Global Gleanings #1: inaccurate maps, fallacies & fake news,

From August 2018 LIASA-in-Touch, the newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA), carries a column entitled “Global gleanings”, in which I highlight recent publications of professional and scholarly interest as well as quaint snippets from the international literature of LIS and related fields.

Space limitations preclude the publishing of long lists of references. Instead, they will appear in this blog. Here is the first such list.

Had I not become involved in library management and LIS education, I would have liked to be a music librarian or a map librarian. Both music and maps are long-time interests of mine, and my attention was drawn recently to an article by Frank Jacobs (2019) entitled “Maps showing California as an island? Meet cartography’s most persistent mistake”. Jacob writes about the Glen McLaughlin Collection at Stanford University, in California. It consists of more than seven hundred maps collected by Glen McLaughlin over a period of forty years, all depicting California as an island separated from the mainland of North America.

McLaughlin, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, started his collection in 1971when he found a 1663 map of North America on which California is depicted as a large, carrot-shaped island. Intrigued, he started collecting more maps depicting this fallacy. Although an early map dated 1597 showed California correctly attached to the mainland, from 1622 onwards, subsequent maps showed California as an island. This fallacy persisted in spite of contrary evidence. By 1747, King Ferdinand VI of Spain was fed up by this cartographic error affecting his dominions in the New World, and he issued a decree stating that “California is not an island.”  The California fallacy persisted, as fallacies tend to do. The last map showing California as an island is a Japanese map of 1865, well after extensive exploration, settlement, and the gold rush of 1849. Jacobs’ article depicts many of these maps.

This case raises the question: why did the fallacy persist so long? One reason is that cartographers relied a bit too trustingly on the work of their predecessors. Information from seafarers and explorers was used by cartographers as it became available, but for the bigger picture they relied on earlier maps. As a result, errors were copied from edition to edition, and from map to map. (Today we see this in the assignments of students who copy and paste uncritically statements they find on the web.) Another factor is political. For reasons that would take too long to set out here (but see Jacobs), for a time it suited the Spaniards to have California mapped as an island.

For those colleagues who are privileged to work with old maps – here’s a challenge to spot the fallacies that were disseminated in maps of South Africa.

This brings me to the issue of fake news.  Is the depiction of California as an island fake news? It depends. If the cartographers mistakenly believed this to be case, they were issuing misinformation. But if the maps were compiled and distributed deliberately with an intention to deceive, by persons knowing that it is not true, it is fake news (disinformation). Fake news is defined in terms of facticity (whether it is factually correct or not) and intention (the motives of the people spreading it). If the Spanish court deliberately cultivated the fallacy for political ends, it was disinformation. But if ignorant cartographers copied the error in good faith, that was misinformation. Fake news is both incorrect and deliberately misleading. Useful discussions of what constitutes fake news can be found in an article by LIS theorist John Buschman (2018) and in an entry by Bente Kalsnes (2018) in the Oxford research encyclopedia of information.

A great deal of fake news is spread ignorantly by people who believe it to be factually correct. On social media such news can spread like the proverbial wildfire, and once it has been widely disseminated, efforts by fact-checkers to debunk fake news are generally ineffective. Fake news tends to be sensational, while corrected facts are sober and draw less attention (for more on this, see Beck 2017; Meyer 2018; and Funke 2019). Politicians such as Mr Trump have muddied the waters by labelling as “fake news” whatever news reports displease them (Funke 2017). How then are people to know what “genuinely” is fake news, and what is not?

Educational and library bodies have issued guidelines for identifying fake news (see for example Andersdotter 2017; Garvey 2017). IFLA’s infographic (IFLA 2019) has been translated into more than forty languages. Librarians and educators have been engaged in teaching information and media literacy for several decades. In fact, such endeavours are one of the biggest and most popular topics in our profession. Every year scores of books are published about it. How is it then that, after a generation of students has been taught how to evaluate the credibility of news sources, Mr Trump was nevertheless elected and the British voters voted for Brexit?  Many studies have been conducted on how people respond to fake news, and various sociological and psychological factors have been identified. In the USA a study by the Media Insight Project (2017) showed that the degree to which people trust news is determined more by who shared it than by who created it. Another recent study found that people draw a distinction between information sources that are dishonest and those that are biased. If they believe a source of information to be biased, they may dismiss information provided by it even if they agree that it is scrupulously honest (Grabmeier 2019).

