I enjoyed this article from the May 1st issue of Library Journal by Barbara Fister: “Publishers & Librarians: Two Cultures, One Goal.” Barbara is an academic librarian in Minnesota and an author of mystery novels at the same time. Her work as a popular author gives her an insight into the world of publishing that librarians don’t usually have, which explains the article’s focus on trade publishing rather than the academic market. (I appreciate it a lot when academic librarians write about issues of interest to public librarians and try to do the same thing.) Barbara is also a frequent poster to the ACRL blog.
Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian, edited by Alison Lewis, has been out for a while. I was just taking a look at it, and it occurred to me that it might be a good thing to put Alison’s introduction to the book online, so I have done that. It’s a good, quick read for someone who wants an overview of some of the critical discourse around the ethic of neutrality in libraries over the past couple of decades.
There is a common assumption that trends should be identified quickly so that we can more quickly and more fully adapt to them, in order to stay competitively ahead-of-the-curve and relevant.
But trends are not all the same. Let me give you an analogy. I have heard of two primary policy themes in response to global warming, which is of course a major current trend. The first, and most common theme, is to reduce our own contribution to global warming as much as possible in order to slow it down or reverse it. This is the Global Warming Must Be Stopped! theme. The other major policy direction, which I have heard advocated only occasionally, is to accept global warming as an inevitable fact, even though we can understand our own contribution to it as a process, and plan to adapt our economies to it as it progresses. So in response to global warming there are people who say Resist! and people who say Adapt!, despite agreement on both sides that it is a process that we have thrown into motion ourselves as industrialized nations.
Other trends are like this, though the balance between the Resisters and the Adapters may be reversed, and the threat to us less acute and less easily understandable.
I point this out in order to counter any assumptions people might have that “trends” are different from “problems,” in that “trends” are good, or at least should be regarded simply as “what is,” while “problems” are bad. We ought to decide for ourselves, thoughtfully, what trends are problems and what trends are blessings, and what trends are, shall we say, mixed blessings.
Among current social trends it is possible to focus on certain aspects, and draw out patterns, relations, and consequences.
So, If we consider as trends:
- The increasingly rapid pace of life
- The shift away from print media towards more interactive, sensory-stimulating aural and visual media
- The tendency to share our lives online, by choice
- The loss of personal privacy, not by choice
- The decline in educational standards, at least in terms of traditionally-valued skills having to do with written texts
- The shift from individualized to collective thinking
- The new ubiquity of communication technology and the 24/7 connectedness that it brings
- The decline in literary reading as a pastime (as noted by the NEA a few years ago)
…then I think it is possible to find a broader, emergent trend that ties these trends together. That trend concerns the interior space of a person.
As we lose our privacy, as our lives speed up and fill with signals, and as we lose time set aside for contemplation, the interior space that belongs to each person is progressively being diminished: shrunk down, grayed out, eroded away, and rendered exterior surface by exposure to the social world.
Interior space is something that people can cultivate. It is cultivated through time spent in sustained, imaginative reading; time spent meditating for greater mindfulness or higher consciousness; time spent reflecting on a problem, on an idea, or on past events; or time spent in another way, as long as it involves a degree of solitude and freedom from external demands. What interior space requires for its maintenance is time, solitude, autonomy, quiet, and a freedom from external sources of stimulation.
Interior space is something that the value of which is by nature difficult to explain, since it cannot be imagined in order to be understood without possessing a share of it. Making it harder to explain is that it is not an object, and descriptions imply objects. Attention focused on an object tends to distract one from apprehending its context, and interior space is more of a context-a place or a way-than a thing, and therefore apprehended differently. The attractions of external stimulation and highly dynamic connection to others are attention-diverting, perhaps in an essential way, and distract us from sensing the space we occupy internally. The difficulty of explaining what interior space is makes it difficult to say what is at stake in its loss or potential recovery. I tend to believe that we will miss it and will put concerted effort into recreating it when it is gone. This is my hope.
We know with certainty, however, that libraries, in being quiet spaces with books, are natural allies of interior space. Few other places are socially-sanctioned as allies of interior space. Religious buildings (temples, churches, synagogues, mosques) and nature preserves are two that come to mind. Museums are arguably another, depending on how one thinks about art.
My point, obviously, is that we, as librarians, should not overlook the value of libraries in their traditional sense, and should not be so quick to treat every social trend as inevitable, unquestionably good, or something that we Resist at the peril of a final loss of relevance.
In terms of relevance, it seems to me that what is making us less relevant is our feverish attempt to duplicate what other people are already doing better: social media, pop culture, and dumbed-down information via the web. We don’t become more relevant by making our identity more vague, occupying others’ shadows. It seems to me that what gives us continuing relevance is that what we offer above all – the means for creating and maintaining interior space – is in increasingly short supply, and is even becoming rare. That is a source of, not a threat to, our relevance.
