A kind reader sent this to me. McCain held a rally in Minnesota apparently dominated by ignorant barbarians. I thought after they elected that professional wrestler to be their governor the ignorant barbarians in Minnesota climbed back into their caves and resumed their primary activities, which include grunting and gnawing on raw goat flesh. Apparently, they’ve emerged and are now supporting McCain. The link is to an interview with a woman named Gayle Quinnell who told McCain at a rally that Obama was an Arab. McCain took the microphone away from her, shook his head, and said, "No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen…." The news site says McCain "quickly corrects" her, implying that no Arabs are decent family men or citizens. I thought this was hilarious before finding out she might have said "Arab terrorist." Oh well.
McCain didn’t want to give her any forum for her crazy views and in fact seems a bit puzzled these days that his campaign is attracting so many ignorant and ferocious barbarians ("ferocity" was his word at this rally. I added the rest.). Fortunately, the ever-vigilant news media were there for all of us. Though the interview is a little choppy, it seems that the woman is a Republican party volunteer in Minnesota (guess Al Franken won’t be getting her vote) who believes Obama is an Arab and a Muslim and a terrorist. And talk about politically active! "I sent out 400 letters. I went toKinkos and I got them all printed out. And I sent about 400 letters. I went in the telephone book and sent them out to people. So they can decide if they would want Obama." Now that takes dedication! Not to mention a lot of stamps. Apparently the Republican Party headquarters she volunteers at is a hotbed of uninformed nitwits who fear that if Obama is elected we’ll all have to break out our prayer rugs. I don’t mind the prayer rugs so much myself because they can really tie a room together, but that giving up martinis thing is definitely out.
So first let’s laugh or cry at all the incredibly stupid and ignorant people out there who always seem to show up in droves come election day. Good, is that done? Now you can wonder why someone sent this to me. Ms.Quinnell wasn’t happy being so uninformed, so she sought out more formation. Where did she get this information? Her local library, of course! "I went to the library inShakopee [MN] and I got lots of … three pages of information about Obama." The person who sent this in wrote, "<Sigh> It ought to be a crime for a disillusioned patron to leave a public library with so much misinformation… If I worked at the Shakopee Public Library, I’d be mortified." I suppose I would be, too, though I think I’m more mortified that people like this are allowed to vote.
I really wanted to end with some comment that the woman walked out of her public library with such misinformation, but at least she learned how to play guitar hero. Something along those lines. However, it appears I can’t. I visited the library website. They have storytimes, book discussion groups, talks by published teen Minnesota authors. I didn’t find anything implying they thought videogame literacy was especially important to promote in society. It seemed from the website like a good old fashioned library that was in the business of providing information and supporting literacy rather than resorting to gimmicks and fads to try to lure teens through the door any way they could. The county system website at the moment of writing is dominated by a big banner saying, "Looking for non-partisan details on national, state and local candidates plus other election information? Click *here* for a list of web sites." Those Scott County librarians are trying. Maybe the same banner should have been on the web page of the Shakopee branch site as well, though. Maybe then Ms. Quinnell would have been able to find some better information.
The question remains, though: how could this happen? It’s almost certain there had to be some intermediation with a librarian if in fact she got any information from the library. Let’s look at the facts. This woman is 75 years old. The fact that she is unable to consider evidence objectively and is willing to accept a meager amount of information on Obama at face value with no consideration of counterarguments shows she’s uneducated and not too bright, like most of the people in the country. She’d need help finding stuff. That she went through the phone book looking for addresses and mailed out physical documents suggests she’s not too facile with technology. Who sends paper these days? That’s just crazy. (What she sent out might not have been the information she got at the library, by the way, but a pamphlet she got from someone at McCain headquarters. Nice.)
She also doesn’t seem to have a computer, which suggests further she’s not web-savvy. Why no computer? If she did get any information from the library, it would have to have been from Internet sources. It’s not like they’re going to have books with this stuff, though I suppose it’s possible that the person at McCain headquarters handing out the anti-Obama pamphlets left a stack at the reference desk. The only place one is going to find this sort of misinformation on Obama is on websites and listservs and such devoted to the hopelessly ignorant. (Come to think of it, that describes most Internet sources. Let’s say dedicated to hopelessly ignorant, stupid bigots and maintained by the people who cater to them. Is that any better?) If she’d had a computer with an Internet connection, she could have looked for the information herself at home instead of going to the library.
If she does have a computer with an Internet connection, she doesn’t know how to do searches. She’d need help, and in walks our friendly librarian. If this is the case, it might be that some librarian helped create this particular monster. How would an uneducated, unintelligent, technologically unsophisticated 75-year-old woman wander into the library and start downloading anti-Obama propaganda? Did she just pop into the library and start Googling Obama? Or did she get any help? Maybe there was some intermediation. What if Quinnell went up to the librarian and said, "I want something saying Obama is a Muslim." What should the poor librarian do?
This would certainly have been an appropriate moment for a reference interview, the bizarre practice based on the undeniable fact that library patrons almost never know what they’re talking about. Keeping in mind that one has to adapt to the intellectual and educational level of one’s interlocutor if one is to communicate effectively (which would explain why some of my critics don’t understand the AL), my reference interview might have gone something like this:
GQ: "I want something saying Obama is an Arab terrorist."
AL: "Why in the hell would you want that?"
GQ: "Because he’s an Arab and he’s got some Muslim in him."
AL: "That’s funny. He doesn’t look Muslim."
GQ: "Really? What does a Muslim look like?"
AL: "I think they all look like Yasser Arafat. Aren’t all Muslims required to wear beards?"
GQ: "They sure all seem to."
AL: "Even the women. That’s why they wear veils."
GQ: "That makes good sense."
AL: "But I don’t think Obama has a beard."
GQ: "No, he doesn’t."
AL : "Then he can’t very well be a Muslim, can he?"
GQ: "No, I guess not."
AL: "And if he’s not a Muslim, then he can’t very well be an Arab terrorist, can he?"
GQ: "That’s true. I never thought about it that way before."
AL: "Do you have any other questions?"
GQ: "No. You’ve been a big help. Thank you."
AL: "You’re quite welcome. Have a nice day!"
Obviously, nothing like that happened, because Quinnell thinks "he’s still got Muslim in him. So that’s still part of him. I got all the stuff from the library and I could send you all kinds of stuff on him." Librarians are all supposed to be neutral, so maybe there’s an earnest and neutral librarian there in Shakopee who instead said, "Okay. here’s a website that says Obama is a Muslim. May I help you with any other information requests?" If this unlikely scenario actually happened, I think we could all say with Quinnell, "No, you’ve done quite enough already."
Does anything like this go on at public libraries? If someone came up to the desk in a public library and asked for something saying Obama is an Arab terrorist, would that be that the proper behavior of a reference librarian? To be neutral and give someone what they want? Academic reference librarians don’t so much hand out information as train people how to do research and evaluate sources, so they don’t have to be so neutral. Do public librarians help people evaluate resources as well? I did a quick Google search for [library "evaluating sources"] and in the first hundred hits found nothing from a public library.
Would interacting with a public librarian have helped any here, or would Quinnell still have walked out of the library with the same thing? And if the librarians are neutral providers of information in situations like this, is that really a good thing? Do public libraries have a mission just to provide information and videogames, or to help produce informed citizens? The strict neutralists might reply that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Academic reference librarians might say you can lead a horse to several sources of water and educate the horse on how to figure out which ones are the best. The gamey librarians might say why lead a horse to water at all if you can lead him to Dance Dance Revolution. What goes on out there, public librarians? An inquiring non-public librarian wants to know.