Not surprisingly there has been some scepticism regarding the effectiveness of the efforts of librarians and educators in “immunizing” students against fake news. Fake news is an ongoing threat to liberal democracies and combating it is a challenge to the library profession, not least because it is difficult to agree on whose truth is really truth.

References

Andersdotter, Karolina. 2017. ‘Alternative Facts and Fake News – Verifiability in the Information Society’. IFLA Library Policy and Advocacy Blog. January 27. https://blogs.ifla.org/lpa/2017/01/27/alternative-facts-and-fake-news-verifiability-in-the-information-society/.

Beck, Julie. 2017. ‘This Article Won’t Change Your Mind’. The Atlantic. March 13. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/this-article-wont-change-your-mind/519093/.

Buschman, John. 2018. ‘Good News, Bad News, and Fake News: Going beyond Political Literacy to Democracy and Libraries’. Journal of Documentation, November. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JD-05-2018-0074.

Funke, Daniel. 2017. ‘Should We Stop Saying “Fake News”?’ Poynter. December 14. https://www.poynter.org/news/should-we-stop-saying-fake-news.

———. 2019. ‘Misinformation Transcends Platforms, Languages and Countries. How Can Fact-Checkers Stop It?’ Poynter. May 15. https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2019/misinformation-transcends-platforms-languages-and-countries-how-can-fact-checkers-stop-it/.

Garvey, Maureen. 2017. ‘Fake News– How the Library Can Help’. CSI Library Newsletter. May 25. http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/blogs/newsletter/2017/05/25/fake-news-how-the-library-can-help/.

Grabmeier, Jeff. 2019. ‘Is That News Really “Fake,” or Is It Just Biased?’ Ohio State News. July 8. https://news.osu.edu/is-that-news-really-fake-or-is-it-just-biased/.

IFLA. 2019. ‘How to Spot Fake News’. IFLA. April 17. https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174.

Kalsnes, Bente. 2018. ‘Fake News’. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication, September. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.809.

Media Insight Project. 2017. ‘Who Shared It? How Americans Decide What News to Trust on Social Media’. “The Media Insight Project. http://mediainsight.org/PDFs/Trust%20Social%20Media%20Experiments%202017/MediaInsight_Social%20Media%20Final.pdf.

Meyer, Robinson. 2018. ‘The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News’. The Atlantic, March 8. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/largest-study-ever-fake-news-mit-twitter/555104/.

 

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Pitfalls and Challenges in International and Comparative LIS Research: proposal for an IFLA satellite meeting

Pitfalls and Challenges in International and Comparative LIS Research: proposal for an IFLA satellite meeting

Today, 24 August 2019, a meeting of the Standing Committee of IFLA’s Section for Library Theory and Research (LTR) discussed a proposal I had submitted. It reads as follows:

The proposal

“While working on my recently completed monograph on international and comparative librarianship , which has a substantial part dealing with research method, I collected, analysed and evaluated many hundreds of publications reporting international and comparative research in our field. Some results of an earlier phase of this research was reported in Journal of Documentation (Lor 2014). I found that, while some excellent work has been done, a great deal of the research is theoretically, conceptually and methodologically naive.

“The thought occurred to me that the Library Theory and Research Section could play a role in improving international research in LIS. In fact, given that we are part of an international organization, and that our section “concerns itself with the continuing development of library and information science through theoretical and applied research in all aspects of the discipline”, it could be seen as squarely within our remit.

“I suggest that LTR organizes an event aimed at improving the quality of international and comparative LIS research, emphasizing how to do such research, and targeting post-graduate students, post-doc and other researchers, faculty supervising graduate research, editors of LIS journals, and the like. The emphasis would be on how to do good research, covering topics such as:

  • Theory in international and comparative research: why is theory important, and where do we look for useful and appropriate theory? There is a huge amount of theory out there in other disciplines which we have not exploited enough.
  • Metatheory and research paradigms: what are they? Why should we pay attention to them? How they can help us surface our assumptions, enabling us to focus our research more clearly when researching internationally
  • Methodology for international and comparative research: choices between quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods approaches
  • Is there a comparative method? Some aspects peculiar to comparative research design and research strategy.
  • Nuts and bolts of researching internationally: any social science/information science research methods can be applied in international and comparative librarianship, but the researcher needs to be aware of the potential impact of national, linguistic and cultural differences – which of course enrich our field enormously.

