Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Culture #il2013 #internetlibrarian

Michael Ridley, University of Guelph, keynote

“The welcomed demise of literacy.”

“Reading and writing are doomed.
Literacy as we know it is over.
Welcome to a post-literate future.”

Literacy: visible language, reading and writing.

Literacy replaced orality, so it’s “inevitable” that something will replace it. He says this is a good thing.

It’s a thought experiment.

Online “book-like thing” at Collaborative authorship with students, etc. Set up at Pinterest site for the bibliography.

Marshall McLuhan: “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Literacy lets us do great things, but it’s also a kind of prison.

Socrates said it was the end of memory.

There’s too much information.

Less than 3% of languages are “visible languages.”

In the 1700s, people felt there was too much info and invented encyclopedias, etc. Writing itself may have come from accounting (for animals, etc.).

Writing is hard to learn, difficult to use, slow to process, prone to error, insufficiently powerful, addictive.

Candidates for post-literacy:

– Bio-computng/neural prosthetics (“I think that’s good, and we should all get implants of some sort.”) He thinks this is more “hyper-literacy.”

– Telepathy / Techlepathy (He brings in a psychic to his classes!) Makes people nervous. Techlepathy is connecting yourself up to others through technology.

– Collective Unconscious (or Consciousness): Says quantum physics endorses this.

– Drugs / Cosmetic neurology

– Machine intelligence: close to computers that are smarter than we are.

Stages: disruption, suspicion, loss, unsophisticated use, early adopters, elitism & power, mainstream.

The idea of a sense of self comes from literacy.

The brain is a soup of chemicals and synapses, etc. What if we could create a drug that would “grow an understanding in your mind”? Learn French, for example. (Learn to love Big Brother, too?)

The Vulcan mind meld. There’s even a book that says this is possible. (“There really is a very strong scientific basis to this.”)

Asked students to think about how we get there. One answer: aliens.

William S. Burroughs: “Language is a virus from outer space.”

Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Beyond Literacy Radio podcasts. He wouldn’t let the students write a research paper, but as someone pointed out on Twitter, isn’t this a return to orality?

“We have to go there.” “It’s inevitable, it’s optimistic, it’s advantageous.”

Question: Have you considered a class where nothing is written? Answer: it wsn’t possible. We have to use the tools we have.

Had a class where two strangers suddenly danced around for half an hour with no explanation.

Question: teenagers communicate with Snapchat and Instagram. We still have to be literate to succeed. Answer: No, what teenagers do isn’t post-literate. Yes, you have to be literate now, but everntually reading will be a fetish (as Capt. Picard reads Shakespeare).

Question: if we can do telepathy, etc., why do we need oral langauage (or French)? Answer: oral language is innate, but written language is a tool. Eventually, the machine overlords won’t speak English, French, etc. (Only half-kidding when he said this.)

Question: will this help ADHD kids? Answer: we preference literacy in the extreme. People who have trouble with literacy could have other tools to succeed.

More on Internet Librarian

If you couldn’t make it to Internet Librarian (or even if you did, but couldn’t get to all the great-sounding sessions that were presented), here’s a few places you can read about what went on:

Edited to add: Videos of selected sessions:

Did I miss you and your blog? If so, please add a comment to this post.

From Twitter 10-30-2009

Tweets copied by

Internet Librarian, Day 3

Next Gen panel

The keynote on the last morning was Stephen Abram interviewing three teenagers. This is more directly relevant for public, school, and academic librarians, but remember that this cohort will be in the workplace in a few years.

They use Google, of course, but they also appreciate the quality information they get from school and library databases. One of them said he trusts sites more if he has to log in with a password. Another said she trusted peer-reviewed literature, though she didn’t know the term.

Selling Tech to Power

Danis Kreimeier, director of Napa City-County Library, said she asks her staff:

  • What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Whose problem is it?
  • Is it sustainable?
  • Where does it fit with the library’s mission?

Another way of saying this: Will it show? Can it grow? Does it flow?

She highly recommends Communicating Your Strategy: A Script [Word doc.]

The assistant city manager of Monterey said: There’s no such thing as a tech project, just a business project. Challenging times require new ways of doing things. It’s really about marketing. The community’s interests come first. Consider context within the broader organization (i.e., make alliances with other departments).

Web Archiving

Tracy Seneca of the California Digital Library talked about the work her organization is doing archiving state and local government Web sites. Collections available at Tools are available at

Persuasion, influencing, etc.

These presentations are at

Naysayers don’t see what’s in it for them.

Made to Stick recommends telling stories. Avoid abstraction. Don’t boil everything down to bullet points.

Weird Ideas That Work Lots of ideas -> fewer prototypes -> fewer products.

Best Buy managers tried letting their workers go without schedules, collected stats on how it worked, then told their superiors about it.

Art of Woo

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It

MIT Libraries has a beta page. It’s easy to start something and put it there, but harder to get it to graduate to the main site. An idea has to be up at least one semester, has to have statistics, and has to meet users’ needs.


Have to see ourselves as influencers, be clear on what we want to see happen, learn new approaches.

Passionate, well-informed, well-connected: talkers.

Influence without Authority Model (Cohen-Bradford)

Get to know people, build trust, use the “hidden org. chart.”

Close the sale! Librarians don’t do this enough. “Is there any reason we can’t do this?” (Reminds me of the salesman who says, “What can I do to put in you in a brand new Buick?” Most librarians don’t want to be that guy, but sometimes we have to be.)

Clarity, competence, relationships. (I must say the two presenters, Rebecca Jones and Nicole Hennig, were practically oozing clarity and competence!)

Marketing on the Cheap

Louise Alcorn of West Des Moines Public Library talked about programming for communities going through hard times. She recommends OCLC’s report, From Awareness to Funding.

Aspen Walker of Douglas County (Colo.) Library talked about her efforts, but we were sworn to secrecy about it! Send her 3-4 words about why you became an info pro at aspenwalker @ twitter.

Marcy Phelps of Phelps Research talked about marketing. Her presentation is at

Marketing is “Getting someone, who has a need, to know, like, and trust you” (Duct Tape Marketing).

You need a plan, you need to commit time and resources, and have realistic goals.

She recommends Stephen Abrams’ Blogging as a Special Librarian.

Retooling Technical Services

Brad Eden of UC Santa Barbara points out that skill sets haven’t changed:

  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to organize detail
  • Knowledge of standards and current practice

There are lot of other catalysts for change, however:

  • The economy and state support for education
  • Google’s digitization (they are digitizing our collections and selling them back to us, like “another Elsevier” ouch!)
  • Social networking
  • Space (people, collections)
  • Shifting resources to unique local collections (several speakers at the conference recommended this)
  • Network-level collaboration on metadata
  • Move toward open access and scholarly communication, institutional repositories
  • Mobile, media literacy
  • 3D information visualization

“Lean into your discomfort.” (A great idea and worth remembering, but not always easy to do.)

“Work to live, not the other way around.”
What matters is your response, positive or negative.

Administrators are looking for people to step outside their boxes. He talked about having to merge serials and book acquisitions and about technical services people having to work on the public service desks occasionally. Library staff need to be flexible.

Do your own professional development. Keep an open mind.

Learn non-MARC metadata (such as TEI).

Learn scanning and digitization.

Then he showed this short video, which is full of interesting facts about the world, online and otherwise, but some of it should be taken with a grain of salt, IMHO.

Helen Heinrich and her colleagues from CSU Northridge talked about their efforts to streamline technical services. “Good enough is the new perfect.” Low turnover leads to a time capsule effect (i.e., everybody’s been doing things the same way for a long time).

They have an article in Searcher, July/August 2009. (You can probably get it through your library’s databases.)

Final Keynote

Mobile gadget quiz a la “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Those who wanted to participate could give a note to the moderator or send a tweet.

Library 101

Michael Porter, David Lee King, and other active folks put together a video project called Library 101.