Not a Battle nor a War, but a Quest for Balance

poster reads "Keep Libraries and Learn Stuff"

Image cc license from Flickr user LaurieJ

Friday afternoon, we received a phone call from another library.  While this is a not a memorable event on its own, what was surprising was the caller’s request — could we please send them one of our organization’s knowledge products, specifically a print version of an enormous online database?

Although the library regularly receives requests for publications, which we fill or forward to the appropriate party for fulfillment, the problem was that, while publications have been produced using content from this database, no print version of the database’s full contents exists. It has been deemed impractical to try and reproduce the entire database in print format, for a number of reasons. One reason the product exists only as a database is that content is updated and added on a regular basis, meaning a print version of the product would quickly become outdated or incomplete. A second reason is that the key feature of the database is the system’s ability to allow users to play with the information, generate maps, analyze data and produce graphic interpretations of the information, features that could not be reproduced in a print document or on a single CD-ROM.

The most surprising aspect of this call, though, was the insistence of the caller, a librarian, that we should provide this product in print format, that we were in fact obliged to do so;  by choosing to not produce this product on print format, we were forcing libraries to print the entire thing themselves. Even though we explained the reasons the print format did not exist and the benefits of instead using the database with it’s up-to-date content and analytical features, all accessible online from anywhere in the world, the caller was persistent and nearly irate — we must provide this information, in both analog and digital media or we were failing our constituents and neglecting our responsibilities.

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A blog post about a blog post about the decline of blogging

image of Mark Twain created by Flickr user DonkeyHotey

Image cc license from Flickr user DonkeyHotey

“The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” — a misquotation of a Mark Twain quotation

During grad school, I wrote a paper on e-books and why they had not risen to popularity as quickly as anticipated and why the technology had not progressed more rapidly. I think I probably referenced this quotation in that paper because my conclusion was that, though e-books had not yet taken off as trend-trackers had expected, they should not be discounted. They were not dead yet.

In the last year, there has been a whole lot of discussion on the Internet regarding whether print books are dead and whether libraries are dead.

Earlier this month, a report from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research stated that, for the first time, an overall decline in blogging has been registered in the 500 fastest growing organizations in the U.S. In announcing the report, Information Today Europe produced an interesting post entitled “A blog post about the decline of blogging”, which in turn inspired the choice of title for this post.

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Living in a digital world, part 3 — the Internet echo chamber

Image cc license from Flickr user Librarian by Day:

After reading SES’s post “Thinking Big Thoughts: Blogs to Follow”, I added GOOD to my feed reader and I am happy I did — while I might not go so far as to read all the posts, there have been a fair number that interested me enough to click-through to the full article. One such post was Cord Jefferson’s Community Engagement: How the Internet Ruined My Perception of What’s Popular” and the concept of the Internet echo chamber, which led me to a new understanding about the ramifications of my dependence on RSS feeds for news and trends.

As someone who helped coordinate an effort to gather signatures on a petition to keep My So-Called Life on the air, I can appreciate Jefferson’s confusion at finding out that the television show Community was being put on indefinite hiatus. Everyone I knew liked My So-Called Life; students, teachers and parents signed the petition before we sent it off to the show’s producers. While there are any number of reasons or combination of reasons that lead television producers to cancel shows, we could not understand how a show that was so popular could be cancelled.

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Qualitative Research Series: Debating the Question Question

Courtesy of Flickr user: alexanderdrachmann

As part of our ongoing series on qualitative research, we wanted to delve into a topic that has been a point of contention during our qualitative research explorations.  Last spring, SES and AMF worked together on an independent study on advanced qualitative research methods.  The idea to work together grew out of our mutual concern that none of the Social Sciences departments were offering such a course, at least not anytime soon.  Anxious to learn more as we both launched into qualifying projects and dissertations, we decided to propose an independent study, based very much on our research interests and need to learn how to “do” interviewing and focus groups.  Like many things in life, self-paced learning is at once exhilarating and rife with self-doubt.  Over the course of several months, we read copiously; taught each other; shared quotes, articles, books, and coffee; interviewed five professors; tried (in vain) to bring our focus group together; compiled online resources and populated an e-portfolio (through Mahara); and completed a proposed syllabus as our final project.  Along the way, we learned more than we thought we would: about interviewing, people, student life, and each other.

Sometimes, however, it’s the lingering questions that teach us more than the answers we construct.  In conducting interviews with our professors on the topic  of interviewing, we encountered a great many similarities and a few differences of opinion.  One difference that stood out was whether or not to provide participants with the interview questions ahead of time. Some of our professors requested the questions beforehand and some declined to receive them in advance of the interview.  That got us thinking, “Where do we stand on this issue?” and, furthermore, “is there a right answer to this question?”

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Marching on Washington

Given the recent political theater (as one friend termed it) over raising the debt-ceiling it may not be surprising that The Save Our Schools (SOS) rally in Washington at the end of July garnered relatively little attention nation-wide.   That’s a shame on many levels.

The SOS platform includes equitable funding for all public school communities, teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies, and curriculum developed for and by local school communities.  Makes sense, right?  While few could argue against these guiding principles, many can and do argue vociferously against the fourth plank in their platform – an end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation.

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Teaching and Learning About Copyright… Through Videos

Copyright by Pryere (light painting)

Image cc license from Flickr user Pryere:

Copyright and intellectual property. Fair use and plagiarism. Creative Commons and attribution. Even when one makes an earnest attempt to become better informed about copyright and the surrounding issues and debate, it is challenging to obtain a clear and complete picture of regulations protecting intellectual property and dictating what constitutes fair use.

A full discussion of copyright and fair use is beyond both the scope of a single post and my expertise;  instead, this post showcases four videos that have been valuable in helping different user groups begin to understand the basics of copyright.  As a trainer as well as a learner, I appreciate the value of videos as teaching tools — the videos are generally short and the content succinct, but most importantly, the presentation of information is engaging and sometimes even entertaining.  Learning about copyright can start to feel like a less arduous and impossible task.

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Book Glue, Cuckoo’s Eggs and the Pleasures of Re-Reading

I just re-read Clifford Stoll’s 1989 book, Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, a chronicle of his self-reflections as he tracks who is breaking into the computer systems at his research lab.  A well-worn copy awaited me on my university library shelves.  Was my own paperback lent to someone long ago or perhaps passed on to a used book sale or taken by one of my kids?

Anyhow, Cuckoo’s Egg, so titled to refer to the cuckoo’s habit of “brood parasitism” – laying her eggs in another cuckoo’s nest, is written in non-technical language.  It is one of the first popular books about the intricacies of Internet communications.  While the technology is so old now (when did you last think about or even know of Tymnet?), it was surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking.  Yes, Stoll could have used a good editor (the first time reading of one of his bicycle dashes from home to the lab was charming but the endless detail of the tracing of the hacker gets a bit boring) but even so re-reading his book reminded me of serious matters about this big, new thing, the Internet. Back in the ’80’s, he knew that hacking could endanger this extraordinary communications network that 21st century life relies on.

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