Notes from the Library & Information Science Dissertations Conference, 5 November 2016 held at University College London (#lisdis16)
Last year I returned to University to study Information Science. Unlike fellow student who were either starting out in their career or using the course to change career, sometimes dramatically, I was and still am a Business Analyst.
So, why do it? Why take a year out and invest time and money in a higher university degree in the middle of my BA career? And why go to Library School when there are plenty of other option in Systems Engineering or Business Schools?
Last week I attend the CILIP 2015 Conference in St George’s Hall, Liverpool (2-3 July). This was a magnificent venue where references to justice and knowledge were literally built into the walls and the floor.
This was my first CILIP conference and I was keen to take advantage of discounted registration for students to hear about the profession from a range of current practitioners to complement by Masters study at #citylis (City University, London).
The conference programme featured a number of keynote presentations from a variety of speakers, many of whom were not library or information professionals but added their perspectives to ours. This was complemented by breakout sessions that covered:
- Information management: building success
- Information literacy and digital inclusion
- Demonstrating value: what’s your impact?
- Digital futures and technology
along with a track of Fringe events that included Q&A sessions with keynote speakers and an opportunity join in hack sessions with exhibitors like the Ideas Box.
It’s not nice to be a librarian … it’s AWESOME to be a librarian … we do important things … throughout history we have done powerful things for human kind … librarians have that power – R. David Lankes
The conference received a rousing start from R. David Lankes on the position and potential of librarians and was concluded by a presidential address from Jan Parry on the importance of critically reviewing ourselves and our services, before other people do, if we are to make a good impression. These talks extolled the power and professionalism of librarianship, neatly bookending proceedings, and instilled a feeling of optimism.
In between I attended every keynote and spent most of my breakout sessions in the Digital Futures and Technology track. These sessions were held in the unusual setting of the Civil Court, a 19th century courtroom with wooden benches and ink wells and talks delivered from the witness stand. Many people will have sat in this courtroom listening and arguing and now it heard today’s advocates on the subject of “wicked problems”, research data management, user experience, access management and linked open bibliographic data.
My only detour from this track was towards the end of the conference I couldn’t resist the Delivering Value session featuring the British Library and Wigan Library Service as I thought this juxtaposition would offer a truly macroscopic view of librarianship in in the UK. I was rewarded with a frankly inspiring hour that soared from the British Library’s Living Knowledge project envisioning how to stay at the forefront of All the World’s Knowledge and embed it across the UK to how a local library service has placed itself at the centre of Wigan’s community and the promises that make up The Deal, the council’s pact with the people who elect it.
I took notes on each session I attended and links to these are available in the session notes section below. Rather than describe each session again in detail I want to draw together my thoughts and reflect on three themes that I kept hearing again and again across the conference: community, advocacy and freedom.
People were the pulsing, beating heart of a conference that celebrated both the community of librarians represented and the communities they serve. Again started by Lankes he urged us to speak more about librarians when defining libraries:
A mandated and mediated space (virtual and/or physical) owned by the community, stewarded by librarians, and dedicated to knowledge creation.
Time and time again speakers provided examples of how these spaces help create and connect vibrant communities (as in the above examples of the much admired Liverpool Central Library). Libraries may be changing but they aren’t dead and never will be as long as there are people in the world who want to learn and to be informed.
This becomes even more urgently evident during times of crisis as in Ferguson and Baltimore when libraries provided citizens with safe spaces. Another example was provided by Barbara Schack of Bibliotheques Sans Frontieres / Libraries Without Borders who talked about the Ideas Box. This is a media centre than can be transported anywhere in the world within an hour. It contains technology, content and materials that trained facilitators can use in crisis struck communities to enable people to come together, opening the boxes and creating a space where they can be human again escaping the crisis that surrounds them and contributing their information, knowledge and creativity to healing their society and their culture.
Erwin James also spoke about how books changed the way he thought about life. Prison enabled his immediate physical needs to be met fully for the first time in his life but again it was reading that enabled him to become human: to find a way to participate in society through culture. He spoke of how a single story brought wonder into his world and gave him the ambition to find “a good way to live”. He began to read, then write, then learn. Prison was for him a community resource that brought him peace, optimism and hope.
