Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reflections on Communications

Here is a simple truth: this reflection piece has been very difficult to write. Communications is, in a word, huge and complicated. Our lives are spent in an effort to convey messages to the world around us, messages we intend to send. What we say, do and wear, the way we carry ourselves, the way in which we step out our doors or wear our clothes, the expressions on our faces, all send messages. And, when we've sent those messages, they are interpreted by receivers with their own histories, their own agendas, their own notions and understandings about us. Because of all of these facts, as I attempt to write this I am continually bogged down by the whole thing that is the study of communications. This is definitely a situation in which it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

Popoff (2006) alludes to this same challenge in her piece “The Communication Journal Collection.” She points out that communications scholars do not always agree on the definition of communications, and that some believe that sub-disciplines such as interpersonal, mass, organizational, intercultural, and political communications differ too greatly to be studied jointly as a single discipline (p. 69). She says that “in the absence of a clear definition of communication, librarians must instead be aware of the issues and current controversies involved in defining the discipline” (p. 68).

The role of the librarian, typically, is do identify sources of use to students. It is for the students to interpret the materials and draw their own conclusions. Yet, in the quote above (and, in fact, throughout her journal article) Popoff points out that simply identifying sources is easier said than done, due to communications being a young and still relatively-undefined field. The fact is, students of communications must understand a variety of factors – culture, economics, history, sociology, and so on - to also understand how communications work.

This has been a recurrent theme throughout my reflection pieces: each discipline is dependent, to different extents, upon the others. In the case of communications, we must, in order to convey our message in the way we intend, recognize the person to whom we are presenting that message and factors that may affect the way he or she interprets our message. The more controversial or challenging the message, the more we must know about the individual and his or her background, experiences, and so on.

Information literacy sessions can certainly help in this regard. Natalle and Crowe (2013) report a marked improvement in scores when measuring learning outcomes for information literacy. Simply put, educating students on how to find and use sources leads to increased success in school. Yet students should not limit themselves to communication journals when studying how communication works. For example, a keyword search in Communication Abstracts for “clothing” returned results that can be better understood when supported by resources on economics, history, culture, and sociology...and that is based solely on the first thirty results, with 438 results remaining. With communications being such a young discipline, it would be foolhardy to not seek sources outside the discipline.

Furthermore, I would argue that mining personal experience is a worthwhile endeavor; though it likely cannot be used as a citation, it can certainly further understanding of the discipline. This fact is clear to me every time I speak with my daughter, my boyfriend, his son, my manager, my professors, my mother...the list goes on and on. I relate to each one differently based on our relationship, our personal history, his or her needs, his or her background and temperament...and this list goes on and on, as well. Students should be encouraged to utilize personal experience as a foundation for their studies, and librarians need not shy away from suggesting personal experience as a valuable resource.

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