Critical literacy and churnalism

market 1

market 1 (Photo credit: tim caynes)

Anybody who’s interested in starting an online business could not but notice the interest in internet marketing – specifically through the so-called ‘social media’ (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and the like).  Yes, we all know that in cyberspace, no-one can hear you scream – but can they hear you market?  Interesting conundrum.

What I find amusing, in my wry and cynical way, is the huge emphasis on ‘content marketing’, and this is, I believe, of direct interest to information professionals.  Do a Google search for ‘content marketing’ and be prepared to be astonished – not so much by the number of hits you get, as the enormous range of differing opinions of what people think it is.  The most popular use of the term seems to suggest that it is little more than the fluff surrounding product promotion.  For example, if your product is dog shampoo, you will write anything at all about dogs, and keeping them clean and flea- and mud-free.  Never mind that the content is trivial, repetitive, and extremely badly written, as long as it scores on the Google hit charts and that people are directed to your site.  And buy your dog shampoo.

Now, as has been extensively discussed on this blog previously, ‘content’ – i.e. the stuff contained in a document such as a web page or book or film or vinyl record – is what I call ‘information’: the idea somebody has had, expressed and recorded in shared symbolic codes (language, writing, music, mathematics).  Extending this, it would appear that the newest trend in the digital world – in particular, the commercial part of it (and sometimes it’s hard to know what isn’t commercial) – is marketing ideas.

Yawn.  So what else is new?  Information professionals – and educators of all stripes – have been ‘marketing’ ideas for a long time.  Indeed, they do more than that: they select, arrange, organise, curate, store, protect and make available ideas, from any source.  Why? Not to sell ‘products’ as such, but to enable people to better understand their lives and the context in which they live: specifically, perhaps, to help them make better decisions by developing critical thinking skills and so sorting out the wheat from the chaff.  As previously mentioned, information professionals have a social responsibility and thus, it should follow, do not have ulterior motives.

‘Content marketing’ as it is practised seeks to achieve something quite different: manipulation.  From syndicated (and biased) news reports repeated endlessly no matter which newspaper you read (so it seems, anyway), to badly written ebooks written by people deficient in intelligence, erudition, maturity, insight and grammatical skills, to billions of blogs, probably written by the same people.  And they all repeat each other.  In fact, there is even software which will ‘rewrite’ the same thing in many different ways so that the same ‘content’ (I hesitate to call it ‘information’ because it may not even contain an idea) can be published many times.  You can also get – and for free, quite often – a collection of ready-written blog articles to suit whatever it is that you wish to publicise – home-schooling, gluten-free recipes, sportscars, adventure holidays – you name it, someone has supplied a load of bumpf for you to re-use.  I visited some freelance sites a while ago, and found that the majority of bidders for jobs requiring writing and editing skills for English content did not have English as their home language and/or couldn’t write their application without glaring grammatical errors.  No wonder so much stuff published on the internet is virtually unreadable.

So much for the ‘information explosion’.  Most comments on this issue focus on one of two phenomena: the huge increase in scientific and scholarly publications, or the easily accessible media now available – including, of course, the internet, as well as the traditional magazines, radio, television and newspapers.  While the vast amount of scholarly information now available does stretch the resources and imaginations of information professionals, the general public seldom has interest in or direct access to such information.  So many of us turn to Google, and are satisfied with whatever answer we find that seems vaguely relevant amongst the first 10 or so hits.  But the biggest ‘information’ explosion has come from every Joe Blow now thinking he knows something worth sharing.  Or even, knowing that they have nothing of interest to share, but sharing it anyway.  This disease appears to be contagious, gathering up common citizens, students, retirees, the unemployed, as well as people who should know better, such as journalists.  In the frenzy of making their digital mark, an awful lot is being badly said about nothing at all.  And this is what will, in all probability, appear in those first 10 hits.

This presents a real challenge to information professionals.  Critical thinking skills are seriously in decline, and many individuals seem to be unable to distinguish between ‘content’ that is being marketed, and reliable ‘information’. Citizens of the world, most of whom are able to vote, are being sucked into a vortex of ignorance and stupidity – in this, the ‘Information Age’.  If this continues, the meaning of ‘cultural memory institutions’ will evaporate, as their contents will simply not be understood, or worse, regarded as irrelevant to daily life.  All of those ideas which our forebears had, and recorded, that have shaped how we live today, will be invisible, as good as useless.

It’s not just ‘access’ that we should be concerned with – that”s easy enough, and becoming easier as information objects (‘documents’) are being digitised and networked.  And it’s  ‘reading’ either.  We shouldn’t be asking what people read.  We should try to understand  what our users understand and learn from what they read, and become teachers of critical literacy.

 

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What’s the point?

