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.