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An Opinion – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 2 part opinion. My opinion and no one else’s. I’ll repeat that again tomorrow to remind you.

Setting the stage for tomorrow’s discussion:

Libraries need more bad books.

That was a point made by Harry Pence from SUNY Oneonta (now Professor Emeritus) oh, at least 15 years ago. The Internet existed but was nowhere as ubiquitous as it is now; at that time we relied heavily on libraries and books for information. But the sentiment has hung with me all this time.

The point is that we do ourselves and students a disservice by only providing “proper” and “vetted” books in a library. The Library becomes a source of “good” information so that when I want to find the answer to anything, I can trot over to a librarian or to a library book shelf and be confident that what I am told or what I find is correct information.

This, of course, doesn’t even touch the concept that “history is written by the victors.” That’s a whole ‘nother discussion for another day.

Now, there will be tons of exceptions to what I say next… I’m working on a stereotype here. Give me some leeway before you rant at me ;-). Many generation of students learned that if something wasn’t in a library that maybe it’s not a “proper” source of information and, as a result, the level of discrimination of what is proper and what is not was not highly developed among the general population. Even information in a newspaper was most likely ‘correct’ since someone wrote it, an editor ‘corrected’ it and a publisher approved it. It must be right. Right?

I’m the first to admit that Library budgets (whether here or elsewhere) are incredibly finite in face of all the things librarians would like to do. They cannot buy all the books and journals (and now the database access) they would like to have, that they need, for their constituents, much less buy things that are bad, or incorrect. Libraries dab their toes in the ‘bad’ waters by subscribing to popular magazines but even then they’re on the reasonably decent end of the spectrum. There’s just no budget for bad.

Now comes the Internet and Wikipedia and all heck breaks loose.

Critical thinking is a buzzword we throw around but it’s now a critical skill in learning to navigate life. Learning how to take in information, compare it to what facts we happen to have on hand, how to find proper facts and to make decisions based on this information, or lack of information, is an art as much as a skill.

Critical thinking isn’t a common skill. Come on, be honest! It only takes 2 people to fall for the Nigerian widow request, to ‘refund’ overpayments on Craig’s list, to sign up for a service where “you can only get this deal if you sign up right now” (my mother-in-law just got bit by that one), or reply to an email that “your inbox is full, give us your password so we can fix it” and a thousand other variations on these scams that keep the con artists in dough. Taking one step back and asking “does this make sense?” is not something we do often enough.

The Internet makes scams harder to spot and doing stupid even easier. Add to that the generation of kids now going to school who grew up with the Internet always being there. Us old folk try to chant “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true” at the top of our lungs but I know that message isn’t getting through. The secondary message of “Anything you put on the Internet is forever” also doesn’t have a chance. It’s not on my news feed, therefore it must be gone.

So. What’s next?

Even though it often feels like a losing battle, fighting spam and cons is something we have to do regularly. But we also are obligated to help folk think things through. Just stopping someone doesn’t help them the next time if they don’t know how to generalize the situation… if they don’t know how to think for themselves. Letting someone else do your thinking for you has unexpected consequences.

But that’s tomorrow’s discussion.

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