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There is no question that there is a surging urge to digitise. But what inspires this? What is the point of all this activity? There are a number of conversation strands to this topic, and I look at some of them here.  It is likely there are more, and others.  What does emerge is that there are professional, philosophical, economic and possibly even cultural differences in approach to digitisation, and these are by no means consistent or consensual. In fact, some of the drivers for digitisation seem to be using the same means to achieve quite different ends.

1. The first and perhaps most obvious inspiration for the digitisation of the world’s documents and cultural artefacts finds its origin in the zeitgeist of the so-called information society: a zeitgeist, may it be said, which by now is surely rather old and tawdry, and exposed for the misconceived delusion that it is. We now know that all societies have always been ‘information societies’; that we by and large agree with Daniel Bell and Manuel Castells that the concept of the ‘information society’ is in fact but another stage of the capitalist industrial society, which encourages consumerism. We are aware that the notion of ‘globalisation’, in the way it is enacted by multinationals to exploit the poor and disadvantaged in favour of the rich, has some serious ethical questions to answer. We can also, quite quickly, dismiss the idea that technologies, in and of themselves, can create change or increase social development: it is the USE of them, and the PURPOSES for which they are used that will make the desired differences in the lives of individuals, communities and societies. This purpose, from the point of view of information professionals, is to assist in the communication of information (or ideas) between people. Alas: at the same time, there seems to be a parallel desire to keep populations ignorant or misinformed, at least by certain regimes: information flows are suppressed.

2. A second driver for digitisation is certainly economic. This has two aspects: firstly, digitisation and increasing use of information and communication techologies (ICTs) seems to be understood to be the way to create new jobs, new possibilities to make money and perhaps even fortunes. This aspiration was dashed at least once, with the dot.com bust in the 1990s: the only people who seem to be making money now are those who are selling the equipment – which needs to be constantly updated and replaced – and the software – although possibilities here seem to be limited with the increased availability of free software and, more importantly, Open Source coding systems. Some online endeavours are financially valued in strange ways, too, which are perhaps difficult to understand. The billions of dollars that Facebook is allegedly worth is, to my mind, a strange phenomenon. But there are still seemingly unlimited opportunities for online merchandising, marketing and retailing, and consultants in social networking marketing seem to be thriving.

The other side of the economic or financial aspect is the possibility for saving money and cost-cutting. This applies not only to the vending of virtual objects such as ebooks or online services (website hosting, for example), which cost little to store and maintain. The replacement of libraries by the internet seems to be a very real possibility for many governments dealing with the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC – which always, for some reason, reminds me of Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant – BFG). David Cameron‘s present regime in the UK is a good example of this: it extends to replacing large numbers of public servants whose work can, apparently, also be done by citizens using the internet. ICTs continue to be deified as saviours of the world, if one is to believe the rhetoric that is expressed in many government documents, particularly perhaps some of those emanating for the iEurope European Union’s digital economy initiatives.

3.  Digitisation of documents does, however, open doors that were previously firmly shut. The Open Educational Resources University  (http://wikieducator.org/OER_university#Core_initiatives_of_the_logic_model) campaign being led, to all intents and purposes, by Wayne Mackintosh, is a prime example of this. It uses the best characteristics of the ‘information society’ , such as globalisation, to reach scholars and teachers all over the world, in order to create and distribute university learning materials to those who live all over the world – not just in the rich parts – so that they will have access to tertiary education. Surely this is the only way forward, in this dimension? I have mentioned Open Source software; there is also an increased movement towards access to ideas that is possible in a digitised, virtual, networked, information environment: Open Access. This is particularly useful for the dissemination of scholarly information, as well as those documents that are required to support other roles in society, not forgetting entertainment. All of these possibilities, combined with the increasing mobility of ICT devices (smaller and cheaper) and wireless access, may perhaps lead to significant improvements in people’s lives. Some even say that ICTs facilitated the recent political changes we have seen in North Africa.

4. We cannot rule out the possibility that digitisation is also being stimulated by technological determinism. “Oooh! I want to build a twaddler! It’s new! It’s big! It’s shiny!” But what can it be used for? Does it help me? Will it last for ever? Do we need one?  Rather cynically, there does appear to be some of this in a few digitisation initiatives, which have lasted for only as long as the funding has been around – and there doesn’t appear to have been enough reason or purpose to continue the funding. While, for many reasons, I endorse and support – and am enthusiastic about – the purposes to which the digitisation of cultural resources and documents can be put, I am still more than a bit concerned about the long-term prognosis. ‘Digital preservation’ still appears, to me, to be an oxymoron. As well as this, as I have been saying for about two decades, the technology is still very primitive: I don’t think that our clever colleagues in computer science and technologies have come anywhere near to where their work might still take them. Regarding existing technologies as the ‘last word’, or even suggesting that things may stay more or less the same (simply because our imaginations fail us), could mean making a very big mistake indeed.

