October 30, 2010

Americans largely mistaken about Obama’s record… librarians included?

I don’t read a lot of blogs so I don’t know, but I would guess this story is being blogged like crazy: Yesterday the Washington Post reported a Bloomberg National Poll: “Poll shows Americans don’t know economy expanded with tax cuts.” The story starts:

The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks and has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters.

Most voters don’t believe it.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered.

Obviously, a librarian blogger has to say, “This is an example of why it is important to teach information literacy.”

I want to ask the question, though, if those polled got the facts wrong by a two-to-one margin, isn’t it likely that among those who have it wrong there are a lot of librarians, who presumably should know better? I am just wondering, how many librarians incorrectly believe, along with two out of every three other Americans, that during the Obama Presidency taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered? How qualified are the majority of us to teach the principles of information literacy that we so value?

October 28, 2010

Institutions are switching to Gmail, but are they discussing the fine print?

Many large institutions, such as universities, are beginning to contract their email services out to Google. At the university where I work, we are in the process of switching our accounts over to Google now. All of our students, faculty, and staff will access their university email accounts through a Google interface. In order to do the switchover, which is required of us by the institution, we each individually have to accept Google’s fine print terms of use, which include the following:

Google reserves the right, but shall have no obligation, to pre-screen, flag, filter, refuse, modify or move any Content available via Google services.

The context of that statement has to do with obscene materials, but the statement itself does not limit Google to filtering for any particular stated reasons, and shows that there is no provision for a review of a user’s claim that material that might be deemed obscene by some people was necessary to their work.

It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act or other applicable law and to terminating the accounts of repeat infringers.

Note that in the above, all that is required for Google to take action is that a person be accused of infringement (presumably by corporate lawyers) and then to refuse to comply with an order that they may not agree is legitimate. No determination of an actual infringement seems to be required, just an accusation.

The privacy terms are not bad. However, there is this:

You agree that Google may provide you with notices, including those regarding changes to the Terms, by email, regular mail, or postings on Google services.

They are free to change their privacy policies at any time.

Google is offering a great deal to institutions in terms of the cost of the service they are provided, as compared to competing providers of email service. However, I’m not sure that institutions account for the non-monetary cost that makes up the difference, which is Google’s opportunity to present users with advertisements. (As a cost, it is paid by employees rather than by the institution.) At our institution, as far as I know, there has been no discussion of the fact that now that we will be using Gmail for our email, we will all be presented with commercial advertising in the context of our relationship to the university as employees or students.

[Note in response to first comment: Google is writing “no ad” contracts with institutions. However, the fine print in the terms of use still requires users to agree to be shown ads.]

I find all of this problematic. But nothing beats Google these days.

October 26, 2010

Beyond Article 19: Libraries and Social and Cultural Rights

Beyond Article 19: Libraries and Social and Cultural Rights

Editors: Julie Biando Edwards and Stephan P. Edwards
Price: $28.00
Published: October 2010
ISBN: 978-1-936117-19-2
Printed on acid-free paper

Beyond Article 19: Libraries and Social and Cultural Rights addresses the subject of libraries and cultural rights, a topic that has received relatively little attention in the past, but which librarians and others concerned with human rights are beginning to recognize and talk about. Librarians have long been concerned with individual rights and have worked tirelessly – indeed making it a basic tenet of the profession – to protect and preserve those rights. Little has been written about the role that libraries can play in protecting and promoting group rights, specifically cultural rights. This book will examine this shortfall by exploring the relationship between libraries, cultural rights, and community life and identity. Taking both a theoretical and practical approach to the issue, this book will argue that libraries play a significant role in protecting, promoting, and even symbolizing not only the rights of the individual, but also the rights of the community. This collection of essays will clarify these issues, underscore their importance and significance, and lay the groundwork for further inquiry.

