Wednesday, December 22, 2010

9/11, Images, & the Information Age

W. J. T. Mitchell, Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)

War, as Mitchell notes, can be viewed in real time, from just about any vantage via social media: "The shaping of perceptions of history does not have to wait for historians or poets, but is immediately represented in audio-visual-textual images transmitted globally" (p. xii). In a clever bit of analysis, Mitchell teases how the meaning of the images associated with 9/11 by relating their interpretation to the highly politicized debates about the cloning of life preceding the terrorists' attacks. Cloning assumes many levels of meaning, from just plain copying to that of image making, especially since both the arguments about cloning and the terrorist attacks used images in very similar ways. Mitchell notes that the Bush administration was fortunate to have the terrorist events since it ended what was probably an endless debate about the bioethics of cloning before that debate had really settled in. Still, there is an inherent fear of images, that is, that they might come to life.

Mitchell examines what he calls the "memory archive" of the war, the essential and seemingly " unforgettable" or iconic images of 9/11 that have shaped our understanding of the war on terror (a term not now used by the Obama administration). The study of or interest in iconic images is nothing new, having emerged certainly with the birth of photography and even farther back with paintings. But there is something different now because of our networked information technologies. "Images migrate around the planet at blinding speed; they become much more difficult to quarantine or censor; and they are subject to more rapid mutation than ever before" (pp. 73-74). Not surprisingly, then, Mitchell focuses on the images of the Twin Towers and the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture (this example having been transformed into an "archive" of leaked images and other images commenting on or playing with the photographs). Mitchell suggests that what makes the Abu Ghraib archive "new and different" is that the "central collection of documents is virtual (a body of digital images accompanied by metadata automatically encoded in their files)' and that the archive itself -- its location, structure, and retrieval system -- is also virtual. The digital character of the images has had momentous consequences for their circulation, of course, giving them their notoriously viral character, resisting all attempts at quarantine and containment" (p. 123). From my vantage, we can understand the present "war" as much more of an Information Age phenomenon, even as we realize that images shaped our sense of earlier conflicts such as the Civil War, the World Wars, and Vietnam. War and memory is something different today: "The emergence of social media such as YouTube and Twitter has turned every citizen into a potential journalist, every innocent bystander into a potential witness whose testimony can be uploaded to the global nervous system" (p. 130). It is why Mitchell plays with the nature of bioethical debates about cloning, the latter representing a "deep copy, a perfect transcript at both the digital and analog levels, visible embodiment and molecular structure coordinated" (p. 164).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pirate Radio

Adrian Johns, Death of a Pirate: British Radio and the Making of the Information Age (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2011).

Focused around the 1966 killing of a pirate radio operator, this book by historian Adrian Johns examines the rise and fall of pirate radio in England and its battle with British government and the BBC. Johns believes this helps us understand our own digital era. While Johns gives us an absorbing story, with interesting characters and incidents, I am not convinced about his connecting this to the modern information age or the debates about issues like intellectual property. But this may not be much of a criticism. Johns gets quite involved in revealing the details of the heyday of British pirate radio, so much so that when he interjects some sweeping assertion about the meaning of the period the reader really may not care if he or she buys the argument. In fact, Johns himself even asserts that it is not the role of the historian to tease out all the meaning for contemporary issues. Our historian reveals himself to be a good storyteller, a skill that a shrinking number of academic historians either possess or reveal, and that may be enough of a contribution. If one is energetic, you can read this book as a lengthy case study footnote to his other recent book, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates. I suspect the book of pirate radio was researched as part of his major study of piracy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Future of Libraries and Digital Repositories

Robert Darnton, “The Library: Three Jeremiads,” New York Review of Books 57 (December 23, 2010): 22, 24, 26.

In his continuing series of essays on the future of books and libraries, Darnton examines “three especially difficult problems” challenging the future of academic libraries. These challenges include the costs of periodicals and the devastating impact on other library programs, the sustainability of libraries, and the prospects of a true national digital library rather than the commercialization of e-books. One of Darnton’s persistent comments is that how these challenges are generally not well understood by university faculty. One might surmise that faculty at a school like ours might be in a position to grasp the issues. I doubt it, at least when looking at our actions. In the discussion about the second jeremiad, Darnton considers open digital repositories, noting the reason why they exist as follows: “While prices continued to spiral upward, professors became entrapped in another kind of vicious circle, unaware of the unintended consequences. Reduced to essentials, it goes like this: we academics devote ourselves to research; we write up the results as articles for journals; we referee the articles in the process of peer reviewing; we serve on the editorial boards of the journals; we also serve as editors (all of this unpaid, of course); and then we buy back our own work at ruinous prices in the form of journal subscriptions—not that we pay for it ourselves, of course; we expect our library to pay for it, and therefore we have no knowledge of our complicity in a disastrous system.” Well, we have such a digital repository, and only a few faculty members here have used it.

Intellectuals & Society

Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2010)
After reading Sowell’s text, one wonders whether any intellectual has ever done anything worthwhile for society. Sowell dissects the mess intellectuals have made of economic issues, how they visualize society and its problems, the concept of truth, law and its function in our world, war and its causes, and how they view their own roles. Sowell believes that intellectuals have no accountability for their views or the consequences of their ideas at play in the world, and that they have offered up a lot of concepts that are both nonsense and dangerous. This is an interesting book to read for its criticism of the nature of ideas, information, and wisdom in our culture. Yet, one walks away from the task of reading this lengthy tome wondering what the world would be like without intellectuals (but Sowell never really addresses this in any depth) or, for that matter, universities where most intellectuals live. But that is ok; being an intellectual, we can follow his own views and just ignore him.

Penn State & Academic Freedom

Scott Jaschik reports in “Defining Academic Freedom,” Inside Higher Education, December 14, 2010 that Pennsylvania State University is revising its policy on academic freedom for faculty. It is removing this wording, "No faculty member may claim as a right the privilege of discussing in the classroom controversial topics outside his/her own field of study. The faculty member is normally bound not to take advantage of his/her position by introducing into the classroom provocative discussions of irrelevant subjects not within the field of his/her study." This revises a policy that the American Association of University Professors, said had been “one of the most restrictive and troubling policies limiting intellectual freedom in the classroom. . . . It undermined the normal human capacity to make comparisons and contrasts between different fields and between different cultures and historical periods. The revised policy is a vast improvement."

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Are SIS students texting in class?

[This appeared in this morning's Inside Higher Ed: ]

University Measures Extent of Texting in Class

Faculty members everywhere complain about students who text in class, but professors at Wilkes University decided to measure the extent of the practice. Deborah Tindell and Robert Bohlander, psychology professors, surveyed 269 students anonymously. Among the findings:
  • 95 percent of students bring their phones to class every day.
  • 91 percent have used their phones to text message during class time.
  • Almost half of respondents said it was easy to text in class without instructors being aware.
  • 99 percent said they should be permitted to retain their cell phones while in class.
  • 62 percent said they should be allowed to text in class as long as they don’t disturb their classmates. (About a quarter of the students stated that texting creates a distraction to those sitting nearby.)
  • 10 percent said that they have sent or received text messages during exams, and 3 percent admitted to transmitting exam information during a test.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Craig Robertson’s The Passport in America: The History of a Document (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010) is one of the most detailed histories of a documentary form I have ever read. He considers each specific aspect of the passport – how the name appears, the signature, the use of photographs, the bureaucracy supporting it – up until it becomes officially accepted in the 1920s. Robertson is not trying to write an archival history, instead trying, with success, to understand how the state emerges with authority for the control of personal identification. It is a rich and engaging history, one that is particularly relevant today with raised concerns over identity with the fears about terrorist attacks and government intrusions into privacy.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Innovation is something we are supposed to be doing here. Steven Johnson, in his Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), demonstrates that the sources of innovation are more complex and messy than we could ever imagine. Drawing on many case studies, Johnson offers insights such as follows: "The trick to having good ides is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table" (p. 42) or "good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error" (p. 142).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Desperate misspellings

Ed Dante “The shadow scholar: The man who writes your students’ papers tells his story.” The Chronicle Review, November 12, 2010, available at

Is it possible that this alarming article, written with such beguiling candor, is itself a fraud? And perhaps the Chronicle is also in on the joke, as this issue also includes an article on the many fabricated voices assumed by the essayist. [1]

Surely meant to raise the ethical hackles of anyone who has graded a writing assignment, or designed a rubric to regularize that grading process, this discussion of the incompetence or disinterest of a wide range of students in undergraduate, graduate and professional educational programs invites indignant response. His client base is primarily students who fall into the categories of the “English-as –second –language student; the hopelessly deficient student, and the lazy rich kid.” What unifies these non-writers, says Mr. Dante, is that the Academy has failed them. So he picks up the slack, churning out apparently acceptable papers based on the snippets of full-text resources readily available from Amazon and Google Scholar, basing his arguments on the identification of significant issues according to Wikipedia.

