February 21, 2010

Podcast of Alberta Talk: Disintermediation 2.0

The talk I gave in Alberta on February 5th was recorded. The recording is now on the web in mp3 form. Toni Samek’s introduction feels a bit grand, but the real me will be on the mic shortly. The recording itself came out all right. Not all of the audience questions are audible, but as a whole I think it works well enough to post:

February 20, 2010

Quick note on taxonomic transparency

Notice that I am not using the word “ontology.” I’ll get into why later, but if you’ve read any Heidegger you can guess…

Hope Olson, Sandy Berman, and many others who have done work based on theirs, have shown how classification systems tend not to represent all users well. Hope Olson has described the problem in terms of its philosophic roots by deconstructing classification systems using methods that come from Derrida. I think it is clear and very interesting the way classification systems reflect positivistic assumptions about reality that lead to a presumed “view from nowhere” that reflects the dominant culture. I’m glad that there is a lot of work being done in this area right now, and especially the way people are tying these ideas to new topics like folksonomies and contemporary identity issues.

However, I can’t help thinking that an unjust “official” classification system is not a big problem as long as it is transparent to the user. Let’s say I’m deviant in some way, and I want to find information that is relevant to me using institutions that are connected to the Library of Congress through its standards. Am I really going to expect the Library of Congress to be hip to my understanding of things? No, I am not going to expect that. I am going to do what I am accustomed to doing as a deviant person, which is my choice anyway: I am going to translate the official language, in which I am fluent, into my own deviant street language. That kind of translation skill is part of daily life for anyone who negotiates between formal and informal contexts, streets and offices, subcultures and dominant cultures. The official classification system may reinforce a sense of alienation, but as long as it is transparent to the user, I would not agree that it presents a barrier to access. The cognitive skills involved in making use of an imperfect classification system are very interesting to me (whether we’re talking about reference librarians or end users).

The next plateau of information technology, which we are beginning to reach, is, as I see it, presenting a new problem concerning these issues. Simplified interfaces with artificial intelligence under the hood are “freeing” the user from having to understand either the mechanism of the search or the underlying organizational system, but one thing that this means is a loss of transparency. The user is expected to trust the virtual helper to understand his or her information needs, and it is likely that this virtual helper is going to make assumptions about the user and the context that stem from the assumptions that are embedded into the official classification structure. Without access to the official vocabulary or the mechanism of the search, the user is less able to adapt the tool to his or her needs. Without access to the original text, the user doesn’t have the opportunity to do a translation…

February 19, 2010

Review of Rebel Literacy in Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change has posted a review of Mark Abendroth’s Rebel Literacy: Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign and Critical Global Citizenship.

February 16, 2010

Library Student Journal – CFP


Library Student Journal (LSJ) is an international, peer-reviewed, open access journal. Library Student Journal seeks to publish the best student papers from Library and Information Science (LIS) students worldwide and to serve as a forum for discussion of LIS education and training, career paths and future trends. Submissions may cover a wide range of topics, but should always relate to and advance the discussion of LIS topics.. LSJ is now accepting manuscripts submitted to the following sections of the journal:

Peer-reviewed scholarly papers based on original research or literature surveys that advance the subject with original ideas. Articles explore the topic in greater depth than Essays and add original ideas to the existing literature.

Papers of an informational or personal nature. Essays are reviewed by the editors alone. An Essay is less formal in tone than an Article and may, among other things: share personal experience in the LIS field, give an overview of an LIS issue of interest, be a work of fiction, and/or be lighthearted or humorous.

Unsolicited reviews of books currently being used in an LIS course, recently published LIS books, or websites of interest to LIS students; also, solicited reviews of newly published and forthcoming LIS books. See the Reviewer Guidelines below for more details and see the volunteer page for information on applying to be a book reviewer.

Opinion pieces on a topic of current concern to the LIS field. Editorials may be solicited or unsolicited.

Please refer to the submission guidelines before submitting; improperly submitted manuscripts may be returned without consideration.

