Technology and Communication

By mgarci23

The most interesting topic that came up for me during this section was the history of technology and the evolution of communication. I loved learning about how people expressed their fear and wonder of the new emerging technology that could allow for greater communication. If history is anything to go by, methods of communication have been dominated by those who were powerful enough to control it. Thankfully, today governments and other influential organizations have lost some of the control they once had. Now anyone, with access to the internet or a mobile device, can communicate faster, farther and easier than before.

For a long time the only forms of communication were the spoken and written word. However, neither could reach great distances. For the Greeks and the Romans, town criers would receive the “news” of the town and speak about it.  The invention of the printing press in the mid 15th Century allowed books to be printed and distributed more frequently to those who could read and afford the prices. The invention of the telegraph, radio and then television provided, those with the means to do so, a way to send messages to others far away. Phones, computers, tablets and even the internet, were created to incorporate societies need to communicate quickly and efficiently. Email, text messaging and applications have facilitated the change from letters and telegrams to instant communication.

It was fascinating to read about the fear Walter Benjamin had that governments would misuse technology for their own, possible evil, deeds. In his article, Benjamin writes that,

“If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society.”

During the class discussion however, my group discussed how technology has been able to stop or at least limit how much propaganda governments create. Modern media methods counteract any government oversight. There are sites that allow users to live stream events recorded by people at the events. Its because of these sites that protests from parts of the world that are normally ignored by large media outlets.

Websites and pages on social media are dedicated to speaking out against corruption in other governments all around the world. Even locally, small new outlets, independent journalists and/or bloggers are able to spread socially important stories over the internet that while they may not be important to large media outlets, certainly matter to most of the population.  

Sites like Humans of New York on Facebook have connected people from different backgrounds and parts of the world. In the collection of Syrian refugees, the photographer was able to demonstrate the struggle many went through to escape their war torn countries and the difficulties they’ve faced finding a new place to call home. Millions of followers of the page have helped raised funds for those in need. Some have reached out to the people mentioned on the page to either help with living arrangements or to put them in contact with other people who would be able to help.

The most important aspect of the Humans of New York (HONY) is that it connects people. I don’t think that even Walter Benjamin could have imagined how powerful technology could become or how it could connect people from different parts of the world instantaneously. Thanks to sites like HONY, the photographer, Brandon, has been able to document and shed light on the difficulties refugees face when trying to enter a new country.

Hackers (even though it is illegal)  are able expose corrupt people or organization because of technology. Recently, the group known as Anonymous vowed to expose prominent members of the KKK and ISIS. By using their computers members of Anonymous used the social media as a tool for social justice. Their actions are another example of how the Internet, another element of technology, has been able to help fight against corruption and prejudices.  

While the internet was designed to expand communication between everyone, many people have used the internet to post or dismiss ideas. Facebook itself has become a daily news source where regular people can post “news” about themselves. Cellphones, laptops, tablets, have given media mobility. Live-streaming from mobile devices have allowed people from all over the world to watch and witness protests, speeches, demonstrations, and any other public events from different parts of the country or world.  

Many argue that cellphones and computers are limiting communication. I agree to come extent that this is true. Text messaging is not the same as having an in person conversation. Text messaging doesn’t convey emotion the same way as a verbal dialog. However phone calls and even video messages have replaced letter and in live communication. With a video call a person can be across the ocean and a group of people can have conversation face to face. There are limits to these forms of communication unfortunately. Video calls can only be made by people with computer and Internet access. In a way this is similar to the letters before computers and cell phones. If a person couldn’t write, they couldn’t communicate.

There is even technology that allows people with verbal or textile difficulties to communicate. So yes, technology can be used to spread evil doctrines and hate. However, technology can be used to counteract those actions as well. Therefore, people can argue that technology is neither a positive or a negative. It just exists as a tool in this time.

My Observation of the NYPL Digital Archives

By mgarci23

For my observation, I chose to spend three hours examining the New York Public Library Digital Archive. The reason I chose this specific topic is because I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to digital archives. Personally, I prefer to examine an object or document first hand. The sensory aspect of coming into contact with a historic document or object is something that can’t be replicated virtually. However, the availability of partial or complete collections is a new aspect of library, museum and archive culture that is something to be admired. Many people don’t even realize the scope of an institution’s resources until they stumble upon it.

