subject to change

broken phoneI was talking to my partner one evening last week when my phone died, midsentence. The apple symbol flashed a few times, then the screen went dark. Plugging it in didn’t help. All the usual resuscitation moves failed. I was phoneless, and it rattled me.

It’s discombobulating to have your phone stop working when you’re traveling. It would be disruptive at any time, really (it’s embarrassing to look at the charts showing how much time I spend staring at that little screen every day) but when I was away from home, it seemed especially disorienting. I am so used to figuring out where to go using Google’s map advice, finding the time I’m supposed to be somewhere by pulling up my email, keeping in touch with family by text message — even talking to people occasionally, though that’s rare. It was as if half my brain stopped working.

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evidence and authority in the age of algorithms

(Presented at “Teaching Writing in a Post-Truth Era,” University of Notre Dame, August 20, 2019)

I come to the issue of teaching writing in the post-truth era from a somewhat different perspective than our previous speakers. I’m a librarian who has long been interested in the ways students get ideas, interact with other’s ideas, and how their experiences as writers in college shape their identity as people with agency and a grasp of how knowledge is made and negotiated by people – people like them. I’m taken with the parallels between writing instruction and what librarians do.  Your writing program has as a goal ethical and moral use of words and evidence.

Making an argument is an ethical activity, one that helps students develop intellectual and moral virtues.

It’s about learning how words work and how to use those words ethically. This is also what information literacy is about. Learning is the primary purpose for librarians’ work with undergraduates. My library’s definition of information literacy is similarly ambitious – not just how to find and use information in the library and online, but more deeply to understand where information comes from, how it’s connected to social processes, and how they can participate in those processes with a clear sense of right and wrong.

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how I became a librarian

Girl in a migrant camp library during the depression, As the year finishes and the library becomes quiet, I find myself thinking about how I became a librarian.

It wasn’t a well-planned career move. When I was in college I fell in love with a major that let me read big fat novels for credit. As I neared graduation, I bristled when my mother suggested, “why don’t you go to library school?” As a child of the Great Depression she had a practical bent, and she knew my chosen major wouldn’t be able to support me in a long-term relationship. “Something to fall back on,” she added, which only made it worse. I loved being in libraries, I even worked in one, but it was the life of the mind that swept me off my feet. The kind of work I imagined librarians did – safe, boring, routine – nope, not for me. I had dreams.

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information literacy’s third wave

curling wave We’re developing a seven-week course that we proposed after a history professor urged the library to teach a course on fake news that everyone should have to take. We’re not using the fraught phrase “fake news” and we have no plans to force it on anyone, but it’s a great opportunity to think about what we mean when we say “information literacy.” Students think librarians know stuff about libraries, which is where you go to find information for school. We actually know stuff about information systems that are not mediated by libraries and information literacy is more than finding sources for assignments. This course will focus on information that we encounter through various channels, how those channels work, how to quickly verify a doubtful claim and (to use Peter Elbow’s phrase) how to play the believing game as well. As Mike Caulfield has demonstrated, students don’t need to learn skepticism as much as they need to learn when to trust. We’ll see how it goes.

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another tech is possible

biting shopping cartI submitted this piece to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which published it under the headline “Freedom of information and personal data: Big Tech should take cues from public libraries” and the deck “They’ve developed a robust set of core values that strike the right balance.” You nailed it, Strib!

By the end of 2018, whatever faith we may have once placed in the giant technology corporations that we use daily was growing threadbare. YouTube made a show of removing Alex Jones’ breathless conspiracy theories for repeatedly violating their guidelines, but a subsequent report from Data and Society showed the platform continues to promote extremist content through its sensation-seeking algorithm. Amazon has rolled out a powerful facial recognition system, but it is flawed and biased, according to the ACLU, which found it falsely matched members of Congress with criminal mug shots. Facebook was apologetic about personal information scooped up by Cambridge Analytica and claimed it was a one-off violation of policies. Then we found out, thanks to a December New York Times investigation, that Facebook has given over a hundred companies routine access to troves of users’ personal data.

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2018 in Crime Fiction

As usual, I’m trying to highlight ten books read in 2018 that seemed especially memorable. Most of these have a political edge, with immigration playing a role in several. A couple are more introspective and psychological. Many are by authors making a repeat visit on my Top Ten list. Emma Viskic is the best discovery of the year – compelling writing and a vivid Australian setting.

Previous lists (not sure what happened to 2010 and 2011) – 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2009 2008 2007

Resurrection BayResurrection Bay / Emma Viskic
An Australian private investigator who happens to be deaf has to go home to Resurrection Bay to solve the murder of his associate, and to see if he can reconcile with his wife, an Aboriginal artist. I also loved the sequel, AND FIRE CAME DOWN, but this is one to read in order to sort out the complicated backstory.

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Top Ten for 2018 – Non-Fiction

I posted this top ten list over at Inside Higher Ed. I’ll be adding my traditional top ten in crime fiction before too long.

Network PropagandaYochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Harold Roberts Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Poltiics (Oxford).

A thorough examination of the ways technology has been used in recent months to shape our political culture and influence events, based on an analysis of millions of stories posted and shared on networks in three decisive years. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but it’s a lucid, fascinating explanation of how these networks operate and how our news environment has split into two distinct spheres, contributing to polarization and radicalization. If your library’s copy is checked out, you can read the open access version.

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innocence and experience

Maybe some chickens are coming home to roost. Tech stocks have become less irrationally exuberant. People seem annoyed about Amazon’s stunt extort bribes from cities in return for making housing more unaffordable and transit more crowded, just to attract some high-paying jobs to cities that already have a big wealth gap. UK members of parliament have grown so irritated that Facebook has ignored their inquiries that they dragged a tech startup founder who was visiting London to Parliament, forcing him to turn over documents about Facebook that he had obtained thanks to a pending lawsuit. (He just happened to be carrying copies of documents obtained through discovery on his laptop. Let that be a lesson to us all.) And whoops, turns out Facebook’s chief operating officer actually was aware that they’d hired a sleazy firm to discredit Facebook opponents, including George Soros who has become a useful all-purpose boogeyman for anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.
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reductio ad it’s all a conspiracy

I was discouraged, hearing Trump repeat the bogus conspiracy theory that George Soros is behind the demonstrations against his Supreme Court nominee, claiming that all of those women storming Congress were paid “crisis actors,” that Trump is channeling Info Wars from the White House. Discouraged, but only with a vestige of shock. His behavior is numbing (intentionally).

I was a bit shocked, though, when that ridiculous and inflammatory claim was picked up by Republicans who could have simply touted their success at confirming a controversial justice, but instead are stooping to absurd false narratives to turn up the heat for their already-inflamed base. I was genuinely shocked this morning, when the same claim popped up on my local television station in an attack ad against the Democratic party candidate in my swing district. I guess I shouldn’t be. The Republican party knows they can’t top Trump, and their best chance is to act like Trump and suppress enough vote to keep their majority. So sure, parrot the line that all opposition is paid for and isn’t genuine even if that means there is no actual debate about issues anymore, just accusations that the people, like the press, are fake.

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