The profession of Library and Information Science (LIS) is in transition, as technological advances facilitate connection and information access on a global scale. Information creation and consumption is growing on a massive scale, along with the widening audience for that information spanning continents. Information professionals work to connect their users with information, providing access and instruction regarding information and technological literacy. Yet it is in these same connections that information professionals are implicitly operating on a global scale, and at times, working purposefully in a global, interconnected community. Being part of a global community means having knowledge and embracing the information and their connections that exist beyond one’s own community, recognizing that many of the challenges faced locally are the same worldwide, and that those challenges can lead to creative and collaborative responses on a global scale (Holmquist, 2015). Information professionals must be open to learn and contribute to this experience, in the sense that an international connection or orientation can be integrated into any work that an information professional can do.
Yet what sets apart such connections on an international scale is the directionality. It is good to have description and discussion of library operations in other countries, as well as direct philanthropic efforts towards supporting education and information access in third-world countries. Such efforts have an international flavor to them that makes one feel like there is global interaction involved. But, as Sellar (2016) argues, these kinds of interactions are one-directional, such as the donating organization in the West to the recipient community, creating distance and a sense of exoticism that takes away the potential for experiencing “reciprocal learning or innovation” that comes from true cooperation and collaboration that comes with both parties viewing each other as partners (p. 2). This may come from the American sense of the word “international” versus “foreign,” in that the American sense of international means something that is “from another country” and “not American,” while in reality, this differentiation is what the rest of the world understands as “foreign” (Sellar, 2016; M. Sellar, webinar, October 3, 2017). International librarianship then is rooted in individual praxis, the process of critical reflecting and informed acting, collaborating and reciprocating in ways that contribute to the development of the LIS profession as a whole (Sellar, 2016).
Cultural perspectives are needed in recognizing that we are part of global communities, and in particular, global learning communities. Having multiple, diverse perspectives promotes alternative ways of thinking that advance innovation and improvement in organizations and communities (Wong & Figueroa, 2015). Information professionals have the opportunity to contribute in professional praxis to the overall cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of the world’s diverse communities, which in turn, can inspire practice in their own communities at home. This process of professional praxis towards global learning communities involves three key factors: providing ubiquitous information access, providing educational opportunities to engage with others beyond one’s immediate communities, and knowing and meeting where users are in their unique, contextual information needs.
Providing ubiquitous information access relies heavily on the availability of Internet access and connection quality. Technology is a critical component of living and engagement in modern society. As Cohron (2015) argues, this principle represents more than providing people with internet access: it is about “leveling the playing field in regards to information diffusion. The internet is such a prominent utility in peoples’ lives that we, as a society, cannot afford for citizens to go without.” As I learned while developing the material that I co-authored about TV White Space technology as a cost-effective, Internet connection boosting solution, the “Digital Divide” still persists, impacting underserved populations. Factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and gender affect how public libraries are not built to meet the ever-increasing demand of user needs and e-government services, yet they are constantly posited as the “unofficial” providers of internet access while provided with little support of funds and equipment (Rebmann, Te, & Means, 2017). [See Competency L for more about this discussion.] Understanding how Digital Divide factors are rooted in ethnic, race, gender, and socioeconomic differences, helps information professionals address these issues in relation to information access (Wong & Figueroa, 2015), which in turn allows one to see how providing quality Internet access is a complex problem that also plays out on an world stage beyond the impacts of one’s own community.
Providing educational opportunities to engage with others beyond one’s immediate communities contributes to global collaboration. Opportunities exist for information professionals to collaborate on a global level, to contribute their knowledge and skills in ways that affect information organizations and communities around the world as well as information professionals’ own communities (Holmquist, 2015). This learning however, is not merely at the level of description or purely philanthropy. It begins in engagement of shared interests and issues that transcend national boundaries, bringing various parties together in collaboration to explore those interests and address those issues. LIS is a global profession in terms of issues common at local, national, and international levels, such as information policies, privacy, copyright legislation, Internet neutrality, e-resource creation and access, metadata standards, information literacy instruction, and providing relevant public services (M. Sellar, webinar, October 3, 2017). Engagement at a global level then promotes expansion, as information professionals gain new knowledge, competencies, opportunities for collaboration, and even access to new information that can translate to potential solutions for their communities’ issues (Holmquist, 2015, p. 379).
Finally, knowing and meeting where users are in their unique, contextual information needs is at the core of interacting with and serving global communities. This involves contact and participation, which in turn lays the groundwork for future collaboration. By meeting where users are, apart from an information professional’s own perspective, the information professional can move past negative connotations of “deficits” and “assistance” and move towards positive collaboration that recognizes privilege and embraces global partnership (Sellar, 2016). Meeting where users are allows information professionals to engage in professional praxis, to explore issues relevant to their communities, reflect critically on how they can be addressed, and act prudently and collaboratively. As Holmquist (2015) simply puts it, global information professionals “think globally – act locally” (p. 376), to share and forge stronger connections at both global and local levels.
