Sunday, November 27, 2005

I found a new blog today on international libraries. There are only three posts as of today, but I'm intrigued at what this person will find. Here is the link

Check out the second post and related links. It's about a bookmobile service in northeastern Kenya - traveling by way of camel!!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Okay, here are the instructions for a paper I've been working on for several days:

"Compare two models or theories of information behavior. Your paper should demonstrate how well you understand the key concepts, assumptions, contexts, and practice implications of the frameworks that you choose to compare. It should also demonstrate your ability to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and critically reflect on the range of ideas presented by the frameworks chosen."

The instructions go on from there. So how does that sound? Though it was killing me at first, I am having so much fun writing this paper!! Obviously getting a decent grade is a hope of mine, but even more so, I really want to understand the two theories I'm comparing.

I chose to compare Granovetter's Strength of Weak Ties and Elfreda Chatman's Information Poverty. In a nutshell, SWT says that people are "tied" to each other by strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are people you know and trust (close friends, family). Weak ties are people you don't know as well, but have contact with and get information from (possibly co-workers, other acquaintances). Granovetter believes that people who have strong ties are similar to one another and generally have the same information sources. Acquaintances are less likely to be similar and more likely to have a wider variety of beliefs, thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. A community that has no links to "outsiders" is a very insular group and doesn't learn a lot information outside of their own experiences. Granovetter believes ideas and information travel through these weak ties. A lack of weak ties leads to a fragmented society. Very interesting.

Chatman's theory says that some groups of people, because of social norms, lack of ability, etc, choose not to seek information. You see this very often with poor people. It can also happen with people who don't have good technology skills or easy access to information. The idea of information poverty is very interesting.

While researching these theories I came across an excellent article by an 'information professional' in South Africa, Johannes Britz. His article, To know or not to know: a moral reflection on information poverty, was published in 2004 in the Journal of Information Science. Go find it and read it!

A few tidbits from the article:
“Information poverty is not restricted or limited to a technology/digital divide only. The information divide is not limited to the ‘technology insiders’ and ‘technology outsiders’ of cyberspace. It is a much more complex phenomenon including issues such as cultural and language diversity, levels of education and the ability/inability to access and benefit from information. Furthermore, the divide between the information rich and the information poor is not only a divide between societies and countries. It occurs also between individuals who might share the same cultural and physical space."
"It can be concluded that information poverty affects the quality of life of the vast majority of people on this earth. It has considerable social, political, cultural and economic implications, and therefore solutions must be found."
"In Egypt the minimum information standard for its citizens is affordable access to the Internet and a computer for every household. As an outcome of a National Information Project, which was initiated by the Egyption government, it was decided in 2000 that Internet services would be provided free to all Egyptian citizens. The only cost would be the telephone call. This was followed by a so-called 'computer for every home' project according to which the government subsidizes computers for poor households by means of easy instalments. Two other examples are the Netherlands and South Africa. In the Netherlands it was decided to provide the homeless with a permanent e-mail address. As early as 1994 the South African government drew up a policy that it should be possible for each South African to be within walking distance of a telephone."

And we whine when we get lousy cell-phone service while we're on our air-conditioned buses driving through town.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Bonus thought for the day, a quote I saw today:
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." --James Nicoll
We spent time last week talking about the reference interview. What a fascinating subject! Here are a couple of the quotes I've pulled out of the reading:
"The famous dictum, 'Speech was given to man to conceal thought,' is often forcibly brought into mind by the ingenuity with which visitors of the reference-room succeed in hiding their desires behind their questions" (Woodruff, 1897).

The most salient features of the reference interview are "mind-reading and cross examination" (Wyer, 1930).

"You see they will choke to death and die with the secret in them rather than tell you what they want" (Wyer).
Surely this can't be so! When a person goes to a library, don't they want help? Don't they want information? Why are people so difficult?

The problem comes down to 'how one person tries to find out what another person wants to know, when the latter cannot describe his need precisely" (Taylor, 1968). I guess you can think about it like a word. You know when you are trying to think of a word? You practically end up playing charades with people, trying to describe the thought or idea behind this word, trying to define it, but you don't really know or can't remember. And it's hard to describe a vague thought or feeling, and sometimes the descriptions you come up with have nothing to do with what the word really is.

So that's point one: people want information about something they can't even begin to describe.

But there is more than that.

Often, people will have looked everywhere themselves before they come to the librarian. When they come to the librarian to ask for help, they are admitting they failed, they couldn't find the information, they aren't good enough. (A bit exaggerated it would seem, but some people feel this way.) A lot of people hate to ask for help!

People often don't realize that finding information is a librarian's job. So they feel like they can't ask because they'd be bothering the librarian, or asking a dumb question, or it's not worthwhile, etc. (Unfortunately there are some librarians who make you feel this way - they're bad!)

