February 27, 2008

Laser printer privacy concern

In a purported effort to identify counterfeiters, the US government has succeeded in persuading some color laser printer manufacturers to encode each page with identifying information. That means that without your knowledge or consent, an act you assume is private could become public. A communication tool you’re using in everyday life could become a tool for government surveillance. And what’s worse, there are no laws to prevent abuse.

Potentially a privacy issue for libraries. Thanks to John Gehner for forwarding this to lists.

February 26, 2008

People’s Campaign for the Constitution

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is a group founded in November, 2001 that works to protect (and restore) civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. They do a good job of tracking legislation that has civil rights implications, and also promote discussions and educational projects on a local level.

The thing I want to share is their People’s Campaign for the Constitution, which is an effort to make the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a central focus for civic activists (and voters) who are responding to threats to civil liberties posed by specific legislation or state actions. They view the election year as an ideal time to focus on the Bill of Rights in order to tackle a range of legislation rather than going at them one at a time. The link above has a nice chart that lays out the specific amendments to the constitution that are violated by recent state actions and anti-terrorism legislation.

Personally, I think our constitution is not ideal and is past time for a major revision; however, the political situation being what it it is, I think we need it badly and would probably like it better than the new one that politics would produce today in this country…

Thanks to Jim Kuhn for sharing information about the People’s Campaign for the Constitution with listservs today.

February 21, 2008

Miriam Braverman Prize – essay contest

Message from Terry Epperson, chair of PLG’s Braverman Prize committee

Hello –

We’re pleased to announce the fifth annual Miriam Braverman prize, sponsored by the Progressive Librarians Guild, for the best student paper on progressive library issues. Below are the guidelines for the prize. The announcement flyer can be found at: http://libr.org/plg/Braverman-08-flyer.pdf. Feel free to pass this announcement on to other listservs or groups that may be interested.

Braverman Prize Guidelines for PLG

1. Entrants must be Library/Information Science students attending a graduate level program in the United States or Canada.

2. Entries must be the original, unpublished work of the entrant, in English, and must not exceed 3,000 words.

3. The topic of the paper should concern an aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship. Papers related to archivists, archives, or archival work are also acceptable. Topics could include, but are not limited to, such concerns as professional ethics in the age of the USA PATRIOT Act; the commodification of information; the political value choices of cataloging and indexing; the role of libraries in bridging the information gap; democratic management systems within libraries, etc.

4. Each entry should include a cover sheet containing the entrant’s name, full contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address), name of the institution where the entrant is enrolled, and the title of the paper. No identifying information, other than the title, should appear on the paper itself.

5. Entries must be submitted electronically, in MS Word or RTF format, to bravermansubmissions@gmail.com

6. Entries must be received no later than 6pm on, April 15, 2008.

7. The winning entry will be published in Progressive Librarian and must conform to MLA in-text citation style. The winning entrant will also receive a $300 stipend toward attendance at the 2008 American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim, CA and an award at the annual PLG dinner. Award money is available only for ALA conference attendance; if the winner is unable to attend, the money will remain in the Braverman Award fund account or be donated at the discretion of the committee.

8. The judges’ decision is final. The act of submission implies the unqualified acceptance of the conditions of entry by the entrant.

Terrence W. Epperson, Ph.D.
Social Sciences Librarian
TCNJ Library
The College of New Jersey
P.O. Box 7718
Ewing, NJ 08628-0718
Phone: (609) 771-3352
Fax: (609) 637-5177
E-mail epperson@tcnj.edu

February 19, 2008

Interview with David Bade

David Bade is a cataloger at the University of Chicago who has written books and articles on issues in bibliographic control and other topics. Lately, he’s has gained some attention in cataloging circles for his intelligent criticism of the Library of Congress in their recent decisions concerning the future of bibliographic description. Library Juice Press is proud to have published his latest book this year: Responsible Librarianship: Library Policies for Unreliable Systems. As publisher of the book and author of this blog, I asked David to be interviewed about the book for Library Juice readers.

David, could you tell us why you wrote the three papers that make up Responsible Librarianship and summarize the book a bit? The first paper makes up the majority of the book, so if you could focus on that…

It was out of a sense of professional responsibility that I wrote my first essay on bibliographic control in 1998. Because of the nature of work flow in the UC library, many times the items which come to me for original cataloging are already in OCLC and it was the repeated experience of seeing truly bizarre cataloging that disturbed me greatly. Back then the misinformation was not the product of the low end of the information spectrum but in almost all cases the great academic libraries of the US or outsourcing agencies like TechPro; nowadays of course it comes from everywhere. I did not understand how that could be. So I felt that I had to study the problem in depth. I felt the issue of data quality had to be addressed more forcefully in the library world, and so between 1998 and now I have spent more time studying theoretical and practical aspects of quality and errors than I had ever imagined existed. I discovered that there is an immensely valuable literature on failure in organizations and technical systems, and that is the literature of ergonomics. I feel that the library profession must begin to take seriously these issues and that literature if we are to be engaged with technologies at all. Ergonomics is a field in which one of the major changes of the past 25 years has been the realization of the crucial role that policies have in creating the conditions for failure.

The LC series decision made me feel that I had to respond publicly. I chose Autocat as the means of getting my comments out into the open (the second paper in Responsible Librarianship) and it worked pretty well. But I also knew that the people who make the policy decisions do not read Autocat, have a very negative attitude toward catalogers and often ignore discussions of cataloging entirely due to their belief that cataloging is no longer necessary. I felt the need for a more detailed argument. So I wrote Politics and Policies for Database Qualities, the first paper in the new book. In that paper the first matter was to understand just what is meant by refering to quality. The dominant argument for the past decade in this area has been Sarah Thomas’ argument that quantity of results retrieved is more important than the quality of results, combined with an emphasis on timeliness to the exclusion of all other considerations. What I tried to do in the first section of the paper was to argue that quality depends on purposes and goals, and then in the second section to argue that those are established not by library administration but by the institutional practices that the library serves. To take seriously any set of practices seems to me to preclude any reduction of all factors to time in the queue, to the simple directive Thomas enforced in her library: No backlogs.

The third part of the paper is a short overview of some of the key arguments from ergonomics concerning the genesis and management of failure. Eric Hollnagel, whose work has revolutionized ergonomics and my own thinking as well, wrote to me not long ago that “people in general seem to have enormous faith in the powers of technology and computers, to the extent that it shuts off anything that resembles normal common sense.” That common sense is on the order of “garbage in, garbage out”, but the latest library wisdom has it that we do not have to construct shared information systems, we need only exploit them. The failure to understand networked systems as systems, the failure to deal with temporal developments, a complete disregard for the diversity of goals and purposes for which information is created, a refusal to look at the results of policies, the assumption that errors do not matter: all of these recipes for disaster have been described and analyzed in detail in the ergonomics literature.

The last part of Politics and Policies for Database Qualities focuses on the political aspects of policy making in libraries. I am particularly interested in the conflict between the practices and values of scholarship and science, i.e. the values that academic libraries are supposed to support, and the practices and values of a library seen as nothing more than the management of stock, as though there is no difference between a Borders bookstore, a limestone quarry and the Library of Congress. Universities in general and libraries in particular when managed like business concerns are simply the repudiation of what the university is about, self-contradictions in the heart of our culture.

I think that’s a good summary of what is covered in the book, and should give Library Juice Readers a sense of the originality of your approach to these problems.

Regarding the conflict between the values of science and scholarship and the values of simplistically defined efficiency that you talk about in the last part of the Politics and Policies… That is obviously a key problem of our time within our field and in others. I wonder how you answer critics who say that the money isn’t available to do things to the standards that you would like to see. And possibly related to that, how does the literature of ergonomics relate to cataloging? I thought it was about having my monitor at the right height…

There is a classic paper in economics: Akerlof’s 1970 paper “The market for lemons: quality, uncertainty and the market mechanism.” For a brief discussion and links see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons . Bad quality drives out good: that is a law that should disconcert anyone who looks at what is being entered into our databases. It was very easy for me to jump into the economic literature and find an abundance of research suggesting that the library wisdom is not the least bit economically sound. I discuss just a bit of that in the first paper.

It is certainly the case that every library has to determine what they can do given their existing budget; the problem is that in almost every case that I know of decisions about what needs to be done are being made on the basis of misconceptions about what information technologies do. This always leads to decisions supposedly based on economic considerations, but since the overall situation has been misunderstood, the arguments are simply invalid. That was why 35 years ago shared databases led libraries to get rid of catalogers in the expectation that someone else would do the work. The same thing is happening all over again except that now we are expecting Yankee Book Pedlar, foreign book dealers and Amazon.com to provide all the information we need. The problem is that instead of a clear understanding of what technical potential presupposes and requires for its successful performance, the technical system is itself assumed to be the guarantee of success, a mistaken belief that lies at the basis of many library policies. A classic case is Sheila Intner’s 1990 boast that some good expert systems programmed for cataloging would be better than all the combined intelligence of the world’s catalogers. If you start there, and so many library movers-and-shakers do, then the place to put your money is in software not people. If on the other hand you are committed to research and scholarship as essentially a conversation and debate, then it would seem downright fascist to let the conversation be guided and deterimined by some algorithm “under the hood.” To me the issue is much more a political matter connected to what, why, and for whom we operate than a matter of economics.

