Category Archives: Access to information

How real people approach the information challenge

Since about 4th grade we’ve all had the sender/message/receiver communications graphic etched in our Big Brain. In thinking about the path between sender and receiver we have focused mainly on the sender and on how to evaluate the content and validity of a message.  Though we’ve parsed the sender and the message, we have paid less attention to the intangible characteristic of the receiver.

In olden times, before the digital engulfed the information environment, we took for granted that the path between source and receiver was marked by guiderails and a variety of filters.   Research about end users focused on user skills rather than on the unique characteristics of the receiver.  Very little attention has been paid to the complexities that surround the conditions – particularly the attitudes of information consumers.

Clearly, social media has totally disrupted the paradigm. The challenge of the digital age is to think about the delivery system that links source with users, to reassess the role of filters, to address the unencumbered flow of disinformation and misinformation (which are not synonymous terms).  Today the spotlight is shifting in subtle ways to focus on the ways in which the receiver perceives and engages with the unfiltered message – and on how the source embraces the power to pre-determine not only the message but the target audience.

The time has come to take a close look at the characteristics of the receiver.

To some extent the library world has taken a lead in highlighting the power of the receiver, the ultimate information filter.  For decades librarians and educators have underscored, identified, and worked diligently to inculcate the skills and attitudes of information users.  >>>

A recent article published by the Pew Research Center suggests that we need to be thinking now not only of the skills but the attitudes of the receiver Though I am not inclined to test out the latest self-examination tool, what got me thinking is a simple test to determine ‘How People Approach Facts and Information.’

To be honest, I had not thought much about the reality that “people deal in varying ways with tensions about what information to trust and how much they want to learn.  Some are interested and engaged with information; others are wary and stressed.”

Pew researchers created what they called an “information engagement typology” that highlights the differing ways in which Americans deal with cross pressures.  The typology identified five broad dimensions of people’s “engagement with information on a scale ranging from “eager and willing” to “wary”. Researchers concluded that identifiable elements stand out when it comes to the enthusiasm of information gatherers – their level of trust in information sources and their interest in learning, particularly about digital skills.”

Noting that, to date the focus has been on critical thinking skills, information literacy, how to assess both the source and content of the information – not so much on “their interest in learning” the Pew researchers observed:

There are times when these factors align – when people trust an information source and they are eager to learn, or when they distrust sources and have less interest in learning.  There are other times when these factors push in opposite directions: people are leery of information sources but enthusiastic about learning.

The typology has five groups that fall along a spectrum ranging from fairly high engagement with information to wariness of it.  Roughly four-in-ten adults (38%) are in groups that have relatively strong interest and trust in information sources and learning.   About half (49%) fall into groups that are relatively disengaged and not very enthusiastic about information…, especially when it comes to navigating digital information.  Another 13% occupy a middle space: They are not particularly trusting of information sources, but they show higher interest in learning than those in the more information-way groups.

Briefly, their conclusions are these:

  • There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ archetypal information consumer – as with any human activity, “one size does not fit all.”
  • Those who focus on digital divide and information literature also face a mighty challenge reflected by the fact that “about half of adults fall into the groups identified by the researchers as Doubtful and Wary.” These are the individuals who have lower interest in getting assistance to help them get to more trustworthy material.
  • There is a need for “trusted institutions helping people gain confidence in their digital and information literacy skills.”  Noting how this relates to libraries and librarians the researchers observe: “Libraries might be relevant here.  Library users stand out in their information engagement.  Overall, about half (52%) of adults have visited a public library or connected with it online in the past year.  Those library users were overrepresented in the two most information-engaged groups.  Some 63% of the Eager and Willing were library users in the past year, while this is true for 59% of the confident.  Additionally, both groups are much more likely than others to say they trust librarians and libraries as information sources.”

Though the researchers are upfront about the limits of their study, their perspective is fresh. My appreciation of their approach increased after I took a very few minutes to study the “information disposition” of the participants.  Needless to say, I found myself firmly planted in two categories!   You might want to take a few minutes to find out where you find yourself in this typology. It’s simple, fun and really does jump-start a new and nuanced analysis of information seekers, a way to move from critical thinking skills to more attention on the deeply-rooted attitudes of information seekers.

