March 28, 2009

Media in Transition 6 conference details

The details of the upcoming Media in Transition 6 conference have been posted to the web. On the site you can now find the full program and abstracts of all the papers being presented. Full papers are being added as they come in. This conference, which has no fee for registration, is going to be on the MIT campus April 24-26.

I am giving it this much attention because I’m going to be presenting there. (In fact, I’m working on the paper this weekend.)

March 24, 2009

Information for Social Change #28

The new issue of Information for Social Change, issue #28, is now online. The topic of this issue is “lifelong learners.” Here is a list of the articles:

  • Learning, Learning Communities and Globalisation (Dr Ray Shore)
  • Back to the Future?- Lifelong learning in libraries (Andrew Hudson)
  • Developing a NEETS Based Library Service (John Pateman)
  • Policing Library Users (John Pateman)
  • Information and liberation: writings on the politics of information and librarianship (Shiraz Durrani)
  • Quality Leaders Project (Youth) initiative (Jane Pitcher and Elizabeth Eastwood-Krah)

Some useful material here.

March 22, 2009

Chapter Two of Slow Reading

Chapter two of John Miedema’s Slow Reading, “Slow Reading in an Information Ecology,” is now online at the Litwin Books site.

The first two paragraphs here:

Isaac Asimov (1969) tells a story of a future in which a character is asked to demonstrate his astonishing talent to the president. The talent is to perform basic mathematical calculations on paper without the aid of a computer. “‘Well’, said the president, considering, ‘it’s an interesting parlor game, but what is the use of it?’” Many writers of fiction and non-fiction express fear that digital technology will render humans less intelligent. Calculations still get performed, but only by computers. People still access information, but through an implant that delivers it instantly. This kind of access to information is the dream of some information providers today, but it is not what we think of as literacy, and certainly not slow reading.

In the 1990s, society witnessed the mainstream integration of personal computers and the Web. For a time, it seemed likely that print, books and libraries would disappear, and perhaps literacy along with them. A generation later, we have some evidence by which to assess the reality. The analysis that follows shows that there is a close relationship between the media we use to read – books or digital technology – and the way we read and think. This is not to say that reading on screens spells the end of reading. Digital technology is often preferable for searching and scanning short snippets. However, print has endured because it is still the superior technology for reading anything of length, quality or substance. While digital technology lends itself to discovering and remixing ideas in novel ways, slow reading of books is still essential for nurturing literacy and the capacity for extended linear thought.

Wikipedia as an auxiliary reference tool

Librarians, in my experience, are mostly ambivalent about Wikipedia, and we have good reason for our ambivalence. Wikipedia is a new phenomenon, which means it requires reflection and thought in order to understand where it is valuable and where it is not appropriate for us to use. I think that for many of us, our ambivalence toward it leads us to avoid it at times when it might be useful – primarily at the reference desk.

I edited Wikipedia articles, and gave a good start to a dozen or so of them, during a period of several months a few years ago, and learned first hand about Wikipedia’s inner workings, its strengths and weaknesses. It is interesting to observe the process by which articles on controversial subjects are regularly pulled in one direction or another by editors who are there to push a point of view, or, often, how contrary viewpoints end up braided together sentence by sentence, leading to a mild form of textual schizophrenia.

Yet, I have to admit to using Wikipedia frequently. In fact, it is usually my first stop for quick information on a topic. Occasionally it satisfies my information need, but usually it points me somewhere else, usually by providing a bit of vocabulary, a name, a definition, a citation to another source, or the completion of a thought – a bit of information that I need to move forward using information resources that are more reliable and consistent.

Until recently, I had banned Wikipedia from my reference interviews, because I felt that using it at the desk did two things I wanted to avoid. I thought it would give students the idea that Wikipedia is a good source to use generally, and I thought that it would give students the idea that they know enough, being familiar with Wikipedia already, to do what we do. I’ve recently put those ideas aside, realizing that showing students how to use Wikipedia effectively as an auxiliary reference tool is as good as teaching them how to use any other auxiliary reference tool.