“I have in mind something more than a standard LTR session with a number of papers and some limited time for discussion. I suggest that we think of an off-site meeting or a pre-conference of a full day or possibly one-and-a-half days, depending on the proposals received and the location. It will be unashamedly about “how to do it good”. Possible components:

  • A few invited lectures on major themes such as phases of research and research decisions
  • A few invited lectures by experts from outside of LIS, e.g. a political scientist, a comparative educationalist, a cultural anthropologist, a development sociologist
  • Critical dissections of some published research
  • Reports by researchers engaged in international and comparative research, volunteering to share with us their challenges, solutions, rationales
  • A research clinic for students seeking advice on what they are trying to do
  • A session for journal editors/reviewers on evaluating international and comparative research”

Outcome

The proposal elicited many useful comments and suggestions, and it was decided that a group be constituted to pursue this idea with a view to organizing a satellite meeting at the August 2020 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland. A good number of members volunteered to participate in the planning process, and we are trying to arrange an informal meeting of the group in the coming week.

 

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My Google Scholar profile: automatically generated bibliographic garbage

Some years ago I acquired a Google Scholar profile. I added a photograph of myself, a brief CV, and some keywords describing my research interests. Google Scholar now builds a list of all my publications and on an ongoing basis it updates the number of citation to each. It also calculates an h-index and an i10-index, and lists such of my co-authors as have appeared in my references publications. All quite cool. The idea behind it is to increase exposure to my work. If people are searching for my work on Google, my profile is supposed to come up prominently in their search results and they can more easily find relevant publications of mine. Google Scholar collects citations to my publications on an ongoing basis. It gave me the choice of allowing it to update my publications list automatically, or to check additions and changes myself before they are added.

I decided for the latter, and now I’m in a bind.

Every few weeks Google Scholar pops up with an e-mail message, “Time to update your articles”. This happens when Google Scholar has found some new citations or picked up a new publication of mine, and tells me that it has suggested updates for my profile. Here is where the system is less than cool. Almost every time I am asked to allow a reasonably good bibliographic reference to be overwritten by a garbled version produced by someone who was not taught reference technique in high school. Unfortunately, Google Scholar’s algorithm is not able to distinguish between accurate, complete and well-constructed references and those found at the end of D-rated student assignments. Should it give precedence to a reference contributed by its author? Hmmm. Not every author creates good references, even to own work. Maybe references created by librarians should receive automatic precedence? Same reservation here.

I have no choice but to inspect and correct the new citations, lest my list of references become infested with automatically generated garbage.

All of which reminds me that it is quite some time since I last updated my list of publications on this site. I had to update it recently, so here it is, along with a list of unpublished papers. They are not perfect either, having been built up over several versions of citation management software. The latter is a story for another post.

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Systemic library development aid: INASP and Lubuto annual reports

For those of us interested in LIS development in the countries of the South, two annual reports were published this week that are worth looking at: INASP’s 2017/18 digital annual review, entitled Building equitable knowledge ecosystems, and Lubuto Library Partners’ 2018 annual report, entitled Libraries breaking barriers.  They are quite different organizations, but they share something I appreciate, namely a systemic, approach to library and information development in the developing world.

INASP, originally the International Network for Access to Scientific Publications, is an Oxford-based non-governmental organization which has been involved in the development of libraries, information access, scholarly publishing and scientific research in the developing world for some twenty-five years. Its focus has evolved over the years. Initially it became known to librarians as one of the main players involved in promoting access to knowledge (A2K), mitigating intellectual property restrictions by means of negotiated journal access schemes for developing countries. In such schemes development agencies help libraries in developing countries to provide access to the world’s scholarly journals – largely unaffordable to libraries in less affluent countries – by negotiating with publishers to provide access at significantly reduced rates. INASP’s journal access programme was known as the Programme for the Enhancement of Research Information (PERI), the later phase two of this programme being named PERii.  Other organizations and initiatives in this field include Electronic Information For Libraries (EIFL) and The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library (TEEAL). For more on the A2K context of these schemes, see Chapter 8, Section 8.3 of my book.

INASP did not stop here. When it was found that scholars in some developing countries were not making as much use of their free or low-cost journal access as had been hoped, INASP developed programmes to train library users and to improve the expertise of university library personnel so as to better serve their users. Programmes were also developed to help university IT departments to manage their limited bandwidth more efficiently. In a number of countries INASP helped the country’s librarians to set up national library purchasing consortia to negotiate directly with publishers for more favourable subscription costs, allowing the earlier journal access schemes (PERI and PERii) to be phased out.