October 25, 2010

The underlying reason that the American Right will always be irrational, and a couple of ideas as to why the problem is presently so acute

As the more civic-minded among us have observed, the American Right has mostly rejected rational discourse in favor of strategic communication. There is a reason for it that has to do with more than a calculation of what will be most effective, or a fear that rational discourse will “prove them wrong,” though that is a risk for them. The reason lies in a conflict between conservatism (which I am not going to say is a bad thing altogether) and the original formation of the United States as an experiment in liberal Enlightenment ideas that had never been tried before, paired with the related development of the growth of an economic system that finally overturned all traditional values: capitalism.

By definition, conservatives are suspicious of political changes that threaten to destabilize the world as they have known it, and are often pushing to bring things “back to the way they were,” to go “back to basics,” restore things to “the way God intended them,” to save society from the arrogance, folly, and hubris of liberal humanists who believe that we have the ability to reshape things to the benefit of humankind, according to human values rather than divine ones. Conservatives tend to believe that attempts to change things deeply will only result in problems, because at root the nature of things is unchangeable (owing to God). The tendency has historically led to support for authority, strong leaders, and strong states as the forces that can promise a “return to stability.”

But, frustratingly enough for conservatives, and as Heraclitus wrote in the 5th century BC, “the only thing constant is change.” The problem for conservatives in power has always been in how to construct a reliable past that can serve as a touchstone and source of energy in opposition to those who attempt to modify the social order. Over the centuries, that problem has been solved in literature and art that put forth new founding myths and told new stories about the past (as well as through the destruction of the literature and art that carried the older ones). No great new order has been innocent of that kind of mythmaking and myth destruction. But creative falsification of the past is not as easy to accomplish in the modern world, built as it is on an epistemology of objectivity and the practical application of documented facts, which tend to hang around in a society built on a framework of documentation.

But in the United States, I would like to say, the problems conservatives face in constructing a traditional past are special, because the origins of our nation themselves imply that there is nothing traditional to go back to. Conservatives have understandable difficulty in acknowledging that the United States represents the triumph of liberal humanists who accomplished something unprecedented, bold, and liberal: the creation of a new country founded in Enlightenment ideas and the rejection of monarchy. As Charles Francis Adams wrote, “The American experiment is the most tremendous and far reaching engine of social change which has ever either blessed or cursed mankind.” What American conservatives call “traditional values” tend to be an awkward mix of social structures and practices that were the product of the industrial revolution (e.g. “traditional marriage” as we know it) and Enlightenment humanist values that trace back to the Age of Reason (i.e. individualism, capitalism), animated by religious self-certainty and fear. (If you want to look for real American traditional values that are actually consistent and coherent, by the way, look for them in Native American spirituality.)

Some conservative intellectuals try to piece together a concept of “republicanism” that conflates Republican Party values with historically recurring efforts at self-government in the form of a republic, but they ignore the fact that the republican form of government has always been tied to liberal Enlightenment phases in culture, whose political manifestation was to kick out the monarchs and overturn tradition in favor of an experimental system based on rational discourse among a civic public. The First Republic of France and the United States of America are perfect examples. The fact that there were earlier republics does not change the fact that those republics were tied to Enlightenment cultural phases, i.e., were liberal. “Republicanism” when it is intended to invoke both conservatism as we think of it in America today and the historically recurring creation of republican governments is simply an incoherent concept.

The ideas that motivate American conservatives do not cohere well in rational terms (especially as they move rightward along the spectrum), but because they carry the emotional charge of ‘absolute truth,’ ‘that which is beyond question,’ and self-evidency to anyone who fears God, they generate the kind of certainty and motivation that comes from spiritual devotion. Therefore, American conservatism can make questions of policy as difficult to discuss rationally as questions of religion.

