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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 18. 2. The Hidden Agenda or How right wing concepts of so called politically "neutral" information affects the way in which many library workers are being duped into being used The Hidden Agenda

by Martyn Lowe

I would guess that very few of us would argue that the materials provided within ones local public library should not reflect the local information and interest needs of the society in which it serves.

Yet there are hidden agendas and some political biases within so called "neutral" sources of information : resources which are VERY questionable in nature. Yet - however much we might think that such needs are being meet - the percentage provision of library materials which reflect more than the perspective and social values of so called "professional" librarians is still very small indeed.

For example: in the UK where a large number of people buy there own homes, we can find a lot of books about buying, selling, or renting out properties within public libraries. While the number of books about the legal rights of private tenants are very small indeed! Try and get hold of the "Squatters Handbook" within your local public library. Just look at any OPAC (library catalogue) and you will see just what I mean.

Then there is the issue of making libraries "Family Friendly" - Ha! Ha! Just you try that one in terms of how this relates to the needs of a single parent, or in terms of the information needs of those of us who happen to be single ! Something upon how the so-called unbiased presentation of information, which the library profession aspires to, has been hi-jacked by the fiscal priorities and perceptions of the property owning middle class, multi-nationals, or just the sociological and political perspectives of a few very overpaid library managers ?

In turn this relates to just what library workers earn. I keep saying this, (and many of you might find it a bore that I repeat it ), so yet one more time again, - just how many library holdings address the kind of situation which many library workers find themselves in ? Too poor ever to be able to be more than just a private tenant for the rest of their lives. While even couples who are working within the library world will never be able to own their own homes. In other words - what we have is a situation in which a commitment towards working within a profession that gives a provision of information for all, means that we in turn commit ourselves to a level of long term poverty. Is it thus not a wonder that no more than a smaller and smaller number of people commit themselves towards a career in front line library work ?

I have no figures to support this claim, but from my experience in libraries - this means that we are not going to attract many bright young people into front line library work. The end result being that a lot of good experience in information work is being lost, as we find an increasing turn over of younger frontline workers, while older staff just keep going in order to try and maximise their pension. This is a problem which is a long time due addressing !!!

Long term effects could be disastrous, as there is an age differential and experience loss, which will need to be addressed. In turn this relates to the various issues upon just how we might create a unified profession.

The statistical lie, or inflation and wages, and how the selective range of data distorts our world picture

I keep reading that the official UK rate of inflation is just 2.5%, while house prices have risen by circa 18%. Yet by the same token my public transport costs seems to increase on an average of circ 4 - 5 % a year. While in the borough I work for - the last increase in council tax was just a minor 20%. Yet the basis upon which my wages have been increased, are based upon a fictional governmental rate of 2.5%. Thank god that I do not live in the borough I work in! All of which proves that one should never trust statistical information.

Which also reminds me of a remark made by my old anarchist friend Otto: what Karl Marx spent many years researching and writing upon in the British Museum Library, any worker could tell you about, by just looking at their wage packet at the end of the week! All of which illustrates just why we should increasingly not just be aware of the figures, but how they are compiled.

Of course - in turn if we were to look at the economic savings that are to be made by the labours of any good information worker - then our real value to the economy should be assessed as much higher than we are at present given the credit for. I for one can give a lot of examples of how by giving out the right kind of information, then I have saved a lot of money that might otherwise have been spent by those library users that I have helped.

Well - you get the point - how the assessment of the economic value of library work is not being judged properly as long as library statistics are just determined in terms of books issued, etc.

And what of an alternative viewpoint ?

With the decline in money spent on reference books within public libraries, there is an increasing dependence upon the web in order to provide information to library users. Yet at the same time there would seem to be no real programme within public libraries to educate library staff upon more than just the use of search Engines such as Google. This could also make for an article which looks at the relative value of a selective number of websites, and how they are biased. In turn this could include a review of Google and Googlewatch, a critique of Google news which is an automated process, how search engine listings are manipulated, and the alternatives which could prove as interesting to a lot of our readers, especially if we were to illustrate how this works out in practice. See: This should also give information about such web pages as Indymedia, and Search Engine news.

My critique of how most librarians and front line library workers learn about web pages as a resource is that they just get to know about such websites as the UK government portal, BBC website, and a limited range of bodies such as the RNIB, etc. All of which we are informed are "safe and reliable" websites recommended by reference librarians, most of whom who have a conservative (with a very small c) world view.

From my experience of library work - there are very few people in the trade who would be able to talk with one upon the structure of Indymedia, and how it might best be used. Traditionally there has always been training in libraries to inform staff about the use of reference works, but when it comes to the web - well we seem to have lost the plot.

So a few ideas upon how library staff could start to learn about such media would not go amiss. A good exercise in this context would be in how to produce a radical events list, put together from various web pages. Ditto alternative legal information from such as SAS ( the Squatting Advisory service ), and the Activists Legal Project. Now just you try it!

Does your local library hold the Squatters Handbook ? If not - then check it out at: or

Another Approach

Here is a tip that you might like to know about and let others know about too. It can also be used as an exercise in how to search for alternative literature via the web. Have you ever done a Google search with just an ISBN ? Well just try this one - ' ISBN 0224069829 '. You get with this a good book which I would recommend you to read ! It is about the book by Joe Sacco called "Palestine".

Do it as 0224069829 - its correct numerical breakdown - and what you will get is gobildy Google. Something which alternative or radical publishers should keep in mind when adding ISBN information to their websites. Such a technique could help in terms of promoting alternative literature. Just try it out and see what you get.

Of course there is another aspect to this which could be developed for future use. Just imagine this - a library catalogue / Opac which would include a field for web page reviews of just what is on one's library holdings. If this kind of approach could be developed, then imagine just what power of information access it would give to any library user.

In turn such an approach to how a library catalogue is constructed could help to break the power of the big publishers, etc. I would be interested in any feedback upon such an approach to catalogue work. Of course if such a Library Opac were to be set up, then it need not become a Google search, but just take one to a set of links upon the book(s) in question. This begs a question about "professional judgement" to such an approach ?

Another great advantage of doing an ISBN search on Google is that it can put you into contact with many of the small radical publishers, from whom one can directly order books and periodicals. Thus helping to break the power of the big book vendors and the likes of Amazon - Hurrah ! Hurrah ! There are also great fiscal savings to be made by both publishers and libraries as a result.

So what am I to believe ? What I am being told ? Or what I learn by my own experience ? I am aware that I know more about what is going on in the world by reading Emails and looking at websites, than reading the same information in periodicals a few months later.

I do not think that many library managers have caught on to this fact of modern life yet. One can still find that a lot of them do not know how to use web pages and they are still blinkered by their belief in how the printed page is the only form of publication upon which good factual material might be found.

Something about the message and the medium, which Marshall McLuhan would really have enjoyed working on within our digital age. An Intervention by the Easter Bunny - 1st answers by Email and you get a pint of beer at my favourite pub, the Boot & Truncheon. In which Woody Allen movie did Marshall McLuhan make a brief appearance ?

So What ?

You might view all of the above from an academic perspective and not like what I have to say, but the reality is that all of these are issues which I for one face on a day by hour basis. Is it any wonder that I have a problem with the values and ideas that most library managers try to impose upon the provision of information within most public libraries ? The problem of how the provision of information within public libraries does not come down to what is available via the net or in book form, but has more to do with an understanding of the material, something which almost all library managers have failed to come to terms with!

As to the value judgements made about various subjects within libraries, let me give you just one example. We find witchcraft placed under superstition, rather than religion, which just about sums things up! I just remain a born again atheist! I rest my case!


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