Clearly it is our fault for setting unreachable standards and then not knowing our students well enough to know that those polished – and costly – final papers could not have originated with Dante’s clients – our students – who cannot spell desperate consistently.

[1] Carl H. Claus, “The put-ons of personal essayists.” The Chronicle Review , 19 November 2010. Available at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Research and Ethics

Here is a description of the special issue of AAUP's Academe, available at

“The Conflicted University” examines the endangered future of independent, transparent research for the common good at universities across the country.

Guest editor Sheldon Krimsky, one of the nation’s experts in scientific conflicts of interest, teamed up with Academe editor Cat Warren to create this expanded issue of Academe.

In this special issue, a group of internationally respected academics, science journalists, and other experts tackle what have become some of the thorniest issues facing higher education: corporate conflicts of interest, the chilling of scientific speech and academic freedom, and the urgent need to protect the integrity of scientific research.

From the BP oil spill debacle and ideological attacks on climate scientists and on student law clinics to the troubling influence of Big Agra, Big Tobacco, and Big Pharma at universities, the topics covered in the issue attest to the vulnerability of academia to both external influences and conflicts of interest.

But progress is possible, and the role of faculty is indispensible. We hope this special issue will stimulate faculty members, administrators, legislators, and the public to think about the need for more vigorous protection of the university’s core commitments to improving the environment, public health, and public knowledge.

Inside this issue:

“Kneecapping” Academic Freedom: Corporate attacks on law school clinics are escalating.
Robert R. Kuehn and Peter A. Joy, law professors, Washington University in St. Louis

The Costs of a Climate of Fear: Ideological attacks on scientists undermine sound public policy.
Michael Halpern, program manager, Union of Concerned Scientists

BP, Corporate R&D, and the University: New lessons for research universities, thanks to a catastrophe.
Russ Lea, vice president for research, University of South Alabama

When Research Turns to Sludge: Tying strings to sludge is not as hard as it sounds.
Steve Wing, epidemiologist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A Not-So-Slippery Slope: Rejecting tobacco funding isn’t rocket science. It’s basic ethics.
Allan M. Brandt , historian and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

The Historians of Industry: What happens when historians enter the courtroom? Mostly, industry rules.
Gerald Markowitz, historian, City University of New York, and David Rosner, historian, Columbia University

Hubris in Grantland: Languor and laissez-faire greet conflict of interest at the NIH.
Daniel S. Greenberg, science journalist

The Moral Education of Journal Editors: Disclosure is a necessary first step toward scientific integrity.
Sheldon Krimsky, urban and environmental policy and planning professor, Tufts University

Diagnosing Conflict-of-Interest Disorder: How Big Pharma helps write the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Lisa Cosgrove, clinical psychologist, University of Massachusetts Boston, and residential research fellow, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University

Big Food, Big Agra, and the Research University: A Q&A with Marion Nestle, New York University food scientist.

The Canadian Corporate-Academic Complex: The unhealthy collaboration of corporate funders and university administrators.
James Turk, executive director, Canadian Association of University Professors

The online edition of this issue also includes a brief summary of the findings of Big Oil Goes to College, a Center for American Progress report by Jennifer Washburn, author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Recorded Sound Preservation

The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age (Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress, August 2010) provides an important benchmark in the importance of recorded sound and the neglect to preserve it. The brief discussion on educating individuals to be experts in such preservation is sobering. The report laments that we are losing a foundational knowledge with older sound systems, namely, “The community of individuals familiar with legacy media is shrinking. A system must be developed to ensure that the generations of engineers and archivists who have had no experience with analog recording formats will gain familiarity with the physical properties of, and best methods for preserving, legacy media.” (p. 100). Likewise, “A generation of specialists with experience in legacy media is disappearing, as is equipment on which to play analog recordings such as open-reel tape or wire recordings. Fewer and fewer people are familiar with the care and repair of older equipment. Many of these individuals are collectors or hobbyists, not necessarily academic or industry experts. This fund of knowledge and expertise is not being documented professionally and is not being passed on in any systematic way to individuals studying audio engineering and who will work with legacy formats in libraries and archives.” (p. 102). There is a call for grounding individuals in the history of recordings and other historical aspects of this industry and educational programs that include “advanced management skills” (p. 102). However, the report also notes that recorded sound preservation has an uncertain future, with poor funding, few positions, and what there is based on soft money. The conclusion is that this is an area that cannot sustain its own graduate programs, meaning that whatever education is offered must be part of a larger, established graduate program or a certificate spinoff from such programs. Continuing education is also suggested as something that must be developed more fully. This discussion does not focus on how existing graduate archival programs (or others?), already crammed with demands for educating the next generation of archivists, will be able to do this (unless there is external funding for hiring new faculty, regular or adjunct, and even if there is such funding, where will these people come from?).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Technology of Books

Nicole Howard, The Book: The Life Story of a Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009)is a no-frills, compact history of how the technology of printing and the notion of the book has evolved from clay tablets to the e-book. "By examining the book as a technology," she writes, "we get the best example of how profoundly information and media technology affect culture and history, and how vital the technology of the book has been to cultural and intellectual change" (p. ix). Howard does not get bogged down in debates about the future of print or that of the book, but provides excellent examples of how the notion of the book has persisted and the various technological changes have built one on the other.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Libraries: "the most commercialized academic area within universities"??

from the Chronicle of Higher Education, for October 17, 2010:

Library Inc., by Daniel Goldstein

here is the first paragraph as a teaser; go to the link and read the article and the comments!:

From industry-backed research to CEO-style executive salaries and perquisites, the influence of corporate America on universities has been the subject of much popular and scholarly scrutiny. University libraries have largely escaped that attention. Yet libraries, the intellectual heart of universities, have become perhaps the most commercialized academic area within universities, with troubling implications for the future of higher education…


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Modelling human communications

This recent paper should be of interest to many at SIS. The authors studied a corpus of text messages (SMS messages) between users to test (and build) models that are useful for characterizing human communications. The authors write:

Our findings reveal that there is a generic Poisson process in individual human behavior which is connected to the power-law-like bursts through the interaction with other individuals, resulting in the interplay between the cut-off time τ0 and the characteristic Poisson interval 1∕β which are generally influenced by the network topology and the processing time tp in various human activities. This picture has significantly changed the current competing views of human activity, either following Poisson or power-law statistics. Our findings open a new perspective in understanding human behavior both at the individual and network level which is of utmost importance in areas as diverse as rumor and disease spreading, resource allocation and emergency response, economics, and recommendation systems, etc. For example, treating the events as independent bursts would allow quantitative analysis of phone line availability and bandwidth allocation in the case of Internet or Web use, which should be significantly different from the assumption of power-law tails which allow very long silent periods.

I wonder how a study like this might apply to more broadly to areas of study within SIS ...

Common As Air

Another excellent contribution to the growing bookshelf of studies on intellectual property is Lewis Hyde, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). Hyde, a writer with affiliations with several universities, looks at the members of the founding generation of the United States to see what they have to say about what later became known as intellectual property. He finds men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison to be against exclusive control, wanting knowledge to be available for supporting “democratic self-governance, encouraging creative community, and enabling citizens to become public actors, both civic and creative” (p. 77). He notes that the Founders were always worried about the use and abuse of power when it came to the issue of information and knowledge. Hyde examines a variety of interesting recent case studies, such as Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr. images and materials, and the Human Genome Project. Hyde also addresses the role of universities in this, noting that “If the proper mission of a university is to preserve, create, and disseminate knowledge, and if that mission conflicts with values from other spheres, then propriety demands resistance” (p. 225).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Visualizing network structures

Visualizing network structures has been quite a challenge for most researchers who find themselves having to do it. If you find yourself having to do this, you might consider the approaches proposed in this website:

Friday, October 15, 2010

These are (or will be) our students !?!