But why does it seem so difficult to engage the right in rational discourse in these times as opposed to other times? The problem I am describing is as old as the nation, so what is happening right now that seems to be bringing this problem to the foreground? I think the answer is simply that social change has become more rapid recently, and perhaps also because some unintended consequences, not to mention failures, of late 20th century efforts at progress have begun to be realized distinctly. The difficult reality that there is no stable or legitimately desirable past to go back to only makes the problem of irrationality, emotion, and confusion in discourse more intense, as those who desperately need such a past are unable to find one that can be grounded in the kind of facts that can serve as fixed elements in a rational discussion. The result are spectacles like popular candidates for public office who angrily defend the Constitution against liberal ‘assault’ one minute and the next minute display a shocking lack of knowledge of what the Constitution actually says, and then argue that the Constitution should be changed to more purely represent traditional American values. Some on the right are calling for theocracy, claiming that it would be a fulfillment of the founders’ intentions. It is an acute problem, even if its roots are in the nature of the United States’ origins themselves.

I can think of a second reason that the problem I have described seems particularly acute, and that is the apparent failure of the Obama administration to turn things around as many had hoped. President Obama was elected on the hope that rational policy experts who are smarter than the average Joe (and had a sophisticated understanding of things that was superior to common sense) were what the country needed in a time of multiple and overwhelming perils. The Obama administration has so far failed to bring the country back to the impossible level stability and prosperity of the Great Moderation. That, I am afraid, has turned out to be the country’s unrealistic measure of the Administration’s success. Now that the President, whose election right wing conservatives dreaded, has “failed” (despite his administration’s probably saving the economy from something much worse than we have experienced), Republicans who can claim to have gone along with liberal certainties about race and good government for years feel confident in calling for white conservatives to “take our country back.” Or, as Christine O’Donnell put it, “We’re not taking our country back; We ARE our country!”

I am hoping not. I am hoping that this country’s roots in the Enlightenment are secure enough that Americans will remember that liberalism is our own deepest tradition, that the Right will lose its credibility in its claim to being ‘more American than thou,’ as people remember that America’s traditional value above all others is to break with tradition and to self-govern with rational intent.

October 22, 2010

McAfee Site Advisor Red-Flagging Ebscohost

McAfee Site Advisor is red-flagging ebsco.com and ebscohost.com. Something to do with detecting malware. Does anybody know what that is about? Ebsco’s response so far is that they are “working to resolve it.” No explanation forthcoming and no denial. I’m concerned and wondering what they are putting onto our computers, however it ends up being classified.

October 20, 2010

Christine O’Donnell is just what I’ve been talking about

Recently I have rubbed some people the wrong way by speaking frankly about the problem of ignorance in civic life and people’s lack of concern and lack of shame regarding it. I argued that we should not be trying to increase voter turnout when Americans feel so little responsibility in the way of self-education on the issues. It’s sad enough that so many ignorant people exercise their right to vote, seemingly without recognizing that with the right to vote comes a responsibility to study, learn, and think. But when a major candidate for public office fails to live up to that same responsibility, and shows the same blithe lack of shame and lack of concern, and is popular with voters, it’s heartbreaking. It is hard to believe in democracy in these times.

Here is a link to a brief item about Christine O’Donnell’s performance in a debate at the Widener Law School, during which she expressed incredulity at her opponent’s statement that the separation of Church and State comes from the First Amendment of the Constitution. A video of the debate is embedded in the article.

These are the same people who said critics of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United case were “attacking the Constitution.”

Why can’t the media acknowledge the “knowledge gap” in politics? Why the perpetual pretense of “differing yet equally valid views” on the issues?

Library, Inc. (Chronicle Review)

Library, Inc., by David Goldstein, in the new Chronicle Review, begins:

From industry-backed research to CEO-style executive salaries and perquisites, the influence of corporate America on universities has been the subject of much popular and scholarly scrutiny. University libraries have largely escaped that attention. Yet libraries, the intellectual heart of universities, have become perhaps the most commercialized academic area within universities, with troubling implications for the future of higher education. …[More].

October 19, 2010

The art of old school (mid 20th century) printing technology

Lincoln Cushing wrote this cool article on old school (mid-20th century) printing technology: Cranking It Out, Old-School Style: Art of the Gestetner”. Lincoln is a librarian who had a previous career doing printing and graphic design for community groups.

