it’s the attention economy, and it’s stupid

eyeballs (jade market)This coda to my last blog post is, in part, inspired by John Warner’s latest discussion of replacing human teachers responding to writing with machines that can read for structure and grammar but not for meaning, because meaning is not required to prove you can write. (In fact, according to the people selling this program, being able to write nonsense according to formula is proof you can write well! As if writing and meaning are separate categories.)

It’s also inspired by a piece in the New Yorker about people who believe the earth is flat and have the evidence to prove it – because there’s an abundance of evidence to prove just about anything you want, right now, and being able to “do the research yourself” is somehow affirming, a form of liberty. You don’t have to trust traditional authorities. You can find the truth yourself, online, and you’ll find a community of people who will agree with you to confirm your free thought.

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access means more than abundance

pile of metal wasteWhen I made an informal survey of academic library mission statements a few years ago, access and service were the two values most commonly mentioned. Now that we’re practically drowning in information, why is access still so commonly named as a library’s primary purpose?

On average, over 6,000 scientific articles are published daily. Over 6,000 books are published, not counting those that are self-published. That’s just the tip of the content iceberg. Every day, according to various estimates, 1.45 billion people log into Facebook to share photos and links. Half a billion Tweets are sent. A billion hours of video content are watched on YouTube. Google responds to over 3 billion search requests using the 130 trillion webpages it has indexed. Meanwhile libraries have steeply reduced their acquisition of books and are beginning to let go of journal bundles. (Sweden just told Elsevier where to get off, and others here and abroad are deciding Big Deals are bad deals.) With all this abundance, combined with austerity in library budgets and expanding productivity demands made on everyone, what does information access even mean?

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a values proposition

open doorI gave a talk last week in which I got to develop some ideas I’ve been pondering lately – how the values that underpin libraries could inform where we go with the information technologies that play such a large part in our lives. Libraries are popular and librarians are trusted. That could be simply nostalgia or romanticism at work; people don’t generally know a lot about the work librarians actually do, but it seems significant that an institution that has been around long enough to develop a robust set of values persists when, by all accounts, it doesn’t belong in the modern world.

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system restore

I was invited to speak to members of PALNI, an organization that has developed an interesting model for “deep collaboration” among libraries at private colleges in Indiana. Here’s the text (also available as a pdf).

system restore (title)Thanks so much for inviting me to speak to you today. Full confession: I have never watched an entire episode of CSI Anywhere. I turned an episode on years ago but just couldn’t get over the fact that people who do forensic work for police investigations aren’t actually detectives and that few investigations use all that science because it’s too expensive. In fact, I’m such a feminist killjoy that it bugs me that we pretend we have scientists on hand to solve crimes when there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in evidence rooms across the country because DNA testing is too expensive and so many police organizations would rather spend the money on facial recognition systems and predictive policing schemes than on actual crime victims. Which is actually kind of related to what I want to talk about today.

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from schooled skepticism to informed trust

trust sign

Mike Caulfield has written a handy (and free!) classroom-ready book about fact-checking and provides useful case studies for students and anyone who wants to fine-tune their bullshit detector. Also, he has explained why simply studying a document for clues (a checklist approach) doesn’t work and four moves you can make instead: corroborate, trace the story’s origin, confirm (aka “read laterally”), and don’t get stuck in a rabbit hole (“circle back”). I have to also give a tip of the hat to Marc Meola who made a very similar point back in 2004, though we didn’t need it quite so badly back then.

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why we can have nice things

I was super excited to speak at a symposium at Metro, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, which organizes some wonderful programs for librarians and other cultural workers in the city. The theme was Libraries in the Context of Capitalism and it drew participants from all over and from different lines of work. Two days of really informative and thoughtful talks about publishing, teaching, labor conditions in libraries and other cultural institutions, the metaphors we use, labor issues, how to organize, the ways homeless folks innovate in library spaces set up for tech entrepreneurs . . . lots of great stuff. Here’s what I said how we got our core values and why we should apply them to wider information systems. (There’s also a PDF version.)

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2017 top ten plus

I have posted my top ten crime fiction books of the year for a long time here and at a previous site. I figured I would carry on the tradition, adding in some other books that stuck with me and linking to the reviews I wrote at Reviewing the Evidence for most of them. You can find a more-or-less complete list of books I’ve read at LibraryThing.

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the black box problem

locked boxReposted from Inside Higher Ed;  image courtesy of Dan Lingard.

There’s another fascinating study out from the Stanford History Education Group, the folks who studied high school and college students’ capacity to figure out what news is fake, finding that they don’t really know how to do that. Turns out – surprise! – trained historians don’t really know how to do that, either. Historians tend to focus on critiquing textual evidence, unlike trained fact checkers who immediately confirm and corroborate with other sources, something the report calls “reading laterally.” No doubt historians would have gotten the answers eventually, but on a timed test, close reading didn’t work as well as lateral reading. We rely too much on training and trust.

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the things we forget

anti-war protest, 1070Reposted from Inside Higher Ed; photo of a protest, 1970, courtesy of the Library of Congress via Washington Area Spark.

We’ve been watching the new documentary series on the Vietnam War, which is excellent but also exhausting and upsetting and full of sparks of memory: Oh, that guy! I remember him. Wait, this thing is about to happen. Look how skinny those soldiers are, carrying all that equipment, just like those guys we knew. It also fills in gaps in memory. I never knew much about the Vietnamese experience. I didn’t realize how many Americans were opposed to the anti-war movement, even after the Kent State killings. A poll at the time found over half of Americans thought the dead students had it coming. I suppose that included the two students shot dead at Jackson State University eleven days later, though they didn’t get as much attention.

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