mentioned the very interesting and useful research report by Char Booth entitled “Informing Innovation: tracking student interest in emerging library technologies at Ohio University” which is available free to download in PDF format. Like many libraries, Ohio University libraries have experimented with many Web 2.0 applications in order to stay relevant to students. But the question remained “if we build this, will the students care?” So Ohio University libraries have begun to veer away from the “technolust” towards a “culture of assessment”. The report presents findings of an environmental scan to investigate what motivated student interest in emerging library technologies. Essentially the findings indicate that libraries should not focus too much on Web 2.0 technologies as a means rather than the means to an end and that students still need some “library awareness” to make full use of any medium which pushes information. Some of the technologies may not be needed or effective. Naturally, then, libraries should survey their users to find out what may or may not be useful before adopting a new technology for the sake of keeping up with the trends.

This struck a chord as I have found myself wondering at times whether libraries should be quite so keen in adopting Web 2.0 applications for their users. Some experimentation is fine but often I wonder how useful they are to library users. The generalisations which apply to different generations are just that – generalisations. Not all members of the Y generation are into blogs and instant messaging, for example. This was brought home to me when a friend of my teenage daughter asked me last year what a blog was. She’d never heard of one. I then reflected on the applications my daughter and her friends use. They occasionally use instant messaging and social networking sites and visit Youtube, but they don’t read blogs or Twitter or use RSS aggregators, for example. They may not be typical of her generation but it’s still important to remember not to lump everyone in the same category. Then there are the more mature library users. What do they use or find useful? Libraries surveying their own users is therefore very important.

Char Booth’s excellent and highly relevant report includes a survey template which libraries can use to do a similar environmental scan. Very handy!

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