• Average teenager sends more than six texts per waking hour
• Teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month
• In every age bracket, the number of texts sent has increased when compared to last year
• Twenty-two percent say SMS is easier than a phone call

(Mashable) -- If you needed more proof that texting is on the rise, here's a stat for you: the average teenager sends over 3,000 texts per month. That's more than six texts per waking hour.

According to a new study from Nielsen, our society has gone mad with texting, data usage and app downloads. Nielsen analyzed the mobile data habits of over 60,000 mobile subscribers and surveyed over 3,000 teens during April, May and June of this year. The numbers they came up with are astounding.

The number of texts being sent is on the rise, especially among teenagers age 13 to 17. According to Nielsen, the average teenager now sends 3,339 texts per month.
There's more, though: teen females send an incredible 4,050 text per month, while teen males send an average of 2,539 texts. Teens are sending 8 percent more texts than they were this time last year.

Other age groups don't even come close, either; the average 18 to 24-year-old sends "only" 1,630 texts per month. The average only drops with other age groups. However, in every age bracket, the number of texts sent has increased when compared to last year. Texting is a more important means of communication than ever.
In 2008, the main reason anybody got a phone was for safety, even among teenagers. That's not true anymore. 43 percent of teenagers now say texting is the #1 reason they get a cell phone. Safety is #2 with 35 percent, while 34 percent of teenagers say they get cell phones to keep in touch with friends.

Texting is also supplanting voice calls -- 22 percent say SMS is easier than a phone call and another 20 percent say it's faster. Voice usage has decreased by 14 percent among teens and is decreasing in all age groups under 55. 18 to 24 year olds use the most minutes, but every age group between 18 and 55 talks on the phone more than the average teenager.

While voice may be on the decline, data and app usage is on the rise. According to Nielsen, data usage among teens has quadrupled, from 14 MB to 62 MB per month.
In a role reversal, teen males use more data than their female counterparts: 75 MB vs. 53 MB of data. App and software downloads also increased by 12 percent among teens in the last year.

These stats are eye-popping, but what's even more amazing is that these numbers only keep rising. Texting, data usage and app downloads are nowhere near their peak, but one has to wonder: how many texts is the average teenager actually capable of sending? What's the limit?
© 2010

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Searching For Better Research Habits
[September 29, 2010, from Inside Higher Ed via Library Link of the Day]

Should colleges teach students how to be better Googlers?

Educators who see the popular search engine as antithetical to good research might cringe at the thought of endorsing it to students. But they might not cringe nearly as hard as did attendees of the 2010 Ithaka Sustainable Scholarship Conference when Andrew Asher showed them what happens when students do not learn how to use Google properly. “Students do not have adequate information literacy skills when they come to college, and this goes for even high-achieving students,” said Asher, the lead research anthropologist at the Enthographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project, which recently studied the search habits of more than 600 Illinois students spanning a range of institutions and demographic groups.

Asher moved swiftly through a few slides featuring excerpts from interviews with students, each eliciting both chuckles and gasps from the audience of librarians and technologists. “I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources,” responded one sophomore biology student.

“Of all the students that I interviewed, not a single one of them could give an adequate conceptual definition of how Google returns results,” said Asher. Not even those “who should know better,” like computer science students. The word “magic” came up a lot, he noted.

Asher pulled quotes from other students evidencing how the expectations and ignorances bred by habitual, unthinking use of Google had affected how students use other search engines, such as those built into the scholarly archive JSTOR. The students in the ERIAL sample seemed oblivious to the logic of search or how to generate or parse search results with much patience or intelligence. “I just throw up whatever I want into the search box and hope it comes up,” a junior nursing major told the researchers. “…It’s just like Google, so I use it like Google.”

This Google effect does not bode well for students who manage to make it as far as a scholarly database, said Asher. “Student overuse of simple search leads to problems of having too much information or not enough information … both stemming from a lack of sufficient conceptual understanding of how information is organized,” he said. Those libraries that have tried to teach good search principles have failed, he continued, because they have spent “too much time trying to teach tools and not enough time trying to teach concepts.” It would be more useful for librarians to focus training sessions on how to "critically think through how to construct a strategy for finding information about a topic that is unknown to you," Asher said in a follow-up e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

[click on the link for the rest of the story....]

Networks, Crowds, and Markets

The increasing complexity of networks today, require the development of a systematic framework for their study. The classic graph theoretic approach provides only structural information for the underlying network. What are the "laws" that dictate the evolution of the latter? How do the individual decisions of every network entity affect this evolution?

Professors D. Easley and J. Kleinberg, provide a thorough investigation of the above fundamental questions in their very recent book entitled: "Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World". They borrow ideas from a set of disciplines that span a huge spectrum of knowledge, ranging from applied math to sociology. Going forward needed is a holistic view of complex networks and a new paradigm of thinking in network analysis, and this book definitely works towards this direction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Documentary Fundamentalism

Well-known historian Jill Lepore has tackled the sticky issue of how the Tea Party adherents are using and distorting American history in her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). She tackles head on the notion of "historical fundamentalism" where founding documents are to be read with reverence and historical research, analyzing evidence is a conspiracy, and the writings and archival sources of the Founding Fathers are sacred texts (except, of course, for those disagreeing with the Tea Party's notions of history and what the Revolutionary leaders were doing). Based on her own archival research into aspects of the Revolutionary War and interviews with Tea Party leaders and adherents, Lepore seeks to get a sense of what this group thinks it is about (a task that is difficult at best to accomplish). What we get is a first-rate analysis of the view of past when we cut ourselves loose from archival sources and build on legend, myth, rumor, and gossip.

Friday, October 08, 2010

"Libraries is where they go to sleep in between classes"

Here is an article that should be familiar ground to many within SIS, but it is worth noting because it isn't librarians talking among themselves.

Today, many of us understand and appreciate the overwhelming abundance of information available at our fingertips. There is too much content to consume and crucial educational resources can get lost in the pile. Librarians have a wealth of knowledge and specifically know:
  • How to research & evaluate content
  • How to use different resources for different purposes
  • How to determine validity and appropriation
  • How to think critically

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Was Ptolemy the first researcher to use social media?

This item in Der Spiegel (English) describes how researchers used Ptolemy's ancient map to date some of Germany's cities. What caught my eye was this:

It seems surprising that an academic living along the Nile had such detailed knowledge of northern Europe -- and it's certain that Ptolemy never took his own measurements in the Germanic lands. Instead, researchers believe he drew on Roman traders' travel itineraries, analyzed seafarers' notes and consulted maps used by Roman legions operating to the north.

So basically, Ptolemy was doing what these researchers in public health were doing:
Culotta and two student assistants analyzed more than 500 million Twitter messages over the eight-month period of August 2009 to May 2010, collected using Twitter’s application programming interface (API). By using a small number of keywords to track rates of influenza-related messages on Twitter, the team was able to forecast future influenza rates.

What was once old is new again!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Professional Schools & the Corporate University

The volumes investigating, critiquing, and wrestling with the emerging notion of the corporate university continue to appear on a daily basis. One that will generate a lot of discussion is Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein, Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the Twentieth-First Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). This is an optimistic, sweeping assessment arguing that the university must engage in the big, critical problems of our era, solve them, and function as agents of social change. It is another argument for moving the university away from the traditional, hierarchical manner in which it normally works and into new interdisciplinary programs that are facile and fueled with funds and partnerships with corporate American and other forms of global relationships. The authors fill their volume with lots of brief case studies, although many of these do not provide the level of detail or critical evaluation they probably deserve, resulting in a volume that is an interesting pep talk for a new form of university. From my perspective there are two major problems with the book. First, anyone who is critical of the new entrepreneurial model (and there are many, citing such problems as scientific fraud and intellectual property) are pushed to the side as problems. Consider this passage: “The impediment to the entrepreneurial residency is typically not a lack of funds, as many of the most qualified entrepreneurs are willing to work, at least on a part-time basis, for a relatively low salary so long as they are free to continue at least some of their activities outside of academia. Opposition comes from some who are slow to recognize the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and reluctant to include entrepreneurs as colleagues. Our experience is that once this opposition is overcome, the results are immediate and dramatic. An entrepreneurial voice amidst a group of talented scientists often leads to high impact, entrepreneurial science” (p. 37). Second, and far more serious, is the fact that this new university is all about science and technology. The arts and humanities are nearly nowhere to be found, and the idea of a university education is reduced to a kind of scientific-vocational training with a focus on money, money, and money.

