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Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 25

With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 now on its way to Obama for his signature, the question remains about what happens next. Word is Obama will be setting the stage for his next initiative — a global fix on broken mortgages. Again, this demonstrates a clear set of scheduled (and unscheduled) events libraries of all types might use to promote a greater awareness about the implications of the soon to be enacted law (and subsequent policies and initiatives) for their communities. Recovery.gov is still aborning, profit and non-profit groups will offer, or do so now, there own web-enabled looks at the massive spending bill.

But, what strikes me as missing from these techno-centric transparency efforts is the inability to explain the politics (or the policy implications) behind the numbers. One small example — when people look at Thomas’ links to H.R. 1, they will find seven different versions of the bill (soon to be eight when the President makes it a public law on Tuesday.) No where in the Thomas web site is any of this explained. I am fully aware there are links to selected published guides produced by the House Clerk and Senate Secretary that explain the legislative process — but how many times have seen the thousand yard stare displace interest in the eyes of users as you attempt to explain the treasure hunt in locating relevant information sources. I think the basic operating program of American civic engagement is not the information technology. It’s these fundamental government information sources (laws, regulations, rules, court decisions, reports, studies, etc.) And the technology still can not deepen the necessary political and social contexts of how all these information sources relate to each other.

This one is for Daniel Cornwell –Imagine the possibilities if — somehow, someway — our several library associations were able to coordinate a national civic literacy program to enable trained and interested government information librarians to engage citizens in workshops, discussion groups, classes, and events that discuss and outline sources of information about the government’s efforts to recover from the economic crises. This is the context building (and deepening) often missing from purely technological approaches.

See you Day 26.

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2 Comments

  1. jeff says:

    I agree with most of the comments here. I also found a very good, basic site on recession tips. It was pretty helpful, I think,

    http://www.recessioninfocenter.com

  2. jajacobs says:

    John,

    I agree that libraries can and certainly should engage in the kind of civic literacy you have been eloquently advocating for years.

    But I also think that society needs institutions that perform a role that libraries have always provided: that of selecting, organizing, and preserving information for full, free, open, re-usable access, and providing services for that information. I think that libraries are uniquely positioned to do that in the digital age and, for those looking for a role for libraries, I think this is the role that will be sustainable. Other roles, including civic literacy, can be part of the service mix at libraries, but libraries will not be the only ones to provide that service. Journalists, historians, academics, activists, and many others will be doing a lot of that.

    I think you rightly differentiate information sources from information technology. I would characterize the two slightly differently than you do: while the information sources are the raw data, information technology is what enables use of the data. That is where Carl Malamud’s metaphor of the operating system of democracy comes in.

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