Discussion of Competency Supporting Evidence
One way to understand and apply ways to contribute to the well-being of global communities is through the lens of social media use. Social media is an ever-growing international phenomenon, mediated by how it is accessed and the culture of the individual user. Social media sites can be used in both personal and professional capacities, making it a tool and resource for worldwide collaboration, knowledge sharing, idea development, and continuous learning beyond formal notions of education, and all in an easy to access and inexpensive way (Holmquist, 2015). The relatively low-cost nature of social media promotes access by diverse parties, though there are ever-growing privacy concerns, as seen in many developing and foreign countries. Knowing the culture of technology use helps information professionals develop an understanding of how their users are approaching their information needs, which in turn provides insight into the means and methods by which information professionals can assist their users. I explored these ideas and social media use in an international library context through an infographic creation assignment for INFO 246: Web 2.0 and Social Media (an advanced topic in Information Technology Tools and Applications).
For this assignment in INFO 246, I explored the social media use of an academic library in the Philippines, the Rizal Library at Ateneo de Manila University. I observed its recent social media posts and interactions with users across its accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I documented my observations, provided screenshots, and proposed a new social media tool that the library could use to interact with their users further. I then put together all of this information using the free version of Infogram, an infographic creation app.
As I discussed in the infographic, Rizal Library is an academic library that serves undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. It has a rich history that mirrors the Philippines’ history of colonization, as well as the history of the Jesuits (a Catholic order of priests). Rizal Library has presences on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, though its main activity and interactions are on Facebook (close to 14,000 likes) and Twitter (with a follower count over 9,500). From a cursory view of Rizal Library’s most recent social media posts, Facebook has the library’s content-rich posts, such as a post that I highlighted in the infographic that attempted to elicit responses from its target audience of Ateneo students, faculty, and staff. I concluded that Rizal Library was doing a good job with their Facebook presence, yet I also put forth the critique that much of their Facebook content is posted the exact same way onto Twitter on the same day (I also noticed that Facebook garnered more responses to the same content compared to Twitter). I then offered the ideas that Rizal Library could improve its marketing strategy by moving into messaging apps to deliver targeted messaging of its services and interact with its users more closely. Based on my review on user data from the Reuters Institute and SimilarWeb, I saw that WhatsApp, out of the many popular messaging apps, could be a viable means of communication based on high use in Asia and around the world outside of the US. I concluded the thoughts I presented in the infographic discussing Rizal Library applications of WhatsApp such as sending information about library programming and news flyers directly to users’ phones and creating group chats to allow users to contact librarians directly for reference-related questions.
Though the process creating this Rizal Library infographic was straightforward, there are many critical takeaways that I gained from the experience about how to approach determining the culture of technology use. Social messaging apps are starting to challenge long-standing social media sites in everyday use for communication and news consumption, especially in foreign countries outside of the US. There is a growing trend of social media interactions in private one-on-one and group messaging, rather than posting in the public sphere. And all of these interactions are happening at a growing rate on mobile devices rather than computers or laptops. Price, security, and privacy are strong factors that pull social media users to messaging apps to communicate in group messages and access information and news content. WhatsApp in particular is the world leader among messaging apps use in 109 countries - 55.6% of the world (followed by Facebook Messenger, in 49 countries; Schwartz, 2016). The appeal comes from the offer of encryption, desirable for communication in markets that pose dangers for those who want to share and access politically sensitive information, as well as its free use and access in many phone contract bundles. This also comes in light of Reuters Institute's 2017 findings of the "growing distrust" in social media being unable to filter for low quality and "fake news" alongside the rise of mobile devices as a primary means for news notifications (Newman, 2017).
For a culture of technology users that is growing more mobile while seeking privacy protection and cost-effective avenues of communication compared to social media sites, messaging apps are arguably a way for information professionals to interact effectively with such mobile users. I see this line of thinking about knowing the culture of technology use as a start in contributing to the cultural, economic, educational, and social well-being of our global communities, which builds upon many of the tenets of strong international librarianship as discussed above. Knowing how users communicate with each other allows the information professional to work with those users where they are culturally, economically, and socially, and begin instructing them regarding strong information and technological literacy practices in their specific contexts.
