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Ryan Matura Library Newsletter for Faculty 9 (September 2016)

Number 9, September 2016

Three Myths of Information

Ryan Matura LibraryThe Library has undertaken a Strategic Directions Initiative to listen, think, and plan for the future with our stakeholders –students, faculty, alumni and alumnae, administrators and staff, and members of wider communities. 

This project has underscored the challenges librarians face to communicate effectively how libraries are changing.  We find and use metaphors to help bridge the gap between the libraries of nostalgia (“when I was a kid . . .”) and the libraries of today and tomorrow.  The gap between the familiar past and the unfamiliar present has fostered three myths about libraries and their roles.

Myth #1: Information is free.  It’s all there on Google, so why spend so much money?  It all depends on what you want to find.  Libraries have advocated for free and just access to knowledge, but are more and more pressed to ensure that access comes at no cost to those who benefit from it.  Publishers and providers have built high profit margins into subscriptions.  Licenses have fixed durations, so payments continue annually instead of the older model of one-time payment and minor costs for continued use.

Myth #2 Information is available to everyone everywhere.  Rapid advances in technology, digitization, and connectivity leave many conclude that this myth is true.  Few realize that most academic publications have quarantines, periods when those who don’t pay can’t read.  Licenses require that libraries limit who may obtain access to library materials.  Millions of books likely will never be digitized because they are caught in copyright limbo (“orphaned works”).  If your public or academic library can’t pay for access, a great deal of information is off-limits.

Myth #3: Online searches return the same results to everyone.  On the contrary, filters employ data from previous searches to tailor results presented to individual searchers.  I have seen adjacent workstations exhibit differing results from the same search query to the same search at the same time, because previous users of that public workstation had searched for differing materials.  Search engines remember, “if you like this, you’ll like that” –great for online shopping, but limiting knowledge and viewpoints when doing research.  This could make users intellectual lazy since it’s easier never to question the results of a search, but ask,  “What didn’t I get?”

The Library is thinking about our strategic directions because we want to strengthen our users’ intellectuality agility and engagement.  We have optimized our expenditures to ensure access to authoritative information, built a Digital Commons to strengthen our connections to scholarship.  Our efficiencies extend our reach and lower the cost of higher education to students who otherwise would have to pay for access document by document.  These individual costs would be significantly more expensive than the library’s negotiated access and economies of scale.  In so doing we can attract and retain creative scholars and engaged students, and extend the University’s mission of insisting that accuracy, factuality, and well-grounded argument matters in an age marked by free-floating anger and convenience “truthiness.”