Thinking about attitudes adds a powerful human dimension to the challenge of how we as humans engage with information.  (Who knew information literacy could be so complicated….)

Read more here – and check your own information proclivities against the typology suggested by the Pew researchers: http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/09/11/how-people-approach-facts-and-information/

 

 

 

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Weaponization of information-Can truth survive?

Long ago and far away a library educator friend published an early info age book that promoted and explained the role of the library as an access point to information useful to the citizen activist.  Her intent was positive, to explain to activists the potential of reliable, authoritative, timely information that would affirm and validate a proposed action.  When her publisher suggested the title “Armed for action” she objected to the militaristic tone….

Now I realize that my friend was prematurely wise to eschew the “armed” image.  In this age information has morphed into the transportable  “weapon of choice”  to foment political action.  Though weaponizing information is usually attributed the Russians it is important to acknowledge that Putin’s tactics are not unique…

To be certain of the implicit evil of weaponized information, I checked with Merriam-Webster to affirm that use of the word “weapon” definitely connotes negative intent: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/weapon

In truth, information is simply a resource, the user determines the use… My friend’s benevolent theme may seem naïve now – though just when information deserves no blame for the fact that it’s been weaponized.  Though history is replete with lies, the digital age opens the floodgates to their unfettered flow and proliferation.

And so we are drowning in a flood of commentaries on the weaponization of information; a smattering of opinion pieces are listed below.

Okay, information can be used as a weapon.  And yet the essential power lies in the receiver of information who is challenged to think and act according to the content and source of the information.  The “armor” we need today rests with the individual or institution that will take or resist  action based on the weaponized information.

As a society, we are called upon to grapple with the challenge to make “critical thinking skills” the norm—or in today’s parlance, how do we “normalize” critical thinking…  I prefer, and frequently quote,  my good friend Ruth Myers who would often ask, How do we inoculate learners with a healthy dose of “perceptive paranoia?”

The Founders, influenced by Jefferson,  envisioned a democracy founded on citizen access to and wise assessment of information.  Knowing this, we should focus not so much on the weaponry as on how we harness the power of good information (aka truth) to support this democracy.  In a word, how do we sustain a political system based on truth, and arm “we the people” with the power to recognize bald-faced lies when they are aimed at us with malicious intent.

RELATED READ: Social Media Helped Trump Win By ‘Dumbing Down the World,’ Twitter Founder Says  https://www.printfriendly.com/print?url_s=uGGCF_~_PdN_~_PcS_~_PcSJJJmpBzzBAqErnzFmBEt_~_PcSArJF_~_PcS

Tomorrow’s journalists – challenges, rights, and great promise

The First Amendment is not so construed as to award merit badges for intrepid but mistaken or careless reporting. Misinformation has not merit in itself; standing alone it is antithetical to the purposes of the First Amendment as the calculated lie… The sole basis for protecting publishers who spread false information is that otherwise the truth would too often be suppressed. Supreme Court Justice Byron White

As often happens thinking and learning about a topic leads me to deep thoughts on where we go from here, how we are the creators of our own future.  Thus, reflecting on a recent post about Constitution Day (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/we-the-people-celebrate-constitution-day-by-learning/) led me to reflect on our role as individuals on whom the Founding Fathers depended to meet their high expectations – specifically, 21st Century economic, technological and political  challenges that re-order the historic relationship between government, the press – and “we the people.”

As is their way, my thoughts turned to what comes next – Who and what forces will work to preserve the inalienable right to know?  What are characteristics, the status, the working environment of the nation’s journalists?   And thus I found myself wondering what are the influences on aspiring journalists, what is their training, and what will lure a fledging seeker of truth to risk a life as a professional journalist?

Clearly, these concerns were shared by those far wiser:

Moreover, the Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Committee has produced a resource guide specifically related to Constitution Day 2017. http://jeasprc.org/2017-constitution-day-lessons/.  In fact. the Scholastic Press Rights Committee is an information mecca of essentials.  The Committee has published a video intro and links to new materials, lessons learned and timely resources on the rights of student journalists.

