Intellectual freedom and the role of the librarian

banendbooksAs Banned Books Week nears, I got to thinking about intellectual freedom and the role of the librarian. This topic is basically a minefield for new librarians, but one I haven’t professionally encountered yet. No one has come to me asking to have a book banned. But it is important to realize the extent to which the idea of intellectual freedom pervades librarianship – for good or ill.

The support for intellectual freedom is codified into our professional ethics by the American Library Association:

“The ALA promotes the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinions even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those viewpoints to all who wish to read them.”

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Review: Ready Player One

I read this a long time ago, and I have yet to review it. However, it was so good and made me think about a lot of digital issues that are relevant, that I figured it should get its own post. rpo

Ready Player One is Ernest Cline was one of the most fun, fast-reading adventure books I’ve read this year. In it, Wade Watts is a poor orphaned teen who escapes the horrible junkyard the world of 2044 has become into OASIS, the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation, a virtual world created by James Halliday – a visionary who was as obsessed with the 1980’s as he was with creating the best video game ever. Like many a visionary in his field, he hid his very own video game easter egg. Whoever solved the mystery, would earn the right to his entire fortune. Those hunting for it – called “gunters” or egg hunters – have been searching since 2014. It took an 18-year-old trailer park rat – Wade Watts – to discover the first key in 2045. Ready Player One is his story. Well his story, and a love letter to all things 80’s, with a special focus on videogames.

But OASIS is more than just a video game. OASIS is a huge simulation that serves many purposes – from educational zone to brothel. Wade himself described his upbringing in the virtual world:

“I was more or less raised by the OASIS’s interactive educational programs, which any kid could access for free. I spent a big chunk of my childhood hanging out in a virtual-reality simulation of Sesame Street, singing songs with friendly Muppets and playing interactive games that taught me how to walk, talk, add, subtract, read, write, and share. Once I’d mastered those skills, it didn’t take me long to discover that OASIS was also the world’s biggest public library, where even a penniless kid like me had access to every book ever written, every song ever recorded, and every movie, television show, videogame, and piece of artwork ever created.” p. 15-16
This is an outstanding dystopian adventure novel. While the geek references are many and varied, it is so much more than its geekery. Cline provides a smart puzzle, as well as thoughtful commentary on topics that are highly relevant, from Internet equality to prejudice in all its forms to the power of information. Here are some thoughts I had as I was reading.

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Awareness and Acceptance: The Library’s role

A library science student came to the library today for help with a project that was quite similar to one I did while pursuing me own degree. In both you have to visit libraries in person and evaluate their services, as well as compare and contrast them. One of her questions was this: What is the mission of your library and who do you serve? My library’s mission statement stresses the need to meet both the entertainment and educational needs of my county’s residents, as well as patrons who come to us from the surrounding areas. As a huge supporter of lifelong learning (it is the source of inspiration for my blog’s name), I love my library’s focus on education. During my conversation with the student, I realized that many have a very narrow understanding of education. Generally, people see education as the structured process by which people earn a piece of paper that certifies that they learned something. This student can be forgiven for her misplaced focus because she is actually a teacher going for her library media specialization, but that’s not how I view lifelong learning at all. Instead, I believe learning is any knowledge acquired through experiences, whether those experiences be reading, watching, listening, or interacting. So when I say the library can support learning, I mean we can support it in more than just providing educational books or movies. Instead, I think the library has a vital role in teaching through example. Although, I think every business has the opportunity to better the world in this way. I was disheartened to see this headline in my own state: “Mother Says Bob Evans Customer Called Police On Her Son With Autism.”

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Librariesandautism.org.

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit Librariesandautism.org.

When I was a library student, I did several projects on the role libraries can play in supporting those patrons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is actually covers a variety of behavioral disorders that impair speech and ability to interact with others at varying levels. Autism is one, but so is Asperger Syndrome and Rett Syndrome, among others. Through my research I learned that the best way to handle the situation in the link is to offer to help the caretaker, taking care to approach without making eye contact with or touching the ASD individual. Calling the police or trying to restrain or approach the ASD individual are both bad ideas.I developed a website to provide information, resources and readers’ advisory suggestions for librarians seeking to better serve their ASD populations (Be gentle. We were not allowed to use web design techniques not taught in the class, and we had to include several Javascript gimmicks that I hate as well). I also wrote a research paper studying the ways libraries can offer employment opportunities to those on the spectrum and suggesting a pilot partnership program that worked with a school serving autistic children and adults. By serving these patrons we provide acceptance and understanding, as well as an example for those who are unsure how act around those that are different from them.

