Doris Lessing

Posted December 12, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Culture

Over at Library Juice, there is a post about Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.  In it, Lessing briefly mentions the Internet.  She does this in the context of observations about the gap in cultural capital (the most basic kind – books, schools, teachers) between the West and the impoverished developing world.  The Library Juice post, however, takes this passing reference and runs with it – saying that she “questions the Internet.”  Horror of horrors! 

 Her speech (really a sort of literary essay) is,  as one would expect, brilliant, incisive, and heartbreakingly clear-eyed.  Yes, she does speak of the decline of reading and notes the correlation between a decline in reading and general cultural literacy evinced in the modern West and the rise of “computers, the Internet, and TV.” But, these are commonplace observations, and clearly Lessing implicitly acknowleges their nuances.  She notes that the technological revolution “is not the first revolution we, the human race, has dealt with.” Yet, it is different compared with the print revolution, which, she observes, “did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, changed our minds and ways of thinking.”

I realise that the people at Library Juice are not trying to paint Lessing as some sort of Luddite, but I was a bit dismayed to see this aspect of her speech portrayed this way in the headline of the post.  It seemed to distort the nature of her remarks, which were much more expansive – and important – than an aside about the societal and cultural implications of technology. 

Perhaps it was the seemingly dismissive way that Lessing referred to the Internet, which she said “has seduced a whole generation into its inanities” that got under the skin of the technophiles at Library Juice.  Unfortunatley, these sorts of remarks – especially when they are made by anyone over the age of fifty –  always seem to elicit hostility all out of proportion to their intent. 

Certainly, it is not untrue that the Internet, while providing revolutionary access to information and ‘publishing’ to millions, has also facilitated a metastasizing of the trends of commodity fetishism, and consumer-driven dumbing down of cultural space.  You don’t need to read Adorno to understand that Facebook does not really empower social and political change as much as it indulges consumerist self-absorption.

  In any case, Lessing’s remarks are important – not least because one of the most important writers of the twentieth century is offering insight about our society and culture from the perspective of the end of her career.  And the fact that she is still able to contribute to a vital conversation about the moral and ethical issues of cultural politics is, I think,  a cause for celebration.  Having said that, I’m still pleased that the people at Library Juice noted her remarks, and that they recognized their importance – even if they got the tone a bit wrong.  


Critical Librarianship

Posted December 11, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Librarianship

Toni Samek, who teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta, has written a new book: Librarianship and Human Rights: A Twenty-first century guide.  She also chairs the Advisory Board on Intellectual Freedom of the CLA.  

Her book is grounded in the idea of critical librarianship, which sees librarians and as active participants in struggles for human rights – especially those enunciated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For Samek, the core values of librarianship are connected with information ethics and global information justice. Moreover, these values are necessarily linked with issues of intellectual freedom, intellectual property, censorship, academic freedom, workplace speech, and national security policies – to name a few. There’s an interview with Samek over at PLG Reads, in which she expands on these ideas.

Critical Theory and LIS

Posted November 30, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Theory

In my search for articles linking librarianship or library and information science (LIS) with critical theory, I’ve come across very little. What this search has illuminated, however, is that a relative dearth of scholarship in this area may also represent opportunities to expand the theoretical scope of LIS beyond its traditional foundations. Clearly, there is room for further research in this area.


A couple of recent articles that I have found serve to highlight the intellectual potential of critical theory in connexion with LIS. The first, which is linked here, is published in Information Research, a peer-reviewed online journal that published interdisciplinary information-related articles. The second, which is attached, was published in a surprisingly interesting education journal, Policy Futures in Education.


Critical Theory and Information Studies


In my opinion, the first article is the least appealing and the least well written, rambling on for over 5,000 words to make arguments that probably could have been addressed in much less space. The second article is better organised, less ambitious in scope, and makes its points about the potential for critical theoretical intervention in LIS much more effectively.

Theory on library blogs

Posted October 3, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Theory

The first thread that I want to pick up on the relaunch of this blog is the issue of theory – social, cultural, critical – on library blogs. I’m on the lookout for thoughtful commentary and good links in this regard.

