Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Arts and Libraries: Reaching Out, Building Connections and Community

The arts, the economy, creativity, libraries. For the grammarians: please grant your indulgence for the opening fragment usage here as it is only used as a point of illustration. This is because although this list may seem like a disconnected lot, conversely, its components can be seen as pieces of a larger picture in relation to information and development.

This disconnectedness is parallel in terms of the divisions we usually employ relative to human intelligence abilities and spheres of knowledge, like when we draw distinctions between the arts and sciences. Such distinctions, given our adoption and success of the economic model of division of labor and our compartmentalized education system, have become well established in our society and way of thinking. However, there are historical figures we can easily think of who were all-embracing of both the arts and sciences in their way of thinking, e.g. Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Omar Khayyam, and Hildegard of Bingen. And libraries, intriguingly enough, are places where anyone can find information on the arts and sciences all under one roof.

The arts however, represent one aspect of human activity which, while generally generating much admiration, tends to garner relatively less respect and is seen to be of relatively lesser importance than the sciences. This becomes apparent moreso in hard economic times when arts programs in our schools or funding for city or state arts institutions are typically the ones that are first cut.

As such, given the country’s current economic situation and the still tremulous atmosphere on Wall Street, it seems appropriate or preemptive to highlight the role of the arts in our society and the library institutions that support and help preserve the work of artists and artistes for our current benefit and for posterity. Moreover too, when we usually think of libraries, typically we tend to think of book holdings as opposed to holdings of art pieces and recorded performances, which presents all the more reason why the work of art libraries seems one to be highlighted.

The arts tend to be looked at with less regard too given that they do not lend themselves readily to measurement. We live in a quantitative world where we like to account for everything empirically and the less structured, ethereal and abstract nature of the arts are opposite to the concreteness and certainty that we seek and like to rely upon for the results-oriented, fast-paced world we live in. But perhaps it is a consequence that given the very nature of the abstractness and immeasurability of the arts, it is why we are at times rendered speechless upon viewing some beautiful or intriguing work of art or when we are among the audience of some rhapsodizing performance artiste, we struggle for words to measure and account for how such art has affected us.

Nevertheless, measure we must, and one way we can measure the impact of the arts upon us is via the economy. One relatively new aspect of our economic thinking has been to greater appreciate and incorporate the very bedrock and ethos of the arts i.e. creativity. This has given rise to terms such as, the creative economy, creative industries and the creative class. In a 2005 article “States and the Creative Economy” on the National Assembly of State Art Agencies (NASAA) Web site, it states:

"Many states have measured the economic effects of the creative sector, which nationwide amounts to billions of dollars through direct spending by cultural organizations and related spending by consumers. Creative enterprises are also key employers in some regions and produce billions of dollars in local, state and federal taxes each year."

To fuller expound upon the economic contribution of the arts, here are some other salient facts and figures about the arts and the economy that the NASAA has listed on its Creative Economy Resource Center Web page:

America's nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, resulting in $29.6 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.Source: Americans for the Arts, Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences, 2007.

The creative sector, whose economic function is to create new ideas or creative content, employs 38 million Americans, or 30 percent of all employed people. Source: Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, 2002.

In 2006, 574,596 U.S. businesses participated in the production or distribution of art and employed nearly 3 million people. Source: Americans for the Arts, Creative Industries Report, 2006.

The arts, nonetheless, represent more than just money and employment for the economy. The arts, according to Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endownment for the Arts (NEA), provide us with a means to celebrate, commemorate, perform and meditate. Gioia shared this and other views on the arts in an interview with NASAA CEO Jonathan Katz. Further in the interview, Gioia in describing the arts, sees them not as a luxury but an:

"essential part of a full education and healthy society" and as "an essential component of a free society and democracy."

Gioia goes on to highlight three areas for the arts to regain a more central role in our society:

Bring coverage back into the media.

Rebuild the arts position in public education.

Create and build public consensus about the necessity for public support for the arts.

(The full interview with Katz and Gioia can be seen on the NEA's Web site).

There are many libraries and and their umbrella library associations which all do tremendous work in the promotion and conservation of the arts. Some of the major library associations include:

ArLISNA - Art Libraries Society of North America

TLA - Theatre Library Association

These organizations along with arts institutions and book authors (see listing below) writing on such topics as creativity, creative arts, and the creative economy all remind us that it is creativity, that is truly the hallmark of humankind and is what is effectively placed at stake when we let the arts flounder.

The arts are more than just the sculptures, paintings, poetry, acting, music, dance and other performances that we see and hear. They help us to build inner connections for ourselves as well as outward connections with others. They help renew our faith in our own abilities and also allows us to see how perceived limits can be broken down and surpassed. Our libraries are all the more vital and dynamic for their arts holdings and their publics are better served and are, for the least, inwardly richer because of them.

