July 18, 2014

REAL: Resistance Education At Libraries

Exploring Deep Green Resistance, I ran across their library campaign: REAL: Resistance Education At Libraries. The idea is to organize efforts to promote radical environmentalist literature at libraries, by prioritizing libraries according to where such materials are most needed. I will be sharing this info with TFOE and the Sustainability Round Table, although there is something of a mismatch in terms of overall goals and a sense of the degree to which things have to change…

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July 16, 2014

Teaching Sophistry

a-famous-cause.jpg!Blog[1]

In the first years of my career as a librarian, I was working on the Reference Desk when an undergraduate student asked for help finding articles on a rather general subject in the social sciences.  My suspicion was that he would do better if he were able to refine his topic, and so I began a typical reference interview.  After a few questions from me, he smiled and told me that it really didn’t matter what the articles he came away with said, since he had already written the paper.  He was just looking for five sources to append to the paper to fulfill his professor’s requirement.  It was no surprise to me that there were students who were doing essentially faux research, but I was surprised that this student would be so up front about it.  Over the years, I have come to realize that faux research is quite a bit more common among undergraduates than I originally had thought.  Worse yet, the assignments that are being given by well-meaning professors and instructors, particularly at the freshman level, are encouraging this sort of thing.  Prior to becoming a librarian, I myself made such assignments, not realizing just how these assignments defeated the goal of training students to conduct serious, open-minded inquiries into important questions.

A common English 101 assignment where I work is for a student to develop a thesis on a controversial topic and then to go to the library (or the library’s web portal) to conduct research.  The student is required to find articles for and against their thesis and write a paper that defends their thesis, offering positive reasons for their position and refuting the arguments against their position.  As an English course, it is an exercise in composition and argumentation and an opportunity to get some experience with library resources.  Communication 107 requires something similar when the students compose a “persuasive speech.”  All of that is fine, of course, and I’m sure that very often the assignment is quite beneficial, but as this is often a student’s first experience with college-level writing, too many of them come away with the view that this is how research is done:  the researcher uncovers reasons to confirm their beliefs and thinks up clever arguments to dismiss what they don’t believe.  They are unconcerned about the cogency of their arguments and consequently are rewarded by employing all manner of fallacies.

In some instances, the thesis that they begin with does not lend itself well to the “taking sides” approach.  I recall one student whose thesis was that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) were environmentally destructive.  She understood that there was a controversy about CAFOs and that many people claimed that they were environmentally destructive, so she assumed that there must be people “on the other side” who thought they were not destructive.  After finding a lot of sources that described the detrimental environmental effects of CAFOs (and spending a lot of time on this), she was frustrated by not being able to find any sources taking the “con” position.  She thought they surely must be out there, since CAFOs were so controversial.  Of course, her problem could have been solved if the instructor had been able to make it clear to her that the environmental impact of CAFOs was not a live debate.  Instead, the controversy lay with the larger questions about animal welfare, consumer choice, the economy, and the role of environmental regulations, but I doubt that the student had approached her instructor about the topic or discussed it in a manner that was sufficiently clear to get better direction about framing her thesis.  In any case, had she done so, I suspect her initial disposition against CAFOs probably would have caused her to fall into the advocacy trap taught in English 101.

Consider a more appropriate assignment model:  Frist, students form teams which select a topic about which they know little or have no strong opinion and are sent to the library to learn about it independently of each other.  They are to accumulate a variety of sources on the topic – the more the better and the more diverse the better – but there should be no suggestion that there are only two views (pro and con).  The students would then rank the sources according to which in their judgment was strongest and most insightful.  Second, they would share and read one another’s sources and convene their teams to discuss the relative merits of the sources.  Third, they each would write a paper based on the team’s sources, defending a thesis that the student would develop after completing the second phase of the assignment.  Finally, each student would read and comment on the quality of the work of each member of their team.

The assignment model I describe above provides a far better introduction to the actual process of serious research. It asks students to engage in a genuine inquiry, recognizes that they must learn from previous research, affirms the importance of hearing and understanding the views of others who are doing similar research, and asks them to make an honest judgment about the matter based not on their preconceived notions, but on the facts and/or values that truly bear on the question.  Most of all, it will help students avoid the trap of simply finding ways to confirm their own opinions and dismiss or ignore the serious arguments against those opinions.  It puts them in a situation in which they must listen to other opinions and honestly assess the strength of those opinions.  It potentially exposes them to a variety of research methods that they might not have considered and, of course, requires that they compose a quality essay that will stand up to review by their peers.  I wish I had made assignments of this sort when I was teaching Philosophy 105: Contemporary Moral Problems as well as a few other philosophy classes.  It even might have been useful as the only assignment in a capstone seminar.  As a librarian, I would love to work with students who are genuinely engaged in learning about an issue and not merely constructing an argument to complete an assignment.  We need to be certain that what we are doing is training students to be open to whatever evidence bears on their research question and especially open to whatever conclusions that evidence indicates.  We must be careful not to train them in the techniques of the sophist.

This leads me to a larger concern that too much of this sort of education has bred a population that conceives of public discourse to be English 101 writ large and that the disregard for the facts of the world and the principles of reason have turned public discourse into something that more resembles a verbal wrestling match or worse, a boxing match and not a conscientious discussion of important public matters aimed at collective agreement on a workable public policy.  I hear this on radio talk shows, read it in social media, in mainstream journalism, and in the comment sections that follow what is ostensibly news reporting; and it certainly appears in the numerous blogs that have the express purpose of advocating a particular view.  Certainly, this style of discourse always has been with us, but I sense that it is particularly virulent today.  I count the 1982 debut of the CNN program “Crossfire” as my first clear encounter with it in a national forum.  “Crossfire” was (and probably again is, though I have not watched its recent manifestation) a program in which guests were badgered by loaded questions, not allowed to finish their answers, and sometimes simply shouted down; a program which routinely produced more heat than light.  It valorized the worst style of dialog and sadly became something of a model for future public affairs talk shows.  Tellingly for the connection between this style of discourse and academia, George Washington University became the host site from which the program aired before a live audience for about three years.

The format reached the height of absurdity with the “Jerry Springer Show” which, of course, did not deal with public affairs and was purely “entertainment,” but nonetheless made confrontation the primary form of interpersonal interaction.  Eventually, partisan media coverage of public affairs retreated to their own corners and devolved into outlets for partisan propaganda first introduced by right-wing radio and FOX News, but quickly followed by Air America and MSNBC.  I would not maintain that there is parity between these ideological opponents, but their techniques for adversarial argumentation are formed in the same mold, and it is the mold that we subtly and sometimes not so subtly are teaching to our undergraduates.

I also am not suggesting that there is a position of pure objectivity that one can and should assume when discussing public affairs, but we are capable of exercising a little self-criticism and a sense of fairness.  We can recognize self-serving attitudes – even our own – and demonstrate respect for others with whom we disagree.  We can adopt an attitude that promotes a serious-minded search for public policy solutions that just might lie outside of our own pre-conceived notions.  Too often we lack the virtues of humility and charity in our discourse.  Humility recognizes that we are one among many people, each with a unique and limited experience of the issues, that we each have misconceptions and incomplete understandings of complicated questions, and that personally, the best thing that can come out of a dialog is that we ourselves will discover our misconceptions, expand our experience, and change our views to arrive at a corrected understanding of the issues and the world.  Charity recognizes that the arguments made by others may not always be couched in their strongest form and that instead of seeking chinks in one’s opponent’s armor, one should seek to construct the strongest case for everyone in the conversation.  By doing so our own views are better tested and can be legitimately corroborated or discarded for superior views.  These are the virtues of the Enlightenment which has received, I believe, unfair criticism for the short comings of certain Enlightenment figures.  It was best described by Immanuel Kant in his essay “What Is Enlightenment?” as “the public use of reason.”  The public use of reason promises solutions to a huge number of problems we face, but it requires dialogical virtues that are rare today.

Perhaps the clearest distortion of public discourse through sophistic techniques has come from those who are against taking action to mitigate climate change by reducing the production of greenhouse gases.  The engines behind this distortion are the professional blogs established by groups that promote a libertarian economy regardless of obvious market failures and supported by the fossil fuel industry.  Anyone who is familiar with the research into the climate change will easily recognize the patent lies and distortions, the ad hominem attacks, and various other fallacies employed by these bloggers to confuse the public debate.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s landmark book The Merchants of Doubt remains an excellent exposé of the network of self-serving climate change denial and its history.  The denial industry’s power rests on the extraordinary wealth of its patrons. Beyond the blogs, our culture of discourse has become so debased that many people take their cues from these bloggers and engage in debates where they seek victory at any cost, regardless of fact or reason.  Their contribution to the discourse ranges from canny deceptions to incendiary trolling, and too often, their opponents fight fire with fire.  It is a sad and dangerous state of affairs perhaps best described in the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding):”

While money doesn’t talk, it swears / Obscenity, who really cares / Propaganda, all is phony.

As an educator and librarian I feel a responsibility to uphold the Enlightenment values that promote a fair-minded understanding of the world, but I feel swamped by an ever devolving culture of propaganda and sophistry.  It’s hard to know the way out.  If anyone has a compass, I’d love to hear from you.

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July 15, 2014

Zoia Horn has passed on

I have just learned that Zoia Horn died on July 12th. She has been an inspiration to me from the time I was in library school in the late 90s. I was inspired by her memoirs and later by her personally when I visited her Berkeley. (I have just found out that her memoirs, ZOIA! Memoirs of Zoia Horn, Battler for the People’s Right to Know, are online in full text at Archive.org.)

This announcement of her 2002 Jackie Eubanks Memorial Award goes into some nice biographical detail. Besides the Jackie Eubanks Award, which was given by the Alternatives in Print Task Force of SRRT, she also received the 2002 Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award, given by the UIUC GSLIS. Here is part of the announcement of that award:

Thirty years ago, when Zoia Horn was subpoenaed to appear at the trial of the “Harrisburg Seven,” she refused to testify, was found in contempt of court, and jailed for three weeks. This jail sentence effectively ended her library career, but she used her information skills in her work for both the Center for Investigative Reporting and DataCenter, both of Oakland, CA. She has also remained active in intellectual freedom issues over the years, chairing the Intellectual Freedom Committees of ALA, New Jersey Library Association, and the California Library Association, sponsoring resolutions affirming the confidentiality of the relationship between libraries and their users. In 1986, Horn brought her Right to Know project from DataCenter to ALA, who then formed the Coalition on Government Information, a group of about 50 organizations that are interested in stemming the trend toward less public access to government information.

The California Library Association gives an annual Intellectual Freedom Award named in her honor.

When someone dies, I always find it less tragic when that person has lived to a ripe old age and had a full life. Zoia was 96 years old when she passed on. That is old; she did not die before her time. I want to take this occasion to honor and celebrate her life.

One last link – this article from the Berkeley Daily Planet in 2004: Zoia Horn Takes Pride in Provoking.

Zoia, thank you for all that you did.

(The photo above taken by me at the protest of the SF Marriott during the 2001 ALA conference. It was an informational picket for the workers who were fighting for a contract.)

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July 14, 2014

Quiet Please (film about homeless library users)

QUIET, PLEASE from Quincy J. Walters on Vimeo.

About homeless people who use the library….

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July 8, 2014

Interview with Tony Castelletto

Tony Castelletto has been programming computers on one platform or another since the late 1980s, and received his MLIS in 2008 from Drexel. He has worked on unusual information projects throughout his career, starting as a technician on small NASA missions, managing the information pipelines that carried data from satellite to ground. Tony received his introduction to Library Science working as a programmer on Digital Library projects for the University of Michigan’s Digital Library Initiative. Following his library science education, Tony curated data collections for the Linguistic Data Consortium where he also helped produced electronic dictionaries in Yoruba, Mawukakan, and Tamil. Now he is scheduled to teach a series of classes for Library Juice Academy on computer programming, using Python. Tony agreed to be interviewed for the Library Juice Academy blog, so people can learn a bit about his classes and find out if they would be right for them.

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July 6, 2014

Philosopher Librarians on ALA Connect (to meet at ALA)

“Philosopher Librarians,” the erstwhile Facebook group, is now a group on ALA Connect, the point being to organize a lunchtime get together at ALA Annual in San Francisco next year, and to have any discussions in the meantime that people feel like having. To join you are supposed to have a degree in philosophy, whether it’s your bachelor’s degree or a master’s or a Ph.D.

I really hope this works. Philosophy majors have a unique take on things and a shared way of thinking. I think it would be a lot of fun if this group takes off, so tell your philosopher-librarian friends.

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July 1, 2014

Patrick Gavin Receives the 2014 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of Information

Award Announcement

July 1, 2014

We are pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of Information. We are granting this year’s award to Patrick Gavin of the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, based on his dissertation proposal, titled, “On Informationalized Borderzones: A Study in the Politics and Ethics of Emerging Border Architectures.” Award Committee member Ron Day had the following comments on Gavin’s work:

“The modern documentary tradition transforms spaces into places and people into identities. Modernity is synonymous with this event and is unthinkable without it, but the violence is even more ancient in its cult of group and personal identities and the documentary functions of writing. The modern documentary tradition itself, however, is a tremendously important event, which Patrick Gavin’s dissertation analyzes in terms of the tradition’s contemporary technocracy and devices in establishing and reinforcing ‘real’ borders, ramping up forces of truly apocalyptic governance, power, and greed that ancient tribal identities and patriarchs could only have wished for. Today, in an era when information technologies have threatened to break down borders, all sorts of ancient and modern ‘traditions’ and ‘states’ and their modern patriarchs and protectors have become unglued and are issuing their greatest, most reactionary, most venomous and violent powers and armies to harness this trans-modernity. ‘Information,’ as a liberating force, is becoming reharnessed into the convoluted stasis of religious zealots, modern nation states, and capital markets, roping information and its speakers back into the modern documentary tradition of the past two centuries and its borders, even as information was born out of this and threatened to break away in the communication, ultimately, of life itself. Gavin should be congratulated on his well chosen and well analyzed dissertation, whose theme is timely again and again, and invites consideration by a wide body of readers interested in information, communication, and the meaning of the technical turmoils of a late modernity, that is, after all, a synonym for contemporary human consciousness at its logical and necessary wit’s end.”

The award consists of a certificate suitable for framing and $1000 check.

Since this award is for ongoing research, other applicants who are still working on their dissertations will be eligible to enter their work next year, and we strongly encourage them to do so.

For more information about the award, please visit http://litwinbooks.com/award.php.

Rory Litwin
Litwin Books, LLC
PO Box 188784
Sacramento, CA 95818

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June 24, 2014

Baudrillard on the futility of information

There’s a passage from the first part of Jean Baudrillard’s In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities that always resonated with my more pessimistic moments of doing library instruction. There is a faith involved in pursuing information literacy, a passionate belief in the empowerment of people, especially students, though teaching them to find, filter, and use information. For Baudrillard, there was a God behind that faith, and he is dead. I always read Baudrillard with a healthy dose of skepticism, because he took things to such extremes and wrote as if history had reached its endpoint. With all we are hearing now about rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and mass extinction, his words are seeming more relevant. For an idea about why the public largely ignores these issues, consider this passage:

The Abyss of Meaning

… Whatever its political, pedagogical, cultural content, the plan is always to get some meaning across, to keep the masses within reason; an imperative to produce meaning that takes the form of the constantly repeated imperative to moralise information: to better inform, to better socialise, to raise the cultural level of the masses, etc. Nonsense: the masses scandalously resist the imperative of rational communication. They are given meaning: they want spectacle. No effort has been able to convert them to the seriousness of the content, nor even to the seriousness of the code. Messages are given to them, they only want some sign, they idolise the play of signs and stereotypes, they idolise any content so long as it resolves itself into a spectacular sequence. What they reject is the “dialectic” of meaning. Nor is anything served by alleging that they are mystified. This is always a hypocritical hypothesis which protects the intellectual complaisance of the producers of meaning: the masses spontaneously aspire to the natural light of reason. This in order to evade the reverse hypothesis, namely that it is in complete “freedom” that the masses oppose their refusal of meaning and their will to spectacle to the ultimatum of meaning. They distrust, as with death, this transparency and this political will.They scent the simplifying terror which is behind the ideal hegemony of meaning, and they react in their own way, by reducing all articulate discourse to a single irrational and baseless dimension, where signs lose their meaning and peter out in fascination: the spectacular.

Baudrillard could have been talking about Facebook, but that was published in 1983, in a small book from Semiotext(e), In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, pp. 9-11. The book is a pessimistic response to the likes of Habermas – or at least it seems pessimistic to someone who believes in Habermas. I’m not sure Baudrillard would have called himself a pessimist; he rather would have said he had made an adjustment to a new state of affairs.

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June 19, 2014

Piracy: Leakages from Modernity

Piracy: Leakages from Modernity

Editors: Martin Fredriksson and James Arvanitakis
Price: $40.00
Published: July 2014
ISBN: 978-1-936117-59-8
Printed on acid-free paper

Available on Amazon

“Piracy” is a concept that seems everywhere in the contemporary world. From the big screen with the dashing Jack Sparrow, to the dangers off the coast of Somalia; from the claims by the Motion Picture Association of America that piracy funds terrorism, to the political impact of pirate parties in countries like Sweden and Germany. While the spread of piracy provokes responses from the shipping and copyright industries, the reverse is also true: for every new development in capitalist technologies, some sort of “piracy” moment emerges.

This is maybe most obvious in the current ideologisation of Internet piracy where the rapid spread of so called Pirate Parties is developing into a kind of global political movement. While the pirates of Somalia seem a long way removed from Internet pirates illegally downloading the latest music hit or, it is the assertion of this book that such developments indicate a complex interplay between capital flows and relations, late modernity, property rights and spaces of contestation. That is, piracy seems to emerge at specific nodes in capitalist relations that create both blockages and leaks between different social actors.

These various aspects of piracy form the focus for this book, entitled Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. It is meant to be a collection of texts that takes a broad perspective on piracy and attempts to capture the multidimensional impacts of piracy on capitalist society today. The book is edited by James Arvanitakis at the University of Western Sydney and Martin Fredriksson at Linköping University, Sweden.

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms

Introduction
Martin Fredriksson and James Arvanitakis

Part I – Ontology

The Pirate Imaginary and the Potential of the Authorial Pirate
James Meese

To Name a Thief: Constructing the Deviant Pirate
Virginia Crisp

“You Can’t Change Our Ancestors Without Our Permission”: Cultural Perspectives on Biopiracy
Daniel F. Robinson, Danielle Drozdzewski and Louise Kiddell

Piratical Community and the Digital Age: The Structural Racialization of Piracy in European Law and Culture
Sonja Schillings

Part II – Politics

Modernity, Law and the Violence of Piracy, Property and the State
Sean Johnson Andrews

‘Pirates’ in EU’s (Semi)Peripheries: A Comparative Case Study on the Perceptions of Poles and Greeks on Digital File-sharing
Yiannis Mylonas

The IPR GPR: The Emergence of a Global Prohibition Regime to Regulate Intellectual Property Infringement
Lucas Logan

BitTorrent: Stealing or Sharing Culture? A Discussion of the Pirate Bay Case and the Documentaries ‘Steal this Film’ I & II
Ekin Gündüz Özdemírcí

The Internet Between Politics and the Political: The Birth of the Pirate Party
Mariacristina Sciannamblo

Cultural Resistance or Corporate Assistance: Disenchanting the Anti-Capitalist Myth of Digital Piracy
You Jie

Part III – Practices

The Justification of Piracy: Differences in Conceptualization and Argumentation Between Active Uploaders and Other File-sharers
Jonas Andersson and Stefan Larsson

Set the Fox to Watch the Geese: Voluntary IP Regimes in Piratical File-sharing Communities
Balázs Bodó

Pirate Economies and the Production of Smooth Spaces
Pavlos Hatzopoulos and Nelli Kambouri

The Collaborative Production of Amateur Subtitles for Pirated TV shows in Brazil
Vanessa Mendes Moreira De Sa

After Piracy: Reflections of Industrial Designers in Taiwan on Sustainable Innovation
Yi-Chieh Jessica Lin

Piracy is Normal, Piracy is Boring: Systemic Disruption as Everyday Life
Francesca da Rimini and Jonathan Marshall

An Epilogue – Privacy is Theft: On Anonymous Experiences, Infrastructural Politics and Accidental Encounters
Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle

Author biographies

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June 18, 2014

News from the Sign Project

News from the Sign Project, This-Sign.net. (This-Sign.net is a digital sign in a public space that is connected to the internet, so that people can put their messages on the sign.)

We have enjoyed having this sign up and running at the Doughbot donut shop on 10th Street for the past half year or so, and have especially enjoyed working with Bryan and his wife in maintaining it. They have been super generous and accommodating as we got our project up and running and dealt with the occasional downtime issues. That is one of two reasons that we are sad about their recent decision to close up shop in August (the other reason of course being: no more donuts).

This is going to mean that our gizmo will be without a home soon, so, we are looking for potential new hosts. Someone in Sacramento or Marin County with some kind of a shop – bar, cafe, bookstore, etc. – could benefit from having our sign up on their wall, because it is a way for their customers to interact with each other and with the store, and a way for the store to put up rotating messages for them. It works pretty well.

The sign currently works very simply. There is a website that people can go to on their smartphones where they can simply enter text, and the text shows up on the sign in about ten seconds and sits there for a little while. We are working on getting it connected to Twitter and toying with some other ideas as well, but for now, that is what it does.

Want to have our sign in your store? Drop us a line….

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June 16, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Sweeney

Jennifer Sweeney teaches at the College of Computing and Informatics at Drexel University and in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, and is a program evaluation consultant for libraries and other public agencies and nonprofits. She is scheduled to teach a series of classes for Library Juice Academy, which we are calling the “Painless Research” series. We describe the series as follows:

The Painless Research Series provides an overview of basic research techniques needed by library managers and other staff in different workplace sectors, such as service quality, customer satisfaction, and operational metrics, or in specific tools such as surveys and focus groups. Participants develop skills in formulating typical research questions and strategies, making use of existing studies and data, collecting and analyzing data, and tailoring presentations for different audiences.

Jennifer Sweeney agreed to do an interview for the Library Juice Academy blog, to help give people a better sense of what will be covered in these classes, what needs they address, and a little bit about herself as the instructor.

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June 14, 2014

Interview with Vincent Mosco about his new book

Vincent Mosco is Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University, Canada. In his career he has focused on the political economy of information, communication, and the media. Back in the 80s he co-edited a book with Janet Wasko that was very influential to me as I was developing my thoughts on libraries and related subjects – The Political Economy of Information. (I used to have two copies of it but it seems I’ve given both of them away. The paperback edition is still in print.) Among the books he is responsible for more recently are his important texbook titled The Political Economy of Communication, now in its second edition from SAGE, and his The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace, from MIT Press. Both of these books are highly recommended to anyone who is interested in the kinds of things Library Juice has given attention to over the years. A new book by Dr. Mosco has just come out from Paradigm Publishers: To the Cloud: Big Data in a Turbulent World. He has graciously agreed to do an interview about this new book.

Dr. Mosco, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I feel privileged to get to ask you some questions about this book. First, I wonder if you could briefly tell us what this book is about?

VM:
Thank you Rory. It is pleasure to share my thoughts with your readers.

To the Cloud is about cloud computing, which moves data, applications, and software from the desktop or on-site data center to a distant location, and big data which analyzes quantitative data typically stored in the cloud. It is the first critical examination of cloud computing moving beyond the affirmative, promotional and mythic tone of what has been written on the subject. As such, it concentrates on the growing concentration of corporate power in the industry, the environmental damage caused by large data centers and their massive power demands, the menace to privacy in the surveillance that the cloud enables, the threat to jobs, especially in the IT industry, and the dangers of the digital positivism that big data unleashes for many different ways of knowing. Nevertheless, if it were strictly regulated and organized as a public utility, cloud computing holds the potential for expanding access to information and communication and creates new opportunities for democratic social planning.

RL:
I have to comment that these represent a set of very important trends to talk about, and cloud computing is a convenient way to group them, but in most cases what you are talking about are phenomena that do not proceed directly from the specific innovation that cloud computing represents. So, regarding the concentration of corporate power, environmental damage caused by the industry, the menace to privacy, and even the problems to be found with big data, it seems that all of these things are linked to the internet in general as much as to cloud computing specifically. I wonder if you could talk about how cloud computing as a new development has affected some of these issues which were already problems in the internet era going back a decade or two. Certainly these problems have had your attention for some time. What are the new developments to be concerned about?

VM:
Correct. Cloud computing deepens and extends longstanding problems in what might best be called digital capitalism and its current trajectory forecloses opportunities for democratic communication. The industry is hardly a decade old and is now dominated by Amazon which, along with a handful of others like Microsoft, uses predatory pricing to drive out competitors and fight off all forms of regulation. Even the CIA relies on Amazon for cloud services. As companies and governments recognize the cost savings in cloud computing, the global demand for data centers is growing. The need for 24/7 service makes massive demands on the power grid for processing and cooling servers and requires environmentally dangerous back up systems including diesel generators, chemical batteries and flywheels. The shift from PCs and in-house storage to the cloud makes surveillance easier and big data analytics extends the power of surveillance. It is no coincidence that the NSA is building one of the largest cloud computing systems in the world. Moreover, the cloud poses a massive threat to IT jobs. In fact, one expert describes cloud computing as nothing more than a global drive to eliminate and outsource IT labor. Finally, the spread of big data analytics enshrines a singular way of knowing that relies solely on quantitative data and correlational analysis and denies the value of theory, history, subjectivity and qualitative ways of knowing. A common line among enthusiasts is that “the data will speak for itself”. In essence, cloud computing brings together digital capitalism and digital positivism in ways that threaten democracy. It is therefore imperative that we begin a discussion of how to control the cloud and how to realize its genuine potential as a public resource.

RL:
It’s a really exciting book that pulls together a number of threads that have to be understood in relation to each other. It suggests more books on each of its related topics: for example, I think we need a book about big data in particular that extends the criticisms you bring to it here. But at the same time, the combinations of many of these phenomena present a new complex that I think you are right to try to understand as a whole. The new reality of surveillance via the cloud may be a problem in itself, and the digital positivism of big data may be a problem in itself, but in combination we are talking about a digital-positivist surveillance of individuals that renders our subjective choices and meanings into limited variables and quantities, all adjudicated at a level beyond our knowledge and control through these corporate structures that own the cloud. Your analysis presents a fairly dystopian vision – scary stuff – and yet you find reason to be hopeful about the cloud as a public resource. How do you envision that possibility? Can all of these problems be solved via more democratic control of these resources?

VM:
It is scary stuff. You get a clear sense of how important the cloud and big data are for surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state by examining how fiercely they are being promoted. In the chapter “Selling the Cloud Sublime,” I take a close look at the role of advertising, blogs and other social media, private think thanks like McKinsey and Company, international organizations like the World Economic Forum, lobbying, and trade shows in marketing the cloud and big data.

Nevertheless, it is important to think broadly and dialectically about the relationship between technology and society. Doing so helps me to identify counterpoints to the cloud envisioned by big companies and the NSA and counterpoints to the singular way of knowing advanced by big data enthusiasts. Examining the history of the cloud computing concept takes me to variations on the public, information, or computer utility concept which was prominent in research on computers in the 1950s and 60s, in the West, in the Soviet cybernetics program for national economic planning, and in the 1970s in the experiments with using computers to promote democratic socialism in Chile. Each of these strains of thought suggests another way of thinking about cloud computing emphasizing public purpose and social planning over commercialism and corporate profit. I think we are at a point not unlike that of the electrical industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when unbridled capitalism shaped decisions on who had access to electricity with no public oversight. Ultimately, citizens and the great social movements of the time refused to accept the view that corporate greed should determine access to technology and created public utilities that, however unevenly and problematically, guaranteed universal access at affordable rates. I envision a similar movement taking shape today around the scourge of inequality and led by activist educators, librarians and other knowledge workers. Such movements are not guarantees of a democratic outcome but provide the means to fight for one and the hope necessary to carry on the struggle.

Moreover, in the concluding chapter of the book I address the counterpoints to big data drawn from an epistemological critique of digital positivism (the failure to consider qualitative data, history, theory, subjectivity and the limits of correlational analysis) and a broader critique from what I call “cloud culture,” or the humanistic tradition that spans Aristophanes’ play The Clouds, the medieval text The Cloud of Unknowing, and David Mitchell’s magnificent work of fiction Cloud Atlas. All of these provide a rich stew of alternatives to the narrow singularity of big data’s imperious and dangerous digital positivism. The times and our many problems call for many ways of knowing that need to be revived and supported. There may be numerous dark clouds forming but there are also many bright spots on the horizon including growing attacks on the many failures of big data analysis and the recognition by a surprisingly large number of technical experts, social scientists and humanists that other ways of knowing are essential.

RL:
Thanks for talking to me about your book. Any thoughts on what is next for you in your writing life?

VM:
I am beginning to think about a book on the so-called internet of things which, like cloud computing, is grounded in mythic thinking . But whereas the cloud imagines a universal intelligence available to all people, even as corporations and the surveillance state sequester it for their interests, the internet of things envisions a universal intelligence embedded in all matter, even as those same business and their partners in the state design it as an instrument of profit and control. Does it too contain a democratic potential?

However the subject gets formulated, my approach has been fairly consistent over the forty years that I have been writing about technology. First, stay ahead of the curve and “plant a flag” of critical thinking when you arrive so that those following can cut through promotional thinking and deepen opportunities for political intervention. Second, situate what you find ahead of the curve in a historical context that enriches alternative ways of thinking. Finally, carry out research with the mind of an activist and act with the mind of a theorist. The goal should be praxis or the unity of theory and activism.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss my book.

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June 11, 2014

Interview with Andrea Baer

Andrea Baer is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington, as well as an Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington and a Masters in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee. Andrea teaches two classes for Library Juice Academy: Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking and New Directions in Information Literacy: Growing Our Teaching Practices. The first is a class she has taught for us a couple of times now, and the second she is scheduled to teach for the first time next month. Andrea agreed to do an interview for the Library Juice Academy blog about these classes and about herself as an instructor.

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June 5, 2014

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine Launches Solidarity Network

Last summer I went with a delegation of information workers to Israel/Palestine. As our post-trip solidarity statement said: We bore witness to the destruction and appropriation of information, and the myriad ways access is denied. We were inspired by the many organizations and individuals we visited who resist settler-colonialism in their daily lives. We connected with colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects and institutions, in the hopes of gaining mutual benefit through information exchange and skill-sharing. We learned about the common and unique challenges we face—both in different parts of Palestine and in our home contexts.

Below is the press release that Librarians and Archivists with Palestine (LAP) is issuing today. Please read on and join the network if you are moved to.

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine Launches New Website and Solidarity Network

contact: librarians2palestine AT gmail com

June 5, 2014

On the 47th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and after 66 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people, a group of librarians and archivists is launching a network of information workers in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. In summer 2013, information workers from the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and Palestine went to Palestine to connect with colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects and institutions, in the hopes of gaining mutual benefit through information exchange and skill-sharing. In the months since our journey, members of the Librarians and Archivists to Palestine delegation have publicly discussed what we witnessed during, and learned from, our trip—in local activist spaces, at scholarly conferences, and in publications.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a new name, a new website, and a new network. We have updated our name from Librarians and Archivists to Palestine to Librarians and Archivists with Palestine (LAP). This change reflects the fact that we are more than a visiting delegation; we are committed to ongoing work on projects of solidarity in support of Palestinian libraries and archives.

Our new website, librarianswithpalestine.org, includes information and observations about places we visited—research and cultural organizations including Birzeit University, the Issaf Nashashibi Center for Culture and Literature, the Tamer Institute for Community Education, and the Saffourieh Museum for Heritage and Return—photos, and a compilation of LAP publications such as zines and articles.

Most importantly, we are excited to launch a broad-based network in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Any self-defined information worker who agrees with our principles is invited to become a LAP member. Members can also join solidarity project working groups and contribute their skills to support access to information in and about Palestine.

For more information and to join the network, please visit librarianswithpalestine.org. The public is also invited to LAP’s open house on Tuesday, June 17, at Interference Archive in Brooklyn, NY, where we will be displaying prints, zines, and photos from our new portfolio created with Booklyn Artists Alliance.

 

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June 2, 2014

Bibliography of Scholarship on Women and Gender Studies Librarianship

From: Jennifer Gilley
Subject: [WGSS-L] Updated Bibliography of Women and Gender Studies Scholarship
Date: June 2, 2014 12:42:04 PM PDT
To: wgss-l@ala.org

The WGSS Research Committee [Women and Gender Studies Section of ACRL] is pleased to announce that the Bibliography of Scholarship on Women and Gender Studies Librarianship has now been updated through early 2014! The bibliography can be viewed by subject, in addition to author’s name and date. The subject listing follows the intellectual organization of the Research Agenda for Women and Gender Studies Librarianship, which is intended to be helpful for letting would-be researchers know what has been published on a particular topic.

Please let me know if you are aware of any relevant scholarship that has been left out of the bibliography, and also feel free to give me any comments or suggestions for either the bibliography or the research agenda.

Happy Researching!
Jennifer Gilley

Member, Research Committee
Women and Gender Studies Section

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