Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 95 – Information Literacy Part 2

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”
Derek Bok

I’ve always taken being able to read and write for granted. And to be honest I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t. It was as if one day there were bound bits of paper with pictures on them with the odd squiggly line underneath, and the next – those squiggly lines actually meant something, and those bound things – oh my, there were lots of them, I was in heaven.

I do remember as a primary school child of about 5 or 6 asking to go to the toilet (I didn’t really need to go – I just hated math), on the way back I stopped at the library because something had caught my eye. That’s where the teacher found me eventually – sitting in the “library” (it was actually the corridor, what can I say the school was very small) – reading.

Taking education for granted

Do we take our education system and public libraries for granted?

Living in suburban and city Australia it can be hard to imagine a life without books and reading material, access to schools, libraries and entertainment. I read an interesting book called Birdsville: My Year in the Back of Beyond by Evan McHugh recently. He and his wife did indeed spend an entire year in Birdsville, population of around 100. They had a school, but the outlying stations used the School of the Air, aided by the parents who could coach, teach, cajole and read to their youngsters in the years before they headed off to boarding school in the cities for further education. Today of course the internet is reaching outlying communities and with Satelite dishes, and the National Broadband Network slowly coming on line there will be significant progress in our learning opportunities.

But imagine for just one minute that was all gone.

Does that sound a little far fetched?

Remember the book burnings? Perhaps you were not around at the time, but you are I am sure aware of those moments in history when books were piled into the middle of the streets and burnt.

We have been fortunate in recent years to have avoided the levels of conflict seen in other parts of the world. Conflict that has seen considerable damage to libraries, collecting institutions and educational establishments alike in a bid to keep knowledge away from the people.

And what of the natural disasters we have seen. The earthquake in New Zealand, the collapse of the Archive in Cologne to name but 2 instances and perhaps my cultural darkness isn’t so far fetched after all.

However, today we are seeing a different kind of conflict:

  • Public libraries are being closed to save money.
  • Organisational libraries are mothballed when the price of whatever it is they are selling goes down.
  • Our library and information colleagues are finding themselves out of work and moving into areas where there is work so they can pay the bills.


Surely it’s not just about the money?

  • Let’s face it, we can afford to spend millions of dollars on sporting stadiums – think about how much building work was completed in London to house the Olympic games for instance.
  • There is also a lot of money spent on offence and defence (depending on where the conflicts are – and who is fighting whom).
  • There is also a lot of money being spent on food if the number of obese in the world is anything to go by.

So there is money.

It’s just that we are not choosing to spend it on what most people say is important – health and education.

So, going back to my earlier comment for just a moment.

Do we take our education system for granted? Do we take our public libraries for granted?

It is well known that education is a way out of poverty, not just for the individual but for entire families especially in third world countries.

You’ve heard the saying … teach a man to fish… well how about, teach a child to read and you can change the lives of hundreds.

Imagine you were a little girl who wanted to read, to learn, to become educated so she could improve her life and that of her family… Imagine being shot because of your belief. Imagine never being allowed to pick up a book or a pen, let alone a tool such as a computer.

Would you fight? Would you rebel?

You would think so wouldn’t you.

But I know of families here in Western Australia who have to be forced to send their kids to school otherwise they would lose their social benefits. We have a good educational system in Australia, some would argue one of the best in the world, and you have to be forced to send your kids to school?!

I know of one village in Tanzania (and this may apply to the whole of Tanzania and many other countries too for all I know) where kids can only go to school if they can pay up front to go. And pay additional fees to undertake exams. Pay to take exams! and the organisation that helps fund the school say they have kids lined up if only they could get enough money. Unfortunately a lot of parents can’t afford the US $200 a year that it costs, so the kids are forced to work instead. PAY to take exams?!! yes I know I’ve said that 3 times, but that is what they do – that is what they want to do. Here a lot of people we would probably utter the classic “she’ll be right mate…” and never bother.

So what’s the alternative? Well with functional literacy rates at around 50% in Australia we could argue that we could close half the schools. I mean, what is the point in keeping them open if people don’t want to learn? And as for the teachers, well if we don’t need libraries, and therefore librarians, we don’t need teachers either.

Do we take our educational system for granted?

I think we do.

With many thoughts

And talking of books, we now have 2 books available on Kindle: