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:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ignore the Writing Manuals

We often advise our students to read some writing manuals (ok, at least I do). In the Fiction 2010 Supplement to the May 2010 Atlantic, there is a humorous essay by Richard Bausch, “How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons,” that parodies such manuals. Although the focus is on fiction manuals, there are some good points made by Bausch, such as follows:

“With a frequency that is dismaying, I run into people who are widely versed in the manuals, and quasi-literate in all other ways. They have no sense of the love of the art they wish to practice, because they have very seldom or never been in the thrall of a work of fiction as practiced by the great artists in their own literary heritage, or even the good craftsmen in the genres. They may have had some exposure to the great writers, or some anthology-exposure to a fraction of someone, little pieces of the treasure that is there. Or their reading is so deficient that in fact the only books they’ve read that might be called fiction are the few best sellers that achieve some literary merit or cachet. Which is to say that these people, many of them college students, want to be considered serious writers; they seek literary excellence; but they have come to believe that they can accomplish this by means of the convenient shortcut. And the industry that produces the how-to manuals plays to them, makes money from their hope of finding a way to be a writer, rather than doing the work, rather than actually spending the time to absorb what is there in the vast riches of the world’s literature, and then crafting one’s own voice out of the myriad of voices.

My advice? Put the manuals and the how-to books away. Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write.”

You can read the full essay at

Summer Porch Reading

Ulrich Boser. The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

While somewhat breathless in tone, this page-turner does present extensive details of the aftermath of the theft of works by Rembrandt and Vermeer from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Following an introduction to Museum’s founder and her approach to the collection and placement of the objects, journalist Boser moves on to discuss the reasons for and methods of successful art thefts in museums great and small. These include complacency, underpaid security guards, the reticence of museums to acknowledge thefts – alas, no surprises here. Caught up in the Gardner search himself, the author regales the reader with accounts of colorful characters of art theft investigators, convicted and unconvicted art thieves, art dealers and curators which unfortunately lapses into a somewhat tedious litany of dropped names and dead leads. And yes, he believes that the Gardner paintings will reappear, probably damaged, but he will not be the one that discovers them.

Thanks to former Archives student Kristin Justham for alerting us to this work. For an update on the Gardner’s director Anne Hawley, and her plans for expanding this museum of a museum, see Julia Klein’s “Elitism for all” in the March 23, 2010 issues of the Wall Street Journal Hawley had joined the Museum in 1989, the year before the "Gardner Heist."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Get this: Pittsburgh's young workforce among top 5 most educated in US...

Who knew? Pittsburgh's young workforce is among top 5 most educated in US ?!?

Once defined by heavy-industry and blue-collar masses, Pittsburgh now hosts the fifth most educated young workforce in the United States, a distinction that groups the city with such bastions of erudition as Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., according to a recent report in the Pittsburgh Economic Quarterly published by the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR)

The blog story is at and the UCSUR report is at .

LoC acquires the Twitter archive

I case you haven't seen it you might find this interesting:

We will also be putting out a press release later with even more details and quotes. Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition. I’m no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.

Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (, President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election (, and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter ( and (

So I wonder what the metadata for the following tweet would be (collected just moments ago):

"All Time Low didtngin gr2 ABG..?! Ogah ah dtg..(tp, klo diksh gratis jg gpp..hehe)"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Other Stuff Matters

When the information professional thinks of architecture and design, he or she is usually not reflecting on the built environment of structures we move in, around, and through. However, reading about the nature of the built environment can be useful to anyone interested in how information plays a role in our society. Paul Goldberger, Why Architecture Matters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) is an excellent way to mull over such matters. Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times, writes authoritatively about architecture’s symbolism, comfort, buildings as objects, the nature of space, the role of buildings in memory, and how time and place are represented. This is an insightful and entertaining read about architecture, and anyone taking it on will find elements that resonate with them. As an archivist, concerned with appraisal and skeptical about technocrats who believe everything can be saved, I found this comment by Goldberger very useful: “If a city preserves everything, no matter how good its architecture is, keeping new life flowing through its veins becomes much more difficult, all the more because Americans have a tendency to preserve important buildings as if they were fragile hothouse orchids, wanting them to look pristine and perfect and show no sign of the passage of time” (p. 195). Selection is a function that is critically important to every discipline. Goldberger also, at times, more explicitly discusses the implications of information technology, such as in this passage, where he argues that the “technological revolution makes everything, in effect, a city. The random connections, the serendipitous meetings, that occur on the Internet, the replacement of linear order with the interlocking web of ties, broken and reformed and broken again a million times, the sense of accident and surprise – these are the very events that real physical cities have always provided and for which they have been valued. Random encounters are the city’s greatest gift, and random encounters are cyberspace’s stock-in-trade.” Then Goldberger adds, “the technological explosion is making the entire world a virtual city, a new city, the new market place of human encounters, which happens not to be defined by architectural form” (p. 227). Here we have an example of understanding how new digital forms really relate to older forms, rather than buying into the idea that new digital technologies necessarily change everything.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Communication Power

