Thursday, December 31, 2009

No Right to Remain Silent

Lucinda Roy, No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech (New York: Harmony Books, 2009) is a disturbing window into the April 16, 2007 shootings at this university by the former chair of the English department who sought to provide aid to the student who carried out the rampage. Roy presents a university bureaucracy unable to cope with the aftermath, the failure of counseling services, the strange efforts to preserve the killer’s privacy, mismanagement of documents and other evidence related to the tragedy, and other revelations about the massacre. Roy does not spend a great deal of time trying to assess whether the culture at Virginia Tech is unique or common in higher education. However, my sense is that Roy’s analysis fits, unfortunately, comfortably within critiques of the modern corporate university. One minor example suggests this. Roy places the problem with teaching assessment as one of the factors of the school’s inability to deal with troubled students. She provides an interesting assessment of teaching evaluations, asserting that the student evaluations of teaching have evolved from something intended to assist faculty to a means to judge faculty, creating a process causing teachers to be “less adventurous” and “making some teachers think twice before they offend or provoke a student, and making professors and instructors less willing to report troubled students, especially if the teacher knows he or she could receive a blistering evaluation from the student in response” (p. 188). Among other things, this is the byproduct of a university seeking to establish itself as a top research university, hampered by a weak financial base: “With the pressure to generate income more pronounced than it has ever been it is unlikely that teaching will retain the level of recognition it deserves any time soon” (p. 178). I am sure there will be considerable debate about this book (even she assumes that she will have leave Virginia Tech after two decades of being on its faculty), but it is a volume every faculty member ought to read in order to reflect on the effectiveness of approaches to dealing with students with various behavioral, psychological, and other issues.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Case for Books

Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (New York: Public Affairs, 2009) brings together a decade of Darnton's musings about books, the history of books as a field, bibliography, digitization and e-books, and the Google book deal. Highly recommended, even if Darnton, an eminent historian, does tend to ignore writings from within librarianship, LIS, and archives relevant to his topics.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IT Conversations podcasts of broader interest

I have been listening to these podcasts over the past days. Here are a couple that I thought were interesting to the SIS community:

Study of FLICKR tags, personal archiving and more

Maps in four dimensions

HTTP Watch for Internet Explorer

Economics of mobility

I think some of these might be fodder for research collaboration and discussion at SIS!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Free e-book "The Fourth Paradigm"

Some of you might be interested in "The Fourth Paradigm", which you can either download for free or purchase (the free version is here). From the Foreword:

This book is about a new, fourth paradigm for science based on data intensive computing. In such scientific research, we are at a stage of development that is analogous to when the printing press was invented. Printing took a thousand years to develop and evolve into the many forms it takes today. Using computers to gain understanding from data created and stored in our electronic data stores will likely take decades—or less. The contributing authors in this volume have done an extraordinary job of helping to refine an understanding of this new paradigm from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

In many instances, science is lagging behind the commercial world in the ability to infer meaning from data and take action based on that meaning. However, commerce is comparatively simple: things that can be described by a few numbers or a name are manufactured and then bought and sold. Scientific disciplines cannot easily be encapsulated in a few understandable numbers and names, and most scientific data does not have a high enough economic value to fuel more rapid development of scientific discovery.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Declining numbers of High School students are taking Computer Science

This item in the Washington Post reports that fewer high school students nationally are enrolled in computer science.  This does not portend well for domestic enrollments in future for technology oriented information technology programs.  Some quotes from the article:

 Nationally, the portion of schools that offer an introductory computer science course has dropped from 78 percent in 2005 to 65 percent this year, and the corresponding decline in AP courses went from 40 to 27 percent, according to a survey by the Computer Science Teachers Association.

In the spring, the College Board, citing declining enrollment, canceled its AP computer science AB class, the more rigorous of its two courses in the subject.

The result of sporadic or skimpy computer science training is that a generation of teenagers great at using computers will be unlikely to play a role in the way computer technology shapes lives in the future, said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the New York-based Computer Science Teachers Association.

Friday, December 18, 2009

100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About...

Hmmm? Apparently, "some of the technology we grew up with will not be passed down the line to the next generation of geeks. That is, of course, unless we tell them all about the good old days of modems and typewriters, slide rules and encyclopedias …"

Go here to find out the "100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About...":

Kinda reminds me of the Museum of Antique Information Technology that lives in my SIS office!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fascinating privacy ecosphere graphics

Produced by the FTC, this figure illustrates the personal data ecosphere in general and this one provides more specifics for instances such as medical data, retailer loyalty cards, social networking, etc..  I find them worth staring at, even if they are only partially true (which, by the way, I am not asserting).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

December 1st is World AIDS Day

December 1, 2009, has been designated World AIDS Day, in order to bring attention to the increasing prevalence of HIV and AIDS. Organizations around the world will be joining together today to promote awareness and education of HIV/AIDS through a variety of events.

Visit the UCLA AIDS Poster collection (a digital library)

Monday, November 30, 2009

a PSA: Smoking is so bad that it voids your computer's warranty

Heads up, schmokers: Lighting up near your computer is heresy enough that Apple says it voids your warranty should you need to bring a smoke-exposed computer in for repair. Specifically, in at least two instances in different parts of the country, Apple has voided the warranty and refused to provide repair service on Macintosh computers exposed to environments where cigarette smoke has been present. Calling cigarette smoke residue (tar and whatnot) inside a computer a health risk and a "biohazard," in both cases Apple customers have been denied service despite having time left on a valid warranty.

Read the full article here:

Hat tip: LIS News

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Journalist report from National Digital Forum

GLAM isn't my area, but I thought this article was thoughtful and of relevance to SIS.  I thought the connection between media and GLAM was worthy of further discussion as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Broadband to libraries

This item over at Ars Technica reports on the recent ALA report on Internet access.  Much of the article discusses the difficulties faced by rural libraries in getting access at adequate data rates as well as the funding going with it.  According to the article, the ALA report recommends raising the spending caps on the e-rate program.  It seems that this might be a difficult recommendation to follow given the problems with the e-rate program found by the GAO.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Second Life still going?

From the BBC today: "Not long ago Second Life was everywhere, with businesses opening branches and bands playing gigs in this virtual world. Today you'd be forgiven for asking if it's still going. ....

Second Life has had to temper its ambitions for the quality of graphics to extend its accessibility across varying speeds of broadband around the world, leading to complaints about the cartoony look and feel of the site. And there is a fundamental question about whether Second Life is a game or a social networking site. ...."

For the whole article, go to

Oberlin Adopts Open Access Policy and Archive for ALL Faculty Research

[from Inside Higher Education this morning]

Oberlin Adopts Open Access for Faculty Research

Faculty members at Oberlin College voted last week to create an online and free archive to which they will add all work they publish in peer reviewed journals. The move, similar to those taken by faculties at several research universities, reflects support for the open access movement in which the paid subscription model for journals is being challenged. Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies and chair of the General Faculty Library Committee said in a statement: “The current system of journal publishing, which largely relies on subscriptions and licenses, limits access to research information in significant ways, particularly for students and faculty at smaller and less wealthy institutions, as well as for the general public. Access is also seriously limited around the world in countries with fewer resources.”

for the full text of the Oberlin faculty resolution, go to

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Twitter fun facts

This article explains it ... Twitter is for old Americans ...

  • The U.S. has the largest number of Twitter users at 57.4 percent, followed by the UK with 8.2 percent, Canada (5.9 percent), Australia (2.9 percent), Brazil (2.1 percent), Germany (1.6 percent) and the Netherlands (1.3 percent.)
  • Nearly 28 percent of Twitter users are above the age of 45, while 26 percent users are between the ages of 15-24.
  • About 18.4 percent of tweets emerge from Tweetdeck, while Tweetie accounts for 9.1 percent and Seesmic is at 6 percent of the total. Its web interface accounts for 17.8 percent of total tweets.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Better Pencil

Dennis Baron, A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Predictions of how the continuing development of computing technologies is changing the manner in which we read, write, and learn continue to pour out from every possible arena. English professor Dennis Baron gives us a sensible examination of writing and reading practices in the context of the history of communication technology. “Computers and the internet are neither the best developments in the history of writing nor the worst,” Baron contends. “They are simply the latest in a series of innovations in how we do things with words” (p. xv). He discusses writing as a technology; how each new writing technology has been greeted with suspicion (and how technologies are not neutral); and considers the impact of the technologies of the pencil, handwriting, writing on clay, and word processing. Baron is especially intrigued by issues such as concerns about learning how to trust texts, a matter that is not unique to our era as so many have suggested. The primacy of print didn’t happen overnight, but it emerged very gradually, and, moreover, digital text will not be the last means of representing information. Baron is, in fact, optimistic as he looks backward to assess the future of reading and writing. Writing on the screen deepens and broadens writing, he believes, and there are more writers and readers than ever before, embracing the virtual word. Such optimism extends from his way of seeing technology: “By definition it is artificial, a device fashioned for a purpose. Pens are no more natural than keyboards, penmanship no better at reflecting the human spirit than digitized text. But for those of us who have gotten used to keying in our words, working with pens and pencils has already begun to seem less natural, less automatic, less of a direct connection from mind to text, than going online” (p. 66). Some day, keying in words may seem less natural as well.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Anybody using Readability-tm?

from The New York Times: Pogue's Posts [November 6, 2009]

Cleaning Up the Clutter Online

"Readability has changed my life. It’s a new button on your Web browser’s toolbar. With one click, it eliminates EVERYTHING from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else.