In order to remedy the imbalance between the North-South flow of scholarly information and the very limited South-North and South-South flows, INASP embarked on projects to provide electronic access to journals published in the South. The first of these was African Journals Online (AJOL), which today hosts 524 journals from 32 African countries, including 261 open access journals. AJOL was subsequently spun off to a non-profit organization in South Africa. In partnership with Canadian-based Public Knowledge Project (PKP), similar schemes were set up in Central America and a number of Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. Programmes were launched to develop the skills of the developing countries’ authors and journal editors. A Handbook for journal editors was published, and training workshops were held.

In recent years INASP has shifted its focus increasingly to support scholars and scholarship in the developing countries.  This is reflected in the focus of this most recent annual report, which refers to INASP’s mission “to increase the visibility, capacity and involvement” of these scholars, and which focusses on themes such as “employability for social change”, “evidence-informed public policy”, the assessment of journal quality in developing countries, and the building of “global platforms to support strong and equitable research and knowledge”. Equity is a key theme this year, as “inequities within and between research and knowledge systems prevent the full potential of Southern talent from being brought to bear on local and global challenges”. In line with this, gender inequity in particular is being addressed, and a number of dialogues and partnerships were initiated to improve the gender balance in higher education and research.

These activities fit into a development approach which is referred to in the literature as “transformational aid” (Riddell 2014), and which in our context of LIS  I prefer to call systemic aid (Lor 2019, sec. 12.7). This involves interventions aimed at improving the overall functioning of a larger system, in this case the system of communication in science and scholarship, rather than addressing an isolated problem area. In a following blog I’ll expand on this notion, while also looking at the annual report of the Lubuto Library Partners.

References

Lor, Peter Johan. 2019. International and Comparative Librarianship: Concepts and Methods for Global Studies. Global Studies in Libraries and Information 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter/Saur.

Riddell, Roger C. 2014. ‘Does Foreign Aid Really Work? Background Paper to Keynote Address’. Conference paper presented at the Australasian Aid and International Development Workshop, Canberra, February 13. http://devpolicy.org/2014-Australasian-Aid-and-International-Development-Policy-Workshop/Papers/Keynotes/Roger-Riddell-Keynote-Address.pdf.

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Libraries burning again

In 2013 I published an article in Libri about the alarming number of cases in which community libraries had been deliberately set alight in South African townships and informal settlements. Reportedly, this was done by individuals or groups from the communities which those libraries were intended to serve (Lor 2013). What was particularly distressing to South Africa’s library profession was that this was happening after the end of apartheid, under a democratic government which has been making considerable investments in expanding access to library and information services.

After the publication of the article and a related article on “Risks and benefits of political visibility” (Lor 2016), my attention shifted to other areas, and especially the imperative of completing my book. Having not paid much attention to events in community libraries, it was with dismay that I read a statement issued on 13 July 2019 by LIASA President Nikki Crowster, reacting to the burning down of the Letsopa Community Library, in Ottosdal, North West Province.  The Letsopa Community Library was completed in 2014 at a cost of ZAR 12 million (approximately USD 1 million) to serve one of the poorest communities in the province. It was reported to be a state-of-the art community library, which included a toy library for children and special facilities for the blind.

A few minutes’ web searching turned up several more recent cases in which libraries have been damaged or destroyed by arson during the last year: at least three cases during July 2018 and three more during July 2019. The fact that these cases occur in July may be a coincidence, or it could be significant.  In July it is winter here, and the frustrations of residents lacking reliable water, electricity, sanitation, and road infrastructure must be aggravated by the cold, dark days. Underlying this comment is the general assumption that these incidents are part of “service delivery protests”, where residents of townships express their dissatisfaction with local conditions in demonstrations which routinely turn violent. During the protests, major roads are blocked by burning tyres, vehicles are stopped, looted, and torched. Schools, youth centres, municipal offices, clinics, and municipal vehicles as well as the homes of some elected municipal councillors, have been targeted, along with factories and businesses in adjoining industrial areas and private vehicles which inadvertently entered the conflict zone. In the nearby coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, it has been estimated that damage caused during recent protests amounted to around ZAR 50 million (approximately USD 3,5 million), and that the town’s image as a popular seaside destination, built up over years, has been severely damaged.

It should be noted that libraries are not the only facilities subjected to arson attacks. They are by no means the most frequent targets. The assets targeted may bear no relation to the subject of the protest. Schools are frequent targets in protests entirely unrelated to education. In the Zebediela area of the Limpopo Province, a primary school library was set alight as part of protesters’ move to shut down all schools in the area – an action which would have dire consequences for learners preparing for their end-of-school examinations. The reason for the protest? Community members are demanding the construction of a tarred (macadamized) road to serve the community. To outsiders it is puzzling that community members seem bent on destroying the facilities which have been provided for them since the end of apartheid, facilities intended to serve as an instrument of development. There is little evidence that libraries – like schools – are being torched for any reason other than they happen to be there, and that they are seen by the protesters as part or symbol of government.

