Of Connection and Disconnection

A couple of days ago, I read the latest Library Journal BackTalk article, “Embracing the Shhhhhtereotype”. This essay laments the gradual move away from the quiet sacrosanct environments of the libraries of yesterday in favor of the noisy world of cell phones, gadgets, and devices. This evolution is seen as bad as there is an industry popping up that works to help people disconnect from the constant barrage of media and (for lack of a better phrase) connectedness. Given the trends of the last twenty to thirty years, I’m not sure how this could this could have been predicted by libraries, but it matters not. The opinion piece concludes by urging libraries to consider offering similar settings where a person can disconnect (or be mindful of their connectedness, if ever there was a clunky phrase). Overall, I find myself agreeing with the author’s end point even if I don’t agree with how they got to it.

In considering this over the last couple of days, I can see the opportunity that can be created here as implied by the author. What could a library offer to someone who is connected with cell phones, tablets, eReaders, and other gadgets? An escape from being connected. Whether it is through pin drop quiet and strictly enforced quiet reading/writing/study areas or meditation, yoga, and tai chi classes, or other stress relief via disconnection, it is a way to offer people something that they don’t have. To the connected, we could offer a disconnect.

To me, it makes sense and add an element of balance to the equation. To the disconnected (most notably the ones on the other side of the digital divide), the library already works to remedy that situation through internet access, material lending, and program. We already work to eradicate the lacuna of access that exists in every community. Furthermore, libraries offer to help people make their own connections through literature discovery and programs and classes that teach skills or hobbies or offer social opportunities. There are connections being made and that’s still a good thing (even if at times it is a noisy thing).

It makes me wonder if one could size up a member at their service desk and figure out whether they are trying to make a connection or a disconnection. Are they reading or watching a movie to escape or to have something to talk about with others? Are they signing up for a program to take a break from their busy lives or find others who have the same interest? Are they at the library to take an uninterrupted breath in their lives or are they here to find materials and people that add meaning to it?

I want to give this some more thought, but I think there are some legs to considering how the library can help people connect or disconnect.

Unglue.it (And Why It Matters)

Unglueit

About a week and a half ago, Gluejar opened up their Unglue.it service, whose purpose is to coordinate crowdfunding in order to pay authors and publishers to release a published book as a digital edition under a Creative Commons license. It works as a mechanism to encourage copyright holders to make their work more widely available while providing a good incentive for them to do so (namely, people interested and money to do it). In a publisher and author landscape that is looking for other eBooks models, Unglue.it fills a much needed niche where people can put their money where their interests are and rights holders are given another option on the menu.

With the advent of crowdfunding sites like Kickstartr and Kiva, Unglue.it takes this concept and puts it to work in a way that is beneficial to publishers, authors, libraries, and readers. As a Creative Commons work, libraries can acquire, distribute, and curate these Unglued eBooks without the current bevy of terms and limitations offered by other companies. To me, this is why Unglue.it is important; it provides a method and a means for authors to get paid for their works while expanding their audience and retaining other important creator rights. In terms of eBooks and library vendors, there isn’t anything else like it out there.

With that in mind, now comes the moment of truth: will it work? In considering the other current options, I’m really hoping it does. People have shown their willingness to pay for things they believe in (Kickstartr being a great example) and eBooks are ripe for the same treatment. The hard part (as I’m told in any business) is getting that first success. While there are only five campaigns going (as of the posting time), it’s these five campaigns that need to show authors and publishers that this is a viable eBook option for their work. And one, most notably, that skips Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble and the eBook unsteady eBook giants they have evolved into. Getting to the first success needs to happen in order to entice more authors to consider doing the same with their current or backlist of works. It’s not so much a “now or never” moment for eBooks and making them easily to find and access, but it does move the needle in that direction if Unglue.it can get people to fund these books “now”.

Unglue.it will be a site to watch over the next year and one to invest in as campaigns for titles come up. Like Kickstartr, any pledges are not deducted until the campaign is over. Even then, the author or publisher can lower the asking price at any time; even a scary asking price shouldn’t be a barrier to pledging. At a minimum pledge ($1), you get a eBook copy if its successful. Not a bad deal overall, even with an air of gambling thrown in to boot.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the site evolves, how people discover and act on the campaigns, and what the future holds. It could make the eBook issue a little less sticky.

 

[Disclaimer: I’m a friend of Andromeda Yelton, one of the Unglue.it team members. I’ve also hung out a couple of times at conferences with Eric Hellman, President of Gluejar. I think they are both great library advocates and I really hoping for their personal success when it comes to Unglue.it.]

