I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why it’s so important to figure out how to manage our digital lives more thoughtfully – and it’s been highlighted by two different job applications that came up recently (one for a school that’s very thoughtful about screen time, and another where I was talking in my cover letter about how I tie my love of the library and my love of technology together.)
Now, before we go any further, it’s probably obvious that I’m a passionate reader of books. I can count on the finger of both hands the number of times I’ve gone to sleep without reading for at least a few minutes. I read widely and deeply and broadly, in a rainbow of genres.
And I think, the same way, that there are lots of things that are part of our traditional images of libraries and learning that still matter – doing sustained reading, larger research projects, presentations, all those things. But I don’t think that’s enough.
When I’m talking about technology in either an educational or technology setting, I see books as one tool, but not the only one, and maybe not the major one. The larger question is something different: it’s not about simply how to use the tool, but about what the tool can and can’t do for us.
Which brings us to the Internet:
I’ve been online since 1994, when I first got to college. In that time, I’ve made friends, gotten frustrated, planned projects, taught classes (including teaching music theory in a pure-text environment, which was an interesting trick!), learned leadership skills, taught myself about any number of things. And that’s before we get into any of my actual professional or formal educational work – all those things are just the things I did on my own, self-directed, because they were interesting.
Every major news story in the past 15 years, I learned about online before I heard about it from TV or radio news. (There’s one exception: I learned about the 35W bridge collapse while sitting in the computer lab at grad school working on an assignment, as someone walked in having just heard it on the radio before the online stories were up – but I would have seen an online story through my usual haunts inside of five minutes.)
The Internet has kept me in touch with friends – that’s the thing everyone knows it’s good for, especially in our current Facebook era. But it’s more than that: it’s making new connections.
In a job hunt where I’m being very geographically flexible, I’ve found time and time again that if I say “Hey, looking at a job in [wherever]” someone I’m linked to through my personal online accounts will know useful things about the area, or is glad to put me in touch with someone who’s just as glad to share. Or they’ll know someone who graduated from there. Or something else that lets me dig more deeply into what’d be like to live and work in that place. (And it’s been true even for places where I would have sworn it’d be unlikely.)
As someone who did a major cross-country move in 1999, when these tools weren’t nearly so wide spread, I’m delighted by that every time.
And it’s in making other connections – running into someone in a discussion in a forum about our shared religion, and discovering we’ve got academic and professional interests in common. Learning about someone through their hobby, and finding out they write great and passionate and amazing blog posts about another topic that I happen to be helping someone with. And much more.
But it’s also in my professional life.
One of the stories I tell about the power of the Internet goes like this. In the fall of 2009, a student – someone I knew was a brillant, engaged, amazing student – came to me looking for some reference help.
She was taking AP European History, and she wanted to argue, for one of her papers, that you couldn’t consider an era truly ‘modern’ until it had consideration for the role of women and minorities in the culture. (Not that they’d solved the problems – but that they were part of general public conversation and political discourse.) She needed some sources to support her argument.
I looked at that, went “Hey, great topic.” and she and I sat down to do some digging on it. We tried a lot of different approaches, but we kept not finding the right thing. She had to go to class after about 20 minutes so I promised I’d keep working, and I did about another 25 minutes (and brainstormed with my assistant, and tried a few other things) before deciding I needed a different approach.
I posted a request to my personal journal, basically saying “I know various of you have a particular interest in women’s history and diversity studies – any ideas?” and with a few notes about what was accessible in a useful timeframe.
I posted it at 10:55. By 11:15, I had a response with the perfect essay to solve the source problem. (In an older but classic collection that the library owned, even!) Within another hour, I’d had a couple more suggestions, and another reference to the same title’s usefulness.
Now, I could have spent hours poking at that – and likely have found the book, but only after skimming through other titles that might be relevant first (and not having time to spend on other good and useful things that were good for other students, the library, etc.).
With the shared knowledge of my friends, it was a much faster process, and I could get back to a busy and highly engaged student at lunch, and say “Hey, here’s this great book, and here’s some other suggestions, and now that I’ve got those classic articles, here’s a couple more ideas of things to try in JSTOR and other databases.” She thought it was pretty awesome, too.
This is – again – one of those things we’re not really teaching, as technology education professionals.
