Monday, September 6, 2010

Introduction and reflections

I’m Emily. I’m blogging under a pseudonym here (not a very deep one – EHLM are my initials) because I’ve recently had a couple of short stories published, and I didn’t want anyone who might possibly be googling my name (wishful thinking, most likely) to come across this – not that I’m ashamed of anything I would potentially write here, but I didn’t want the sense of having to write “with the windows wide open” (to misquote Vonnegut) to make me start censoring or circumscribing my thoughts. Since I'm the only Emily on the course list (or I was when I checked yesterday), I expect you guys should be able to find me to communicate as necessary.

My background is strong in philosophy (I was a philosophy/English double major as an undergrad), but I mostly did philosophy of science and took only one ethics course, though I am familiar with a number of the philosophers Fallis mentions (Foote, Locke, Kant, Aristotle...). After being out of school for a couple of years, I arrived at library school as one of those people who doesn’t have any previous experience in the biz. I’m on campus in Madison, and this is my first online course.

I was also struck by how prescient Mill seemed to be – and how funny. I was especially struck by his fifth footnote, about the toleration of religion meaning the toleration of Christianity but not Islam, despite Islam being “the faith of a hundred millions of British subjects” (p. 30 in the printed edition I used). We wouldn’t know anything about that in the US, would we? I was also struck by how closely Fallis’s reasoning for why we need information ethics classes mirrored Mill’s third and fourth points about why freedom of information is important.

Puttnam I am skeptical of for a number of reasons – he seems to have a particular ideological axe to grind (viz. being in the TV industry) which I don’t especially trust, a lot of his predictions regarding the use of technology in education have not come true (we do use more technology in education, but definitely not in the ways he suggests), and his comment on libraries (p. 5) were really more like “Why can’t video stores be more like libraries?” instead of offering much in the way of insights into libraries themselves. Interestingly, I think video stores are now more like libraries – not Blockbuster, which is dying out (for some reason we’ve nicknamed it “Lackluster” in my family), but places like Netflix, which is able to easily provide anyone with anything, pretty much (n.b., I don’t use Netflix, but I just looked at the website and they definitely have programs which would never be available at Blockbuster, so I feel justified in saying this).

However, on p. 8 (I know we weren’t supposed to read this far, I got carried away) he does make a useful point, saying “I genuinely believe that we don’t live, and haven’t during my lifetime lived, in a fully educated or empowered society.” If there is one thing that librarians can do in the future to make the world a better place, I would say that it is to help connect people with the resources that they need – the information is out there, people just don’t know about it, and don’t know how to get at it. This is the same point that Fallis makes about the mission of library professionals (p. 1).

As respects his line about the muddying of the boundary between entertainment and news, I couldn’t agree more. Not just because of the advent of reality TV, but because a huge portion of my demographic group gets its news from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, and Glenn Beck considers himself to be more of an entertainer who “could give a flying crap about the political process” (

In general, I suspect that Puttnam, based on his Aristotle quote and his answer to the last question posed on page 9 (goes onto page 10) is a bit more interested in censorship than I am (and than Mill is). He seems to come pretty close to actually advocating censorship in some situations, which is a difficult position to defend.


  1. I realize I'm probably breaking the rules here by commenting on an A Group week, but a point raised in the Puttnam piece - specifically, the blurred lines between news and entertainment - brought to mind a bit of television trade news that I first heard on Harry Shearer's 'Le Show' several years ago.

    The article, originally published in the Hollywood Reporter, describes some of the "cutting edge" ways in which local news affiliates are integrating commercial messages from their sponsors into news programming.

    Schiller, Gail. "Advertisers Get Piece of Local News Shows Pay-to-play Deals More Common." Hollywood Reporter, (2006):


  2. I got these same senses from the Puttnam article too, Emily. I took note of the quote he includes from Aristotle near the end, and even scribbled "Kind of advocating for censorship here? At least with children as a way of 'bettering the future.'" Definitely a difficult place to put oneself for support from libraries/librarians, but I was captured by his highlighting the paradox of technology's great potential to connect and bring people together, yet also serve as one of the strongest "agents of division and isolation.".....

    Has this contributed to the reason why information ethics feels like (or at least does for the working professionals in the field) an even more complicated branch of an already sticky area? When people are more divided and on their own, does it somehow make them fiercer about their rights and the world's duties and value systems, because they exist in a world of - to use Puttnam's term - social gratification based on the individual rather than community?