Leaving Las Facebook

From the New Yorker:

Zuckerberg’s business model requires the trust and loyalty of his users so that he can make money from their participation, yet he must simultaneously stretch that trust by driving the site to maximize profits, including by selling users’ personal information. The I.P.O. last week will exacerbate this tension: Facebook’s huge valuation now puts pressure on the company’s strategists to increase its revenue-per-user. That means more ads, more data mining, and more creative thinking about new ways to commercialize the personal, cultural, political, and even revolutionary activity of users.

There is something vaguely dystopian about oppressed peoples in Syria or Iran seeking dignity and liberation inside a corporate sovereign that is, for its part, creating great wealth for its founders and asserting control over its users.

I was off on the day that Facebook had its I.P.O. a week and a half ago so I got to watch some of the market reaction as it unfolded. I also happened to be eating lunch with my father, a retired financial advisor. As we watched the stock price flatten to the opening offer of $38 a share on one of those financial cable networks, he looked at me and said, “They left nothing on the table.” The translation of that statement is this: in making an initial offer, companies and banks want to price a stock so that it goes up initially to show market confidence in the valuation of the company. In order to get that gain, there has to be a value to move towards; like from $34 a share to $38 a share. In pricing it at $38 a share, that’s the same number that the investors thought it should be at. The price didn’t budge because people didn’t feel it was worth more than that. There are many reasons why investors might feel that way, but that’s a whole other post for people with better financial knowledge. The bottom line is that in pricing the shares, the company and the bank ‘left nothing on the table’ for investors to move towards.

As the computer class instructor at my library, I felt that my father’s statement is rather apropos when it comes to the Facebook class I teach. In taking people through the site, I spend the largest portion of my class on the privacy settings as well as giving my students the pros and cons about information sharing on the website. Share to your comfort level, I would tell them as I described how the data that they offer can be used to sell advertising on the site. In light of the new investor pressure, I am considering advising them with the same thing my father said: leave nothing on the table. While I do my best to offer as much information as possible so that people can make their own privacy choices on Facebook, the importance of personal information management has only grown. It’s no longer about what how much you entered into your profile or your current and future updates, but revisiting and revising previous updates and inputs.

Some may interpret this as revisionist personal history; I would opt for calling it timeline curating. I don’t see an issue with a person going back and removing information they no longer want to share with Facebook; it is not actually removing it from existence. While the site encourages you to make it a home for your history, it’s pretty hard to not notice that there is a bottom line that is also in play that utilizes that information. In looking at the sum total of your Facebook profile and timeline, from the first update to the current photo album, it’s still your data that you can remove at any time.[1] While you cannot delete your Facebook account, there is nothing stopping you from stripping it down to the bare essentials: a birthdate and an email address. Leave nothing on the table.

For myself, privacy is a odd library issue these days. There is a push to get libraries on social media to engage and share with their members. Conferences and workshops have speakers tossing out hyperbolic statements like “you must be on [insert social media site here] or your library will [insert dire consequence here]”. They tend to talk about what the library could share and how awesome it would be while sprinkling in some success stories, but then glaze over the nuts-and-bolts portion about how it requires staff time, integration, and an actual organizational strategy and purpose. Using Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest is not for casual outreach because it’s a ‘free’ platform, but something that needs to be maintained and grown over course of months and years. (To steal a phrase from Toby Greenwalt, “Free as in kittens, not as in beer.”) I can’t recall much discussion given to privacy in these cases, so I’d be curious to hear a speaker who addressed this issue head on.

Contrasting this urge to share is the ALA’s own campaign, PrivacyRevolution, complete with its own website and week. There’s even a webpage that offers an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights as it pertains to privacy. On top of that, there are (in general) state statutes regarding confidentiality and disclosure of a library record. Here in New Jersey, a library record can only be disclosed as part of proper operation of the library, a request by the user, or a court subpoena or order.[2] Your state or country’s laws might be different, but I’m guessing that if you are in the United States, it’s probably something similar. The message here is that information inquiry is a private matter that is business of no one else but the individual; that in this age of increased monitoring, it is paramount for libraries and librarians to work to ensure personal privacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favor of educating people about what happens to the information that they put out online or in person. But it is a odd path to walk when there is an advocacy push to embed ourselves in social media and “go where our users are” while others are raising flags of concern about privacy and offering caution and wariness about our online footprints.

“Tell us what you are reading, but don’t tell us what you are reading.”

