January 31, 2008

Habermas on Web 2.0

The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralised access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus.

That’s Jürgen Habermas, originator of the concept of the public sphere, on Web 2.0, in his acceptance speech on winning the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the advancement of human rights.

Andrew Keen has a nice post about Habermas’ speech and his statements about the web.

It’s significant that Habermas has now taken up this topic, because many critics of Web 2.0 and the internet have based their criticism on Habermasian insights about the public sphere and mass communication.

Thanks to John Buschman for sharing this item with the PLG list…

January 25, 2008

David Bade’s Responsible Librarianship

Responsible Librarianship: Library Policies for Unreliable Systems

Author: David Bade
Price: $22.00
ISBN: 978-0-9778617-6-7
Printed on acid-free paper

The three papers in this volume were written in the wake of a single policy decision at the Library of Congress: the decision to cease the practice of distinguishing and collating series through the use of distinctive headings maintained in an authority file. Because of the interconnectedness of technical systems in libraries and library networks, local policies, organizational structures, work flows, and personnel everywhere are designed, implemented and managed with certain assumptions about that system, what it requires and what it provides. A single decision, such as LC’s decision on series authority records, can have repercussions throughout these systems. As long as individual institutions are aware of the different goals and practices among the institutions providing input to the system, accomodation of and adaptation to that variety can be a constant local preoccupation of policy and practice. This activity presupposes local control (autonomy), clarity of institutional purpose, flexible staffing and financial support. Yet these are precisely the elements which the growth of the technical system makes it possible for library managers to eliminate on the grounds of efficiencies in labor, productivity and cost.

These papers examine library policies and organizational structures in light of the literature of ergonomics, high reliability organizations, joint cognitive systems and integrational linguistics. Bade argues that many policies and structures have been designed and implemented on the basis of assumptions about technical possibilities, ignoring entirely the political dimensions of local determination of goals and purposes as well as the lessons from ergonomics, such as the recognition that people are the primary agents of reliability in all technical systems. Because libraries are understood to be loci of human interaction and communication rather than purely technical systems at the disposal of an abstract user, Bade insists on looking at problems of meaning and communication in the construction and use of the library catalog. Looking at various policies for metadata creation and the results of those policies forces the question: is there a responsible human being behind the library web site and catalog, or have we abandoned the responsibilities of thinking and judgment in favor of procedures, algorithms and machines?

David Bade is a Senior Librarian at the University of Chicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library where he is responsible for the cataloguing of Eastern European publications. He studied linguistics (minor in Arabic) and librarianship at the University of Illinois. His present research is focused on the processes of misunderstanding, mystifying and mythologizing technologies and how this allows a technocratic elite to turn convivial tools into tools for control and exploitation. The communicative and linguistic aspects of this process—from managerial rhetoric to spamming—are the subjects of work in press and in progress.

Responsible Librarianship is now available from major book jobbers as well as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

January 24, 2008


ALA Council passed a resolution on the crisis in Kenya, focusing on the issue of press freedoms. The resolution is below. One thing that helped sway Council to pass the resolution was news of a request for international support from the Kenyan library community. It is worth reading the views of Esther Obachi, National Secretary of the Kenya Association of Library and Information Professionals (KLA), on the crisis.

Resolution on the Crisis in Kenya

WHEREAS, hundreds of people have been killed and injured, and thousands have been displaced by the current violence in Kenya generated by the controversy surrounding the December lection results;

WHEREAS, the Kenyan government has recently curtailed freedom of the press and broadcasting and the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and non-violently;

WHEREAS, the American Library Association has endorsed Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (policy 58.4) which covers freedom of the press and freedom of expression – rights which the Kenyan government is now denying its citizens;

WHEREAS, the American Library Association opposes any governmental prerogatives that lead to the intimidation of individuals or groups and encourages resistance to such abuse of overnmental power (Policy 53.4);

WHEREAS, the American Library Association recognizes the vital importance of free and open elections;

WHEREAS, the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars has issued a call for an end to (1) the widespread violence by the principal Kenyan political actors, (2) restrictions of the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and non-violently, and (3) recently declared restrictions on press freedoms;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Library Association calls for an end to the violence in Kenya, a return to press and broadcasting freedom, and the right to peacefully assemble for the people of Kenya.

January 23, 2008

Celeste West passes on

Celeste West was a pioneering radical librarian whose works still inspire alternative minded librarians, especially anarchist librarians, today. She was one of the founders of the Bay Area Reference Center, Booklegger Press, Booklegger Magazine, Synergy Magazine, and one of the editors of Revolting Librarians. She died on January 3rd in San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle published her obituary today, clearly written by someone close to her. She was a great one. I think it’s worth thinking about how a lot of the things that are happening now depend on the example and inspiration that she provided…

Hoover Institution to Accession Looted Documents

This is rather unbelievable. Two shipping containers of records from the Baath Party of Iraq – about seven million pages – are being transferred to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, over the objections of Iraq’s archivist, the celebrated Saad Eskander. They have been in the possession of a non-profit run by Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi professor at Brandeis University whom Eskander calls a political operator.

The Chronicle of Higher Education released a story about it today and is not requiring a subscription to view it: Disputed Iraqi Archives Find a Home at the Hoover Institution, by John Gravois.

January 22, 2008

Al Kagan’s Council Report

Report on ALA Council to SRRT, Midwinter 2008, Philadelphia

Although we did not get everything we advocated, SRRT’s initiatives and interventions in the work of ALA Council went quite well at Midwinter in Philadelphia. Our Resolution on the Confiscation of Iraqi Documents from the Iraq National Library and Archives was passed almost unanimously with very little debate (ALA Council Document #44). Our Resolution on the Crisis in Kenya was revised and passed by a vote of 67 to 65 (ALA Council Document #42). Unfortunately, the Council was not ready to acknowledge any shortcomings in the US media or the effects of the US Government’s close relationship with the past and current Kenyan Governments, and the two whereas clauses that dealt with these issues were deleted.

The draconian guidelines issued by the ALA Executive Board on campaigning for ALA offices upset many Councilors, especially the parts that prohibit ALA elected officials from endorsing candidates. The related issue of prohibiting ALA units from endorsing candidates was not debated as much as the previous issue, and it is unclear whether or not SRRT will have support for overturning these guidelines, which go against longstanding SRRT practice, and probably the practice of other ALA units. One wonders why candidates for ALA President always address the SRRT Action Council and other bodies if not to get some type of endorsement. Indeed both current candidates for President agreed that they would like endorsements. I moved and the Council agreed that the document be revisited by the ALA Executive Board with a report back to Council at the Annual Conference.

There seems to be a fair amount of support for finishing Council business on Tuesday instead of staying to Wednesday. This would be very difficult because some ALA bodies do not finish their business until Tuesday afternoon. In fact, the whole conference would have to be restructured to eliminate the Wednesday Council meeting. It might just shift everything back so that we would have to start on Thursday instead of Friday. In any case, ALA has contracts with hotels and conference centers for many years in the future, and these would all have to be renegotiated with probable great financial loss. For the first time, we successfully moved to refer this item to the Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC), a tactic that is usually used against us.

The ongoing process concerning instituting a graduated dues structure seems to be more of a way to delay consideration rather than find a way to do it. The Presidential Task Force on the Graduated Dues Study distributed its report saying the necessary study would cost $624,351. Of course, nobody wants to spend this kind of money. Rather they will do a demographic study of the membership and rely on a current IMLS study to get further data in about 18 months. Then we will see what happens next. Especially since some SRRT members voted for a dues increase based on the promise of this study, I find these tactics more than annoying.

SRRT Action Council endorsed the change to Article IV of the ALA Code of Ethics, which now reads, “We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.” The previous version completely left out the rights of information users.

I would like to note three (of six) successful resolutions from the Committee on Legislation. The first advocates the inclusion of tribal libraries in the Federal Depository Program, the second opposes postal rate increases for small circulation publications, and the third commends Mr. Bassem Youssef, a high-ranking FBI agent who became a whistleblower. Mr. Youssef was reassigned after he criticized the FBI’s serious abuses of National Security Letters resulting in invasion of privacy. The resolution also calls on Congress to restore civil liberties, correct the misuse of National Security Letters, and protect the rights of whistleblowers against retaliation.

Other important resolutions passed include Resolution in Support of Women as Caregivers in the Workforce, Resolution on Providing Accessible Workstations and other Accommodations at American Library Association Meetings and Annual Conferences, and the creation of an Advocacy Committee to work with the new ALA Advocacy Office. The Resolution on [read only] Member Access to Electronic Lists of the American Library Association was referred to the Electronic Participation Task Force.

As usual, I will be happy to try to answer any questions.

Al Kagan
SRRT Councilor

January 21, 2008

ALISE Information Ethics Statement

Toni Samek and other library educators concerned with the declining place of information ethics, intellectual freedom, and matters having to do with the unique ethos of librarianship formed a Special Interest Group in ALISE (the Association of Library and Information Science Educators) to address Information Ethics in library education. Their SIG released a statement on information ethics designed to guide library educators and educational institutions, but was not immediately adopted by the ALISE board. At the ALISE meeting a couple of weeks ago, it was taken up by their executive board and was passed with much support and only a few changes. I am putting it online here until ALISE makes it available to the public on their own site.

Thanks to Toni for seeing this through and for sharing the information with the PLG list. I think this statement is very important in the guidance it provides to library education programs to preserve the meaning in librarianship as rapid changes in technique dominate the field.

January 19, 2008

Call for Papers – Information for Social Change – Science and Technology for Utopias

ISSN 1364-694X

CALL FOR PAPERS (please feel free to forward to other lists) —

The Summer 2009 issue of the online journal Information for Social Change (ISC) will focus on the theme of SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY FOR UTOPIAS.

This issue of ISC aims to document 21st century science and technology initiatives designed for utopian societies. The intended audience is hands-on Utopian makers, as well as those individuals and groups who share in the vision of Utopian futures.

ISC seeks submissions in the following two areas aimed at encouraging adaptations, constructive intercultural dialogue, and international participation:

1) General action research, development based participatory action research, case studies, and DIY (do-it-yourself) aspects of creating low cost, long term science and technology solutions to our present ecological mess, which also make for viable long term social justice (e.g., ethical aid, alternative transportation, living labs, green housing, and slow food movements) and the role of library and information workers and work therein.

2) Thoughts on information ecology, sharing, and recycling as they relate to the production of human and natural resources and how best to achieve egalitarian societies in which there is free flow of information (e.g., social, cultural, communication, and information systems which combine ICT within egalitarian decision making processes in the context of non-proprietary systems and free information movements).

Anyone interested in contributing work related to the above expressed theme is invited to share their ideas with issue co-editors Martyn Lowe (martynlowe@usa.net) & Toni Samek (toni.samek@ualberta.ca).

Whilst encouraging rigorous debate, the journal exists primarily for workers and practitioners, so simple and clear English is preferable. Articles should, where possible, be between 500 and 2500 words. This is to ensure a wide coverage of topics in each issue. However, longer articles may be excerpted in the journal and the full text made available from the author(s), if you wish. As well as articles we are also interested in shorter pieces (including letters, review articles, and poems).

The closing date for final submission is December 10 (HUMAN RIGHTS DAY), 2008.

For more information about ISC, see: http://libr.org/isc/

January 18, 2008

Not In Worldcat (really entertaining blog)

Just a plug for a really fun blog: Not In Worldcat. The tagline is “rare, interesting, unusual books and book-like things.” Pictures of covers of said things, with descriptions, and information about buying copies (not from the same bookseller – it’s not a bookseller’s catalog). Great timewaster for when you’re tired of Freerice.

More on the decline in reading

Jerome Weeks comments on two new articles on the decline in reading: one by Caleb Crain in the New Yorker arguing that we are losing not only the habit of reading but the ability to read, and one in Harper’s (subscription required) by Ursula K. LeGuin that says the apparent decline is partly an illusion based on corporate publishers’ mistaken expectations of making a lot of money from their newly-acquired literary publishing houses.

I’m adding Jerome Weeks’ blog to the blogroll. Thanks to Mark Rosenzweig for sharing this post with the PLG list.

January 6, 2008

Annotated list of things not to forget (in the 2.0 craze)…

I’ve been brainstorming about some essential facets of librarianship – skills, roles, services, problems – that while they have not lost any relevance have lately been ignored, passed over, forgotten, swept under the rug, or declared obsolete and old-fashioned by the vocal minority of librarians whose main concern now seems to be to create a new librarianship that is not saddled with the old baggage. I will say, editorially, that I think much of the energy behind Library 2.0 springs from insecurity about the usefulness of what we do as librarians and insecurity about the seriousness of the knowledge base that it involves (a problem that may derive in part from a decline in standards in library education).