Various explanations have been offered for the frequency of community protests and the violence which accompanies them. The explanation most often advanced is frustration with the lack of services provided by municipal and provincial government, as mentioned above. In May last year the Minister of Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize, reported to Parliament that 87, roughly 31% of the country’s municipalities are “dysfunctional or distressed”. In May this year, the Auditor-General reported that only 18 of South Africa’s 278 municipalities audited had “clean audits”, and that the situation had regressed since the previous year. Community libraries, as municipal agencies, cannot fail to be affected by the crises affecting far too many municipalities. Schools, although not run by municipalities, are frequent targets too.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the protests can sometimes be linked to power struggles within the political party controlling the municipality. A position as a mayor or municipal councillor offers tempting opportunities for self-enrichment and nepotism, hence there is intense competition for these positions.

Thirdly, it is often reported in the media that “criminal elements” exploit the popular discontent, officials stating in the case of Plettenberg Bay, that

the overwhelming public evidence is that this is rampant crime, accompanied by violence, looting, theft and the vandalism, malicious damage of public and private property; with a total disregard of the losses and major inconvenience to business owners, their employees and families…

In earlier cases, it was reported that equipment such as computers was stolen before the buildings were set on fire, while theft of computers and other valuables from school premises remains widespread.

Fourth, the violent contestation can also be interpreted as a legacy of apartheid. Frustrated by the lack of response from the post-apartheid authorities, communities are reverting to a repertoire of actions which they had employed during their struggles against the apartheid regime.

Journalists, political scientists, sociologists and criminologists have written extensively about popular protests (summarized in Lor 2013). It has been pointed out that the term “service delivery protests” is an over-simplification, because not all protests are concerned with poor service delivery. Instead, the term “popular protests” is preferred. The various disciplines take different approaches to this phenomenon. One of the more graphic and insightful studies was that carried out by an interdisciplinary team at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. The title of the report, The smoke that calls, reflects the rationale often cited by protesters: setting fire is the only effective means of drawing the attention of the authorities to their grievances. The researchers pointed to the rapid processes of post-apartheid class formation, in which “a new elite is emerging” along with “a large underclass of unemployed and precariously employed persons”. They placed this in the context of the transition from apartheid to democracy, which they saw giving rise to “fierce struggles over inclusion and exclusion within the elite, between elites and subalterns, and within the subaltern classes themselves” (Von Holdt et al. 2011, 6). These struggles involve contestation over what it means to be a citizen, and play themselves out in community protests.

Where does this leave libraries?

There are no easy answers. Libraries need to be embedded in their communities. They need to be physically located there, even if it places them in harm’s way. If communities are distressed, libraries will be affected.  Ultimately, if we as librarian believe that in the long term libraries contribute to the development of healthier, socially cohesive and inclusive communities, that is where libraries need to be.

References

Holdt, Karl von, Malose Langa, Sepetla Molapo, Nomfundo Mogapi, Kindiza Ngubeni, Jacob Dlamini, and Adele Kirsten. 2011. ‘The Smoke That Calls: Insurgent Citizenship, Collective Violence and the Struggle for a Place in the New South Africa. Eight Case Studies of Community Protest and Xenophobic Violence’. Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation; and Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand.  https://www.csvr.org.za/docs/thesmokethatcalls.pdf

Lor, Peter Johan. 2013. ‘Burning Libraries for the People: Questions and Challenges for the Library Profession in South Africa’. Libri 63 (4): 359–72. doi:10.1515/libri-2013-0028.

———. 2016. ‘Risks and Benefits of Visibility: Librarians Navigating Social and Political Turbulence’. Library Trends 65 (2): 108–27. doi:10.1353/lib.2016.0025.

 

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Resources for open access, open educational resources, open science, and more

In this post I highlight the work of Denise Nicholson, Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Witwatersrand (‘Wits”), who holds a master’s degree in intellectual property law. Denise publishes a free online international information service, [Copyrightanda2kinfo] Copyright & A2K Issues, covering a wide range of topics, including copyright, plagiarism, predatory publishing, and other intellectual property matters, open access, open publishing, open learning resources, institutional repositories, scholarly communication, digitization and library matters, mobile technologies, issues affecting access to knowledge (A2K), particularly in developing countries; World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, reports and negotiations and matters; free trade agreements and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and attempts to expand it (TRIPS Plus); useful websites, conference alerts, etc.  The content is archived at: https://africanlii.org/content/copyright-a2k-information. One can subscribe to the list at: http://lists.wits.ac.za/mailman/listinfo/copyrightanda2kinfo or email Denise.Nicholson@wits.ac.za. It is kept well up-to-date.

She also maintains a range of useful LibGuides, among others, on Open Access, A2K & Scholarly Communication, Open educational resources, Open Educational Resources for Humanities & Social Sciences: Introduction to OERs, and Scholarly Communication/Publication: Intro. They are well-organized, up-to-date, and crammed with useful links.

While writing chapters 7 and 8 of my book I made good use of Denise’s information service and several of her LibGuides, and I’m indebted to her for constructive comments on the drafts of those chapters. Chapter 7 deals generally with the political economy of information, whilst Chapter 8 is concerned with access to knowledge and global flows of information. To systematize and summarize the huge volume of writing on the latter, I used access to knowledge (A2K) as my umbrella term. Confining myself largely to scholarly communication, I placed attitudes to the intellectual property regime and the positions and initiatives taken in response to it on a continuum ranging from explicit or implicit acceptance of the IP system, through increasing forms of resistance, to rejection of it, as depicted in the following diagram (p.461):

I tend to conceptualize open access as being roughly in the middle of this continuum, since it reflects some ambivalence about intellectual property. Some theorists see the term “intellectual property” as a contradiction in terms, but depending on which model is proposed (grey, green, gold, etc.) there is implicit acceptance of intellectual property along with the desire to combat its excesses. There is much continuing discussion about this,  which is summarized very briefly in my book. Denise’s information service will help you to keep up to date.

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At last! That book

Published at last. Here is the table of contents. For publication details, see here.

International and comparative librarianship book

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Plastic polution: our contribution?

In the last few years the problem of plastic pollution has become a prominent issue in popular media. It is a huge problem. The website of Surfers Against Sewage reports that:

In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034.

Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans.

There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.

The figures are so horrifying that they seem unreal. But the reality hit home when I received a recent issue of a library journal a few days ago. I noticed that it was wrapped in a double layer of quite heavy transparent plastic. In fact, I realize now, every LIS journal I receive, along with every other printed magazine and newsletter, comes wrapped in plastic. No doubt journals in which articles about plastic pollution appear are also shipped in plastic wrappers…

Where does the discarded plastic end up? We put it in the “recyclables” bin, but that by no means guarantees that it is recycled. Is this plastic recyclable? Does our local authority have the capacity to recycle it? Here in South Africa – and no doubt in other parts of the developing world – municipal waste disposal services are not necessarily coping with the volume of waste. Neighbours say that we need not bother to separate our waste, since it all ends up in the same local landfill. That shouldn’t be, but it’s a fact of life in many parts.

This shows that, whilst recycling is important, it is not the complete solution. The  proliferation of plastic should be reduced at source. Journals and magazines should again be wrapped in paper. And it would be even better, faster and more economical, to disseminate them online to all but the declining number of subscribers who have no connectivity. Could the LIS community not set an example?

Afterthought: IFLA’s beautifully produced annual report still comes in a good quality paper envelope.

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Disabled adults in libraries

I’ve just received my copy of the Winter 2019 issue of Library trends (volume 67, no. 3), in a plastic wrapper (about which more later). This issue is devoted to disabled adults in libraries. The introduction, by issue editors Jessica Schomberg and Shanna Honnich, who both identify themselves as disabled, offers a brief but useful overview of “disability models”, the various models by means of which society has conceptualized disability over the past century or two: moral, medical, rehabilitation, social, and critical models. They then introduce the articles that follow. These cover a wide spectrum of disability and deal with disabled persons both as library workers and library users. The articles mostly adopt a critical disability perspective and range from first-person and auto-ethnographic accounts through quantitative and qualitative survey studies. Informative, insightful and sometimes moving, this issue offers the profession new perspectives for what the editors hope will be “a more widespread and much-needed conversation” on issues of disability and libraries. They certainly challenged some of my assumptions and opened my eyes to dimensions I had never considered before. Recommended reading.

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The Library ABC

In answer to questions: earlier blog posts, below, about the ABC are out of date. For all the instalments to date, and for the background story, go to the Library ABC page.

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