Pros

The largest pro of the NYPL is the extent of its content. Many of their collections have been digitize. On the homepage is an interactive set of information. Scrolling over some of the stats and the viewer is able to compile comparisons. For example the total sq. footage of the archive is  the equivalent of forty-four Empire State Buildings. At the same time they provide the public with a working update of how many pages have been digitized. So far the NYPL archives have digitized 180,777 pages of their collections. While that isn’t much it is still Often researchers, students, or the general public have to make appointments in order to see a specific collection with supervision. With online archives patrons are able to browse collections unsupervised.

Another pro is the new beta linked data tool that creates connections between different aspects of various collections. This already is an invaluable tool not available at a physical archive. The only person able to make the connections is the archivist who has worked on the collection.

The comment section is really nice pro for the NYPL Digital Collections. Recently, I found out that the comments section was reviewed by staff members and what they found was extraordinary. One commenter stated that his grandfather was the man being lynched in a photo. The commenter wanted to donate other material of his grandfather to provide more depth about his grandfather’s life. Other comments provided supplemental information about other photos such as back story to stores or children in the photos (some of them were the children or lived in the subject places). Since the digital archive is relatively new, I hope that they will take this feature useful in a different department and incorporate it into their own.

The final pro I found particularly interesting is something that is shared between all archives. Online archives allows the public to access material that might be too fragile for physical access. A lot of the documents I examined where old and/ or in terrible condition. In this instance the New York Public Library archives created a sort of balance between the patron and the fragile thing.

Cons

The largest con I have against the NYPL archives is how they formatted the way you access the content. Often times I found myself circumvented to other areas I did not want to be in, such as the catalog. The developers assume patrons will be able to understand the layout and navigate it. That is extremely bothersome because online archives are a relatively new aspect and every archive designs their website differently. To assume that the patron will automatically understand places a great strain on the patron. If the patron becomes frustrated with the system, they won’t use it anymore.

Another con is the amount of control a patron has over what they see. With online archives patrons are only given access to what the archivist provides and how they provide them. With physical archives the patron has more access to different aspects of the document. Such as small marks that can not be clearly seen online because the resolution isn’t the best. Physical contact with an object allows the observer to notice details that might be obscured by pixelation. For example I wanted to look closer at some written note on a document on the NYPL archives and could barely read it because the image quality limited from seeing it. This is the example that I am referring too.

The last con I have against digital archives is the difference in experience a person feels when they come into contact with a historical document or object. This is particularly personal because as someone who deeply appreciates history, that experience of working with document or object that is part of a larger historical context has deep meaning for me. To not be able to feel the kind of paper, ridges or bumps or smell the ink, paper or whatever kind of material almost makes it hard for me to fully respect the object for document.

There a lot of aspects of digital archives that I enjoy and certainly the NYPL archives is an excellent example of a digital archive. However, there are certain aspects of traditional research that can’t be replicated in digital form. Throughout the entire observation, I kept in mind, Roy Rosenzweig’s, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” where he mentions the historian and their refusal to accept digital archives. While I have some reservations about digital archives and the authenticity of the archived object but I understand how important it is to make connections between works. That is one of the reason I appreciate NYPL archive’s linked data feature.

Homelessness

By mgarci23

Homeless patrons are an important topic that many in the library professions, if not all, discuss. Even so, it seems that not much has been done. It is a difficult subject to approach because of the all the varying variables. Librarians are trained as librarians not social workers. That doesn’t mean that librarians can’t help. Libraries provide a crucial service to both homeless and other patrons. Libraries are full of resources that the homeless can utilize to improve their overall state of life.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much service can be provided. Libraries as of today are not equipped to handle to the complete needs of the homeless patrons. However, there are some libraries that are going the extra mile to ensure that they provide different services to their homeless patrons. As I mentioned in class, one such is the San Francisco Library, who hired a social worker. In an interview with Leah Esquerra, the social worker, she described her role in the library and how she reaches out to homeless patrons to discuss different options they can take. Another library offered showers to their homeless patrons. As a result, their job opportunities grew because they could appear somewhat cleaner to potential employers.

