Science Fiction and Fantasy: Uncovering the Modern World of Information, Society, and Technology through Metaphor and Imagination

Science Fiction and Fantasy: Uncovering the Modern World of Information, Society, and Technology through Metaphor and Imagination

Saturday, 7/11/09

This 20th anniversary meeting of the Imagineering Interest Group was a well-run affair featuring free books, entertaining stories, and good-humored pandering towards librarians. The packed house thoroughly enjoyed themselves listening to TOR authors speak about metaphor, imagination, the state of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, and the power of libraries.

Robert Charles Wilson gave an intriguing synopsis of his upcoming book set in a world run by a theological governing body. His protagonist, in the process of attempting to promote a sense of secularism, ends up creating a free library. While writing the book he said he needed to re-invent religion in America, a process he says “made me into a theologian, although I never volunteered for the post.” Wilson said that a recurring and powerful theme in Science Fiction is the “persistence of the book as well as the liberating power of information.”

Ken Scholes writes across many genres but was most influenced by Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons. He said that as a boy Science Fiction and Fantasy gave him a foster home, something to dream of, and essentially raised him. He recounted how as a young teenager he attempted to work in the local library repeatedly until he was finally of the legal age to work (16 in Washington state) at which point he was hired immediately. He also presented a mashed up narration with multiple characters, themes, and story lines from the readings of his youth saying this was how he was raised. He said he grew up reaching for heaven and found Oz, Middle Earth, and Mars among other worlds.

Margaret Weis told the story about how she got started in writing back when TSR first began Dungeons and Dragons. She realized “I could write those stories” and did so. She told her favorite anecdote about being a five year old in the public library who wandered into the adult section and found a copy of The Doll’s House. But the librarian wouldn’t let her check it out by saying “this isn’t about what you think it’s about.” She also related the story about how “writer’s are the ones who put on the bear skin and dance around the fire telling the people’s stories” which is all she’s ever wanted to do. For her, Science Fiction and Fantasy is not escapism, but a way to think about real life issues, but from a different perspective.

John Brown presented a compelling argument that Science Fiction and Fantasy is a “gateway drug” to literacy for youth. He related that the NEA has shown that in 2008 reading rates have increased and by the most in the 18-24 age group. Asking Bookscan if they had data to  go along with that, they provided the intriguing statistic that Science Fiction and Fantasy reading soared by 144% in roughly the same time period for juvenile readers. He said that for the young Science Fiction and Fantasy allows encounters with the “strange, weird, and wonderful.” He also said that the genre was big enough that it’s allowed him to explore more adult themes as he’s aged.

Eric Flint explored the reasons “Science Fiction and Fantasy” authors (and presumably readers) feel compelled to justify themselves in a “hostile literary world.” He maintained that the genre deals with “ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances which they deal with very well.” He contrasted this with a more literary view of storytelling that consists of “ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances which they deal with very poorly.” He wondered why Moby Dick isn’t placed into the fantasy genre because “no whales act like that.” But in the end he admitted that he, and other authors, depend on librarians to a large degree for his living because new authors are found through sharing and from libraries.

There were no questions from the audience as folks hurriedly lined up for author signatures. A line that extended out into the hall.

Author Biographies:

John Brown

Eric Flint

Ken Scholes

Margaret Weis

Robert Charles Wilson

Lots of ideas at the LITA Emerging Technologies IG

When: Monday Jan. 22, 2007

The scene: Around 60-70 people attended this IG on the final day of the ’07 Midwinter conference. It was standing room only, which of course meant that several sat on the floor. The discussion was wide-ranging, with Joe Ford, of Joseph Ford & Associates, presiding as incoming chair.

The primary role of the Emerging Technologies IG at Midwinter is to program the summer session as close to the bleeding edge as possible, and to that end, nearly everyone attending had suggestions on what they would like to see this coming June in Washington D.C. With very little coaxing, the group took off on a free-wheeling discussion, talking about what emerging technologies most interest or concern them.

Several themes quickly emerged: the implications of widely available broadband, large amounts of personal storage capacity, the effects of widely social information consumption, as well as the legal and social implications of what it all may mean.

Following are nearly all of the ideas brought up by the group: Continue reading

Scenes from the ALA opening session

Very impressive baritone telling people the session is about to start. We need have this guy recorded and announcing that “the library is now closing” all across the country.

The session led off with a surprisingly moving video of ALA and New Orleans, outlining the recovery efforts of the past year. They showed some amazing footage of the devastation, and the fixes being attempted.

Mayor Ray Nagin, talking about the importance that libraries have played here, Nagin says that “libraries have been the centerpoint of the diaspora.”

Mitch Landrieu regaled the audience with the world’s longest joke.

Madeleine Albright gave a powerful speach. Some highlights:

  • “Libraries are the laboratories of freedom.”
  • Talking about freedom, she said “what we preach abroad, we also need to practise at home.”
  • The axis of evil is actually “poverty, ignorance, and disease.”

Kicking liaison work up a notch …

Okay, I admit it. The main reason I coughed up $200 for this seminar was so I could figure out what to do with my subject guides. Happily, the experience was more than worth it, as I came away from ACRL’s “Taking Your Library Liaison Program to the Next Level” a little brighter and a little better equipped to bump things up a notch.

The speakers, Craig Gibson and Jamie Coniglio of George Mason University, kept things moving with lots of case studies. At one point our individual tables had to craft a liaison program from scratch with just a year to do it, which turned out to be a complicated process. There was a lot of talk of freeing up librarians to do their liaison work. One sticking point, of course, is the amount of time liaison librarians typically spend on the reference desk. It’s tough to pry us from that service point, as Gibson said it’s the “holy icon of librarianship”.

Play was also emphasized as a way to innovate. (Hard to do for many librarians who are already working at 150+% capacity!) But it’s necessary if you want to keep your faculty and students engaged. Made me feel a little better for sinking untold time gathering rss feeds for business journals in order to build an comprehensive OPML file that may or may not be used. Who knows, they might actually use it.

There was a lot of talk about the disruptions that have been occurring as a result of the current trends online. What do we do when 90+% of our students begin their research with Google or Yahoo!, without even thinking of the library’s website? Several examples were given: weblogs, wiki’s, podcasts, etc. (I’ll append links to those when the speakers update their weblog after ALA.) What wasn’t discussed was the emergence of social websites and their potential impacts. As long as we’re talking about disruption, why not let the users build our bibliographies for us? Why not our subject guides?

Our pre-conference homework [!] which we had to read before the seminar is highly recommended, and I’ve listed them below. Some great ideas here, especially if you’re interested in innovation, moving new ideas within your organization, and digital solutions to the problems above:

  • Kezar, Adrianna and Peter D. Eckel. “The Effect of Institutional Culture on Change Strategies in Higher Education.” The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 73, No. 4, July/August 2002, pp. 435-460.
  • Deiss, Kathryn J. “Innovation and Strategy: Risk and Choice in Shaping User-Centered Libraries.” Library Trends, Vol. 53, Number 1, Summer 2004, pp. 17-32.
  • Hazen, Dan. “Twilight of the Gods? Bibliographers in the Electronic Age.” Library Trends, Vol. 47, No. 4, Spring 2000, pp. 821-841.