Sunday, May 17, 2015

Information is Power

Greetings Reader!

Librarians are fond of our platitudes.  Knowledge is power, information is power.  We stand up for literacy and we're not going to give anyone your circulation records without a warrant, and even then we'd probably still fight it.

I felt pretty in step with the whole Information Literacy thing I've been talking about lo these 20 plus now years.  Know you need information!  Know where to find information!  Evaluate the information!  Use the information!  Oh, and cite everything exactly depending on which style manual you are using.  Librarians have spent a bit too much time talking just to each other about what "information literacy" means and what it looks like.

So I was schooled by 7 amazing researchers on a Wednesday evening at a program hosted at Stanford by the African and African American Studies department and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts.  I heard a panel curated by author/activist dream hampton of the following:

Patrisse Cullors
Mike de la Rocha
Dante Berry
Yusef Bunchy Shakur
Monifa Bandele
Malachi Garza

Each speaker gave a brief presentation on a specific project/action he or she has worked on and also shared their action items with the audience, which I will add in below.  What struck a chord with me as I listened was how clearly each person defined the information he or she needed to solve the problem being addressed.

For example, when Monifa Bandele and dream hampton were conducting CopWatch patrols in New York City, it was because they needed to know and have evidence of racially biased Stop and Frisk activities.  Malachi Garza's charts illustrated the change over time of the type of youth being incarcerated in order to understand how to improve services to youth instead of just locking them up. Mike de la Rocha spoke passionately about the need to educate people with felonies that have now been reclassified to misdemeanors about how to clear their records.  The silos of data gathering each of these activists confronted just to get accurate statistics on publicly funded law enforcement issues belies the myth that Big Data is going to solve all of our problems.  Is there a possibility of "Big Data" to examine trends and parse situations when some records aren't even being kept?

I am finally getting more comfortable with, or maybe used to, the humbling experience of being exposed to copious amounts of history/data I didn't know about.  More accepting of the bright flood of information coming into my horizons as layers of blinders fall away.  It has been humbling, but also very helpful in trying to make sense of things I didn't understand, as I've come to see that what I thought was the whole story, the big pictures, had great big gaps.

On to more things I didn't know.  I knew about the Black Panthers, but I didn't know about the Young Lords.  I didn't know that currently 2.3 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated, which is an increase of 700% over the past 40 years, which means that 1-4 adults has a criminal record.

I did not know about the book by Yusef Bunchy Shakur about his experience of meeting his father in prison or about Shakur's work as a neighborhood organizer in Detroit.

It is a very interesting time to have grown up in the friendly 1970s of the Midwest in a small college town, where I went to a magnet school as a child, to being an adult in Silicon Valley,  which is actually a jurisdictionally fragmented imaginary location spread across a variety of municipalities and shares codes and regulations with a county, a state, and in fact a nation.

It is easy to point fingers at mass media and bemoan the loss of actual journalism (see "long form journalism" as it is called now) but you know what?  Just like these amazing organizers, if you need to know why something is the way it is, you go find out.  Our world isn't as connected as it could or should be, but the amazing speed with which a hashtag search for #schoolsnotprisons returns a plethora of results demonstrates the role social media can play in tearing away myths.

I have long preached to students suffering through my "instruction" that "you are the interactive part."  The computer will only be able to retrieve what you ask it to retrieve.  Think of all the keywords, think about how is involved in the issue...and so on.

I saw real examples of information literacy, fluency, mastery that Wednesday night, all the more humbling in that these organizers are putting their entire lives into the ideals I cherish:  education, literacy, freedom, arts, and a non-violent society that offers help and healing.

There was also discussion between the audience and the panelists about handing burn-out, negative energy, working against large systems.  I was very happy to hear this addressed and methods of self-care discussed, because burnout is a big hazard in helping professions as well as in activism.  I was particularly struck by Patrisse Cullors' observation that in addition to self care, social movements need to "strengthen the container"--that we all do better when we are in a healthy environment, i.e. "collective care."  Other observations as I hastily wrote in my notes:

From Monifa Bandele:  Pace yourself
From Mike de la Rocha:  Make art
From Yousef Bunchy Shakur:  "You are no good to no one if you aren't good to yourself."
Dante Berry:  Be in Community but rest and disconnect when you need to.

I also heard from the group the message "Don't encourage burn-out."  This is a message I intend to take back to my library community, because I have seen in myself and others when exhaustion turns our passions into resentments frustrations and unhappy behavior.

I think the comments about going in to your work feel strong and energetic resonated with me because the clock is ticking on my academic rumspringa, this wonderful semester I've had to mentally rove about taking classes, going to lectures, yes sleeping in too, and reading what ever I wanted to read in the order I wanted to read it.  How can I hold onto my "working brain" when I return to the tornado of e-mails, meetings, and interactions?  Routines, rituals, enough sleep...and space when ideas are chasing themselves in my head to somehow put them into thoughts.

So I leave you now with the thoughts, actions, and resources of these speakers that unveiled to me in one evening how to truly question and engage:


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