The text is also changed to a beautiful font and size (you choose them in advance) and the background is made plain white (or a light shading of your choice). Basically, it makes any Web page look like a printed book page or a Kindle page, and it’s glorious.
I’ve never understood how people can read Web articles when there’s Times-Square blinking going on all around them. Fortunately, I’ll never have to put up with them again. One click does the trick, thanks to Readability—and it’s free. (You get it, and set it up, here. It’s what’s known as a bookmarklet; you install it in your Web browser just by dragging its button onto your toolbar.)

When I mentioned Readability on Twitter, there were hundreds of “OMG, this changes everything!” responses. There were also a few remarks like, “Hey, without the ads, how do you expect Web sites to pay for those articles you’re enjoying?”

Well, first of all, you still see the ads—before you click the Readability button.

Second, and more important, I don’t think advertisers should be blinking, animating and distracting in the first place. If I’m interested in the product, I’ll read the ad. But trying to pull my focus as I’m trying to read crosses some kind of line. You know what? I would never click any ad that blinks or animates in the first place. It’s obnoxious and juvenile, and I’m not about to reward them.

Now and then, Readability can’t parse the page correctly, and it isolates the wrong block of text. No biggie; just refresh the page to bring back the original.

Readability is far more than an ad blocker. It addresses multiple unpleasant trends in Web layout these days: type getting too small, layouts getting cluttered and complex, text overlapping with graphics, ads interrupting the flow of the prose, and so on. (You can print or e-mail the cleaned-up page, too.)

It completely transforms the Web experience, turning your computer into an e-book reader. I think I’m in love."

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Take a look at the findings from an interesting survery...reported at EDUCAUSE this week:

Technology Gap
November 5, 2009
DENVER -- Professors think they are doing reasonably well when it comes to using technology in the classroom, according to a survey released here this week by CDW-G at the annual meeting of Educause. Not everyone agrees with the faculty view of things.

Consider these statistics from nationally representative samples of students and faculty members (at two- and four-year institutions, public and private). Asked about their use and their institutions' support for technology, professors said the following:
•75 percent said that their institution "understands how they use or want to use technology."
•67 percent are happy with their own technology professional development.
•74 percent said that they incorporate technology into every class or almost every class.
•64 percent said that they teach in what they consider to be a smart classroom.

Sounds like a technology savvy professoriate. But when students were asked whether their professors understand technology and have integrated it into their courses, only 38 percent said Yes. Further, when students were asked about the top impediment to using technology, the top answer was "lack of faculty technology knowledge," an answer that drew 45 percent of respondents, up from 25 percent only a year ago.

And only 32 percent of students said that they believed their college was adequately preparing them to use technology in their careers.

For the data and the rest of the story, see

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Libraries Confront Digital Natives

In a justifiably self-congratulatory tone – after all, she IS the Chief Executive of the British Library – Lynne Brindley discusses the value of libraries to digital natives in “Challenges for Great Libraries in the Age of the Digital Native,” in Information Services & Use 29 (2003): 3-12.

She reports on the success of the British Library in responding to what she sees as the issues that major research libraries need to pay attention to, which are
- e-Science and E-Research, particularly helping the creators of this content manage the data generated from collaborative support tools.
- Web. 2.0 and Web 3.0 – demonstrating a willingness to consider user-supplied content as something other than a challenge to the library’s authority and role as supporter of the traditional assurances of authenticity of formal publication methods.
- Digitization of special collections material for access – does increased visibility of this material lead to new kinds of scholarship?
- Information literacy – the role of libraries in providing instruction in the development of analytic and evaluation skills so that the digital natives can assess the resources they tend to view rather than read.
- Digital preservation and long-term access – determining what is of continuing access and proposing methods of preserving it for continued use.
- Emphasizing the value of the physical spaces of the research library as “inspiring spaces to support creativity and innovation [and] to support networking.”

In the information economy, the value of intellectual capital held by library collections and their staff is measured by their success in the marketplace, so research libraries need to make sure that their products are available and attractive to the buyers.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Teaching What You Don't Know

Therese Huston, Teaching What You Don’t Know (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009) is a useful book on teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level. Huston, holding a doctorate in cognitive psychology and now on the faculty of Seattle University, addresses a generally neglected aspect of being a faculty member. “Teaching what you don’t know is an increasingly common reality for a majority of academics,” she writes. “The only instructors who may be exempt from the pressure to teach beyond their area of expertise are senior tenured faculty members at research universities and some part-time adjunct faculty” (p. 9). It is certainly not a reality that I am familiar with. In presenting advice on how to prepare for such teaching, Huston provides lots of useful advice about teaching strategies, interacting with students (especially the differences in attitudes and aims between faculty and students), and the assessment of teaching.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mediated Memories

Media scholar, José van Dijck, offers an important book on digital memory in his Mediated Memories in the Digital Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007). “Mediated memories are the activities and objects we produce and appropriate by means of media technologies,” he asserts, for creating and re-creating a sense of past, present, and future of ourselves in relation to others” (p. 21). “Mediated memories are not static objects or repositories but dynamic relationships that evolve along two axes: a horizontal axis expressing relational identity and a vertical axis articulating time,” (p. 21) speculating how documentary forms or objects, such as diaries and blogs, music recordings, and photographs are in constant flux. Focusing on personal memory, van Dijck believes that “every decision to buy a book or record, or to tape a television program, situates a person in his or her contemporary culture” (p. 24). Digital changes everything, even transforming such classic documentary forms as diaries. “Keeping a diary is at once a creative and communicative act, and it also serves as a memory tool: writing the self constructs continuity between past and present while keeping an eye on the future” (p. 57). While content in diaries is always the most important aspect of the record, the look and feel of the handwritten diary has always been important as well, reminding us that “As our technologies for writing change, so do our ways of creating self-reflective records; memory, in other words, is always implicated in the act and technology of writing” (p. 63).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wannabe U

Gaye Tuchman, Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

This may be the most important assessment of the nature of the corporate university. Tuchman, a well-known sociologist, studies her own institution, the University of Connecticut, although she writes about the institution in anonymous fashion and continues to not confirm that it is UConn. She charts how we have shifted from the university as a public good in the mid-twentieth university to the university as business. Many of the criticisms are familiar – universities are training not educating; accountability, auditing, and reporting have now overwhelmed both faculty and administrators as productivity measures but measures that often do not support fundamental activities such as teaching and research; the university is not a social institution, now it is an industry; branding and marketing consume ever greater amounts of resources (time and money); credentials are the products being sold; decisions are made to get higher rankings, even if it is understood that such rankings are flawed – but Tuchman offers remarkably rich detail and research to back her criticism. This is a book already drawing both praise and criticism, the best kind – one that stimulates debate about where higher education is heading. And it comes pretty close to home. Read it and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just in time for Halloween?!?

Just in time for the Halloween season, the National Library of Medicine's History of Medicine Division has launched a reanimated website for the exhibition Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. Originally launched in 1998, this was the first online exhibition produced by NLM's Exhibition Program. Today the website is alive with a new look and feel, and is certifiably 508 compliant.