Libraries are refuges but they don’t just make communities when times are tough they co-create communities every day in small ways for all citizens. They use knowledge exchange and creation as social acts of conversation. As Lankes says “we bridge ideas into our environments”. We help people learn whether that is for their hobby, for work, for pure joy and wonder, of democracy. Librarians are people who collect resources and provide guidance that help people to learn and these resources increasingly cover digital and material technologies, such as those used in maker spaces, as well as books.
Libraries embody their communities: the people who provide and the people use them. Libraries are inherently political: they are by and of the people. Our job is to make them for everyone and defend them in a tough world.
This is not easy. Librarians, like others, are faced by “wicked problems”. Andrew Cox described these are complex, unfamiliar, stressful situations where the way forward isn’t clear. The problem is linked to other problems, there are numerous intervention points and numerous constrains and it is not clear that the situation is “solvable” by any one group. Cox used the example of Research Data Management (RDM) as an area lacking in information, agreement and relying on too many assumptions. Navigating these complex issues requires flexibility, enterprise, collaboration and courage and we must move forward with positive deviance, constructive dissent, empathy and collective intelligence. Most of all be a community of fate who stand together, but not a fatalist community: crisis narrative does us no favours.
We do not live in a neutral world and so we have advocacy: the practice of influencing decisions and changing society. Doubt is an interesting episode of The Good Wife about advocacy and using evidence not just establish the truth of things but to make that truth sing louder than any alternative.
“The problem is it’s not a good story, it’s just a freak accident, there are no villains.”
“But if it’s true?”
“But it doesn’t sound true. The prosecution’s story sounds like the truth.”
Doubt depicts informed democracy in action as a jury deliberates a seemingly open and shut case. As the episode unfolds small sections of the case are revealed in flashback fragmenting the picture and revealing competing versions of the truth. It also argues presenting the most factual version of events is not enough especially as the truth doesn’t always sound true in the face of competing narratives that offer better stories. At the end of the story the jury don’t have reasonable doubt, they have “reasonable ignorance”.
CILIP 2015 was also a story about advocacy. Many times throughout the conference, sessions urged us not to leave the senior managers and politicians who make decisions about library services in “reasonable ignorance” about the work librarians do and the value this brings to the communities they serve. Cory Doctorow told us obscurity can be dangerous and damaging.
In competitive and constrained times we cannot assume that the value of the services we deliver and love is self-evident to those who make decisions that govern the existence of those services.
Hence, the video Wigan Library Services created that summarised their contribution to their communities and council goals just over 5 minutes. The music and imagery helps transform statistics into a more powerful and eye catching narrative. It was placed in front of their chief executive and has now been seen by the entire senior management team.
We also cannot assume that times will get easier: we will always be in competition with something and there will always be challenges to face. There was some disagreement, however, on what we are competing with. Ken Chad identified choice as a key competitive forces with Google, Amazon and electronic subscription libraries like Epic! (for children) and Safari (for professionals) providing alternative library services target at specific groups.
R. David Lankes held a different view arguing that Amazon, Apple and Google are not in the advertising and consumer goods business, not the information business. His position is that libraries are in competition with the other services competing for the same public resources. Stuart Hamilton offered some suggestions on where this competition may come from. IFLA have been a partner in the development of a new set of UN Sustainable Development Goals and there will shortly be a UK Sustainable Development Plan. Demonstrating how you help the UK meet these goals will increasingly justify the funding and relevance of libraries in the post-2015 information environment. For non-public libraries your organisation’s strategy provides a similar guide to relevance.
All arguments are not created equal and we heard from Full Fact about their work as independent fact checkers sifting out information you can rely on from the misinformation. They check claims made in political arguments so we are not forced to choose between “blind faith and blind cynicism” in public discourse. Their experience showed that expertise matters and it’s possible to make fact checking systematic and impartial. Again their message was that doing their work, even communicating their work was not enough. Their third team is their monitoring team. Communication enables expertise to be vocal but monitoring of trends and issues enables it to have relevance. As information expands, attention decreases.
Whilst we must tell our story it must appropriate the language and aspirations of those we are addressing in order to be heard. For libraries to survive amidst this cacophony of competing commercial and public forces our stories don’t just have to be good, they also have to be targeted and relevant. For all the new technologies and trends we need to matter, communication and making a persuasive case are still crucial core skills.
The sum of these arguments is to suggest that librarians need to turn up, be present, go to meetings, and should be more assertive in owning the narrative around what they do and more ready to engage in the selling of that narrative to others.
We have to fill the narrative vacuum around the profession with the vibrancy, vitality and variety of ways communities use libraries. This will enable us to dismiss lazy assumptions, demonstrate value and go beyond measuring access to information towards explaining the impact that access, and its removal, has on our communities in order to ensure the “integrity, preservation and provision” of information as demanded in the Lyon Declaration.
If some narratives can be reconciled, then others must be resisted and the erosion of civil liberties is one of them. The conference underlined our profession’s commitment to:
- intellectual freedom and safety
but also noted that sometimes these clash and striking the right balance is difficult. In particular tension is encouraging access and openness whilst ensuring privacy and respecting creativity.
Cory Doctorow talked about the unintended consequences of Digital Rights Management (DRM). As a security process this has done nothing to prevent piracy but prevents us exposing and fixing vulnerabilities in software. It has crippled creativity and criminalised scrutiny and eroded the negotiating power of artists without doing anything to protect digital rights.
Shami Chakrabarti moved the discussion to the broader context of universal human rights and how the political and ethical debate is lagging behind advances in technology. Even as we want to be free it is important to that freedom not to totally abandon privacy. At the very least there should be public debate on the ethics of surveilling entire populations because of the dangerous acts of a few.
Open data promises to provide people with greater freedom of information, but it also threatens ever-deepening surveillance. The amount of data held in our smartphones is significant, even scary. These devices empower and enable daily but they also have the potential to be compromised and used as “digital pathogens” against us. Using this data ethically and appropriately and participating in debates about who should be able to scrutinise these data and devices relies on literacy. Expanding our literacy to encompass big data is a challenge for librarians not just citizens and Virginia Power talked about the increasing demand for digital preservation, information governance and statistical and analytical skills along with some handy resources to provide support if “this data world is scaring you witless”.
In many respects the arguments about freedom were not about being able to do or say anything but being able to fairly and openly scrutinise the systems in which we exist and that govern us: whether these be political systems or software. Freedom will never be absolute but will be constrained and qualified but our freedom is certainly curtailed when we are not able to subject the actions of others to scrutiny or we are excluded from debates.
A functioning democracy needs to be an informed democracy: we need open, reliable and relevant evidence, persuasive advocates and literacy if we are to sustain our ability and our right to make sense of our society, invent and innovate, change the world, be human and be free.
This means, more than ever, we need librarians.
- R. David Lankes An action plan for world domination through librarianship
- Andrew Cox Understanding digital futures as “wicked problems”
- Cory Doctorow Information doesn’t want to be free … but people do
- Anne Donnelly and Cuna Ekmekcioglu Research Data Management (RDM) Masterclass
- Jon Bentley The challenges and opportunities of resource access management
- Todd Richter and Dr. Laura Muir Creative workspaces in UK libraries
- Virginia Power Investing in the Knowledge Bank: digital currency for all our digital futures
- Stuart Hamilton, IFLA Libraries, development and the bigger picture: what will the post-2015 information environment look like for libraries
- Barbara Schack Innovative approaches in access to information, education, and culture for vulnerable populations: the Ideas Box
- Shami Chakrabarti On Liberty
- Ken Chad Library service innovation in a competitive world: focus on the user
- Natalia Garea-Garcia and Anne Welsh Linked open bibliographic data
- Joseph O’Leary Fact Checking the Election
- Erwin James A good book can change the way you think about life
- Jamie Andrews and Liz White British Library: Living Knowledge
- Rob Sanderson and Richard Bealing Nothing every happens in libraries
- Jan Parry Presidential Address
Easter was a pleasant time filled with sunshine, the warmth of meals and conversation with family, and the vibrancy of nature unfurling back into life as blossom covers tree branches, shoots push through soil, birdsong fills the gleaming and frogsong fills the gloaming.
