Friday, May 30, 2008

Libraries and the Future of Digitization

Interesting article in Inside Higher Education, May 30, by Andy Guess, May 30 "Post-Microsoft, Libraries Mull Digitization," about Microsoft's withdrawal from the digitization game.

Here is an excerpt: "Libraries increasingly see digitization as a preservation strategy. While Microsoft’s departure probably won’t cause significant upheaval, it will reinforce for universities the necessity of ensuring that they retain the rights to their scanned materials — or that their digitization projects will be around next semester, let alone forever. One way to do that is to continue pursuing internal, proprietary scanning projects which, for many libraries, existed for years before Google and Microsoft made it possible to vastly increase their scope and scale. Another is to work with nonprofit initiatives. But if there’s one thing libraries agree on, it’s that the competition between the two companies was healthy."

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Thursday, May 29, 2008

State of the Internet

Akamai is using data gathered by its global server network along with publicly available information to deliver a quarterly "State of the Internet" report. The first such report (January-March 2008) is available here.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Future of Libraries

Historian Robert Darnton has an interesting essay considering the future of libraries in his "The Library in Your Future," New York Review of Books 55 (June 12, 2008): 72-73, 76, 78-80. Comparing print and digital publishing, Darnton seeks to remind us that every era is an information, although this one is indicating that information may be more fluid than that of earlier times. Essentially, Darnton argues that we need both traditional and new forms of libraries, and that we need to learn to appreciate them both for what they represent. Darnton is always provocative, and this essay is no exception.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Technology, Artifacts, & Secrets

The reunification of Germany provided an opportunity to study how secret police have operated in repressive regimes. Kristie Macrakis, in her Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), opines, “The fall of the Berlin World in 1989 created an unprecedented opportunity for historians to examine the files of a defunct intelligence and secret police organization” (p. xix). The files are truly amazing – a hundred miles of files and 35 million index cards – reflective of a government out of control in watching its own citizens. Macrakis focuses on the Stasi’s uses of information technology (cameras, containers, radios, and computers), providing one of the most detailed analyses of how secret police function. In this volume, we get as well some insights about understanding what the artifacts of information technology tell us. Noting that there were efforts made to destroy all the equipment and other artifacts used by the Stasi, Macrakis makes this interesting comment about the secret police artifacts: ”Artifacts often reflect the ideas, beliefs, achievements, and attitudes of long-lost civilizations; they also mirror their culture. Technology talks, it speaks the language of culture . . . . the technological artifacts offer us rare and valuable insight into a very secret culture and community within which like in a secret cult, every member was trained to keep the methods and sources of their work hidden from the enemy and outsiders” (p. 196). Macrakis is careful to note that the kind of spying we see reflected in the Stasi files is something we should be aware can happen in our own democracy. In fact, she is worried that all of this stems from a “faith in technology,” arguing that “as technological developments have accelerated over the last-century, our dependence on technology and faith in it have only increased” (p. 315).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking to Oneself

From Rachel Toor, “Did You Publish Today?” Chronicle of Higher Education, May 22, 2008 available at

What does it look like to do intellectual work? What does it look like to have an insight? To formulate a theory? To solve a philosophical problem? What does it take to get to the point at which you're ready to sit down and write something, ready to present something to the world?

Experience tells me that sometimes it looks like playing Spider Solitaire. Or twirling one's hair, talking to oneself, or sitting stock still and staring into space.

My friend Andrew, a psychiatrist, is an expert in the physiology of sleep. He has come up with a host of good ideas that have resulted in a fat sheaf of academic publications. He believes that sleep is the result of conditioning, ritual, and circumstance. You can't force yourself to go to sleep. What you can do, he says, is set up the conditions and rituals that will allow it to happen. You let the dog out (or put the rat back in her cage). You change into your footy pajamas. You brush your teeth. You get into bed. And then, having provided the right environment, eventually, you fall asleep.

That process, Andrew believes, is similar to what academics go through when trying to solve an intellectual problem. We shuffle off to our offices and plant ourselves in front of a computer. Or slink into the library and sink into a comfy chair. Or walk around the block 43 times.

