What I’m reading: January 2021

Now that I’m officially on sabbatical, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

(Note: The following contains spoilers for A Wilderness of Error, both the TV series and the book, the podcast Morally Indefensible, the Bridgerton TV series and Russian Doll)

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Gone fishing

I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content until January but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite posts from this past year, organized by general topic, in case you missed them.

Thanks for reading and see you in the new year!

Research in fiction writing

It’s significant that popular books on creative writing don’t talk about research

Research is a process, writing is a craft (except when it’s a process)

The true as the enemy of the good: Creative license and the ethical use of information

Research in fiction writing: What I learned from Five Things posts on Terrible Minds

Why I want to learn about the role of research in fiction writing

What I learned about creative research at the Writer’s Digest Conference

Research as a subject of study

They just keep moving the line: Peer review and the follow-up to “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

Information literacy, teaching, and librarianship

In defense of “finding and evaluating information”

The annotated bibliography as establishing shot Part 1 | Part 2

The role of excitement in teaching

Title policing in libraries

Information literacy skills: Wherefore art thou?

Neil Gaiman’s famous quote about libraries: A critique

That time I participated in a Banned Books Read-Out and what I learned

Information literacy and identity negotiations

Libraries, information literacy, and pop culture

Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

The Circle and information literacy

Video games and failing better

What I’m reading: December 2020

Now that I’m officially on sabbatical, I’ve been doing a lot more reading than usual. Rather than devote an entire post to reflections on each of these items, I thought I’d share some thoughts on them in smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Today I’m taking a quick look at a news story about a Hollywood research library, a podcast about the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case, and doing some follow-up on Hannibal and Mr. Robot.

Note: The following post contains spoilers for the Morally Indefensible podcast, which is a companion podcast to the docuseries A Wilderness of Error, which is based on a book of the same name by Errol Morris (long way of saying: assume spoilers for all three). There are also spoilers for Hannibal and Mr. Robot. And I guess the British TV series Vicious. 

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On spoilers

Okay, so this doesn’t have anything to do with what I normally write about but the year is winding down and I’m in the mood to write about something a little more fun than usual. In a recent post on what I’m currently reading, I mentioned that I happened to know a bunch of spoilers for the TV series The 100 before I actually started watching it and how that’s been helping me manage my expectations for the show in the long term. Later this month, I’ll be talking a little about how knowing the ending for Mr. Robot was what got me to go back and watch the show after giving up on it early on (and I’m glad it did).

So let’s talk spoilers and why I like them so much.

Note: The following post contains mostly vague spoilers for Harry Potter, Avengers Infinity War, Avengers Endgame, Broadchurch, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Haunting of Hill House. It also contains some specific spoilers for Game of Thrones (the books and the TV series) and The Stand (the book and the old miniseries but probably also the upcoming TV series unless they’ve changed the story drastically).

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Video games and failing better

Image by DG-RA from Pixabay

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of failing.

It started with Horizon Zero Dawn. As a video game player, I am, shall we say, not talented. Up until a few years ago, the only games I had played were side scrolling platform games like Super Mario on the original Nintendo (…because I am officially old). Then I was given a PS4 as a gift, bundled with Uncharted 4, and suddenly I had to figure out how to play games with, like, camera movements and other characters yelling at me to hurry up and figure something out already. It took me about six months to get through Uncharted 4 playing in easy mode. Immediately afterward, I tackled all of the other Uncharted games and The Last of Us, which is made by the same company. The Last of Us was hard because even though it functions in ways that are very similar to Uncharted, it was the first game I ever played where I had to gather supplies and craft things. I think I only understood that I could make crude weapons out of the items I was finding three quarters of the way through the game.

I got better at these games as I went along but all of them took me quite a while to finish, even playing in easy mode (which I make no apologies for). They were all difficult at first, but I didn’t quit and eventually I made it through every single one.

Then I decided to try Horizon Zero Dawn.

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Misinformation: Who’s at fault, the creator or the user?

Image by 5598375 from Pixabay

Note: This post contains spoilers for the American, Brazilian, and French versions of The Circle on Netflix because somehow I’m still talking about that show even though everyone else either doesn’t seem to know it exists or is long since over it.

