August 28, 2008

Whose space?

Puzzle Me, Puzzle You:

“My Account”

“Your Account”

Which is it? The autonomous liberal subject wants to know.

Whichever it is, it’s somebody’s account – mine, yours, Jacques Lacan Jr.’s, the Egg Man’s, the Walrus’s – and the password is not to be shared.

I want to ponder it but I think I’ll just Be Here Now.

August 21, 2008

International InfoLit Logo

That’s the winning design in the IFLA/UNESCO design contest for an International Information Literacy Logo.

The winning designer was Edgar Luy Perez, of Havana, Cuba.

I like the logo, and I think it was a good idea to pursue in an international effort.

It is part of the InfoLit Global Information Literacy Resources Directory.

August 20, 2008

About that Beloit List

This link is flying around the internet and being talked about on NPR: The Beloit List. It is a list of facts about the Millennial generation’s cultural situation that is supposed to show how amazingly unaware “they” are of things that “we” older people take for granted. I’m only linking to it to mention that I find it somewhat annoying, even at the present moment when I am in a really good mood. What is annoying about it? I think what’s annoying about it is that it purports to help educators understand their students when really all it does is emphasize how young they are and celebrate the cultural touchstones of older generations. It is more about “us” than “them,” and aims to get a chuckle at the expense of young people.

August 19, 2008

Iraq sites not really looted?

I just noticed this month-old article from the Wall Street Journal: So much for the ‘looted sites’. It says that many sites of purported looting of antiquities in Southern Iraq were actually not looted, although they are in danger. I can’t claim to know what’s really going on here; this issue has a lot of layers to it that I haven’t peeled back. I have covered it here. (Iraq’s archives are another issue.)

August 18, 2008

Privacy and markets

Nanette Perez of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sent out a link to this AOL study on web users’ behavior and statements regarding data privacy. The study finds, unsurprisingly, that most web users say they highly value privacy online but routinely give it up in exchange for convenience or small rewards.

This study illustrates a problem that libertarians pose all the time, and one which deserves an articulate answer. If people say they want one thing but show they want another by their behavior in the marketplace, does that mean we should ignore their expressed values and let the market make our decisions as a society? For example, if people say they don’t want to support sweatshops but keep buying cheap clothes at Target, a libertarian might say, don’t their decisions in the marketplace show their real priorities?

This is why critics call free-market policy directions a “race to the bottom.” People are complex and multilayered. We tend to be at our worst when faced with temptation, which is what we’re asking for when we don’t use democracy to turn our values into regulatory policies. We want free choice, but we recognize that all choices are made in a certain environment and under certain conditions. We want to shape our environment in order to help us make the choices that on reflection we want to make.

I’m with the subjects in this study who want more privacy online but routinely give it up in exchange for the web-based services that I have come to expect as normal. I don’t want to give up these services in exchange for my privacy. I would prefer to regulate industry properly so that my privacy is protected prior to my web transactions. Free-marketers who think that people’s economic decisions reflect their real values are ignoring the complexity of the human psyche. Choices are shaped by the conditions under which they are made, and people want the ability to shape those conditions based on their values. Clarifying our values requires time for reflection that is not usually available at the moment of market transactions, a moment when the value that is immediately present is the good or service and the way it is marketed. If the conditions under which we make economic choices are part of a public market, then the policies we set in order to control those conditions are necessarily social and shared.

So there’s my rebuttal to the libertarians out there, whose party is over right about now…

August 16, 2008

Reference librarians are authority figures with no jurisdiction

We live in an era (no blame to Baby Boomers intended) when people in positions of authority are often uncomfortable being authority figures. With a keen memory of disliking authority in our youth, we are uneasy on the other side, surely the object of jokes and plots of circumvention by kids who love their youthful freedom. I am acquainted with professors who insist that they are not authority figures, and complain that students treat them like they are, instead of as the buddies they want to be. But professors have the power to pass and fail, and wield the carrot of a bachelor’s degree as a stick (often pretending not to) as they teach students to distinguish between what is correct and what is incorrect. As adults in a youth-oriented society, most of us can’t deny being in positions of authority, as uncomfortable as it makes us.

Reference librarians in university libraries, whether faculty or not, are stuck in the difficult spot of representing the institution’s role of defining the correct versus the incorrect (and are presumed to embody that knowledge in the same way that professors are, at least to an extent) without having the power to force them to listen to us or decide their institutional fates. This means that we have a stick (institutional knowledge of what is correct) that we can do nothing but try to wield as a carrot.

So it’s little wonder that most college students don’t stop at the reference desk for help. Most college students don’t come to the altar of the institution to receive “knowledge” because it feels good. (I intend “knowledge” in quotes to refer to the vast seas of disciplinary convention manifested in such things as the proper way to use uncommon words.) They come to the altar of the institution to earn a degree that confers a token of respect and is a necessity for a middle-class job. What they learn in the process they learn according to their own standards and their own motivations.

A lucky few students are disposed to take that institutional authority and make it their own, and interpret its content according to their own needs. They are good students, and they more often have a sense of how they can make use of our services at the reference desk. They learn from us, master the institution’s codes in some area and, we hope, gain some real knowledge along the way. To them, we possess useful cognitive authority. To most students, however, we represent a vague moral authority without power (kind of like the Church outside of a theocracy). So how can we blame them for not coming to us?

I think that we need to understand that this is how the deck is stacked against us when we approach marketing initiatives in academic libraries. I think that given the situation, an effective way to go is to convince them, if we can, that we can help them get better grades in their classes. To be effective at this means to be as familiar with the curricula as we can be, so that we really are helping students get better grades while we help them learn to navigate the information pathways of life.

A corollary to this is that students don’t want to hear a religious message from us. They don’t want to hear it implied at any level that learning how to use Library of Congress Subject Headings will save them from hell. We have to connect what we try to teach them to their actual real world desires. Only a few students, future librarians perhaps, will have a natural interest in the ins and outs of our rapidly changing research tools and and slowly changing conventions.

That said, it is not necessarily as simple as it seems it should be to separate what will be useful to their lives and what ultimately amounts to religious ritual in what we teach.

In another era, when stock in authority wasn’t so low, this problem wouldn’t be quite the same. What a problem is to offer cognitive authority in a time when it’s out of fashion…

Boomers and their vision of the students of today

We’re told: “The Millennial generation, with their ipods and facebook profiles, are resetting the agendas for libraries, and aging Boomers are struggling to adjust by creating environments that are attractive to the new kind of student.”

Right? I’m not so sure.

To me it would seem more accurate to say that Boomers are projecting their love of youth culture onto a generation that doesn’t care about it as much, and getting a vicarious sense of youth from it. This is evident in the picture of the Millennials painted by Boomers and the young students’ actual responses to it. Efforts to make libraries more like “places that young people like” may turn out to be more effective in making older librarians who use the spaces feel young than they are in making young students feel at home. I find Boomers’ preoccupation with youth conspicuous in Information Commons-related discussions about what the new generation of young people is like.

When in the past has the generation in leadership been so eager to fashion their institutions so that young people will like them and feel at home? What happened to the idea of educating young people into adulthood, rather than modifying adulthood to suit the young?

UN says British libel law violates human rights

I’ve always been appalled by British libel law as long as I’ve known about it. Basically it puts a strong onus on defendants to prove that what they have said is true, rather than on the accuser to prove that it is false. The result is an excessive real-world limitation on freedom of speech for authors, journalists, and speakers. It has recently resulted in something known as “libel tourism,” where a powerful person or corporation that has been criticized in the press or in a book can take sue the author in British courts to take advantage of their favorable laws.

Now the United Nations has taken a position. They say that British libel law violates human rights. The UK Guardian has a report on the UN’s statement from their Thursday issue.


Library Notes – a library history blog

Melissa Adler has started a new blog on library history: Library Notes, named for Melvil Dewey’s original journal. It will include lots of postings of old articles and primary source material on libraries from the ages. Enjoy!

August 15, 2008

ACTA – Policy laundering IP

Public Knowledge, the DC public interest group, has a very informative discussion of ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. ACTA is an international trade agreement now being worked out behind closed doors, outside of the relatively open framework of the the World Intellectual Property Organization. It is a so-called “executive agreement,” rather than a treaty, meaning that it would not require approval from Congress.