We go through the motions that have led us, in the past, to cerebral success. We can no more force ourselves to make an intellectual breakthrough than we can will ourselves to sleep. All we can do is prepare the environment and perform the rituals associated with thinking.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

National Security Letters

From time to time I have stated that it would be interesting to take some problem facing the information professions and have a group of faculty from various perspectives write position papers or reflections on how to deal with the issue. Well, here is an example of a problem, the continuing assault by the current presidential administration on free speech in the guise of national security. Given that we have faculty engaged in research about digital libraries, national security, archives and records management, ethics and public policy, e-government, and so forth, what an opportunity something like this presents. I am not arguing we should pursue such a project on this particular case, I just think it represents a relevant example.

Toni Carbo tipped me off about this particular story. It is a short news story, so it is here in full.

Libraries Win Second Round against National Security Letters, American Libraries, May 9, 2008, available

“I’m grateful that I am able now to talk about what happened to me, so that other libraries can learn how they can fight back from these overreaching demands,” Internet Archive founder and digital librarian Brewster Kahle stated May 7, two days after records were unsealed documenting his six-month legal battle to force the FBI to withdraw a National Security Letter because it sought details of several patrons’ archive use without a court order.

The disclosure about the existence of Internet Archive v. Mukasey came two days after the records were unsealed about Kahle’s federal complaint against the Justice Department. As legal counsel representing the digital library, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation named themselves as co-plaintiffs because the gag order that has accompanied NSLs since the 2001 enactment of the Patriot Act also forbids legal counsel from speaking about any aspect of such a case.
The disclosed documents reveal that the FBI issued an NSL to the Internet Archive on November 19, 2007, seeking the patrons’ names and contact information and “all electronic mail header information (not to include message content and/or subject fields).” Kahle responded December 14, 2007, with a First Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of serving an NSL on a library. “The FBI cannot demand records from libraries [under the reauthorized Patriot Act], unless they are providers of wire or electronic communication services. The archive is not a provider,” EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt B. Opsahl wrote the agency three days later.

The complaint never became a full-fledged lawsuit because Opshal offered the FBI a deal: “If the government is willing to withdraw the NSL, including the nondisclosure order, the archive will voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit.” The FBI apparently agreed to negotiate, and reached a settlement agreement April 21 in which the NSL was withdrawn but the case itself remained under court seal until the Justice Department and the plaintiffs agreed on how relevant documents were to be redacted.

Thanking the plaintiffs for “their brave stand against this unconstitutional federal intrusion,” American Library Association President Loriene Roy said May 7, “While librarians fully support the efforts of law enforcement in legitimate investigations, those efforts must be balanced against the right to privacy.” Roy went on to call for the passage of the National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007 (H.R. 3189) “for meaningful Congressional oversight of these risky law enforcement tools.”

ACLU staff attorney Melissa Goodman noted, “It appears that every time a National Security Letter recipient has challenged an NSL in court and forced the government to justify it, the government has ultimately withdrawn its demand for records.” In response, John Miller of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs said, “National Security Letters remain indispensable tools for national security investigations and permit the FBI to gather the basic building blocks for our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.”

The Internet Archive is the third known instance of an NSL challenge, and became public two years after four Connecticut librarians successfully defended patron privacy from a similar NSL demand. The American Library Association as well as its Freedom to Read Foundation filed amicae briefs in an unrelated challenge by an Internet Service Provider to NSL gag provisions; Judge Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York overturned the entire NSL statute September 7, 2007, and the Justice Department is scheduled to offer oral arguments in June before the Second Circuit Appeals Court seeking to reverse Marrero’s ruling.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Children and Technology

For an interesting critique of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Digital Learning Initiative see Mark Bauerlein's "Research Funds for Technophiles" in Inside Higher Education, May 21, 2008.

Here is the concluding paragraph to give you a taste:

"This is not to fault Jenkins, Davidson, and MacArthur for arguing the benefits of digital learning, or for disputing the claims of skeptics and dissenters. It is to fault them for not allowing a dispute to happen through open debate. In a word, they stigmatize the other side. In doing so, they turn the Digital Learning Initiative into an advocacy program, not a research project. The first rule of research is to consider evidence from all sources, to open the marketplace to anybody willing to observe norms of evidence and collegiality. Throwing labels such as “moral panic” and “Hall of Shame” breaks the rule, and when the speakers have $50 million behind them, it corners the market on legitimacy. MacArthur and other sponsors of digital learning would serve the research and policy worlds better if they allowed more reflection into their programming and tempered the enthusiasm of participants with the presence of dissenters."