This second problem has been the topic of many a book critical of the corporate model. The importance of having a historical grounding in higher education and academic life can be seen in Ellen Schrecker’s The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University (New York: The New Press, 2010). Schrecker, a historian who has written a couple of other books on McCarthyism and the academy, started this book as an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education comparing the fate of academic freedom in the McCarthy era with that after 9/11. Schrecker holds the university to a high ideal in regard to its importance in American life: “The academy protects the American mind. In a world of sound bites and bullet points, the nation’s campuses are among the last few places where it is still possible to deal with complicated ideas or entertain unorthodox opinions. Professors are the nation’s main public intellectuals; they raise the questions with which an informed citizenry must deal. They are, therefore, essential to the preservation of the reasoned debate and unfettered expression that our democratic system requires” (p. 4). Schrecker tackles a lot of critical issues, such as the changing nature of tenure, the rise of contingent faculty, due process for academics, faculty governance, curricular debates, campus radicals, canon and culture wars, and the changing academic structure from teaching to research, from students to revenue, and from education to vocational training. She concludes with an essay on the implications of the current Great Recession on the university and these issues affecting academic freedom (giving us a suitable warning for navigating into the future).

From my vantage these kinds of issues has become a particular problem in professional schools in higher education. Even before the emergence of the idea of the corporate university, commentators on the university sometimes struggled to fit into their model just what professional schools represented, with their own foot in the murky world of professions and their other foot in the world of research, scholarship, and theory. So, I have tried to tackle this in my The Demise of the Library School: Personal Reflections on Professional Education in the Modern Corporate University (Duluth, MN: Library Juice, 2010) placing the present and future of professional education for librarianship in the debate on the modern corporate university. The book is a series of meditations on critical themes relating to the education of librarians, archivists, and other information professionals, playing off of other commentators analyzing the nature of higher education and its problems and promises. Debates about the nature and value of professional education in general and library education in particular have continued over the past century. While many aspects of these debates have not changed in substance, the changing nature of the modern university has brought new dimensions (and, at times, more acrimony) to these discussions. Librarians and library educators have written extensively about professional education, but much of the literature has focused on internal professional community issues and avoided consideration of the evolution of the modern research university (where many of these schools are located) to a disturbing new corporate model bringing new pressures and conflicts to bear on the traditional library school. This book addresses my own sense of what has occurred with professional education and bringing to bear my perspective as an educator of archivists, my teaching of a doctoral seminar about the role of faculty in professional schools in the research university, and my extensive reading over the years about the nature and ongoing development of higher education. I am writing about what the corporate university represents, the role of faculty in professional schools in the university, interesting tensions between what traditional library faculty have done in the past and new demands on them to be relevant in the present digital era, the evolution of library schools into schools of information science and now information schools, the debates about individual credentialing and programmatic accreditation, and the influences of new aspects of such education such as the preparation of archivists and preservation administrators. This is not intended to be a research study, but it is a highly personal reflection intended to generate new discussion about the nature of professional education.

Librarians and Netflix

These are tough times in many public libraries, so it is small wonder that some librarians decided to take liberties with Netflix. According to this item in Techdirt, some librarians are loaning Netflix DVDs to patrons, despite the fact that it violates Netflix's terms of use. So are librarians a better "recommendation engine" than the Netflix algorithm?

Friday, September 10, 2010

You Can't Take it With You

Ray D. Madoff. Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

The characteristically American view of private property, supported by the tradition of common law, is that an individual can control their property, but not their body or reputation, after death. Boston College Law School professor Ray Madoff provides a guide to the development of American law about the rights of the dead, building on her previous work on estate and trust law. While academics have considerable evidence of the power of dead hands, surrounded by – and working in - eponymous institutions which provide an ongoing advertisement of the generosity of the dead, they have also seen the wishes of the dead overturned, perhaps most recently in the relocation of the Barnes Foundation collection.

Plainly written, this work charts the development of American property law in regard to achieving immortality, complete with the unsettling prospect of the success of cryonics, which would add a third category of “not really dead” to the previously binary concepts of life and death. Her discussion of the economic values of copyright and right of publicity, which is particularly relevant to this community, cautions against the chilling effect the current legislation has on creative expression, as it increasingly locks up archetypes, effectively removing them from artistic circulation.

Her strongest statement on the abuse of the notion of private property is that rights of publicity and copyright have become corporate assets, artificially extending the life of the individual creator to the benefit of others. “It is significant that the areas in which American law has grown most dramatically – dynasty trusts, charitable trusts, copyright, and rights of publicity – not only appeal to individuals’ desire to exert posthumous control but also appreciably benefit corporate interests. By using interests of the dead as a decoy, these entities have succeeded in enriching their own property interests.” (pp. 155-156)

Overall, a troubling work, particularly as it illustrates that the law reflects societal values in which increasing rights are granted to the dead without regard to the cost to the living.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Looking Backward at Telecommunications

While commentators on the Web and its offspring often make comparisons with its historical predecessors such as the telephone, there have been a modest number of efforts to provide serious analysis of the history of telecommunications. Richard R. John, a journalism professor, draws on the vast array of existing archival materials and offers up Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), a volume sure to be the standard history for quite a while. John commences his story back in the late eighteenth century and goes into the early twentieth century and provides a detailed account of the development of both the telegraph and telephone. He considers the nature of the technologies and their economics as well as government involvement in and civic ideals concerning the evolution, seeking to explain that there was noting inevitable about these network systems and trying to reveal that how these technologies took hold was the result of complex political, economic, technological, and social elements. He also tells a great story, one that is quite capitvating even if we know how it ends.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Digital preservation in Europe

Not surprisingly, digital preservation is a topic of global interest. CASPAR is an EU-funded project in case you were unaware of it.

No good deed goes unpunished: Using open data to exploit the poor in Bangalore

The open data movement has garnered widespread support among information professionals, with good reason. As with anything, there are cautionary tales that go along with some of the successes. This article talks about open data in general, and highlights the risk:
A very interesting and well-documented example of this empowering of the empowered can be found in the work of Solly Benjamin and his colleagues looking at the impact of the digitization of land records in Bangalore. Their findings were that newly available access to land ownership and title information in Bangalore was primarily being put to use by middle and upper income people and by corporations to gain ownership of land from the marginalized and the poor. The newly digitized and openly accessible data allowed the well to do to take the information provided and use that as the basis for instructions to land surveyors and lawyers and others to challenge titles, exploit gaps in title, take advantage of mistakes in documentation, identify opportunities and targets for bribery, among others. They were able to directly translate their enhanced access to the information along with their already available access to capital and professional skills into unequal contests around land titles, court actions, offers of purchase and so on for self-benefit and to further marginalize those already marginalized.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The subway map of science

This item represents the relationship between the sciences (and scientists) as a subway map. It is an interesting way to think about it, but somehow I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of getting to Heisenberg via Fermi or Dirac ...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Exploring the Information Age at LC

We have become so accustomed to the use of " information society" or " information age" that we tend to accept it an an uncritical way. Cultural anthropologist Samuel Gerald Collins, in his Library of Walls: The Library of Congress and the Contradictions of Information Society (Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, 2009), demonstrates why we should not accept such terminology without additional reflection. Offering an ethnography of the information society by an in-depth analysis of the Library of Congress, reconstructing its history and drawing on observations of practice and internal practice, Collins cuts through the usual hype and excessive focus on expanding and more powerful information technologies. Collins tracks the changing meanings of information and, consequently, changing meanings of the Library. As Collins states, "We must see 'information society' as part of a late-modernist penchant for sublimating the traces of power, social conflict and racial politics in order to attain a 'consensual' corporate culture" (p. 156). Collins examines in considerable detail the role of cataloguing and cataloguing standards and the emergence of the concept of the digital library. This is an interesting, useful study.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Conference on long tails

