down the drain

June 14, 2007

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Everyone and everyone who blogs about libraries has been talking about Michael Gorman’s blazes on the Britannica blog, and about some weird public blog dissing at NASIG. Okaaay. I think it’s because it’s the same old debate, floated for the millionth time.

Coming from the sphere of archives and special collections (and having an extremely fluid professional identity), I should hope I’ve developed a decent immunity to pretense, snootiness, and off-putting quasi-intellectual b.s.. Residual fear of change, pedestal-putting for “scholarship”, xenophobia, lack of empathy with everyone else, check! I ain’t saying it’s the norm, because I can’t live with that as my reality, but the air gets kinda thick, and you can’t get angry every single time. To put this in terms of relevance, Karen Schneider says, “To millions of people, he represents librarianship”, but I’m not so sure. I lack the reverence to think that someone who in the past had held a widely acknowledged as disastrous term of office in an everything-and-nothing organization has much real weight to throw around.

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But what bums me out so much about Gorman’s steez isn’t that he’s mean. Cause a good academic feud is a thing to behold! What gets me is that he has an opportunity to fulfill a role as a public intellectual talking about libraries, archives and information topics that are important to the public, and he blows it on a self-referential argument chasing some bygone ideal of what it means to have reasoned discourse (bypassing, like, the last 70 years of western thought!), and in a needlessly puffy and alienating style that would (in a perfect world) never pass muster in a “real” scholarly setting. That Scott Mclemee, danah boyd, and Tom Mann are in the Britannica bullpen for this makes me at least want to stay tuned in. (Does anyone else find the tagline “Where Ideas Matter” nonsensical and grounds for eye-rolling?)

As Jessamyn points out, information retrieval is becoming important in so many more aspects of life, not just in so-called scholarly pursuit. We are living a major social change! This is what I don’t get when folks tell librarians to step up the game, re: discourse. Information issues don’t need to be made important- they already are! The major struggle, I think, is clarifying this, to which knocking down everyone else doesn’t really help.

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That’s the snag, it seems, in the “Column People” debacle, wherein a NASIG conference presenter cited a post at Wandering Eyre as an example of frivolity, informality and presumably, the road to ruin for those who should know better. It seems like the argument was that “this doesn’t matter” as well as “too many in our community are engaging in this”. Which is kinda faulty. Let me say outright that I work with and respect Ms. Jane Eyre, and greatly admire the confidence she conveys in her blog.

Anyone who has any stake in this knows that blog informality is a really powerful use of rhetoric. Because dishing out issues of the profession while making cultural references and identifying statements is a form of self-assertion, and the more, the better: being privileged means you don’t need to censor yourself for survival. Obvs, I value informality in discourse, and anyone who thinks this is a free for all, all new due to blogs has yet to drink with academics. It’s a pecking order just like any other.

I still ascribe to the riot grrrl (Valley Girl Intelligensia?) idea that you should talk like who you are as a political statement vis a vis assertion of your experience. I’ve never taken for granted that it’s a risk, and that it carries weight. So what I do worry about is those with audience and prestige making trivial norms of the things they like and their manner of speech, thus negating the long and treacherous feminist discourse that made it possible to draw on our own experiences as something that matters.

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Hookups at NYPL; MySpace rounding up predators

May 22, 2007
  • In honor of the opening of NYPL’s new Mulberry Street Branch, Gawker sends a Napoleon Dynamite/Bunny LeRoi impersonator to video report on the library as a pick-up spot.
  • Reuters and AP report, Broadsheet picks up: MySpace has been collecting personal information on registered sex offenders- over 7,000 of them- and state and federal governments have demanded it, thus possibly creating the first nationwide database of sex offenders (none existed before). Everyone’s bemused that MySpace now appears to be fighting sexual predators, and not, as accused, simply harboring them. But look for more handovers of this sort of data, and more overt use of networking sites for policing and surveillance in the future.

balance e-learning to make it worth a damn

May 15, 2007

I’ll say it again- although I’m not the sort to identify with management gurus, I keep finding the Brazen Careerist insanely pertinent! And it seems like I’m not the only one- after Jane and I talked about Penelope Trunk’s dues-paying post, she sparked a sizable blog discussion about it.

So, today, BC in joint venture with millenial-geared Employee Evolution, has Ryan Healy saying, “Throw away e-learning”. Because it’s cheap in the worst way, impersonal, and generally insulting. Because it doesn’t do what hands-on, applicable learning, guidance, and mentorship does. Because it’s over-used and abused. Does this sound like libraries and archives? Yes and no.

I’d be hard pressed to find an entry-level librarian these days who hadn’t experienced at least some e-training. Graduate programs in LIS almost universally use online classes, some do so exclusively. On the job, I’ve seen online classes, webcasts and other permutations of teaching-facilitated-by-the -internet ranging from nuts and bolts tech training to management and patron service.

Both in grad school and on the job, I’ve sat through totally useless programs, and had my perspective changed by really effective ones. The distance programs at UW and UIUC seem to be among the best in the field, regardless of their delivery, and have solved a long-standing need in underserved regions. And word up to Five Weeks to a Social Library.

But my own frustration is so very similar to Healy’s. As a new librarian served with some heavy-lifting tech related tasks and working in an environment with not a lot of built-in support, I knew what I wanted to do, had a vague idea of what I needed to learn, and absolutely no clue as to how I could learn it, much less implement it. E-learning was posed as a panacea for the basic tenets. But I also needed context, guidance, and mentorship in my job.

