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What we need to know by Paul Sturges

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Paul Sturges held a presentation "What we need to know: and why we need to know it" at the Serbian Library Association’s 10th International conference "The World and European Horizons of Librarianship in Digital Age", October 2011

Publicada em: Educação, Negócios
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What we need to know by Paul Sturges

  1. 1. WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW: AND WHY WE NEED TO KNOW IT Paul Sturges Dept of Information Science Loughborough University
  2. 2. A question? <ul><li>The title of this presentation can be re-phrased as a question </li></ul><ul><li>What do we need to know and why do we need to know it? </li></ul><ul><li>The answer is simple: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Everything we want to know, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For our autonomy as individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The answer may be simple, but in practice it leads to problems </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Answer <ul><li>First we will look at some benefits of knowing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Self-fulfilment for the individual </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Better education </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More effective democracy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Better business environment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduction of corruption </li></ul></ul><ul><li>And then we will examine some objections to knowing, which lead to self-censorship. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Self fulfilment and education <ul><li>Some societies restrict and distort access to information through </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Religion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social conventions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Systems of education </li></ul></ul><ul><li>This ultimately frustrates enquiring minds, limits creativity and condemns society to backwardness. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Democracy <ul><li>Democracy depends on intelligent use of the right to vote. This requires </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Well-informed political organisations and activists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Voters who understand political issues </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media which inform as well as persuade </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Democracy can be frustrated by </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Suppression and censorship of ideas </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trivialisation of news and comment. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Business <ul><li>Successful economic activity depends on access to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>New ideas on products and services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Market information on costs, prices and demand </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowledge of investment and credit opportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Competition encourages innovation and brings down prices, and it depends on information. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Combating Corruption <ul><li>Corruption is the dishonest seeking of private advantage from public activity </li></ul><ul><li>It can involve obtaining money and favours, or promoting the advantage of family and friends </li></ul><ul><li>Corruption depends on secrecy so as to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Avoid legal penalties </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cheat uninformed victims </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All methods of combating corruption basically rely on transparency and access to information. </li></ul>
  8. 8. The Problems <ul><li>Some people don’t want us to know (censors) </li></ul><ul><li>Types of censors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>State </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Religion </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media owners </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Information professionals, including librarians? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Our own self-censorship </li></ul>
  9. 9. Official censorship (State and Religion) <ul><li>Prior restraints: systems of censorship before publication </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The classic response of states that fear comment and the spread of information </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Consequent legal action: challenges to published material </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This can be another means of repression, or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A genuine means to test whether information and ideas are harmful to society or individuals </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Media Ownership <ul><li>Control of access to information through corporate policy </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Personal identification of power and ownership (Berlusconi, Italy) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Monopoly and Oligopoly in ownership (Murdoch, UK and USA) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The state has a responsibility to create an open and competitive media environment </li></ul><ul><li>It often prefers media owned and controlled by its supporters. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Information Professionals <ul><li>Internet access is mediated by search engines that rank information by commercial (and other?) criteria </li></ul><ul><li>There is a genuine risk that ‘neutral’ sources can actually be biased </li></ul><ul><li>Some people say librarians are censors, because they ‘select’ content and ‘advise’ </li></ul><ul><li>This could be ‘soft censorship’: based on a kind of self-censorship. </li></ul><ul><li>Information literacy is the answer. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Our own self-censorship <ul><li>Self-censorship may be because of fear (of the state, courts, police, criminal enforcers, etc) </li></ul><ul><li>It may be to avoid pressures from </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Society generally </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Religious groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Workplace and professional authority </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The term ‘constraints of conformity’ describes much of this. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Constraints of conformity <ul><li>The fear of disappointing social expectations by shocking, offending or disturbing. </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of conformity: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Family values and ways of behaving </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Everyday good manners and tact, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The desire not to offend sensitive groups </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All of these tend to be deeply internalised. </li></ul>
  14. 14. The ways we internalise self censorship <ul><li>We believe we can identify ‘good reasons’ for self censorship. Examples: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not damaging national security </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Protecting social stability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Preserving the national culture </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tolerance towards others with different beliefs </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Most of these have some validity, but how much? </li></ul>
  15. 15. National security <ul><li>This plays on patriotism, but it encourages xenophobia. </li></ul><ul><li>One country is sometimes threatened by another, but </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How much secrecy is needed to protect national security? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How effective is secrecy as a protection? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>National security is the favourite excuse of repressive regimes for suppressing freedom of expression. </li></ul>
  16. 16. Social stability <ul><li>This is based on the suggestion that not discussing social problems will help make them improve. </li></ul><ul><li>For example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It protects the flag and national symbols; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prohibits insults to national leaders; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Makes either denial or discussion of events like genocides illegal. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is it just a way to avoid difficult issues? </li></ul>
  17. 17. The national culture <ul><li>Most of us have a certain love of our national culture (whatever that is) </li></ul><ul><li>We also tend to believe that it is ‘threatened’ by outside influences </li></ul><ul><li>But can we ‘protect’ it? </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of the protection of culture tend to be ridiculous. </li></ul><ul><li>Doesn’t culture change naturally, whatever we try to do about it? </li></ul>
  18. 18. Tolerance of others <ul><li>Tolerance of others is admirable, especially in multicultural societies, but </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Does this mean tolerating beliefs and practices we believe to be wrong? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should we limit freedom of expression because some groups find it disturbing and offensive? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Isn’t it disrespectful to regard others as incapable of accepting reasoned criticism? </li></ul></ul>
  19. 19. Conclusion (for Librarians) <ul><li>Selection is not censorship, but if librarians do self-censor it can be as bad as if they were censors. </li></ul><ul><li>Librarians need to be aware of their own natural tendency towards ‘soft censorship’. </li></ul><ul><li>This means they must be particularly careful of accepting the ‘reasons’ to self censor. </li></ul><ul><li>Librarians have a special responsibility not to do the censors’ work for them. </li></ul>