If people have lost interest in interior space, then we should consider that if in a few years they come around wanting to regenerate it (and things tend to come back around), it would be a bad thing if there were no quiet places with books available to help them do it. The more quickly things change, the more disoriented people become. If anything ought to serve as a source of continuity, as something to come back to, a point of reference and a site for recovery of the self, I think it should be libraries.
I will write about this later, but I will just note this for the moment: Wolfram Alpha is not just not ready for prime time. It is an intellectual travesty. The idea of jumping from concepts to numbers without any attention to how the numbers are produced and how they can or can’t be compared is simply anti-intellectual. It is incredibly irresponsible and a symptom of a disease, a disease of non-thought and non-reflection. If Wolfram Alpha became “better” to the point that it began to be relied upon for actual practical purposes, the result would be dangerous to society, culture, the environment, and the human soul. It is ironic that it’s coming out now, at a time when the financial system is in tatters because a similar breed of quantitative ideologues (bankers) played with numbers while ignoring the reality behind them. It led to disaster and it will lead to disaster again unless we can learn from it.
Wolfram Alpha is a big mistake from the start.
Compiler: Rory Litwin
Editor: Martin Wallace
Foreword: Michael Gorman
5.06″ by 7.81″
Published: May 2009
Speaking of Information: The Library Juice Quotation Book is a compilation of quotations originally collected for the “Quotes of the Week” section of Library Juice, an e-zine published by Rory Litwin between 1998 and 2005 that dealt with philosophical and political dimensions of librarianship.
Persons quoted include famous, not-so-famous, and infamous figures from classical to contemporary periods. Librarians are quoted, as well as intellectuals, politicians, novelists, scientists, celebrities, and other commentators. Some quotes are about libraries and librarians, others are about intellectual freedom, and others are about the information society from a philosophical perspective. A central thread tying these quotations together is the idea of the library as servant and protector of the public sphere. A rich collection easily dipped in and out of…
Library Juice Press and Litwin Books will be sharing a booth with the Alternative Press Center in the exhibits hall at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, July 9-14. We will be at booth number 1637. I hope you’ll drop by and say Hi.
On Saturday night, July 11th, from 7pm to 9pm, there will be a party/reception for Library Juice Press at Quimby’s Books. You’ll be able to mingle, buy books, buy coffee and baked goods from their cafe, etc. Quimby’s is a cool bookstore that specializes in zines and underground press semi-ephemera. They are located at 1854 W. North Avenue in Chicago. The phone number there is 773-342-0910.
Progressive Librarians Guild Calls for Elsevier to End Corrupt Publishing Practices and for Library Associations to Take Advocacy Role on Behalf of Scientific Integrity
Progressive Librarians Guild. May 12, 2009.
Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” was partner to the efforts of Merck & Co. to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide. (1)
The scandal involving Elsevier (2) has surfaced in the course of a class-action suit against pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co, Inc., for continuing to sell its anti-inflammatory drug, Vioxx, after it became aware of the drug’s potential cardiovascular risks. Merck paid Excerpta Medica, a division of Elsevier, to publish a compilation of reprinted articles as a fake journal, the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine (AJBJM), to appear as a legitimate, scholarly peer reviewed medical journal, the type that Elsevier publishes. AJBJM carried articles about Vioxx without disclosure that the publication was sponsored by Merck itself as part of its efforts to continue to promote its very profitable but increasingly questionable and dangerous anti-inflammatory. Elsevier, in publishing and distributing this bogus journal, was partner to the efforts of Merck to promote a hazardous drug that caused harm to the health of many unwitting victims and compromised the medical judgment of physicians worldwide.
Elsevier has apologized for its publication of AJBJM, stating that in publishing the fake journal it did not meet its own criteria for “high standards for disclosure.” PLG asserts that the matter of AJBJM was not just an accidental editorial error on the part of Elsevier. It was a money-making business using the reputation of Elsevier to leverage deceptive pharmaceutical industry marketing of a harmful product. In fact a total of six titles in a “series of sponsored article publications” were put out by their Australia office and bore the Excerpta Medica imprint from 2000 to 2005. (3).
The Progressive Librarians Guild believes it is the responsibility of librarians and their organizations to expose the conspiracy between Merck and Elsevier to distort medical research and subvert the peer review process. If it is not the responsibility of information professionals, what does it mean to say that we are advocates for our user-communities? This type of corporate PR packaged and distributed as scientific research must be denounced as deceptive, destructive and dangerous, in spite of our profession’s intimate and unavoidable connections with Elsevier, one of the library world’s biggest vendors and a major corporate supporter of the American Library Association and the Medical Library Association. Can librarians responsibly turn a blind eye to the company’s betrayal of the trust of those whose interests we help safeguard?