During the time I read two books, Intertwingled by Peter Morville and The Library Beyond the Book by Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, and went on a visit, to Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras, all of which took me from libraries to the land and back again, whilst exploring similar themes:
- exploring the connectedness of all things from information systems to natural ecosystems.
- exhibiting the kind of quiet convinction and openness of thought needed to first see and then set aside limitations in order to reframe ideas, redesign systems and remix scenarios.
- combining the anchoring role of centres with the the fertility of peripheries.
- collapsing pasts, presents and futures to recognise they are chronological but not discrete.
- critically dissecting our cartographic instincts: our need to make maps to understand the world around us whilst stressing the obvious trap that the map is not the territory.
Individually they were all enjoyable and thought provoking; taken together they seeped across each other into a powerful meditation on culture and change.
Firstly, I read Intertwingled by Peter Morville. Morville is an experienced information architect, one of the earliest, and author of classic texts such as Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and Ambient Findability. This is a deeply personal book, based on Morville’s reading and experience, that elevates information architecture away from the practical towards the reflective and thoughtful by way of this elliptical and eclectic meditation on the skeins of information that surround us.
It sketches information in broad strokes, taking in the natural world and the invisible constraints of culture in order to expose the categories and limitations that inhibit thinking and the connections and levers that change thinking. An attempt, perhaps, at a more holistic epistemology of information systems that inspires, but doesn’t always succeed (in places it is a bit too gnomic). The style was sometimes a bit too consulting speak and such short sentences suggested a better presentation as a speech than a book.At times I was confused and felt like I was chasing important points that were, however, too ephemeral to grasp.
Given how much of the book is informed by influential texts Morville has encountered it is also surprising their isn’t a bibliography to accompany the provided notes (which aren’t always well referenced. Morville also has a tendancy to drop references into the text that aren’t well noted, for example infoscent, and assume a higher level of cogniscence with terms than I have. For a book about connectedness this displays a surprising lack of context and linking.
Everything is Connected
The foundational position is of connectedness, a deep intertwining of things that suggests a shift from systems to ecosystems thinking. The argument in Chapter 1 suggests that as this is the nature of things, including information, and therefore information systems design needs to encompass culture, governance and synthesasia as well as analysis and architecture if it is to achieve sustainable change. I’m convinced by this argument, though the examples and structural thread in this chapter are rather eclectic.
The second chapter is more coherently argued and discusses the consequences of catagorisation and the risks of confusing maps with territories. Through examples, how we architect understanding is unpicked and questioned. It is an important point that organising and structuring information is not a neutral act and as information professionals we have an ethical duty to reflect on our choices: what are we fixing and what are hiding by the labels we create. As expected from a great information architect, Morville is very good at exposing the structures of information architecture. These sections emerge as moments of clear insight from the surrounding fog of philosophical context and personal anecdote.
I was once again lost slightly in the third chapter on Connections, but the fourth chapter on Culture once again felt more solid, albeit contradictory. Having spent the chapter on categories warning us that “maps are traps” the Culture chapter urges us to make cultural maps to effect change.
There was much in here that resonated but overall it works best at creating a “structure of feeling”, an overall mindset about information, architecture and systems thinking. It is better than the sum of its sometimes vague parts and introduced me to a whole host of new thinkers, texts and ideas to explore by suggesting an interesting bibliographic path to wander by following up many of the quoted sources (that’s why I was so disappointed there wasn’t a full bibliography). For example Systemantics by John Gall, Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows and Bruce Sterling’s concept of spime (objects that are tracked through space and time), are all new to me and look interesting.
Next I wandered an actual path that snaked through the permaculture garden of Sandra and Santi at Simply Permaculture in Saint Jean de Duras. Their property is an experiment in applying permaculture philosophy and design to their French smallholding and this was the opening weekend of their garden visits for 2015 and part of Spring in Duras. They open up their garden to visitors and providde guided tours to demonstrate their application of permaculture and help others learn.
