Importance of Action and Activism

Map Location
D, E, 7
Thread Location
Page 117

Elizabeth Gall

Agreement Description

In “Facilitating Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing: New Opportunities for Information Professionals,” Marshall (1997) discusses the difference between information and knowledge. She explains that, “information is transformed into knowledge when a person reads, understands, interprets, and applies the information to a specific work function” (Marshall, 1997). The librarian’s goal is to facilitate this process. This agreement examines what action and activism are necessary for librarians to facilitate knowledge creation in members.

A recurring theme throughout the Atlas and our discussion of new librarianship is that of knowledge creation. This theme is at the root of action and activism by librarians. The “Importance of Action and Activism” section in the Atlas argues that knowledge is created even when those having the conversation know little or nothing about the topic. Lankes explains that knowledge must be tested through action. But what action should be taken? The Atlas says that any action will impact knowledge creation, but it will also skew the conversation surrounding the topic. How can we as librarians know that our actions are not skewing the conversation for the worse?

Ojala (2004) believes we must tailor information to the audience. She argues that information professionals can take action not only by analyzing or summarizing information but also in how they present it. The first or boldest item in a list of resources is likely to have a greater impact than the last. Ojala champions this fact as a means to better serve members and to better market services. At no point does she discuss or even mention the ethical implications of skewing the conversation. Lankes concludes the “Importance of Action and Activism” section with a call for “a new apparatus of librarianship,” a part of our worldview that ultimately talks about ethical and appropriate knowledge and conversation. Ojala’s stance highlights just how important that is.

In addition to the call for a new apparatus, Lankes argues that simply having values and principles is not enough. Librarians must work to improve society through action. It can be argued that this is possible through the skewing of conversation. For example, if a librarian highlights the results of an online search that come from reliable, safe Internet sources, they are skewing the conversation to promote the creation of knowledge through responsible, safe web navigation.

A classmate, Jocelyn Clarke, shared an example regarding a search for information on mixing illegal drugs. She found the sites written by enthusiasts to contain more complete and helpful information than the neutral sites. Is it ethical and appropriate to encourage knowledge creation from a source that promotes breaking the law through illegal drug use? It may depend on the member. It would be more appropriate to share these sites with a mother worried about her wayward child than with a preteen working on a report for school. The student is most likely looking for facts while the mother is looking for a way to help her child.

As librarians we are taught not discriminate based on age, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. Is skewing the conversation for members a method of discrimination? I don’t think it is, but I do think it is a good question for librarians to keep in mind when taking action. If we are going to skew the conversation (we are), we must work to stay aware of how knowledge creation is changed. “Information professionals need to refrain from evaluating or ‘improving’ upon internal information” (Marshall, 1997). Librarians must be sure that they are not skewing the information in the process of skewing the conversation.

We cannot have a discussion on the importance of action and activism without also considering service. Librarians strive to serve the communities to which they belong. They also believe “the best knowledge comes from working in the richest information environment possible.” What impact will “the richest information environment possible” have on knowledge creation? This includes proven as well as faulty information. Eventually, the Wright brothers figured out how to build a plane that would fly, but first they went through many plans and models that did not work. The richest information environment possible would include these faulty plans. A member is unlikely to learn how to build a plane from them, but they might gain a deeper understanding of the principles of flight. Librarians must be sure to keep a record of failures along with successes if they want the “best knowledge” to be created in their library.

Ultimately, only through action and activism can librarians ensure that members gain information in the manner that suits them best and determine which information is most valuable. Only through action and activism can librarians develop the richest information environment possible where the best knowledge can be created. Rowley (2006) argues that data become information, which becomes knowledge, which becomes wisdom. By taking the above actions, librarians will not only improve knowledge creation in their community but also encourage the creation of wisdom.

Conversation Starters

1. What is ethical and appropriate knowledge and conversation?
2. When a librarian provides a member with several resources from different publishers, media, schools of thought, and so on, how is knowledge creation impacted? Does it discourage the creation of new knowledge?
3. What role do librarians play in documenting knowledge creation within their community? Should all knowledge creation be recorded even if the knowledge it creates is faulty?

Related Artifacts

Marshall, L. (1997, September/October). Facilitating knowledge management and knowledge sharing: New opportunities for information professionals. Online, 21.

Ojala, M. (2004). Information creation. Online, 28(2).

Prekop, P. (2002). A qualitative study of collaborative information seeking.
Journal of Documentation, 58(5).  doi:10.1108/00220410210441000.

Rowley, J. (2006). Where is the wisdom that we have lost in knowledge? Journal of Documentation, 62(2). doi:10.1108/0022041061065332.