If you are interested in seriously studying the kind of phenomena popularized by Chris Anderson in The Long Tail, you should take a look at the presentation in this recent conference that was sponsored by Yahoo. The presentations I looked at were rather technical, so they would be a good place to go if you were interested in this from a quantitative research perspective. It is too bad that it is only the presentation slides and not the presentations themselves that are available.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Economics of CAPTCHA

If you use the web, you have undoubtedly encountered a CAPTCHA, which is text that is designed to be difficult for computers to read but easy for humans. In this paper, the authors examine the economics of CAPTCHA; that is, they examine the utility of this approach in light of the emergence of "deCAPTCHA" services, which rely on either computer software or human readers (or both) in an attempt to defeat the CAPTCHA images. Doing this allows the authors to view the underlying phenomenon in a different light and argue that CAPTCHAs
... should more properly be regarded as an economic [impediment], as witnessed by a robust and mature CAPTCHA-solving industry which bypasses the underlying technological issue completely. Viewed in this light, CAPTCHAs are a low-impact mechanism that adds friction to the attacker’s business model and thus minimizes the cost and legitimate user impact of heavier-weight secondary defenses. CAPTCHAs continue to serve this function, but as with most such defensive mechanisms, they simply work less efficiently over time.

Gender and the social web

is a very interesting article on the gender and influence on the social web. The article presents some data on web usage by gender (such as the one below )

In terms of influence, the results depend on what you are looking at: across the general population, women were more influential, but there were more males than females when the top influencers were considered.  As for the data, I don't know how he determined gender ... if it was based on self-reported results, then they may be somewhat suspect, for, as everyone knows, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog"

Monday, August 09, 2010

Metadata and Google Books

This article over at Ars Technica discusses metadata in Google Books ... it also is rather complimentary to the information professions as a by product:
In the end, most of the "metadata problems" that Google's engineers are trying to solve are very, very old. Distinguishing between different editions of a work, dealing with mistitled and misattributed works, and sorting out dates of publication—these are all tasks that have historically been carried out by human historians, codicologists, paleographers, library scientists, museum curators, textual critics, and learned lovers of books and scrolls since the dawn of writing. In trying to count the world's books by identifying which copies of books (or records of books, or copies of records of books, or records of copies of books) signify the "same" printed and bound volume, Google has found itself on the horns of a very ancient dilemma.

Google may not (or, rather, certainly will not) be able to solve this problem to the satisfaction of scholars who have spent their lives wrestling with these very issues in one corner or another of the humanities. But that's fine, because no one outside of Google really expects them to. The best the search giant can do is acknowledge and embrace the fact that it's now the newest, most junior member of an ancient and august guild of humanists, and let its new colleagues participate in the process of fixing and maintaining its metadata archive. After all, why should Google's engineers be attempting to do art history? Why not just focus on giving new tools to actual historians, and let them do their thing? The results of a more open, inclusive metadata curation process might never reveal how many books their really are in the world, but they would do a vastly better job of enabling scholars to work with the library that Google is building.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Are young people really "digital natives"?

This article is interesting in that it provides an alternate narrative about today's young people. The prevailing narrative is that these are "digital natives" who are as (or more) comfortable in the virtual world than in the real.

There is little evidence to back such theories up, however. Rather than conducting surveys, these would-be visionaries base their arguments on impressive individual cases of young Internet virtuosos. As other, more serious researchers have since discovered, such exceptions say very little about the generation as a whole, and they are now avidly trying to correct the mistakes of the past.

Numerous studies have since revealed how young people actually use the Internet. The findings show that the image of the "net generation" is almost completely false -- as is the belief in the all-changing power of technology.

A study by the Hans Bredow Institute entitled "Growing Up With the Social Web" was particularly thorough in its approach. In addition to conducting a representative survey, the researchers conducted extensive individual interviews with 28 young people. Once again it became clear that young people primarily use the Internet to interact with friends. They go on social networks like Facebook and the popular German social networking site SchülerVZ, which is aimed at school students, to chat, mess around and show off -- just like they do in real life.

This article suggests that this may not be true in general, and it also points out the need for education in information literacy.
A major study conducted by the British Library came to the sobering conclusion that the "net generation" hardly knows what to look for, quickly scans over results, and has a hard time assessing relevance. "The information literacy of young people has not improved with the widening access to technology," the authors wrote.

A few schools have now realized that the time has come to act. One of them is Kaiserin Augusta School in Cologne, the high school that Jetlir, Tom, Pia, and Anna attend. "We want our pupils to learn how to use the Internet productively," says music teacher André Spang, "Not just for clicking around in."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A tag synonym system for folksonomies

I thought that this item would be of interest to those in our community who work in folksonomies. Basically, user contributed tags are re-mapped in the background via a javascript routine and user-contributed synonyms. There are a few interesting questions ... most notably, does this help retrieval?

Humor: Blonde in a library

I found this short video funny. Perhaps you will too.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Copyright and preserving computer games

This article looks at the tension between preserving computer games (especially those based on consoles). You will find that this article is written from the technology perspective, but it should be of broader interest to the school.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Vanishing Act

Michael Bugeja and Daniela V. Dimitrova, Vanishing Act: The Erosion of Online Footnotes and Implications for Scholarship in the Digital Age (Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, LLC, 2010), give us an interesting and compelling research study about one aspect of the implications of the growth of the Internet. The report offered here was started in 2003 when one of the authors noticed his Web citations disappearing. Examining in-depth nine leading journals in journalism and communication in order the determine what is the half-life of a Web citation, the authors sound this warning: “Vanishing online footnotes undermine the building blocks of research, and their disappearance raises concerns about the reliability and replicability of scholarship” (p. 8). They conveniently cite and summarize the research of others who have also examined this issue, lamenting that we seem to have lost the notion of the archive (in other words, the function that traditional libraries served for a very long time but which is now being displaced by virtual journals and other repositories lacking a sense of a long-term commitment to maintaining documents). “Simply by changing and renaming servers," they write, "computer technicians routinely destroy for citation purposes entire archives on a scale as disastrous as the legendary but mysterious fire at the ancient Library of Alexandria” (p. 17). Personally, I wish they had devoted a few pages to the emerging efforts in digital curation and those of some leading academic libraries to create digital repositories; I thinks this would have provided a more hopeful picture, but this is an important study and one that can be readily replicated in other fields.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Slow Reading

John Miedema, Slow Reading (Duluth, MN: Litwin Books, LLC, 2009) is an interesting, brief reflection on the nature of reading slowly for reflection rather than just locating information. “Unlike our modern consumption of information,” Miedema writes, “slow reading is a journey that fundamentally changes us” (p. 8). He also argues that “Print persists because it is a superior technology for integrating information of any length, complexity or richness; it is better suited to slow reading” (p. 16) and that “libraries are more than just data, they provide a context to information and a house to the people who use it” (p. 49). He is convinced that digital and print books will co-exist for a long-time into the future.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rethinking the photograph

The photograph remains one of the most prevalent documentary forms going, and the scholarship trying to grapple with it broad and varied. Anna Pegler Gordon, In Sight of America: Photography and the Development of U.S. Immigration Policy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009) argues that photography influenced US immigration policy and how the objeCts of the photos also exercised control over how they would be depicted. John Tagg, The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Truths and the Capture of Meaning (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009) wrestles with the nature of evidence in such images and the means by which the evidence is shaped ANC reshaped. Both are important books for understanding photography and how it is changing.

An Amazing Body of Scholarship about Maps

Mark Monmonier, geography professor at Syracuse, has perhaps created one of the most amazing bodies of scholarship on one document form, in this case the map. I have about a dozen books by him on the subject. I just read his most recent one, No Dig, No Fly, No Go: How Maps Restrict and Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), concerning restrictive maps, such as concerning zoning, flight paths, nautical passages, and political subdivisions. Monmonier's books are also a model of serious scholarship written in a way that can be read by a broader public.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Amazon: More Kindle books than hardcovers

This is an interesting story that makes the ongoing media transition a bit more concrete. Quoting the article:

The Kindle e-reader and bookstore have reached a "tipping point," the company said Monday, with Kindle titles outselling hardcover books on the massive online marketplace for the first time.

