I know a lot of writing is going on both in print and in the blogosphere about the future of books and the changing face of literacy in ‘the digital age.’ A lot of it is really good, but the article above (from American Libraries) caught my eye because the author shares my love of the printed book as an object as well as reading material. I have recently flung myself headlong into blogging, tweeting, etc. as professional activities, but I still spend as much time at a quiet table with dusty old library records so I appreciate the balancing act I feel like Raab is describing at the beginning of the piece. I feel like I have to put less work into balancing my digital content with my historical research (which at this point uses the tangible records as a jumping off point for discussions that largely take place in the realm of the digital). My question at this point is how the balancing act differs for folks who are doing research on digital objects/writing code/whatever. Do folks who work with born-digital content feel less of a push and pull between their media? I also wonder how much of this is due to climate: the field of LIS is one that is so rapidly developing and much more willing to embrace change and adopt new technologies than some other segments of the humanities, and I think such adaptable programs will be more likely to remain relevant than humanities programs that stick to the ‘academia as ivory tower’ model.
By virtue of following educators and librarians of all types in social media, I’ve learned a ton about technology’s impact on literacy and education. One thing that comes up repeatedly and is of great interest to me is the concept of the ‘digital divide.’ Millenials (of which I am one) were born and raised alongside the explosion of digital technologies, and so we are (ideally) better-suited to operate within the expectations that labor-saving technologies create. However, this article and my own experience attest to the fact that reality is of course much more complicated. With the ability to research umpteen-million things a minute comes the ability to waste alarming amounts of time looking at irrelevant information (how many times this week have you played jumped between ‘related articles’ on Wikipedia?). More important is the fact that classing all ‘millenials’ within a certain technological aptitude denies the fact that not everyone is equally capable when engaging with the digital world.
The digital divide is so interesting to me because I resisted fully engaging with digital technologies for a long time, preferring instead to work with paper-and-glue books and strongly identifying myself within more traditional academic models. While I think some of the notions behind what makes a ‘quality’ academic career have merit (such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals, after all I edit one!), I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friends in my department for showing me all the opportunities that digital technologies offer us as academics and educators, especially in terms of access. For example, publishing in open access journals allows scholars to share well-done research with others, even those who can not afford prohibitive paper or web-based journal subscriptions. It is great to see these sorts of ideals being embraced in everything from publishing to music. That being said, there is still a lot of privilege inherent in digital technology that is a large component of the ‘digital divide.’ This privilege exists in age (as a twentysomething, I am way more comfortable using my computer as a tool than my grandparents), as well as income and education.
For more on the digital divide and teaching special needs students, I definitely recommend Lauren’s recent post “The Digital Divide and Library School Students.”