April 28, 2006

Bush & Co. Censorship of Science It Doesn’t Like

Here’s a good article about the Bush administration’s habit of picking and choosing what science by gov’t agencies gets published and what doesn’t, according to its political litmus test. The Bush administration and its supporters are the biggest users of the word FREEDOM, pounding fists on tables when they say it and saying it loud, and attacking the opposition as totalitarians. That rhetoric is completely disconnected from the political reality of an administration that has gone off the deep end and threatens what limited democracy and freedom we have. The article linked here, which comes from a Latin American news service, points to just one example of how they are doing this.

April 25, 2006

Non-library quotations

I always loved doing that “quote for the week” and I miss it. Here’s a link to a nice collection of politically-related quotations. A lot of them relate to media and culture, but aside from that they’re rather far-afield. I am hereby giving myself, and by extension, you, my readers, permission to indulge in non-library issues.

I might copy a few of them here myself, but the sources of the quotes aren’t cited beyond the authors’ names, and I know how we all feel about that, so I will leave the original compiler with that responsibility.

Scary New Intellectual Property Bill

The Bush administration is preparing to introduce sweeping new intellectual property legislation, called the The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006. Among other things, this bill would create a new Federal crime, punishable by ten years in prison, for attempting to commit copyright violation; it would give the Justice Department new powers to prosecute “IP crime;” and it would give the government new wiretapping powers.

How much damage can one Presidential administration do to the country? Bush & Co. seem to be determined to find out.

April 24, 2006

New book on market censorship

Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression, edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva and just coming out from The New Press, is about a range of new and subtle forms of censorship of artistic expression. I’m excited about this book and expect to be of special interest to librarians.

Three articles for thinking about tech

In some back-and-forth with Rick Anderson in the comments on my posting about him from March 14th, I recommended three articles from Progressive Librarian that I think illustrate how the Progressive Librarians Guild represents a counter-trend in opposition to what he has been up to. It occurs to me that those three articles also relate to the recent discussion of “Geeks versus Nerds” and the “techie mission” of library bloggers. I don’t want people to miss my point in these discussions. Regarding the geeks and nerds thing, some people have taken the specifics a little more seriously than I intended, questioning the details of the schema and questioning whether it’s appropriate to compare it to a military battle. My intention is just so try to show that there are competing approaches to librarianship presently operating. So I’d like to recommend the same three articles that I recommended to Rick Anderson to those who are interested in the whole “techie mission”/”geeks versus nerds” thing:

Information Technology, Power Structures, and the Fate of Librarianship,” by John Buschman, PL #6/7

The End of Information and the Future of Libraries,” by Phil Agre, PL #12/13

Garlic, Vodka, and the Politics of Gender: Anti-intellectualism in American Librarianship,” by Michael Winter, PL #14

These are some of my favorite articles from the library literature. I invite your comments.

April 21, 2006

Geeks and Nerds Battle for the Soul of Librarianship

Perhaps the most pressing issue facing librarianship is one that is unlikely to receive serious scholarly attention. It is, to put it simply, a battle presently being fought between two camps of librarians. Some may cite generational conflict as the primary conflict in librarianship today; baby-boomers representing traditional knowledge of librarianship as well as bibliographic knowledge, and GenXers representing facility with technology. There is some truth to that picture, but it is primarily a distraction from the real conflict. That conflict, I submit, is the battle between geeks and nerds.

“Geek, nerd, what’s the difference?” some might ask. Well there is a definite difference; in fact there is little overlap between the two groups, although there are a few characteristics in common. I will summarize the traits of geeks and nerds for you. I may offend some people in doing it, but if you want to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs.

Typical traits of a geek:

  • Very techie
  • Identifies with science
  • Into science fiction, fantasy, and/or cyberpunk literature
  • Possibly into live action role playing games
  • Possibly into BDSM
  • Possibly into graphic novels/manga, etc.
  • Knows how to program a computer and does it often
  • Has a blog
  • Interested in popular culture
  • May or may not have done well in school

Typical traits of a nerd:

  • Reads a lot: philosophy, serious literature, science, history, academic subjects
  • Unusually excited, passionate, worried and/or earnest about intellectual matters that most people find boring or irrelevant
  • Got straight A’s in school
  • Not interested in popular culture, except possibly in a truly anthropological sense
  • Prone to injuries associated with excessive or intense reading

Nerds and geeks both:

  • Are bad dancers
  • Are bad at sports
  • Have trouble getting a date, even with other nerds/geeks

Now you may recognize in my description of a nerd some of the characteristics of a stereotypical librarian. In fact, librarians are traditionally quite nerdy. This has recently changed, however, as a result of an aggressive advance by the geek front within the profession. Now it is not so clear whether librarians, especially younger librarians, are typically nerds, as perhaps they should be, or geeks, as the character of the “biblioblogosphere” might represent us as being.

At this juncture I must make an important point of disclosure: I myself am a patriotic member of the nerd nation. I think librarianship is an intellectual profession, and I think bibliographic knowledge is more important to our ability to serve patrons and students than knowledge of technology. I think that the current advance by the geek front within librarianship is succeeding in replacing an important intellectual knowledge base – that is, a store of bibliographic knowledge combined with knowledge of the principles of librarianship – with a technical knowledge base that is already quite well-established by other professional groups, namely web designers and programmers. Thus, it seems to me that the success of the geek army in the battle against the nerds may end up being a losing battle for the profession of librarianship as a whole, once the bodies are counted, the damage assessed, and the spoils taken.

I say this as a nerd who has made a concerted effort to understand my enemy. I am more computer savvy than most of my fellow nerds. I can do a little programming, and I have not just one but several blogs. In my library job I am exploring applications of new technologies brought into our field by messengers of the geek tribe, and I am not unhappy about this. Geeks have important contributions to make within the profession. The problem is that they want to take over.

Now, if this were a real, non-metaphorical battle, it would be no contest. Geeks are more practical. They are capable of manufacturing powerful weapons. They are also experts at military strategy, having tempered their skills in the fires of all-night D&D sessions. Geeks may be terrible at diplomacy, but nerds are only slightly less bad, and therefore would not be able to pre-empt the great war via the necessary sophisticated political maneuvering. Geeks are also better funded, backed as they are by the deep pockets of the information industry. If it were a matter of warfare, the nerds wouldn’t have a chance against the geeks.

The thing is, perhaps it isn’t a battle, or even a contest. Perhaps it is, or has the potential of being, a rational discussion about the future and fate of the profession and its role in society. In rational discourse, I believe (and I recognize that most geeks, treating everything as a computational question, would disagree) nerds have the advantage. Therefore, the hope of the nerds in librarianship, who represent its traditional values, lies in true rational, professional discourse, rather than in technological pressures backed by finances and fear.

So the important thing, in this situation, is to know where you stand: to know which side you’re on and who your friends are. If you feel like you’re not sure if you’re a geek or a nerd, because maybe you have some of the characteristics of each group, you should begin asking yourself what knowledge and skills are really most essential to librarianship, and what is being done as well or better by other people?

Perhaps there is as yet a peaceful resolution to be found.

LC to Cease Creating Series Authority Records

This major announcement from LC just began circulating yesterday. It may have serious implications for access to works by series.?Ǭ† Some Library Juice readers are more up on cataloging issues than I am.?Ǭ† What do you think about this?

The Director for Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Announces the Library of Congress’s Decision to Cease Creating Series Authority Records as Part of Library of Congress Cataloging

April 20, 2006

The Library of Congress has determined that it will cease to provide controlled series access in the bibliographic records that its catalogers produce. Its catalogers will cease creating series authority records (SARs). The Library considered taking this step over a decade ago, but decided against it at that time because of some of the concerns raised about the impact this would have. The environment has changed considerably since then–indexing and key word access are more powerful and can provide adequate access via series statements provided only in the 490 field of the bibliographic record. We recognize that there are still some adverse impacts, but they are mitigated when the gains in processing time are considered.

As the Library was considering introducing this change, it was heavily swayed by the number of records that included series statements. Using statistics for the most recent year with full output of records appearing in the LC Database (fiscal year 2004) gives a sense of the impact on the cataloging workload:

Total monograph records created: 344,362 Total with series statements: 82,447 Total SARs created: 8,770 (by LC catalogers); 9,453 (by Program for Cooperative Cataloging participants)

As a result of the Library’s decision, the following explains what catalogers will and will not do, related to series.

What LC catalogers will do:
* Create a separate bibliographic record for all resources with distinctive titles published as parts of series (monographic series and multipart monographs).
* Give series statements in 490 0 fields.
* Classify separately each volume (i.e., assign call number and subject headings appropriate to the specific topic of the volume). (Imported copy cataloging records will have series access points removed and series statements changed to 490 0.)

What LC catalogers will not do:
* Create new SARs
* Modify existing SARs to update data elements or LC’s treatment decisions
* Consult and follow treatment in existing SARs
* Update existing collected set records
* Change 4XX/8XX fields in completed bibliographic records when updating those records for other reasons

The Library’s rationale includes:
(1) Eliminates cost of constructing unique headings; searching to determine the existence of an SAR; creating SARs; and adjusting 8XX on existing bibliographic records.
(2) Maintains current level of subject access.
(3) In some instances, increases access because more titles will be classified separately
(4) Maintains current level of descriptive access other than series. Uncontrolled series access will remain available through keyword searches.

The Library will be working with affected stakeholder organizations–OCLC, RLG, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, and the larger library community to mitigate as much as possible the impact of this change.

The Library will implement this change on May 1, 2006. The Cataloging Policy and Support Office is revising affected documentation to be reissued to reflect these decisions.

April 19, 2006

Glenn Greenwald on Bush Administration Attacks on the Free Press

Glenn Greenwald, in “A ‘Pulitzer Prize for Treason,’” talks about the Bush Administration’s attempts to weaken investigative reporting through “criminalizing its basic functions.” Their interest is in maintaining a high level of secrecy and controlling public perceptions – hiding the truth. Greenwald talks about how their public spin on these efforts makes cynical use of ideals about the free press.

April 18, 2006

Pulitzer Prizes and Top 25 “Censored” News Stories

This juxtoposition is not intended to make a specific point; you can draw your own conclusions:

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winners for Journalism.

Project Censored’s picks for the top 25 “censored” news stories from last year.

Anti-gay book controversy at Ohio State, Mansfield

At Ohio State, Mansfield there’s a controversial situation shaping up concerning the library. It isn’t being talked about on listservs much, probably because at first glance it might seem to involve a conflict between gay rights and intellectual freedom.

At Ohio State they’re doing the “every reader, one book” idea for incoming freshmen, the idea being to help give them a unified experience. The head of reference there, Scott Savage, is on the book selection committee. I’m a little unclear on the background to this, but according to this article in Inside Higher Ed, it went like this: The book selection committee began by considering some center-left political books for the unifying reading experience, and Savage criticized the idea, saying those choices would be polarizing. The response from committee members (at least some of them) was that this would be healthy, because it would spark debate. To paraphrase Savage, his answer was, “You want debate? I got your debate right here.” He nominated some extreme right wing books, including an anti-gay book. I don’t know whether his nominations were intended facetiously and rhetorically, just to make a point about applying an intellectual freedom argument to an “everybody reads the same book” program, of if he is a real right-winger, but they sparked a storm of protests from faculty members and fellow committee members. Eventually he was formally charged with sexual harrassment for nominating the anti-gay book (the book is The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom, by David Kupelian). In response to the sexual harrassment charge, a right-wing legal group is threatening to sue the university in defense of Savage, putting their own predictable spin on the case.

