The Library welcomed Dr. Ursula Gorham
Thought leaders provide the spark that ignites discussion, revelation, and initiative.
That is the goal behind The Library’s Authors & Innovators Series, bringing inspirational authors to the Harrisburg region who contribute to the world of literature and inspire dialogue and rethinking of old notions through their lived experiences and achievements.
For the second speaker of the series, The Library welcomed Dr. Ursula Gorham, senior lecturer and the director of the University of Maryland’s Master of Library and Information Science program. If you missed it, you can see our conversation with Dr. Gorham on Zoom here.
“We look for people who can speak to the city, who can share ideas and motivate and challenge us to think in new directions,” says Community Engagement Strategist Nick DiFrancesco.
The series’ inaugural speaker was Kareem Rosser, author of “Crossing the Line,” sharing his journey from inner-city, struggling student to champion polo player and financial analyst. The series is a collaboration between The Library and David Dix, cofounder and CEO of Luminous Strategies, Pennsylvania’s largest African American owned lobbying firm.
“Working on this speaker series with The Library is a labor of love,’’ Dix says. “I see this as adding something to Harrisburg that was missing and I look forward to bringing thought leaders into our community.’’
Gorham was invited because her research and writing dovetail with the concept of the series. Her journey from law student to library sciences professor began with a clerkship with a bankruptcy judge who encouraged her to explore her interests. During the recession of 2008-09, she noticed a rise in bankruptcy claimants representing themselves in a system that wasn’t designed for laypeople to navigate.
Her questions about improving the system’s transparency and getting information to people who need it turned into her doctoral dissertation.
Even as the tools for storing and retrieving information change, libraries remain an “important intermediary for information in all aspects,” Gorham says. In this climate, the heightened profile of “fake news” and “alternative facts” spotlights the need for real-world information literacy. Her University of Maryland information literacy course teaches undergraduates to assess the accuracy and meaning of social media posts.
“How do we gather information so each of us feels comfortable with what we do with it?” she asks.
In addition to Gorham’s public event, The Library is partnered with Steelton-Highspire Jr./Sr. High School to facilitate Gorham’s talk to students there. Her presentation was a condensed version of her 15-week college course in information literacy. Students are future voters who will be inundated with information, so she hopes to teach some skills in processing and using it wisely.
“It’s about how we become good fact-checkers,” she says. “I don’t want people to be cynical, but I do want them to have their antenna up and have a few key strategies that work for them so they’re able to evaluate information in real time.”
Gorham’s evening conversation for adults discussed the importance of libraries, the truthfulness of internet information, and how to participate in democracy. Libraries, she will share, play a vital role in combatting disinformation and empowering communities. Today’s libraries can be “community access points,” providing public forums for conversations about the issues of the day – just as Dauphin County Library System is doing.
“Public libraries are institutions of lifelong learning,” she says. “That’s always been the case. What that means for different communities is going to vary.”
Harrisburg Young Professionals, Steelton-Highspire School District, and Luminous Strategies supported Gorham's appearance. The series and invited speakers are being developed with community input. HYP supports the program to help enliven public discourse on topics that interest the community, says Executive Director Meghan Bachmore.
“We’re happy to help make Harrisburg a destination for thought leaders and critical thinkers as part of the library's Authors & Innovators Series,” she says.
Steelton-Highspire Jr./Sr. High School Principal Eleni Cordero incorporated Gorham’s appearance into the school’s summer programming where credit-deficient students, including those made “super-deficient” by COVID and virtual learning, can catch up academically.
Cordero’s students are immersed in project-based learning for the summer, and for Gorham’s appearance, they are working with the district IT director to plan and set up the equipment to stream the presentation on Facebook, for a taste of real-world production and planning. For their voluntary participation, each student gets one elective credit.
“They planned it, they hosted it, they greeted her, they set up, they cleaned up,” says Cordero. “You won’t believe what kids are doing here. They scurried through their work so they could participate in the event.”
Cordero adds that hearing the message of information literacy from an accomplished, real-world expert will gave students new respect for a lesson they dismiss when it comes from the principal they see every day.
“They’re very aware of social media,” she says. “They’re trying to navigate the political things that we’re dealing with. At the end of the day, we forget that they’re still children, trying to understand why adults are doing what they’re doing on social media. Kids have to learn how to navigate that. How do they believe and make sure that what they’re reading is real? That’s what Dr. Gorham brought to the table.”