Alchemical Thoughts

Presentation Notes: “People Watching” Satellite Presentation

Posted on: February 19, 2008

This was kind of disappointing to be perfectly honest. I was expecting something a bit more practical, and it ended up being one of those "brag" sessions where a couple of libraries told us of the cool stuff they do and some vignettes which were pretty much on the blah side. Considering the speakers they featured, I did expect a bit more practical advice. What can I say? I can at least add it to my end-of-year brag sheet as continuing education.

The event: "People Watching with a Purpose" Satellite workshop from College of DuPage. We hosted it locally.

Presentation Date: February 8, 2008.

Speakers at the session: Ann Bishop, of UIUC, and Nancy Kranich, who labels herself as a "Civic Librarian" and is a past ALA President.

Invited speaker: Dr. Jose Lopez, of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago. He described programs specific to his community needs. Sees education as engaging in the exercise of freedom.

The session began by providing a definition of the term "community informatics." It is a field that looks at geographic communities and is rooted in engagement and development. If I sound vague, it is because the presenters pretty much gave vague definitions. Here is Wikipedia's definition of the term, which I think is a bit more helpful. An LIS student (in the presentation) defined it as how communities use information to meet their needs.

The digital divide is about more than connectivity, according to the presenters. The issue also has to address meaningful content, the capability and skills of a computer user, and the context of the users and their communities.

Kranich stated that libraries are about opportunities. Bringing people together from various parts of the community. A lot of her idea is to get the library to promote social engagement (sounds good to me).

  • Library as social place.
  • Library as public forum.
  • Library as civic information center, including engagement with public officials.
  • Library as public advocate.
  • Embedding librarians in the community.

I actually love the ideas above, but sadly, we did not get a lot of "nuts and bolts" information on how to actually do it. Other than, "oh look, this place does it," and some generic vignettes, no actual "this is how you do it, how you set it up," etc. In addition, some of the above do bring up some questions in terms of how much a library should be involved, or its librarians. I am thinking it goes with that illusion of the librarian as being neutral in providing information. As usual, for me, the truth is not that simple, but I will leave that to some other post.

The second vignette actually caused one of our attendees here to remark, "they have staff to do this?" referring to the one librarian in the vignette being dedicated to outside projects. It was a good question; what the vignette illustrated was not really very realistic. At least, it did not seem so to those of us watching the presentation.

A problem, according to the presenters, is the alienation of the individual from the community and its politics. This to me is nothing new. One could write all sorts of rants and opinion pieces and maybe even papers on the topic.

Update Note (2/28/08): Rory Litwin has his take on the presentation, connecting it to Freire's work. I knew some of the discussion had to be influenced by Freire's work from my previous readings, but still found the presentation too light. However, Litwin's post is worth a look.

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