Saturday, December 10, 2005

The 3 Rules of Librarianotics, and other thoughts.

This falls under another of those things librarians should frame and put on their desks, offices, classrooms and other spaces so they can be reminded: Ayre's Three Rules of Librarianotics, which are inspired by Asimov's Rules of Robotics. Ayre's Rules then:

"Rule 1: Librarians must ensure that information continues to be available and readily accessible and usable to all people regardless of their intellect, technical abilities, economic standing, location, race, color, creed, etc.

Rule 2: Librarians must protect the privacy of the people who use their services.

Rule 3: Librarians must explore and take leadership positions in the development of new technologies in order to ensure that they are implemented in ways that do not conflict with the first two rules."

I would think one rule is enough, which is ensure access for all and do so in a way that respects privacy. Everything else should follow, but this a very nice phrasing. Found this through the Librarian in Black, who also points to some recent discussions about MySpace and privacy. While I personally I am not gung-ho about give everybody everything and the consequences be damned, which seems to be a passion for a lot of public librarians, I am also for personal responsibility and education, and I think a lot of this boils down to that. Teach people how to make good use of technology and let them at it, and they will be fine. To put it in context, readers may want to look over a recent post of mine on student bloggers, with some remarks, in this case, about Facebook, another social tool. Don't get me wrong, I think we should be using social tools when possible, but when I hear about how people can misrepresent themselves, and it turns out it was some predator going after a little girl, that is where I draw my line. And when it turns out the pervert did it at a library, it makes me feel worse. I will grant, these instances can be very rare, but one is too many. My bias? I have a child of my own, one that by the way her mother and me do our best to watch out for, supervise when she is on the net, and so on. In other words, we do all the things we should be doing a lot of other people don't do. So, when librarians simply say let them have everything without thinking, they just make my work harder. So I bring very mixed feelings to this. On the one hand, I could care less if people chat, use MySpace or do whatever they want on a public library computer as long as it is not illegal. I don't want librarians to be policing; it's not their job. But in the few instances when it can become a problem, such as a patron looking at porn where others can see it, I do expect the library to do something about it. You want porn? Go read it at home, not in front of children. Or, the library can have some stations to the side for adults. Do I have a solution? Not a perfect one; I don't think any of us do, but to simply wash our hands and say let them have the access without any responsibility seems to be a very easy way out, a very easy way to ease our consciences. On the other hand, to censor on the basis of what someone may do is to yield to fear, ignorance, and pandering to certain groups who would take away our freedoms on the guise of morals, and that is much worse a fate. I think what I would like is a balance, a common sense balance, but it is going to take librarians, teachers, parents and communities to make it work. Sometimes I have to wonder why simple balance has to be so complicated. I don't think it has to be; it's just a matter of some people deciding they want to do something good for a change. Maybe that is why I was able to boil the rules down to one: assure access and respect privacy. Because we often do forget that children have a right to privacy as well. In fact, they may have more of a right than adults do, a right to be children. And no, I am aware we are not in some idyllic setting. That children see more horrible things now than in our time. That is not the point. The point is it should take all of us, the village, to help raise the child, and that includes librarians. It also takes the parents. Parents who simply neglect to do their duty to be parents make it more difficult for the rest of us who actually do our best to raise a child.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can be used for good or ill. The technology should not be condemned when ill happens. The ones who use it for ill purposes are the ones who should be punished, and harshly. In one of those posts at the discussion the Librarian in Black pointed out, someone said we should be infiltrating places like MySpace with our librarian skills. I think it was K. Schneider. A nice idea, imagine if we could use such spaces and the power of the good we can do in order to educate others about good uses of such tools right where they are at. We could even provide safe havens, so to speak.

In the meantime, I will do my best to follow the rules Ayre proposes. I will also try to listen to other conversations on this, see where they lead. I will also ask questions, raise concerns, and wonder. And I will keep learning from my daughter as well as from my students in academia. After all, some day, they will be the ones running things. Would it not be nice if we taught them well, and then we could sit back and enjoy life? Just a thought.

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