The American Library Association, specifically the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), must demand that Elsevier be transparent about its editorial policies and practices that corrupt the research process and the information environment. ALA and other library organizations, such as the Medical Library Association, must insist that Elsevier and its divisions reveal all covert corporate involvements in sponsored pseudo-scholarship, especially the role of MECCs (medical education and communication companies), which are paid to “ghostwrite” disingenuous articles. Elsevier must commit itself to ending such activity and must apply consistent standards of research integrity and transparency commensurate to the key role many of its fields of publication play in spheres affecting the public interest.
The Progressive Librarians Guild decries the distortion and abuse of research and science by corporate greed exemplified by Elsevier and Merck, and calls upon librarians to educate the public and researchers about all instances of collusion of academic and scholarly publishing with profit-making business entities in palming-off corporate propaganda through deceptive publishing practices, which debase scholarship and science, conspire against the public interest, and pollute the well of genuine scholarly information and communication.
(1) Bob Grant, “Merck published fake journal,” The Scientist 30th April 2009.
(2) *Elsevier, which describes itself as the “world’s leading publisher of scientific and health information,” is a division of Reed-Elsevier, a major global publisher of scientific, professional, and business journals (the parent company includes RBI-US which owns Library Journal, one of the foremost professional journals in the field of librarianship). Recently, the company’s involvement in the global arms trade as a major organizer of international arms fairs made it the target of a successful international corporate campaign – the firm reluctantly divested itself of the business – which called into question Elsevier’s corporate ethics. See “Reed Elsevier and the arms trade revisited.” By Pelly M, Gilmore I. Lancet. 2007 Mar 24; 369 (9566):987; discussion 989-90.
(3) Bob Grant, “Elsevier Published 6 Fake Journals.” The Scientist, May 7, 2009.
John Buschman sent a link out this morning to this article by Chris Dede in the current EDUCAUSE Review, “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology. The article examines the deep changes in the meaning of knowledge in the academy and elsewhere that are being effected by new technologies, with a focus on Wikipedia and other Web 2.0 applications. It’s a brief article, but I think Dede does a good job of clarifying what is going on, and manages to be more critical than EDUCAUSE authors are normally able to be (although he is not a knee-jerk “classicalist”).
Dede notes that at present, “the response of most educators is to ignore or dismiss this epistemological clash.” I think that’s somewhat true, but it’s partly because educators have so little time these days to reflect on the way that they teach and the way their curricula are structured (an important part of the problem). I like seeing things like this and I hope to see more thinking along these lines – further development of insights and clarification of problems and opportunities.
Peter Suber is covering the Elsevier scandal on his Open Access News blog, and reports that the STM publisher has now admitted to publishing six fake journals out of their Australia office, without the proper disclosures of advertising for drug companies, etc. I am curious to see whether library associations, which receive large donations from Elsevier, will say anything about it.
For Goodreads users there is now a Goodreads Group for Library Juice Press and Litwin Books. If someone out there would be interested in helping make the group lively, let me know and we can cooperate.
A co-worker of mine shared this video with me, done by somebody she knows at the library at Indiana University. I think it is great, creates such a sunny feeling about their library’s services, and gets the important things across. I am going to talk my co-worker into copying Carrie Donovan so that we can have a video like this for our library. That’s a pretty great smile though, wouldn’t be easy for most people to do.
This is really outrageous if true and ought to lead to some serious consequences for Elsevier. An online magazine called The Scientist has reported that Elsevier published a two-off fake journal with reprinted and summarized articles that presented data favorable to Merck products. And that’s all that was in these journals. They were made to look like Elsevier’s peer-reviewed, indexed scientific journals, but were neither.
(Note: the link above goes to a blogged version of the article that bypasses the requirement to register on the website.)
MIT has posted podcasts from the five plenary sessions at Media in Transition 6, at the Comparative Media Studies program’s podcast page. The plenary sessions were on “Archives and History,” “New Media, Civic Media,” “Institutional Perspectives on Storage,” “The Future of Publishing,” and “Summary Perspectives.” I think these plenary sessions were the best part of the conference. Glad they’re posted.
New from Litwin Books
Author: Chaim Leib Weinberg
Translator: Naomi Cohen
Editor: Robert Helms
Published: May 2009
Printed on acid-free paper
This story, told by one colorful figure among the anarchists of Philadelphia, does not tell the entire story of the city’s movement, nor does one man’s experience with anarchism present the long and dramatic saga of the idea and its believers. The memoirs of Chaim Leib Weinberg offer an interesting sliver of a larger picture, holding to an exclusively working class, folkloric niche. The author was an incredible orator and story teller: these were the talents that set him apart from most of his contemporaries. Because he devoted half a century to practicing his oral craft, he left a clear mark on the radical culture he lived within.