Permaculture is a design process that using the patterns in systems found in nature to create more sustainable human systems: essentially design based on ecological principles. Permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s as “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”. For more information on permaculture the Essence of Permaculture provides a concise summary of the principles and ethics.
As I walked, I found the garden to be an example of “applied intertwingling” taking the concepts and critical structures from Morville and applying them to the domain of cultivation. In many ways it helped me understand Morville’s themes better.
The Flower is not the Garden
Once again the map is not the territory. The permaculture domains and design principles provide a design map but in no way reflected the 5 hectare permaculture garden taking shape with loving care in France. As we were guided we learned about water management with swales, hugel beds for growing vegetables, a sustainable system of aquaponics using fish to fertilise the plants and the plants to clean and filter the water and how to get chickens to make compost.
The permaculture principles emphasise connectedness, diversity and using feedback to design more sustainable systems. Each territory is different, but permaculture principles and ethics provide a cultural map that can guide sustainable cultivation.
An Aside on Information Behaviour
The day itself also demonstrated many of the ways people exchange information resources to learn about new things. Sandra and Santi went on a formal permaculture design course but they also described themselves as “YouTube Farmers”: if they didn’t know how to do something they searched for it using the internet. They watch lots of documentaries and do a lot of research to expand their knowledge, as well as consulting with their neighbours: long-term experts on the local terroir. Now, they are sharing their knowledge by opening their garden to curious visitors who can get information from posts located at various points on a trail through the garden or join a guided tour for more in depth information sharing. The group I was in exchanged ideas, and physical resources, between themselves and our hosts during the tour and it was probably one of the most dynamic peer learning experiences I’ve experienced.
My parents were so enthused with what they had learnt they immediately went home and started a project to use their chickens to help turn their compost.
The Library Beyond the Book
Thirdly, I read Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles write up their experiments on reframing the library. Stemming from a series of design studios at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design Bibliotheca: The Library Past/Present/Future leading to the Library Test Kitchen. This seemed to be another example of “applied intertwingling”, this time in the domain of cultural memory.
This book does a fantastic job of tearing up the old cultural map by exposing the assumptions we make when we catagorise something as ‘library’ or ‘book, opening up connections, excavating the whole cultural process of authorship, readership and exchange and testing the limits of what libraries and books can be. It’s playful, poetic and provocative.
They consciously assert their domain as the library beyond the book not after the book, collapsing the past, present and future into a jumble of structures and possibilities: seeking fixity not fluidity. Like Morville, they reject simple determinimism and binary opposites. This is not a debate between visionaries and nostalgics but a rejection of constraints that might limit new connections and possibilities. They write of:
the intermingling of the analog and the digital, books and e-books, paper and pixels.
The Codex is not the Book
Just as the map is not the territory, so the codex is not the book. Schnapp and Battle insist that our ideas of the book, and authorship, are not fixed in formats but are “a flock of objects” suspended in the networks of their own creation and circulation. Much as we may like to fix things, they rather uncomfortably remain unfixed and spill out from their containers.
I like the way they argue that books became digital, in the processes of composition and publication, even before the artefact became digital. They describe books as “a medium that requires connection” and “are coaxed to life by conversation”. They have always been “surrounded by a halo of what we now call metadata”. Gradually, the digital halo that first emanated from books in the 1970s, now erodes the reification of books as physical things connecting the residual art of oration with the emergent “peritextual nimbus” of the digital and beyond.
A similar point is made about libraries themselves as being more fluid containers of books, conversation, retreat and communion than we assume. The book stacks and classification codes that were designed to organise and store books in the 19th century have been fixed so firmly in our culture that it is only with difficulty that we can see beyond them. It’s a critical discourse that comes from a deep love of libraries and what they offer society:
Libraries as sites for access, congregation, contemplation, delight, discovery, dispute, escape, hiding, repose, research, secrecy, self-abnegation … a capacious cartography of qualities, which register their historical texture, weave in and out and among one another, just as much as do the forms of the book.
