Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 94 – Information Literacy Part 1 – All I want for Christmas

Mark Twain said “the man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

I know I am preaching to the converted here, when I say books to me are like old friends to be met lots of times in many different places and guises. That’s why I love libraries, especially old ones. Call me a romantic, call me stupid, but I think of how many people “my” books have made friends with over the years. How much joy, laughter and tears they have shared over endless cups of tea, jammy dodgers and glasses of wine. Bookshops on the other hand, contain lots of books who don’t have any real friends yet. Nodding acquaintances certainly, but not yet treasured friends. They sit silently waiting for the day they can leap into someone’s hand like a puppy at a kennel after being chosen as THE one to take home. As you read that did you feel the book’s “tail” wagging just a little? Don’t worry you’ll soon be so engrossed you won’t remember what day it is. Puppies err I mean books are like that.

Have you noticed that your book friends (not your bookish friends) are just like their human counterparts? Some are prim and proper while others are dog eared and charming. Others you return to time and time again while a few you may only see once in a while, but when you do renew your friendship it’s like no time has passed at all.

I buy and give books, lots of books every year.  There were colouring and activity books for the youngsters, journals for the teens and young adults. Then there were party cake books for the young mums and books from the latest TV shows for their parents. When I was younger and still living at home books were always first on my list for birthday’s and Santa days, consequently I’ve got things like the complete works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. I’ve also got a still wrapped complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia.

You would also think my house and office would be stacked high with bound bits of paper, but not so. In recent times I’ve reduced my collection dramatically, but gained a new medium. I’ve joined the e-book revolution with the reading apps on my tablet. Not only do I find new ones to download, I’ve started re-purchasing my favourites in electronic format. Do I still buy hard copy versions – of course I do, I have to, they are part of what makes me, well me. Besides which I didn’t receive any books this year, though like I said, I gave away a lot of them. I suppose people would wonder what to buy me…well they could always ask, I do have a list.

I also wrote all the time, well except when I wasn’t reading that is. Poetry, adventure stories, long letters to friends. Journaling, technical writing and of course blogs, websites, books and articles would come later as my reading changed. But my love of words continues and it irks me when I see the crass and the vulgar, the misspelled and grammatically incorrect postings littering the social media world these days. Why, when we have such wondrous language do people not use it. Is it a lack of reading, a lack of schooling, a lack of care or does it have something to do with the technology we find ourselves surrounded by these days, and the ease of use and speed of posting status updates? I know auto correct on a “smart” device can be amusing at times – especially when it gets it wrong of course, and we haven’t noticed. But to me, the basics are missing, as I mentioned earlier, the crass and the vulgar, the misspelled and the grammatically incorrect, not to mention the SMS way of spelling things – LOL.

Weekends for me are a great time to ditch the technology. Yes I carry it with me; I have my own business so need to be accessible. But not all the time! So I spend my time watching other people. Coffee shops and restaurants are a great way of observing people. Where once upon a time, people would be talking to each other, they are instead sitting quietly heads down, phone in one hand, fork in the other. The other wonderful places to observe just how much our lives are changing are public libraries and public transport.

As you know, if you have been into a public library in recent times, you are just as likely to see banks of computers as you are shelves of books lined up. Where once hushed tones were used to allow people the mind space to read, absorb and create, are now open plan spaces filled with people and their technology. Phones no longer set to silent, loud conversations, and kids expressing their emotions very loudly. I did wonder how anyone could get anything done, it would be quieter at home (and that’s saying something) until I saw the ear buds in and the cord leading down to their choice of media player. Tune in to tune out.

I also mentioned public transport as one of the better places to observe human behavior. I don’t use public transport much these days as it takes several hours to get from my home in the suburbs down to work, so it is an expedition, but one that is useful because it is unguarded reading time. So it was with delight when 5 days in a row (my car was in the shop) I could both read and observe my fellow travelers reading habits. Out of a double carriage roughly half were reading something. Of those, two thirds were still engaging with their chosen analogue devices, using that old fashioned finger to paper turning method. But the demographic was also interesting. All of the readers were out of their teens and most – like myself were getting on a bit. The younger generation, on the other hand were engrossed with their electronic devices. Ear buds in ears, angry birds on the phone – and boy was she angry – and didn’t the entire train carriage know about it, it was really quite entertaining. 

Question – what was the last book you read?

So far this year I have read 12 books, fiction and non-fiction. The last completed one was “The end of your life book club” by Will Schwabe which my boss, Shirley Cowcher lent to me for the Christmas break. It took some getting into, but I don’t just read the easy stuff, I like to challenge my reading brain now and then.

Going back to my own collection of material just for the moment, you would think that with roughly 20 metres of shelving containing books across a wide array of genres, there would be something to entice my own children to read. But I can tell you with certainty that neither of my children (21 and 18) have read anything other than assigned texts from their courses of study over the last 6 months if not a year. I did buy my son a book on Graffiti art (he designs street art in his down time, and is studying residential drafting) for Christmas but I can’t say it counts as “reading”.

My children can read, and can read well, it’s just that they choose not to. Amongst their friends, the pattern is the same – there is no discussion about reading material, just who has done so and so on Facebook. What is even more interesting to a wordsmith like me is their choice of language. It is very limited.

I am just concerned, that as their generational language shrinks we are on the cusp of seeing an entirely new era of people who won’t be functionally literate.

As you can appreciate the topic of information literacy is huge and we will discussing the various aspects in future editions of Overload.

And as for Christmas presents this year I am going to be buying everyone dictionaries ?

With many thoughts