So here’s what I’m saying to library and archives leaders: dose new professionals’ e-learning with check-ins, goal setting, mentorship and community support. Make peer mentorship an important, evaluated part of our jobs. If there aren’t possible mentors where I work, find me one in the community and pay them for it, if necessary. If I want to learn more about something related to my job duties, help me find training, but also help me figure out how to use and implement whatever it is that I’m learning, so that it’s valuable to our organization. And most important, don’t make me sit through anything you wouldn’t sit through yourself.


early adapters

May 13, 2007

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The mighty information aesthetics featured this Good Magazine video today, an infographic illustration of how porn underlies internet culture and economy, starring a porn performer, with the information writ upon her very flesh! No duh, we all say, and how 1968 Miss America Pageant protest turned horribly wrong.

This is the point I don’t get about librarians’ ambiguous role as arbiters of new and emerging Web technologies, when illicit content plays a large role in spurring and spreading the mass adaptation of such. I think it probably goes without saying that I’ve been conditioned by generation and profession to be both relentlessly sex positive as well as new-technology positive, so I want nothing less (and fear nothing more) than to be a naysayer. But I think that we need to acknowlege the complicated nature of techonology delivery. Almost every tech innovation we talk about now had a pall of the adult industry a few years ago- porn has driven major technological shifts, from VHS to web cams, to teledildonics. Look at Second Life- casual projections put its sex industry at 30 per cent of the total economy. And in the weird socially conservative world we live in, it’s not proper to critically respond to exposure to porn culture, because that’s too direct a mention of sex.  Can we talk about how this might be a barrier to conceptualizing service, or how pushing something hard without talking about how people have experienced it might be a little insensitive?

And again, what’s up with Good Magazine? Sweetly totalitarian ethics?!


dissed! at news corp.

May 1, 2007

Members of our ranks should have plenty of reasons to bristle at the mention of Murdoch and News Corp. already. ( y’all know I do.) But in case you need an occasion to recoil at something that relates to librarians super-directly, check out Gawker’s roundup of inside dirt from News Corp. employees, which alleges serious mismanagement of information and technology throughout, with one item that outright disses the ‘corp’s librarians:

No individual Nexis accounts, but the computer program that reporters used to use to search for stories, Folio, went out of business. Reporters can ask the library to do a Nexis search for them, but insiders say that taking that route is essentially a black hole: “At the last minute, stories are often killed because some librarian didn’t catch that Newsday did the same story a few weeks before.”


mobile tools, form, and rewriting the web

April 24, 2007

One of many who was remotely following the Computers in Libraries conference last week, I was intrigued by the notes I’d seen on Megan Fox’s presentations on mobile tools. Everyone says that mobile devices are going to change the way we use the internet, either by presenting the web in smaller scale or bringing the browsing capabilities of a laptop to an affordable tiny device. It’s totally exciting to see this- Frontline’s piece on Kiva.org briefly discussed how the organization is working to facilitate micro-loans with mobile tools.

These past few weeks, my local hip-hop station has started using Meebo as their default line of communication with listeners. “Be the ninth Meebo message and win tickets to see Pretty Ricky!”

It’s exciting to witness rapid changes, but I’m so ambivalent. I worry that the digital divide isn’t going to go away, just permutate into something we have even less of an idea of how to fix. I worry about a version of the Web on mobile devices that exists mainly to sell things and exploit poor people. So I think it’s important to address information delivery across platforms, but I worry about hasty experiments, new glosses on old, bad tools. Why make a mobile adaptation of your library Web site when no one really knows how to use the old one? I also wonder about who we’re really serving- the advantage, and the duty that non-commercial enterprises have is that they can be thoughtful-and thus reflect the social ramifications of shifts in technology.

At a party last weekend, I met Tristan Perich, who had just performed at the Media Archeology festival. He carried with him his Portable Telephone, a working cell phone housed in a classic push-button phone. It’s a clever yet unobnoxious experiment in form and technological function. People peer at someone carrying around a bulky plastic telephone, but Tristan is happy to demonstrate its functionality. “These telephones are really well designed,” he said, “it makes people really happy to see that it works. “


Information is Beautiful

April 22, 2007

Relationships Among Scientific Paradigms

Seed Magazine has published an amazing visual map of relationships between scientific disciplines in their March 2007 issue and on their (really awesome) website. The map was “constructed by sorting roughly 800,000 published papers into 776 different scientific paradigms (shown as pale circular nodes) based on how often the papers were cited together by authors of other papers. Links (curved black lines) were made between the paradigms that shared papers, then treated as rubber bands, holding similar paradigms nearer one another when a physical simulation forced every paradigm to repel every other; thus the layout derives directly from the data.”

Seed Magazine often explores innovative ways of displaying and browsing through complicated sets of information. Another case in point is the Phylotaxis system of browsing through news articles and blogs cataloged at Seed. After teasing the little circles of information with your mouse and clicking in a random place, you access a second level of categorization that includes a sliding scale ranging from 100% science-related to 100% cultural-content. Just set the scale to your level of interest and start clicking. I wish that all internet exploration was so visually satisfying. And to top it off, most of the articles are pretty interesting too.