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......

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

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