Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week 2

I kept finding myself drawing parallels with other disciplines while attempting to synthesize this weeks reading, and time and time again I kept thinking about how we react to other difficult definitions for entities/ideas/occurrences that we don’t fully understand. One of the unconvincing examples that I came up with, and which undoubtedly will not hold up to too much scrutiny, has to do with anything that relates to the environment (for, like information, can be viewed through varying lenses – as a resource, a commodity, a perception of pattern, and as a constitutive force in society). From the ‘green’ movement and recycling programs, to climate change and fossil fuels, our modern lives are inundated with environmental topics. The main difference between the status of current thought about the environment and that of information is how we think about them. Environmental issues have largely been defined for us and policies/laws abound regarding environmental issues (hazardous waste and pollution laws, policies regarding the air and water, car manufacturers needing to adhere to miles per gallon restrictions, etc), many of which have proven insightful, functional, and beneficial. But a great deal of damage has occurred by the very act of ‘defining’ the issues. A glaring set back has been the political polarization of occurrences such as climate change (once known as ‘global warming’). All of a sudden, an occurrence is defined so that public policy can be created and implemented, and the issue is confounded by the multiple disciplines that have a vested interest in it (governments, businesses, religions, etc.). As a result, ‘global warming’ and ‘tree hugging’ have been largely restricted to the ‘leftest’ ‘hippie’ corner, where they’ve been ridiculed based upon how they were defined.

I could go on and on how varying environmental movements have been largely thwarted by the simple act of having been ‘defined’. The consequences of “defining” information may very well mirror the damaging effects that occurred when we defined these other multidimensional and multidisciplinary issues. I myself, as an ‘information hugger’, would hate to be reduced and rendered powerless based on a damaging definition.

Many of the difficulties and warnings inherent in the defining the concept of information, as presented by Braman, Vaidhyanathan, and Rowlands are the very same that librarians must deal with on a daily basis, which is why I think librarians will contribute vitally to its formation, if one is ever ‘created’. Librarians, especially in public libraries, are (or should be) experts at working in a multidisciplinary landscape, maintaining a unique element of detachment while at the same time being passionately involved, and being able not to politicize or polarize a patron’s requests. Yet, if this is the case and a librarian’s skills are seen as a suitable match of those of a policymaker, the argument will undoubtedly arise as to whether librarians should become more proactive in their dealings and overcome their historically viewed reactive stance.

Regarding the contemporary discussions of copyright and open-source touched on by Rowlands and Vaidhyanathan, there was an interesting write-up today on BoingBoing (http://www.boingboing.net/2010/09/13/jean-luc-godard-dona.html) about Jean-Luc Godard (a French-Swiss film maker) and his stance that “there is no such thing as intellectual property”. He was also quoted as saying “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them.” (the comments on the article are just as interesting) Ideas such as these may illustrate the need for no policy, as is currently understood now as policy (as being created by ‘qualified’ people) – Maybe we should just let it ride without restriction and see what happens. ??


  1. I think you've hit on a good point here Tecumseh. The idea of looking at other issues through different lenses makes a lot of sense. In part I think this is because information and it's uses exist within all disciplines. So, as you say the defining that has taken place in the environmental movement and other places has had an effect. The words associated with it connect with people own personal information about those words for good or ill and don't always reflect what a certain cause or issue is really about. This is a very powerful tool to be used in politics, an arena where the control of information is very difficult, but crucial to success.
    Interesting little article on Mr. Godard. I'm all for fighting for the little guy and free information, and certainly I've done my share of downloading (Although I've now stopped and just started getting things from the library, the slower, more ethical, just as free choice), but I have a hard time with writers, musicians, and other artists being unable to make a living. Sure, I don't think Metallica needs any more money and those big names are generally the ones that are torrented. However, if we just did away with the idea of intellectual property it would be that much harder for the little guys to make a living.

  2. Tecumseh - this is very thoughtful and engaged post. I'd especially like to put a placeholder for this fascinating comment from Godard, provacateur that he is. We will be heading into copyright/IP waters with our next week's worth of material. One thing you may want to keep in mind is that the agitation for alternate mechanisms for rights control or a relaxing of copyright laws, two things which many access advocates often push for, tend to still work from a fundamental presupposition that there is a thing to be owned that is "intellectual property" - to be sure, US law is certainly coming from this place in its present state. What the Godard quote reminds us is that there can be - and, in fact, are! - alternate ways to view such material. This can vary depending on people's different cultural contexts, ethical frameworks, personal belief systems, notions of public good and so on.

    It's a challenge to the very nature of the typical argument around these issues. We should keep it in mind.

  3. Also, does anyone else find the concept of "information hugger" hilarious? Hah!

  4. I think the ecology metaphor here is a good one. I was thinking of making a similar comparison as I thought one of the main thrusts of the readings for this week was how subtle differences in the lens through which we view information and information policy can have a large ripple effect throughout our information "ecology" and society at large. Kind of the whole butterfly flapping its wings kind of thing... That's a little underdeveloped but will have to do for a comment.

  5. Tecumseh -- Thanks for bringing up the notion of librarian engagement in defining information policy. This ties in well with the notions of cross-disciplinary engagement and definition. It's important for librarians to get involved in the groundwork of information policy, as well as defining standards on the national and international level. But, unfortunately, librarians aren't even involved in ISO or NISO standard setting for information on the web. As the professionals who deal with the organization and dissemination of information, it's important that our perspectives and voices are heard in these discussions.

  6. I also found the Godard quotes particularly fascinating, since the notion of "intellectual property" figures so prominently in the current debate over copyright and fair use. While I generally agree that the work of an artist should be afforded some degree of legal protection, the actual experience of art takes place behind the eyes of the audience and exists in as many different interpretations as there are possible audience members. I wish I could remember who to attribute this to, but a general paraphrasing is "once you share your creation with someone else, it stops being yours."