What is true? of value?: Information, Access, and the 21st Century

One of many on-going culture wars pivots the “new” against the “old.” Specifically, in this case, the library is classified as being good and the safe-keeper of truth (i.e., books), while the Internet is seen as new and untrue, as in the meme below. 


My immediate reaction when seeing this meme is: not everything in the library is true either (while the implication here relates to books, most libraries have at least some computers), what is “truth?,” and very importantly, everything written is “true” to some given set of hopes and fears.

Indeed, what is “true” also sometimes changes with new discoveries and differs according to experiences. In this way, especially in terms of the latest research, articles and videos on the Internet contain more “truth” than books.

Books are just as “fallible,” as any other source. Libraries, in some ways, function as a “gate keeper” because they are generally only open when most people work and go to school. Local libraries in my area aren’t open most evenings or on Sundays. Even the Houston library system has surprisingly limited hours. The Internet can be accessed anywhere and on almost any device these days.  

Public libraries can be “gate keepers” too in that they only have “x” materials readily, immediately available. And depending on the library, the number of computers they have, and their policies and filters for the Internet, valuable information may be blocked. Information on the unrestricted Internet is available instantly. 

Implications of this meme suggest that there is “one” library and “one” Internet. This meme doesn’t allow for the many libraries today that only have computers. Nor, does it allow for the difference between a typical public library and an academic library.

Over the past several years, I find that I have read far more articles than books. Well-written articles can deliver more information and do it quicker. In a typical day, I read dozens of articles. There’s simply not time to read dozens of books every day. Although, I certainly greatly enjoy my 2,000+ books. 

This meme, this blog, and all of the related questions point to important questions related contested meanings where truth, value, information, and access are concerned. Access to the information is and should be a fundamental priority. Certainly, some information on the Internet is harmful, per se, but it still speaks to core hopes and fears. People who rely on such information would have likely have no interest to seek out more “accurate,” or rather more perspectives, anyway. Educational instruction should place a continued priority on training people in how to analyze and evaluate information.

One final thought, the Internet has also revolutionized the possibilities when it comes to teaching. 15 years ago using all kinds of carefully selected music and video clips would simply be impossible.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda