How to Beat Bias Againist the News? Libraries

February 3, 2018 | 1

Lisa Eve Cheby argues that one of the best ways to beat ‘fake news’ claims (which is really media illiteracy) is to fund more libraries. Read the rest of her argument in Entropy. I’m certainly convinced.

One comment:

  1. I think one of the reasons libraries (along with society at large) find themselves in such difficult times is that, at some point in the media evolution/revolution when books started to give ground to other media (even daily newspapers, the best of which are certainly worthwhile, but the frequency and aim of which makes them insufficient, on their own, for achieving healthy perspective), libraries (and educational institutions) found it necessary to strive for “relevance”, to join what they could not beat, as it were. The capitulation to prevailing consumer tastes has left us much the poorer.

    I am a regular patron of my local public library and can’t help but notice that the majority of the other patrons are there to consume the internet, DVDs and newspapers. Maybe a latte, if there is a cafe. Nothing intrinsically wrong with those offerings, except that they’re easily obtained elsewhere and can easily distract from the core purpose of the library. (This concern applies also to books, as my library seems to have more copies of “Chicken Soup for The Soul” than all of its volumes of Nietzsche’s works combined. )

    To the untrained eye, the square footage/staffing/climate control devoted to media resources now readily available in digital form seems unnecessary. So politicians make librarians atone for the sins of previous politicians, who pressed for more “relevant” materials, activities and amenities to please a broader base of voters. They wanted libraries to be more “democratic” (in the worst sense of that word). It’s as if we’re embarrassed to have a place in the community dedicated to learning. (A recent election would suggest that there’s no need for the “It’s as if” in that sentence.) We have to make the library user-friendly to the point of changing its intended use.

    This dynamic (as well as the burden of providing indoor space for the homeless during the day) has made it harder for the public library to serve the pressing need of equipping those citizens who are willing to seek out a more balanced diet of information. The value and achievement of that purpose cannot be measured by head counts and satisfaction surveys, nor any kind of metrics a typical politician could appreciate. This dynamic detracts from the need for at least some of the people in our society (not all of them, but more of them) to focus on timeless unanswered questions. Questions as relevant as ever, but lost in the moment-to-moment stream of up to the minute news and “news”.

    When people ponder why kids don’t want to learn, I am inclined to suggest it has something to do with the fact that the stuff they’re being taught does not reward curiosity but kills it. (And I’m not suggesting I have a problem with making children memorize some kinds of facts. They should memorize “boring” facts. Without enough raw material on board, there’s no way to learn how to think or how to acquire deeper knowledge. It’s key to knowing what questions to ask, how to formulate them and whether any given materials are responsive or reliable in answering those questions.) I’m against focusing so much attention on questions that can or will be answered–and such questions and answers justifiably forgotten–in the next few minutes or days. This creates a maladjusted “focal length”, an inability to consider facts within a broader context. To test hot takes against the patterns of history. And a disinclination to continue seeking to answer the kinds of questions that will never be fully answered, not in any sort of multiple choice/yes-no/fill in the blank sort of way. Questions that will continue to frustrate us.

    We’re constantly told–not least by media companies and the folks who sell the hardware through which the media travels–that we hold in our hands unprecedented access to knowledge. Meanwhile wisdom slips though our fingers…

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