Reanimated Frankenstein Exhibition:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Economics of cloud computing

As cloud computing becomes a more important paradigm for information systems, it is useful to consider not just the technical parameters but also the costs as well. This article, reporting on a Booz, Allen and Hamilton study, does just that. From the article:

The government's adoption of this new IT model warrants careful consideration of the model's broad economic implications-including the potential long-term benefits in terms of cost savings and avoidance as well as the near-term costs and other impacts of a transition from the current environment. Factors such as the number and rate of federal agencies adopting cloud computing, the length of their transitions to cloud computing, and the cloud computing deployment model (public, private, or hybrid) all will affect the total costs, potential benefits, and time required for the expected benefits to offset the investment costs.


Although cloud computing offers potentially significant savings to federal agencies by reducing their expenditures on server hardware and associated support costs, chief information officers, policymakers, and other interested parties should bear in mind a number of practical considerations:

  • It will take, on average, 18-24 months for most agencies to redirect funding to support this transition, given the budget process.
  • Some up-front investment will be required, even for agencies seeking to take advantage of public cloud options.
  • Implementations may take several years, depending on the size of the agency and the complexity of the cloud model it selects (i.e., public, private, or hybrid).
  • It could take as long as 4 years for the accumulated savings from agency investments in cloud computing to offset the initial investment costs; this timeframe could be longer if implementations are improperly planned or inefficiently executed.

Need guides for student writing problems?

Check out this post from today's Internet Scout Report:

The Writing Center at Harvard University

The Writing Center at Harvard University is perhaps the oldest formal writing center at an American university, and their complementary websitepresents a valuable trove of instructional handouts for writers young and old. On this page, visitors will find over a dozen helpful handouts with titles such as "How to Read an Assignment", "Essay Structure", "Developing aThesis", "Summary", and "Revising the Draft". Each piece is written in clear prose, and the advice offered is sound and practical. Also, visitors should note that the site also includes a link to Harvard's guide to citation and integration of sources, "Writing with Sources", and a selection of links to other related writing style guides.

>From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2009.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Harry Potter vs ... Windows 7?

This is an interesting, if irrelevant, comparison:
The old record for Amazon UK preorders was held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The new record goes to Windows 7.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Concerned about e-portfolios and assessment measures?

Check out this opinion piece from today's Inside Higher Ed:

The Limitations of Portfolios [October 16, 2009]
By Richard J. Shavelson , Stephen Klein and Roger Benjamin

"Colleges have come to realize the need to assess and improve student learning and to report their efforts to students, faculty, administrators, and the public; including policy makers and prospective students and their parents. The question is how to accomplish this. The roar of yesterday’s Spellings Commission and its vision of accountability is background noise to today’s cacophony of calls for more transparency and campus-based, authentic assessment of student learning. Some of the advocates for more authentic measures, such as Carol Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, have suggested using electronic portfolios -- collections of a student’s work products, such as term papers, research papers or descriptions, and the student’s written thoughts (“reflections”) about these work products and curricular experiences that are bundled together on an electronic platform. The presumed merits of portfolios, such as their supposed ability to drill down into the local curriculum, have been extolled elsewhere. Portfolios are simply not up to the task of providing the necessary data for making a sound assessment of student learning. They do not and cannot yield the trustworthy information that is needed for this purpose. However, there are approaches that can provide some of the information that is required..."

[Click on the link for the rest of the story: ]

DIY book scanner

If you're a tinkerer, you might want to build one of these for yourself. What you do with the scanned pages is another matter ...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does the brain like e-books?

Does the brain like e-books? New York Times, October 14, 2009.

Many of us are struggling to anticipate reading behavior in the digital age. This is one of the central problems investigated in a course I teach called, "Technology in the Lives of Children".

This article from the New York Times considers the effect of online reading on the "reading brain".

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Content centric networking

At the Future Internet summit, Van Jacobsen suggested that the Internet was designed to connect devices to each other (which made sense at the time). An alternative paradigm is to imagine if the internet was about networking information objects. I subsequently learned that he has a project underway that addresses this approach, called Content-Centric Networking (CCNx). The ideas are very interesting; apparently an initial prototype is operating at PARC, though much work remains to be done. This seems to be an idea that should gain traction at iSchools like ours.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Future of the Book

The current issue of the Wilson Quarterly features three essays concerning the future of the book. Christine Rosen, “In the Beginning was the Word,” Wilson Quarterly 33 (Autumn 2009): 48-53 thinks the printed book has life in it yet and worries that the manner in which we now interact with the written word is not to learn from others but rather to share our opinions. Tyler Cowen, “Three Tweets for the Web,” pp. 54-58 reflects on the nature of our use of the Web, placing it in the longer view of how we normally react to new technologies and is optimistic about the new digital texts. Alex Wright, “The Battle of the Books,” pp. 59-64 gives us a history lesson about the book and sees new and more useful forms of it growing from the Web and other digital delivery systems.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Mobile as the new mass medium?

I posted this item over at my blog; I thought that this idea would have broader interest at SIS. Mass media also has implications for information policy and many aspects of user interaction with information that we tend to be interested in at SIS.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

GIS app in da Burgh?

sent to me by a friend (a SIS grad!) in Seattle:
"In conjunction with YinzCam from CMU, an iPhone app has been released that allows folks to take pics of potholes, send them to the city's 311 complaint line and it even geo-tags the image so the city can find the exact location of the pothole. What a great idea! Can also be used to report grafitti, missing street signs and dilapidated houses."

Lewis Carroll's photographs of children

Carroll, Lewis. (2009). Lewis Carroll: Introduction by Colin Ford. (Photofile). Thames & Hudson Ltd: London.

While Lewis Carroll is best known for his masterpieces in children’s literature, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, he had other creative talents. His work with photography was pioneering and helped to set the standard for portraiture with the camera. This book contains fifty-nine full-page reproductions of his portraits, most of which are of children, along with a critical introduction and a bibliography. Through the lens of Carroll’s camera are reflected images of children that are “haunting, unforgettable – and, to modern eyes, controversial – images that record the beauty, grace and innocence of Victorian childhood”. Several of the photographs are of Carroll’s muse, Alice Liddell, the child who inspired him to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bell Labs alums win Nobel Prize for physics for fiber optics research

The Nobel committee recognized the work of two scientists that were key parts of the communications revolution that we are living today. Both performed their work at the now-dismembered Bell Labs. Many leaders in the communications industry are "Bell Labs alums" ...

Future Internet architectures

This paper by Prof. Raj Jain of WU (St. Louis) surveys approaches that have been proposed for the next generation Internet architecture. I have just scanned it for now and plan on reading it in detail in the coming days in preparation for the NSF FIND workshop next week. I think this will be important reading for those interested in the future information architectures.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Data archiving, scientific integrity and public policy

I found this item extremely interesting and of great relevance to many of us at SIS (a shorter version of the issue is here). One of the key sources of evidence used by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was data from tree rings. This article describes an author who was interested in looking at the original data set. The problems he encountered included data integrity, lack of metadata, incomplete archiving and more. According to the researcher, a re-analysis of the data comes to different conclusions, which has enormous implications for public policy. So who said the work we do is obscure and unimportant?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Demographics of social networking

You might find this article interesting:

If you’re in the U.S. and are using a social network like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn, chances are you’re more affluent and more urban than the average American according to Nielsen Claritas, which provides in-depth segmentation analysis of consumer behavior.

The article goes on to compare some of the different social networking sites. The article is short on actual data (they want you to pay for that), but it does add to the conversation around inclusion as our media consumption shifts.

Is Congressional data defective by design?

I thought this item over at was interesting. The essence of the argument is this:

The current Congressional process for publishing data is, to borrow a phrase from the Free Software Foundation, Defective By Design. As we see in many proprietary, top-down systems affecting the public interest, it’s insistently closed-off. Congress’ processes for distributing legislative info is fundamentally broken — it could and should relatively easily be fixed, starting now. Whether or not you support the Baucus markup or the House version of the health care reform bill, we hope you agree that the public has a right to read this important iteration & political volley in the process.

In general, the contents of PDFs are not searchable by external search engines (like Google). Because the item in question isn't a Bill, it doesn't make its way into LC's Thomas (except as a PDF).

Is this a limit on accessibility? Is this consistent with goverment information policy?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Google search history as an interest poll

As many of you know, I follow the network neutrality discussions at an above average attention level. So it was natural for me to come across this article posted over at the Technology Liberation Front (TLF). The substance of the argument aside, what I found interesting was the use of search results as a tool to gauge public interest/sentiment. It is clearly not a random-selection type poll, but it is certainly broadly based. I wonder how well this kind of measure would compare to a more rigorous, carefully designed and implemented survey. Clearly you can't ask the same types of questions, but if search and level of interest are highly correlated, then for some kinds of questions this approach might lead to a good first approximation.