Every society has its pecking order, and printing is no exception. Equipment matters. At the top of the heap are the big presses—the giant Goss web machines that churn out daily newspapers, the high-speed Solna sheetfeds for beautiful color posters, the elegant Heidelberg Windmill letterpresses for art prints. At the bottom are the lowly duplicators—not even called presses—that are the Volkswagen Bugs of the reproduction world. People of a certain age might remember the two offset workhorses of this stratum, the A.B. Dick 360 and the Multilith 1250. But even below these machines, at the very dark recesses of the reproduction food chain, lie the spirit duplicators and mimeographs… [more]

Undergraduates and the crisis of cognitive authority

I just read and enjoyed this paper by MaryBeth Meszaros, “Who’s In Charge Here? Authority, Authoritativeness, and the Undergraduate Researcher,” in Communications in Information Literacy, vol 4, no. 1 (2010). It paints a more pessimistic picture of GenY students than we usually see. I wonder how GenY optimists would respond to her argument. I tend to agree with her and think she has pointed out a real problem, although I don’t know the extent to which it is truly pervasive. I think a geniune GenY optimist should respond by pointing out that her observations can be looked at from the perspective of the “new epistemology,” where intellectual authority is just something we don’t need to worry about, part of the old paradigm. Fine. But how many who hold that view are ready to deal with all of its implications?

October 16, 2010

J-Schools in question – a familiar story

Michael Bugeja wrote in Inside Higher Ed (a month ago – sorry for not blogging it sooner) about the proposed discontinuation and reorganization of the journalism school at the University of Colorado at Boulder: “Half-Truths on a J-School.” Readers will notice parallels between what journalism schools and library schools have been facing. I think it should serve as a reminder that journalists and librarians share a common cause.

October 11, 2010

Get out the books, not the vote

I am very serious in the view that we should not be trying to increase voter turnout, in this or any election. Let me explain why.

Most of us have the idea that voter turnout rates are a measure of the success of our democracy. If people are “participating,” by voting, then the will of the people will really be reflected in the outcome of the election. That is an idea shared by most Americans who care about democracy, with the result that it’s accepted as a given that more voting is good and that it is important to “get out the vote.” But the idea needs to be examined in light of the basic civic responsibility of self-education and critical thinking.

For democracy to function (as we all acknowledge before moving on) the public needs to have critical thinking skills and needs to have an understanding of the issues that is not completely shallow. Yet, when is the last time you have seen a public campaign for self-education or critical thinking skills? When do you see it acknowledged that Americans tend to be relatively ignorant about the issues that affect them, and that they sometimes get fired up about? Rather than promoting self-education and critical thinking skills to a high standard, it seems that most civic-minded people would prefer to use propaganda to get people to vote a certain way, lacking an understanding of what they are doing. I find that unethical (or at least anti-democratic), regardless of the intended outcome.

Think about the voting public for a moment. Studies have arrived at the following disturbing findings about them. One fifth of them believe that Obama is a Muslim, and only 34% of them know that he is a Christian (PEW Center poll). Half of Americans aged 18 to 24 can’t find New York on a map (2006 National Geographic study). 42% of Americans don’t accept the theory of evolution (PEW Center poll). 26% of Americans don’t know what country the United States declared its independence from (Marist poll). 75% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin (Barna Group). We’ve all heard these kinds of scary poll results showing the ignorance of Americans, and yet we persist in blindly encouraging people to vote without any concern for their level of knowledge or ability to think rationally about the candidates and issues they’re voting on.

I value the right of every American to vote and oppose things like a literacy requirement or other gatekeeping methods. But I oppose the practice of encouraging everyone to vote or talking about voting as though it is a civic duty. The basic civic duty is not to vote. The basic civic duties are learning and critical thinking. Regarding voting, we should impress upon people that if they do choose to vote they are assuming a grave responsibility that requires careful study and patient, self-questioning thought.

The culture we have around democratic participation currently is not working.