In the end, I think that last line of the first paragraph in the quote at the start of this post holds the most truth: as social media sites go public, there will be a push to use personal data in new and possibly not privacy kosher ways. Personally, I’m not overly concerned; people already make their choices as to what they want to keep to themselves and what they want to share. Sure, we have websites loaded with poor choices of the latter, but that seems statistically correct in the broad scheme of things. The best that computer class instructors like myself can do is lay out everything and let the people make their own choices. I’m not planning on leaving Facebook at this juncture; it still serves a purpose and I understand the quid pro quo of what I am getting in exchange for allowing access to my personal information ‘stuff’. Right now, for myself it is about finding those privacy limits and making plans accordingly. And when I do go, I’ll be sure to leave nothing on the table.

 

[1] I do wonder if deleting something would actually remove it permanently and how much data Facebook collects about information that has been ‘deleted’. I’d really wonder if they’d want to dedicate resources to hanging onto such things, but I wouldn’t put it past any social site these days.

[2] Strangely enough, while the record is protected by statute, there is no librarian-member confidentiality privilege like doctor-patient or lawyer-client. So, while I couldn’t disclose a library record to a law enforcement official without the paperwork, any conversation I had with the member is not legally protected. Library records in New Jersey are defined as any document or record for maintaining control over circulation or public use of library materials. I wonder if anyone has gotten slapped with obstruction of justice for not sharing their conversation with a member.

This YA Title is Not Yet Rated (Yet)

A recent study poked the slumbering YA giant by evaluating the instances of profanity in 40 top selling children’s books and calling for a rating system in order to help parents make selections for their children. (You can read the BYU press release here.) Needless to say this suggestion has been greeted with the usual eyeroll and a ‘here we go again’ sentiment, an attitude that falls between “Why are people trying to outsource the duties of parents to determine suitability of what they read?” and “As children progress differently in terms of maturity and reading ability, what is the rubric that could possibly be used to determine age appropriateness?” In this era of the overscheduled child, the parents of said child don’t have the time either to evaluate anything but rely n blurbs and reviews of packaged products that outline all pros and cons. Even then, I’m certain there would be the usual headaches from people complaining that their child was reading something too advanced or being denied reading something that the parents feel they are mature enough to handle. If the people who want ratings systems really meant it, they’d offer to answer the complaint calls.

I got my hands on a copy of the study in question, but in reading through it there are still a couple of questions regarding some of the choices made in the study.

  1. Why was the date range of June 22nd to July 6th, 2008 chosen? Was this a random determination or a targeted date range?
  2. Where the profane words simply counted as they appeared? Was there any notations taken regarding the context in which they appeared? (I see that rich, attractive, and popular characters were noted as swearing more, but not the situations in which the swears appear.)

As the study itself indicates, it simply covers the use of profanity. No sex, no drugs, and no other situations or topics that make some adults uncomfortable are covered. It does leave a lot out in terms of the overall content of YA book which would play into any rating system scheme. Personally, I thought the most fascinating line in this article came from the conclusion:

“We are not advocating that book covers be required to contain content warnings regarding profanity. We understand that providing content warnings on books represents a very hot debate, and that inclusion of such warnings is extremely controversial.”

Given what Dr. Coyne has told the media, she appears to be diverging from the written conclusion made in the paper. I’d be curious as to how the language was agreed upon with her fellow co-authors, but I guess the question is really moot.

If people like Dr. Coyne backed away from an age based rating system, they would have a better and more dangerous argument in favor of content labeling systems. Rather than say that this book is for a particular age, it would give a rundown about what potentially objectionable content exists in the book. Movies, television, music, and video games have taken it upon themselves to offer this kind of labeling on their products. Yes, the movie rating system is ancient and archaic; the television one is a bit more specific in labeling yet still limited; music is a binary labeling (it either has explicit lyrics or it doesn’t without saying what those lyrics are explicit about); and the video game is extremely detailed in terms of content but still tries to box games into a small number of ratings. These are entertainment industries that have opted to self-police rather than deal with government intervention or interference; it logically leads to the question, “If these people can do it, why not books?”

