Many apologies for my lengthy absence from this blog. I took an involuntary hiatus owing to October being a very busy month. Our team opened a new exhibit, presented two programs during the month, participated in Archives Month, prepared for the Texas Book Festival, the Legislative Session, the Sunset Commission meeting in November, and several other major activities.
But I have also been doing some thinking and reading about topics that reflect on the value of what we do as libraries and archives. Over the two days of the Texas Book Festival we watched as thousands of people gathered on the grounds of the Texas Capitol to attend dozens of author sessions, visit book vendors and other exhibitors, purchase books, and otherwise celebrate the power of the printed word. Every author program I attended was completely full with standing room only. I watched at the Gala as contributors donated over $108,000 in less than 20 minutes to support book grants to libraries and the Reading Rock Stars program. The ongoing overwhelmingly positive response to the Texas Book Festival speaks to the power of books and reading and a hunger for authentic information, thoughtful writing, and a faith in libraries as a catalyst and contact point for people seeking access to reliable information and the regenerative practice of reading.
Thursday evening before the Festival, we held our third annual Celebration of Texas Authors and presented the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, an amazing program that allows incarcerated women in Texas to record themselves reading stories for their children. That an act as simple and genuine and basic as reading to your child is so restorative and foundational for these women is further evidence of the power of books and reading to bind families and communities and to create lifelong opportunities for children exposed to books and reading at early ages.
Why are people turning to books and reading and libraries so enthusiastically? Perhaps part of the answer can be found in a report published this month by the Knight Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to exploring journalism and civic engagement. The report, entitled “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” provides the results of a highly granular study of the ways in which Twitter bots are employed to generate automatic posts. The slick interactive presentation of the report online belies the troubling implications for society, especially when, according to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of people get their news online, including from social media and apps. Fortunately, only 4 percent of people trust the accuracy of news from social media. By comparison, also according to Pew, 74 percent of the public say they see public libraries as a place that helps them decide what information they can trust.
Also in October, I read a book that helped me understand how we interact with information and why it might be a good idea to rethink some of those patterns. Bored and Brilliant: How spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self, by Manoush Zomorodi (whose excellent podcasts “Note to Self” and “Zig Zag” might be the subject of a later blog post), explains how Americans’ obsessive use of cell phones, screens, apps, and other conveniences of the modern world, is disrupting not only our relationships with other people and our environment, but even the way we read and take in information. Zomorodi describes how many people have trouble even reading a book because online apps train the eye to hop around the page so that the linear act of reading becomes much more difficult. This writer is not anti-online-information (after all, she hosts podcasts), but she does see problematic implications for a loss of sustained reflection, thinking, and deeper understanding.
Libraries and archives offer a path out of the confusion, distraction, and craziness. Through books, reliable online sources, or even something as refreshingly analog as a print newspaper (favored now by only 20 percent of the public, according to Pew), people are finding a way to disconnect with the frantic, stressful, and often unreliable deluge of online information and connect to information sources that encourage thoughtful reflection.
URLs included in this post:
The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas can be found here at https://storybookproject.org/
The Knight Foundation report, “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” can be found at: https://knightfoundation.org/
The Pew Research report on journalism can be found at: http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/pathways-to-news/
The Pew Research “Libraries 2016” report can be found at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/americans-attitudes-toward-public-libraries/
“Bored and Brilliant” was featured on an episode of the NPR program All Tech Considered. That program can be found here: https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/01/12/376717870/bored-and-brilliant-a-challenge-to-disconnect-from-your-phone