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.