25 April 2007

Blogging the world

What are two of my favorite historians doing as I am sifting through my student's papers? Blogging their way through the Middle East!

Here's my shout out to Rob Williams and Gary Scudder: two professors from Champlain that are currently traveling, and BLOGGING, in Jordan, after knocking people's socks off at the International Conference on Interactive Mobile Computer Aided Learning (that's a mouthful).

These two guys are really taking the time to share their experience with us: intellectually, culturally, hygenically (I love the picture of Gary getting a straight razor shave!) Isn't it amazing that blogging can connect us in such a intimate way through mass communication from thousands of miles away! Wow, technology is cool.

Safe travels you two!

24 April 2007

Wikipedia as the Rapid Response Encyclopedia, or a rose by any other name...

The NYT piece on Wikipedia's role in disseminating information on the Virginia Tech shootings emphasizes the rapidity of information gathering, sifting, and sharing but it also highlights how different it is than our traditional notions of the encyclopedia.

Wikipedia administrator Michael Snow points out that "Professional news is the place to get the facts on the ground — after all, that’s where Wikipedia contributors are getting their information, too,” said Michael Snow, a Wikipedia administrator. “Wikipedia distinguishes itself by the ability to bring all the facts, and useful background information, together in one place.”(NYT) Bravo to Wikipedia in bringing together those facts for the rest of the world to look to. Bravo to Wikipedia for illustrating how quickly our world can change.

But that's the issue I am grappling with: is that the role of an "encyclopedia". Don't misread me: I am not suggesting that the service played by Wikipedia in this instance, or the role it plays in the democratization and popularization of information is not important. It is and I applaud it. But I can't help but be reminded of my husband and I standing in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket and his asking me why non-meat products are always given meat names. Why do they try to name fake chicken nuggets chicken nuggets at all? Why not call things by their proper name? The same applies to wikipedia. An encyclopedia is not a rapid response instrument. It is also not a news source. Wikipedia plays a valuable role in the world of information and knowledge today but I always always cringe at its being called an encyclopedia.

Does it really matter, you might be saying? Are you quibbling over words here? Perhaps. But what is that? What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Is it the true nature of things that matters or just the gist that counts?

23 April 2007

The Rough Life: Which article to talk about first?

I have a vow not to check email or be on a computer over the weekends, except to watch movies on our laptop since we don't have a television. So I leave my computer for two days and voila: an outstanding array of articles that remind my being librarian ROCKS! I spend my time reading about the coolest stuff!

From a process point of view, I have to list the articles of interest so I don't lose them (I am the kind of person who has to write it down for it to be mine). Posts on these various articles are forthcoming:

1. Sunday NYT had a fascinating piece on Twitter, a technology that was on my list for the Exploring New Technology thread. Let me also take this opportunity to give a shout out to the NYT Sunday Business Section! They are the most library friendly section of any major newspaper: from digitization, to home cataloging, and now a wave of articles on social networking software. Hats off to them and I hope the trend continues!

2. An important piece in today's NYT on the important role Wikipedia played in collecting, organizing, and facilitating information on the Virginia Tech shootings. Highly demonstrative of changes in wikipedia's editorial structure but far more importatntly, the value of collaborative information gathering and disseminating.

3. James Fallows, who I have always respected since reading his "Breaking the News" in college, wrote a disappointing piece about the lack of software to facilitate document sharing. Interesting in two ways: a) how it contrasts the wikipedia piece above, and b) how it highlights, yet again, how things that librarians and technologists use and are excited about have a long ride downstream.

But like I said, more thought is forthcoming. I just didn't want to lose the threads.

19 April 2007

Exploring New Technology 2: Digg

Main stream media has not been sharing the most positive news with us as of late and to be honest, I have been left feeling quite despondent: the killings at Virginia Tech, the Supreme Court's abortion decision, the continued arming in Sudan. Not a lot of good stuff out in the world, at least presented by the main stream media. It seems like the perfect time to get to know Digg a bit better.

My first understanding of Digg was incorrect: it does not rate websites, it rates news stories. Essentially, you submit a news story, podcast, etc., and if people like it, they "digg" it. As Digg puts it, they are a digital media democracy.

As usual, there are things I love about this and things that make me tilt my head to one side and say "hm." First off, the notion that individuals decide what is most important to them and there is no "editor" imposing their values or sense of relevance to the stage is exciting. I especially appreciate their efforts to keep us in the loop by recognizing how much information comes to pass on a daily, or even hourly, basis (check out their FAQ and read up on Cloud View).