Public Knowledge calls it an example of “policy laundering.” That is a great phrase I had not heard before. Industry wants to set policies that are friendly to them without having to deal with transparency and comments from observers who represent the public interest, so they “outsource” the policy making to closed-off venues that come up with international agreements that have the force of law with little or no public input. (This, rather than globalization, is the problem with the WTO, for many people.)

A discussion paper was leaked from the ACTA proceedings that reveals that its priorities are essentially an industry wish list: limiting fair use, enhancing the ability of drug companies to charge high prices, and monitoring internet communication. A lot is being stuffed into the basket labeled “counterfeit” for policy laundering purposes.

Public Knowledge is lobbying the USTR to make the draft text of ACTA available to observers. I think the ALA Washington Office ought to act on this as well.

August 14, 2008

LA Times on librarians (1920)

This is great: A Librarian’s Job, from the Los Angeles Times, circa 1920. Melissa Adler dug it up from the SLIS library at UW Madison and posted it on her blog. It’s just the kind of thing that I collected and compiled in Library Daylight: Tracings of Modern Librarianship, 1874-1922.

One thing I love about reading century-old items on libraries is that it makes me think about how quirky, quaint, and old fashioned our own blogs are going to look a few generations… hence…

August 10, 2008

LA Times: “Pillaging Iraqi history”

Jon Wiener has an editorial in Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Pillaging Iraqi history: Shortly after Baghdad fell in 2003, the Baath Party archives were shipped to the U.S. It’s time to return them.”

The editorial is a very informative summary of this important issue.

August 8, 2008


I neglected to link to this post when it was published a couple of weeks ago. The blog of the Committee of Concerned Librarians of British Columbia has an item on a somewhat disturbing training program put on by CILIP (the UK Library Association) that aims to “teach anyone how to do in-depth desk research in a day.” The blog posters are right, I think, that CILIP is contributing to the undervaluation of professional librarians here in suggesting that anyone can be trained to do what we do in a day….

August 7, 2008

Rafael Capurro: Interpreting the Digital Human (video)

Interpreting the Digital Human (video in Realplayer format)

This is a video of a presentation by Rafael Capurro, head of the Interntational Center of Information Ethics. Capurro was the Senior Information Ethics Fellow in 2007-08 at Center for Information Policy Research (CIPR) at the School of Information Studies at UW Milwaukee. This video is of his presentation at the CIPR conference, “Thinking Critically: Alternative Perspectives and Methods in Information Studies,” held in Milwaukee in May and organized by CIPR director Elizabeth Buchanan. I attended that conference and found it very stimulating. His talk is a rather deep, philosophical discussion about the way that culture and life itself are altered because of global digital communication.

I have heard that some videos of other presentations from the conference are now being prepared. I’m looking forward to those.

August 6, 2008

Ruth Rikowski on the WTO and intellectual property rights

A Marxist Analysis of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (PDF)

Policy Futures in Education
Volume 4 Number 4, 2006

London South Bank University, United Kingdom

This article examines the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). There are many WTO Agreements, but TRIPS is likely to have significant implications for areas such as information, education and libraries. The article provides an overview of TRIPS in general. Various intellectual property rights (IPRs) are covered in TRIPS, including copyright, patents, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs, integrated circuit designs and “trade secrets”. It then considers the implications of TRIPS for information provision, focusing in particular on copyright and patents. Finally, it examines the TRIPS within an Open Marxist theoretical perspective. The author argues that TRIPS is fundamentally about transforming IPRs into internationally tradable commodities. Marx began his analysis of capitalism in Capital volume one with “the commodity”. We need to get back to basic Marxism and to make it applicable to the global capitalist world that we find ourselves in today. Thus, capitalism is essentially about the commodification of all that surrounds us and the TRIPS assists with this process. Value that is extracted from labour, and largely from intellectual labour, becomes embedded in internationally tradable commodities (such as patents) that are created and socially validated by TRIPS. Profit is derived from this value and through this process global capitalism is extended and intensified.