The School Library Journal has an interview with school librarian in California who might be fired along with all her fellow school librarians in Pasadena unless a parcel tax measure is voter-approved next month. She’s also the librarian who opined in the L.A. Times that school librarians "save the Google students."
One thing we can say about this librarian: she’s got a talent for hyperbole which would serve her well as a guru or marketing specialist. When asked: "What is the outcome for students who are not taught how to navigate the Web?", she answers, "I think either they will drown or our civilization is headed for a state in which facts don’t mean anything, the truth is devalued, and information takes control of us." Only the librarian, it seems, can teach students to navigate the Web.
I’m assuming she doesn’t mean the students will literally drown if they don’t know how to navigate the Web. If a student were actually drowning, even Googling the precise and useful phrase "how to swim" would be unlikely to happen. One cannot type while flapping ones arms wildly about in the water attempting to stay afloat, or at least this one can’t. Perhaps that Google voice feature might help, but there’s still the trouble of reading the answer with arms a-flapping.
She probably means they’ll "drown" in information, but how likely is that? In her Op-Ed piece she talks about searching for global warming and how the students need help finding reliable resources. If you search Google for global warming the results are pretty good. The first entry is naturally the Wikipedia entry for global warming that has 126 citations and about 30 suggested further readings. The savvy student could just stop right there and follow links to all sorts of great resources, already contextualized by Wikipedia.
The next hit is the EPA site on climate change, which seems okay, if you trust the government. It’s true the next result is the neo-con globalwarming.org, but that merely provides a contrast to the next few sites more driven by science than politics.
Are school children going to drown in information when they probably won’t get past the first ten hits on Google?
She argues that some research is best done using the library’s books and their subscription databases. That’s probably true for a lot of searches. But is the goal to get them using the library, or is the goal to get the good information for their research? If the goal is to get them good information, then Google works well enough.
Also, once the students are finished with school, Google’s about all they’re going to have, especially after their public libraries go broke and stop funding the subscription databases most people don’t use anyway. Why get their hopes up that they’ll be able to use some great database once they’re out of school?
The second dire outcome is even better: "our civilization is headed for a state in which facts don’t mean anything, the truth is devalued, and information takes control of us." To which I can only say, "Baby, we’ve arrived!"
Our civilization is already in a state where facts and truth are meaningless for a very large number of people. If you want concrete examples, pick your poison. Just about anything to do with politics these days is a good choice, from the Tea Partiers to the Hutaree Militia.
(Sorry not to be more balanced, but the left-wing kooks all started biting their tongues when Obama was elected, so now it’s our season for right-wing kooks. Even the ALA Council has shut up about politics for the most part.).
Throw in all the people who believe in astrology and other new age phenomena, and you’ve got a pretty good portion of the country.
Here’s a more neutral choice: do vaccines cause autism? There’s absolutely no evidence they do, and plenty of studies showing no causation. Try telling that to Jenny McCarthy and her followers. Someone sent me this quote for a chuckle:
If the debate about vaccine safety is settled — vaccines don’t cause autism; they don’t injure children; they are the pillar of modern public health — then why are so many parents reconsidering vaccinating their children? The answer has to do with our era’s strained relationship with scientific truth, our tendency to place more faith in psychological truths than scientific ones. McCarthy’s emergence — the Playmate turned pseudoscientist, the fart-joke teller cum mother warrior — can make one feel nostalgic for the time when celebs turned up on talk shows only to hawk their flicks or books, not to promote explosive public-health ideas. But McCarthy says she is speaking the truth — her truth.
Her truth! I love it! Read more of the story is you want a quick lesson in human gullibility.
The thing is, we’ve had school librarians all along, and yet we still have a culture of gullible, credulous people who have an arm’s length relationship with facts, truth, or reasoning. Maybe it’s the fault of the librarians!
Oh, I know, someone will probably say that if Jenny McCarthy or the astrologists had only experienced the joys of a school librarian, things would be different. Okay, if you say so.