September 29, 2009

Strike at University of Western Ontario Libraries

Press release:

London, ON Unionized librarians and archivists at the University of Western Ontario have voted overwhelmingly to support strike action to back their bargaining goals of fair evaluations, job security and equitable salaries and benefits.

A total of 88% of UWOFA-LA members voted in favour of authorizing their union to call a strike. The ballots were cast over two days, September 25 and 28. Librarians and Archivists have been without a contract since July 1, 2009.

“This vote demonstrates the determination of our members to ensure a fair and equitable settlement,” said Regna Darnell, UWOFA president. “The work of librarians and archivists is at the heart of university life, and should be recognized as such.”

Conciliation to help advance contract negotiations began Thursday September 24. Further meetings with conciliator John Quinn are scheduled through to the end of October. UWOFA-LA members will not be in a legal strike position until a no-board report has been requested and sixteen days have passed after its receipt by the Minister of Labour.

“Our negotiating team is committed to use the scheduled meetings to achieve a fair deal,” said Darnell.

The 55 Librarians and Archivists at Western rank 91st out of 113 research libraries in North America when it comes to salaries and benefits.

For further information:

Regna Darnell, UWOFA President (519-661-3016)

September 28, 2009

John Miedema to speak in Washington, DC

John Miedema, author of Slow Reading, will be speaking at a forum on the Future of Reading at the Library of Congress, on October 22nd. The forum is sponsored by the Library of Congress’ Federal Library and Information Center Committee (FLICC).

September 24, 2009

Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009)

This is not library-related, but I would like to pass on a link to an article on the career of the late Polish intellectual Leszek Kolakowski by Tony Judt, in the New York Review of Books. I read a book of his in college (titled, simply, Religion) that influenced my thinking. I admired Kolakowski for his independence and depth when I read the book, and I appreciate Tony Judt’s article.

September 22, 2009

Library Juice Press and Peer Review

Up to now there has been no peer-review process for books considered for publication by Library Juice Press and Litwin Books. That is changing as of now. Manuscripts that are presently in progress will be sent out to reviewers after they have been submitted to us. (The exceptions will be the titles that are not intended for a scholarly or professional audience, which we may publish from time to time.) Reviewers will be selected for their expertise in the subject matter of the book. Authors will be sent reviewers’ comments for guidance in revision.

So, if you are an author who is considering sending something to us and wondering about how it will be considered on your CV, you can be prepared to tell your committee that your book went through a peer review process before publication.

This may, in some cases, actually prevent us from publishing something that we would have published otherwise. We are already on the critical side as acquisitions editors, however, so we don’t expect it to have a huge impact on us.

The menace of the public (library) option

This is a cute piece from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Menace of the Public Option” (Public Library Option that is.)

I am enjoying the the way people are making fun of the rabid anti-Obama crowd in the healthcare debate by pointing out that such mom and apple pie institutions as libraries and fire departments are also gasp socialist. The thing that I think gets lost is that yes, in fact, these are socialist institutions, so let’s not be afraid of socialism per se either. Let’s approach policy questions with a practical attitude that leaves the door open to whatever solutions are best, whether they be public or private or some clever combination that’s designed to get the best out of centralization and sharing as well as individual motivations.

September 21, 2009

A.Word.A.Day this week

Anu Garg’s “A Word A Day” newsletter is the greatest thing in the world right now for (English) word lovers. He sends out an email each weekday that is all about a word. Each week his words are linked by some theme or characteristic. This week he is honoring Banned Books Weed with words about censorship and book banning, starting with “comstockery.”

Good stuff.

September 20, 2009

Send us your graphic design portfolio

We’re in need of freelance book cover designers. Just getting started? No problem. That has worked well for us in the past.

See our past covers here.

Send a link to your portfolio to us at inquiries@litwinbooks.com.

September 19, 2009

Free speech in the workplace

Just want to alert you to this article by John Buschman in Academe, the magazine of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors): “Who Defends Intellectual Freedom for Librarians? The ALA should defend librarians as the AAUP defends faculty members.”

September 17, 2009

Philadelphia library to stay open

The Pennsylvania legislature has passed a bill that funds the Philadelphia Free Library to stay open. News on their blog.

I’m glad but frankly still really disturbed by the whole thing.

September 13, 2009

“Verbiage,” “Intuitiveness,” respect for language, respect for users

“Verbiage” is a derisive word describing prose that uses many words to say not a lot, or more particularly, prose that uses words carelessly, to create impressions without attending to what the words actually mean in a specific sense. For techies, “verbiage” is stuff that English majors add later for the benefit of end users, but doesn’t really matter very much. Verbiage is intended to sound good without taking care to convey clear meanings. Insofar as verbiage reflects a lack of care in the choice of words it represents laziness and a disrespect for language. In the way it shows an intention of “sounding good” and creating impressions it reflects a mass-media culture dominated by advertising. It is wording that “has to be there” but isn’t worth paying attention to.

So I break my pencil (if I used a pencil at work) every time I am in a meeting and a co-worker says, “Ok, so Annette will take care of the verbiage on that page.” I don’t know if you hear this in your workplace, but I hear it in mine a lot. There are people in libraries who use the word “verbiage” to refer to anything we write to communicate with our users in a textual way. Shouldn’t we have more respect for our users? (Our readers?)

Libraries, of all places.

I think the decline of respect for language is tied to the rise of non-print media, as well as the rise of the culture of BS that Harry Frankfurter so insightfully talked about in On Bullshit.

Words come into fashion and are used as mild doublespeak, in a process of mass self-deception. Take “intuitiveness” as the name of the desired quality of Google-like user interfaces. What “intuitive” should mean if it describes a user interface is that the interface clearly communicates the underlying functionality to the user so that the user doesn’t have to read manuals to understand what the software or database’s functionalities are and how to employ them. The way the word tends to be used most often, though, is to describe interfaces that are made less confusing by reducing the functionalities that are available to users, often with the addition of an AI-based search engine in the background whose functionalities are opaque and not possible to control directly or with any precision. Used in this way, the word “intuitive” is deceptive, because the user actually understands less of what is going on under the hood than before, and is less able to control the search. The user becomes dependent on the intelligence of the search engine to give him useful results. If it works as intended, the search engine itself might be “intuitive” if it accurately understands the average user’s desires, but its interface is unintuitive relative to an interface that provides greater control of the underlying functionality. Furthermore, its “intuition” is based on assumptions about users based on averages, which works for some but not others.

A question I am interested in asking more and more is about where control is shifting and how it is shifting. It is generally viewed as technical progress when we develop better AI for interfaces between people and systems, but if the result is a loss of control for users, is this really user centered? Where is the respect for users? And if the respect isn’t going to the users, where is it going? And where is the control going?

September 12, 2009

Philadelphia Free Libraries – Closing All Branches

Philadelphia has announced that they are closing all branches of the Philadelphia Free Library. I thought it must be some kind of a prank when I first read the news, because of the massiveness of the closure – all branches, not just reduced hours, not just some locations. Cities, counties, and states are in such huge trouble from the financial crisis, despite the tentative recovery, that Philadelphia’s closure will probably be the first of quite a few big closures.

It’s a disaster that may end up being a sad turning point in American library history, I am afraid.

September 10, 2009

Four books coming soon

These four books are in progress and coming along quickly:

The Stories I Read to the Children: The Life and Writing of Pura Belpré, the Legendary Storyteller, Children’s Author, and New York Public Librarian, edited by Lisa Sánchez González.

The Politics of Professionalism: A Retro-Progressive Proposal for Librarianship, by Juris Dilevko

Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, edited by Emily Drabinski, Alana Kumbier, and Maria Accardi

Rebel Literacy: Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign and Critical Global Citizenship, by Mark Abendroth

September 8, 2009

Privacy smoke-and-mirrors

Something to notice when Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking sites address concerns about privacy is the way they focus on users’ ability to control other users’ access to their information, but neglect to mention their own use of that information. When they enable users to set up different levels of access to parts of profiles and sets of photos for different groups of friends, categories of users, and the like, this is supposed to mean that they are progressive in terms of privacy issues, and that we should view them as our friends and see them as concerned about our interest in privacy.

It reminds me of something I overheard when I was temping at a software company in the Silicon Valley during library school. I was in the marketing department of a major software company that had just started adding a web services component to their main product. One of their tasks as marketing people was to make their customers feel secure about the privacy of their data (financial data). The inside joke was, “Oh, don’t worry! We will keep your private data safe; we won’t share it with anyone!” The joke being that they had a lot of uses for it themselves, but didn’t exactly want to highlight it. They laughed about this.

So if Facebook eventually allows users to set up concentric circles of friends with different privacy settings for each circle, remember that Facebook (meaning Facebook employees and perhaps key investors) is everyone’s most intimate confidante, and is open about “monetizing” user’s information, but not about how they go about doing it. (We don’t get to know any of its secrets – it’s not a reciprocal “friendship.”)

I would say that it’s worth pointing out this smoke-and-mirrors game whenever there is new PR from social networking companies about their privacy features….