In answering the idea of book labeling, I found YALSA Executive Director Beth Yoke’s answer a bit unfortunate: "ALA’s interpretation on any rating system for books is that it’s censorship." I say unfortunate because I think there is a better counterpoint to make that hones in on the actual effect of a label system and that is this: putting age or content labels on books is equivalent to putting bulls eyes on books. Rather than read and evaluate a book on its merits and context, such labels would be a short cut for people who want to challenge any book that contains content that they find distasteful. It removes the individual responsibility for personal conduct and places it in a rating system that may or may not be universally objective. In addition it moves judgment from the content level to the book spine label, providing the instant outrage when someone happens upon a book that is rated 17 and older in a high school library (what if a 15 year old found it?) or a book that has sexual situations in the YA area at the public library (think of the children!).  And yes, it would lead to people deciding against the purchase of certain books because of specific content labeling. Either there is some internal staff rationale presented or they simply don’t want to fight people about the contents on their shelf. In either event, the label would prove to be a barrier to purchase.

Personally, I do find book labeling to be odious and unwelcome, a concept that would become a circus sideshow and a distraction to many libraries and librarians. But my pragmatic side tells me that any labeling system should originate from librarians to do the self-policing, not publishers, retailers, or the government. If the social and political winds were to change in that direction, librarians better have a damn good labeling solution to put forth rather than simply intensifying resistance. At such a point we might not be able to control the outcome but we ought to retain control over the implementation. In the meantime, one study is not enough to change the whole scheme of things. It’s the studies in the future that we have to be mindful.

A Kinder, Gentler DRM

From ArsTechnica:

On Friday, an association of e-book publishers—including major companies such as Harper Collins, Random House, and Barnes & Noble—issued a statement suggesting an outline for a new “Lightweight DRM.” This proposed Digital Rights Management standard could increase interoperability of books on hardware like e-readers.

Before the excitement starts, this is a suggestion for an outline for a DRM system that would allow books to be moved from different devices (for example, Nook to Kindle) without hindrance. In reducing the amount of hardware and software needed for people to unlock books on their devices, the idea is to make moving eBooks a bit more customer friendly. It certainly reads like a step to get out from underneath Amazon’s Kindle thumb so that it is less locked into the Amazon matrix, but to me it seems (for lack of a better term) half-assed.

It’s a short article so take the time to give it a gander. Clearly, publishers want something in place to protect their content but also be a bit more flexible than previous incarnations. That’s a balancing act and one that they even admit to losing before the game has already begun.

That’s not to say the IDPF imagines that any new specifications would be enough to deter piracy: “To be very clear on this point: we expect that a lightweight DRM (in reality, any DRM) will be cracked, and we are relying on anticircumvention law for some level of crack protection,” the statement read.

This has to be the “lemon slice with your glass of water” of DRM: little effect on the desired product (water) with all the annoyance of removing the offending addition (no one gets that lemon slice out without getting a little wet). To me, it also signals that the road to a DRM publishing world is getting pushed back until they exhaust all of their possibilities. We as purchasers and consumers will just have to endure it.

[I would like to note that this ability to move between platforms was one of the points covered in the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights that Sarah and I put together last year. One down, a few dozen to go? –A]

If Information is Food, Ctd.

From the comments to the previous post, I feel there is a lot to unpack from that post so I decided to write a follow up. Some things I got wrong, some things I still feel are right, and a couple of things that have me scratching my head. I’m going to try to lay them out in some sort of logical order, but it might take some leaps around at times. So, bear with me.

In breaking down the “information is food” analogy from the previous post, one of the major problems is that it doesn’t translate consistently. While considering it through the non-fiction lens, it holds decently: there are sources that clearly show a better “nutritional” content than others by a demonstration of authority (for example, the New England Journal of Medicine versus Psychology Today). There is an established criteria that evaluates the information sources and determines that one source may be better, equal to, or inferior to another (otherwise known as authority). In other words, the product of scientific and/or research rigor is something that can be proven as a better resource than another piece of information that is the result of ‘junk science’. (Yes, I’m certain there are some exceptions to this notion, but that’s what they are: a tiny minority that is mathematically possible but unlikely.)

In attempting to apply the “information is food” analogy to work of fiction, this is where I made a mistake. The nutritional value of food is a quantifiable set of data; you analyze it for its molecular makeup, list its ingredients, and give a recount of a food’s vital statistics in terms of calories, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Works of fiction, on the other hand, do not lend themselves as neatly to any such metrics. While one could run different works through a computer and attempt to perform such measurements, it will still never be right because of the very subjective human element. “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” would be the very succinct way of summarizing this human element and also very fitting in the scope of the “information is food” analogy. In light of that element, the analogy falls abysmally short.

