May 30, 2011

Political art censored in Gainesville, GA

Noted as an example of what I think can be called political censorship in the American South: “GSC professor teaches the importance of art as his own work comes under fire,” by Brandee A. Thomas, Gainesville Times.

May 27, 2011

Turning the Reference Desk into a Reference Bureau

Librarians have responded to the internet and other technologies that have reduced people’s demand for our services in a couple of complementary ways over the past 20 years or so (or more). On the one hand, we have pointed out all of the reasons that libraries are still needed and still heavily used, and on the other hand we have embraced new roles as information technology designers. These strategies have worked fairly well for libraries as institutions, but not for all specializations in library work. At the reference desk (my own encampment), we have seen steadily declining interest in the service we offer, because most of the simple factual questions that people used to come to us with are now more easily answered via the web. When people do come to us with simple, factual questions, we often have a sense that these questions don’t demand much of our expertise as reference librarians, and could easily be handled by other staff or by student workers with a little training. Yes, there are times when the reference interview reveals that the real question is somewhat different than what we have been presented with, or that behind the question there are important considerations that we are able to help the patron incorporate. But most of the time, the simple, factual questions that people present make us feel as redundant as we are said to be.

In academic libraries, we are often called on to do a little bit more, to engage with students in a learning process that has to do with helping them become competent in their new intellectual world. That is one avenue for expanding the role of reference librarians – to become more integrated into the teaching mission of the institution as educators. But I will leave that aside for now to talk about a different potential direction for reference librarians that can exist outside of educational settings, one that could involve provision of a new kind of public service.

I got the germ of the idea at a job I once had at a government special library. In the California State Library, a unit called the California Research Bureau provides reference service to the State Assembly and the Governor’s Office according to the model set by the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service. At the California example, librarians, and other employees with the job title of “researcher” (mostly with masters degrees in public policy), respond to requests from the offices of Assembly members. Reference questions typically had a turn-around time of one to two days, and the response, rather than a suggestion of some resources that the user might consult, was a packet of printed-out documents containing the information that the requester wanted. We selected documents with a high degree of attention to relevance, knowing that our users did not have time to wade through irrelevant matter. We used Lexis-Nexis, the physical collections of the State Library, policy papers that we found online or requested directly from research organizations, or other materials. The research we did for patrons – as reference librarians – often involved telephoning potential sources of relevant information and asking if they would share it with us. The jobs of the Researchers (the non-librarians) at the CRB was different. They were assigned research projects that took weeks or months to complete, according to the needs of legislators who wanted to write good policy, and they used social science methodologies. They did original research. Among the researchers there were people with backgrounds in different areas of policy, as specializations on top of their masters degrees. The reference librarians supported their research in addition to providing reference service directly to legislators. This organization worked with efficiency and smarts (and still does, I’m sure, I am just no longer there), constantly proving its worth to the legislature that was responsible for renewing its funding.

Since leaving there in the early 2000’s I have often felt dismay that the same degree of interest in good research to inform policy is not a part of the American political culture in general, especially in the news media. When political questions are debated it often occurs to me how good it would be to have certain relevant data, in order to check the assumptions that are in play (often contradictory assumptions). And when people toss numbers or other factoids into a discussion without knowing where they came from or how they are arrived at, without the slightest worry that they may be bunk, I feel that the services of reference librarians are very much in need, and painfully in need, but that few realize it. I think this is true with respect to many topics that interest people, whether they are policy questions or not.

So why not set up, as part of a public library organization, a “Public Library Reference Bureau,” that gathers up, sorts through and compiles already-published data in the service of clarifying the questions of the day? I will not worry here about the logistical issues around how to determine what questions are researched and for whom, except to say that one option could even be to develop the questions internally with the idea of sharing the results with the news media.

Let me provide some examples of the kind of research I think would be appropriate for this type of a service.

Regarding “Freedom” as a distinctive American value, distinguishing us from other societies, are there ways of measuring the degree of freedom that we enjoy in comparison to other countries? One possibility would be to gather information on how many activities in the United States require a license (with a fee, or a test, or both), whether granted federally, at the state level, or locally, as compared to other countries (e.g. Mexico). Another example would be a more micro-level analysis that researches all of the steps that a person would have to go through, and the severity of each barrier to entry along the way, in order to start a business doing a particular thing (e.g. selling fresh-squeezed juices) in a number of different countries. Parallel to this research would be to find information on the effectiveness of each of the regulations and license requirements that account for various barriers in terms of achieving their policy aims.

So that’s one example.