Those with ASD we can help by accepting and understanding. The American Library Association offers an array of resources focuses on serving those that are different from us in a way that helps our other patrons be more aware and accepting. Here is a list of more resources:

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transexual Roundtable: This subsection of ALA focuses on those whose gender identity differs from the “norm” (I hate that term!), although the norm is thankfully beginning to be more inclusive of everyone.
  • Youth Services and ASD: This link further discusses the role libraries can serve those with ASD, especially youth.
  • Diversity: Libraries can serve as powerful advocates for supporting diversity inside and outside the library. It’s our differences that make us beautiful, whether our differences are visible or under the service, they should be embraced and celebrated.

HLSDITL: Day 7

This is my final post of the Hack Library School’s Library Student Day in the Life week. For those of you who are here because of that, thanks for visiting! Read all of my HLSDITL posts here. And visit the LSDITL page for a list of everyone who participated. 

Hello, friends! Welcome to my last post for the Library Student Day in the Life week. It’s been fun and definitely not as difficult as I thought it would be to come up with seven consecutive posts that related with some aspect of my normal week. I just wanted to say thanks for visiting, commenting or liking my posts. While I won’t be able to post everyday in the future, I will continue to post on the topics I’ve introduced this week. If you liked what you read, go ahead and follow me. If you hate what I said, leave a comment explaining why. I love conversations, and I’d love to hear from people about their opinions on libraries, library schools and book reviews.

Now, down to business! As far as school is concerned, if you remember my post breaking down my weekly schedule, Sunday is the day I try to do the least school work, except for the hourlong Skype discussion I have with my ethics group. Today we talked about some of the privacy topics I mentioned in Friday’s post. The most interesting tidbit was from a student who just moved to Italy to teach English. She informed us that they have a “controlled” society which she described as “a little bit like living in 1984.” Not only are there a variety of surveillance cameras where she is, there is the completely acceptable expectation that the government and police are listening. Which was interesting considering the text had said European countries are more likely to be concerned with privacy.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

Online classes require you to take responsibility for your education.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hyde.

But this synchronous aspect of my asynchronous program got me thinking about the overall online program at UMD. As far as online programs go, one of the reasons I chose UMD is because the classes met completely asynchronously. Although there are deadlines, you get about a week to post discussions (though, some professors prefer you post on the first day and return to post responses as the week wears on). More than that, you get to pick the time of day to do work, which is ideal if you work a night job like I was (many synchronous programs hold their weekly class meetings at night thinking they are accommodating their students).

But this is the first semester where a professor required synchronous discussions that would be live in some way (phone, Skype, Google Hangout, etc.). It was difficult to pick a time that worked for four different people, especially when one moved to Italy half way through the semester. But to be honest, once the hurdle of picking a time was cleared, the discussions have actually been really interesting. Something about hearing someone’s arguments out loud can make it easier to respond on the fly. I think professors requiring sourced, lengthy replies for each post can make debate a little stale and less off-the-cuff. This allows for a balance of working through issues together and making fully supported arguments later once we are more fully able to understand each side.

If you have a more flexible schedule but still can’t move close to a school, you might find synchronous online classes up your alley, since they require weekly class meetings where you can take advantage of this type of interaction. But if you have a pretty strict schedule, asynchronous will likely be the way you’ll have to go. The key with graduate school, especially online, is that a lot of the responsibility falls on you. You must make sure you put in the amount of effort it requires you to learn in these courses and you must be proactive in making sure you are getting what you want to learn from them. UMD’s online degree is very generalized, but most professors allow you to follow your interests within each class. So if you want to work at a university, you can focus your research on academic libraries. If you want to work with children in public libraries, you can focus on that. As long as you can tie it into the class subject, most professors give you a little leeway in that regard.

If I could go back in time, would I pick the online route again? Well, sometimes I miss the camaraderie of commiserating or celebrating with my fellow students as we walk across the quad (they still call it that, right?) after class. But, the online learning environment is actually well-suited to my preferences. I just wish some professors would interact with us a little more. In undergrad, I befriended many professors and I still talk to them today. It’s difficult to build that relationship with professors you have never actually met. Although, it’s nice when professors record weekly video messages or short lectures, like my ethics professor does. It makes it easier to relate to her.

Would I recommend to aspiring library students UMD’s online program? That one is a little more tough. UMD’s online program is still in its infancy. It was launched in 2011, and they’ve only just graduated their first cohort this past August. And, they only just allowed two specializations (School Library and Government Information Management and Services), which are quite different from the general degree. The biggest problem? There is no flexibility. If you want to take an extra course that interests you, you’ll have to jump through hoops and then you might still be denied access. They have some good reasons, but it really has rubbed some in the program the wrong way. Personally, I can educate myself on many of these topics, so I’m okay with them picking my courses because it means I get my degree faster and I am guaranteed a spot in those classes, so I don’t have to worry about graduating late. However, it seems like they should easily give the option to those that want a little variety or more control. Bottom line, give UMD another year or two for them to iron out the kinks. That will give you a chance to get some real world experience before you enroll straight into grad school, something I definitely recommend.