This provocative essay suggests that we are experiencing a transitional moment as the dominance of these structures is challenged, arrived at not because of one thing but because of many interlocking changes in practice and documentary form. Nor do they suggest that books and book-holding libraries will disappear, rather that they will intermingle with new and remediated practices and forms, emerging from the traces of what books and libraries used to be and what they can be.
Beyond the Book
This critical discussion provides the context for the design experiments (“forward-looking, historically informed, speculative sketches”) outlined in the rest of the book. Tucked into margins, through words and pictures the book explores services, artefacts and scenarios that play with different levers to reframe the library and draw new maps based on a library typology: Mausoleum, Cloister, Database, Warehouse, Material Epistemology, Mobile Vector, Civic Space and Instant Reading Room. Some are better then others, some are more playful, others more possible. The exciting thing is that the authors, and their students, have been willing to go beyond existing categories and limitations to see connections and suggest new ways of being for libraries that go beyond the prevailing culture. It’s also written beautifully, poetically.
Such ideas are refreshing and urgent if debates about library futures aren’t to become too fixated on preserving a cherished but inhibiting past or ossified in arcane format debates that impose rigid limits on new ways of thinking. Libraries are not just places that entomb memory, they are also places where the living gather to imagine, converse, meet practical needs and find treasure. Some things will settle, to seeming permanance, others will change more frequently; not everything should change but nothing is entirely fixed. The book is packed full of suggestions for reimagining not just library spaces, services and systems but our whole library culture of authorship, publishing, acquisition and reading. It is critical, but devoted. The containers may leak and evolve, but the communion of ideas and stories will undoubtedly endure.
ICYMI: Things I’ve found worth mentioning, amplifying, reading and collecting from the last few days.
The Guardian takes Poll Data Visualisation to A New Level with its Election 2015 Poll Projection.
I came to The Encyclopaedia of Life via Kevin Kelly’s website and a former project of his to catalogue and identify every living species on earth by giving it its own web page. This led to me to The Global Names Architecture (GNA) for connection biological information.
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition page Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974
On our #citylis #infodomains theme of Healthcare information I added The Wellness Syndrome / Carl Cederström and André Spicer published by Polity examining the modern ideology of wellness to my want to read list.
Combining the Quantified Self and Healthcare Information I read this intriguing article on building your own pancreas. It uses data from internet of things (IoT) type devices with a hacker mentality to create new, and social systems, for monitoring and medicating diabetes. There is an interesting point made about “data and free speech” but the potential legal grey area of DIY code and healthcare regulation.
This little video, also from the Quantified Self blog, is about time tracking. Greg Kroleski talks about 6 years spent tracking his time. The methodology (one week every quarter in a spreadsheet) and visualisation (mostly graphs) are not that unusual but as well as the raw data what I found interesting was the ‘taxonomy of time’ he developed to categories his activities and the difficulties of categorising.
Interesting post on Visualising Data on the use of pink and blue, or not, for gendered visualisation. Potentially relevant to a project I’m thinking of working on for my #dataviz assignment.
Interesting post by Sara M. Watson in DIS Magazine on metaphors used to describe big data. they have a current issue all about data which provides a critical look at “the datalogical turn” since 1948:
“Since World War II, information theory has had many offspring, all of which share fundamental traits: that the composition of information must be binary, and thus digital, compressible, reversible, predictable, scalable, and measurable. What has been most urgent as of late is the development of critical theoretical positions that follow the spread of such platforms over society at large. Subjects are not just actors in a network, but also network architects themselves, both supplicator and designer in an increasingly automated sociality.” – Marvin Jordan and Mike Pepi
Rob Kitchin’s article on Continuous Geosurveillance in the “Smart City” is worth a read anyway but even more so for the striking original artwork by Mark Dorf.
#citylisters love the History of Documents so they might be interested in this history of big data by Bernard Marr.
Great visualisation by Allison McCann on women’s sports data. Ok tongue in cheek there, but it demonstrates how second class women’s sport still is.
Meanwhile the Washington Post highlight a debate between the US and The Netherlands over marijuana usage featuring what they describe as a “passive aggressive infographic”. Remember folks information may be beautiful but it’s not always neutral!
