Forgive Our Mess; We’re Iterating
I realized tonight while watching Django Unchained that I often say something that’s a little myopic and simplistic (perhaps one of many). I often say “literacy has changed” as kind of a hook to get children’s librarians to think about how the literacy supportive services we offer to families with young children must reflect the changing information needs of the modern family. But saying that “literacy has changed” is like saying “language has changed,” and the linguist in me cringes. Uh, yeah. Duh.
Language and literacy evolve as we evolve. The social mores, stereotypes, hangups, peeves and redundancies we layer on the changing nature of our linguistic expression cloud a relatively simple and wide-ranging phenomenon: as new problems or needs arise, we invent solutions or structures to ameliorate them. We exist within the infrastructure that has come before us, we carry with us the legacy system whether it makes sense or not, and we build from where we are. Communication is continually changing, and while our educational institutions strive to support that iteration, and while technology blows our minds weekly with flashy new functionalities, we struggle to keep abreast of the developments, and we do not all adopt or adapt at the same speed.
The result is usually a big mess, albeit most of the time a well-intentioned one (in libraries, anyway). The issue of tablets in storytime is messy because of the newness. Libraries struggle with capacity, network, budget, and administrative challenges, and even when those challenges have been overcome, there’s often still some techy snafu that invariably slows the tide of progress for implementation. But that’s nothing new. Change and adaptation are not new; we’ve done this before. It’s just really fast and in our faces right now, and often we just don’t know what we don’t know. It’s messy, but we’re figuring it out. This is the nature of an iterative society where new generations of products and devices can appear from the ether daily, and the development of those new products and services is more participatory than anything we’ve really seen before, let alone that our very notions of “authority” and “information” are in flux. We as information professionals walk the talk when we take new formats or packages of data and use them to support what do DO know about what kids (and humans, really) need to learn, thrive and become productive citizens.
Yes, literacy is changing. Yes, it’s already changed. But we know that. Carry on. And please excuse the mess; we live here.