Another would be to find data relevant to the idea of domestic and foreign auto makers. We have an idea that may or may not still be valid that certain car manufacturers are American and certain others are foreign. Ford and General Motors are American companies, Toyota is a Japanese company, etc. But what do we mean when we say this? In fact, shares of large publicly traded companies are owned by international investment banks and by various equity funds that are located all over the world. Cars tend to be manufactured in factories that are as close as possible to the markets for those cars, meaning “foreign” cars are manufactured in U.S. factories by U.S. workers. Many “foreign” cars are also designed in the United States. And Americans are not always aware of the extent to which Ford and General Motors have a presence in other countries not as a foreign car manufacturer but as a domestic car manufacturer (especially Ford, but also General Motors brands like Vauxhall and Opel). Many cars are the product of joint ventures between companies that are based on different countries, or are licensed to be “badged” with the brand of a car company that had nothing to do with designing it or manufacturing it. Often an auto maker will own a large percentage of shares in another car company in another country. All of this isn’t to argue that there is no such thing as a foreign versus a domestic auto maker, but to say that we could use some data to find out to what extent that idea still makes sense. The data could be along the lines of the question: for each of the top ten global auto makers, what proportion of the workers doing manufacturing, engineering, design, marketing and management are located in what nations (and how much of the stock is held in what nations)? The numbers are out there for librarians to find and compile, and only by doing that can we get an accurate sense of what is a foreign or domestic automaker. (By the way, are the Big Three now Ford, General Motors, and Fiat?)

Another example is a very practical area for compiling information for the public: the hot policy issue of immigration and immigration reform. So many people have strong opinions with little to no awareness of the relevant numbers, just some basic “pro-” or “anti-” passions. But there are so many relevant questions to which answers already exist. How many non-citizens are there in the U.S.? How many are here legally on visas? On green cards? How many are here on overstayed visas? How many of those who are on overstayed visas are here because of paperwork delays at the INS, and how many of them are deliberately avoiding the INS? How many are here without visas at all? With all of those questions, from what countries? What are the existing immigration quotas, in terms of visas (and types of visas), green cards, and citizenship, by nation of origin? What is the history of those quotas, and their rationales? What is the history of amnesty? What are the types of amnesty? What are the policies in place that effect people who are here illegally? How much do illegal immigrants pay in taxes? (Not just whether they pay taxes.) What are illegal immigrants paid versus legal workers at the same jobs? How risky is it, in terms of the actual enforcement of the law, for employers to hire undocumented workers in various sectors and regions? What determines the policies on enforcement of the laws affecting employers versus immigrants? What rights do undocumented workers have or not have in the workplace, de facto and de jure? What is their contribution to the economy? How are they included or not included in economic statistics? What were the conditions of undocumented workers in their countries of origin, in terms of wages, rights, conditions? Etcetera. Personally, not knowing objective answers to these questions, I feel that I can have very little to say about immigration policy. (I do often say an aspect of immigration policy, broadly considered, is the de facto maintenance of an unenfranchised population who are here by choice; but I can’t say as much about that idea as I would like without having this kind of data.)

How nice it would be if reference librarians were given the role of finding, compiling, and critically presenting existing data as it relates to questions like these. It would be a way of putting our skills to work that is more efficient in terms of what we get out of it as a society. As a reference librarian, I may enjoy those times when someone comes to the desk with a question that is unusually challenging and meaningful, but how many people are helped by the research that we do together? Unless the patron is a researcher whose work is going somewhere, perhaps only the two of us. So wouldn’t it be good to find a way to leverage the higher-level work that we are able to do in such a way that many people can benefit from it? We could not only help individuals who came to the desk, but perhaps through some kind of media channel we could reach the public. Maybe some creative TV producer needs to help us out with this….

May 24, 2011

Review in Libraries and the Cultural Record

The new issue of Libraries and the Cultural Record has a review of LJP publication The Great Depression: Its Impact on Forty-Six Large American Public Libraries, an Analysis of Published Writings of Their Directors, by Robert Scott Kramp. Arthur P. Young wrote the review. Libraries and the Cultural Record is the leading journal in the field of library history.

May 21, 2011

New book: Out Behind the Desk

Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians

Editor: Tracy Nectoux
Price: $30.00
Published: May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-936117-03-1

Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians is an anthology of personal accounts by librarians and library workers relating experiences of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or queer at work. A broad spectrum of orientations and gender identities are represented, highlighting a range of experiences of being and/or coming out at work.

Number one in the Litwin Books/Library Juice Press series Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship, Emily Drabinski, series editor.

May 20, 2011

Thoughts on MiT7

I was in Cambridge, MA last weekend for MiT7: unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition. This conference is put on every two years jointly by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and the MIT Communication Forum.

The conference is concerned with new media and new communication technologies and their broad implications. Presenters came to the conference with a multitude of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, but most are working in communications, media studies, or digital humanities. There were a number of librarians and archivists present (and presenting), but not everyone who spoke about libraries or archives had a library or archival studies background, which was refreshing and interesting.