It’s not just about the tools, and how to use them.
It’s about how we choose to use them, and what we can do in small pieces, now and going forward, that build those connections and create those interactions, so that ‘news’ is not a thing we listen to at 6pm, but a thing that’s flowing around us throughout the day, or that research is not just something we ask a librarian (though there are lots of times that’s a good thing to do) but where we’ve got connections to friends with a wide range of expertise and knowledge in many places.
That’s not easy. For one thing, learning how to sort out all those different sources of information, and figure out which ones are useful or reliable or meaningful gets pretty complicated. But at the same time, can we afford not to have these skills?
And perhaps most importantly, it’s about how we dance with the technology in our lives, in this time of ‘always on’ access. What happens when we turn off the phone, or take a break from the screen? What happens when we want time for focused work, or extended play? How do we recognise our own personal temptations, and find ways to manage them? There are lots of good conversations about these things out there already – but we can use more.
The more I think about this, the more I think that it’s probably the essential question schools need to answer in the next decade or so – and particularly, how to help students for whom various parts of this (creating healthy, balanced connections with others, having access to technology tools but not living under their control, being comfortable with complexity and issues that don’t have easy answers, and much more) doesn’t come naturally.
Comments to one of the posts I linked to last week (Denise’s post about why LiveJournal has been such a major free speech tool in Russia) brought up a link to another great post, this one from a 2008 speech from Ethan Zuckerman (formerly of Tripod) about how technology use can shift – the Cute Cat Theory of Activism. It’s well worth a read.
The future of libraries:
Several interesting posts this week about the future of libraries.
Other ways to teach:
Michael Stephens posts comments about what’s working and not working for two different MLIS students in online programs, and solicits ideas from others – some interesting stuff!
Gwyneth posts a great series of library orientation exercises using QR codes that were particularly accessible to ESOL students.
And Cat Valente (author and prolific blogger) shares a really great story from her own education, and about how a week of class time had a lifetime impact on her sense of story and narrative.
Copyright resources update:
I’ve added two new links to the copyright video resources page – one from YouTube about copyright (as you might guess, pretty heavily on the side of content creators, not remixers), and one from Rocketboom about how to dispute a takedown challenge (and what kinds of uses might be fair uses.) More on the copyright videos page. I have some more additions planned, but due to other commitments, it may be about two weeks before I get a chance to both watch the new videos and write them up.
There may or may not be links post next week: I have a day-long interview in a totally different city on Thursday, so it’ll depend on things like travel delays and the amount of focus I have after that.
Problematic editorial responses:
There’s been a lot of discussion in the past week or so about Wicked Pretty Things, a young adult anthology focused on ‘dark fairy romance’. Seanan McGuire, originally part of the anthology, posted a very good summary of the problem: namely, that the editor had rejected a story that included a gay romance (in ways that were otherwise tasteful and appropriate to the age group.) As Seanan says:
And here’s the thing. There is absolutely no reason to censor a story that was written to the guidelines (which dictated how much profanity, sexuality, etc. was acceptable, as good guidelines should). If Jessica had written hard-core erotica, then rejecting it would have made perfect sense. Not that kind of book. But she didn’t. She wrote a romance, just like the rest of us, only her romance didn’t include any girls. And she didn’t get a rejection; she got her story accepted, just like the rest of us. Only while we got the usual editorial comments, she got “One of your characters needs to be turned into something he’s not.” And that’s not okay.
She continues to talk powerfully about why she feels the need to stand with the people who resist bullying through exclusion.
But the story doesn’t end there: along with a lot of other online discussion, and statements from the anthology editor (not particularly satisfying) and the publishing house (ditto), the publisher used an opinions essay in Publisher’s Weekly to scold the original author (misrepresenting what she’d done, for people who didn’t know the background, in the process.) That part? Really not cool. Good thing there’s a ‘Net with more information, really. Dear Author has a post about this, including a link to the essay and additional background.
Cleolinda has been doing a series of posts with far more exhaustive links: part 1, part 1.5, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.
Professional challenges and changes:
Joyce Valenza links to a great project from the librarians at McPherson College, who came up with a short graphic novel called Library of the Living Dead to explain library services to new students. It has me thinking of all kinds of great ideas (and glad that generally libraries are not zombie-infested.)
