Information Literacy: One Faculty View

Information Literacy: One Faculty View (Moveable Types of Information Literacy)

My interest in information literacy, as a teacher:

  • The credulity with which students accept what they read online.
  • Their uncritical use of the Google search engine.
  • Their over-reliance upon online sources of questionable value.

I lead the program in New Media Journalism at Seton Hill University . The program appears in the university catalog as “Journalism New Media,” because, I am told, parents and high school counselors will habitually look under “J” for “Journalism,” not “N”.

In the early 20th century, Vannevar Bush saw that the publication of new scientific information was overwhelming the old tools for information storage and retrieval. His Memex was an attempt to solve that problem. The scholarly publication crisis has now extended to distribution (economics), and will soon impact production, if the dying genre of the scholarly monograph retains its position as the gold standard for academic rank and tenure decisions. (See “Heft vs. Googlehole: Scholarship and the Print Pit.”)

Writing in 1945, Bush lamented the increasing volume of scientific knowledge, noting that researchers were forced to spend an increasing portion of their time searching for relevant information, which left less time for reading. (The Atlantic Monthly posted a reprint of Vannevar Bush’s ground-breaking 1946 essay, “As We May Think.” That posting seems to have been recently composted — buried behind a subscription wall. For the moment, it is available through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.)

Bush’s solution, the Memex (a neologism from “memory” and “index”), is a theoretical machine that might be what you get if you cross a photocopier with a microfilm storage and access device. A Memex user would create links between documents, annotate those links, add those annotations to the filing system, and share the resulting “trails” with other researchers.

The temptation to see the Memex as a precursor to hypertext is tempting; elsewhere, I have suggested a few of the many reasons why that would be an oversimplification:

[T]he smallest unit Bush works with is a facsimile of a page; thus the medium Bush described was not hypertext, but hyperbinding. Finally, the term “memex” reveals its retrogressive gaze. Bush’s proposal was a tool for accessing those documents a researcher has already decided are worthy of purchasing and adding to his or her personal library, not for identifying texts which have not yet been connected to the user’s personal matrix of intellectually associations. “On the Trail of the Memex: Vannevar Bush, Weblogs and the Google GalaxyDichtung Digital

Since most people interact with HTML as readers rather than authors, what Vannevar Bush was trying to accomplish with his free sharing of annotated “trails” is not well implemented via typical web pages. Its usefulness has been approximated through the weblog genre (in subgenres such as the research blog or edublog).

I give personal weblogs to students. They can keep them once the class is over. My goal is to get them to see themselves as online writers, in order to get them to think more critically about the online texts they encounter. (For more about blogging at Seton Hill University, see “The Blogosphere: What’s In It for Me? (An Introduction [for Faculty]).”

(Note… being one of only a handful of faculty members at the conference has been an enlightening experience… as soon as I have the chance, I’ll blog some personal reactions.)

See: Outline