 The first that I’ll mention is the theory thread on Library Juice, which recently provided a link to an article in New Left Review by Regis Debray that considered the decline of socialism and socialist political culture in terms of the decline of print culture. A very interesting essay – especially in light of the concept of print-capitalism explored in the work of Benedict Anderson (although Debray doesn’t cite him in this particular article).

Also worthy of mention – at Library Thing, you’ll find a treasure trove of works tagged under cultural theory, as well as a set of related tags for cultural studies, critical theory, anthropology, sociology, etc. Check them out.

Habitus is back.

Posted September 20, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: General

This begins – I hope – what will be the resumption of my regular posts to Habitus.  I’ve given up my non-tenured teaching position and become an academic librarian.

Now, I should have more time to make regular updates to this blog. At this point, I have no specific idea for the direction this project will take. In general, however, I see it developing as a platform for my thoughts about academic librarianship and perhaps also as a venue for exploration of my other academic and intellectual interests. Stay tuned.

Open access – standing order

Posted April 24, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Patriot Act and Libraries

This post brings to a (temporary) close my examination of some of the issues surrounding intellectual freedom and libraries, with special attention to the USA Patriot Act. I invite you to peruse the postings, follow the links, and review the sources that I have compiled over this past month.

Although the main focus of this blog has been the Patriot Act and its affect on intellectual freedom in libraries, it also encompasses issues of intellectual freedom that are much broader. Questions of freedom of expression, invasion of privacy, and due process – in other words, the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution – are necessarily embedded in all aspects of civil society. And libraries are among the bedrock institutions of civil society.

To close, therefore, I can think of no better quotation than that of James Madison, the ‘father of the Constitution,’ and fourth president of the United States:

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”


Joan C. Durrance, Karen Pettigrew, Michael Jourdan, Karen Scheuerer. “Libraries and Civil Society,” in Libraries: The Cornerstone of Democracy, Nancy Kranich, Chicago: American Library Association, 2001. Online. Available

James Madison to W.T. Barry. Writings 9:103-9. The Founders’ Constitution, Epilogue: Securing the Republic. Online (April 23, 2007) Available

A series of tubes…

Posted April 23, 2007 by usfbear
Categories: Patriot Act and Libraries

Threats to intellectual freedom and civil liberties, of course, are not confined solely to the machinations of what seems to have become a politicized and out-of-control Justice Department. Members of Congress, pursuing their various political and economic agendas, are also piling on, with legislation aimed at policing the Internet in the name of defending minors against salacious material and untoward strangers.

While the latter justification is ostensibly a worthy one, one must question the motivations of those politicians who would put the burden of overseeing the Internet activities of minors on librarians, and on adult patrons of libraries. This, of course, is to say nothing of the constitutional implications of having the government set standards for what library patrons may or may not access on the Internet in public libraries.

Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska plans to introduce a bill that would require libraries receiving federal e-rate funding to block “social networking” websites from underage users – unless they are under adult supervision, and accessed for “an education al purpose.” Yes, this is the same Senator Stevens who made a fool of himself on the Senate floor last year with his rambling and ill-informed remarks about net neutrality.

This proposed legislation comes on the heels of similar bills being drafted in Illinois, Georgia, and North Carolina, that would restrict access to sites like MySpace and Facebook to children and teens.


The problem with these laws is that they are vague (the definition of “social networking” being too broad), and they place an undue burden for supervising the activities of minors on libraries. Moreover, as Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom noted, the bills don’t address the need for educating youth in the safe use of the Internet. Rather, she said, they will “drive youth on the Internet underground, where they will be far more vulnerable to predators.”




“Senator Revises Web Monitoring Bill,” American Libraries, April 20, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


“Three States and Feds Pursue Social Networking Controls,” American Libraries, February 16, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


Liz Ruskin “Internet ‘Tubes’ Speech Turns Spotlight, Ridicule onto Sen. Stevens,” McClatchy Newspapers, July 15, 2006. New Center. Online (April 22, 2007) Available


“A series of Tubes,” The Daily Show with John Stuart, July 12, 2006. YouTube, March 20, 2007. Online (April 22, 2007) Available