Some people are shy. They are embarrassed about whatever they need to know and they'd rather muddle through on their own than ask someone.

Sometimes people direct their question to the librarian based on what sources of information they think are available. Say a person really wants to find out where Lincoln was born. They figure the answer will be in a book (undoubtedly) so they'll just ask for a book on presidents, or maybe even a book on Lincoln. Then they'll have to skim through the book till they find the answer. There are MUCH BETTER ways to find information that librarians know all about.

So just get over it and tell the librarian what you really want!! Geesh! =)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I found an amazing article today, and an amazing quote. I was flipping through the November issue of American Libraries and came upon their international section. The title of the article was Have MLS, Will Travel. It was an interview of several people working in school libraries around the world: Vietnam, Bolivia, Saudia Arabia, Hong Kong, the Phillippines, etc.

It started off:
Here are four questions that could change your life: Do you like to travel and have a spirit of adventure? Are you interested in learning firsthand about other cultures? Do you enjoy being a librarian but want a change from your current position? Have you considered becoming a librarian in an international school?
Hmm, very interesting... In an interview with one woman, her reason for going abroad was:
“A friend reminded me that I had been interested in mission work years before and maybe this was the time to trust God and make the move,” she says. That “move” eventually guided her to library positions in Bolivia, Ecuador, and the Philippines.

The last paragraph of the article was so touching to me:
Van Brocklin shared this anecdote: “I always think of my first year of working in the Bolivian school and a parent who showed up in tears after the first week of school. They were convinced their kindergarten son had ‘stolen’ a book from the school because the idea of a lending library was just totally new to them. . . . It was that kind of experience that I knew I was in the right place.”
Wow, I can't imagine not knowing what a library is, or not having experience with a library that lends books! This is what it's all about for me. In classes it sometimes seems like it's all going to end. No more books, no more journals, everything online or in some weird form, and everything is crazy. Well it hasn't happened yet. And I think of poorer countries that just don't have the infrastructure for people to have internet in every home. For some people books are the only option; and many are too poor to even afford these.

This is from the Probigua website:
In Guatemala, where 50% of the population cannot read, educational opportunities are severely limited by a lack of access to books and other written material.
Most towns and villages do not have libraries; neither do the public schools, which also do not supply any textbooks. Parents, many of whom earn the minimum wage of only $18 per week, simply cannot afford to buy books for their children.
Instructional methods in the public schools are limited to listening to the teacher and copying what is written on the blackboard. Many children simply do not learn to read and drop out of school after a few years. Many of those who do achieve some literacy begin losing it as they grow older. Only 10% attend school past sixth grade. As adults, most of these children are limited to doing manual labor - when they can find it.
Probigua is a non-profit Spanish language school. They donate all their profits to building libraries in the country.
As of 2004 our project has started, and is maintaining, 23 libraries as well as the first mobile library of Guatemala. For use by the early education reading programs we have established 350 reading corners in school and libraries under the motivation: "Book by book Guatemala will change." Furthermore, we have opened 16 computer centers and installed additional computers in 14 libraries. Our goal is to improve the services in our existing libraries and to provide access to technology to many children and teachers in rural areas. Tuition fees for Academia de Español support the libraries and provide scholarships for youngsters to attend school beyond sixth grade.
This sounds like an excellent program to me and I'm hoping to visit there in March.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

One thing public libraries have to deal with is homeless people (wow, I don't like how that was phrased). I found this blog post talking about the library as shelter.

There was an interesting quote in the blog:
Fear in all its forms stands out. It seems to take the shape of a giant circle of mutuality: the shelter staff and other providers are afraid of the homeless and the homeless are afraid of the staff; the citizen on the street, the merchant the householder, and whole communities fear the homeless, and the homeless fear the non-homeless citizens. And to complete the circle, the homeless are afraid of the homeless. Thus, everyone is afraid of the homeless, including the homeless themselves, and what is so terrible and intractable about this situation is that everyone is right to be afraid.

Right to be afraid?!? Why!? Why is it right to be afraid of the homeless? In any interaction with a homeless person are you likely to be mugged? I don't know. I'm not sure what the fear is. Although, I've had it myself wandering through downtown Seattle on my own. What am I afraid of?

I then read an excellent post on a friend's blog. Actually, the part I enjoyed was in the comment. Here is the whole exchange.

But how does this translate to libraries? Sure there can be a Christian (or 'good person') response to homeless or poor people in the library. But can you expect that from librarians or other patrons in the library? I wish. The comment to the first blog entry is quite interesting.

I have no answers. I don't know if I'll be working in public libraries...but I'm interested in this 'problem' of a population that needs information as well and are feared so much in our society (and apparently other parts of the world as well).