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Bowllan's Blog
Inside Bowllan's Blog

Meet Christopher Harris From Infomancy

A.B. I noticed from reading your blog that you recently attended a conference with David Warlick. What types of visions does he suggest people in education (particularly librarians) should adopt?
C.H. "The theme of the conference at which he spoke was "Redefining the World @Your Library." I come to the library world from a background of over 5 years in instructional technology. Over that time, I grew increasingly disillusioned with what I saw as a technology fetish in schools that was over-riding the instructional use of technology tools. David wrote a great article for edtechnot.com back in May of 2003 that really summed up what I had been struggling with. With a bold title, he called for us to "Stop Integrating Technology" and start integrating literacy.

In his talk, he expanded on the concept of a new literacy for the 21st century. He said that we can no longer focus on the three Rs of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic; those worked in the industrial age when information came only from a few authoritative sources and rarely changed. Today, however, there is so much information that being able to simply read doesn't make one literate. To be literate, one must learn to work within the three Es, Exposing the truth, Employing information, and Expressing ideas compellingly. Teachers, and especially librarians, who David refers to as the information specialists of the schools, have to teach students to work within this new digital information world. You can be a good teacher, he said, without using technology and information tools, but you aren't doing your job. Teachers' jobs are to prepare students for a world that can't be predicted. The only way to do that is to teach students to be lifelong learners, information experts, and ethical consumers/producers of digital content."

A.B. You have a very clever name for your blog. How does the term, infomancy relate to the library field?
C.H. "Infomancy is a word that comes from my love of science fiction and fantasy novels combined with too much time playing fantasy games. To give full credit, infomancy is born of the EMACS magic user interface from Rick Cooks great series that starts with Wizard's Bane, the lone hacker samurai Hiro from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and kick-butt librarian Adele Mundy from David Drake's With the Lightnings among others.

For a while before I began really walking the talk of blogging, I had been thinking about how the current technology we casually use of a daily basis must look to some people. As Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his 1961 "Profiles of the Future": "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If you are on the other side of the digital divide – especially the digital information divide – it might as well be magic. So infomancy is the magic of the current information sphere surrounding us. It is the cryptic queries that librarians can construct as spells to pull information from databases, and it is the arcane gestures with mice and styli to use our computers. Sometimes infomancy is seen as a great power that brings order to the chaos of information, and sometimes it is a barrier that restricts access to the few who have mastered the art. As I continue to play with the concept, I see librarians as being the infomancer adepts that can blaze a trail through the chaos for others to follow. As I explained in a recent blog post, "I see at least two levels of infomancy: 1) the infomancer adept who creates navigational aids to help make sense of the chaos, and 2) infomancer novices who learn by repeatedly stepping just off the charted path to see what they can find. It is in those risky moments, when a novice steps off the path (but keeps it in sight) that they are challenging themselves. They are testing the limits of their new-found infomantic powers." Librianship is about providing the magical interface that brings information to all users."