The misunderstanding of technical systems among librarians is evident in every article which discusses information technologies as simply technical systems, i.e. virtually everywhere. Paul Duguid, Uwe Jochum, Wanda Orlikowski and above all Philippe Breton have been important correctives to those misunderstandings, but references to all of them except Duguid are absent in in the library literature. With a right understanding it would be impossible to treat information systems as both cooperative constructions and at the same time simply resources to be exploited without consideration of any other participating institutions.

My original attitude toward ergonomics was the same as yours: something about carpal tunnel syndrome, monitors at the right height, etc. The only reason I began reading the ergonomics literature was in order to see if there was anything there that might aid me in understanding what was happening in libraries. That literature covers a wide range of topics, from accidents to reliability engineering to organizational barriers to success and policies that guarantee failure. In large part research in ergonomics has come to focus not on technical systems in isolation but on people + technical system + social environment, for it is only from this larger perspective that one can understand both the success and failures of people working with technologies.

Many librarians have been urging change upon us, insisting that everything must be done in a certain way and done ASAP or we are all going to become obsolete. These calls are nothing other than the tyrannical efforts of those who have decided that the way forward is not discussion and debate but universal obedience to managerial decision. We are to follow technological developments rather than critically engage them. Technical systems follow a logic of their own: certain things are facilitated, others impossible. Technical systems are rigorous, i.e. totalitarian. They operate according to design imperatives, not political debate. The ergonomics literature at times comes tantalizingly close to this realization. It was Hannah Arendt’s book on Eichmann, though, not the ergonomics literature, that led me to look at the significance of treating libraries as systems for cargo transport rather than engagement with the life and goals of scholarship.

David, how do you hope librarians will make use of your book?

I hope it will make them think. I hope it will lead them to reconsider the importance of investigating failure. How can we possibly improve librarianship if we refuse to look at where we are failing? And I hope it will lead them to think of librarianship as part of a normative practice, rooted in communication among people, with communication understood as genuine dialogue and debate not simply transportation and storage of some unexamined cargo.

Thanks very much for talking about your book, David.

February 12, 2008

Bob Rodgers remembers Marshall McLuhan

The current issue of LRC: Literary Review of Canada has a light essay by an acquaintance of Marshall McLuhan, discussing what the man was like and assessing his influence: In the Garden with the Guru. If you’re only vaguely familiar with Marshall McLuhan I definitely recommend it for a little taste of he was like as an intellectual phenomenon in the 60s. I think Bob Rodgers is right to say that McLuhan was generally misunderstood and was not the fan of the post-print, television age that many took him to be.

February 11, 2008

Dueling Paradigm Shifts

We’re presently awash in talk about a great paradigm shift that puts the user at the center of our planning for services. This is sometimes referred to simply as user-centered librarianship. It has been a hot idea for at least a decade, but has gained new power and momentum because of ideas about the interactivity inherent in in Web 2.0 as a new context for library service. A decade ago, as today, it was also part of the idea of calling our users customers rather than patrons and treating them accordingly, and letting the framework of customer demand and customer service provide the new user-centered model for library planning (referred to in the 80s as the “give them what they want” model of collection development). I like to think of this 1980s/2000s idea of user-centered librarianship as the “customer is always right” model of service planning.

Has anybody guessed what the dueling paradigm shifts are yet? Hint – they both put the user at the center, but have two very different sets of assumptions.

Last Friday afternoon I attended the latest College of DuPage telecast in their “Soaring to Excellence” series of professional development TV programming for library workers. It may not be TV technically speaking, but TV talk shows are the model for the production, in terms of the format, the sets, the style of the moderator, etc. (I talked about a previous telecast in the Soaring to Excellence series on March 15, 2006.) I would not normally watch one of their programs, because of my sense that they are generally about promoting trendy philosophies that disguise their top-down origins, and because I don’t like the effects of the TV medium on education. But this episode promised to be an exception, with Ann Bishop and Nancy Kranich as the guests, who would be discussing community needs assessment in a program called, “People Watching With a Purpose: Meeting Needs Before They Need It.” I know Nancy Kranich and have enjoyed her writings on how the library can combat social alienation and promote democracy by serving as a real public space. I was not familiar with Ann Bishop’s work but had heard enough to be curious. So this program had enough draw for me to watch it.

The moderator introduced the show’s topic by referring to the great paradigm shift toward user-centered planning that we are all familiar with, providing the frame for the guests’ presentations. She employed the usual exciting themes of newness and putting the users in charge, and then introduced the guests and asked Ann Bishop to speak about her work with the Community Informatics Institute at the GSLIS at UIUC.

Dr. Bishop gave an extremely interesting explanation of Community Informatics, which is an area of research and practice that I am happy to have learned about from her presentation. To paraphrase her explanation a bit (and probably poorly), community informatics is about helping communities (geographic communities) “create and mobilize knowledge” to solve solve problems and engage in the world transformatively. The emphasis is on collaborative activity between the researchers/service people and local community groups, helping communities find relevant applications for affordable technologies (broadly considered), and treating communities as the centers of knowledge rather than as users of knowledge centered in dominant-culture institutions. There is a strong emphasis on communities rather than individual users, an emphasis on social justice and social change, an awareness of issues in the sociology of knowledge that factor in culture and class (often using an analysis that has an anti-colonialist intellectual history), and a strong awareness of the political dimension of the effort to build capacity in communities based on their own knowledge and point of view. Bishop used a number of phrases that refer back to the work of Paolo Freire (though she didn’t use his name specifically) and related thinking: action research, participatory research, service learning, and social ecology.

So now you’ve got the dueling paradigm shifts.

Paolo Freire was the original user-centered paradigm shifter, only his assumptions were quite different from the “customer is always right” version. The “customer is always right” user-centered paradigm shift, if you don’t mind me reading into the idea a bit, is about taking the power away from out-of-touch institutions and arrogant, intellectual experts and giving that power back to “the people,” meaning, the individual customer at his computer. This paradigm assumes a number of things that ought to be questioned. First, it assumes a context of consumer capitalism; the relationship is between a customer and a market-based provider of service, as the user who is being put at the center is tested according to a market model. Second, in the Library 2.0 variation, the paradigm artificially defines a library’s user community according to the culture of heavy web users – predominantly younger, middle class, white, and affluent, and narrowly defined according to the specifics of web culture – hardly a democratic polity. Third, it fails to see through the ways in which “consumer preference” is conditioned by mass mediated experience, to the effect that prioritizing market-tested (marketing-created) “consumer demand” over analyzed community needs can be a way of sneaking the effects of heavy marketing into what is supposed to be a more objective, community based institution.

Freire’s paradigm shift was about taking the power of knowledge away from institutions, which he characterized not in terms of their control by a liberal intellectual elite (the contemporary corporate-sponsored populist vision), but in terms of their connection to state power, corporate power, and colonial power. His idea of giving the power of knowledge – knowledge creation more than knowledge access – to the people was about transforming society so that the people could overcome their exploitation by the ruling class. “Paradigm shift” in this vision is another word for revolution.

Freire’s paradigm shift was extremely influential in the 1970s among educators and educational theorists, and still gives meaning to many people’s work as educators as well as in other fields. So I think that to an extent it’s fair to say that the “customer is always right” model can be accused of co-opting that more radical notion of a paradigm shift for market-based purposes (in the same way that free market “reformers” coopted the whole notion and style of political revolution in the 90s, in the days after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before the dot com bust, as The Baffler magazine so beautifully chronicled).

So there are your dueling paradigm shifts. I hope you’ll think of Freire every time someone talks about the paradigm shift toward a more user-centered way of doing business.

(Incidentally, this is a topic that deserves a lot more than I have time or energy or the background to give it, and I hope someone else will take it up.)

Privacy in Peril: How We are Sacrificing a Fundamental Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience

Privacy in Peril: How We are Sacrificing a Fundamental Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience is an important new book by James B. Rule, who also wrote an influential book on privacy in the 1970s: Private Lives and Public Surveillance: Social Control in the Computer Age. Just noting it as a book of interest. I learned about it in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s review article on privacy in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), “Naked in the ‘Nonopticon’: Surveillance and marketing combine to strip away our privacy.”

February 10, 2008

Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob

The New York Times Book Review published a review last week of Lee Siegel’s Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.

The reviewer, John Lanchester, distinguishes two types of critics of the internet, those who think it’s trivial and those who think it is transforming culture in a negative way. Siegel is in the latter category. As the Lanchester writes,

Siegel makes the strong point that “what the Internet hypes as ‘connectivity’ is, in fact, its exact opposite.” People sitting on their own in front of computer screens — this once would have been called disconnectedness or atomization. Siegel is blistering on the “surreal world of Web 2.0, where the rhetoric of democracy, freedom and access is often a fig leaf for antidemocratic and coercive rhetoric; where commercial ambitions dress up in the sheep’s clothing of humanistic values; and where, ironically, technology has turned back the clock from disinterested enjoyment of high and popular art to a primitive culture of crude, grasping self-interest.”

Another reviewer for the Times, Janet Maslin, reviewed this book last month. Actually, if you’re only going to read one of the reviews, I’d recommend this one. Here’s a bit from it:

He is quick to insist that most of those opportunities [for creativity and interactivity on the web] boil down to business matters, and that “the Internet’s vision of ‘consumers’ as ‘producers’ has turned inner life into an advanced type of commodity.” At the risk of harping heavily on this central point, Mr. Siegel provides example after example of how surreptitiously this process of co-option works.

He shows, for instance, how the fan of a television show can be led to a Web site where the show can be approached in a supposedly interactive fashion. “ ‘Which character are you most like?’ ” he asks, citing a question posed about “Grey’s Anatomy.” And parenthetically: “(You’ll also have to read an ad for a vaccine against genital warts. Ask your doctor if it’s right for you.)”

The price of such diversions is, in Mr. Siegel’s succinct appraisal, devastating. It turns our passive, private, spontaneous appreciation of popular culture into something active, public and market-driven. It leads us to confuse self-expression (which is, of course, all about us) with art (which more generously “speaks to us even though it doesn’t know we’re there”). It has created what Mr. Siegel calls the first true mass culture, though he cites critics who in 1957 worried about how culture could be degraded by the masses. Culture for the masses, he says, was a worry of the past. Culture by the masses is what is being born in the present and will shape the future.

February 4, 2008

Rainbow Project – GLBTQ book list for youth


Philadelphia, PA, January 2008

Co-sponsored by the American Library Association’s Social Responsibility Round Table and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table, the Rainbow Project proudly announces its first annual bibliography for young readers from birth through age 18. These 45 fictional and informational books that validate same-gender lifestyles and experiences were chosen for their high appeal to readers, quality writing and illustrations, and realistic portrayals of issues.

The titles in the inaugural list were originally copyrighted in the United States from 2005 through 2007. Four titles, all published in 2007, have been starred for excellence: Peter Cameron, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (FSG); Julie Anne Peters, grl2grl (Little/Megan Tingley); St. James, James, Freak Show (Dutton); and Lu Vickers, Breathing Underwater (Alyson).

An examination of over 200 books reveals that glbtq books are heavily weighted toward upper grade levels and that many glbtq characters in fiction take a peripheral position. Other concerns are public censorship and the lack of ready accessibility to these books. The members of the Rainbow Project encourage the publication of more books with characters validating same-gender lifestyles and cataloging with subject headings that describe these glbtq characters in children’s and young adult fiction.

The Project wishes to thank the authors, illustrators, editors, and publishers who are willing to confront the challenges of censorship and look forward to their providing more quality books that portray glbtq characters in a realistic and prominent manner.

Future bibliographies will cover 18 months of publication, from July of the previous year through December of the current review year. Selection will be done at the ALA Midwinter Conference. Information is available at www.myspace.com/rainbow_list.

Project Members: Jane Cothron, Lincoln County Library District/Coastal Resources Sharing Network (OR); Helma Hawkins, Kansas City Public Library (MO); Arla Jones, Lawrence High School (KS); Natalie Kendall, Greeley Elementary School (IL); Sharon Senser McKellar, Oakland Public Library (CA); Victor Schill, Harris County Public Library (TX); Nel Ward (OR); and Christie Gibrich, Grand Prairie Public Library (TX).

2008 Amelia Bloomer List

In its seventh year now, the Amelia Bloomer List is a recommended reading list of feminist books for girls, that is, books for girls (ranging from beginning readers to teens) that feature strong, independent female protagonists that girls can identify with. Very useful for school librarians, children’s librarians at YA librarians…

Arthur and Esther

I have not seen this and make no endorsement:

Arthur and Esther, A Dark Comedy about Libraries, Lakes, and Lost Love…

February 2, 2008

ALA Council Actions at Midwinter

Diedre Conkling has created a wiki page for keeping a record of ALA Council actions. It presently has the actions taken at Midwinter, as well as the full text of some Council Documents, a history of Councilors’ terms on Council, and Jim Casey’s report on the Midwinter meeting. This is a very useful resource hosted on a wiki belonging to ALA/SRRT’s Feminist Task Force.