December 22, 2010

Google’s new “reading level” filtering

Google has added a feature to its advanced search form that allows you to filter results by reading level or add information about a page’s reading level to the information in the results. Reading level is indicated as “basic,” “intermediate,” or “advanced.” Like most of what goes on underneath the Google hood, we aren’t given much information about how reading level is computed.

I am constitutionally against anything that could be construed as “dumbing down,” but I have to confess that I find this feature interesting. Working with first-year students in an academic library I often find myself wishing that we had a way to search bibliographic databases that would provide scholarly acceptable content that the students were actually able to comprehend. Something like this technology could be used in a bibliographic database, although I am sure its application in a reference setting would be potentially awkward and intellectual freedom issues would emerge.

In checking out this feature, I noticed that Google’s advanced search page includes some additions that I would have to call welcome and surprising from a librarian’s standpoint. If you haven’t looked at it for a while you should check it out (including the collapsed features at the bottom).

West Publishing to pay 2.5 million in an interesting case of false attribution of authorship

Just a brief item of interest. West Publishing is being forced to pay $2.5 million in damages to two authors who had stopped updating their legal treatise, but were named by West as authors of a new update that contained virtually no new material. Sounds like an example of a business practice that could be called “slazy,” if you get my drift. Personally, I find it encouraging that the courts are taking questions of authorship as seriously as this.

December 9, 2010

Introduction to Beyond Article 19

We have posted the introduction to Beyond Article 19: Libraries and Social and Cultural Rights to our website. Julie Edwards’ introduction is a good read in itself regarding the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Articles 19 and 27. We know about Article 19 as a fundamental support for intellectual freedom, but there is less attention in the library world given to Article 27, about cultural rights. The book explores Article 27 and cultural rights in relation to libraries.

December 8, 2010

NYRB blog: WikiLeaks in the Moral Void

Christian Caryl has an insightful post on the NYRB blog, “WikiLeaks in the Moral Void.” As he astutely says about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,

In practical terms it seems to boil down to a policy of disclosure for disclosure’s sake. This is what the technology allows, and Assange has merely followed its lead. I don’t see coherently articulated morality, or even immorality, at work here at all; what I see is an amoral, technocratic void.

There have been so many times, historically, that good ends have been served by bringing information to light the government or other organizations wanted to conceal that it can be difficult to see the radical effect that the internet is having on the implications of transparency as a value. Sunshine laws have always built in limitations on disclosure for good reasons, but in popular thinking these limitations haven’t changed the way many people think about transparency as a value per se. Now, in the case of WikiLeaks, it seems that technical tools are realizing that value to an absolute degree. I think librarians who admire Julian Assange as a matter of reflex should stop to consider how our basic framework of values is affected by technology in this area. To think that the world would be a better place if there were total transparency, no distinction between public and private, inside and outside, would, I think, amount to a failure to think things through. Instead of making a hero out of Julian Assange, I think we should study WikiLeaks as an example of the social effects of technology. What does it tell us about how the internet amplifies certain human tendencies as opposed to others? About the effect of the internet on international relations and people’s relationship to the state? Do we know why we react to something like WikiLeaks the way we do, prior to thinking about it?

December 6, 2010

Petition to support NARA’s investigation into CIA destruction of records pertaining to torture sites

Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to not bring criminal charges against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the destruction of federal records: videotapes of the torture of detainees at CIA black sites. The destruction of these records is a clear violation of the Federal Records Act, which DOJ should have pursued. The decision to date to give the CIA a free-pass is antithetical to DOJ’s mission to enforce the law of the land, and sends the wrong message to agencies that may have information that, if released, would be embarrassing or reveal illegal activities.


…The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) launched an early investigation into the issue, which was put on hold for the DOJ. NARA has indicated that they will re-start their investigation in light of DOJ’s failure to take the lead. Join us in thanking NARA for its willingness to demand the CIA answer for its actions, and expressing great hope that DOJ support NARA.

You can sign onto a letter in support of the Archivist of the United States in support of this investigation. It is a positive letter, thanking him for his leadership and offering support. I think we should not take for granted that NARA is looking into this when the DOJ refuses to.

