Transparency in the Digital Age

Just last night, I thought to myself that the media and Internet blackout in Egypt was eerie, not because the government is trying to clamp down on any type of unrest or the freedom of speech (though it is doing that, too), but because of the almost complete lack of information coming from that area of the world.  We live in an unprecedented time of  information accessibility and availability so that NOT KNOWING what is happening somewhere is frightening and not a little discombobulating.

It’s clear that the Egyptian government has learned from the recent past that social media, often considered as a frivolous waste of time by some, has emerged as a powerful tool, forcing governments to engage in more democratic talks with its people.  We saw this first in the Iranian elections and most recently, in Tunisia, though, to be fair, there is some debate as to whether social media really affected the revolution in Tunisia as much as some claimed.

All of this highlights the fact that we are living in a time where it is getting more and more difficult to hide what we are doing, not because we can’t, but because people demand to know more. Sure, individuals and organizations can still shroud their inner workings with mystery, but consumers who are used to being constantly plugged into information aren’t going to be satisfied with “business as always”.   In a way, transparency is good for business, if it is done correctly.

I really liked the article from Wired and reading about how transparency has worked and backfired on individuals.   What I found the most intriguing is this line: “It’s not secrets that are dying, as one reader named gjudd noted, but lies.”  Secrets are necessary, especially when mandated by law, but there’s a difference between keeping industry secrets, i.e. Coca-Cola’s formula, and blatantly lying about upcoming layoffs.  If there are secrets that can’t be told, but are being leaked, it is more beneficial for the CEO to at least acknowledge those secrets while still maintaining a modicum of confidentiality by not revealing the decision-making process.  There is still a thin line between creating trust with the organization and the consumers and breaking that trust.

Even among schools, there has been some attempt at transparency in the classrooms via PowerSchool and Edline.  While I am working on this post, a friend of mine is telling me, via Google Chat, that she is currently updating her class page and she is required to update it at least once a month.  Furthermore, someone from the school district or even the school’s Main Office will check that she and the other teachers fulfill this obligation.  Though this may seem a bit overbearing, I see it as serving three purposes: 1. It exposes teachers to programs that they may never have used on their own, 2. It makes teachers comfortable using new programs, and 3. It allows parents to see what is happening in the classroom and what to expect for the future.  Is this more work for the teachers?  Of course, but the benefit is that if the parents are more aware of what’s going on, it may cut down on negative feedback because they feel connected to what’s happening in the classroom.  Furthermore, they may be more willing to donate time and effort when they see the fruit of that effort.

In the same way, libraries should also try to be more transparent.  This goes back to the issue of publicizing one’s worth.  Considering how budgets are being cut and qualified librarians are being replaced with volunteers, it’s worth the extra effort to be more transparent about what the library does in the community.  If the community is more aware of how the budget is being spent, they may be less likely to vote against the next referendum requesting an increase.

The thought of exposing one’s organization to the scrutiny of the public might be scary, but it’s a way of holding organizations accountable for their actions and may help develop a true collaboration between them and their consumers.

Cross-posted at The Invisible Library.

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About Anna Kim

I am a school librarian with Chicago Public Schools.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Communication, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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