The full article can be found at

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Knowledge Commons

The idea of knowledge as a commons, something shared by a group of people and challenged by social dilemmas, is an interesting topic in our digital age and usefully played with in the volume edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007), is a good place to start. The essays in this volume are grouped by studying the knowledge commons, protecting the knowledge commons, and building the knowledge commons. And the volume brings together a group of leading researchers and proponents of this concept – including Hess and Ostrom, David Bollier, James Boyle, and Donald Waters – commenting on new standards and initiatives such as the Open Archive Initiative, MIT Dspace, digital libraries, and so forth.

One of the more interesting commentaries comes from Peter Levine in discussing the knowledge commons and community projects, with some connection to what academics do. Levine writes, “Academics are strongly influenced by policies regarding funding, hiring, promotion, and tenure. Often universities that compete internationally for academic prominence do not reward applied research – let alone service – despite rhetoric to the contrary” (p. 261). Levine adds, “Fortunately, universities do reward scholars who break new ground in their disciplines by working with communities. Thus is a strategy of using community engagement to achieve genuine scholarly insight is better suited to the existing academic marketplace than a strategy based on ‘service’” (p. 263). Some interesting ideas to reflect on by faculty in professional schools in research universities.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Technology and Teaching

Julie Frechette, associate professor of communication and the director of the Center for Community Media at Worcester State College, has an interesting essay about the use of technology in teaching, in Inside Higher Education, available at

Here is how the article concludes: "As with other digital developments, faculty continue to grapple with these questions as pedagogical paradigms for effective learning are rapidly changing. Fortunately, clich├ęs of the professor as preoccupied with research over teaching, the political over the personal, literature over television, print over digital media, high art over popular culture, and conferencing over social networking have increasingly been challenged through profound socio-cultural changes, many of which have undoubtedly been promulgated by new technologies and a new generation of learners. If social networking, 3D simulations, blogs and Web pages are means to enhancing the student-teacher relationship, then perhaps we should be less hesitant about using them as we strive to find powerful and creative means to improve the learning experience."

Does zebra-striping help?

This article discusses some experimentation to see if "zebra-striping" - shading alternate lines in tables or forms - actually makes a difference for humans reading the data.
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A New Book on Intellectual Property

“Our scattershot cultural policy has failed to balance the public interest with the marketplace,” writes Bill Ivey in his Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). Ivey, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, carefully follows the growing corporate ownership of our documentary heritage, creative arts, and art of lasting value (like classical music) and the fading cultural and other institutions that collect and care for them. Adding to the growing literature about intellectual property, most of it quite pessimistic, Ivey also spends considerable energy considering the cultural heritage, a topic that will be of interest to archivists. [This is how I start my review of the book on my blog posting today, May 14th.] The book is also of interest to everyone in our school!

From the University Basement

In the June 2008 issue of the Atlantic, there is an interesting article by Professor X, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” capturing some of the continuing problems and challenges besetting the university. Identifying him or herself as an “adjunct instructor of English,” Professor X comments on the process of teaching basic writing skills and the desire by the public to get a professional education (and the desire by the university to make money offering it).

Here are some sample statements. . . .

“Adult education, nontraditional education, education for returning students—whatever you want to call it—is a substantial profit center for many colleges. Like factory owners, school administrators are delighted with this idea of mounting a second shift of learning in their classrooms, in the evenings, when the full-time students are busy with such regular extracurricular pursuits of higher education as reading Facebook and playing beer pong. If colleges could find a way to mount a third, graveyard shift, as Henry Ford’s Willow Run did at the height of the Second World War, I believe that they would.”

“There is a sense that the American workforce needs to be more professional at every level. Many jobs that never before required college now call for at least some post-secondary course work. School custodians, those who run the boilers and spread synthetic sawdust on vomit, may not need college—but the people who supervise them, who decide which brand of synthetic sawdust to procure, probably do. There is a sense that our bank tellers should be college educated, and so should our medical-billing techs, and our child-welfare officers, and our sheriffs and federal marshals.”

“America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.”

“Sending everyone under the sun to college is a noble initiative. Academia is all for it, naturally. Industry is all for it; some companies even help with tuition costs. Government is all for it; the truly needy have lots of opportunities for financial aid. The media applauds it—try to imagine someone speaking out against the idea. To oppose such a scheme of inclusion would be positively churlish. But one piece of the puzzle hasn’t been figured into the equation, to use the sort of phrase I encounter in the papers submitted by my English 101 students. The zeitgeist of academic possibility is a great inverted pyramid, and its rather sharp point is poking, uncomfortably, a spot just about midway between my shoulder blades.”

