Libraries As The People’s University: A Charge To Keep

More than this is available in this week’s podcast! —

Over the week that was I happened upon an article in the Daily Telegraph. In an opinion piece entitled, How the Rumour Mill mafia is destroying everybody’s savings, Jeff Randall discussed the concept of the Rumor Mill and how it impacts our Amazoogle World today.

A matter like this has everything to do with librarianship….

I must quote the opening lead to his piece: “Much has dried up in today’s money markets. Confidence, trust and integrity have been burnt away by a blazing credit crunch. For many investors, the landscape is looking like a parched river bed on which the bare bones of their once-lucrative savings are turning white.”

The rest of the piece outlined the specifics of how some scares in the financial markets were initiated by acts of communication. To see the collapse of Northern Rock and Bear Sterns in a different light, such was fueled by the creation of panic among investors. The banks themselves were apparently in decent condition. What hit them hard was the creation of panic. As noted later in Mr. Randall’s piece, the transactions in markets are not matters of spreading risks but rather are matters akin to what I would find at casinos near me like Sunset Station and the Gold Rush Casino.

While at first glance this may seem to be a great lecture in social policy the question is naturally begged as to what this might have to do with librarianship. A matter like this has everything to do with librarianship. While we may be invading the spaces of Web 2.0 we still cannot escape the responsibility of being the People’s University.

What should a librarian do? First and foremost we have to include the teaching of responsibility if we teach classes about Web 2.0 things. While Web 2.0 technologies make the world a smaller place they also have dangers to them. The biggest one is the ability to instigate panics. With things such as “Rick Rolls” and other such matters, the means of capturing someone’s attention grow.

While innocent pranks may be one thing, what if those techniques are used for something more sinister? There are already some preliminary reports in the Telegraph about actual “dirty tricks” units being established to try to knock banks down. In one report, an unnamed hedge fund based in London mounted a cyber-attack to batter bank HSBC to short a stock. Many of the techniques employed are similar to those used in pranks for fun.

What helps fuel economic problems? Communications. Prior to the Great Depression there were earlier instances of economic collapse in the United States. It took a while but the country weathered them. With the creation of a mass media it became harder to get out of such due to reinforcement of views that no hope is in sight.

Now take the perceived decline of established news media relevance and mix in the disintermediation brought about by things such as blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, and the like. Considering how human beings rarely act on rational impulses once a climate of fear is created, we have a quite avoidable powder keg waiting. The role of a librarian in all this is simple yet new. In a culture that Andrew Keen has termed as the Cult of the Amateur, librarians must now turn to a form of teaching that is not merely about how to find the books wanted on the shelf. We have to teach content creators morality. Just because something can be done does not mean that it necessarily should be done.

As was said originally about atomic power, we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. The question now is, what moral standards should govern these feats of software engineering?