Part of what we do at the reference desk, especially in academic libraries, is to teach patrons better research skills by showing them our thought process. Finding a resource often involves following leads and being creative in how we think of them or discover them. Showing students how we use Wikipedia as a “jumping off point” (as one student called it when she observed how I was using it with her) can be a valuable teaching moment.

I still feel a little sheepish about going to Wikipedia when I’m at the desk. I still tend not to use it if what the user is looking for is a brief summary of a topic, the kind of thing that Wikipedia specializes in. For those kinds of questions I definitely use our reference collection, often using Reference Universe as an auxiliary. But when they want articles on a topic that’s not easy to get at otherwise (say, something new like “click chemistry” – how would you find info on that?), Wikipedia makes a great auxiliary tool.

March 21, 2009

Review of Shiraz Durrani’s Information and Liberation

The new issue of the SRRT Newsletter has a review of Shiraz Durrani’s book, Information and Liberation: Writings on the Politics of Information and Librarianship. Jenny Bossaller, an Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science at University of Southern Mississippi, wrote the review. It’s a thoughtful piece, which I always like to see. Thanks to Dr. Bossaller for writing it. I do want to add a bit of info that was not present in the review, which is Dr. Durrani’s present position as a senior lecturer at the library school at London Metropolitan University. While it is not incorrect to refer to him as a librarian (once a librarian, always a librarian), his job now is just as a scholar and teacher. For some that might make a difference in how his book is viewed.

March 20, 2009

Publication and endorsement

I mentioned in an earlier post how Robbie Franklin, owner of McFarland Publishers, advised me, when I was first getting Library Juice Press off the ground, to publish some conservative books along with liberal books, in order to show that I’m running a publishing house, not an advocacy group. I knew at that time that I would likely publish books that do not have a political point to make, and I definitely have begun to do that, but I saw no reason to follow his advice otherwise. I don’t see a need to establish “balance” as a publisher by publishing books that I don’t respect. I can imagine wanting to publish a book that could be called “conservative” in one or another sense of the word, but I can’t imagine wanting to publish a book of right wing views on librarianship, and see no reason to think that doing so would raise my stature as a publisher.

However, I have found that Robbie’s advice has forced me to reflect on the meaning of a publisher’s decision to publish a book.

Certainly, in a very basic sense, publishing a book means endorsing it. If I chose to publish a book I am making a statement about it – that I see fit to take a financial risk in putting this book into the marketplace, and that I am willing to attach my name to it as a publisher.

But endorsing a book is not necessarily the same as endorsing the ideas it contains.

For example, I will soon be publishing the memoirs of a now-deceased Philadelphia anarchist named Chaim Leib Weinberg, edited by Robert Helms. I am not an anarchist, and disagree with both Bob Helms’ and Chaim Weinberg’s views. However, I am happy to endorse the book. I’m happy to endorse Bob’s editorship of it and Weinberg’s original authorship of it. I’m happy to endorse both of them as people, because I respect them and the work that they did or continue to do. I disagree with them but respect them. So, in this sense, I am, as Robbie Franklin would see it, running a publishing house and not as advocacy house.

At the same time, an author might have views that make it impossible for me to endorse them or the books that they write. As well written and well argued as a book might be, I would be unwilling to publish it if what it said were simply beyond the pale to my way of thinking, because in publishing a book I am attaching my name to it.

An awkward situation came about a year or so ago concerning these issues. I had approached Roy Harris, founder of the Integrational school of linguistics, based on a tip that he was in need of a new publisher. I had familiarized myself with his ideas and was excited about what he has said within the field of linguistics. It seemed to me that what he has said about the study of language is very important – radical and necessary. He responded very favorably to my offer, but wanted to start our publishing partnership with a test run. He wanted me to publish a small book he has written about modern art. I read it and found that what it said was beyond the pale to my way of thinking, and as much as I respect and admire Dr. Harris’ work as a scholar of language, I could not bring myself to associate my press with his views on art. Harris castigated me for my decision, saying that he would not want to work with a publishing house that publishes books based on whether or not the publisher agrees with them.

Naturally that experience forced me to reflect and to recall Robbie Franklin’s advice. Was I approaching the business of publishing in a too-personal way? Should I be approaching my business in strictly business terms?