Short List of Books on Creativity, Performance Arts, and Art Librarianship

Handbook of Creativity, Robert J. Sternberg (Editor)
Cambridge University Press, 1998

The Economics of Art and Culture,
James Heilbrun, Charles M. Gray, Cambridge University Press 2001

The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Richard Florida, Basic Books 2003

The Arts of Democracy: Art, Public Culture, and the State (The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America),
Casey Nelson Blake, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007

Music Library and Research Skills,
Jane Gottlieb, Prentice Hall 2008

Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, Joan M. Benedetti, The Scarecrow Press Inc. 2007

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Informed Citizen: Elect To Be Informed

“Whenever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

Thomas Jefferson

With the campaign season becoming more intense with the presidential election just weeks away, many people surely have become more interested and aware of the ‘issues’ as presented in the news media. Many have become more anxious about their own pressing needs and who they see as the best candidate to address them and some also become more patriotic, dutifully weighing who they see would lead the country in the best direction of upholding the American dream, values and status in the world. We constantly hear the candidates, their surrogates and political pundits intoning the significance and the importance of the electorate's choice; such is the atmosphere of a presidential election: the civic interest and awareness of the citizenry peaks as people tune into the myriad news and information channels, attend discussions, lectures and debate among themselves.

And all this brings focus upon a central component of any democracy: an informed citizenry.

The concept of the importance and essentiality of informed citizens with respect to the sustainability of the State has been with us since the lead up to the revolution: Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Madison are all noted for avowing and championing this notion. University of Connecticut Professor Richard D. Brown, in his book, The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America 1650-1870, gives a good account of the virtue and development of this idea as it has woven its way through American politics and society. In his introduction Brown notes that:

“when American democracy is assessed in a global context and its huge size and exceptional heterogeneity are figured in, it is widely agreed that the idea of an informed citizenry has been a crucial ingredient in United States’ success.”

Brown does not hesitate to caution however that...

“The idea of an informed citizenry has been so familiar since the late nineteenth century, and so interwoven with the rhetoric of democracy and education, that we have been tempted to take it for granted.”

In the goal of maintaining an informed citizenry, libraries have and do play a key role. An acclaimed and well-known book to librarians in this regard (and arguably a must-read for any serious librarian and information professional) is Arthur Hafner’s collection of essays in Democracy and the Public Library: Essays on Fundamental Issues. The essays in this book lay out clear historical, theoretical and practical perspectives on the role libraries play in preserving the free or marketplace of ideas which is the cornerstone of any democracy.

In her paper the Civic Mission of School Libraries former ALA (American Library Association) president Nancy Kranich describes and promotes the myriad ways that school libraries fulfill their role in the civic engagement and literacy movement and contends:

“If libraries are to fulfill their civic mission in the information age, they must find active ways to engage citizens in order to encourage their involvement in democratic discourse and community renewal.”

In his book Civic Literacy: How informed Citizens Make Democracy Work, Henry Milner examines civic literacy in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand and describes civic literacy as:

"both an attribute of the individual and an aggregate indicator allowing for the comparison of societies according to the proportion of civically literate individuals, that is, possessing the knowledge required for effective political choice"..."a country’s level of civic literacy is an indicator of the efficacy of its political knowledge-enhancing institutions."

From its "Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions: What americans Know 1989-2007," a survey of telephone interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International among a nationwide sample of 1,502 adults, 18 years of age or older, from February 1-13, 2007 and published in April 2007, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in its summary reported:

"On average, today's citizens are about as able to name their leaders, and are about as aware of major news events, as was the public nearly 20 years ago."

But also noting however that:

"...despite the fact that education levels have risen dramatically over the past 20 years, public knowledge has not increased accordingly."

Perhaps this can be collaborated with the findings of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute study of civic literacy, "Failing Our Students, Failing America: Holding Our Colleges Accountable for Teaching America’s History and Institutions," where in the fall of 2005, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy (UConnDPP), conducted a survey of some 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges and universities. Students were given 60 multiple-choice questions to measure their knowledge in four subject areas: America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy (go ahead reader... take the quiz). The study's major findings were:

Finding 1: College Seniors Failed a Basic Test on America’s History and Institutions.

Finding 2: Colleges Stall Student Learning about America.

Finding 3: America’s Most Prestigious Universities Performed the Worst.

Finding 4: Inadequate College Curriculum Contributes to Failure.

Finding 5: Greater Learning about America Goes Hand-in-Hand with More Active Citizenship.

While this portrays a disappointing picture of civic literacy among college students, the current campaign environment seems to present a vastly different picture in relation college students' involvement in the political process, given the reportedly large numbers of college student registrations and attendance of college students at political rallies.

Nonetheless, perhaps outside of the regular course curriculum, university libraries like their K-12 and public library counterparts can with greater frequency hold more civic literacy events, programs and exhibitions to better educate students.

Bearing all this in mind and how information comes at our way via the omnipresent information channels and devices we now have at our disposal it should be stated that being an informed citizen does not necessarily mean that one has to know everything but at least of possessing an attitude of willingness to be engaged and interested in the issues that affect one’s community and country. And surely one medium cabable of presenting you with information and to facilitate you to become more civically engaged is your local library.

Here are some other library and civic literacy links worth visiting.

12 Ways Libraries Are Good for the Country from American Libraries Magazine

NACE- National Alliance for Civic Education

A Blogger Returns

After an all-too long layoff I am glad to say that my postings have resumed. To put things briefly, I just had a lot ‘going on’ and at one time was perhaps far too anxious about blogging for blogging sake.
Needless to say The LibVocate is now back. Stay tuned!!