The way it looks to me is that if Savage’s suggestion was serious, there is a harrassment issue involved in his attempt to force students to read that book, which not only represents a political extreme but also targets groups of people with hate. Intellectual freedom arguments don’t apply to this situation, because students don’t have the option not to read the book if they don’t like it – it’s mandatory. That’s the idea behind these “every reader, one book” programs in education. The selection of books for these programs is a curriculuar decision, not a collection development decision. Different considerations apply. But that argument doesn’t only go against Savage’s suggestion. It also raises questions about how to think about selecting a book for a “unifying experience” reading program for incoming freshmen. A book about politics from a center-left perspective isn’t hate literature, but in what sense is it unifying? If it is intended to spark debate, then there is no real intention of unifying students to a single point of view, and the unification intended would have more to do with getting students thinking about the same issues, which is a valuable thing to do. However, since the book is an official selection, it does communicate a sense of doctrine for students orienting themselves to the university. I think this raises questions that aren’t easily worked through no matter what your biases. Is it entirely inappropriate or even avoidable for a university, or a department or program, to have an overall political orientation? What is the best way to balance the interest of a unified educational experience with free inquiry in education? What are the limits of community unification and what are the limits of tolerance? It may be that the right-wing extremist books are way out of line and the center-left political books are good choices, but I think there are some serious questions that the planners of the reading program would need to attend to before deciding that that is the answer.

Government wants first crack at late journalist’s papers

George Washington U. to Receive Jack Anderson’s Papers — but FBI Wants to See Them First

By Scott Carlson
Chronicle of Higher Ed, April 18th, 2006

During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government — sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful — so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. They never went through with the plot. Anderson died last December at the age of 83.

His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University’s library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see.

But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else…

See the rest

April 17, 2006

On Not Revising the ALA Code of Ethics: an Alternate Proposal

By John Buschman, Library Philosophy and Practice Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2006)

The American Library Association (ALA) Committee on Professional Ethics is undertaking a several-year review of the Code of Ethics, nominally for reasons stated in various Annual Conference announcements: “Relevant or relic? Does [it] live up to the challenges of the new millennium?” “The rusty, old ALA Code of Ethics gets new scrutiny…. [It] needs rigorous revision to distinguish individual ethics from institutional protection.”1 The reality behind those simplistic statements questions is much more complicated, and I am here making the case for not revising the ALA Code of Ethics. I do so not because it is already perfect in every little way, nor because I consider it so fundamentally flawed that it should be scrapped entirely and begun again. On the contrary, if actually followed and enforced, our policies would place librarians among the ethical and intellectual leaders in the professions. There are three strong reasons not to revise the Code of Ethics and I will review each in order.

Read the whole paper…

April 15, 2006

Two from Progressive Librarian

Two articles worth reading from issue 25, the second to most recent issue of Progressive Librarian:

Tabloid Ethics, News Reporting On the Iraq War & the Simulacrum of Objectivity,” by Frank Louis Rusciano

Information Criticism: Where is it?,” by Jack Andersen

April 14, 2006

LC’s Thomas Mann on LC-commissioned report recommending elimination of LCSH

The Library of Congress Professional Guild writes…

In “The Changing Nature of the Catalog and Its Integration with Other Discovery Tools,” Karen Calhoun recommends the elimination of Library of Congress subject headings and the establishment of “fast turnaround” time as the “gold standard” in cataloging.

In his critical review of the Calhoun report, Thomas Mann, a veteran reference librarian and author of The Oxford Guide to Library Research, argues that, if implemented, the recommendations in this report would have serious negative consequences for the capacity of research libraries to promote scholarly research.

Read Dr. Mann’s essay on the AFSCME 2910 (LC Professional Guild) website at http://guild2910.org/AFSCMECalhounReviewREV.pdf

Librarian Activist blog looking for a new blogger

The person behind the LibrarianActivist.org blog (whom I have communicated with by email but who blogs anonymously) has stopped blogging and is looking for someone to take over the project. I would say that that blog has been somewhat unique among progressive library blogs for its Canadian perspective and somewhat anarchist sensibility. (If the blogger would like to comment here and correct me or add to that, I would like that very much.)

Sorry to hear that the blogger has run out of steam; it’s something I understand well having been through it not too long ago. I hope a good person is itching to take it over…