The Importance of Deep Reading

I’ve long wondered about the differences between reading in print, reading online, and reading in mobile formats. Science is bearing out my belief that our brains apprehend and process language differently in different mediums.

Technology is changing the way we read, with a much greater emphasis on skimming and speed reading. Apps like Spritz—well-intentioned though they may be—intrinsically promote an idea that reading isn’t worth investing time, a belief that deep reading is flawed because it’s inefficient.

I can’t believe that this is a good thing. So I was very happy to read this article:

Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer by Annie Murphy Paul (posted by Time on June 3, 2013)

It’s an excellent summary of the importance of deep reading. Intentional, invested, slow reading.
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Thoughts on Mobile Reference

Digital librarians spend a lot of time thinking about online and mobile reference. Reference is the core service of libraries—helping people find the information they need is what librarians have been doing for centuries.

We need to explore methods to translate reference services into digital environments. I’m happy to see all the work being done on this front.

One of the concerns that comes up pretty often in discussions of mobile reference is the competition with online, crowd-sourced Q&A services like Yahoo Answers. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m convinced that this concern is a red herring.

I don’t believe that libraries should try to compete with these services. Because I’m not at all convinced that libraries should be in the business of casual Q&A.
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Book Review: Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger

Everything Is Miscellaneous book cover
Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger. New York: Times Books, 2007.
The central thesis of Everything Is Miscellaneous is one with which I completely agree: digital information environments allow us to organize, access, and interact with information in new and previously undreamt ways. It allows us to transcend the limitations of physical storage and communication media, to free information to be everywhere and anywhere all at the same time.

It allows information to be whatever we need, whenever we need it. There exists more potential now to add more value, not just to information itself, but to the ways we access and interact with it. Mr. Weinberger offers us a powerful and compelling vision for our digital information world.

These three quotes perfectly sum up what this book is about:

From p. 212:

The difference in the digital order is the difference between the annoying interactions you have on a product support line… and the conversations you have with real people. … The potential for connections from the trivial to the urgent is characteristic of the new miscellany. We are busily creating as many of these meaningful connections as we can.

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Echo Chambers

There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve voiced my concern about the internet and social media being a giant echo chamber, a forum which encourages solipsism and makes it easy for us to avoid challenge, disagreement, and other perspectives.

I’ve concluded that I’m wrong about this. Not that there aren’t plenty of solipsistic echo chambers online, but it’s nothing to do with the inherent nature of the internet or social media. It’s to do with the inherent nature of human beings.

Consider—Outside of school and work assignments, no one is required to read books they don’t want, to talk to people they don’t like, to see or listen to things they don’t agree with, and many people don’t. We’ve always either avoided or sought out challenge and disagreement, accord and reinforcement, each based on our individual natures. Preaching to the choir, seeking affirmation of our beliefs and opinions, burying our heads in the sand… These things have always been how we behave.

Very few individuals handle disagreement or conflict well. Most people do everything they can to avoid it. This has always been true.

The internet may bring our echo chambers to a larger scale and make them more explicit—but this isn’t a flaw inherent to the internet itself. Indeed, maybe making our echo chambers so much more explicit helps us to counter them.

And the internet also makes it easier than ever before in history for people to encounter ideas and perspectives they never knew existed. This is a good thing, no matter how much it sometimes makes us uncomfortable and scares us.

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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