Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

Let’s start with a definition from a “Tomorrow People” fan:

Fandom (from the noun fan and the affix -dom, as in kingdom, freedom, etc.) is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.1

Soon after local government reform in New Zealand created my current employer, two blogs were created with the aim of spending a year touring and reporting on each branch within the system. As one of the staff members running a legacy online profile I was privy to some of the discussions, and suffice to say we were collectively excited but not entirely sure how, if at all, to respond.

Perceptions are what its all about, particularly in the online world. Don’t acknowledge people this enthusiastic, and one risks the appearance of being aloof. What about the other path. Can one become overly involved?

I think so. Let’s get a definition from another source. The now defunct webcomic Genrezvous Point had a set of characters who were the “seven plagues of cinema”. Plague five was fandom:

arguably the most repulsive of the plagues, a swarm of leeches that attempts to latch on and seize control of their target, refusing to accept any deviation from their will and loudly decrying any attempt at disputing their collective ‘wisdom’ and influence on their target.2

As a member of a number of fandoms, I can affirm that the above holds at least a grain of truth. I’ve regularly watched fellow mulitplayer gamers rail vituperously at the creators of a game world inside that world. Any amount and kind of protest, other than simply finding other pursuits, can be deemed appropriate by a dissatisfied fan simply because they will feel that they are pursuing a significant cause.

There’s also seems to be a relationship between this phenomenon and media interest. A number of stories have been published in our city’s paper of record about our service. The stories themselves are almost meaningless to those of us who have been in the profession for a significant time:

If they’re not about anything new (and therefore are not news in the truest sense), what holds these stories together? I believe they’re talking to the fandom in the sense that  they are aimed at a growing common interest in the organisation, and in that they suggest a canonical set of beliefs around what kinds of places libraries should be.

If all our organisations and services have fans, what does that imply? I’m going for an “I don’t know” on this one. We should definitely welcome the opportunity to hear what people think about us when they’ve got the comfort that relative anonymity can bring, but we’ve got to be mindful that our fandom and our users are two blended but distinct groups. To live by the word of the former is to risk doing disservice to the latter.




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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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I was at an event on the weekend when I was surprised by this sign.

Slide from Auckland Writers Readers Festival

Slide from Auckland Writers Readers Festival

I thought that cellphones had been around for so long that we all knew the social conventions for turning them off or at least turning them to silent in a public lecture.* I had a bit of a laugh when one of the presenters apologised for having her phone with her on the stage. Her watch was at the shop being repaired so she was using her phone as a timepiece. I use mine as a watch too and I’ve seen other people use their phones as torches.

All of these thoughts went through my head as I took notes – using my cellphone. As I tapped away I wondered what other people thought. Would they think I was texting? Was my habit of putting the phone down after every note reinforcing that? It can’t have looked that dodgy because none of the volunteers asked me to stop. I was a little disappointed by this as I’d psyched myself up for outraged defence. “I’m not texting I’m taking NOTES!”

Honestly, using my cellphone was so much easier than carrying around a notebook and pens. I’ve also started taking my laptop to meetings so I can type my notes up directly rather than trying to decipher my handwriting later. This seems like a logical and sensible timesaving decision. Maybe it’s just local government but this is behaviour outside the box. And yes, I’m deliberately referencing last year’s LIANZA Conference.

I was on the live-blogging team at Conference 2008. It was my first experience of lugging around a laptop and having access to the internet during a session. I found it challenging and an excellent way to take notes. I’m a reflective thinker so I like having good notes to go back to. Some of the comments I heard later surprised me. The one that sticks in my head is that it was appalling that ‘someone’ checked their email during a session. The comment wasn’t about how atrocious it was that the ‘someone’ felt obliged to check in but that they were disrespecting the presenter. The implication was that if the person was taking notes using a pen and paper they wouldn’t be doing anything other than taking notes and paying attention. False. I’ve planned a whole new library programme with pad and pen in a lecture from conceptual idea to implementation when I’ve been bored. (Not a LIANZA session I hasten to add.) Why this assumption that using technology is any different?

Admittedly the back chat channel can become distracting. There’s a greater potential for secret conversations via relatively silent technological means – the buzzing alternative to passing notes in class. But…isn’t that my problem to solve? I’m the learner.

I have to admit that I don’t get it. So what if I’m checking my emails or surfing the internet when I’m at a lecture? So what if I twitter during a presentation? Don’t I have to take responsibility for my own learning?

I’d be really interested to hear your opinion on using laptops, pdas etc in a learning situation.  Do you think they help or hinder?

* There were still a few phones that burbled away cheerfully as their owners made a mad scramble though their pockets, bags and coats trying to locate the dammed thing and turn it off.

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