October 10, 2010

CHE interviews Michael Bugeja

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece about “link rot” within scholarly journal articles, which was the topic of our recent book by Michael Bugeja and Daniela Dimitrova, Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age. Bugeja is interviewed in the article, which is titled, “A Modern Scholar’s Ailments: Link Rot and Footnote Flight.” A CHE subscription is required to read it, but if you aren’t at an institution that has one, a friend who has access should be able to email it to you using their article forwarding feature. Bugeja and Dimitrova have done solid research on a new and important problem for the scholarly community.

October 9, 2010

LJP e-books: Proof that we don’t hate change

Our full list of books is now available in e-book form, in the Adobe Digital Editions format. We have links from our site to the Powells.com page for each e-book. We recommend Powell’s as a retailer, as they are a union shop and an amazing brick-and-mortar Portland landmark as well. Adobe Digital Editions e-books can be used on a number of e-book platforms or on your computer using Adobe’s software. In the past, I said that we weren’t doing e-books because not that many people were buying them. Well, now it appears that e-books have become a significant part of the market, accounting for something like 12% of book sales. So, we have gone ahead. I hope our way of doing it will work for people. In the future, we may offer e-books in the EPUB format, but for now it is going to be Adobe Digital Editions.

October 8, 2010

Mary Minow Appointed to IMLS Advisory Board

October 7, 2010

Press Contacts
Mamie Bittner, mbittner@imls.gov

Mary Minow Appointed to IMLS Advisory Board

Washington, DC-On October 6, Mary Minow of California was appointed to the National Museum and Library Services Board (NMLSB). Minow was nominated by President Obama on April 26 and confirmed by the Senate on September 29. The NMLSB advises the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. The board is chaired by the IMLS director and comprised of two of its deputy directors and 20 members of the general public with demonstrated expertise on or commitment to libraries or museums.

“Mary Minow is a renowned expert on matters of great importance to the library field,” said IMLS Acting Director and NMLSB Chair Marsha Semmel. “We are excited to have her join the board and know that her contributions will be invaluable.”

Minow is an attorney, consultant, and a former librarian and library trustee. She has made presentations and consulted for libraries and library associations in over 25 states on free speech, privacy, and copyright issues. She manages the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website, and founded the LibraryLaw blog. Minow teaches digital copyright as an adjunct at the San Jose State School of Library Science and at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She serves on the board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and she chairs the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the California Library Association. She is past chair of the Cupertino Library Commission and past president of the California Association of Library Trustees and Commissioners. She is coauthor with Tomas Lipinski of The Library’s Legal Answer Book. Minow earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University, her master of library science degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and her law degree from Stanford University.

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit www.imls.gov.

October 6, 2010

October 6th, 1976

Sometimes people on the left respond to the “war on terror” by saying words to the effect that “war is terrorism,” to point out that killing innocent people is killing innocent people, whether it is done by a state or by a terrorist group. The main weakness to that argument is that it has an implicit commitment to pacifism, and it is hard to maintain an absolute pacifist position in light of many historical situations in which it seems clear that not going to war would have been a terrible option.

October 6th marks an event that questions the U.S. “war on terror” in a much different way. On October 6th, 1976, a flight on Cubana airlines, flying from Barbados to Jamaica, was brought down by two bombs planted by anti-Castro Cuban exiles working with the CIA. The two terrorists in question are still alive and have been living freely in the United States. Their names are Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. They were put on trial in a Venezuelan court. Bosch was acquitted on a technicality, and came to Florida, where he now lives. Carriles managed to be freed of the charges through political maneuvering, though he faces extradition to several countries. He is currently facing trial on relatively minor immigration charges.

The bombing of Cubana flight 455 was not their only act of terrorism. Both have been involved in other terrorist activities. Yet during the Bush administration they enjoyed official protection. There is conflict over both of them at political levels, as might be expected. Their treatment by the United States raises the question of whether stopping terrorism is the real objective, or if the issue of terrorism in itself is more of a convenient vehicle for achieving other political aims.