For International Women’s Day (8th March) the Economist has an interactive visualisation the best place in the world to be a working women.
There have been a number of times this year that a #citylis lecture has subsequent exposed connections in a way I’ve found uncanny. A sure sign that the course is opening my mind and encouraging me to pay attention. Coincidences are just connections I wouldn’t have noticed without being receptive to them.
This week’s connections were provided by the Inquiring Minds podcast a weekly show I would encourage you to subscribe to if you are at all interested in intersections of science, society and the world around us.
On a sunny spring afternoon I had about an hour’s walk home in front of me so I listened to Episode 75: Kevin Kelly: What Technology Wants (the ‘fact’ that sunny days and fresh air help you think better is only proven by my own anecdata!).
Connecting Healthcare Information
In the slot before the main feature co-hosts Kishore Hari and Indre Viskontas discussed the, possibly tangled and dark, connections between celebrity, disorders, medication and public awareness campaigns. This touched on many of this issues we discussed in our Information Domains lecture last week on Healthcare information with another session of Pharmaceutical information to come.
“We have to be a little more vigilant about how we as a society are promoting a particular disease” – Indre Viskontas
Inquiring Minds hope to have a follow up on this story. In the meantime other episodes to catch up on that connect with this theme are: Episode 74 featuring Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Fact Checking Science, Episode 36 featuring Harry Collins on Why Googling Doesn’t Make You a Scientific Expert, Episode 17 featuring Michael Pollan on The Science of Eating Well (And Not Falling for Fad Diets) and Episode 7 featuring George Johnson on Why Mostt of What You’ve Heard About Cancer is Wrong.
Also not coincidentally when I walked into my local public library outpost on Saturday the first book my eye was drawn to was Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, And How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre.
Another pre-feature chat concerned the MIT Self-Assembly Lab who have made a chair assemble itself in water.
Their research looks at how things can make themselves.
“Self-Assembly is a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through local interaction.” – MIT Self-Assembly Lab
This is more than a little bit mind expanding. They are researching the “building blocks. energy and interactions” for self-making things.
Now, when we studied entropy we looked at how ordered structures consisting of many independent parts tended to disorder. The self-assembly lab look at creating materials that can create order from disorder pieces: shifting from high to low entropy.
One of the questions this poses is do information technologies such as the Semantic Web and machine learning suggest a similar ability to self-order information resources? If so, what is the role and purpose of information professionals?
Kevin Kelly on Cataloguing Cool Tools, Surveillance and Technology as a Force
It’s also hard to cover the eclectic mind swirl and surfing journey the ideas tumbling out of this podcast took me on.
Access to Tools
Let’s start with the Whole Earth Catalog, again pretty coincidentally given that during Reading Week some of us were participating in an optional workshop on cataloguing using RDA and MARC21.
Where Librarians catalogue books and documents the Whole Earth Catalog collected … well bits of information about everything. Often these were tools, tools being an infinitely malleable term. The Catalog was sub-titled “access to tools” and books were just one example in the broad taxonomy of tools they catalogued.
“”Tools” were endless and whatever users and staff deemed them to be. They could be actual tools for everything from jewelry work and enameling to woodworking and blacksmithing. Other tools were books of every type – from views of the future to death and dying to gravity and time to population control; maps; and how-to guides for everything from living in a tipi to building a pipe organ to using a compass.” – Whole Earth Catalog
Rising out of late 1960s counterculture, perhaps Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog should be linked to that emergent history of the web that threads through Paul Otlet’s Universal Bibliography, Vannevar Bush’s Memex, Ted Nelson’s Hypertext to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web? It has been described as a cross between an early search engine and social medium published in zine form.
“With a seemingly haphazard arrangement of information within its categories, the CATALOG was the desktop-published equivalent an early search engine that invited readers to learn something new on every page – and to connect unrelated ideas and concepts.” – Whole Earth Catalog
Kevin Kelly described working on the whole Earth Catalog as:
“living on the web decades before the internet was born” – Kevin Kelly
For more information on and material from the Whole Earth Catalog and its culture the Museum of Modern Art has an exhibition page called Access to Tools: Publications from the Whole Earth Catalog, 1968-1974. The cuttings from the Catalog that accompany the bibliography at the end should be of interested to #citylis folks!