The specific catalyst for the following list was a survey that Chrystie Hill and Meredith Farkas sent to fellow Library Journal Mover & Shaker award winners the other day (I was one of the original Movers and Shakers from 2002). Their survey was all about innovation, and presumed that everyone who has received the Mover and Shaker award, which to my understanding is for leadership, received it because of being an innovator. I consider myself mildly an innovator at work; I see it as part of my job. That’s not what Library Journal recognized me for, but at this point people can make the assumption that an award for leadership is naturally an award for innovation without running into much that prompts them to rethink. These days, when reading the library literature or a conference program it’s hard to find much that is not about the Library 2.0 idea. It seems to me that many librarians have forgotten that there is something worthwhile in what we do already, and that “Library 2.0” is an update rather than something completely new. Lots of people would not want to hear this, but I think many librarians should have more respect for librarianship as a profession and don’t know as much about what they are doing as they should. If there were a little bit more about librarianship per-se in our professional discourse it would be harder to dismiss our own profession in favor of a mode of information (access, organization, use, and conceptualization) that others have invented.

So here is my annotated list of things not to forget:

  • The importance of considering what we have to offer that web designers, programmers, and machines cannot offer.

    Much Library 2.0 thinking seems to be about ways of replacing our services and expertise with methods of intermediation developed by web programmers and computer scientists. In a manner somewhat suggestive of the Stockholm Syndrome, we have adopted an outside point of view that lacks an understanding of what librarians have to offer that is unique. Responding to change should not be about how to replace ourselves using methods that others already understand better than we do, but about discovering how we fit into a reshaped environment based on what we have to offer that is special, what we have to offer that web designers (for example) do not.

  • That our profession has a knowledge-base that is not replaceable by user-centered tools, as useful as those often may be.

    How many recent library school graduates are able to outline the dimensions of the domain of Library Science and sketch out its knowledge-base? How many of us know what constitutes Library Science? Cataloging, arguably the foundation of librarianship, was not even a required course when I was in library school. Not many librarians, especially newer librarians, have studied it at an advanced level. It is attractive, when we lack the actual expertise that would justify us in calling ourselves experts, to defer to users’ immediate tastes and casual, recreational tagging in place of doing the challenging work of collection development based on an analysis of readers’ needs and cataloging based on robust standards as part of a system that functions to serve a wide range of uses. A user-centered philosophy can function as a convenient excuse for doing less librarianship and doing it with less expertise.

  • That we have an educational role that involves helping users to make judgments and understand their search results.

    It is a cop-out to leave it up to users to interpret search results and evaluate content when our expertise puts us in a position to help them do it much better than they would otherwise. Yet in the name of user-centeredness we are re-envisioning ourselves out of this role, with the result being that users get worse and less-relevant information more conveniently. Perhaps the reason that so many librarians are sqeamish about fulfilling the educational part of our role is simply a lack of confidence in the fact that we have something to teach, that libraries and librarians function in an educational role in a number of ways. The gradually diminishing role for libraries and librarians in society has a complex nexus of causes, but our diminishing confidence in our own expertise as librarians (as opposed to as web designers) is a part of it.

  • We do a better job the more knowledge we have of content and subject matter.

    Knowledge of content is one of the keys to good reference work and good collection development and bibliography. Consider your best moments of sleuthing out an answer for someone in a reference context. Your brilliant deductions involved creativity and an understanding of the principles of reference, but they also involved knowledge. We need knowledge of content and subject matter not so that we can rattle off answers to questions without checking sources, but to enable us to make those connections that lead us to the right source, those leaps in thought that open up new avenues to finding the answer. Similarly, it requires knowledge of subjects to do good collection development, in order to evaluate materials properly and understand what is needed in the collection as a whole. This type of knowledge, whether we are talking about knowledge of reference sources or of disciplines or general knowledge, is a part of librarianship that requires time and effort to build and to keep sharp. The time librarians spend getting the most out of Facebook (to use just one example of a Web 2.0 tool that we use heavily but is more entertaining than actually useful) is time that would be better spent deepening the general knowledge that undergirds our work.

  • The value of libraries’ fiercely non-commercial nature.

    In an age when ads are pervasive and invasive, libraries, along with religious buildings and some other places, are among the few public places where you don’t find them. This is important for more reasons just than the peace of mind that their absence provides. Along with ads comes commercial bias, which distorts information and compromises objectivity systemically, and therefore represents a problem in terms of intellectual freedom. The rejection of commercial influence is an aspect of libraries that has remained strong through an era when other institutions seem to have forgotten its importance. Yet many librarians, if asked, would have trouble explaining why, and often advocate the incorporation of Web 2.0 services offered by private companies whose nature is entirely commercial. These services are not free from commercial bias, not subject to the accountability of more public entities (such as libraries themselves), and not under our control.

  • The political economy of information.