December 5, 2010

Bitch Magazine reviews She Was a Booklegger: Remembering Celeste West

Ashley McCallister, librarian and library blogger at Bitch Magazine, has just posted a nice review of She Was a Booklegger: Remembering Celeste West, edited by Toni Samek, K.R. Roberto, and Moyra Lang, and published by Library Juice Press earlier this year. We’re very happy to see a review in Bitch Magazine, which has offered a hip feminist perspective on libraries for quite a few years now.

December 1, 2010

Call for Papers: MiT7 – unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition

MiT7 unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition


Submissions accepted on a rolling basis until Friday, March 4, 2011.

Conference dates: May 13-15, 2011 at MIT.

Conference website:

Has the digital age confirmed and exponentially increased the cultural instability and creative destruction that are often said to define advanced capitalism? Does living in a digital age mean we may live and die in what the novelist Thomas Pynchon has called “a ceaseless spectacle of transition”? The nearly limitless range of design options and communication choices available now and in the future is both exhilarating and challenging, inciting innovation and creativity but also false starts, incompatible systems, planned obsolescence.

For this seventh Media in Transition conference we want to focus directly on our core topic – the experience of transition. Our first conference in 1999 considered this subject, of course. But that was before Facebook, iPhones, BitTorrent, IPTV and many other changes.

How are we coping with the instability of platforms? How are the classroom, the newsroom, the corporate office exploiting digital systems and responding to the imperative for constant upgrades. Our libraries and archives? Our public entertainments? Are new technologies changing the experience of reading? The experience of watching movies or television programs? How stable, how durable are current or emerging systems? How relevant are earlier periods of media change to our current experience of ongoing instability and transformation?

We welcome submissions from scholars and teachers in all fields as well as media-makers, producers, designers and industry professionals.

Possible topics include:

  • Technologies of reading
  • The future and fate of media studies
  • Narrative across media
  • Analog media in the connected era
  • Emerging forms of journalism and community engagement
  • New questions, new paradigms for media history
  • Reappraising divides, digital, generational, and gendered
  • Television: a medium of constant change?
  • Rethinking access and restriction in the digital age
  • The migration of print culture to digital form: promises and problems
  • Oral cultures and digital cultures
  • The advent of the book
  • Corporate strategies for the digital age

Short abstracts of about 250 words for papers or panels can be sent via email to no later than Friday, March 4, 2011.

While emailed submissions are preferred, abstracts can be snail-mailed to:

Brad Seawell
MIT 14N-430
77 Mass. Ave.
Cambridge , MA 02139

Please include a short (75 words or less) biographical statement.

We invite submissions of full papers and proposals of full panels. Panel proposals should include a panel title and one-sentence description of the panel as well as separate abstracts and bios for each panel speaker.

Anyone submitting panel proposals should take it on themselves to identify and recruit a moderator.

Our expectation is that speakers will submit full versions of their presentations before the conference begins so that all conferees will have a chance to preview the materials.

We will be evaluating submissions on a rolling basis. The final deadline for submission will be Friday, March 4, 2011.

Media in Transition conferences are free and open to the public. A registration link will be added to the conference site.

Three attitudes toward the Internet

From Philippe Breton’s The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult: Social Fears and Religious Fantasies, forthcoming from Litwin Books:

One may distinguish three positions grosso modo: first the “Internet-for-everything” militants, proselytes (sometimes unknowingly) of a new cult. Then there are the technophobes, hostile to all technology. Finally, there are those who think that a rational use of technology may under certain conditions be a factor of progress. Those who take the first attitude appear to be the majority, and their point of view tends to become the “dominant ideology” in this area, the only possible and legitimate manner of regarding the question, to the point that they often cannot even imagine that there could be any other. Those with the second attitude are more numerous than they appear. Through philosophy, ignorance or simply irritation, with a sort of passive resistance, underground but effective, they oppose the diffusion of the new information technologies. The third position, held by those who tend to take a measured view of technology, is still largely undeveloped. Such a position is often formed of multiple experiences that are difficult to unify. It rests on humanist values that are difficult to affirm, and of which some are today in crisis.