who can afford access to knowledge?

General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Issues, Midwinter Meeting/Annual Conference, Uncategorized

Last night I met with a class of four non-traditional students who are preparing for their capstone research projects.  After a general discussion, I used each of the students’ topics to demonstrate various research techniques.  This morning I met with a class of rising high school seniors enrolled in a special summer course designed to get them excited about college and give them the necessary skills to get accepted.  Let’s look at the differences between these two groups.

[I thought this was a blog about intellectual freedom.  Why is he writing about his work day? Relax — let’s see where he goes with this.]

Last night’s class is part of my university’s College for Professional Studies, which is geared towards adult learners with at least three years of work experience after high school.  In other words, it’s not for the traditional 18- to 22-year old college student.  Many CPS students are coming back to finish an undergraduate degree that was started elsewhere, but was put on hold for one reason or another.  In the Jesuit tradition of education (of which we are a part), there’s an emphasis on cura personalis, or “care for the person.”  The small classes are a part of that, as is the level of library support and services available from the library.  It’s not uncommon for me to spend half an hour on the phone with a new student to walk her through the navigation of the library’s website and databases, all the while assuring her that she’s not taking up too much of my time — “That’s why we’re here” is a constant refrain.  As we are a private university, enrolling in our programs is a significant expense, though employer reimbursement options are a popular choice for lowering the total cost of attendance, while grants and student loans make it possible for people from a wide range of economic situations to enroll.

[Bo-ring!  I want to read about book burnings! You know, intellectual freedom is about more than censorship.  There are other issues, and I’m sure (eventually) he’s going to get to that.]

This morning’s class represents a different demographic.  Some folks at my school wrote a grant to offer the special college class described above, then selected 15 students from a variety of local programs with a focus on supporting academic achievement and success.  The students are from all over the metro area, and most would be the first in their families to attend college.  Their economic situations tend toward the lower end of the scale, and part of the special summer class is to teach them about all the options for financial aid and scholarships for pursuing the dream of college.  In the class, I walked them through how to access our online encyclopedias and one of our article databases, and also spent some time showing them how to access some of the same resources through their public libraries.

[I feel bad for those students — I’m sure they all fell asleep waiting for him to GET TO THE POINT! You have absolutely no patience, nor the ability to appreciate the way he’s using an everyday occurrence to illustrate what’s sure to be a profound point.  Hold your tongue and read on.]

Though both groups of students were given full access to resources as well as my full attention and support during the class sessions, last night’s students were assured that they could continue using the resources after I was gone and, more importantly, when they were at home.  This morning’s students were encouraged to use the library resources while they were in the building and to explore what resources are available through their public & school libraries.   It’s not that I don’t care about this morning’s class, but due to the licensing restrictions with which we’re all familiar, those students can’t have access to our library resources from off-campus because they’re not paying for the privilege.  To make matters worse, since they’re from different parts of the metro area with different library systems, they won’t all have the same access to comparable resources.  Though there’s one library system that’s actually adding buildings thanks to a rate increase approved before the economy tanked, most public libraries in the area are cutting services and resources, with one system being forced to close more than half its locations after their referendum failed in November.  Despite our long history of library cooperation in our state, the library closures prompted neighboring systems to talk about (but not implement) restrictions for patrons from the much-reduced system.

[Blah, blah, blah.  Everyone knows the economy’s in the toilet (or, as my grandmother would have said, the terlet).  I still don’t see how this is relatedYou, sir, are an idiot.  Isn’t it (about to be) obvious?]

One thing’s the same for both last night’s and this morning’s class: it all comes down to what you can afford.  The university’s students get excellent access to resources in exchange for tuition.  The high school students are at the mercy of whether their schools have libraries (half don’t) or if their families chose to live in a city with a good library system.  In an age when access to information is increasingly linked to a personal financial ability to pay, what’s a librarian to do?  Why, sign up for Library Advocacy Day! This is our opportunity to share stories about the impacts we have on our communities.  Libraries DO change lives, and it’s up to us to let people know.  More importantly, it’s up to us to draft advocates from outside the field.  We’ve already seen that we can’t win this fight alone — if that were the case, we wouldn’t be talking about funding shortages.  If we don’t find a way to reframe the discussion from “it’s about money” to “we build better communities,” we’ll see more closures and fewer people with access to the information & services they need.  Bottom line: access is the MOST important element to intellectual freedom.  It doesn’t matter how hard we fight for a controversial book if it’s locked in a library with reduced or no hours.  It doesn’t matter if we succeed in rolling back parts of the USA PATRIOT Act if there are no library records to protect because the system closed.  Without access to information, all the other stuff is meaningless.

[Huh.  Well, he did bring it back to intellectual freedom, though it ended up being a bit of a downer.  I don’t mind responding to challenges, but asking for money and support feels icky. Get over it.  Sometimes we have to do the tough stuff so we can enjoy the rest of our jobs.  I’ve just signed both of us for Library Advocacy Day, and now you can do something besides complain about every little thing.  Buck up — there are free t-shirts.  I like t-shirts.  Wait — they’re red.  I HATE red.  I don’t wanna go. That’s it, mister.  Go sit on the Naughty Stool until you’ve come to your senses.]

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