The Niche of Negotiated Meaning

By Jenny Levine |

I was thrilled to read Michael's mini-interview with Will Richardson, because I, too, was blown away by Will's keynote at the Internet Librarian conference. Pretty much every part of his talk resonated with me in some way (especially since we have two middle school children at home), but the part that really hit me hard was when Will discussed "negotiated meaning." He defined it as teaching kids how to negotiate what is true, especially since you can no longer just hand them a textbook or The New York Times and tell them they're "right."

Side note: this was also a theme in Karen Schneider's talk on blog ethics, encapsulated in her plea that librarians "get it right" online because we are "the last stand between the patron and truth." Another meme that converged at this conference.

Sure, this isn't really a new idea, and sure we always knew that there were a few errors in the textbooks and newspapers. But all I could think about during Will's talk was how librarians have lived in the niche of "negotiated meaning," and how a generation has grown up letting Google take on that role for them.

When I teach RSS, I end with the observation that aggregators are all about information literacy - learning to filter that infinite (or so it seems) flow of information streaming around our heads every second of every hour of every day. When you start to read blogs, you gain a voice that provides such a filter. But when you combine reading multiple blogs in an RSS aggregator, you reach a much higher level of efficiency, one in which you're really forced to evaluate your sources and how they're working (or not) for you.

My contention is that RSS and aggregators are one way for librarians to gain back that role of teacher, that we can use this as an opportunity to teach information literacy to almost any audience. It's a role that is ready and waiting for us if we want to grab the golden ring. Academic and school librarians can help students, faculty, and staff set up aggregators specific to their fields. Public librarians can prepopulate aggregators for their residents and help them widen that field to authentic sources. Special librarians can help any department or group within their organization do these same things in a vertical market.

So one reason I harp so much on RSS is that I see it as a bridge to getting back to our niche of "negotiated meaning." And of course, libraries need RSS feeds of their own content in order to show patrons how to add it to their aggregators, so RSS is necessary for several reasons. But important it is, especially if it helps us localize that information flow for our patrons and teach them how to regain control of their information lives.