Other timely resources include these:

  • An article by Matthew Smith on the “importance of independent active press” focuses on the Constitutional rights aspect of student journalism focuses on the local scene: http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2016/05/06/your-right-to-know-state-should-protect-student-journalists/
  • The Journalism Education Association report entitled “Promoting Scholastic Press Rights Legislation: A blueprint for success” is exactly what the title suggests, a comprehensive blueprint for action. This is thorough and timely review of the rights of student journalists, steps to be taken in a student press rights action plans, related organizations that support student journalists’ rights, sample laws and recommended language. One essential feature of this resource is an excellent listing of related organizations, historical information about past legislation, and the names of experts who can offer opinions about legislative language.
  • The JEA also hosts a robust website, http://jeasprc.org that features a unique “Tools of Truth Landing Page” that covers current topics related to student journalists’ rights  http://jeasprc.org/tools-of-truth-landing-page/
  • The Student Press Law Center, established in the post-Watergate era, now headquartered in Virginia, focuses on the legal rights of high school and college journalists: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Student+Press+Law+Center&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
  • The National Scholastic Press Association (http://studentpress.org/nspa/), located near the campus of the University of Minnesota, “promotes the standards and ethics of good journalism as accepted and practiced by print, broadcast and electronic media in the United States,”

Constitution Day 2017 inspires us to take a long view of a free press.  To do so demands that we get a better sense of what’s happening in student journalism.  Some indicators are close at hand:

In high schools and colleges throughout the nation young journalists are tackling major issues of social justice, civil rights, press freedom and the right to know.  Their rights demand attention and deserve recognition.

“I became a journalist is to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”Henry Luce

IMPORTANT UPDATE: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2017/aug/28/Student-Journalist-FOIA-Grant/

Speaking truth to power: Artists’ reflections on libraries’ voice

Libraries are places – they may be a shelf in a classroom or a grand memorial to a grateful grad, the hub of a medical center or an adjunct to the public square.    It is those who envision the possibilities and shape the role of a library that make a difference.

As keepers of the record librarians have long embraced the challenge to expand access to facts and ideas. In modern times libraries in this democracy, have been quick to resist suppression of information and ideas – as well as other offenses to democratic principles  that tend to rile – and inspire – librarians.

No wonder that, in this era of alternative facts and determined truth seekers, I’m thinking of the heritage of libraries.   Recognition of University of Minnesota Libraries Day earlier this month prompted me to learn more about the ways in which today’s libraries and librarians are coping. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=4004&action=edit)

My thoughts prompted me to remember a cluster of library-related blog posts that my friend Jack Becker of Forecast Public Art had sent me some weeks ago.  These are all stories that celebrate the library as a place with a voice – a voice that must speak truth to power. This  armchair tour features amazing  libraries that dare to capitalize on the power they have to inform and lead.

Though these magnificent examples of resistance may be a bit beyond the local library’s resources, it is nonetheless a fact that libraries across the country are speaking in a “socially acceptable” voice to support the right to know and the right to speak. For examples, just Google “libraries resistance 2017.”

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that  of an ignorant nation.  Walter Cronkite

Protecting what’s OURS on Net Neutrality Day of Action

The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet.  It requires a certain relish for confusion. Molly Ivins

If ever there were a call to relish confusion it is now –  the options for “relishment” are myriad.   And if ever there were an organized effort to “weaponize” confusion, it is the  war to end net neutrality now raging on the nation’s regulatory frontlines.

“Confuse and conquer” is an ancient strategy rendered ever more lethal by the fact that the digital age effectively limits time for the body politic to think, much less thoughtfully discuss.  Issues, especially issues involving complex technology, speed their way through a political process well-lubricated with corporate contributions and compliant appointees.

As many but not enough affected Americans know, Wednesday, July 12, is Net Neutrality Day of Action.  (https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12   For many of us whose dependence on the Net is assumed without question the ethos of the tool is vague and the implications are vaguer still.  Here’s one digestible overview of the issues and implications:

And yet there’s always time to crib for a deep dive into the digital age version of Cliff Notes – some basics:

The corporate campaign to confuse the public opponents of net neutrality has clogged the web with more than the citizen owner of the communication tool needs to know. Still, this is a KISS “keep it simple, stupid” moment.

Herb Schiller is the wise man whose words have long  shaped my understanding of the principle, if not the technology, of net neutrality.  More about Schiller’s prescient caution in this 2013 post: https:/marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/herbert-i-schiller/

The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people ~ Tom Clancy

 

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/us-house-panel-wants-google-facebook-atandt-ceos-to-testify-on-internet-rules/ar-AAoP6zY?ocid=UE01DHP

BACKGROUNDER- MINNPOST: https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2017/07/everyone-claims-be-open-internet-so-what-s-latest-net-neutrality-fight-reall?utm_source=MinnPost+e-mail+newsletters&utm_campaign=956e5e91b0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_21&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3631302e9c-956e5e91b0-123365126

ADDENDA

Facing the dark side of Information Power

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth-  Buddha

As we the people come to realize and celebrate the power and accessibility of good information we face the unprecedented fact that information, this nation’s uniquely renewable resource, has been brutally weaponized.

Not that anyone needs more evidence, this piece in the NYT tells the story with clarity – and a flair.  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html?_r=1)   Wired also offers a fresh analysis of the basics in this recent article:  https://www.wired.com/story/president-trumps-lies-and-untruths/?mbid=nl_7217_p1&CNDID=44690478

And yet the fact is that the forefathers created this democracy on the fundamental premise that we the people are thoughtful, informed, educated and oriented to search for truth. Today’s clash between truths and alternative facts is cataclysmic. The good news is that the torrent of alternative facts does not drown but inspires truth seekers to resist in creative and wondrous ways.

The fact that Congress is even now taking steps to unlock the work of the Congressional Research Service is a case in point. ( https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/congress-moves-to critical-research/)  In ways too diverse and numerous to describe concerned individuals and organizations are “taking arms” to resist prevarication. Some related stories.

Clearly, this nation faces an unprecedented challenge.  Instinctively we assume that the rules of logic prevail. It helps to face the harsh reality of the dilemma, to rethink the very nature of prevarication.  Consider this thoughtful article: https://www.wired.com/story/president-trumps-lies-and-untruths/?mbid=nl_7217_p1&CNDID=44690478

One creative – and mind-expanding —  approach is to view reality through a different lens, that of the artist.  A good prompt to refocus the observational lens can be is this article published in Hyperallergic.( https://hyperallergic.com/387008/the-trump-regime/)   To peer with greater depth into the creative imaginations of several contemporary artists explore this digital display: https://hyperallergic.com/tag/drawing-in-a-time-of-fear-lies/

The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others – Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

Congress moves to expand access to critical research

Though probably unscheduled, the pending expansion of access policy re. reports of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is super-timely.  CRS staff research and reports are valued as authoritative , timely and consequential resources, heretofore reserved for members of Congress, their staff, and info mavens. .  Extending access to the general public is something like a digital fireworks display for seekers of authoritative information.

For decades the debate has centered on one key question:  Does “confidentiality” demand that the work product of CRS staff serve Congress members and staff only, or does it rightfully belong to the public. In fact, though insider seekers of truth had routes to the motherlode access was a practice more honored in the breach than in the practice.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the less-than-free flow of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Research_Service_reports.  And that has been the practice for decades.

Until last week when access advocates announced that there is a light at the end of the legislative tunnel.  Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed the legislative branch appropriations bill which includes “strong language” mandating that all non-confidential CRS reports be made publicly available.” Though no legislative initiative is ever “over till it’s over” hopes are high that the full House will concur and that the Senate will pass a companion bill.  With all due respect to CRS and the virtue of solid research and truth-telling, this bill will probably not make headlines or warrant a filibuster.  And yet, in the current environment, access to authoritative, unbiased, current information matters more than ever!

In his comments on the legislative state of things the American Library Association spokesperson wrote this:

The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people. Within 90 days of enactment of this act CRS is directed to submit a plan to its oversight committees detailing its recommendations for implementing this effort as well as any associated cost estimates.

The timing is ideal.  As Americans celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and picnics this small step for the democracy is a giant step for an informed democracy.  The quantity and quality of CRS reports is beyond belief  – Check out the history of CRS publications here:  https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/

Assuming that this legendary level of quality is allowed and funded to continue, we will be better informed citizens, capable of more informed decision-making.  Something like the forefathers had in mind when they signed their names….

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.

Abraham Lincoln, 1861