5. The last aspect of the enthusiasm for digitisation may be motivated by a desire for control (above and beyond any economic or financial considerations). Access to information (or ideas, which I find to be the most useful synonym) has always, and will always be, regarded politically, as ideas may be – and indeed often are – dangerous: at least to the status quo, and especially to those who would be upset or lose out if the status quo were to be disturbed. Paradoxically, digitisation simultaneously provides the possibility for loss of centralised control: the use of Twitter and Facebook in Egypt, for example, or perhaps as a slightly more exaggerated example, WikiLeaks and now UniLeaks (http://www.unileaks.org), which could be seen as serving as the conscience of contemporary society. Citizen journalism – and indeed all social media – are other expressions of this facility. Information, or ideas, no longer have to be sanctioned by those in power or positions of authority: anybody (even me) can say what they like and have the possibility of being heard all over the world. UKUncut ( http://ukuncut.org.uk/blog/26th-march—invite-your-friends) provides  but one example of this.  This may possibly be an unexpected outcome of (4) above: “We invented the twaddler but we didn’t realise it could be used like THIS!”.

Looking forward to hearing from you – and please post comment here and on the Wallwisher!

All the best as ever, wherever you are

S

A little cross-fertilization

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Today I decided to do a little cross-pollination from the FaceBook group of the same name (Digital Collaboration) which, of course, you are welcome to join.

There, I asked if you could list the issues that you think you should know something about in order to be a successful 21st century information professional. So far, the suggestions have been:

OPEN ACCESS/OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

Australian Policy Online (apo.org.au) Briefing paper on impact of open access outside European universities. http://www.apo.org.au/research/briefing-paper-impact-open-access-outside-european-universities

Legal aspects of Open Access in Australia: http://www.oaklaw.qut.edu.au/

Fitzgerald, Anne (2009).  Open access policies, practices and licensing: a review of the literature in Australia and selected jursidictions.  (pdf available here).  http://eprints.qut.edu.au/28026/

Academic publishing in Europe. http://www.ape2011.eu/

Open access: Europe’s secret weapon? http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=158534

Directory of Open Access Journals http://www.doaj.org/doaj?func=newTitles (courtesy of Lund University).

Hylén, Jan (2007)Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris, France: OECD 10.1787/9789264032125-en

“Open educational resources programme – phase 1” JISC 2009

“Open educational resources programme – phase 2. JISC. 2010.

WSIS Platform of Communities.  http://www.wsis-community.org/pg/groups/14358/open-educational-resources-oer/

University of Geneva. CERN Workshop on innovations in Scholarly Communication.  22-24 June 2011.  http://indico.cern.ch/conferenceDisplay.py?confId=103325

People’s Open Access Education.  http://www.peoples-uni.org/

OECD. Giving knowledge for free.  http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/giving-knowledge-for-free_9789264032125-en

OER Commons.  http://www.oercommons.org/

I HAVE EMPHASISED THIS SECTION I suppose because it serves to illustrate the extent to which we (the people) – knowledge users and creators – live in a virtual, digital, information environment.  My apologies if you think I have gone a bit overboard.  What is our role in such an environment?  Do we become guides and mentors? Comments?

DIGITAL PRESERVATION

National Library of Australia. http://www.nla.gov.au/preserve/digipres/

Digital preservation e-forum. http://neflin2.blogspot.com/2011/01/digital-preservation-e-forum.html

Digital Preservation Coalition.  http://www.dpconline.org/

Alliance for Permanent Access.  http://www.alliancepermanentaccess.org/events/event-payments

JISC Beginner’s guide to digital preservation. 2011.   http://www.alliancepermanentaccess.org/events/event-payments

CREATIVE COMMONS

http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Global_Meeting_2011

Critical information literacy (Not only for library users – records managers and archivists would also know that their users may well need some assistance in this area).

Primary author here is James Elborg.

Association of College and Research Libraries. 2006. http://acrlblog.org/2006/03/21/making-information-literacy-critical/

Information Literacy Thinking Group.  http://infotheory.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2011/02/09/2011-lacuny-instruction-spring-event/

Swanson, Troy.  2004.  A radical step: implementing a critical information literacy model.  http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/summary/v004/4.2swanson.html

Archive fever: interations on identity and knowledge in an age of accelerated human information interaction. (interesting blog).  http://www.archivefever.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Viadhyanathan, Siva. Critical information studies: a bibliographic manifesto.  http://www.sivacracy.net/archives/002930.html. (I really like this).  You could also take a look at

Pawley, Christine.  2003. Information literacy: a contradictory coupling. Library Quarterly, Vol. (4): pp. 422-452.

