Journal Pages Name: _______Jennifer Maher___________________ Date: __14 November 2007__ What stood out for me: Of great interest to me this week was the comment about the epistemological uncertainty over our relationship with information (Lievrouw & Farb). Is information of an independent existence and simply discovered by us, or do we humans ourselves create it? Lievrouw and Farb indicate a recent paradigm shift toward the latter. Even our categorization schemes have been affected by this shift. Previously the emphasis was on hierarchical schemes indexed by experts — the archetypal card catalog and Internet directory-style search engines. But at the advent of Web 2.0, we see the emergence of a completely new categorization scheme built entirely on the way users view and interact with their world. People have developed whole new way of categorizing bookmarks using tags rather than hierarchies; del.icio.us is just one good example. Letting the users develop the system from the inside out is a fascinating way to bring this new information paradigm into the future. It should make for more intuitively usable systems that take full advantage of the information processing power and widely varying outlooks of people the world over. This type of system-building even works in the "real world." Back in my college days in 1995, a paving project tore up sidewalks and lawns all over campus. After paving, the walks were not replaced. We trampled trails through the dirt! What a mess, I thought, until the method was explained by my engineering professor. We can place sidewalks where we think we should, he explained, and then have students cut across the grass anyway because the sidewalks don't meet their need to get where they're going in a hurry. Or, we can let them walk where they will, show us the paths they want to take, and then lay the sidewalks upon those paths! Some questions I have or connections I am making... I feared I would have trouble writing this week's journal entry, simply because the topic on the surface seems so non-controversial. Who wouldn't want everyone to have equal access to the wonders of the Internet and other modern communication technologies? But reading the articles opened my eyes: perhaps the desire for equitable access itself is not controversial, but the ways to approach it, and what it really means for various societal groups, certainly are. First, existing studies cannot even agree on whether the gap is closing or widening, which suggests scientists are working from differing definitions. Second, we also disagree on how best to characterize this issue, whether it's fundamentally a problem of equity of access or equity of relevance of information. Third, is complete connectedness even desirable in all cases? Hype about the Internet's power to strengthen communities has existed for at least a decade. Recent studies suggest, however, that many people's Internet use has instead isolated people from their "real life" communities and led to decreased social interaction (Pettegrew). Any parent of a child addicted to chat or online gaming can vouch for this. What are the ramifications of "connecting" everyone? Will this lead to global understanding, or do we risk homogenization and the loss of our unique traditions and perspectives? A conclusion I can make... In the broadest sense, closing the digital divide should be less about emphasizing semantic dichotomies such as "information rich" and "information poor" and all about empowering users across the entire socioeconomic spectrum to best utilize the resources available to them. As Lievrouw and Farb conclude, information is worthless unless it can be made relevant to the person seeking it. It's true that people of all backgrounds need access to current ICTs in order to participate in today's social and economic life; projects like Wireless Philadelphia and establishments such as public libraries make great strides in this area. But we also need to focus on changing the concept of the "digital divide" to include providing the skills and underlying education necessary for people of varying value systems, cultures and experiences to make sense of what they find. Some possible applications to my life as an information professional... As a Systems Librarian, I will be in a unique position, able to directly address both aspects of the digital divide: hardware issues as well as training and support. As the Gates Foundation report makes clear, most libraries entered the "first wave" of technology and related services throughout the late 1990s. Due to the state of the economy at the time, attention and therefore money flowed freely toward providing libraries with the latest in technology. Now budgets are tight overall, and our equipment enters old age without a dependable source of replacement. My challenge will be to work within existing budgets to keep equipment as up-to-date and reliable as possible. Making a seamless transition to newer technology will require my support to library staff, as well as training for both staff and patrons. Information has no value unless it is made meaningful to those who seek it, and more isn't always better. Simply providing equipment and access is not nearly enough; education and interpretation are key. It is here where our communities need librarians most!
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