Having worried about it a bit, I am pretty sure that I am going about things the right way. It was not my disagreement with Dr. Harris’ views on art that led to my choice not to publish his book. It was a sense that I could not respect the argument that he was making. I would publish a book about art that drew conclusions that I didn’t agree with if I felt I had to respect the argument and had to respect the book. But I do not have the admiration for Dr. Harris’ book about art that I have for his works on language.

I think that distinction is not all there is to the question for me, however. As I have said before, Library Juice Press has a political identity as a publisher, and this is what Robbie Franklin directly advised me against. It is true that the largest publishers, and most of the academic presses as well, avoid being associated with any particular political views, factions, or even schools of thought. But anyone who is familiar with the publishing world and publishing history knows that very many important presses in the political arena are associated with particular viewpoints, and were often originally outgrowths of political parties or periodicals. (Examples would be Verso Books, International Publishers, and Monthly Review Press. Many other examples can be found in Byron Anderson’s Alternative Publishers of Books in North America, 6th Edition.) Political publishers are an important contributor to the written record, and to my view are not diminished by their political purposes.

As a publisher, my intention is to continue publishing books that come from a variety of Left perspectives (decidedly non-doctrinally) while also publishing books that are only indirectly political, or perhaps not political at all. If I publish a book that has a conservative aspect to it, it will be because I find good reasons to publish it. But I do not foresee publishing a conservative book in order to establish that I am approaching my role as a publisher in an impersonal, impartial, or strictly-business way, or to establish that my press has balance. I think that to do that would be artificial, not to mention self-compromising (for me personally and for the company). I think being somewhat circumscribed in this way is good in an existential sense and in a business sense as well. In both senses it means differentiation and identity.

So that’s a bit of my thinking about Library Juice Press and Litwin Books as I move further into a very busy year of book publishing. Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

March 13, 2009

Slow Reading

Author: John Miedema
Price: $12.00
Published: March 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9802004-4-7
Printed on acid-free paper

In the face of ever-increasing demands for speed-reading of volumes of information fragments, some readers are choosing to slow down. While it often seems necessary to read quickly, many readers share a conviction that reading slowly is essential to enjoyment and comprehension.

The involuntary practice of slow reading has been a subject of much research, but little is known about the voluntary practice. Slow Reading examines the research, from the earliest references in religion and philosophy, to the practice of close reading in the humanities, and the recent swell of interest associated with the Slow Movement. It looks at the diverse angles from which slow reading has been approached in education, library sciences and media studies. Research in psychology and neurophysiology provides a tentative explanation for the ongoing role of slow reading.

Slow Reading brings attention to emerging ideas in technology and culture. The traditional technologies of print and the book have persisted as part of our information ecology because of the need for slow reading and deep comprehension. The theme of locality in the Slow Movement provides insight into the importance of physical location in our relationship with information. Most of all, Slow Reading represents a rediscovery of the pleasure of reading for its own sake.

Library Technology Conference 2009

I’ll be at the [Midwest] Library Technology Conference 2009 next week. I’ll be presenting a poster on our library’s widgets along with Doreen Hansen, a member of our Computer Work Team.

Say hello if you’ll be there and you know me from here. I haven’t networked in Minnesota like I should…

Open Invitation

Librarians facing an expanse of free time this economic season, please contact me with your project ideas for Library Juice Press. I know from first-hand experience how good unemployment can be for creative projects, and how creative projects can end up leading to employment or at least things to boast about on a resumé. Let me know what you’d like to do.

SRRT Newsletter 166

Issue 166, March 2009, of the SRRT Newsletter is just published. This issue contains the minutes from Midwinter’s meetings in Denver, where Action Council decided to publish the newsletter on the web only, and to move to a quarterly publication schedule. For some time, the newsletter was SRRT’s largest single expense, even at a twice-yearly publication schedule. The weight of this financial cost was unsustainable and had begun to put a damper on SRRT’s other activities. I am glad that Action Council has made this decision.

This issue of the newsletter is Myka Kennedy Stephens’ second issue as editor, and is up to the high standards she set for herself with the previous one.

Now that the SRRT Newsletter is primarily a web-based publication in html format (rather than pdf) it has a new degree of accessibility in the current professional environment.

Other news related to the newsletter: Thanks to Alison Lewis’ and ALA’s efforts, Wilson’s Library Literature database now indexes it. According to reports, they are in the process of digitizing all back issues. That is rather exciting.

Kudos to SRRT and Myka for a good issue 166.

March 4, 2009

Bargain alert: Typo-laden copies cheap

I have a stock of “irregulars” – books in early versions with lots of typos. Anybody want to buy some cheap? $5 a copy plus shipping. Copies of the following books are available as irregulars:

If you’re interested, send a check with this order form, specifying that you want irregulars.

March 3, 2009

From Duality to Dilemma

I’m giving the keynote lecture at the 4th Annual University of Arizona SIRLS Graduate Symposium this Saturday. My talk is called “From duality to dilemma: balancing the library on mission, community, and democracy.” (It had a longer, bulkier title that is still floating around out there.)

If anybody is interested, I have posted handouts from my slides.

March 1, 2009

African Activist Archive Project

The African Studies Center with MATRIX digital humanities center at Michigan State University’s announce the launch of the new African Activist Archive Project (

This project is preserving records and memories of activism in the United States that supported the struggles of African peoples against colonialism, apartheid, and social injustice from the 1950s through the 1990s. This is one of the most significant modern American movements having defeated the foreign policy of a sitting President (Ronald Reagan), whose veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 was overturned by Congress, signaling the end of U.S. government support for the apartheid government. And it was based in more than 100 local community, university, religious, NGO, and labor organizations as well as city, county, and state governments.

The project is assembling excellent materials for teaching about community mobilizations, including:

  • an online archive of historical materials – pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets, buttons, posters, T-shirts, photographs, and audio and videorecordings
  • personal remembrances and interviews with activists
  • a directory to the many archives of organizations and individuals deposited in libraries and historical societies that are available for further research

The earliest documents on the website are about the 1962 American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa which included Martin Luther King, Jr. and other key civil rights leaders of that time. The website also includes documents of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition, the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement, Winnie Mandela Solidarity Coalition, and the Pan-African Liberation Committee at Harvard University. Among the audio materials is Harry Belafonte welcoming African National Congress President Oliver Tambo to a 1987 reception in New York.

The website now contains 1350 items of all types of media, including

  • more than 800 documents
  • 19 streaming videos and 11 streaming audio files
  • a new T-shirt collection – with up to four images of each (with more T-shirts coming in the months ahead) and
  • galleries of posters, photos, and buttons

There is representation from many organizations from across the country – 74 US organizations, most of them local groups, in 21 states and the District of Columbia. We have newsletters from 18 organizations, brief descriptions of more than 100 US organizations, and information about many physical archives.

There are many ways to navigate around the site. You can start from Galleries (including Remembrances or types of media, e.g. photos, documents, video) or begin on the Browse page with the organization name, a U.S. state, or the African country that is the focus of organizing. The Advanced Search page allows you to search across all types of media. Also, from each page displaying an item (e.g. photo, document, video), you can link to other items of the same organization or of the same African country of focus.

We are eager to communicate with people who have activist materials that they might wish to have included in this online archive. The project would particularly like to document more solidarity work by African American organizations. Donations of physical archives also are possible to the MSU Library’s expanding African Activist Archive Special Collections. If interested, please contact Project Director Richard Knight in New York ( or MSU director David
Wiley (

YouTube, the search engine?

Interesting post at Stay Free! commenting on a New York Times story about kids using YouTube as their primary search engine for information about topics assigned for homework. Carrie McLaren gets into some of the differences between text and video as information media…

March is Small Press Month

March is Small Press Month.

From the site:

Small Press Month is a nationwide celebration highlighting the valuable work produced by independent publishers. Held annually in March, Small Press Month raises awareness about the need for broader venues of literary expression. From March 1st-31st, independent, literary events will take place from coast-to-coast, showcasing some of the most diverse, exciting, and significant voices being published today.

As best-selling author Sherman Alexie—the face of this year’s Small Press Month Poster—states: “The small presses represent what is most brave, crazy and beautiful about our country and our literature. So let us all sing honor songs for the independent publishers.”