Doug Johnson has a post on the reality of paraprofessionals taking on roles previously filled by MLS-degreed professionals brought on by an email asking for help. This is one of those painful situations where everyone’s got a point, but I always wonder who we’re serving by pushing people into a role they’re not prepare for. Many paraprofessionals (as I was, when I was one) are great at the day to day stuff, and I suspect everyone reading this knows places that would never work without them.
But where the MLIS degree focuses is on looking at larger issues and how to navigate them over years or decades. As with most things involving learning a new way to look at the world, that’s not an easy thing to pick up on the fly, while trying to do two people’s jobs. Some people will manage – but what happens to those served by the people who don’t? I’m not just talking here about them not offering the kinds of services our students need and deserve – but also about the costs to them in trying to do a complicated job without adequate staffing, support, training, or time for reflection and renewal.
Jessamyn West, Fiona Morgan, and Justin Grimes did a presentation at SXSW 2011 on the digital divide in rural areas. Lots of great notes and resources, too.
Brian Herzog talks about some of the challenges and triumphs of dismantling their reference section – and why they did it.
Troy Swanson has a great guest post at Tame The Web about how libraries need to look at how they use social media a bit differently – and how it can bring employees in a library who don’t get to see each other in person into a common community.
Denise, one of the co-founders of Dreamwidth had two great posts recently. One, in her formal managerial hat, is about development decisions there, and specifically how they’ve been spending a lot of time paying down technical debt (that’s the stuff you do because you need to get it done, but knowing it’s going to need to be fixed later). It’s got me thinking a lot about the equivalent in the library world (and I hope that’s going to gel into some writing sooner than later.)
She’s also made, from her personal account, a very powerful post about recent issues with LiveJournal, where she worked for a number of years (and where I volunteered under her direction.) I’ve had a number of online homes over the years, but LiveJournal is one of the longest-lasting: I’ll have had an account there for 10 years in May, during which time I’ve posted thousands of entries that help me follow threads of information and connection through my life. (These days, I focus more on Dreamwidth, because I want to specifically support some of their priorities, but due to cross-posting and other tools, still am around LJ a lot.)
Anyway, LiveJournal became, for various reasons, the pre-eminent free press outlet in Russia, both before being bought by the Russian company SUP, and since. Denise explains some of why this was, how it raised complex issues questions on a practical level, and how the site’s contributed to free expression in Russia in a variety of ways. (The reason this is relevant this week is that LiveJournal’s been under substantial DDOS attacks and other problems that have made use of the site more complicated (like lots of spammers.))
One of the huge issues this week was the ongoing conversation (and sometimes argument) about eBooks and libraries. As you may know, OverDrive (the primary seller of eBook services to libraries) sent out a letter late last week with some concerning news: namely, that Harper Collins wanted to significantly change its ebook terms, so that once you ‘buy’ an ebook to be distributed via Overdrive, it could only circulate 26 times, and then no more. (And in addition, that it would remain checked out for the full length of the loan term, even if the reader ‘returned’ it, and could not be read by multiple readers at once – in other words, not taking advantage of the digital nature of the product.)
Lots of people have great posts on this.
All have some additional good points in the comments.
I’ve seen some people ask where the 26 number comes from. I seem to recall from my library school days that that’s the average number of circulations a hardcover book gets before it needs to be retired for practical reasons (the binding’s falling apart, pages are missing, it suffers an unfortunate mishap, etc.) However, as anyone with basic statistics knowledge can figure out, a lot of books circulate a lot less than that (and therefore do interesting things to the average), and therefore some books also circulate many more times than that, without problems. Picking it as the number for an ebook circulation is therefore even more problematic than it first appears.
Brian at Swiss Army Librarian notes that the Copyright Clearance Center has released a new video called “Copyright on Campus”. He also links to several past videos they’ve done. These are a great resource, and about as fun as anything about copyright is probably going to manage to get. (Note: there’s stuff they don’t address, but there’s only so much you can do in 5 minute videos.)
Other interesting notes:
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (my favorite new quiz show) has a fascinating post on their blog on why they spell “Gadhafi” that way (as opposed to the 36 other variations out there – the challenge of translating from one alphabet and language into others.) The answer goes back to a letter from Minnesota school children back in 1986.
Doug Johnson has a great post about ways to make research assignments more interesting to students that are very much along my own preferences in this area for two reasons: first, boredom does not lead to great learning, and secondly, learning how to research and evaluate topics you’re interested in has much broader lifelong learning implications than learning how to do academic papers.
(It’s not that academic papers are a bad skill – I still think we ought to teach it, and ask students to do it on an ongoing basis. But that shouldn’t be the only kind of research we teach. Realistically, how often do you do that kind of academic-paper research once you graduate, unless you become an academic? Compared to how often you’re going to get interested in a subject and want to learn more for your own pleasure, or do research to improve your health, or because you’re travelling somewhere, or whatever else?)
Doug also has a post about whether we’re communicating in places where people are listening – something I want to take on here in the near future. (I’m a big believer in the idea that different kinds of technology do different things well, and we should pick the ones that work.)
Dear Author, one of the major romance genre blogs, takes on the question of “When does a reader know too much?” – in other words, how is the reading experience affected by having seen an author interact online, whether that’s a problematic way, an overly personal way, or even a very positive way?
And finally, Cassandra, writing on the DailyKos (not a place you normally expect to see this) has a lovely ode to the role of the public library in her rural Appalachian community, and why the internet access the library supplies is so critical in particular.
Welcome to this week’s installment of interesting links! Coming soon, another post on file management – naming conventions (I’m about halfway through a draft.)
Credit where it’s due: Do you use Creative Commons materials? Do you get frustrated figuring out what you need to cite and how? The OpenAttribute project is designed to help: it’s a browser add-on that looks for information on the page to formulate the citation.
What should people know about dinosaurs? Ok, I admit, I never entirely outgrew the “dinosaurs are neat!” phase of my childhood, but I’m actually equally fascinated by the question of “What *should* people know about a particular subject, and how do we figure that out?” So, imagine my delight in getting a pointer to a post that combines the two. Tom Holz (a paleontologist who focuses on the tyrannosaurus rex) has written a guest post about that very topic, with both general and specific things he thinks people ought to know about the field and why they matter.
A follow-up from last week – namely the bit about BitchMedia’s 100 Best Feminist YA list removing some titles. This week, I bring you Scott Westerfeld on the topic (author of many things, including the Uglies/Pretties/Specials series, and more recently Leviathan
On the issue of diversity, there was a fascinating article from a professor, Margaret Price, about the ways that academic hiring processes are particularly challenging for people with particular learning styles, or disabilities. The article also makes some interesting points about how a gruellingly lengthy interview day (of 8+ hours with very limited breaks) is not actually showing you someone at their best – or as they’d be during a regular teaching day. As more and more schools recognise the importance of diversity and pluralism in all directions, I hope that some of these ideas will become more common.
I know that I’ve deeply appreciated interviews that pay attention to these things, including sharing names of the people on a committee in writing before or during the interview (so that I can match the name and the person and their role as we go rather than try to sort out names and their correct spelling afterwards), and that give reasonable breaks to collect my thoughts and remind myself of what I want to focus on for the next conversation.
As a librarian, how I talk about things with faculty is often different than what and how I want to talk about things with technology staff, for example – and both are definitely different than how I interact with kids.) Obviously, I’m good at changing modes on the fly (that’s part of the job, really), but I do better at it with a moment to get a drink of water, gather my thoughts, look at my notes, and take a deep breath (all things that I’d plan into a typical workday on the job.)
Looking for a good guide to Facebook settings? Mashable has just come out with a really nice, new summary of settings to be aware of. I like to keep an up to date (last month or three) in my bookmarks because they do tend to change things, don’t they?
What technology changes: Henry Jenkins has a great post about how open book exams must change in a wired educational setting – all excellent points. Personally, I’m convinced that it’s possible to design exams (and other projects) such that online resources are helpful – but only if you already know the subject pretty well. This does mean moving away from simple identification questions (which are trivial if you have online access to resources), and moving into questions that require you to understand those terms, but which focus mostly on doing something else with them.
Joyce Valenza is also thinking about this general topic, but from a different direction, in her post about creating a new Research Tools resource online (as she’s moving her materials to LibGuide)