Over the last two years, I have felt a developing sense of unease about what our current college students do and do not understand about their freedoms and rights — and the freedoms and rights of their fellow citizens. We’ve been working through racial tensions, a campus hate crime, with the social and emotional fallout of the presidential election tossed into the mix. And I’ve been able to follow a thread through it all, one that I think separates my generation from this one in a real, meaningful way.
I don’t think they understand the First Amendment, and their First Amendment rights. I think that the media free-for-all of the 24 hour news cycle mixed with the media diaspora of type-and-click internet publishing platforms mixed with our Everyone Can Be Famous entitlement culture has led to a world in which we have a dangerous number of young people who feel the freedom of social media and the firehose of information but don’t understand the consequences of trying to drink that in.
I had challenging conversations about the right to free speech, and what a state college’s role is in first amendment issues. About why students are allowed, nay, encouraged! to protest. About fake news and the price of sharing it. About the social consequences of exercising freedoms in a socially unpopular way.
And each of those conversations felt important, and meaningful, and was held one-on-one. I can’t talk to the whole campus. I can’t reach every student. But I can reach several thousand of them by using my library as a platform to support age old library philosophies of practice, professional ethics, and information literacy goals. So that’s what we’re doing. In spring 2017, the College Libraries at SUNY Potsdam will be hosting The Freedom Series, a web-and-print exhibit on the core academic and learning freedoms of Information, Inquiry, Speech, Press, and Assembly. I’ll be sharing them as we go, but for the start of classes we began with an approach at awareness raising about fake news. If this looks useful for your library, please steal it. The original powerpoint is online here, and I consider this to be licensed for any non-commercial adaptation. Go forth and help our communities be smarter.