However, when I showed this to my husband, he responded by saying, "Isn't it just a popularity contest?" Good point. For example, let's look at it from where we are right now, as I type. The top two stories on the New York Times this morning are the Supreme Court's ruling on banning partial birth abortion and another insight into the mind of the VA Tech killer. The top rated stories on Digg as of right now, 9:17 am, is "Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) has officially been released!" and "Woman sues after doctor mistake leaves her pooping out her vagina." (Graphic, I know but what is most popular...keep reading.)

It's hard to pinpoint what I see as the problem here. To be honest, I am disappointed in the main stream media's continuous attention to the killer of the Virgnia Tech community. The kind of attention this desperate and sick individual is getting, to my mind, gives credence in some way that to get attention, you have to do drastic things. I would much rather have attention focused on those that died, how the community is coping, and what the rest of us can be doing to ensure things like this don't happen again. But that's just me. And I guess that's the point. To me, both the Digg stories are superfluous and irrelevent (especially the story of the unfortunate lady). If we want to talk about unfortunate ladies, why not focus on the millions of women whose right to choose "their reproductive destiny", as Justice Ginsburg calls it, is now in jeopardy.

I guess that while I am sometimes dismayed by what the mainstream media presents or frustrated by what they don't present (is anyone ever going to give Africa the coverage it deserves), I do find myself in line with their value judgments more than I am in line with the "digg"-ers. I think that there are valuable lessons to be taught from looking at them together, as this morning shows. I know which media outlet best suits my needs and values: what about my students? And if it is a democracy, how do you make a difference? The call to action, to submit stories that they think are important and should be brought into the public eye would certainly be a way for them, or any of us, to participate in the creation of media and the education of the masses.

See what I mean: I like it and I still have my head tilted.

12 April 2007

In Memorium: Kurt Vonnegut

To be honest, Kurt Vonnegut's writing has never been my favorite. Since going to college, I found my tastes to be better suited to the elaborate, stylistic writings of Dickens and most recently and passionately, Conan Doyle. But there is something about Kurt Vonnegut's passing that stuck with me today. And it seems to have stuck or at least struck a number of other people as well.

Many of the faculty joke with me that they hear about someone's death and by the time they arrive on campus at 9:00 am, I have a display up commerating them. Today, it was 11:00 am. When I went down to the stack to pull our Vonnegut holdings, I stopped though.

That is what Vonnegut has always been for me: the kind of writer that made you stop and think. I remember reading Cat's Cradle for the first time and despite the darkness and absurdity of the revolution (for isn't that the case with most revolutions), I distinctly remember the way in which lovers connected: by pressing the soles of their feet together. By connecting through their connection to our world. Perhaps that is why it was the first book I ever lent to my now husband, Jon. For the simplicity and profundity of the connection. For its romanticism from a writer I consider mostly unromantic. However, that being said, the Times articles I read today while preparing my display of Vonnegut's work commented "To Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness." So apt.

09 April 2007

Student Experiment

I used my freshmen writing students as guinea pigs tonight. Or rather, as indicators to the hunch I had that some of the technology that is mentioned over and over again among librarians and other adult geeks (and I use that term most affectionately) is not really what students are all about.

So I asked them.
"How many of you use Delicious?" No hands.

"How many of you use Flickr?" No hands

"How many of you use Digg?" Two hands.

"How many of you use MySpace?" A few hands.

"How many of you use Facebook?" All hands.

"How many of you blog?"
"What's a blog?"
"Are you kidding?" I was glad this last line was iterated by a student rather than my expressing my surprise.

19 intelligent, thoughtful, interested first years at a school priding itself on technology and half of them didn't know what a blog was.

I did ask them what they thought about adults being on Facebook and MySpace. The results also affirmed my assumption: students want to use these sites as "their" space. They aren't interested in my becoming their "friend" in these sites and they openly admitted that they don't want me to know or see all the things that are in their Facebooks.

"Do you realize though," I asked, "that just because you don't want me to see it doesn't mean that I can't? Do you realize how open your 'private' space actually is?" They did realize this and that wasn't going to stop them. But they certainly made it clear to me that if I signed up tomorrow, whether as their instructor, their librarian, or even as a 'friend' that they couldn't say they would connect to me. I am after all, old. Not even thirty but old.

Fascinating class. Fasctinating results, especially given all the thought I, and many other librarians, have been putting into our incorporation of these technologies into library 2.0. To me it just emphasizes the need to understand each of these technologies and express why they would be a powerful tool in the library or educational context. Just because it's hot doesn't mean that the application is either a) appropriate for our needs, or b) as appealing to students as we wish it were.

Next class I plan on asking them how many went looking for one of these technologies after I mentioned them.

Exploring New Technology 1: Delicious?

So what's all this hub-bub about del.icio.us? After hearing so much about it, I decided I would be the killer librarian that I am and get out there to see what it is and what I think of it, at least on the surface.