"We've reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle--the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189," Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in an announcement release, referring to last month's price drop for the device. "In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books--astonishing, when you consider that we've been selling hardcover books for 15 years and Kindle books for 33 months."

This may not be surprising given what Amazon has invested in the Kindle and may be biased by Amazon's patron demographics, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good Life in the Digital Age

William Powers, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building A Good Life in the Digital Age (New York: Harper, 2010) is essentially a companion piece to Nicholas Carr's new book. Powers describes how every new information technology has brought challenges and that our present age has us always connected, our focus distracted, and our thinking often made fuzzy -- much the same arguments Carr makes. Instead of emphasizing the cognitive issues, Powers examines what Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and McLuhan have to offer with their observations about the use of information and, for them, the new technologies supporting the use of information. Powers teases out a set of principles, such developing positive rituals for shutting the technologies down from time to time, and poses them in a highly readable way. Carr's book may be the one I would select for a course, but Powers also provides a critical and useful critique. Neither author suggests anything astoundingly new, but they present their perspective in a very user friendly way that engages the reader and that certainly could be used in undergraduate and graduate courses.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Scientific Fraud

David Goodstein, On Fact and Fraud: Cautionary Tales from the Front Lines of Science (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) offers insights by Goodstein on teaching a course on Scientific Ethics at California Institute of Technology. He lays out a set of basic principles and then supports them with specific case studies. One of the cases concerns Robert A. Millikan's research about measuring the charge of the electron, using his research notebooks at the CalTech archives as evidence the reliability of Millikan's research.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Future of News

The Spring 2010 issue of Daedalus concerns the "future of news," and it brings together the observations of many who have been writing about the status of newspapers, journalism, and news. This is a handy summary of the concerns and debates about the transformation of news in the digital era.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Internet and Our Brains

Nicholas Carr, one of our more astute commentators on the World Wide Web and its role in the present Information Age, has expanded on his oft-cited Atlantic essay, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" In his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Being (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010). Carr provides some interesting commentary about how different reading traditional books is different from browsing or scanning the Web. Carr speculates how our writing is changing, how we may be comprehending less even when having more information to work with, and how our comparison of our brain to a computer may be fraught with many problems. Sprinkled throughout the book are interesting comments such as "the Web is a technology of forgetfulness" (p. 193). This book will stimulate a lot of discussion, and it is one that can spur on good conversation in our classrooms.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Sherry Turtle, Simulation and Its Discontents (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009) reports on two ethnographic studies done by Turkle over twenty years investigating simulation and its implications in architecture, science, and engineering. She comments on how we have gone from the use of simulation in specific and strategic uses to seeing scientists, engineers, and others working almost full-time employing simulation. Turkle wonders if we can tell where simulation stops and actual science begins, and if we are losing some knowledge.

If the Public Library were invented today, would it be called organized crime?

So is the provocative title of this item over at TechDirt. The article is basically about some of the challenges faced when translating from the physical world into the virtual:

We've seen authors in the past complaining that libraries are engaged in book theft, which is an argument that is pretty laughable -- though, has, at times been suggested by various publishing groups. But, in general, most people recognize the public service a library does by helping to educate people. So when some folks in Bulgaria decided to try to set up a user-generated online library of sorts, you wouldn't think that the site would get raided by the police, be declared "damaging to culture," and have its organizers described as an organized crime syndicate. But, that's what happened.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Study: Negative salary effects of IT

Here is another item that follows yesterday's "doom and gloom" post. Here, a study found that the salaries of low-skilled workers decreased with IT involvement. This points to some "externalities" that must be addressed and considered when automating processes with IT. The answer, of course, cannot be "don't automate" because the alternative would likely be a much larger salary decrease (to $0 for everyone, when the enterprise folds due to competitive pressure). For those of us who do techno-economic studies, it means that the "benefit-cost calculus" must be expanded to include these effects, or at least the mitigation of these effects.

Researchers found that salary actually varied inversely with IT penetration: the more computers were involved, the less workers were paid. Highly educated workers are able to offset this effect with the positive influence of education-IT interaction— they can integrate new technologies into their workflow. Less-educated workers, on the other hand, are left blank-faced in front of a computer screen.

This negative IT effect results from computers' ability to replace workers at unskilled tasks, according to the scientists (for example, word processing software now stands in for typesetters). More importantly, workers below a certain education threshold lack the resources to adapt their skillset. Once they are replaced, they have difficulty finding other work, and it is increasingly hard to find unskilled jobs that haven't been co-opted by IT.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Home computer access results in negative impacts on math and reading

This study is worth reading, especially since its conclusions are rather counter-intuitive:

Using within‐student variation in home computer access, and across‐ZIP code variation in the timing of the introduction of high‐speed internet service, the authors demonstrate that the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high‐speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

Future Librarians

Steve Kolowich, “The Librarian’s Crystal Ball,” Inside Higher Education, June 23, 2010, summarizes an Association of College and Research Libraries report, Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025, noting these predictions:

“Breaking the textbook monopoly: Most states have passed legislation that requires textbook publishers to make textbooks affordable. Faculty members, sympathetic to their students, have embraced online open educational resources (OERs). More faculty create and share openly their course materials, modules, streaming videos, tests, software, and other tools. Although widely accepted seminal OERs exist for introductory courses, faculty create materials for advanced courses based on their own knowledge and interests, inviting student contributions.

Bridging the scholar/practitioner divide: Open peer review becomes the norm for many fields, speeding application of discoveries. Online publications, by scholarly societies in partnership with trade organizations and professional associations, are open access. They support robust community-based dialogue on articles as soon as they are accepted via traditional editorial procedures. Scholars and practitioners alike discuss the findings, how the theory would apply in practice, and suggest additional research needed.

Everyone is a "nontraditional" student: The interwoven nature of work/life/school is accepted in higher education as life spans increase and students are unable to fund tuition in one lump. Co-op education is widely embraced and faculty increasingly value students' life experience. Knowing what the work force wants, students are active in designing their own learning outcomes, and the personalized curriculum becomes the norm. Faculty members evaluate students on demonstrations of learning -- such as policy documents, marketing plans, or online tutorials -- rather than old measures based on “seat time” and “credit hours.”

Meet the new freshman class: With laptops in their hands since the age of 18 months old, students who are privileged socially and economically are completely fluent in digital media. For many others, the digital divide, parental unemployment, and the disruption of moving about during the foreclosure crisis of their formative years means they never became tech savvy. “Remedial” computer and information literacy classes are now de rigueur.

Right here with me: Students “talk” through homework with their handheld devices, which issue alerts when passing a bookstore with material they need to cite. Scanning the title page, this information is instantly embedded in proper citation style with an added endnote. Checking in on location-based services, students locate study team members and hold impromptu meetings without the need for study rooms. Their devices have whiteboards and can share notes with absent members.”

The ACRL report can be found at

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Study: Face to face is better than on-line for education

This item in the NYT, referring to a recent study, found that “modest evidence that live-only instruction dominates internet instruction. These results are particularly strong for Hispanic students, male students, and lower-achieving students.”

More grist for the mill!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Humanties and Education

Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), in what she terms a manifesto, makes a compelling case for studying history, literature, and the arts in an era when the emphasis is increasingly on science and technology (and other disciplines testable). It is in the humanities, she argues, that we gain the “ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person” (p. 7). Nussbaum is arguing against the use of standardized tests and large impersonal classes and for small classes where teachers can employ the Socratic method. Despite the clarity of her argument and the marshalling of positive and negative cases to make her point, her position may be something that has already become outmoded because of corporate perspective and political pressures (except in some classrooms where some teachers ad scholars resist the tide).