Until recently, there was an exercise that I liked to use in my credit-bearing information literacy course where I asked students to read a news article about an incident that occurred in 2010: a fourth grade history textbook that was being used in Virginia classroom was found to contain egregious historical errors. Interestingly, the big headline at the time wasn’t about how different students in different states might learn completely different stories about the history of their country. Instead, they all focused on criticizing the textbook’s author (who was not a historian) for using the internet as her main source of information.

Specifically, the textbook stated that many slaves fought on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War, a piece of information that is not supported by historical evidence but is promoted by groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who created one of the internet sources that the author cites.

As part of the activity, I asked students to weigh in on who they thought bore the most responsibility for what happened: the textbook’s author for citing an inaccurate source, the publisher for publishing a book with inaccurate information, the school system for not properly vetting the book, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans for creating the misleading source in the first place. They were required to rank the choices from “most guilty” to “least guilty.”

The answers about who bears the most guilt changed a lot over time. For the first few years I taught this lesson, students generally placed the most blame on the author for doing her research on the internet. As doing your research on the internet become more acceptable, students shifted the blame to the school system for not properly vetting the book. Almost no one blames the publisher or the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

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The true as the enemy of the good: Creative license and the ethical use of information

Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay

I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about creative license and its implications for the ethical use of information.

Now, when information literacy instructors talk to students about the ethical use of information, we’re usually focusing on citation and plagiarism and academic honesty and issues like that because that’s what’s most relevant to the type of research that students do. Sometimes, in keeping with the “Information Has Value” frame from the ACRL Framework, we might dip into stuff about copyright or open access or Creative Commons. But for the most part we’re talking about giving proper credit to the sources you use for academic research.

Though it doesn’t come up a lot (at least in my teaching), I would think the ethical use of information also means representing the content of a source you’re citing accurately. There may be room for your own interpretation, of course, but in general it’s understood that you shouldn’t cherry pick bits and pieces of information from a source to suit your purposes or misrepresent the original author’s stance by taking a quote out of context or something like that. Because if you do those things, you risk doing real harm to the credibility of your work and your reputation as a scholar.

If cherry picking information would be frowned upon in scholarly, academic, and scientific research, creative license would be basically forbidden. Because creative license takes cherry picking a step further by allowing someone to twist or ignore information in order to suit their creative purposes.

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The Circle and information literacy

Image source: https://www.cinemablend.com/television/2487560/what-is-the-circle-what-to-know-about-netflixs-reality-show

So a while back I had a week off and since there weren’t as many places to go or things to do as there usually would be, I spent a lot of time in front of the television, trying out some shows I wouldn’t normally spend much time on. That’s how I ended up losing three days of my life to Netflix’s The Circle.

If you’ve never heard of it, The Circle is a reality competition series based on a British show of the same name. In this game, the players are isolated from each other until the very end. They communicate only through the show’s social media platform, which as you might suspect is called…the Circle. The trick is that while some players play as themselves, using their own pictures and profiles which basically reflect who they really are, others play as catfish, using pictures and profiles that are not their own. The show is basically nothing but a bunch of people living by themselves in cute little apartments, alternately talking to themselves and shouting at their screens. Which, come to think of it, pretty accurately describes my life right now. Go figure.

If none of this sounds particularly compelling, just know that The Circle is carefully engineered to be as addictive as possible and that engineering very much worked on me, someone who doesn’t watch a lot of reality competition shows. It helped that in the American version the cast was, for the most part, surprisingly likeable and earnest throughout, even the players who posed as other people. (The French version, which I’m about halfway through at the time of this writing is very different in this respect. There are still some likeable players but their approach to the game is, shall we say, much different from the American players. These differences make it all the more interesting to watch.)

So why am I writing about The Circle here?

Because somewhere amidst all the likes, status updates, and group chats, I started thinking that this trashy but fun show might actually have some interesting connections to information literacy. In fact, I think my case here might be even stronger than when I’ve tried to connect pop culture I love (like Newsies and Hedwig) to info lit in the past.

Let me explain.

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