University Libraries and Their Future

From today's Inside Higher Education . . . .

Libraries of the Future
September 24, 2009
NEW YORK CITY — The university library of the future will be sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas.
That's what Daniel Greenstein, vice provost for academic planning and programs at the University of California System, told a room full of university librarians Wednesday at Baruch College of City University of New York, where the higher education technology group Ithaka held a meeting to discuss "sustainable scholarship."
“We're already starting to see a move on the part of university libraries... to outsource virtually all the services it has developed and maintained over the years,” Greenstein said. Now, with universities everywhere still ailing from last year's economic meltdown, administrators are more likely than ever to explore the dramatic restructuring of library operations.
Within the decade, he said, groups of universities will have shared print and digital repositories where they store books they no longer care to manage. “There are national discussions about how and to what extent we can begin to collaborate institutionally to share the cost of storing and managing books,” he said. “That trend should keeping continuing as capital funding is scarce, as space constraints are severe, especially on urban campuses — and, frankly, as funding needs to flow into other aspects of the academic program.”
Under such a system, individual university libraries would no longer have to curate their own archives in order to ensure the long-term viability of old texts, Greenstein said. “What is the proportion of a library budget that is just consumed by the care and cleaning of books?” he said. “It's not a small number.”
Greenstein said he expects universities to outsource other library duties as well. Cataloging can be contracted out to providers such as Google, he said, and research data services are increasingly springing up directly out of academic departments (Greenstein used as examples the Cultural VR Lab at the University of California at Los Angeles and the Environmental Information Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara). As individual libraries' archives and services shrink, he said, so will their staffs.
So too would their operating costs. In economic times such as these, Greenstein said, “reallocation practices are now not just good business practice, they are fundamental and essential if we are to preserve the integrity of the core academic mission.”
Some university librarians in attendance reacted coolly to Greenstein's presentation. “I don't think we need your office to reallocate funds in order to achieve the types of information services leadership and change which you described,” said James Neal, university librarian at Columbia University. “I think that if seed funding and empowerment were enabled within the libraries at most of our colleges and universities, we would find great capacity to build ... the types of changes that you outlined.”
“I think that's not a very accurate depiction of what I see happening at research libraries,” said Deborah Jacobs, deputy director of global libraries at Duke University. “I see the exact opposite happening, that libraries are taking on new roles — [such as] working with faculty in introducing technology into teaching... there's a lot more intersection with libraries and faculty than he would lead you to believe.”
Jacobs added that universities have already equipped libraries to provide the whole buffet of services at the level of individual campuses. It does not make sense, she said, to abandon that infrastructure and rely on outsiders.
Shawn Martin, a scholarly communication librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, said Greenstein's points largely rang true, but he doubted university libraries would transform on the 7-to-10-year time scale he suggested. “We already have a legacy of stuff that we have to do,” Martin said, “so just shifting funds quickly is a very difficult problem.”
— Steve Kolowich

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twittering Congressional members

The Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently released this report
which studied Congressional use of the social media service Twitter (here, by the way, is Politico's discussion of this report). There are several interesting items in this report; for example, this graphic classifies what they tweeted about during the study period:

Several questions arise from this, including:

  • Is this the wave of the future for constituent communications?
  • What is the impact of this on traditional scholarly research on politicians and the political process?
  • Are "tweets" covered by current information policy in terms of record-keeping?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorting Things Out

David Evans, “Redefining Faculty Roles,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14, 2009, available at, is an interesting, brief lament about the life of the academic. Evans starts off by charting the increasing responsibilities for faculty over the past two decades, and then notes, “The problem is that the traditional triad of faculty obligations—teaching, scholarship, and service—have not altered at all (or, perhaps more accurately, have also become more intense) during the same time.” He concludes: “Calls for accountability and critiques of faculty life as a refuge for slackers are partly responsible for these trends, and anyone inside the academy knows that these discussions are often wildly misinformed. It's certainly clear, however, that faculty life has changed, and academics need to figure out how to be more positive participants in the conversation about how to ensure that faculty work is configured to support excellence in teaching and research.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Internet statistics

If you like facts and figures (however useless), you might like the Google Internet Stats pages. On this page, Google has assembled data from a variety of sources about many aspects of the Internet. Perhaps because it is, many of the items are oriented toward the UK. For example:

  • Nearly three in five (57%) of youth consumers logged on to YouTube to watch a music video in the last 12 months, compared to 56% who watched a music TV channel.
  • 97% of UK female Internet users research products online and 92% of UK female Internet users buy products online.
  • Over 30% of respondents in a recent eMarket study for Japan, UK, Spain and US, agreed that the mobile phone is an extension of their PCs/Laptops. 4% felt it was a computer, while 22% felt their mobile device was both a phone and a computer.

Writing the Dissertation

A new book has appeared on dissertation writing – Peg Boyle Single, Demystifying Dissertation Writing: A Streamlined Process from Choice of Topic to Final Text (Stylus, 2009). I have not read it, but here is the product description:
Research shows that five strategies correlate with the successful completion of a dissertation:
· Establishing a consistent writing routine
· Working with a support group
· Consulting your advisor
· Understanding your committee’s expectations
· Setting a realistic and timely schedule

Building on these insights, this book is for anyone who needs help in preparing for, organizing, planning, scheduling, and writing the longest sustained writing project they have encountered, particularly if he or she is not receiving sufficient guidance about the process, but also for anyone looking to boost his or her writing productivity.

The author uncovers much tacit knowledge, provides advice on working with dissertation advisors and committee members, presents proven techniques for the prewriting and writing stages of the dissertation, sets out a system for keeping on schedule, and advocates enlisting peer support.

As Peg Boyle Single states, “my goal is quite simple and straightforward: for you to experience greater efficiency and enjoyment while writing. If you experience anxiety, blocking, impatience, perfectionism or procrastination when you write, then this system is for you. I want you to be able to complete your writing so that you can move on with the rest of your life.”

Few scholars, let alone graduate students, have been taught habits of writing fluency and productivity. The writing skills imparted by this book will not only help the reader through the dissertation writing process, but will serve her or him in whatever career she or he embarks on, given the paramount importance of written communication, especially in the academy.

This book presents a system of straightforward and proven techniques that are used by productive writers, and applies them to the dissertation process. In particular, it promotes the concept of writing networks – whether writing partners or groups – to ensure that writing does not become an isolated and tortured process, while not hiding the need for persistence and sustained effort.

This book is intended for graduate students and their advisers in the social sciences, the humanities, and professional fields. It can further serve as a textbook for either informal writing groups led by students or for formal writing seminars offered by departments or graduate colleges. The techniques described will help new faculty advice their students more effectively and even achieve greater fluency in their own writing.

Viral Culture

Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s and one of the architects of the flash mobs phenomenon, has written an interesting account of viral culture – a culture based on four attributes: “incredible rapidity”; “shamelessness” – attention; “duration” -- “it is a success generally assumed to be ephemeral even by those caught in it.” “sophistication” – interactive, media mind (p. 8). Here is a snippet related to one of my own interests, blogging as a form of virtual archive: “Bloggers, mashup artists, YouTube videographers, political ‘hacktivists’ – these people aren’t sitting in their bedrooms spinning out moony personal diaries, hoping that someone will come long and recognize them. Aware they’re always being watched, they act accordingly, tailoring their posts to draw traffic, stirring up controversy, watching their stats to see what works and what doesn’t. They develop a meta-understanding of the conversation they’re in and how that conversation works, and they try to figure out where it’s going so they can get there first.” (p. 11). His book is And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (New York: Viking, 2009).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The principle of "good enough" and telecom networks

This article at the PFF website caught my attention. In the article, Adam Thierer, in reflecting on the recent Gmail outage, applies the ideas of this article from Wired to telecom. The telecom network has been engineered (at high cost) to 99.999% (i.e., "five nines") reliability; the question is whether this quality level is anywhere close to what is demanded by the market.

In some sense, we have a test case in that we are willing to consume different feature sets in telecom at different prices. Wireline telephony is the most reliable with the highest voice quality at price $x, mobile telephony is less reliable and has lower voice quality (with mobility) and is offered at price $y and VoIP has probably less reliability and lower quality than either at a lower price ($z). As a note, I don't think it is fair to say that $z=0 because we do pay for internet access and the computer that runs the VoIP software.