The first of four plenary sessions in an auditorium started the conference, and it featured Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard; Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Pomona College (with a book coming out soon on scholarly communication); Mark Leccese, a former journalist now teaching at Emerson College; and Klaus Peter Muller, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. These four addressed questions on the fate of narrative and the shape of the public sphere in the new media environment, and were asked to give visions for the future. The introduction of the subject of narrative at the start of the conference was very interesting; at all of the sessions I attended, people drew ties between what was being discussed and questions of narrative and narrativity. I guess it must be common to talk about narrative among scholars who regularly attend MLA, but I think it is really great to introduce or invoke ideas about narrative in a setting that has a lot of social scientists as well. To me it seems that there is a lot still to be gained from studying narrative (or narrative theory or narratology) and its role outside of the usual literary contexts where it is talked about (film, literature, etc.).

Regarding narrative, the discussion seemed to show that the public at large is more aware of narrative structures in the media they consume than they possibly were in the past, as a result of the participatory online culture, fan culture, etcetera. Joshua Benton noted that “ancillary objects” surrounding news stories (i.e. links and commentary) affect the narrative by providing additional perspectives (alternate narratives) and additional entry and exit points. This makes it seem possible (to me) that people could be growing sharper about how narratives are used to manipulate them and might be becoming empowered by an enhanced ability to see through manipulative narratives (political, commercial, etc.). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for this that I can see though, considering how the masses (forgive me for using the term straightforwardly) continue to be moved by narratives that arise out of the facts but don’t do them justice. As refreshing as it was to me to find questions of narrative addressed throughout the conference, I would have been happier to see connections drawn between narratives and narrativity and social influence and control. That these connections weren’t drawn probably has to do with the fact that narrative is mostly a topic of discussion in the humanities rather than in the social sciences. (Please comment if you have something to suggest in this connection.)

There were two sessions following the opening plenary session on the first day. In the first I heard papers on the media and the Space Race of the 1960s, the 19th century telegraph system as a new communications medium, 19th century fan fic, and late 19th century American literature evidencing responses to media shift. In the second I heard papers on a discourse analysis of internet RFC’s to look for the history of information policies (Sandra Braman); Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists”; and the influence of the Interop conferences on the development of the internet. These two sessions were not the only ones where the point was made that “it was ever thus” or “this is not the first time” that we have been anxious and excited about the impact of new media technologies. I particularly like the insights that can be derived from historical studies such as these, and I began speaking with a couple of presenters about a possible series for Litwin Books in this area.

The conference went on to have three more plenary sessions and five more call sessions, in which I attended panels called Reading and Writing; Legal and Social Links; Classrooms and Libraries in Transition; Capital, Time and Media Bias; and Publishing in Transition. Highlights were talks by librarian Margaret Heller and her collaborator Nell Taylor, Paul van den Hoven, Bob Hanke, Paulina Mickiewicz, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Karen Hellekson.

Margaret Heller and Nell Taylor talked about an interesting, informal community-based library project that is building a collection of locally-published materials representing the diverse communities of Chicago and putting the catalog online in a social-media-rich way. It seems to be a very successful project, which, frankly, is unusual for things that are that innovative.

Paul van den Hoven does media studies of the legal system in Holland, and talked about the way the expanding, democratized media environment has outstripped the judicial system’s ability to handle the proliferation of narratives surrounding cases that have a public nature. His discussion helped me focus my own thinking about the current trend toward democratization of media and the de-authorization of institutions, in the sense that in the context of the law it is clear, to me anyway, how top-down institutions can protect people from the consequences of an irrational, narrative-driven public. Sandra Braman could certainly explain to me why my sense of security in feeling protected by the judicial system is a false one; nevertheless, there is still more to be said than we usually hear, it seems to me, about the dangers of de-authorizing institutions and empowering the masses (again, apologies for using the term in a straightforward manner).

Bob Hanke read a difficult paper (that he was kind enough to send me so that I could study it) addressing the technologization of the university and the changes that have emerged through the process. His paper was political, and addressed “media effects” (a term he avoided) of technology from a Canadian, media-studies point of view, but incorporating a political-economic structural viewpoint as well. Now having read his paper I am afraid to say I still find it difficult to understand in parts; but perhaps I just need to read some of the people he is citing.

Paulina Mickiewicz read a very interesting paper (with slides) about a major work of public architecture and its connection to the media environment: the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec. Mickiewicz’s background is in media studies, and her reading has so far not included much from the library literature. Her focus is on the architect’s thinking in designing the building, and how architectural decisions in building this and other innovative libraries define, or at least aim to define, the meaning of the library as an information place for the community. I will be interested to see her work as it progresses.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Karen Hellekson both gave papers in the Publishing in Transition session, and both were fascinating and informative, on the subjects of trade book publishing and scholarly journal publishing respectively.