Setting aside that for a moment, I think the best way to describe the lacuna that emerged between myself and the commenter is “literature is not flat, but personal preference literature is”. In other words, not all literature is the same in terms of quality of prose but personal preference does not take such a factor into account. From the existence of literary awards and the plethora of “best books” lists, I can easily infer that there is literature that is marked as ‘better’ than other works by experts in the field over a set time period that can be as short as a year and as long as a century (or beyond). Therefore, there is a literature hierarchy in which some books are better than others from the expert point of view. Under this rationale, does this make some books ‘gourmet’ and others ‘junk food’? Possibly, but it all depends on the person who is dining.

[As an aside, I believe there is some Darwinism to the survival of books over the years as “classics”. As it was pointed out in a comment in the previous post, there are books that got mediocre reviews when they were first release (Wuthering Heights being the example given). To me, this is a reasonable example about how the book that lasts in the culture longest is able to move on to be read by future generations. I’d reckon that some better regarded writers who were contemporaries of Emily Bronte are gone from our shelves because they did not have the cultural staying power to maintain their sway on the shelf. Thus, the best writers may not survive compared to those who can make themselves immune to the discarding hands of all people. -A]

In examining personal preference in library material, I’m going to chop this topic up into many pieces for the purposes of examining and providing nuance to some of the issue. When it comes to entertainment, I will agree with the commenters to their position of “what I want to read, see, or hear is my business”. What we find pleasurable in this world is quite subjective and I’ll go along with the ‘none of your damn business’ element. Fair enough.

When it comes to getting library material for the purposes of education or self-educations, I find myself with some specific concerns. As to what people want to learn or educate themselves, once more that is a personal choice and I should do my best to facilitate that. However, one of the previous commenters brought up a viewpoint that I felt was too absolute and can be paraphrased as “do not offer your judgment unless asked”. For myself, that’s far too unreasonable in principle and unfeasible in practice.

To provide a real life example, I was sitting at the reference desk one day and overheard a conversation that was happening in the next aisle over in front of our medicine collection in the non-fiction section. Two people were talking about trying to find a book about a certain ailment and in listening to their discussion I realized that they were factually incorrect. In considering the this situation, here are my possible multi-tiered options: I can go over and offer the correct information so that they get the correct book or I can wait and see if they ask for help. If I wait and they ask for help, then I can provide the correct information without interjecting into their conversation in the stacks. If they don’t ask for information and begin to leave with what they think is the right book, the absolute rule above would tell me that since I was not asked I should not offer to make a correction. Otherwise, if I did intercede uninvited, it would be an unwelcome intrusion even if I had the correct answer and material.

For the curious, what I did (and hopefully what the other 99% of you in reference would do) was get up off the desk, walk over, excused myself for interrupting, corrected them, and then got them headed in the right direction. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would simply sit there and let this play out with the hopes that they’ll be asked to provide the correct answer. Some might consider that a librarian party foul, but the two people I was helping didn’t. An absolute such as the one given above would otherwise turn the reference desk into a waiting area, for being proactive and engaging members before they pose the request for assistance becomes taboo. I really can’t imagine anyone actually doing this, but I’m sure I’m going to still get some pushback regarding ‘interference’.

Overall, I think the concept of ‘interference’ in librarian is one of those shadowy creatures that will always be the constant source of debate. While there are extremes that everyone could agree to, it’s the large lump in the middle that will get people aggravated. In the example I gave above, was I interfering? I’m sure there are good arguments for either case. As I’m sure there is a good case for librarian interference by what we say or don’t say to someone with an inquiry on the basis of our own decision regarding its relevance. The list of possible examples, as you could imagine, is nigh infinite.

The thing that really got me wondering is that promotion of the idea of “I care about my library members, I just don’t care what they do or take home with them”. On its face, I don’t think it is irrational to have that kind of compartmentalization; I love my dad even though we do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to politics. That kind of relationship can exist and work. What bothers me is that there is a tinge of impersonal to that in which the librarian draws back from a potential personal area of the relationship. While some of our members might be happy for the space, I would suggest that there are others who want that kind of relationship. They would want the librarians to care about what they were reading or watching or doing; that to them it is an important basis of contact to have with the library. It is a deeper level of connection and makes the library experience more personal for that member. Why is there an inclination to be remote under all circumstances? I can understand the idea above as a professional principle, but there’s something impersonal about it in the practice that doesn’t sit well with me.

I’d go on about other aspects of librarianship that seem impersonal to me, but I’ve gone on too much for one post. I hope this clears some things up and leads to other discussion.

If Information is Food, What Does It Mean to Say, “You Are What You Eat”?