INFORMATION VISUALISATION

15th International Conference on Information Visualisation (in London).  http://www.wikicfp.com/cfp/servlet/event.showcfp?eventid=12052&copyownerid=17187

Some exampleshttp://www.flickr.com/groups/datavisualization/pool/

And some morehttp://www.designer-daily.com/information-is-beautiful-30-examples-of-creative-infography-5538

I love the way these guys transform data into something easily understandable:  Information is beautiful. http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

The state of information visualisation 2011.  http://eagereyes.org/blog/2011/state-of-infovis-2011

AT &T Labs Research Information Visualisation.  http://www.research.att.com/groups/infovis/ (And they’re looking for staff!!)

Bertini, Enrico.  I fell in love with data [blog].  Here he lists the most important papers to read on information visualisation. http://fellinlovewithdata.com/guides/7-classic-foundational-vis-papers and more useful stuff at http://infosthetics.com/archives/author/enrico_bertini/

MARKETING

There is a journal devoted to this topic:Marketing library services. http://www.infotoday.com/mls/jan11/index.shtml as well as a track at the upcoming ‘Computers in Libraries‘ Conference (March, Washington DC): http://www.infotoday.com/cil2011/day.asp?day=Monday#TrackD.

Dempsey, Kathy. 2009.  The accidental library marketer.  Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc. is a recent book on this topic.  A book review of this item appears at http://www.infotoday.com/mls/jan11/Book-Review-The-Accidental-Library-Marketer.shtml, explaining why this is important for librarians.

Ideas for marketing can be found at the blog New marketing trends: marketing ideas for non-profits and libraries. http://themwordblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/2011-john-cotton-dana-library-public.html

Marketing in 2011. http://www.margieclayman.com/ten-questions-and-answers-about-2011-marketing

Many of you will be aware of the IFLA Marketing Award: http://www.ifla.org/management-and-marketing/marketing-award

THE DIGITAL USER

This is a useful and recent starting point: Digital library futures: user perspectives and institutional strategies.  2010.  Edited by Ingeborg Verheul, Anna Maria Tammaro & Steve Witt.  Berlin/Munich: De Gruyter Saur.

Enhancing user interactions in digital libraries is a useful blog, with plenty of examples as well.  http://boonious.typepad.com/ux2/2011/01/index.html

CROWD SOURCING AND MASH-UPS

‘Crowdsourcing’ is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘outsourcing’.  In the information world, it means getting a range of opinions and ideas from which to choose – hopefully this choice means you will discern the best possible information.

Interesting sites and software can be found at this blog: Readwriteweb.  http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/crowdsourcing_million_heads.php

Crowdsourcing in action can be experienced at this blog:  http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/

This leads naturally into the next topic:

SEMANTIC WEB

The Semantic Web continues to develop. Some latest news: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/parc_releases_new_semantic_technology_in_form_of_an_outlook_plugin.php

There is, in fact, a semantic web association (there had to be, I suppose): http://iswc.semanticweb.org/

A guide to the top recent software for the semantic web:  http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/top_10_semantic_web_products_of_2010.php and http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/semantic-web/

There are a couple of conferences coming up on the topic, too (aren’t there always?  In fact, who has the time and money to attend all of these conferences?????)

The 10th International Conference on the semantic web is being held in Germany this year: http://iswc2011.semanticweb.org/

There is, interestingly enough, a call for papers on the topic of semantic web and collaboration (through social networking).  Check it out: http://www.wikicfp.com/cfp/servlet/event.showcfp?eventid=11843&copyownerid=9889

Combining with information visualisation, there is a conference in Palo Alto on Visual interfaces to the social and semantic web, but as it’s this Sunday, I don’t suppose many of you will be able to go, even if you really wanted to! http://www.smart-ui.org/events/vissw2011/

In Europe – Crete, Greece, to be precise – the EU is holding a conference on the Extended Semantic Web. http://www.future-internet.eu/events/eventview/article/eswc2011-the-8th-extended-semantic-web-conference.html

CLOUDWORKS

Cloud computing predictions for 2011.  http://www.computerworlduk.com/in-depth/cloud-computing/3253266/cloud-computing-2011-predictions/http://www.cio.com/article/645763/Cloud_Computing_2011_Predictionshttp://www.cloudtweaks.com/2010/11/2011-cloud-computing-predictions/http://searchcloudcomputing.techtarget.com/feature/Cloud-computing-in-2011-Whats-on-tap;

ACM Symposium on Cloud computinghttp://socc2011.gsd.inesc-id.pt/


One other link that some of you may be interested in is the South African framework for digital resources, available at: http://digi.nrf.ac.za/publ/Managing%20Digital%20Collections.pdf

Underneath each of these topics, I have inserted linked to some of the seminal sites in the respective area.

TWO QUESTIONS:

What other topics are important to you and should be discussed here?

Would you like to contribute a paragraph or two on why you find this essential/intriguing/important or whatever?

This is long.  That’s what happens when information professionals get going.  We know there’s so much out there.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Sue