Home » Posts tagged 'civic librarianship'
Tag Archives: civic librarianship
I haven’t blogged for FGI in three years. They’ve made the blogger interface so much sexier (so why don’t you volunteer next month?) since 2006, but otherwise all is familiar. And that’s the feeling I get when going through the recent stream of reports about civic literacy and public engagement. Not the sexy part, but the fact that some of it is new (or newly documented), but most of it is familiar territory.
Three reports discussing civic literacy and citizen engagement recently came out, all within five days of each other. Here’s a quick look.
Pew Internet released The Internet and Civic Engagement [PDF] on September 1. The report compares the demographics of those traditionally involved in their community affairs and politics offline with the demographics of those actively participating online. It turns out those two groups look pretty much the same until social media use is measured. That’s where we find the new netizens. (The report compares groups that have internet access; the focus is on a civic divide rather than a digital divide.)
The Association of Research Libraries published Public Engagement, SPEC Kit 312 on August 31. Government or political engagement is not the focus but is one of various types of academic library community outreach discussed. You have to buy the publication, but the table of contents and executive summary [PDF] are online for free and, from what I see, the Government Information Online virtual reference service is mentioned.
Finally, the federal government’s Institute of Museum and Library Services released Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills on August 28. The IMLS report [PDF] covers civic engagement as part of its broader mission “to engage libraries and museums, community stakeholders and policy makers at the national, state and local level in a concerted effort to meet the educational, economic, civic, and cultural needs of communities.” The Skills Definitions section of the report identifies the scope of civic literacy as the ability to “participate effectively in civic life through knowing how to stay informed and understanding governmental processes; exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship at local, state, national, and global levels; and understand the local and global implications of civic decisions.”
Do any of these reports provide you with ideas for action, fodder for justification, or inspiration to ask new questions?
Just picked up a story I haven’t read in years — “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” — a remarkable meditation on endurance, choice, and ultimately freedom. If you can’t find the book, published back in 1958, check out your local library and see if they have the 1962 movie version on DVD.
But the story’s underlying theme, a young man trapped in correction institution’s web of obligations and limitations — and he has to make choices — got me thinking about the comparable net of choices and obligations we librarians take on when we decide to integrate government information services into our own organizations.
Point taken in regards to J. Jacobs comments about my earlier blogs. He says in particular:
“And perhaps that’s what you meant by the high ground. It’s nice to be reminded that libraries and librarians are working toward a higher goal of free and permanent access to government information. We’ve never left that conceptual high ground, but have to continually remind those that do not work with govt information on a daily basis of its inherent worth in the democratic process.”
In another comment by Blakeley, a similar point is made:
“In regards to recapturing…perhaps you meant pushing for more civic engagement rather than just talking the talk and not walking the walk? I know I have been guilty of it. I need to be more of an advocate and participate in civic engagement rather than just spouting out what I believe in. I have become more brave in speaking out…contacting government officials, spreading the word about this “higher ground”. FGI has certainly inspired me to do this…”
The point I wanted to make is that yes we occupy this elavation — as government information professionals — but, imagine that as we stand there looking over the civic topography — the clouds and mist drift away –and see the road continues on to the mountain top far above; we are not there yet after all (not to get all Thomas Merton on you or anything.)
When I think about government information services in libraries I imagine the whole institution to be energized/transformed by these civic obligations.
In my writings of the late 1990’s, I argued that the changing dynamics of politics, policy, technology demands a new kind of librarianship — something I called “civic librarinship.” I imagined this librarianship transcended both format and distribution mechnanisms, and our professional obligations would become more directed toward putting together long knowledge narratives anchored with specific information sources. We would be the storytellers who would weave the political perspective with the policy perspective with the governmental structure perspective. And we would embroided it all with the heavy stichery of history.
My inspiration for this vision, if truth be told, came from Ray Bradbury’s short story “Farenheit 451.” I think many librarians consider this to be a tale of information dystopia. But the story’s last few paragraphs describe a community of people walking around reciting the books that were burned and lost — I took this as a metaphor of hope and remembrance — that knowledge and connections live beyond format and technology. In a very real way, the library and its readers become one during the closing scenes of the story.
I think this point is driven home by the way change.gov was one thing on Thursday and Friday last week, and then entire parts of the web site were inexplicably changed or removed with no good explanation on Saturday. People noticed this, commented on it, and even captured what as lost. This is going to be the new price and reward of civic librarianship — steady, deliberative, and engaged observation and remembrance.
Another way to think about this — what I do in my classes about policy and legislative history, is to remind the students that major programs and legislation often stretch back decades — back into the paper universe. That if you really want to understand why Cheney happened and how he could argue for the resurgence of a dominant Presidency (much less a Vice-Presidency) — you most go back and understand his service and political growth during the early to mid 1970s, and how he came to some sound conclusions about executive from the rise and fall of Richard Nixon.
And don’t get me started on what Richard Nixon’s influence on all this might be….
And I don’t mean to imply any particular partisan or political party perspective in my remarks. Democrats and Republican administration alike are equally likely to sacrifice the purpose of free speech and transperency in the name of political expediency or shameless pandering to patriotism.
So, to put another spin on it — we are all government information librarians now.
I think a major goal of our community over the next few years should be to find ways to turn our bibliographic insitutions into the engines of democracy and civic discussion.
See you on Day 70.