25 March 2008

The Sheck is Shaking it at Computer in Libraries

I am attending (and presenting) at Computers in Libraries for the first time in the beginning of April. I've heard a lot of good stuff about this conference, especially from the interminably amazing and innovative Greg Schwartz. Diddy G, have I mentioned that I am excited to see you?

As for my presentation, here is the write up:
Librarians and students may be embracing technology, but what about our faculty? Have you ever seen their glazed-over look when you mention IM, wikis, RSS, blogs? Have you noticed the puzzled expressions as you talk about Second Life or Facebook? This session discusses welcoming faculty to 2.0 and presenting constructive ways for faculty to bring technology into their lives and into their classrooms.

Anyone who has followed the Sheck Spot knows that I am always looking at ways to make 2.0 more exciting and applicable to faculty, a group that I think is often overlooked by librarians when it comes to technology.

As for getting ready for the presentation, it has been interesting, difficult, and exciting to prep for it. In large part, I am pretty nervous about getting out there with such an experienced crowd. But no fretting on any of our parts: the Sheck will shake it at CiL!

19 March 2008

Sick as a dog without a TV

The Sheck has been hit hard by a late season flu. It has been awful. I've been connected to my couch for five full days. Today is the first day that I have been clear enough to check my email, read some posts from my Society and Technology students, and hold my head up for more than twenty minutes without throwing it back down in dismay. I am so lucky to have a canine companion who loves to snuggle and a husband who can deal with my crankiness as I go stir crazy. The Sheck is meant to shake, not sit!

Through the cloud of Theraflu, Halls, Echinacea Tea, and Vitamin Water (that's my product placement for today), I realized how much illness made me crave the TV. We haven't owned a TV in more than five years and I rarely, rarely even think about it. But this week, I really could have used some Law & Order reruns, a few cooking shows, and some incredible nature program that astounds me. While I do have a strong internet connection, YouTube, and Netflix Watch Instantly, there was something missing from my viewing experience. It made me think about this article I read in last month's Atlantic. As the article points out, the trend of interactivity is still to be determined in TV, the true on demand nature of the web, not "On Demand" like you get a movie for $3.99 out of the selection through your cable provider, has yet to be migrated television. This disconnect between the convenience of television versus the internet in terms of programmed content became abundantly clear last night after Jon and I watched Barack Obama's speech on YouTube. We wanted to see how it was covered on the major news channels so we checked out the websites for ABC, CBS, and NBC, assuming they would provide video to watch. This was a disaster. The websites were terribly designed such that Jon got up and walked away from the couch. Being librarian, tech enthusiast, developing media student, and curious george (albeit a sick one), I continued to look....and look...and look for anything that resembled websites that might allow someone who missed the news to watch it, or a segment of it, again.

Alas, ten minutes into it, I was too wiped out to continue. But in the clarity of today, I think that is more interesting than I thought last night. It also came to mind today as I listened to the RADIO (yes, they are still sources of news and entertainment, just ask anyone who listens to the BBC, especially Radio 4) this morning. On Point had an excellent show about the speech, as Tom Ashbrook usually does, but it was one of his callers that really got me thinking again. His caller said that he wishes everyone could watch the speech in its entirety. Tom Ashbrook quickly responded that "it's out there".

Yes, just on YouTube, rather than on TV. What am I getting at? I guess I am finally making sense of reading things like Hirschorn and Neil Postman who talk about the power of the television in contrast to someone like Henry Jenkins who talks about the power of the Internet. At one point in his book "Convergence Culture", Jenkins says that there is no where on the Internet that reaches everyone. And that's the difference between TV and the web. There is this on demand quality to the web but it is based solely on your desire to demand it. Do you have the stamina to LOOK? To search? To click? Obviously I did not, at least not yesterday.

And that's where I question whether or how the Internet will be the great uniter that some hope it to be. It demands more from the user than many are willing to give in light of a convenient alternative. Why scour the web when you can turn on CNN and catch everything important in a 20 minuts news loop? (The fact that anyone would think we could capture important news in 20 minutes loops is a matter for a different post). The assumption that information is out there and you just have to find it is assuming that everyone has the resources to find it, the knowledge to do so, and the wherewithal to proceed and acheive. "It's out there" is a powerful phrase: daunting, empowering, vague, and universal.

Last night, I felt like many people: I didn't feel like it. I just wanted to turn on the tv and get some rest.

11 March 2008

If Wikipedia really wanted to be innovative, they would...

Have you seen this article about Wikipedia in the Economist? I have to say, it brought up a lot of questions for me about Wikipedia, about authority, about usability, about bureaucracy, about our understanding of knowledge.

The article also coincides with the announcement of Google's Knol and Citizendium, a wiki based encyclopedia written in a scholarly fashion by experts. Here is a fascinating manifesto about how Citizendium proposes to be better. In looking at this information, I can't help but feel like I need a few research days to read these policies and devise some activities with students to discuss tone, authority, and scope. But perhaps that will be a future post.

For now, let's talk about that Economist article. It's interesting how it brings us full circle in the early debates about Wikipedia and "real" encyclopedias. What has been so fascinating about watching Wikipedia, and the many arguments related to it, develop is that what has made Wikipedia so deliciously democratic and difficult for the academic community to swallow is exactly what has come back to haunt them. Everyone can contribute about anything. Let's look at the example from the article: Pokemon characters versus Polish solidarity fighters. Is there something so wrong, the article asks, in including all the Pokemon characters while there are so few, if any, articles on the Polish unionists?

I think this is asking the wrong question. Asking whether there is something "wrong" or "harmful" is asking us to impart a judgement call on the content of the encyclopedia that anyone can edit. That's not the point. Part of what has made Wikipedia so successful is not that everyone can edit it; it's that everyone is recognized as a possible contributor. We all have knowledge to contribute to the greater understanding, the greater good. Frankly, that's a beatiful, awe-inspiring thought. The real issue at hand, to my mind, is whether we need to keep track of something so inconsequential as Pokeman figures when we aren't validating the important work of Polish Unionists. The problem that I see is trying to know now what might be important later. Or that a 1000 people can discern what is valuable for a few million.

The question that the deletionists seem to be posing is how can we be serious if we treat everything seriosly? I think the real issue is not about the content but about the way in which we deal with content. I support having entries on as many topics as possible in large part because, and as any research librarian will tell you, you never know just what might be of interest to someone else! That is what made Melvil Dewey's system so remarkable: he knew there were things left to be discovered.

That is where Wikipedia can truly become something extraordinary. By not reigning in its content to what is "scholarly" or "acceptable", they can leave the door open for exploration and scholarship within the encyclopedia. It becomes the place where knowledge is created, not just recorded. THAT is exciting. THAT is innovative. THAT is experimental. THAT is the future of information.

As I've said previously, Wikipedia has developed by leaps and bounds in the last few years. And it will continue to do so. But there seem to be more constructive rather than reductive ways to deal with Wikipedia's struggle towards credibility. As I've said in an earlier post, incorporating citations from the Open Library into Wikipedia entries would be far more compelling than deleting entries because they don't yet have enough Google hits to be significant.

But that's just the Sheck's thoughts on it.