I’m listening to Randall Stross’ Planet Google in the car during my 2-hour round trip commute.
I’m finding that he is able to articulate some of my persistent thoughts about “democratization of information” and how our students are growing up in a dramatically different information environment than the one I did.
His first chapter deals with “open” v. “closed” information environments on the web. I think it applies to libraries and librarians as well. [This chapter, incidentally, came into my life on the heels of my having just read a rather amusing comment left on the ISTE blog by a teacher, where he spoke of his school library using these words: “probably alone, the librarian sat in her information monarchy.” This shows me that the outdated view of information still exists among a certain portion of the population – even within education itself. Librarians and other information professionals are still sometimes viewed as information gatekeepers; the priestly caste of literati (and perhaps now, technorati) that must interpret information for the masses. He cites this as an example of why schools no longer need “bricks-and-mortar” libraries. It is this attitude, however, which shows me that libraries, librarians, and their accompanying information literacy programs must endure – because we are not in the business of withholding information for the chosen few – but we are trying to teach others to be self-sufficient on their quests for information. And so, this is my second “Need Feed” posting.]
Back to Planet Google. Stross describes very well the difference “open” and “closed” information environments. Google has built its technology upon the cooperation of information providers who do not put up blocks to the “spider” or “webcrawler” that scans documents on the web so that they can be displayed as search results. It was important for me to be reminded that when web technology was first introduced, not all information was open and searchable. Publishing was (and often still is) based upon competition, where access was governed by those who possessed the information. He cites DIALOG and some of the other information databases that I remember learning in Library School as examples – we were taught how to do super-efficient searches because our sessions were being timed and paid for by the minute. I still like the idea of efficient searches, but with search engines, information is now available to all and for free.
Now, the quality of this information has changed, because along with open access comes open information creation. Stross brings up wikis, collaboratively created information which people can access freely, and can edit as well. The editorial control we have with (some) closed information environments is gone. So while information is more accessible, and librarians are not the “gatekeepers” they once were, there is still a strong need to be critical evaluators of information. The “gatekeeper” role was the result of the information environment, and I believe that most librarians are very willing to relinquish this role in exchange for helping people become more information literate themselves. Isn’t the goal of any teacher that the student eventually can function on their own and not be needed?
So as the information environment changes, we see more information sharing, less competition, and that “democratization of information” we hear about and I am particularly pleased by. But that change in environment has shifted the focus of, not eliminated, our need for information professionals and information literacy education.