or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

The Importance of Public Information

   January 20th, 2009 Brian Herzog

yes we can tshirtIn honor of Inauguration Day 2009, I thought I'd risk talking a little politics.

One thing that I'm really looking forward to from the Obama Administration is a restoration of openness and transparency in our government's Executive Branch. Bush/Cheney was, from the very start, shockingly - insultingly - as secretive and closed-door as they could be, at all times. The even used a private email server to deliberately avoid public oversight. More than almost anything else from the Bush/Cheney years, I've followed the continuous coverage of the arrogant culture of concealment and avoidance.

I know this is all very lofty for a blog about library stuff, but the good old trickle down theory comes into play here. When the top levels of government disdain public oversight and inquiry, it can spread to other aspects of the government, right down to library issue like copyright and public records.

So, in the hopes of making this post marginally useful, here are a few Inauguration-related resources:

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DNC Launches McCainpedia

   May 20th, 2008 Brian Herzog

McCainpedia logoI thought this was an interesting approach to organizing political information: the Democratic National Committee has created "McCainpedia."

McCainpedia is a wiki intended to serve as the hub for opposition research for the upcoming presidential race. It's interesting because it is a example of a large and important organization using a wiki to communicate with (not to, but with) its members.

As far as the world of politics goes, it seems like a pretty novel idea to make information public like this. But I like it. I just finished reading Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, which talks a lot about how making things public actually makes them more accurate and more secure.

In the book, the topic is computer encryption. The reasoning is that if the encryption technology is made public, much smarter people than its creators will try to break it - if no one can break it, then you know it's secure. But if you keep it secret, you'll never know about its vulnerabilities until it's too late.

I like that a political party is bringing information to the public in an easy-to-use format, instead of doing all their research and strategizing in the proverbial smoke-filled, locked-door war room. It would be even better if the information wasn't just anti-McCain, but compared his positions to the democratic nominee.

I'm sure both republicans and democrats will be scrutinizing the information published here, and reporting any errors or omissions. This will lead to better information, which leads to a more informed public.

And even though the information is obviously biased, I still would consider this a trustworthy source. You always need to take the source and its slant into account when using information, but because the DNC is putting its name on this and taking responsibility for it, I would trust them to be accurate.

Via Huffington Post, via Politico.com

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Reference Question of the Week – 5/11/08

   May 17th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Question markI was traveling most of last week, so this week's reference question is actually something I was asked outside the library (and hear often, as I'm sure most librarians do):

Aren't you going to be out of a job when computers replace books?

There's lots of answers to this, but I was happy to illustrate my point with a quote a book.

In Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless, two characters are comparing astrology to the science of astronomy. One of them makes the case that its rules and methods is what gives astrology value, because they serve to bring out the information someone is seeking.

"It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations."

I immensely enjoy books, and don't think they are going anywhere any time soon, but this question implied that libraries are just book warehouses. In fact, libraries aren't about books at all - we are about information, and access to that information.

Printed and bound books are just one form of "graphite dust" that can be used to reveal the important part - the information they contain. E-books, newspapers, websites, DVDs, journals, mp3s and paintings are also types of delivery media for information.

As long as there information, there will be a need to organize it, convey it, give it context, and help others use it. Talk about job security.

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