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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. The Big ISsues 3. Information Gaps - a reflection on the conservative view of information work. Or, does a dyslexic information view of the world help in library work ?

by Martyn Lowe

Art or Science ??

I have an arts and not a scientific training. Aside from my time at C & W May (theatrical costumiers) during the period 1968-1973 - I also spent a year at art School. I also practice the art of paper cutting, and collect paper cuts from around the world. My ideal weekend includes a visit to both a book and music Store, plus to a museum or art gallery. What I know about science has been sparked off in order to know something as a result of my political work. For example: In respect to the anti-nukiller-power work I was very heavily engaged in between 1974 - 1984.

Scanner or Proof reader ?

I'll also confess to being a lateral thinker, which means that I can sometimes come up with ideas, without having to do the jump by stage work in reaching it. Though as the years go by - having come to a conclusion I find it then much easier to display the steps involved in doing so, rather than taking an 'how did I do that ? ' frame of mind.

Now this also relates to how most librarians are by nature proof readers, rather than scanners. The proof reader being a librarian who looks at the details and can get them right, but has no overall view or vision. The scanner is the very opposite of a proof reader. Able to look at a lot of information / resources, and note key points, interesting points, technical points and new issues which the proof reader might not get around to read up about. The great thing about a scanner being that such a person is able to note gaps and alert one to new issues. Most of the training and thinking about library and information work favours the proof reader. They spend too much time cataloguing what there is around, looking at what is available, rather than looking for the gaps and how to plug them.

An exercise in logic

While at art school I was once given an exercise - to look at a chair, and to tell what it is used for. No it is not just to sit upon. It is a question of how it is used. The most common other use is as a step-ladder (I do). It can also be used as a desk top (I do), a shoe tree (I do), an ironing board base (sometimes I do), or a club (not me!). My uncle John once asked me to look at a chair, while we were both in the pub together, and then break it down into its component parts, after which I was then able to work out just how it was put together. That was the thing about John - he could look at something and just know how it was put together. A useful point to keep in mind if you are looking at ways in which to protect your home, or smash up a military aircraft. It all comes down to the same kind of mindset - look at what is the weakest point and then work on it ! Very useful as I demolished a desk the other week !

Now the thing about John was that he became a self-made multi-millionaire. John was also my landlord. I used to pay over my rent to him in the pub, and while he filled in my rent card, he would give me a pound to go to the bar and get myself a pint of beer. It was by spending time drinking with him that I got a lot of my education about the real world. At one stage he owned 80 houses and a mansion block. At the age of 68 he was also know to turn up at one of his tenants and fix their toilet for them. Just how many millionaires do you know who will turn up on a Sunday afternoon to fix your loo ????? Why waste money in paying wages to get done something that one could do for oneself? And this from someone who became his own stockbroker in order to save himself a bob or two.

I once came upon him at a table outside of the pub, with pint in hand, looking at the financial page of the paper going through the stocks and shares in order to find out what he was worth. It did not cost him anything - he picked up a discarded newspaper in the pub, a copy of the Sun. John should be recorded as the only millionaire who has ever used the Sun, which is best known for its page 3 nudes, as an information tool in order to discover just what he was worth.

The financial pages of the Sun are very good at headline issues, though one might be better able to find out more upon these issues within the Financial Times. John was also someone that could do maths and percentages from the top of his head. From all this you will gather that he was a very clever and intelligent man. Yet John suffered from the family trait of dyslexia. John sometimes had a habit of writing a sum down in reverse - say 6578 instead of 8756. In me this comes out when I write something down last word first, and then find I have no room on the page to write down the words that come before it.

My mother, who was a book-keeper by trade, also suffers from dyslexia. She also worried about the signs that I showed of this trait as a child. Over the years I have cured myself of some of these dyslexic problems, though I guess that I shall always write like I speak (I can vouch for that editor!). Nothing wrong with that - just read Gertrude Stein.

An overview

In my early teens I would borrow books by Jules Verne, H.G.Wells, Robert Heinlein, and art books from my local library. The H,G.Wells work "A Short History of the World" and E.H. Gombrich "The Story of Art" both gave me an in depth overview of the world, while the science fiction fired my imagination. The point being that all of the above does raise some interesting questions in relationship to library work. Like in terms of just looking at details, or in just how we take an overview. Are we as librarians and information workers getting the balance between the two right?

In the meanwhile I'd like to hear from any librarians or information workers who suffer from dyslexia to a greater or lesser extent. It might make for an interesting article, but it could raise some interesting questions too.


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