September 6, 2009

Education 2.0 for Visual Learners

Death of a thousand paper cuts

Two recent articles in the mainstream press are telling us that paper books and physical libraries are dead (Boston Globe and CNN.com). One of the easiest things to forget about the death of the book is for how many years it has been declared. A few quotations from past decades, from authors who were responding to the idea of the death of the book, the first from a 1955 article by Lester Asheim:

Each paper [in a conference on the future of the book at the Graduate Library School] attempts … to look with equal objectivity at the book and the nonbook against the kind of society which, in the immediate future, will form the audience for communication of all kinds. The strong and weak points of the several devices, books included, are evaluated, and there is no underlying assumption that the book has less to offer than the other devices or that it is too inflexible to meet the emerging challenge and is therefore foredoomed. The death of the book is more likely to be hastened by those who adamantly insist on retaining, for twentieth-century purposes, the nineteen-century form of the book than it is by those who are willing to examine that form for inadequacies that can be corrected.

– Lester Asheim, “Introduction: New Problems in Plotting the Future of the Book.” Library Quarterly 25 no. 4 (Oct., 1955), pp. 281-292.

That October, 1955 issue of Library Quarterly (which I would love to publish as a monograph) was a collection of conference papers on the future of the book (also called the death of the book). The idea of the death of the book was an immediately understood implication of automation, cybernetics, information science, computing – that new area of technology that burst forth after World War II. The “communications revolution” is something that has been in progress longer than most of us have been alive.

A decade later, America was dealing with Sputnik. We made big investments in the educational sphere, especially the sciences but also the humanities, and ideas about technology in education were hotly circulated. Look at this excerpt from an article in a 1966 issue of College English:

Now, after making this plea for the gadgetry of teaching, let me turn about and say that if we allow this revolution in education to give us nothing more for the teaching of literature than an arsenal of machinery and curricular gimmicks, then we will have merited the scorn of our day and succeeding days. I understand that teachers have a long way to go in combing the gimmickry out of the new math and the new sciences.

There is one teaching aid, a visual aid, which I want to single out from the others and recommend – not one of the newest, it’s true, but one that has proved helpful for some time. I mean the book. Prompted by the Congressional hearings on the new copyright law being drafted over the last two years, textbook publishers have sent out letters declaring their doubts about the future of the book. And while lamenting the impending death of the book, they seem to conclude that it is the teacher who will be guilty of librocide. They seem to fear that books are going out of use – that the literary works in our courses will reach the students by means of photocopy or film projection or recorded voices, or perhaps by a type of osmosis or – who knows? – by the electronic transfer of literary essences to the reader, the patient, without the use of language.

Fascinating as some of these possibilities are, I still have faith in books, and I intend to keep using them in my teaching…

-Arlin Turner, “Literature and the Student in the Space Age.” College English, Vol. 27, No. 7 (Apr., 1966), pp. 519-522

These are pre-internet writings, of course. The technology revolution of today is not the technology revolution of yesterday. But without looking at the way these discourses got going it’s easy to miss how much of what is said now is a repetition of things that were said 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

For example, have a close read of this abstract to an article from the October, 1971 issue of Library Quarterly, “Books and Marshall McLuhan,” by Sam Neill:

Marshall McLuhan, who has gained a reputation as an enemy of books because he has called them obsolete while concentrating his analysis of communication media of the electric variety, is, in fact, a man of the book as much as any librarian; although librarians have tended to ignore him, considering him to have no relevance for their “science.” This is to their detriment. Not only is the format of his books of interest, as a mirror of his message, but there is also evidence that his purpose is and has been from the beginning to find the peculiar qualities of print and books which make them necessary to man. He finds these qualities not in the content but in the form; qualities which provide a sensory balance of objectivity and perspective as opposed to the field perceptivity of television. In tracing the evidence of McLuhan’s concern for the future of the book, we can see him as one who has, perhaps, a greater perception of the value of books and libraries, for civilization, than many librarians.
– Sam Neill, “Books and Marshall McLuhan.” The Library Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct., 1971), pp. 311-319.

If you know me, you know I think that the ideas discussed in that article are still very relevant. However, coming up with that view is easy, because someone with an interest in media would have trouble avoiding those ideas. It’s tougher to see what needs to be said in 2009 that has not been said yet.

The authors of those articles in the Boston Globe and CNN.com seem rather typical of writers in the popular press who have been talking about the death of books and libraries for decades, in that they don’t seem particularly oriented to either to begin with. Unfortunately, I think this would be an accurate description of many of the people who hold the purse strings of libraries, the administrators at the city, county, and university level. They represent a type that has always been with us. Their confidence may serve as a bellweather, but I wouldn’t look to them for new insights.

I would say, let library users and book readers tell us when libraries and books are dead. If their numbers are diminishing, this is a problem, but does not imply an immediate need to broaden our scope to encompass more and more sensory-stimulating crap that people prefer over books. The result of that strategy would only be that the library would cease to represent reason, thought, and genuine learning for empowerment and development. The more people in general turn away from books, the more important it becomes for us to preserve culture and to maintain a space that facilitates real learning, for if we don’t preserve that possibility for society, it is set to disappear.