The first thing I LOVED about it, and I think should be required reading for all newly initiated Web 2.0 users, was a clear, interesting, and funny description of tags. I appreciated their admission that it might not seem intuitive at first. That certainly was my take: what should I say? What is the "right" thing to say? Especially as a librarian, and a cataloger to part, how can I just describe sites how ever I want? Is there no order to the universe? I quake in my chair just thinking about it.

But that's the whole point: it is YOUR web, your bookmarks, your interaction with the web that makes it worthwhile. And I think that is what makes it slightly difficult for librarians and information scientists to wrap their heads around. The order is self imposed and self described. There is no hierarchy (interesting that they mention this on their site. Perhaps they anticipate librarians incredulity). There is no "right".

Okay, so I get the part about self-creating the web, etc. But still, I coudln't really see the point. I mean, why do I need to be tagging any of this stuff? Who cares?

And then we had a staff meeting. Paula, my fellow funky librarian, was mentioning, yet again, an awesome information literacy tutorial she had found. And it hit me. "Paula," I said, "you should use delicious to mark all these tutorials you love so I can find them. I can never remember all the sites you mention." Voila. Interactivity, purpose, innovation, learning: in the workplace, among librarians at a staff meeting!

This little expose on my interaction with del.icio.us also marks the first of a series of posts I will be trying as I delve into the myriad of technologies that I have been writing down on little post it notes to look at but never make time to check out. Here's my effort at depleting the number of post it notes I have around my computer!

04 April 2007

Synthesis: 2.0

Finally time to review some thoughts from ACRL. I think an appropriate name for conference would have been "Web 2.0 and the Academic Librarian: To Be or Not to Be." Every session I went to touched on the proliferation of social networking software and the interactivity of information: great things to think about in a variety of contexts. One thing that I appreciated most about David Silver's talk (and let me shout out to David for his enthusiasm, encouragement, and for finding my blog!) was his reminding the library community that while this is an exciting time in librarianship, technology and information, it is not intrinsically revolutionary but rather an evolution. As he calls it: AEIOU (Already Existing Information Optimally Uploaded). I love the acronym. But his point is an important one for librarians to remember: technology is changing but the effort is the same as it has always been. We are here, still, to help our users find information. But that's the easy part. The hard part is the part we are still hashing out: how do we contextualize that information and actually help our users expand their knowledge. Ah, ontologies. What is information and what is knowledge? I feel like my former professor and guru brain teaser, Allen Renear, would smile at me.

What I mean is that we can choose to use and incorporate the newest technologies, otherwise known as the technology our students use. But the hard part is then helping our students see the value of those technologies, and their limitations. For example: tag clouds. While these are incredibly interesting to look at, they seem to continue to encourage students to read for breadth and not depth. Does knowing how many times a word has been used in a speech really help a student understand the context in which it was used? Does the ability to rate websites mean that you don't have to think about the bias of the reviewer or assign your own set of values to the site? Finally, does the collaborative nature of a wiki mean that you can cast aside any efforts at accountability since what you wrote will be changed anyway?

I don't know. I am thinking about, right here and at my desk and in my living room and in my classroom. These are tough questions. These are fun questions.

The Library, to remain truly germane to our students, and to maintain its viability in the soul of education, needs to expand our role. We can't stop at showing databases. We need to help our students evaluate websites but also evaluate how they now interact with them.

ACRL reminded me how many threads there are to creating a dynamic but sustainable role for the library. And I think that some people find it intimidating. But the idea of the internet was intimidating once, and look at us now. The idea of open stacks was scary once and now closed stacks are almost extinct.

To be or not to be: that is the question. And it might not be as simple as a yes or no. But it certainly is a lot of fun to think about.

02 April 2007

ACRL: So Much to Learn, Not Enough Time

Went to the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference this weekend in much-warmer-than-Vermont Baltimore. And incredible display of curiousity, innovation, and commitment on the part of academic librarians. It's hard to understand how anyone could suggest that librarians are stodgy and immovable. I was impressed again and again at the attempts by libraries across the country to improve their services using the latest technology, the efforts to understand the implications of technology on the institution and our students, and the excitement and collaboration among librarians to not just keep up but lead the way in incorporating technology with traditional methods of instruction to ensure that our students are developed and learned.

Once I have the chance to read through my notes, there will be more to come on the inspiring talk on Library 2.0 and blogging by David Silver, media studies professor at the Univ. of San Francisco, on the highly original and interesting use of gaming in the undergrad library by my friend David Ward at UIUC, and perceptions of authority in Wikipedia by Dan Ream (I forget where he's from but I will find out before I post about it).