Manuel Castells’s Communication Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) is a sprawling 600 page analysis with something in it for everyone in a school like ours. What is the book about? – “Why, how, and by whom power relationships are constructed and exercised through the management of communication processes, and how these power relationships can be altered by social actors aiming for social change by influencing the public mind. My working hypothesis,” Castells states, “is that the most fundamental form of power lies in the ability to shape the human mind” (p. 3). In his “grounded theory of power in the network society” (p. 5), Castells discusses the nature of power, communication, cognitive issues, the historical context of networks, media and politics, and social movements. And in doing this, Castells makes a case for why theory is important both for research and for subsequent practical action: “By engaging in the cultural production of the mass media, and by developing autonomous networks of horizontal communication, citizens of the Information Age become able to invent new programs for their lives with the materials of their suffering, fears, dreams, and hopes. They build their projects by sharing their experience. They subvert the practice of communication as unusual by squatting in the medium and creating the message. They overcome the powerlessness of their solitary despair by networking their desire. They fight the powers that be by identifying the networks that are. This is why theory, necessarily grounded on observation, is relevant for practice: if we do not know the forms of power in the network society, we cannot neutralize the unjust exercise of power. And if we do not know who exactly the power-holders are and where to find them, we cannot challenge their hidden, yet decisive domination” (p. 431).

While at times you feel as if you are lumbering through the vast landscape painted by Castells, you also discover interesting and insightful assessments worth the effort. Here are some examples. Castells is always careful to keep the historical background of the present network society in view: “Media concentration is not new. History is full of examples of oligopolistic control over communication media, including the priesthood’s control of clay-stylus writing, the Church’s control of the Latin Bible, the chartering of the presses, government mail systems, and military semaphore networks, among others. Wherever we look across history and geography, there is a close association between the concentration of power and the concentration of communication media” (p. 74). Castells’s command of a vast array of studies and other evidence enables him to make interesting assertions about the role and implications of communication technologies: “Because mobile phones enable people to be perpetually networked, anytime, anywhere, explosions of anger felt at the individual level have the potential of developing into an insurgent community by the instant networking of many different individuals who are united in their frustration, though not necessarily united around a common position or solution to the perceived unjust source of domination. Because wireless communication builds on networks of shared practices, it is the appropriate communications technology for the spontaneous formation of communities of practice engaged in resistance to domination; that is, instant insurgent communities” (p. 363).

What I have here is just a few excerpts. Here is the publisher’s blurb, providing a broader characterization of the book: “We live in the midst of a revolution in communication technologies that affects the way in which people feel, think, and behave. The mass media (including web-based media), Manuel Castells argues, has become the space where political and business power strategies are played out; power now lies in the hands of those who understand or control communication.
Over the last thirty years, Castells has emerged as one of the world's leading communications theorists. In this, his most far-reaching book for a decade, he explores the nature of power itself, in the new communications environment. His vision encompasses business, media, neuroscience, technology, and, above all, politics. His case histories include global media deregulation, the misinformation that surrounded the invasion of Iraq, environmental movements, the role of the internet in the Obama presidential campaign, and media control in Russia and China. In the new network society of instant messaging, social networking, and blogging--"mass self-communication"--politics is fundamentally media politics. This fact is behind a worldwide crisis of political legitimacy that challenges the meaning of democracy in much of the world. Deeply researched, far-reaching in scope, and incisively argued, this is a book for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics and character of the modern world.”

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Declining Role of Libraries in Faculty Research

Here are snippets from an article in today’s Inside Higher Education; the article is at

If libraries do not seriously rethink their role in the lives of researchers, they could come to be seen as resource purchasers more than than research collaborators, according to a report released today by the nonprofit group Ithaka S+R.

That certain scholars no longer see libraries as “gateways” for finding information is no secret, write the Ithaka researchers, who have conducted the survey every three years since 2000; past data have shown that scientists tend not to turn to library-specific resources — such as library catalogs or librarians — to kick-start research projects.

What previous studies have not shown is that researchers in the humanities and social scientists are following suit, says Roger C. Schonfeld, the group’s manager of research.

Humanists still see the library as indispensable; 75 percent said librarians still play an important role in supporting teaching, and 82 percent said the library provides crucial archiving services.

But as far as research goes, the percentage of humanities faculty who use the library building as a starting point for research has gone down in each iteration of the survey, from 18 percent in 2003 to 6 percent in 2009. Ditto the library's online catalog, which 24 percent of faculty used as a starting point last year, compared to 39 percent in 2003.

One of the other themes the Ithaka survey explored was what motivates scholars when they are deciding where they want to get published.

Their highest priority? That the publication be widely read by their peers within the discipline. Their lowest? That the publication be openly accessible.

Outside of making scholars put their studies into open repositories, which are seldom used anyway, university leaders might seek to nudge their faculties toward open access by “realign[ing] incentives.” Schonfeld says this could mean one of two things: tying promotion and tenure policies to publication in open-access journals, which probably won't happen; or playing to scholars’ desire that their work be visible by emphasizing that anybody, not just subscribers, can find and view openly accessible articles.