I recently watched a TED talk by J.P. Rangaswami entitled “Information is Food”. His premise (for those of you who aren’t going to watch the video right now) is that information is the input for the mind just as food is the input for the body.  Our creation, cultivation, and consumption of information follow similar patterns to that of its food model. In essence, the information we take in to our bodies shapes our minds just as the food we eat shapes our bodies. He ends with a question: what would we do differently with our information consumption if we treated information as food?

This particular TED talk got me scribbling notes even before it was over. As someone who thinks of himself as an information professional, the idea of information being akin to food brought up some disturbing questions and line of thoughts. If information is food, what does that make a library? In accepting that “information equals food” analogy premise for the purpose of this blog post, I’m not sure it’s a good thing for libraries.

Even before this TED talk, there was a “library is an information buffet” analogy that existed; that a library had something for everyone’s taste. But in looking at the real food equivalent, the buffet has come to symbolize the growing rise of obesity in the United States. People have taken the guideline of ‘all you can eat’ as a challenge and put enough food into their bodies to blow the doors off their daily recommended caloric limit. Could a similar parallel be drawn between the constant contact of mobile devices, the near limitless number of internet sites, and print, television, and radio broadcasts? In working on portraying libraries as being “more than just books”, there is a push to showcase other media: DVDs, CDs, magazines, tapes, and now the expansion of digital content. Are we now setting up our own buffet in this age of information excess? Are we part of a overarching system that works to cater to the (for lack of a better term) information obese?

In taking this food buffet analogy further, librarians strive to not make distinctions between certain types of information. It would be like placing the crème pie and vodka penne sit next to the salads and Greek yogurt and telling people there was absolutely nothing different between these dishes. It’s the same as having book displays with Salman Rushdie and Jonathan Franzen sitting next to Fifty Shades and the Snooki novel. Whatever you want to read/eat, this is a judgment free zone. In fact, we encourage you to stuff your face/mind so long as you keep coming back. That doesn’t sound healthy in the slightest in either way that you consider it. This basic premise that “all books are equal” falls flat when so many librarians rely on book reviews to assist in collection development. Material is purchased on the good words of another as to why it would be an asset to a collection. Someone made a judgment to purchase a title over another title with a lesser recommendation. Why this sudden façade of neutrality when it hits the shelves?

One might argue that it is imperative for the librarian to be neutral in order to allow the library member to make a decision on the basis of their own preferences. I can get behind that notion up until the point where the person asks a librarian for a recommendation. After years of careful cultivation of the literature expert image, this is where our bias should show and work toward recommending better literature. This is not wholesome ignoring the wants and preferences of a library member, but showing our expertise in steering people away from junk food literature to the nutritionally sound prose. People are still welcome to pick up that Big Mac equivalent of a book, but they should be aware of the grilled chicken salad-like hardcover.

Some of my readers are probably wondering how this squares with a belief in information access. Such an important principle and concept is not lost on me here; I am still a believer and an advocate for it. But I can’t help but feel that the reality creates a fine line between unfettered and reasonable. I would always try to lean in favor of the former in terms of materials, but as a member of a profession that claims expertise in information cultivation, I cannot help but think that such a skill be applied to make it more in line with the former. In light of the food analogy, it behooves us to point out the better information and literature.

Nor am I advocating for censorship either. Go on and buy the Snooki book or Fifty Shades because of the popular demand for such titles, but there is nothing that says one has to highlight or prominently display the ownership of said items. Inclusion in the collection does not mean it has to be marketed or advertised in light of better options. Such material and its ilk can reside with the rest of collection.

Granted, not all libraries fall into this analogies so neatly. The narrower the collection, the less buffet-like the results are. This puts public libraries firmly in the Golden Corral camp with school and academic libraries in the middle somewhere and special libraries somewhere at the bottom. Just like many bloggers that write about libraries, your mileage from this post may vary on the basis of type.

Librarians like to imagine that they are curators and cultivators of information, but when the goal is to collect the best of the broadest amount of media and materials, I think it can get a bit murky. If information is food, then librarians are nutritionists. People will consume what they want when it comes to either food or information, but that doesn’t mean that librarians can’t work to make a difference in educating their patrons about sources, in pointing them to better authors and materials, and cultivating better information consumption practices. The Twinkie and the celery stick can sit next to each other on the shelf, but their nutritional information gives away what they offer the body. Librarians should consider the same examination of information nutrition when purchasing materials, making recommendations, and caring for their communities.