Wednesday, January 14, 2015

McLuhan, Lincoln, and Dodos: Attending "Envisioning Our Information Future and How to Educate for It" at @SimmonsSLIS this week

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I had the pleasure and honor to be invited to attend the Envisioning Our Information Future and How to Educate for It meeting at Simmons College this week.

The meeting will:
Focusing on the importance of leadership and cutting-edge skills in LIS education, this conference represents an opportunity for “evaluating and implementing relevant curriculum focused on innovation, continuous learning, and critical engagement within a global context.” The grant for this conference was led by Dr. Eileen G. Abels, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College along with partners Dr. Linda C. Smith, Graduate School of Library and Information Science University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Lynne C. Howarth, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto.
As part of the process, we were asked to bring a book and an object for a "pop up" gallery/exhibition. For my book, I chose The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) by Marshall McLuhan. In many ways a more evocative work than McLuhan's seminal Understanding Media (1964) -- at least for me. Like much of his work, it is hard to tell if McLuhan was a predictor of our digital present or a shaper/creator of it.

For my object, I chose a small, 3D print of the Abraham Lincoln life mask done by the sculpture Clark Mills from the collection of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The 3D model can be downloaded and printed from the Smithsonian 3D site. I chose the model of the life mask not just because 3D printing is an overhyped part of any discussion of libraries (and museums), but because of the way that, beyond the hype around all things "3D", it really becomes transformative to hold in your hands (even in this small version -- I've held the life-sized replica also) this bit of the physical Lincoln and see the effects of four years of Civil War on the President's face.

More about the life mask:
It is impossible to look at this cast of Lincoln’s face—gaunt and careworn—and not think that it is a death mask. In fact, it was taken from life on February 11, 1865, a day before Lincoln’s fifty-sixth birthday, by sculptor Clark Mills. The 3-D object you see is a 1917 copy from the casting given to the Smithsonian in 1889 by the sculptor’s son.
Life masks were very popular in the nineteenth century because they created a near-duplicate of the sitter’s features. Throughout the Civil War, Lincoln was also very careful to make himself "visible" to the American people. This was evidence of his dedication, and there was no better evidence of his work than the lines on his face. Lincoln was well aware of how the war had aged and tired him.
2015.01.14 Envisioning / SimmonsAnd as for the dodo ... the dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird, once a native of the island of Mauritius. First described in 1598, it was gone by 1681. Well adapted to its environment, the dodo had evolved to fill a needed niche. But times changed. And the dodo, lacking the ability to change with the times, became, instead of a symbol of perfect adaptation, the ultimate in the opposite.

In times of change, lack of adaptation leads to extinction. Let's adapt our educational model for librarianship to avoid the fate of the dodo.

As in Life, so in technology. As in libraries.

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