The LIS profession is a global one, with interests and issues that transcend national boundaries. It is useful and often necessary to cooperate and collaborate, share practices and develop initiatives to strengthen the profession globally (M. Sellar, webinar, October 3, 2017). This global level of participation is also a learning process. Information professionals learn best in direct participation with the diverse groups in their communities, as well as through community outreach services that take genuine interest in the engagement of intercultural exchange (Wong & Figueroa, 2015). One concrete way to engage in international librarianship is through international professional organizations such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) (Sellar, 2016; Holmquist, 2015). Other ways involve exchange, collaboration, and volunteering, in understanding and experiencing “the range of actors and potential means of contributions” to the LIS profession at a global level (Sellar, 2016). Yet this action does not happen overnight: one’s entry into the international landscape may be observational at first, and with time, that experience will feed into expertise that fuels engagement in more concrete activities and collaborations (M. Sellar, webinar, October 3, 2017). With activities such as the Rizal Library infographic discussed above, in relation to research on global data on increasing rates of mobile information access, I can say that I am engaging in light, indirect observation of libraries in an international context. I do understand the one-directional nature of my current interactions on an international field. Yet I can also identify directions for my future practice based on my current skillset, in relation to my undergraduate experiences studying theology and religious studies and indirectly from my recent LIS publication experiences.
In this discussion of intercultural exchange and direct interaction, I think back to my undergraduate coursework in theology and religious studies. I am reminded of the work of “comparative theology” and “liberation theology,” both of which have nearly the exact movements of praxis that I see in international librarianship. I explored the concept of praxis in the context of what I called a “comparative theology of liberation” between Islam and the Catholic denomination of Christianity in a journal article published in the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, the journal of the National Honor Society for Religious Studies and Theology. The article itself was a runner-up submission for the undergraduate Clark Award competition that showcases the best papers in theology and religious studies. I discussed how faith and context motivate one’s lived practice and everyday living through the vocabulary of faith shared by the two religions. In summary, the core practice of liberation theology is praxis, as a process of seeing, judging, and acting (Boff & Boff, 1987). And at a personal level, I took those lessons to heart as a student engaging in comparative theology, in deepening my own faith from my exploration of what could constitute as liberation theology in Islam. To quote thoughts from my conclusion:
"Though I cannot relate to the actual plight of those in the contexts to which liberation theology responds, I can relate at a theoretical and theological level on how to conceptualize and reclaim theology as lived practice. I have also gained an appreciation for how beautiful Islam is in its social justice aspects. The shared language and similar ideas across Islamic and Christian liberation theologies has shown me that these two monotheistic religions do worship the same God, though in different ways and with different emphases. And as liberation theologies on the fringes of their respective mainstream theological understandings, they show a powerful commitment to social justice for the poor and marginalized and a possibility for interreligious dialogue and solidarity in the process.” (Te, 2016).
This openness to exploring the diversity of religion and spirituality is something that I can bring into a future position, whether it is finding ways to connect with others at a personal level towards global collaboration or a topic of interest for future research that I could refine and to which I can incorporate a global LIS lens in analysis and discussion.
I also see international involvement in my own recent research LIS publications. The open access journals that I have published articles in, Information Technology and Libraries and Webology, have international representation in their editorial boards. Information Technology and Libraries has representation from Canada and the US, Webology is hosted in Iran and has a diverse representation of editors from Europe, North America, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. Open access is an international endeavor, and open access journals draw publications and collaborations that cross continents. In my future practice then, I could see myself facilitate international research collaborations and ways to learn and teach that connect researchers at a global level. Publishing open access means that I am putting my work onto an easily accessible platform, making my two recent LIS publications my first, albeit very indirect, forays into the international field. Yet I can say that I am published among an international body of researchers, which in turn means that there will be an international readership of my co-authored work. [For more about the articles themselves, see Competency L and Competency M.]
The field of LIS is in a very interesting time of transition, as the world grows closer with new advances in technology and communications and as high volumes of information are constantly being created and consumed. In strong international librarianship practice, information professionals need to engage in professional praxis towards providing ubiquitous information access, providing educational opportunities to engage with others beyond one’s immediate communities, and knowing and meeting where users are to meet their unique, contextual information needs. Information professionals are in a unique and worthwhile position to connect with others on a global scale, draw inspiration from the world’s information communities, collaborate internationally to improve information services, and scale those insights to fit the needs of their local communities (Holmquist, 2015).
Boff, L, & Boff, C. (1987). Introducing liberation theology. New York: Orbis Books.
Cohron, M. (2015). The continuing digital divide in the United States. The Serials Librarian, 69(1), 77-86. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2015.1036195
Holmquist, J. (2015). Global learning networks. In S. Hirsh (Ed.), Information services today: An introduction (pp. 374-380). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Te, E. E. (2016). Islamic and Christian praxis: Towards a comparative theology of liberation. Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa, 40(1), 35-50.
Wong, P., & Figueroa, M. (2015). Diversity, cultures, and equity of access. In S. Hirsh (Ed.),Information services today: An introduction (pp. 27-38). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.