Monday, May 31, 2010

News in the Information Age

Jack Fuller, What Is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Experienced newspaperman Fuller provides an interesting analysis of the state of journalism, tying the fate of news coverage not to the fate of print and ink publishing but to the condition of our society and the need for honest, reliable reporting. Fuller covers the emergence of journalism as a profession, the development of its principles and methods, the challenges offered by television and then the Internet, and suggestions regarding its future. Fuller does not defend traditional journalism, but he, instead, shows where the field needs to accommodate new readers and technologies. While independence and verification must remain, Fuller suggests that other traditional notions, such as neutrality and disinterestedness, may be far less important or relevant.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rethinking Public Education

Even though Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010), concerns K-12 education, there is much in it that ought to be of interest to university faculty. Ravitch, an education professor and involved in a number of efforts to reform public education, recounts how the reform efforts ultimately became a fixation with testing, driven by a business model, with a focus only on a portion of such education (mostly reading and math skills, aspects lending themselves to testing). Ravitch worries about public education being given over to foundations, philantropists, and profit-making corporations and removing this education from the normal democratic safeguards. It is a depressing read, documenting billions of dollars in expenditures and multiple efforts with modest, or often no, success. Much of this is a confession by Ravitch that her support for national curriculum standards and school choice has been misguided. Unfortunately, her concluding chapter while considering a new commitment to a more well-rounded education and stronger support for teacher preparation (among other things) rings hollow; it seems to offer a direction no better than where we have been and suggests that perhaps all we have learned is what doesn't work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Business Ethics

Max Anderson and Peter Escher, The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders (New York: Portfolio, 2010) is an effort to bring a new ethical component to business schools, wrestling with the wreckage of recent economic woes and corporate misconduct, and even redefining the very nature of the degree and the curriculum supporting it. Anderson and Escher are recent graduates of the Harvard Business School, where the MBA Oath originated, and they lace their book with many real-life and hypothetical examples that extend beyond the walls of such schools. Anyone interested in professional ethics will want to examine this interesting book.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Having trouble sleeping? Maybe it's your iPad

from the LISNEWS feed today :

May 17, 2010 from CNN:

"Unlike paper books or e-book readers like the Amazon Kindle, which does not emit its own light, the iPad's screen shines light directly into the reader's eyes from a relatively close distance. That makes the iPad and laptops more likely to disrupt sleep patterns than, say, a television sitting across the bedroom or a lamp that illuminates a paper book, both of which shoot far less light straight into the eye, researchers said."

...Although you should read the rest of the story and see the video from CNN, because some people don't agree...go to


Monday, May 17, 2010

A Basic History of Privacy in the US

Frederick S. Lane's American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009) is a basic historical overview of privacy debates and perspectives in the U.S. Lane reviews the evolving notions of privacy, considers the implications of the emergence of communication networks (the postal system, the telegraph and telephone, the Internet), political and social campaigns about the protection of privacy (including ample discussion about various federal statutes), the impact of certain documentary forms on the notion of privacy (postcards, photographs, and credit cards), and so forth. Lane's analysis demonstrates our proclivity to give up our privacy when it seems convenient to do so. This is a useful text.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More data re our "Millenial" students...

From the Internet Scout Report:
[ ]

Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next [pdf]

Some might ask: What is a millennial? The short answer is "the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium." The Pew Research Center first started looking at this group in 2006, and this 149-page report released in February 2010 was edited by Paul Taylor and Scott Keeter. The report notes that the millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults, and that they are less religious and on track to become "the most educated generation in American history." On this site, visitors will find the complete nine-chapter report, along with the survey methodology and appendices. Visitors can also read an executive summary of the report here,view video from the Pew Research Center regarding the report, and also take a short quiz on millennials.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Amazon Kindle in the classroom: some results

We often hear about schools that make bold (technological) leaps into the future and much less often about how those leaps went. Recently (last year?), some schools made Amazon's Kindle e-book readers mandatory, and the results are in and they're not that favorable (see this):
Darden is one of a handful of schools that decided to give the larger-screened Kindle DX a trial run in select classes to see how well it fared in the academic environment. And, it's not the first to conclude that the Kindle isn't quite right for its students. Arizona State University recently completed its own pilot program for the Kindle DX and wasn't particularly impressed—the university also settled a lawsuit with the American Council for the Blind, agreeing to use devices that were more accessible to the blind in the future. Princeton was also underwhelmed by its Kindle test; one student described the device as a "poor excuse of an academic tool" in an interview with the Daily Princetonian.
I wonder how the outcome of this experiment will bode for those schools who have "leaped forward" with the iPad"?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Academic Freedom

There have been many books written recently about the transformation of universities into corporations, reflecting many different perspectives. Cary Nelson, a professor and president of the American Association of University Professors, adds to the list with his No University Is An Island: Saving Academic Freedom (New York: New York University Press, 2010). In this volume Nelson discusses the threat of the corporate model, the growing dependence on contingent faculty, weakening shared governance, Right-wing polemics, and various financial crises. Nelson takes on all comers (for example, he critiques in an even-handed fashion both Stanley Fish and David Horowitz, one an observer from inside and the other a non-academic looking from outside the university) who have criticized the university, its governance, its societal roles, and the place of the faculty. The book is full of examples of the weakening of academic freedom and how such situations have been challenged or not.

Nelson clusters much of his concern around the corporate university. For example, he concludes, “Many of the values higher education has traditionally promoted – from free inquiry to a commitment to the public good – cannot remain credible if a university adopts the employment policies of a ruthless corporation” (pp. 58-59). Nelson laments the likely failure or loss of interest of the corporate university in “educating students to be critical participants in a democracy” (p. 73). While some may applaud the end of such an educational agenda, the implications are dire: “The flawed public image of our ethical status undermines academic freedom and diminishes every element of our mission. A university that acts like a corporation cannot expect to be viewed as anything else” (p. 78). In this sense, No University Is Like An Island joins a growing chorus of case studies, memoirs, and research about the implications of the corporate university model.

The difference with Nelson’s book, one that is certainly part memoir of his work with the AAUP, is its focus on faculty (individually and collectively) responsibility for what has happened in the academy. There has been a loss of collective memory amongst the faculty: “The loss of institutional memory among the faculty makes for a wonderful opportunity for higher education’s corporate managers: they can remake higher education without objection from a faculty that does not know the difference” (p. 74). Nelson attributes this to tenured faculty who have become self-absorbed and the growth of and reliance on contingent faculty: “Two generations of tenure-track faculty – obsessed exclusively with their academic disciplines – have been distracted and inattentive as the character of campus decision making has been gradually transformed. This trend has been accelerated by the growing number of contingent faculty lacking the job security that undergirds academic freedom and shared governance” (p. 105). One result of such inattention is the potential loss of tenure altogether, creating grand challenges down the road. First, there is the problem of how academic administration will evolve: “The world without tenure is a world of administrative fiat – first over all elements of shared governance, then over academic freedom as it applies to faculty speech in public and in the classroom” (p. 92). Second, there is the matter of just what a future faculty might look like. Nelson states, “We have seen the future, and the faculty is not there” (p. 194).

Despite a lot of pessimism or cynicism, Nelson constantly reminds the reader that there is always the possibility of taking corrective action. He pounds home this point by charting the changes that have occurred with the AAUP in the past few decades, as it has become a more proactive watchdog about academic affairs. Nelson argues that we need to learn from our mistakes: “Bad decisions indeed tend to haunt us, remaining teachable moments that last for decades” (p. 125).

The sense of academic memory and action is what one takes from the book. Indeed, from my own perspective of serving as a program chair and SIS Council Chair I have become concerned about the rapid growth in self-assessment, planning, and other related activities that engage more and more of our time. My concern is not a need to resist such demands, but more about how we can transform the process into useful individual and collective evaluation that strengthens our work rather than distracting us from our research and teaching. This is something I will be wrestling with over the summer as I prepare for a new academic year. I believe we have a long way to go before we learn how to do such work sensibly and in a fashion that protects our own roles as university faculty.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Internet as an information operating system

I found this item over at O'Reilly to be a very interesting read. O'Reilly begins by talking about what happens during an Internet search, then dives in a little more deeply into what a computer operating system did for application developers before abstracting back to Internet search. At that point, he builds the idea of an "information operating system":
Among many other functions, a traditional operating system coordinates access by applications to the underlying resources of the machine - things like the CPU, memory, disk storage, keyboard and screen. The operating system kernel schedules processes, allocates memory, manages interrupts from devices, handles exceptions, and generally makes it possible for multiple applications to share the same hardware.