So is there only a marginal demand for quality, which might partially explain why wireline access lines are on the decline? Or is it strictly due to the substitution of mobile for wireline access?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Silicon Flatirons "Govt 3.0"

This report addresses a number of issues of interest to the school. It reports on a roundtable that was held on June 5, 2009 that focussed on the application of web 2.0 technologies to government. Thus, this report addresses issues such as transparency, privacy and citizen engagement. This is certainly useful fodder for information policy or e-government discussions.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Late Age of Print

Ted Striphas, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. 242 pp. $27.50.

As a faculty member in a professional school that has, over its more than century of existence, transformed itself from a library school to one of library and information science and finally to a school of information, one might assume that I am not interested in traditional printed books. We are bombarded daily with claims that print is dead and laments about the decline of the book. Actually, surrounded by thousands of books both in my university and home offices, I admit to loving books and, even, to believing that they have a legitimate future in our digital age.

Recently I encountered a book that provides a much more balanced claim about the utility of printed books. Ted Striphas, a professor in the Department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, argues that books will continue to play an important role in our society, and he counters the claim about their demise. Indeed, Striphas argues that such claims are partly the result of the lack of real scholarly analysis of books and book culture leading to exaggerated claims that print technology is ending and books as objects are disappearing. His careful research and well-written book provides some greater balance to the debate about the book.

This academic leads the reader through the debate about print versus digital, considers the meaning of the emergence of the big bookstores and book chains, examines the significance of and its success, reviews the role of Oprah’s Book Club, and evaluates the ramifications of the international rip-offs of the Harry Potter books. In each of these examples, Striphas places books and the technologies and commercial systems supporting them in their historical context. The Barnes and Noble enterprise is depicted, for example, not as the end of the cultural value of books or as an insidious attack on small, independent bookstores, but as offering different “effective strategies for communicating the relevance of, and generating interest in, books to both the actual and potential book buying public” (p. 78). Amazon, as another example, can only be fully understood in light of the emergence of technological developments such as providing books with codes (ISBN numbers) that date back to the 1930s and that enabled the rise of massive bookselling enterprises. Amazon is depicted by Striphas as a “large-scale, direct-to-customer, warehouse bookseller whose interface happens to be the World Wide Web” (p. 101).

Although written by an academic and published by a university press, The Late Age of Print is a book that ought to be read outside of academic circles. It stands against many popular publications confidently declaring the end of the printed book or decrying the loss of the traditional book. Striphas argues that the era we are in “isn’t a period in which familiar aspects of books and book culture are nearing their final and definitive moment of reckoning. Rather, it’s a more dynamic and open-ended moment characterized by both permanence and change” (p. 175). He draws on historical, sociological, and other models to make this point, but none of this scholarly writing detracts from a book that should be read by anyone interested in books and their value.

Which is why a professor in an information school assigns books to students as required readings, is surrounded in his work by numerous books (and inspired by them to work), and teaches about their value to the next generation of librarians, archivists, and information workers.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NSF visualization challenge

In case you're feeling competitive, you might find this worth doing, or at least sharing with your students!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Institutional Repositories: Roach Motels or Silos - Maybe Neither

I thought that this article over on SSRN might be a good discussion item. Perhaps we need to consider the economics (and socioanthropology) of participation in IRs as well?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What They Didn't Teach in Graduate School

A book you might find useful for working with your doctoral students or that might be helpful for new tenure-stream faculty is Paul Gray and David E. Drew, What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2008). The authors consider research and publication, building on one’s dissertation, job hunting for academic positions, teaching and service considerations, the tenure process, academic ranks and salaries, the academic lifestyle, and quality of life issues. In a foreword by Laurie Richlin, she writes, “Although professors are deeply concerned about their subjects, their students’ learning, and their institutions’ culture, most receive no preparation to deal with the complex issues involved in being a faculty member” (p. xvii). I think most of us can attest to this reality. It is something I am trying to change with my teaching of LIS 3000, Introduction to Doctoral Studies, if only by introducing new doctoral students to guide such as this one.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The economics of content on the web

I only follow this topic in a casual way, but I found this article to be interesting, especially given the challenges being faced by the traditional news organization. Quoting the article:

The vast majority of the value gets captured by aggregators linking and scraping rather than by the news organizations that get linked and scraped. We did a study of traffic on several sites that aggregate purely a menu of news stories. In all cases, there was at least twice as much traffic on the home page as there were clicks going to the stories that were on it. In other words, a very large share of the people who were visiting the site were merely browsing to read headlines rather than using the aggregation page to decide what they wanted to read in detail. Obviously, this has major ramifications for content creators’ ability to grow ad revenue, as the main benefit of added traffic is the potential for higher CPMs.

So, as always, the big question is how you get the incentives right so that people can be compensated for creating valuable content?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nice article on information visualization

I think the closing paragraphs of this article said it best:

It's essential to understand the importance of creative vision along with the technical mastery of software. Data visualization isn't about using all the data available, but about deciding which patterns and elements to focus on, building a narrative, and telling the story of the raw data in a different, compelling way.

Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It's not innovation for the sake of innovation. It's about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It's about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Indian Blues

John W. Troutman. Indian Blues: American Indians and the Politics of Music, 1879-1934. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009.

The ad for the book caught my eye as the book jacket was one of the iconic photos of ethnologist Frances Densmore recording the songs of the Lakota/Dakota people in the early twentieth century. While she believed, as did other anthropologists and federal policy makers of the period, that the American Indian tribes had to be assimilated into the white culture in order to survive, I’ve wondered about the motivation for her extensive field work, including recordings using a variety of technologies, of 3,500 songs and transcriptions of about 2,500 of them. Historian Troutman notes that she believed that their “value as racial artifacts was more significant than their value within Native communities to foster community ties or communal tribal identity. Viewing the songs as historically rather than actively relevant, Densmore and other ethnologists worked toward preserving performances of them as relics of the past, relics of a race that would either disappear or sacrifice the practices in order to assimilate into an assumed detribalized American social fabric.” (p.159)

Curiously, as the Office of Indian Affairs actively worked to suppress tribal dances and other traditional performances, the public’s enthusiasm for “authentic” Indian music increased. However, what these non-Indian audiences often heard were transcriptions by Densmore and contemporary ethnologist Alice Fletcher, sanitized and modified to fit American tastes and notational styles influenced by “classical” European music. Patronizing passages from Densmore’s correspondence while working with the Bureau of American Ethnology, now at the National Anthropological Archives, are an uncomfortable reminder of the distance between the observation and interpretation of "other" cultures.

Much of Indian Blues deals with the political power of the practice of music and related dance performance and the role that music has played in establishing and sustaining the identity of a cultural group. In spite of the mission of such late nineteenth century federal Indian boarding schools such as Carlisle, whose infamous mission was to “kill the Indian…and save the man,” music continued to be used to combat the control of Native peoples by the federal government.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Reports from the Congressional Research Service

Dan Mulhollan, director of the Congressional Research Service and a member of our Board of Visitors, passed a couple recent CRS reports on to me as an expression of the type of studies they do to inform Congress on policy areas of interest. One is entitled "Geospatial Information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Current Issues and Future Challenges" ( This paper gives a very approachable tutorial to the importance of GIS, a bit of the technologies deployed, and the massive policy issues that government must address. The second paper is "The Evolving Broadband Infrastructure: Expansion, Applications, and Regulation" ( This paper tracks the rapid growth in broadband infrastructure and services, devoting much of its space to issues related to the regulatory framework. Both are relatively quick reads that give good insight to the type of work that CRS does for the Congress, and both are of interest to SIS faculty. CRS anticipates topics of interest to the Congress about a year in advance and sponsors selective university capstone courses to explore some of these topics. The courses typically last a full academic year, engage 12-15 students, and require a committed faculty member.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Essense of Good Teaching

Here is a little food for thought --

“In our age of PowerPoints, listservs, and computer Blackboards, let us not forget that great teaching derives from a human voice and personality talking passionately and clearly about a subject that she or he knows a great deal about and wants to share with others. . . . We need to cultivate intellectual curiosity – one of the great gifts teachers can share with our students. . . .” Daniel R. Schwarz, In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), p. 127

Stealing Books

Freelance writer Alison Hoover Bartlett has given us another detailed account of a book thief in her The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).. She examines the sordid career of John Charles Gilkey who has stolen hundreds of thousands of books from dealers and libraries (from 1999 through 2003 Gilkey stole about $100,000 worth of books) and, apparently, who continues, when out of prison, to pilfer books. Bartlett’s book also focuses on book dealer Ken Sanders, who also works as an amateur detective tracking down book thieves. Her book reports on a lot of familiar matters about book collecting and book stealing. Individuals who know anything about the business of books or the anatomy of book theft won’t find much that is new in this publication, except for additional evidence about what prompts someone to become a compulsive book thief, but her analysis of why people, even thieves like Gilkey, develop such strong relationships to books is fascinating. Her book reads like a novel, with good character development, great dialogue, and a lot of scene setting (all built around lengthy interviews with Gilkey). Anyone who reads this book will find them self thinking of Miles Harvey, The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime (New York: Random House, 2000), another analysis of a book thief and the nature of collecting. Personally, I still favor the Harvey tome, but I very much enjoyed Bartlett’s entertaining and informative volume.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Debating the Value and Meaning of Looting Cultural Heritage

One of the great pleasures of designing courses is to set up class sessions with assigned readings written from the opposite perspectives. Occasionally, such readings – such as James Cuno, ed., Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009) and Lawrence Rothfield, The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009) – appear at the same time. The Cuno (James Cuno is President and Director of the Art Institute of Chicago) edited book includes essays by individuals supporting the notion of the encyclopedic museum, that “museums have value as repositories of objects dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge and the dissolution of ignorance, where the artifacts of one culture and one time are preserved and displayed next to others without prejudice,” with justification for museums to acquire even objects looted from archaeological sites as a means of building major research collections. Lawrence Rothfield, the former director of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago and an associate professor of English and comparative literature, gives us an excellent, if disturbing, account of the April 2003 looting of the museum in Baghdad, and offers no justification for such acquisition practices (especially as he presents evidence of the connection of such looting to the illicit trade in antiquities). From my vantage it seems that Rothfield’s account is the convincing, even if most disturbing, one. The Cuno volume, despite a few highlights, seems to be a justification for the ill-behavior of museums, past and present. The fact that I can admire a beautiful ancient statue in New York City or fawn over the artistry of a clay tablet in London just doesn’t seem to justify how those objects got there, the losses they may have inflicted on the cultural memory of a people, and the provenance information that may have been destroyed. I have a much longer analysis of these books coming out in the American Archivist in the future.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beach Reading for Provenance Researchers

Jonathan Lopez. The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2008.

Investigations into the authenticity of paintings and digital documents begin in the same place – by establishing context. Provenance researchers and forensic archivists ask the same questions – where did the object come from, where has it been, and what authority has authenticated it. Jonathan Lopez’s account of the career of the art forger Han van Meegeren, perhaps best known for being the man who swindled Hermann Goering, is well-researched and draws on trial testimony, state and regional archives, and interviews with dealers and collectors who worked with Van Meegeren. Lopez replaces the false image of Van Meegeren as a misunderstood genius and popular hero of the Dutch Resistance, with a truer portrait of a successful society painter and war profiteer. The sensation over Van Meegeren’s admission of guilt that he had indeed painted the faux Vermeer, “Christ and the Adulteress,” which had been purchased by Reichmarshall Goering at a huge sum, diverted public attention from his collaboration with the Nazis. This skill at managing diversions was the key to his success as a forger.

What particularly struck me in this account was how well Van Meegeren understood the expectations of the art historians – in subject matter, technique, and materials - and then produced just what they were looking for. The forger added to the oeuvre of Vermeer, the recently rediscovered Dutch master, by producing the “biblical Vermeers,” filling the gap in a transition period in the artist’s career for which no previously authenticated paintings existed. His use of gelatin glue and Bakelite in the paints produced results that responded appropriately to the technical analysis of the time, and this further supported the claims of authenticity. However, as Lopez noted, then as now, sales of forgeries were more often made on the basis of connoisseurship, not science.

“Today’s high-tech machinery has made it considerably easier to prove a picture fake, but generally speaking, by the time a forgery has raised enough questions to prompt scientific analysis, it has already been bought and paid for. In order to make a living, a professional forger seldom has to fool the people with the spectrometers and the X-ray machines, just the starry-eyed optimist with the checkbook.” (p.242)

Adroit use of a succession of respectable middlemen, serving the interests of mythical distinguished, but now impoverished Dutch families, who introduced the forged paintings to the attention of dealers and connoisseurs, further distanced Van Meegeren from the forgeries.

Another of the reasons that Van Meegeren choose to fake Vermeers was that he knew that the Dutch art and museum community were anxious that the country’s art treasures, particularly the work of the Dutch Masters, not fall into the hands of the enemy, although Lopez presents evidence that there were certainly some Dutch dealers who were prepared to sell out Holland’s cultural heritage. However, this need for haste and secrecy led to improvident decisions on the part of dealers and museum acquisition committees.

Curiously, documentation was always required as part of the transfer of ownership to the Reichsmarshall and the payment for the painting, “Christ and the Adulteress” was delayed until he received a letter from Van Meegeren giving the name of the previous owner. “Goering had no qualms about buying or receiving property of dubious origins… but in proper Nazi fashion, he always demanded that there be some kind of documentation to give his acquisitions a veneer of legality.” (pp. 183-184) The letter that Van Meegeren wrote in February 1944, at the insistence of the dealer managing the transaction, made an agreement that he would reveal the name of the painting’s owner within two years of the purchase date. Lopez notes that everyone else except Van Meegeren suspected that the painting had been looted and that this letter would allow them to place the blame on someone else. Moreover, “while Goering remained focused on whitewashing his latest questionable acquisition, the fact that the picture was a fraud escaped notice entirely.” (p. 185).

Van Meegeren’s story remains an excellent case study for both provenance researchers and museum archivists, as it illustrates the way in which documentation can be used and misused to establish the authenticity of an art work. Provenance research into the transfer of works during the Nazi era is greatly assisted by access to records such as those maintained by the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), captured by the Allies and now available at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The value of The Man Who Made Vermeers is that it supplies the data that allows us to look behind the façade of the elaborate invention that was the life and works of that “genial forger” Han van Meegeren.
Check out

This essay, which appeared in the onlineChristian Science Monitor, is entitled "Restore the noble purpose of libraries" ....

Here [as a teaser!] are the opening paragraphs: "Libraries were once a sacred secular space of silence and reverence – a place where one automatically lowered one's voice. As a direct heir to the Enlightenment, the establishment of libraries was a testament to the self-evident integrity of mankind, the belief that we all desire to find the truth through knowledge. Librarians once framed our mission in those terms – before libraries became the noisy computer labs they now are, with their jingle of ringtones, clattering keyboards, and unquenchable printers. And we reference librarians had a higher, more dignified calling than merely changing the printer paper. In some libraries today it is actually impossible to find any place quiet enough to simply read and study undisturbed. What I call the postmodern library – the library plus technology – deconstructs itself. Modern librarians who prioritize information over knowledge perpetuate a distraction from the real purpose of a library.

Still Writing

Here is an interesting observation by William Zinsser (author of On Writing Well), in the last paragraph of his memoir published at age 87: “And yet, stuck with my traditional skills, I’m not feeling obsolete. Language is still king, writing still the supreme conveyor of thoughts and ideas and memories and emotions. Somebody will still have to write all those Web sites and blogs and video scripts and audio scripts; nobody wants to consult a Web site that’s not clear and coherent. Whatever new technology may come along, writers will continue to write, going wherever their curiosities and affections beckon. That can make an interesting life.” William Zinsser, Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and a Teacher (New York: Harper, 2009), p. 191.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

20 Tips to Define and Manage Your Social Networks

Pasele, Mahendra. (July 7, 2009). 20 Tips to Define and Manage Your Social Networks, Part I.

Are you suffering from "social networking fatique"? Apropos to Palfrey and Gasser's call for a greater awareness of and control over our digital identities (see Dr. Cox's posting for the book Born Digital, July 1), this site offers some practical tips to help you "stay afloat and in control" in the Web 2.0 world. Some interesting services, such as a tools for visualizing your social network and tracking your comments in blogs, sites, and networks.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Atwood, Margaret. Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (CBC Massey Lectures). House of Anansi Press, 2009.

The Massey Lecture Series is a national event in Canada. Each year since 1961 a scholar presents a week-long series of lectures on a pertinent topic, traveling from coast to coast. The lectures are then collected and published in book form by Anansi Press. Past lecturers have included Northrup Frye, John Kenneth Galbraith, Martin Luther King, and Noam Chomsky. The 2008 lecture, presented by novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, was about debt, admittedly not a topic particular to LIS nor the academy but one that is on the minds of many in these days of recession.

Atwood writes that the inspiration for her lecture series on debt were the ads for debt services that she saw while riding on public transport. Why, she asked, are there so many of these ads? With this question in mind she explores debt (and its co-dependent relationship with credit), looking at its source and how it is embedded throughout our culture. Although Payback is about debt, it is not a book about the practical side of managing money or high finance. What lies at the core of the lecture is the concept of equilibrium. Atwood looks at debt through a surprising array of lenses – human sacrifice and sin, taxation and revolution, technology and the environment, systems of debt and credit as a template hardwired in the human psyche, rules of moral conduct and our sense of justice, fairness, and revenge. Throughout the lecture series Atwood draws on examples from world religions and the canon of western literature – from Dante to Disney - to illustrate how humans keep the ledger for what we owe each other. Its difficult to draw specific lessons for information professionals and the academy from Atwood’s reflection on debt other than to say that it seems to permeate every aspect of life and must be accounted for. A fascinating read!

Pew Internet use data

I found this graph interesting. There are two things that jump out:

  • The most common uses haven't changed all that much over time, despite the recent attention on social networking
  • This looks to have a "power law" shape, as popularized by Chris Anderson in "The Long Tail"

Monday, July 06, 2009

The on-line Codex Sinaiticus

If you like antiquities, sacred texts, or modern technology applied to digital collections, you'll be sure to enjoy the Codex Sinaiticus.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Digitally Born

Given that this was published last year, I am sure everyone else here at SIS has read John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives(New York: Basic Books, 2008). The authors, both lawyers, explore the brave new world of people born after 1980 when social digital technologies came online. They consider how these individuals work and think differently and the implications for their lives of working online. Palfrey and Gasser look at identity, dossiers, privacy, safety, creation and innovation, piracy, quality, information overload, learning, and so forth. Along the way they drop comments that relate to us, such as: "Libraries should serve as a digital heritage center. The works of Digital Natives, and of everyone else living in the digital age, may well be less likely to be preserved than the writins of ninth-century monks on sturdy parchment. Librarians should think in terms of collections that will preserve this digital heritage for future generations" (p. 252). As this quotation probably indicates, this is a popular book with broad strokes. It does make you think a bit more about your increasingly younger students, however, and it is a useful exercise to read it in this light.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

University Presses

Thomas Bacher, director of the University of Akron Press, has a brief essay in Inside Higher Education, where he discusses some of the challenges facing university presses. He acknowledges that the Internet and “digital information networks” “have made the printed book less important. Bacher argues for expanding university press publishing into disciplines “driving the current educational and research enterprises” (such as “science, engineering, technology”) and to connecting university presses “with the strengths of their home institutions.” He wants university presses to “become part of the new information infrastructure of the university,” and while he does not see the end of the printed book he also does not believe that the traditional book can be the primary answer or service offered by the university press. Personally, I do not believe that we, the university and its academic units like professional schools, have ever exploited the value of the book (whether in printed form or digital venue). There is a vast literature, offered by many disciplines, about the relevance (usually concluded to be, at best, a mixed bag) of their research and scholarship for public policy and public knowledge. Bacher hints at this very issue when he writes: “I had a recent conversation with a prominent engineering dean. He wanted to know why I was visiting, since his faculty was intent on getting published in Elsevier journals. I wasn’t the least bit surprised, but did mention perhaps some of his faculty might write “little books” on very narrow subjects. Basically, these books would be an extension of an existing journal article or an adaptation of class notes with the purpose of covering a topic, but keeping in line with the way faculty communicate in those fields. He thought the idea might work, but reminded me that his faculty was immersed in teaching and research, so that finding spare time for an endeavor that had negligible tenure impact would be hard.” I wish he would have commented more on this. What about all those faculty who have tenure? What about the historic mission of the university to contribute knowledge to society? You can find his article, “Books Aren’t Everything,” at

Monday, June 29, 2009

Online Education

The US Department of Education has released a new study on online learning, described by Scott Jaschlik, “The Evidence on Online Education, Inside Higher Education, available at
“The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took ‘blended’ courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.” This “meta-analysis” draws on “more than 1,000 empirical studies of online learning that were published from 1996 through July 2008”, using “a small number (51) of independent studies that met strict criteria.”

Putting the Pieces Together

Posted on behalf of Bernadette Callery

Museum International, volume 61, nos. 1-2, 2009. Conference proceedings of the 2008 “Athens International Conference on the Return of Cultural Objects to their Countries of Origin” held at the New Acropolis Museum.

Predictably, the opening of the New Acropolis Museum has fanned the fires of the repatriation debate over the return of the pieces of the Parthenon frieze to Athens – a fire that has been smoldering in the media since 1809 when Lord Byron published his “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.” Byron berates Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, for purchasing and removing those sculptural elements for display in London, wasting
“useless thousands on the Phidian freaks,
Mis-shapen monuments, and maimed antiques;
And make their grand saloons a general mart
For all the mutilated blocks of art.”

This theme of the media’s involvement in the removal and restitution of cultural property continues in the postings of culture journalist Lee Rosenbaum and her CultureGrrl blog at - a useful source of breaking news in the world of art politics. Rosenbaum was also a contributor to the recently published issue of Museum International, vol. 61, nos. 1-2, 2009, the conference proceedings of the 2008 “Athens International Conference on the Return of Cultural Objects to their Countries of Origin” held at the New Acropolis Museum.

Readily available through the wonders of license agreements and full-text retrieval via Pittcat, many of the articles in this themed issue of Museum International are triumphant case studies of the return or reunification of cultural property. In her final synthesis of the conference, Elena Korka, Director for Documentation and Protection of Cultural Objects at the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, notes that these cases “refer to objects, monuments or human remains removed from their countries of origin before 1970 – that is, before the UNESCO Convention – and whose return met with success as a result of a series of actions and long negotiations.” Social, legal, and archaeological issues are discussed by cultural ministers, tribal representatives, law professors, structural engineers, museum curators, archaeologists, and journalists, assuring that many voices are heard.

What particularly struck me were the legal maneuverings as claimants move through the dialectic dance, pausing to nod to the UNESCO Convention and its supporting legislation in the ratifying countries, the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, and the ICOM Code of Ethics. Mediation by interested scholars appears to have an impact in supporting national claims and they appear to be some of the most effective negotiators. One of these voluntary returns reunited the head and body of one of the stone birds of Great Zimbabwe, bringing together the upper part of the sculpture, which had remained in Zimbabwe, with the lower part, which was removed from the site by adventurers in the late nineteenth century. The much-traveled lower part of the figure came to the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium for the 1998 “Legacies of Stone: Zimbabwe Past and Present” exhibition, by way of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin, Leipzig and St. Petersburg, as yet another example of the cultural dislocations of World War II. The conditions of the unification of this spiritually significant object and its return to the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe were that there was to be no blood shed throughout the transfer, and that the transfer be recognized as a long-term loan from Germany to Zimbabwe. This nice distinction between possession and ownership is also one of the points of argument in the ongoing call for the return of the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum to the New Acropolis Museum, in which Britain recently offered a three-month loan of the marbles to the Acropolis Museum on the condition that Greece recognizes Britain’s ownership of the sculptures.

All such acts of cultural removal have substantial political overtones, as can be seen in the discussion of the return of the Axum obelisk or stelae, removed in 1935 from Axum, Ethopia, by personal order of Benito Mussolini for re-erection in Rome. As noted in Tullio Scovazzi’s article on the legal aspects of the Axum Obelisk case, Mussolini’s removal of the obelisk consciously drew a “direct parallel with the Roman Empire, also known to have plundered booty from the cities it annexed.” The sheer engineering feat of the removal, return and reconstruction of this 150 ton, 24 meter tall structure underlines the ease with which developing countries, albeit ancient cultures, can be exploited by developed ones – as well as the lengths to which megalomaniacs will go to have their whims gratified.

The chief virtue of many of these returns was the re-establishment of the spiritual value of the objects and their reintegration into the cultural environment of their creators. Collaborative loans, the most plausible of the solutions currently posed for the “Parthenon Marbles,” was illustrated by the actual case study of the reciprocal loan for exhibition of a Sumerian statue, now with its head and body reunited, which will be shared between the Musée du Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Warning those of us who think that digitization is necessarily a Good Thing, especially as it allows us to virtually reassemble the pieces of culturally disassociated materials, George W. Anastassopoulos, Permanent Delegate of Greece to UNESCO, and President of the 34th session of the General Conference of UNESCO, reminds us in his foreword that it ain’t necessarily so. There he notes that “some of the more determined traditionalists, with the help of new information and communication technologies, are setting themselves up as proponents of digital repatriation – a convenient but pale excuse for old collections to stay where they are, offering cultures that have been plundered the meagre compensation of access to cultures without a soul. It was thus no accident at all that the 34th session of UNESCO's General Conference should assert in 2007 that virtual access to cultural property cannot supplant the enjoyment of such property in its original and authentic setting.”

I recommend this collection for its case study approach and excellent legal overviews of the negotiations to anyone dealing with the ethics as well as the practical mechanics of preserving cultural property. These strongly argued articles will certainly be required reading for next year’s Museum Archives course.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Secrecy and Disclosure

Ronald Goldfarb, In Confidence: When to Protect Secrecy and When to Require Disclosure (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009)

Ross Clark, The Road to Big Brother: One Man’s Struggle Against the Surveillance Society (New York: Encounter Books, 2009)

These two new books provide interesting perspectives on the issues of secrecy and privacy in society. Goldfarb, a lawyer and literary agent, provides a balanced analysis, advocating “that, as a matter of social policy, confidentiality should be encouraged and expanded and notions of privilege should be reconsidered and confined to clear and commanding situations” (p. 35). He provides excellent discussion about attorney-client privilege and the problems posed by the outsourcing of records, medical confidentiality and the need for access to patient records for effective treatment, psychotherapists and confidentiality, pastoral privilege, business confidentiality, journalists and the protection of sources, government secrecy and accountability in a democratic society, and the troubling impact of technology on secrecy and privacy. He reviews considerable case law, and he carefully weighs the pros and cons of when matters should be sealed and when they should be disclosed. “Confidentiality is a goal, not an absolute, and one that must be balanced against competing goals” (p. 231). Clark, an English journalist, has written a rant against all the various devices and approaches being used to watch us by government, business, and even private citizens. He discusses CCTV cameras, DNA fingerprints, Sex offenders’ registration, national ID cards, national databases, the use of satellite imagery, the collection and use of financial data, medical records, and so forth. Where Goldfarb seeks to consider the various issues associated with secrecy and privacy, Clark intends to present the most extreme of cases, rousing us to action. Clark ends his book in this fashion: “When the government calls me in to have a microchip implanted under my skin, I’m not going. If the time comes when we are treated like groceries in a supermarket distribution center, that’s it. I will be going underground, or rather taking to the hills and forests where I will hunt, scavenge – and officially cease to exist. I may even see you there” (p. 129). Goldfarb’s book is one to be used in one of my courses, while Clark’s provides a good personal account intended to provoke reflection (and, in a sense, is an extended footnote to the Goldfarb study).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The End of the Professor?

Lots of individuals writing about the economics of higher education and the notion of the corporate university have seemed to approach their topic as if the university is a victim of external, uncontrollable factors. Marc Bousquet, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2008) places the responsibility directly on decisions being made by university administrators. Bousquet tracks the shift from regular full-time faculty to part-time adjunct faculty, the growth of administrators, from a non-profit to profit-seeking agenda, and to virtual, faculty-less classrooms. Most importantly, perhaps, Bousquet contends we are “witnessing the disappearance of the professorate” (p. 71), and, if for no other reason than this, this is a book worth reading.

The Rights of the Reader

Pennac, Daniel. Comme un roman. éditions Galimard, 1992.
English Translation: The Rights of the Reader. Candlewick, 2008.

I have a poster in my office listing the “Rights of the Reader”. The source for these “rights” is Daniel Pennac’s book, Comme un roman (1992). The “Rights of the Reader” are well known in the library world but I hadn’t read the original text so this summer I ventured into French literature.

Pennac is a well-known French humourist who writes for children and adults. Several of his books have been adapted to film and theatre. Early in his career, he taught boys in a French Lycée (high school) where he formed strong ideas on the nature of reading. These ideas are expressed in Comme un roman, his cri de coeur for readers. Pennac begins his book with an appeal: “Please (I beg of you) do not use this book as an instrument of pedagogical torture” (I love this quote – I have to figure out a way to use it in a lecture…). Questioning why young children love reading so much and why adolescent boys seem to hate it, Pennac asks, where did we go wrong? The book was written as a reaction against the reading dogma prevalent in French schools of the time – forced reading, reading for grades or for a “correct” interpretation, reading for bits of information and fill-in-the-blank tests (we may see more similarities here than we’d like to admit). Forgotten in all the pedagogy was simple pleasure in reading. The chief pleasure of reading, according to Pennac, is sharing and talking about books with others – something parents cease doing once their child’s formal schooling has begun. Although Pennac’s book doesn’t deal with literacy issues that might have an impact on how adults share books with young people - in Pannac’s world, all adults are well-read; they’ve simply forgotten what its like to read Stendahl, Flaubert and Tolstoy for the first time - it still delivers the strong message that reading should be a guilt-free pleasure. Pannac has words for librarians. “Dear librarians, guardians of the temple”, he writes, “It is fortunate that all the titles of the world have found their place in your perfect organization …but it would also be good if you talked about your favourite books to visitors who are lost in the forest of reading possibilities…” Notwithstanding my poor translation, this is a poetic call to arms for librarians and a message our students need to hear.

The book ends with a list of the famous ten inalienable “Rights of the Reader”:
• The right not to read
• The right to skip pages
• The right to not finish a book
• The right to re-read
• The right to read anything
• The right to escapism
• The right to read anywhere
• The right to browse
• The right to read out loud
• The right not to defend your tastes

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ray Bradbury and Libraries

Interesting story about science fiction writer Ray Bradbury’s efforts to raise money for public libraries in today’s New York Times. Here are some excerpts.

This is a lucky thing for the Ventura County Public Libraries — because among Mr. Bradbury’s passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.


“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”


The Internet? Don’t get him started. “The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’

“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

A Yahoo spokeswoman said it was impossible to verify Mr. Bradbury’s account without more details.

The story is Jennifer Steinhauer, “In His Own Words,” New York Times, 20 January 2009, available at

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Intellectual Property

James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

Mark Helprin, Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto (New York: Harper, 2009).

Intellectual property is a constantly shifting and changing area, and the literature on it runs the spectrum from the historical to the hysterical. Here are two books representing very different perspectives, one authored by a lawyer (Boyle) and the other by a writer (Helprin).

In 2007 novelist and essayist Mark Helprin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times defending copyright and found himself the target of angry letters and blog postings as far as the Internet could reach. Digital Barbarism is his response, with Helprin placing the copyright fracas in the middle of the digital era, the latter the target of his biting humor and witticisms. Helprin comments freely on how we have signed so much over to the machines, with comments on the decline of the quality of writing, the impoverishment of publishing, the abandonment of reading, misplaced enthusiasms about how ideas are formed and what creativity is really about, and so forth. Helprin is angry, of course, and some will find his assessments to fall wide of the mark or just plain hysterical, but he offers insights and notions that ought to elicit some careful thought and response. Consider this, for example: “We tend to look up rather than at ourselves when surrendering to such passions of righteousness. The assault on copyright is a species of this, based on the infantile presumption that a feeling of justice and indignation gives one a right to the work, property, and time (those are very often significantly equivalent) of others, and that this, whether harbored at the ready or expressed in action, is noble and fair” (p. 181).

Boyle’s book provides a variety of highly readable case studies (in music, the arts, science, and technology), presented to reflect his concern about we are closing more and more down. He argues that every time we reconsider intellectual property, we add more barriers. Boyle worries that much of twentieth-century culture is under wraps, “lost culture” (p. 9). “Copyright, intended to be the servant of creativity, a means of promoting access to information, is becoming an obstacle to both” (p. 15). Why worry about this? “Because the public domain is the basis for our art, our science, and our self-understanding. It is the raw material from which we make new inventions and create new cultural works” (p. 39).

These are two books that could be used in a course. Helprin’s work is an argumentative, highly personal, account. Boyle’s work is a scholarly study, and the target of some of Helprin’s sarcasm. Fun.