Journal Pages by RobbiePaul


									                                            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; 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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