It was a very good conference. In addition to the people mentioned above, I felt fortunate to hear papers and comments by William Uricchio, Kelley Kreitz, Heidi Gautschi, Andrew Feldstein, Julia Noordegraaf, and Goran Bolin.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to a couple of librarians from MIT libraries who were present: Patsy Baudoin and Marlene Manoff. I look forward to seeing them again in 2013 if not sooner.

May 19, 2011

Koofers – stealing students’ work to help other students cheat

No comment on this other than to say that Koofers is incredibly slimy, and it rankles me that they seem to be getting some tacit support from legitimate institutions. Here is a post by my friend Nicole Pagowsky on how Koofers ripped off one of her student papers and posted it to their for-profit site with a copyright notice.

I guess the good part is that the English language now has a useful new verb: “to koofer” – to steal something, claim it belongs to you, charge money for it, and then when called on it to pretend that it never happened.

Paulina Mickiewicz on library architecture

An interesting library-related paper from MiT7, by a media studies scholar:

Knowledge Experiments: Technology and the Library, Paulina Mickiewicz

Abstract:
In April of 2005, the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec opened in Montreal, a library project of unprecedented scale in the city. This paper seeks to focus on the programming and technologies of the Grande Bibliothèque. One of the main reasons for the creation of the Grande Bibliothèque was to offer Montreal citizens a public library that was capable of not only hosting and managing emergent media technologies but that would provide free and equal access to these new media. In addition to being a highly digitized and networked facility, the Grande Bibliothèque is also a site that offers the most advanced methods of storage, search and retrieval of a multiplicity of collections, be they referential, digital or archival. This paper will serve to explore the so-called “technologization” of the traditional library, how this has transformed the ways in which we use and understand the library as a public space as well as what this may mean for the future of libraries, and how well equipped the Grande Bibliothèque is in adapting to the constant flow of newer and faster technologies.

May 18, 2011

Libri best student paper award

Best Libri Student Paper

Announcement from Libri:

Since 1950, through 61 volumes, Libri: International Journal of Libraries and Information Services has been a leader among scholarly journals in the international library world. As part of its strategy to remain one of the premier library journals, Libri is issuing a call for “Best Student Paper of 2011.” This competition supports Libri’s goal of publishing the best articles from the next generation of library and information science professionals. We are proud once again to recognize the very best article with this special award.

Students at all levels are invited to submit articles with clarity and authority. There is no stated theme. Research papers should address one of the significant issues facing today’s librarians and information professionals. Case studies, best practices, and pure research papers are all welcome.

Length: approx. 5000 words
Language: English
Deadline: May 31, 2011

The best paper will be selected by an independent panel consisting of selected members of the Editorial Board, the Advisory Board and other international experts. Submissions will be judged on the basis of

– originality of thought and observation

– depth of research and scholarship

– topicality of problems addressed

– the international readership of the journal

The article will be published in the 2011:4 issue. The author of the winning article will be honoured with an award of 500.00 € and with a complementary subscription to Libri for 2012. If the quality of competition warrants, some papers may be designated as honourable mention and the authors will receive complementary subscriptions to Libri for 2012. The normal provision to the author of e-prints applies to all winners.

Manuscripts should be sent to the Libri Editorial Office, K. G. Saur Verlag, An Imprint of Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Mies-van-der-Rohe Straße 1, 80807 München, Germany. Electronic submissions are encouraged and may be submitted to libri@degruyter.com. Author instructions and further indications of the scope of papers suitable for publication in Libri are available at the Libri site at http://www.librijournal.org/authorinst.html

All submissions should include a cover sheet confirming:

– the name of the institution where the student is or was enrolled
– the dates when the student is or was enrolled
– the date when the paper was written and the course for which it was prepared if no longer a student

More information…

May 16, 2011

MiT7 podcasts

MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:

Media in Transition 7: Unstable Platforms

Archives and Cultural Memory

Power and Empowerment

May 13, 2011

Library student on why librarians need a master’s degree

I find this quite a good statement of the reason librarianship should require a master’s degree. I also found the video interesting in the way that it mixes media together.

May 11, 2011

MiT 7

Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.

Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.

May 6, 2011

JTA News Archive

Press release:

NEW YORK (JTA) — JTA [a Jewish newswire] has launched a digital archive containing 250,000 articles dating from 1923.

The JTA Jewish News Archive, which is searchable and free for the public to use, was launched officially Tuesday evening with a celebration at the Center for Jewish History in New York.

Highlights of the archive include extensive reporting from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s — including perhaps the first article on what has become known as the Babi Yar massacre — JTA’s reportage on the founding of the State of Israel, close and sustained coverage of the Soviet Jewry movement, and decades of articles chronicling the changing roles and responsibilities of Jewish women.

(Full press release)