This is an interesting window into the nature of what our universities do. You can read the entire article at

Wireless households

This item is interesting, even if the source (the Center for Disease Control) is a bit unusual. The picture says it all ...

but the quote is also worthwhile:
In the last 6 months of 2007, nearly one out of every six households (15.8%) did not have a landline telephone, but did have at least one wireless telephone. Approximately 14.5% of all adults-more than 32 million adults-lived in households with only wireless telephones; 14.4% of all children-more than 10 million children-lived in households with only wireless telephones.

The percentage of adults living in wireless-only households has been steadily increasing. During the last 6 months of 2007, more than one out of every seven adults lived in wireless-only households. One year before that (that is, during the last 6 months of 2006), fewer than one out of every eight adults lived in wireless-only households. And 2 years before that (that is, during the last 6 months of 2004), only 1 out of every 18 adults lived in wireless-only households.

The percentage of adults and the percentage of children living without any telephone service have remained relatively unchanged over the past 3 years. Approximately 2.2% of households had no telephone service (neither wireless nor landline). Approximately 4 million adults (1.9%) and 1.5 million children (2.1%) lived in these households.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Persistant software bugs

As this item makes clear, debugging software is challenging:
... OpenBSD developer Marc Balmer has just closed the book on a 25-year-old flaw affecting BSD file systems. He found it when an OpenBSD user emailed him about SAMBA crashing, which he then traced to a workaround SAMBA used to function correctly on BSD systems, which he THEN traced back to a flaw that existed since August of 1983. This bug is in every single BSD system since then, including Mac OS X. The code itself was a very trivial fix, which makes it all the crazier that it took 25 years to do so.

Czech National Library?

Those of you who are fans of libraries and architecture might find this item interesting!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

2 views of 2.0

Mike Eisenberg (from the iSchool at the University of Washington) has put together a useful overview of Web 2.0 issues (in SWOT terms) entitled "The Parallel Information Universe," published in the the May 1, 2008, issue of Library Journal:

and here's a very different (!) view of Second Life: "Ban 'Second Life' in schools and libraries, Republican congressman says..."

Friday, May 09, 2008

Academic Freedom Case Study

There is an intriguing new book on academic freedom. Mary Lefkowitz, the classicist who took on the Afro-centrists (arguing that the Greeks stole their philosophy and other knowledge from Africa) has written a very personal account of her life and academic career as a result of her involvement in this controversy in History Lesson: A Race Odyssey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008). For a longer discussion of this book see my blog, "Reading Archives," for May 9th.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Public Scholarship

One aspect of academe that has always interested me is the issue of public scholarship -- academics and others who write for a broader audience. I tried to address this topic from the LIS perspective in my "Accountability, Public Scholarship, and Library, Information, and Archival Science Educators," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 41 (Spring 2000): 94-105.

Patricia Nelson Limerick, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has provided an interesting gloss on this from the humanities perspective in her "Tales of Western Adventure," published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, She writes, in part, "The Center of the American West is one indication of the beginning of a shift in academe toward more acceptance of applied work, and it's certainly not the only example. I have met professors on my own campus and elsewhere who are at work in all sorts of applied ways, serving as expert witnesses in litigation on behalf of Indian tribes, working with schoolteachers, consulting with elected and appointed officials, and guiding governmental agencies and advocacy groups."

Given the nature of what we are involved in, I have always thought that we ought to be publishing for broader audiences, as some of our colleagues -- David Levy, Paul Duguid, John Seely Brown, Matthew Battles -- have done.

You can find the full article at

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Last Lecture

I recommend Randy Pausch, with Jeffrey Zaslow, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008). As most of you know, Pausch is the CMU computer science professor dying of cancer who received a lot of attention for giving a "last lecture" at CMU. His book builds on the substance of that lecture and offers an interesting commentary on life and the academic community. As his recounts about the lecture, "I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured" (p. x). I am going to use this book as the first reading in my doctoral seminar this fall -- LIS 3000 Introduction to the PhD Program -- which focuses on professional schools in research universities. It will be an interesting means to get students to think about why they are doing a doctoral program, considering the end right at the beginning.

Friday, May 02, 2008

David Brooks on Globalization

Here's an interesting (and relevant to the iSchools) op-ed piece on what's really driving changes in the world economy. See his article here.