Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Digital Resources and Libraries

Jennifer Howard, “Scholars' View of Libraries as Portals Shows Marked Decline,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2008, http://chronicle.com/daily/2008/08/4351n.htm, describes a report issued by Ithaka about the “relationship between libraries and the faculty at institutions of all sizes, and how the digital shift is altering that relationship.” According to Howard, “The report confirms what everyone already knows—that electronic resources are ever more central to scholarly activity. It emphasizes that scholars still value libraries as buyers and archivers of scholarship, and many still use them as gateways to scholarly information. However, it also confirms that researchers increasingly find what they need through Google Scholar and other online resources, a trend the report's authors anticipate will accelerate as more and more knowledge goes digital.” “In an interview, the report's authors said that they hoped the report would get librarians talking about whether libraries should ‘ambitiously redirect resources’ toward new and better ways to serve scholars operating in a digital environment.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Reinventing Knowledge

We are very accustomed to hearing or reading the self-congratulating messages that we presently live in THE Information Age. Ian F. McNeely with Lisa Wolverton, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008) provides an easy to read historical analysis of that claim identifying the library, monastery, university, Republic of Letters, disciplines, and the laboratory as the major means for generating and using new knowledge. While the authors focus on the Western tradition, they also trace the influence of that tradition in non-Western cultures. And near the beginning they suggest that doing this kind of analysis corrects our view of new digital information systems: “We risk committing a serious error by thinking that cheap information made universally available through electronic media fulfills the requirements of a democratic society for organized knowledge. Past generations had to win knowledge by using their wits, and never took what they knew for granted. Recalling their labor and travail is, if anything, more important than ever if we are to distinguish what is truly novel about the ‘information age’ from what is transient hype” (p. xx). Towards the end of the book, McNeely and Wolverton firmly state that “Promoters of the vaunted ‘information age’ often forget that knowledge has always been about connecting people, not collecting information” (p. 271). And if one walks away from reading the book with nothing other than this idea, the time will have been well spent. This is a good book for use in the classroom.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Managing Your Time -- Some Pointers

David Perlmutter, “Do You Really Not Have the Time?,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 22, 2008, available at http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2008/08/2008082201c.htm, provides a good list of suggestions for how faculty can manage their time. I extracted below some of his main points.

“To get your work life under control, you must first recognize that the problem is controllable. To view yourself as a martyr to work, fated to slog through the faculty years overburdened with cares and labors, is an exercise in self-indulgence.”

“ Discover and stake out your preferred work environment.”

“ Whatever your favored venue, carve out time to concentrate there.”

“ Frame of mind is also important. . . . You need some spiritual focus as well — a sort of ‘Zen and the Art of Research.’”

“Begin with the big picture: Consider what you want to complete in teaching, research, and service, and calculate the probable time needed to finish the projects for, say, three years ahead.”

David D. Perlmutter is a professor in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In case you are thinking of writing a book about SIS. . .

From the American Library Association --

"Sally Stern-Hamilton’s controversial book, The Library Diaries, written under the pseudonym Ann Miketa, resulted in her termination July 25 as a Mason County (Mich.) District Library employee after 15 years on the job. Written in the first person and set in what she calls the Lake Michigan town of Denialville, the book, produced by print-on-demand publisher PublishAmerica, is a series of fictional vignettes about mostly unsavory characters encountered daily at the library...."

Makes me want to read it

Why Complex Systems Do Better Without Us

ACM Technews posted this interesting thought on systems research this week:

Why Complex Systems Do Better Without Us
New Scientist (08/06/08) Vol. 199, No. 2668, P. 28; Buchanan, Mark

Research by Swiss Federal Institute of Technology physicist Dirk Helbing suggests humans' desire to force complex systems into a regular, predictable model is misguided, and a much better strategy is to cede a certain degree of control and let systems work out solutions on their own. "You have to learn to use the system's own self-organizing tendencies to your advantage," he argues. Helbing and Stefan Lammer at Germany's Technical University of Dresden have considered whether traffic lights could be engineered to reduce congestion by giving the devices the means to adapt their behavior rather than have engineers shape traffic into patterns that seem favorable. The researchers have found that traffic lights, when provided with some simple operating rules and left alone to organize their own solution, can do a better job. Helbing and Lammer have crafted a mathematical model that assumes a fluid-like movement for traffic and describes what happens at intersections. The researchers make the lights at each intersection responsive to increasing traffic pressure via sensors. Lights that only adapt to conditions locally might give rise to problems further away, and to address this the researchers have engineered a scheme in which neighboring lights share their information so that what occurs around one light can affect how others respond, preventing the formation of long traffic jams. Helbing and Lammer have shown through simulation that this setup should substantially reduce overall travel times and keep no one waiting at a light too long, even though the lights' behavior runs counter to accepted human concepts of efficiency.

See article at:


NSF on the History of the Internet

This site has been making the rounds on the Internet, in case you managed to miss it. As a multimedia presentation, you might find it a useful adjunct to some of your classes.
Scott McLemee has written an amusing essay about the transition of a 45 year old to using chat and IM; it is published as "Cogito Interruptus" in Inside Higher Education today and available at http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2008/08/20/mclemee.

Here is the concluding part of his essay:

"At one level, texting and IM are just slight variations on the now-familiar medium of e-mail. They tend to be even more casual — without so much formality as a subject line, even — yet they finally seem more similar to e-mail than anything else.

But now that e-mail itself is both so commonplace and so prone to abuse (“naked Angelina Jolie pics here!”), these supplementary forms have a slightly different valence. They seem more urgent. In the case of IM in particular, there is a suggestion of presence – the sense of an individual on the other end, waiting for a reply. (Indeed, the IM format indicates whether someone you know is online at a given time. The window indicates when a person is typing something to send to you.)

For anyone now accustomed to texting and IM – that is, most people in their teens and 20s – all of this goes without saying. And for lots of folks over a certain age, it probably won’t matter: the number of people in their social circles using these format won’t reach critical mass.

Those of us stuck in between, though, are left with questions about civility. Do you have to respond? How rude is it not to do so? (The other day, I ignored an IM from a friend and still feel positively antisocial for it.) Is it necessary to withdraw entirely from all forms of digital communication for a while, just to sustain, as Baudrillard put it two decades ago, “the minimal separation of public and private ... a restricted space”? And will withdrawal even be a possible, a few years down the line?"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Forbes College ranking

Forbes has joined USN&WR and others in coming up with a college ranking. See this article. Quoting the article:
CCAP's methodology attempts to put itself in a student's shoes. How good will my professors be? Will the school help me achieve notable career success? If I have to borrow to pay for college, how deeply will I go into debt? What are the chances I will graduate in four years? Are students and faculty recognized nationally, or even globally?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP (mostly college students themselves) gathered data from a variety of sources. They based 25% of the rankings on 7 million student evaluations of courses and instructors, as recorded on the Web site RateMyProfessors.com. Another 25% depends on how many of the school's alumni, adjusted for enrollment, are listed among the notable people in Who's Who in America.

The other half of the ranking is based equally on three factors: the average amount of student debt at graduation held by those who borrowed; the percentage of students graduating in four years; and the number of students or faculty, adjusted for enrollment, who have won nationally competitive awards like Rhodes Scholarships or Nobel Prizes.

The data show that students strongly prefer smaller schools to big ones. The median undergraduate enrollment in the top-50-ranked schools is just 2,285, and only one of the top 50 (the University of Virginia) has more than 10,000 undergraduate students.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Common Usability Terms

I am not sure how correct this series of articles is, but it may be interesting to the SIS community.