As a result, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that "cloud computing" platforms like Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, or Microsoft Azure, which provide developers with access to storage and computation, are the heart of the emerging Internet Operating System.
Cloud infrastructure services are indeed important, but to focus on them is to make the same mistake as Lotus did when it bet on DOS remaining the operating system standard rather than the new GUI-based interfaces. After all, Graphical User Interfaces weren't part of the "real" operating system, but just another application-level construct. But even though for years, Windows was just a thin shell over DOS, Microsoft understood that moving developers to higher levels of abstraction was the key to making applications easier to use.

But what are these higher levels of abstraction? Are they just features that hide the details of virtual machines in the cloud, insulating the developer from managing scaling or hiding details of 1990s-era operating system instances in cloud virtual machines?

The underlying services accessed by applications today are not just device components and operating system features, but data subsystems: locations, social networks, indexes of web sites, speech recognition, image recognition, automated translation. It's easy to think that it's the sensors in your device - the touch screen, the microphone, the GPS, the magnetometer, the accelerometer - that are enabling their cool new functionality. But really, these sensors are just inputs to massive data subsystems living in the cloud.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ethics in the Academy

Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben, eds., Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) demonstrates both that there has been a resurgence of interest in ethics in the academy and that what this means is highly contested. What emerges from the various essays is a sense that one role of the university is to assist students to become morally reflective, not just to absorb information, acquire skills, and obtain credentials. Yet, even with this renewed interest there are problems, such as revealed in David A. Hackema’s essay about the role of ethics in professional schools: “Rather than encourage students to reflect on the qualities that constitute a virtuous character, professional-school ethics courses tend to focus on how many months an engineer or lawyer must wait after resigning from a firm or partnership before going to work for a competitor or a government regulation agency” (p. 253). In other professional schools, ethics are either buried as just one topic among many in various required courses or viewed askance as a soft area in comparison to the hard skills of technical knowledge. This is an important collection of essays, worth reading by anyone concerned about ethical perspectives in their respective discipline.

Friday, April 30, 2010

New from Pew: Government Online

[new Pew report issued April 30, 2010] "Government agencies have begun to open up their data to the public, and a surprisingly large number of citizens are showing interest. Some 40% of adult internet users have gone online for raw data about government spending and activities. [ ] This includes anyone who has done at least one of the following: look online to see how federal stimulus money is being spent (23% of internet users have done this); read or download the text of legislation (22%); visit a site such as that provides access to government data (16%); or look online to see who is contributing to the campaigns of their elected officials (14%).

The report also finds that 31% of online adults have used social tools such as blogs, social networking sites, and online video as well as email and text alerts to keep informed about government activities. Moreover, these new tools show particular appeal to groups that have historically lagged in their use of other online government offerings-in particular, minority Americans. Latinos and African Americans are just as likely as whites to use these tools to keep up with government, and are much more likely to agree that government outreach using these channels makes government more accessible and helps people be more informed about what government agencies are doing.

"Just as social media and just-in-time applications have changed the way Americans get information about current events or health information, they are now changing how citizens interact with elected officials and government agencies," said Research Specialist Aaron Smith, author of the report. "People are not only getting involved with government in new and interesting ways, they are also using these tools to share their views with others and contribute to the broader debate around government policies."

Read more »

Gutenberg 2.0: Harvard's libraries deal with disruptive change

The May-June 2010 issue of the Harvard alumni magazine has an article on libraries, digital libraries, information in the Web 2.0 environment, etc. Among its opening paragraphs is the following: “Who has the most scientific knowledge of largescale organization, collection, and access to information? Librarians,” says Peter Bol, Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations. ….."A librarian can take a book, put it somewhere, and then guarantee to find it again. “If you’ve got 16 million items,” he points out, “that’s a very big guarantee. We ought to be leveraging that expertise to deal with this new digital environment. That’s a vision of librarians as specialists in organizing and accessing and preserving information in multiple media forms, rather than as curators of collections of books, maps, or posters.”

For the full article, go to

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Twitter analytics

Since some of you do research on social networking, you might find some of the tools located on this site of interest. Personally, I liked the "Twitter Analyzer", since it has a lot of graphs ...

Do you use PowerPoint?

If yes, read this story from the NY Times; If no, read this story from the NYTimes:

In either case, it's the #1 most frequently emailed article from the Times today!


Anyone interested in intellectual property issues and the debates about the future of publishing will want to take a break and tackle the mammoth new book by Adrian Johns, Privacy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Johns argues that intellectual property has mostly developed as a response to piracy, the latter arising as part of the new book culture and the development of the notion of the author and literary property. Johns orients us to the deep historical underpinnings of the issues that have coalesced today to form the heated battles over intellectual property. The last few sentences of his book endorse his sense of why having the historical perspective is so important: “To be sure, history cannot tell us exactly what to do, or what choices to make [regarding the increasingly contentious arguments about intellectual property]. The responsibility for those decisions will be ours alone. But the time to take the decision is surely coming. History can help us prepare for it” (p. 518). However, another value in the study of history emerges from this book. Considering the late eighteenth century debates about publishing, Johns observes, “The old world of a few large houses issuing authoritative editions could not survive. Those that endured were smaller, faster, newer. They employed whatever secondhand tools they could lay their hands on, worked at breakneck speed with whatever journeymen they could get, and ensured a rapid turnover by issuing newspapers and tracts with an immediate sale” (p. 53). Such descriptions bear an uncanny resemblance to what we too often assume are circumstances unique to our day – in this case the challenge of the Web and e-publishing to the dominance of a small group of print publishers. It is why the study of history is so essential to information professionals, who are often seduced by the promises and predictions of what seems like a never ending supply of powerful new technologies. Of course, in most school like ours only a small portion of our students are exposed to such a perspective.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Microsoft Research on Lifeblogging

This article in CACM presents a critical evaluation of "lifeblogging", in which people capture many aspects of their daily lives. I found the "Design Principles" section particularly worth reading.

Advice About Going to Graduate School

If you want to read a hilarious description about the perils and promises of going to graduate school, check out Adam Ruben, Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision To Go To Grad School (New York: Broadway Books, 2010). You will laugh along until you get to an observation that either reflects a conversation that you just had with a student or describes your own attitude or performance in an uncanny fashion. Sold at fine bookstores everywhere!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Students and Social Media...what research tells us?

(this note appeared on the Inside Higher Ed Daily News Update this morning:

Ellen's comment: Hmmm, do we know if this happens to faculty too?

Students and Their Social Media Addictions: American college students -- cut off from social media for 24 hours -- use the same words to describe their feelings as as associated with those addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to a new study by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, at the University of Maryland at College Park. In the study, 200 Maryland students were asked to abstain from using social media for 24 hours and then to write their feelings. The words frequently used: in withdrawal, frantically craving, very anxious, extremely antsy, miserable, jittery and crazy.

Susan D. Moeller, a journalism professor at Maryland and the director of the center that conducted the study, said that students see social media as key to their relationships with others. She said that researchers "noticed that what they wrote at length about was how they hated losing their personal connections. Going without media meant, in their world, going without their friends and family."

The University of Maryland press release is at
The study itself is at

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Online Public Spaces for Children

The Media Awareness Network “Talk Media” blog is a space where librarians, teachers, parents and media scholars can share the latest media news, trends and resources ( In the April 13, 2010 posting, Matthew Johnson wondered why we have no public spaces for children in the online world.

He writes, “New York's Gramercy Park is a curious institution: two acres of fenced-in greenspace that is accessible only to those who own the houses surrounding the park. (Non-residents must either stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel or join the Players Club or National Arts Club if they want to visit, and each of these institutions has a limited number of park keys.) Private parks like it are the exception, of course, not the rule: since the days of Frederick Law Olmsted, who campaigned for and designed city parks across North America (Central Park, in New York, and Montreal's Mount Royal Park among them) we have come to expect most of our recreational spaces to be public…The near-universality of public parks and playgrounds in our physical spaces makes it all the more striking that the online world contains almost no spaces that are genuinely public.”

Johnson argues that online services like Facebook, Google, Hotmail, and Youtube are pseudo-public spaces; they are for-profit services that go to great lengths to seem like a public space. Johnson concludes with these questions: “If Gramercy Park had been the model for our municipal parks -- if we had to pay to let our children use them, whether directly in money, indirectly through advertising or data collection, or a mixture of both -- would we stand for it? Or would we demand that our governments provide true public spaces where all our children could play?”

Media Awareness Network: