Education & Empowerment

Education and the empowerment of marginalized people are essential values for me. They form the core of my ethics, my morality. This is why I chose to go into public library service.

For the past several decades, we’ve witnessed a steady and dramatic increase in the gap between those who hold the greatest wealth and power, and those who don’t. More wealth lies in the hands of fewer people than ever before in the modern world, and more people in the middle and lower classes are struggling harder just to get by. Fewer companies control larger portions of industry and the market. We’re witnessing the destructive consequences of this.

Those who possess wealth and power have a vested interest in holding on to it and in guarding it against those who would compete with them for it. Over the past several decades, those who control the purse strings have been enforcing changes in our nation’s educational milieu and social empowerment systems to produce the kinds of workers who will fit harmlessly into the economic and social structures that reinforce the wealthy and powerful in their power and wealth. The last thing powerful people want is to lift up those who would threaten their position.

The last thing they want is the kind of universal education and social empowerment that public libraries hold as a core value.
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SF as Psychological Exploration

I love this article exploring the connections between storytelling and memory:

What Novels Can Tell Us About Memory by Charles Fernyhough (posted on The Huffington Post on January 28, 2014)

We’re storytelling creatures, it’s built into the most essential processes of our consciousness. Storytelling and memory are how we define our identities—biological, individual, social, cultural.

As always, whenever I think about identity and storytelling, I think about why I love SF stories and novels.

I’ve long believed that SF (speculative fiction—scifi, fantasy, horror) offers the best venue for us to explore what it means to be human: biologically, personally, socially, culturally.

SF allows us to create situations as extreme as we can conceive, and then imagine how people might behave, react, adapt to them.

In trying to imagine beings that aren’t human at all—aliens, fantastical creatures, paranormal entities—the contrast throws into stark relief what it means to be human.

Consider how our sense of self must change when we imagine how we might be changed through science or magic: technological enhancements to our bodies; computer enhanced consciousness; bodiless consciousness; transfiguration. How must humanity be defined when we adapt ourselves to multiple worlds? When we transcend corporeality and become patterns of information in a matrix? When we exist across and outside of perceived linear time? When we can transform ourselves into other sorts of creatures?

When we radically alter the most basic elements of our existence, what’s left? What are the irreducible, essential things that make us human? How much can be changed—in ourselves, in our environment—before we stop being human?

How varied can human beings become and still be contained in humankind?

SF is one big thought experiment exploring the breadth and depth, the capacity and essence, the potential of human nature.

It’s said that art holds up a mirror to the world. SF allows us to create mirrors that are unlike anything else.

On the Nature of Information & Patron Value

In grad school, we spent a huge amount of time debating the nature of data, information, knowledge, and even wisdom.

On January 8, 2014, I tweeted the following:

It’s the most popular thing I’ve ever tweeted.

A couple of people took issue with my use of the word “information”. One person argued that information refers to things like bus schedules but not to things like the First Folio of Shakespeare.

I explained to this person that I used “information” in my tweet to refer to the entire corpus of recorded human thought and effort. Twitter isn’t the proper venue for detailed discussions of grammatical nuance.

But what I wanted to say in response was this:
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The Value of Movie Collections in Libraries

No one argues that essential titles from the history of literature should be in a library collection, even if they rarely circulate. Plutarch, for example: his writings aren’t exactly high circ but most public libraries have him in their collections, and just about everyone agrees that he should be there. Some titles are necessary in order to say you boast a complete and worthy collection. Literacy is more than simply teaching people to read—it’s also about teaching them to read well and widely. Complete and worthy collections are essential to that goal.

When it comes to books, it’s understood and acknowledged that certain titles stay in the collection even if they don’t meet required circ levels. These titles have a cultural value that trumps their circ value.

But I rarely if ever see a similar trump applied when libraries weed their movie collections. There doesn’t seem to be an understanding that certain films are important. If a library has a DVD of one of the foundational works of cinema and it doesn’t circulate, it seems that no one thinks twice about weeding it.
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