While these libraries have put forth great ideas to help the homeless people of their communities, these ideas aren’t feasible for all communities. Not all libraries can afford or accommodate those changes into their space. For example, the overwhelming population of homeless in New York would make it increasingly difficult for libraries if that population used those resources. Unless the library focused an unreasonable amount of their resources on this situation, the situation won’t be resolved. Does that mean that these libraries should them? Of course not! There are limitations to all actions, but there are actions that can be taken. Like I mentioned before libraries can offer the services they do provide to them.

Even with all these advances there are a lot of difficulties when approaching homeless patrons. The mentally ill homeless patrons are a clear example. In some cases, they can become violent. In these cases, there isn’t anything anyone not trained to handle the situation can do. These situations can alienate the other patrons libraries serve. When the conflict arises where a library has to choose between serving all customers and most customers; the easiest solution is to choose the majority. You can’t please everyone. But you can try and please as many people as possible. That then leaves the homeless and other “undesirable” patrons behind. That begs the question; do libraries have a moral obligation to serve homeless patron if there is a possibility that they can alienate other patrons.

Personally, I would like to believe that everyone, on a moral level, feels the need to help those in need. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. Those inclined to do so, can ignore the struggles of another in favor of assisting someone else. One person was Blaise Cronin. In his statement in the Library Journal, Cronin stated:

A library is not a community masturbation center. A library is not a porn parlor. A library is not a refuge for the homeless. A library is not a place in which to defecate, fornicate, or micturate. A library is not a bathing facility. A library is not a dumping ground for latch-key children. Many librarians can follow his ideas and choose to alienate themselves from that part of the community.

For those that think differently, there are a ton of resources libraries and librarians have to help themselves understand and eventually help those in need. There are guidelines outlined by the American Library Association that other libraries can incorporate into their own policies. In the ALA “Library Services to the Poor” policy, outlines different objectives to ensure that the homeless or poor are thoroughly considered in the library’s overall view.  Libraries can reach out to organizations within their communities that are better equipped to handle serious situations. Social workers can offer tips and advice for how to communicate with homeless patrons who may have mental disabilities or be victims of serious crimes.

In one example, the Madison Public Library, there are spaces designated for non-profit organizations to assist the homeless and poor patrons. The spaces have been redesigned to accommodate all patrons as best as possible. I feel like this a great response to the conversation in class. Many expressed that there are services already available to the homeless but because they are underfunded, they don’t can’t always help. The idea was that there should be a greater focus on helping those organizations so that they can focus on the people they are meant to help. By partnering with these organizations, libraries are providing support to those organizations. The community then sees that both the library and the other organizations are providing for everyone, which can have a great impact on how people approach this topic.

One a larger scale, museums face the same situation. How can all educational informational institutions assist homeless patrons when they haven’t been trained to do so? Should museums enforce strict polices to limit what kind of patrons enter their space in order to protect their artifacts and priceless collections? Why does the state of one’s clothing matter when a person is trying to enrich their knowledge and overall state of life? Can museums and libraries be faces of change when it comes to how the public addresses homelessness and the homeless?

I believe so. I believe that every institution can demonstrate to the rest of their communities that the homeless should not be excluded, ostracized or demeaned because of their state of dress, smell, or mental state. They are humans like every other human on this planet. They have the same rights even if they are not mentally aware of them. Through small acts such as providing them with information guides, books, locations to help, museum and library staff can demonstrate to the rest of the world that they value the homeless patrons as much as the other patrons.

I think there needs to be a large initiative by all museums and libraries to address these issues to ensure that the homeless patrons have voices in their own communities.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/library-social-worker-helps-homeless-seeking-quiet-refuge/

http://www.ala.org/offices/extending-our-reach-reducing-homelessness-through-library-engagement-7

http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2014/11/24/a-home-to-the-homeless/

http://www.soic.indiana.edu/news/story.html?story=Library-Journal-Commentary-Dean-List-What-Library-Is-Not

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