There is also a recording on YouTube of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog held by Stanford University Libraries that discusses much of the content from Fred Turner’s book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
Kevin Kelly was an editor of Whole Earth Review (features including Computers are Poison and Peering into the Age of Transparency) before being part of the team that launched Wired. Two connective threads connecting this eclectic mix of ecology, technology and creativity (you may like to read Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World) are the desire to catalogue tools and the idea of technology as a kind of natural force.
Kelly still catalogues tools via Cool Tools. Every weekday this blog publishes and article about tools that work and has collated 1200 of the best of them into a book that is subtitled “A Catalog of Possibilities” … which perhaps sums up a reason for being of many catalogues.
Surveillance, Tracking and Technology as Force
Kelly also talks about the Internet, tracking and surveillance. He thinks that it’s not going to be possible to stop the internet tracking us. He sees technology as an evolutionary force. this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is deterministic but once systems evolve they neither fully control nor are fully controlled by the humans that originally innovated and introduced them into our systems and ecosystems. They are relentless in their adaptability and mutation.
The Internet is a force that tracks. In some ways resistance is futile. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to live off the grid or to use the Internet and benefit from it without accepting its trackable element. Instead of resistance, Kelly argues that we should accept this property of and figure out how to make it more beneficial than malevolent or malicious and how to work to ensure its multifarious and reciprocal. Tracking is not going to go away but it can also still be negotiated and contested.
Kelly raises the spectre of our looming identity crisis as we increasingly ask “What will humans be?” as we create forms of intelligence and self-creating machines that potentially seriously disrupt our place in the world and our ongoing development as a species.
NISO Recommended Practice (RP) on Access License and Indicators released. This provides guidance on using metadata to indicate read access and re-use of articles, or any e-learning content.
Why is this important?
Because readers and automatic aggregators of free to read content have trouble navigating this content and understanding what they can do with it in a patchwork ecosystem of different access models governed by an assortment of licensing practices. Along with philosophical debates about open access that are practical difficulties with implementing competing ideas.
- Good cross-section of representation from Access License and Indicators Working Group
- Aiming for both human and machine readable indicators
- Two key indicators: whether the work is free to read and how it can be re-used.
- free_to_read. Avoiding using the term open access instead this indicates simply if the article is free to read on the web. Free to read means available without payment or registration. Start and end dates can be added to delimit a free to read period.
- license_reference Re-use will be specified by referencing licenses in force and applicable dates if relevant not by specifying rights within this metadata element. This is essentially a pointer to all the relevant licenses in force.
- License references are stable (not necessarily persistent but ideally long-term) URIs to publicly accessible web resources.
- Multiple licenses with different in force periods can be used. In force periods can be added to license references by using start dates but not end dates.
- No icon or visual element for the free_to_read element.
- Practice aims not to be proscriptive but to encourage consistency and convergence.
- Addresses multiple scholarship use cases fully though only partially helps with text mining, rights assertion alignment with licenses and compliance use cases.
- Means of expressing metadata element examples provided for XML, PDF using XMP, RDF and JSON.
- Seems like this is a good idea and an attempt to create a lightweight standard for specifying access and licenses for open or hybrid content.
- The use of superseding license references may be potentially confusing particularly as only start dates can be added. Will it be sufficiently clear where licenses supersede others or will it read like both are in force and there is no metadata?
- Slightly disappointing it leaves visual presentation for humans to each site. This kind of leeway still leaves much potential for confusion. Some visual guidelines could have been developed with sufficient design choices for sites and systems to fit their users and style guides. This would’ve provided some consistency as well as choice. The rationale for this is there are already many visual indicators available for this so it wasn’t necessary or desirable to add further complementary badges. Isn’t the point of standards though to reduce the many to the few?
The Big Question
- Will consistency and convergence come from usage as hoped or is this metadata just going to pay forward access confusion during the discovery to delivery process?