Miriam Sweeney
Editor in Chief
Library Student Journal

February 10, 2010

Scarecrow Press History

As a small publisher in the library field I take inspiration from the history of Scarecrow Press, which I first learned about in Ken Kister’s biography of Eric Moon (Eric Moon: The Life and Library Times, McFarland Publishers, 2002). I’ve just dug up a 1985 article about the history of Scarecrow Press, written by Moon (who joined the press as its President when it was bought by Grolier) and published in Libraries Unlimited’s Library Science Annual. I am sharing an excerpt here so that you will understand why I feel that Library Juice Press is part of a tradition, and to share a bit of information about a hero of mine in library history.

The Scarecrow Press crept quietly onto the publishing scene over three decades ago [article copyright 1985 -RL], its first book emerging in 1950 from the basement of the founder’s home. That first book, appropriately, was Hessel’s History of Libraries, translated by Reuben Peiss. It was appropriate because the founder and first president of the Press was himself a major figure in the history of libraries: Ralph R. Shaw, a brilliant, contentious dynamo of a man, “a sometimes iconoclast,” and an original thinker who left his imprint on libraries, library education and theory, the profession, and publishing so indelibly that there are few, before or since, who could be said to have matched his contributions.

Shaw started Scarecrow as a hobby, but also, as was the case with many of his ventures, to prove a point. One only had to describe something as impossible to launch Shaw into action. In an RQ article in 1966 he said: “If there is a single thing upon which the publishing fraternity is in agreement it is that the scholarly book of limited distribution cannot be published without subsidy.” Scarecrow was his way of proving, once again, that the impossible could be accomplished.

Robert C. Binkley, in what Shaw considered a classic work, had concluded, “… under present publishing practices … no book can be expected to get the publisher out of the red until sales have passed well beyond the 1,000 mark.” (And this judgment was made during the depths of the Depression!) The essence of Binkley’s argument was that there are certain fixed coasts – editorial, composition, overhead, etc. – that do not vary with the size of the edition, and that these costs must be distributed over the total number of copies sold. If a book sells 50,000 copies, the fixed costs are spread so widely as to be negligible; if the edition sells 250 copies, the part of the fixed costs that must be charged against each copy becomes prohibitive.

Shaw set out to attack what he called the “villain of the piece”: those fixed costs. Before his first book was published he was talking one day with his friend and colleague, author-editor Earl Schenk Miers, who had been associated with the Rutgers University Press. Describing his new venture, Shaw detailed how he intended to avoid “excessive office costs, excessive editorial costs, general trade advertising and the building up of staff, which would then continue to have to be supported.” Miers broke in, “You’re talking about a scarecrow: it has no overhead, it pays no rent, it is not responsible for anybody’s future clothing or shelter. It’s a scarecrow.” And thus was Shaw’s new baby christened.

February 7, 2010

Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget

Jaron Lanier has a new book, You Are Not a Gadget (NY Times review), which I have to add to my reading list and bump up a few notches. There is an excerpt from it in the February issue of Harper’s: “The Serfdom of Crowds.” He’s writing along the lines of some of what I have been blogging about here, but from the perspective of an early tech industry insider. Also, he is an amazingly writerly writer for someone with his background…

February 5, 2010

Slides: Disintermediation 2.0: Librarians and Systems

Slides to go along with my talk at the University of Alberta in Edmonton this morning…

February 2, 2010

Phil Agre found

Phil Agre, the UCLA LIS professor who went missing last year, has been found, though I suppose that from his perspective he was never lost. UCLA police department’s missing person’s bulletin update states, “Philip Agre was located by LA County Sheriff’s Department on January 16, 2010 and is in good health and is self sufficient.” I feel like taking my hat of to Dr. Agre for successfully taking time out from society, but without knowing the whole story I don’t feel that I can do that…

2010 Amelia Bloomer List

The Amelia Bloomer List is for the “best feminist books for young readers” published each year. This year’s list has just been announced.