    Through the decades during which consolidation of ownership has been the rule in the media and publishing industries, library discourse has given attention to the distorting role of shareholder demands for higher profits in what is published, marketed, and ultimately made available to library users. It is important for librarians who make collection development decisions to understand market effects on the information cycle and to know how to compensate for them. This line of research and discussion has almost entirely been buried in the craze over Library 2.0, the push for minimalist cataloging, and the like. It is facile to say that “the internet has made everybody a producer; therefore this problem is a thing of the past.” In fact, the power of big media is bigger than ever, on the internet and off. Librarians need to know how to compensate for it.

  • The digital divide, the literacy divide, and other divides.

    Provision of access is only given halfway if effective efforts are not made to deal with issues of literacy and other barriers to access for people whose life situations differ drastically from those of the professional class who run libraries. When librarians conceive of library services in terms of a user base made of people mostly like themselves, they are missing whole communities of potential library users whose information needs are no less important. Library 2.0 discussions tend to assume a library user base with an even narrower set of literacy skills and an even narrower range of lifestyles, focused, as it is, on younger internet enthusiasts.

  • How “factual information” that we provide in a neutral manner can have ideological content embedded into to it.

    The digital shift seems to have worsened the average librarian’s unreflective positivist assumptions about factual information, as the internet has become a quick source of facts-on-demand whose facts show an increasing variety in terms of point-of-view. Librarians preach the importance of evaluating the reliability of factual information found on the internet, but as the internet becomes ever more convenient a source for these facts we tend to forget the important 20th century lessons about ideology and language. Point-of-view can be as important a factor as accuracy in evaluating (and providing advice about) factual information. This interesting issue had seen the beginnings of a discussion in places like Library Quarterly and Progressive Librarian, but this discussion is a good example of an aspect of library discourse that has been unfortunately drowned out by the Library 2.0 craze.

  • That we should think about our profession in terms of our function and potential function in society. (What is our role in making the world a better place?)

    Library 2.0 proponents have a lot to say about what we should do differently, but far less to say about why we should do it. At times, when someone’s vision of a not-too-far-in-the-future library service begins to sound like an iTunes store for the e-book reader, committed librarians begin to wonder, “What would be the point?” Somewhere in the discussion about Library 2.0, cognizance of the relevance and potential relevance of libraries, their function as a part of society and surviving example of the public sphere, has gotten lost. When the aim is lost sight of, talk about planning is meaningless. How, specifically, will a proposed Library 2.0 service serve the greater good? Or is it attractive simply because it is fun for you?

  • That the way a thing is sold does not necessarily speak to the real reason it is being sold.

    This is an abstract way of hinting at the uncomfortable fact that some “improvements” and “innovations” really exist only to save money on staffing, by deprofessionalizing our work. As an employed librarian, you may feel pressure to tow the line of management and help pull in this direction, because you know where your own next meal is coming from. But if you think about it, the security you win by going that route is rather temporary. The status of the profession as a whole and the ability of its practitioners to control their own collective destiny is much more important, and worth a little risk.

  • That many things that we and our users need are not fun or easy.

    There is a reason that many people disdain a discussion that treats toys like Flickr and Facebook as serious professional tools, and that is that such discussions tend to want to treat the fun factor as the beckoning call of the future itself. “If it is not light and fun and quick, it is alienating to our users,” this logic says. It is, however, an irreducible fact that real problems require good research, and good research cannot be made light and fun and quick without a very significant sacrifice in quality. The Library 2.0 message often tells us otherwise, showing the seduction of that discourse by anti-intellectualism and simple laziness. (To justify this by asserting that this is simply the state of mind of most of our users may in fact be unfair to the majority.)

This is just a partial list. Lots of things are being forgotten in library discourse these days. I look forward to Library 2.0 being old hat enough that room can be made to reincorporate discussion of these important aspects of our profession.

January 4, 2008

New version of Bibliographic and Web Tools for the Alternative Press

Byron Anderson of the SRRT Alternative Media Task Force (AMTF) and compiler of Alternative Publishers of Books in North America has finished a new version of his helpful bibliography, Bibliographic and Web Tools for the Alternative Press. The download is a PDF on the website of the AMTF. This bibliography is also published in the alternative review journal Counterpoise.

January 3, 2008

Walter Lippman’s Liberty and the News (1920)

The Nation has an interesting review of the new edition of Walter Lippman’s 1920 book, Liberty and the News. This book is about the relation between journalism and democracy, and the crisis he saw in both at the time. Princeton University Press is publishing the new paperback edition based on their perception of the book’s relevance today.