Links of interest – September 17, 2010

danah boyd had an interesting post earlier this week on a different side of the question of online identity: do your name your child something that’s uniquely identifying (meaning they have to learn about managing their online identity very early), or something more common (where there could be a number of people with that name.)

As someone whose first name – Jennifer – was the most popular name for girls in the entire decade I was born, but whose last name is a lot less common, at least in the US, I sort of split the difference. But it did mean I started using other user names in places where I didn’t necessarily want to use my last name pretty early on, because knowing my first name and last name and general area of the country was, for about a decade, a pretty easy way to dig up my address.

Not So Distant Future has a great post about who we should be including in the conversation when we talk about education – more specifically, a letter to NBC about not having included actual teachers in their upcoming series.

The copy this blog has a post on some common myths and misperceptions about copyright – fairly complex ones. The link in the first paragraph to a previous post on a similar topic is also well worth reading.

I’ve been fascinated by web usability for a long time, and there’s a recent new detailed post about why some of the things that have been common wisdom in usability may be changing (or not true in the first place). With links to data and studies and other useful things of that kind. It gave me a kick to go plan the redesign of a site I maintain for a community education organisation for better usability. Jessamyn, who linked to this post as well, also has a recommendation for a document from Usability.gov .

Link post: August 27, 2010

An interesting post – with links to other ideas – from Joyce Valenza about things she wishes school librarians would unlearn.

I definitely agree with several points on her list, including the Wikipedia one. My comment on it to students has always been that it is a starting place. From there, you can learn:

  • useful terms and phrases common in that subject area (fantastic for me when someone asks a reference question about a topic I’m not already familiar with.) Better terms = better searches.
  • names and dates of relevant people involved (useful for getting broader context)
  • links to further sources, so you can go look at the initial material yourself.
  • and sometimes other things, like recent books about a topic or other resources that can help you dig deeper.

The search that brought this home to me was comparing the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia a couple of years ago (right around the time The Other Boleyn Girl movie came out) on the subject of Anne Boleyn – scarcely a minor figure. The Britannica version was 500 words, didn’t mention most of her family by name, didn’t give any background on a number of topics – her brother and sister, her interest in religion and philosophy, background issues and politics of the time.

In contrast, the Wikipedia article (at something like 2500 words), gave all of that, plus included links to current biographies with a summary of their main focus and theories, a link to an analysis of the choices that Phillippa Gregory had made in her writing of the book (and the subsequent changes in the movie) and how that fit in with different scholarly theories.

Which one do you think is most useful to high school students who got interested in Anne because of the book or the movie? And which one do you think starts a better conversation about how we study history, and how our own interests and focus and choices affect what we see in that history? Even more importantly, the Wikipedia article showed that real people – people like them – could do that kind of analytical work too, and contribute to understanding how all the historical fragments might fit together in various ways. Not bad for 2500 words.

I think a lot of people remember what Wikipedia was like initially, and forget (or don’t know) that in the past few years, they’ve done a lot to improve citation requirements, address some of the problems of prank edits, and other such things. It’s not perfect (and like all online sites, there are still quirks) which is why you still need to go look at the original sources.But that’s always been true, regardless of your tertiary source. Growing up in an academic family, I’ve long been aware that the ‘authoritative published sources’ (like traditional encyclopedias) have the potential for flaws. There are politics and person wrangling and pet projects, and all sorts of other things that introduce bias and inaccuracy there too. They’re just much more hidden from the end reader.

Michael Stephens shared an updated assignment for the class he teaches on Participatory Service and Emerging Technologies: to read one of the selected books and either do a report (the old fashioned option) or to do a media presentation (podcast, video, all sorts of other options.) That part’s great – but the list of books is also useful (and a good reminder to me: I’ve read about half of them, and should read the rest.)

And to go with my post earlier this week, LifeHacker has a top ten list of Facebook fixes you might want to look at. (including videos on how to adjust privacy settings, if you prefer that to text instructions.)

Recommended reads

One of the things about finishing work for the school year is that people ask you what you’re reading and looking forward to reading over the summer – so here are a few recent reads I recommend (and a couple I’m looking forward to…)

Recent reads that made me think:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This is about the life, death, and lasting influence of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cancer in Baltimore in the 1950s. Her cells were used to create the HeLa cell culture, which has gone on to be amazingly prolific and of huge scientific benefit (among other things, it was the cell culture used to grow the polio vaccine for distribution). However, Henrietta herself – and her family – didn’t understand what was being done, and this book is both a provoking and sensitive look at the issues of medical ethics, historical legacies, and issues of race, class, and education and their intersection with ‘informed consent’. It’s also very readable, and has some truly great moments of beauty and compassion.

(read more at Rebecca’s site over here , and there’s a great brief story from the magazine Popular Science about Five Reasons Henrietta Lacks Is The Most Important Woman In History).

A Conspiracy of Kings : Megan Whalen Turner
This would be a series where I keep going “Why did I not discover this sooner?” Set in a pseduo-Ancient-Greece, this is a fantastic four book series dealing with the relationships between the powers of neighboring realms, who are at the same time very human and able to fail at doing the best thing all the time. It’s hard to talk about the books beyond that without giving spoilers (and if you go browse the earlier editions, even the cover blurbs and information give spoilers), but I highly recommend these for a thoughtful but fast read.

(Megan’s site is over here.)

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Ok, this one is a little less recent – I read it this spring – but delightful. It’s a Victorian-era steampunk vampires and werewolves romance novel. If you enjoy dramatic moments, wonderful culture and clothing descriptions, and one of the best on-screen Queen Victoria moments I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction, you’ll probably like this. (And this did make me think about the assumptions we have in interacting with others, among other things.)

(Check out Gail’s website and play with the dress-up doll and videos of the cover design.)

Books I’m looking forward to reading:

(These are, of course, only some, but they’re ones I anticipate getting to in the next couple of weeks…)

I’m currently reading The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines, which I picked up in part because I was impressed by a range of blog posts he’s made over the last couple of months. (I’m enjoying it so far, and expect to finish it in the next day or two, when I’ve got the sequel waiting.)

  • The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicholson
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Candor by Pam Bachorz

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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