Dickens 2012 at Briar Cliff

Tuesday of this week, February 7th, was the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, his bicentenary. Various events were held worldwide and we did a little bit here in Sioux City at the Bishop Mueller Library at Briar Cliff University.

Charles Dickens, sitting, with colorful birthday hat on his head

Late in January, thanks to having most of our Dickens’ texts around me due to a reclassification project, I decided to see if I could do an exhibit in the campus library. I had been aware of the (then upcoming) Dickens’ bicentenary for a good while based on seeing reviews of new biographies of Dickens, commentaries on his status as a literary icon, and so on.

I asked the director and she said, “Certainly,” and we found a spot. A few days went by and then I got busy and picked the books I wanted to use, found the illustrations within a few that I wanted to display, located the stands, and made a few info sheets with a mini-bio, some web sources for more information, sources for free ebooks and subscription ebooks via the library, and the call number range(s) for books by or about him and his works in our library [the reclass project is not done]. The display debuted on the 1st of February.

Display of works by and about Dickens

Charles Dickens Bicentenary display at BCU Mueller Library

A day or two after putting the display together, and no doubt prompted by gathering links about the bicentenary, I thought that it would nice to host a reading ourselves, a Read-a-Thon. I asked the library director if we could do it in the library and got a definite “Yes.” I then asked the president of WREN, our student Writing and English club, if they would co-sponsor the event, which for me simply meant telling the Writing/English students about it and letting me put their name along with the Library’s on the flyer I would make. Alex did a great job and even secured permission from the Dept. Chair for the students to get service credit for reading. [Juniors and seniors have to do so many hours of service to the department and/or university to graduate.] I then asked the prof who teaches Victorian Lit, Dr. Jeanne Emmons, if she would give us a short introduction to Dickens at the start to which she readily agreed, and also claimed the education portion of Hard Times.

From there I designed a flyer with the help of my lovely wife. I found a photograph of Dickens that I could legally use and had Sara place a birthday hat on it at a ‘jaunty angle.’ [See above. Original photo found at Flickr and supplied by the Penn State Special Collections, Darrah Collection, Image 61680. The photo is licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, so feel free to use this transformed work under the same license. Thanks for sharing, Penn State!]

I then hung these up around campus several days in advance. The library director sent out an all staff email advertising the event, too, as I wanted any interested party to be able to come and enjoy listening and to read, if they chose.

On the day of the event, I came in about an hour and a half early to push around some of the furniture to make a space and provide more seating. I also went to the stacks and grabbed a pretty much complete set of Dickens’ works and brought them down on a small cart. A big pot of coffee was brewed and the cake and cookies I bought that morning were put out.

The event was scheduled from 4-5 pm and people started showing up a half hour in advance. By 4 PM we had a good 20+ people with 6 pre-signed up to read.

I gave a brief welcome, introduced myself to those (few) who didn’t know me, and provided the ‘rules’ and encouraged people to sign up on the list of readers. Then I handed the stage to Jeanne who gave us a nice introduction to Dickens’ life, works, and enduring influence and then she read from Ch. 2, Bk. 1 of Hard Times, “Murdering the Innocents.” Next up was Great Expectations from another of our English and Writing profs. Several folks read from A Christmas Carol, one from David Copperfield, and Sara read excerpts from letters Dickens wrote to his friend and sometime collaborator, Wilkie Collins, which can be exceptionally funny.

We only got two additional takers who weren’t pre-signed up but all in all it worked out great as we went the whole hour. I, too, read from Hard Times, and as there is so much wonderful material there I had a hard time (ha ha) narrowing it down. I initially read from Ch. 15, Bk. 1, “Father and Daughter.” I read a fairly lengthy selection making sure to encompass Luisa’s all important ‘digression’ to her father while he is presenting Mr. Bounderby’s marriage proposal to her:

“There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the night comes, Fire bursts out, father!” she answered, turning quickly.

I went near the middle of the pack and as we wound down and got no other takers but still had a few minutes left, I took the emcee’s prerogative and read a shorter section from Ch. 8, Bk. 1, “Never Wonder,” as I figured it would be good to end with the library scene and “these readers [who] persisted in wondering.”

Woman reading from her iPad

Dickens Read-a-Thon at Bishop Mueller Library, Briar Cliff University

More folks had shown up throughout the event, including the University President. All in all, I would say that it was a roaring success. More importantly, many others, including most of the English and Writing faculty, the president of WREN, and the librarians, thought so. They were still talking about it the next morning.

Success! And Happy 200th Mr. Dickens!

JaPoWriMo

My friend Jess talked me into participating in JaPoWriMo, or January Poetry Writing Month. At least that is how I am parsing it out.

The idea is simply to write one poem a day. She insisted they could be a short as haiku and that there was no requirement for them to be any good. I am sharing them with her and my wife, of course and, so far, one or two with the odd other here and there.

Much of my month is taken up with my Grimm’s Fairy Tale class and editing and other magazine production duties putting together this year’s issue of the Briar Cliff Review. Thus, a couple have been about Grimm’s; I foresee one or more about editing; I have written a couple about books, those I’ve read and those I won’t be reading (end-of-2011 book post); one about meetings (after a long meeting on Friday); one about our SirsiDynix Symphony ILS (subject of said and several other meetings); one about not having a subject; and so on.

There is no need to worry—not much anyway— as I will not be sharing all of them with you here. Many of them are bad, and I doubt that any of them are actually good. But I agreed to commit to this writing a poem a day in an otherwise already quite busy month as I hoped that more writing, even if mostly tossed off, would help me in assorted ways as a poet and a writer. The bottom-line is that I am a lazy poet. Perhaps this will cultivate a habit, perhaps this will leave me with a few choice phrases or lines or ideas, perhaps nothing will come of it.

With all of that said, I would like to share two that I wrote in response to my Grimm’s class. The first was written about 15 minutes before the class met for the first time; the second was written this morning and is a conflation of “Snow-white and Rose-red” and “Little Snow White,” which we read for and discussed this past Friday, along with other generic thoughts on the role of “beauty” in the tales we’ve read so far (~10).

 


Grimm’s excitement today
Innocents start to play
Villains and ogres slay
Justice wins come what may

3 January 2012


Beauty for its own sake, enticement.
Or is it really entrapment?

The hunter spares her …
The wicked queen poisons her …
The dwarves domesticate her …
The prince wants her … dead and mute.

Snow-white. Rose-red. Two
Halves of the same girl.
A maiden on the edge
Of womanhood.

Tame the bear,
Emasculate the dwarf,
Remain kind to the vile.
Gentleness, purity, innocence

Retained. These are the steps to
Make oneself a woman.
Chaste, yet chargedly erotic.
Snow-white. Rose-red.

Beautiful.

8 January 2012

I may spend some time with the second as it could undoubtedly be improved. But, considering that I wrote it in about 10 minutes this morning I can live with it.

Abbas, Structures for organizing knowledge

[Full disclosure: I personally know and greatly respect the author of this text. I have met and talked with her at 5 conferences from 2006 to 2009 (4 ASIST Annuals and the 1st NASKO). I have seen her present and moderate panels and have read some of her articles. While the topic of her book is of great interest to me, with my current level of involvement in the field, if it had been written by most anyone else I probably would have skipped it.]

The first thing I want to say about it is that it is edited quite well. I wanted to say that up front as it is increasingly difficult to be able to say that any more. There are a few minor issues but I am sending those directly to the author.

Contents:

  • Preface
  • Part I. Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Ch. 1. Introduction to Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Ch. 2. Historical Perspectives and Development of Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Ch. 3. Standards and Best Practices
  • Ch. 4. Disciplinary Uses and Applications of Knowledge Structures
  • Part II. Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Ch. 5. Structures for Organizing Knowledge in Personal and Professional Contexts
  • Part III. Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Ch. 6. Social Knowledge-Organizing Behaviors and Socially-Constructed Structures for
  • Organizing Knowledge: Research and Discussion
  • Ch. 7. Extending Our Thinking: Creating a Structure for Organizing Knowledge from Various Threads
  • Ch. 8. Thinking Ahead: Are We at a Crossroads?
  • Index

According to the Preface, the book:

“Explores and explains how we organize knowledge by looking at three broad questions: (1) How do people organize objects in personal and professional contexts so that they make sense and are useful? (2) What roles do categories, classifications, taxonomies, and other structures play in the process of organizing? (3) What do information professionals need to know about human organizing behaviors in order to design useful structures for organizing knowledge” (xv-xvi)?

It is organized into 3 major threads:

  • Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge
  • Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge (xvi)

The intended audience is LIS students as well as the practicing professional. It” is not meant to be a “how-to” guide for developing, applying, or implementing …; rather it is designed to present a conceptual discourse and to inspire thinking about taxonomic behavior, or how and why people organize knowledge, in various contexts. It also serves as a textbook on the historical development of structures for organizing knowledge and the current interdisciplinary theories and research related to the creation and application of structures for organizing knowledge” (xix). “A secondary audience for the work is that of researchers in library and information science and related fields” (xix).

So, basically, it serves as a textbook. Personally, I see it serving as an excellent foundation for a structures of info/knowledge organization course. Mind you, I do not mean a basic information/knowledge organization course like many LIS schools require, although it could work there also. In my opinion, the basic course should be broader than the contents of this work.

In a follow-up course, one which looks at the various structures in which information and knowledge are organized, this book would excel. Flesh it out with some other readings ranging from the highly philosophical (Svenonius or Beghtol, perhaps), to some stuff on XML/RDf and related technologies such as open data and open linking, and even some “how-to” articles depending on what kind of projects and assignments the course included and you would have a great and highly flexible backbone (depending on which supplementary readings used) for an advanced course in the structures used for information organization across time and domains. Of course, the text itself suggests many possible supplementary readings depending on which aspects of the text and the research it covers one wants to stress.

This book fits in a kind of middle ground, I want to say. It is neither a “how-to” as the author said, nor is it any where as deeply philosophical as Svenonius’ The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. With some judicious selection of supplemental readings one could fashion at least a score of courses around this topic but with highly different focuses.

Definition

Def: organizing structures (for our purposes) as “either a physical or a computerized information space that represents an entity or collection of entities, and the patterns and relationships between entities, within the context of the life experiences, connections, understandings, and applications of the organizer” (8).

“[C]an also think of them as ways to recognize, observe, and make sense of the information being organized within the structure” (8).

Further comments

The author rightly points out that “The differing perspectives on the concepts of information and knowledge remain the most problematic and passionate discussions in the field of information science” (9) and then goes on to cover only two, although she did point to what I would agree is “perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the debate and varying perspectives presented by multiple disciplines in their attempts to define information and knowledge” (9). Since the book is not a text on either information or knowledge this is legitimate. As much as would like to see other views covered in this section, it is not in the scope of this text to do so.

Part I, Traditional Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains four chapters looking at (1) some definitions and scope, (2) historical perspectives and influences on, and kinds of, structures for organizing knowledge, including contributions from philosophy, natural history, and cognitive science, (3) standards and best practices, including the standards development process, and (4) various disciplinary uses and applications of knowledge structures, focusing particularly on biology, library and information science, and the social sciences.

Part II, Personal Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains one chapter which looks at personal structures for organizing knowledge, but splits this into the two contexts of the personal (home, mostly) and the professional (work).

Part III, Socially-Constructed Structures for Organizing Knowledge, contains three chapters and looks at (1) social knowledge-organizing behaviors and systems, such as social bookmarking and cataloging sites (delicious, Flickr, LibraryThing) and tagging, more generally, (2) a review so far and (3) some thought exercises on how we might combine the threads of the traditional, personal, and social.

Each chapter begins with a list of questions as “Focus Points” and ends with some others as “Thought Exercises.” References are placed at the end of each chapter.

I have no comments on the index as I had no cause to use it while reading the book or in writing the review, although it does appear rather thorough.

I think this book could serve well as a textbook for an introductory class on information and knowledge organization, but that it is far better suited to a follow-on course focusing more specifically on structures for organizing information. This is, in my not so humble cataloger, metadater, taxonomist, indexer, et al., heart of hearts an extremely important topic; one which I wish far more LIS students took seriously.

If you are a practicing professional or an LIS researcher needing to think more broadly about knowledge organizing structures or are looking for an entrée into the current literature on tagging and knowledge organization (KO) or those of personal information management (PIM), human-computer interaction (HCI), and human information behavior (HIB) as they pertain to this topic then this book would serve you as a valuable resource.

Upcoming fall semester

Thought I’d post a little update regarding my plans for fall. First, a quick update on where I am currently.

Update

My hours at the BCU library were bumped up to 6 (from 5) hours/week so I could take on a weeding project of my own. I had already cataloged the backlog and current acquisitions and I was removing bibs and holdings from our Sirsi catalog and from WorldCat.

About a month ago I started weeding the PZs. I began with the PZ7s and up, skipped the small amount of PZ5s for now (less than one shelf), did the PZ4s, and am now a bit over halfway through the PZ3s. This leaves the PZ1s, which are mostly sets, to do when I finish the PZ3s. So far I have weeded approximately 1000 titles from the collection. Many of these books have not circulated in 30-40 years (or more). Some, of course, had never circulated. A few were in lovely editions over 100 years old. But if they haven’t been checked out in 50-60 years and no one teaches them anymore (if ever) then our small library does not need them. Of course, I have also been removing the bibs and holdings for these.

The wife

The wife is keeping especially busy and is reasonably stressed; reasonably as in she has good reason to be, and also as in not breaking down stressed. All of this year’s incoming freshman at BCU are getting iPads, as are many of the graduate and some of the returning undergrad students, along with many of the faculty and staff. There will be another opt-in period for returning students who have not done so shortly after school starts. As the Director of Educational Technology, this project is kind of her baby. Other folks certainly have their own crosses to bear in this als0; like the head of IT and the hoops she’s jumped/ing through to get the campus wireless upgraded to handle ~500-600 wireless devices where before there were only a handful.

Added on top of that stress for the wife is that we are leaving the country for close to a week right before/as school starts. So she has spent most of this weekend on campus trying to do all that she can to make this all go as smoothly as possible without her direct input when it happens.

Wedding in Germany

We are heading to Heidelberg, Germany for my sons wedding! Both the bride and groom were born there so it is a particularly apt setting. We only wish we had a lot more time to spend in Deutschland; we both miss it dearly.

My fall semester

I am taking one class, which I was asked to take by the professor. Advanced Briar Cliff Review is a one-hour credit class in which interested students, primarily English and Writing majors, do much of the selection work for the short fiction that makes it into the Briar Cliff Review.

I will also be sitting in on 2 classes; Modern Grammar, and Classical Literature and Mythology. I was, as of a couple months ago, planning on sitting in on Shakespeare also but have decided I would actually like some sort of life. Shakespeare is taught regularly and frequently, so I hope to catch it the next time around. There are, of course, several other classes I am interested.  Most were winnowed out earlier due to scheduling conflicts but, despite freeing up some time, I see little point in rebooking that time.

I am looking forward to the upcoming semester. I’ve had a mythology class but this one will focus on myth through the classical lit itself, instead of being condensed versions of folktales, and I can use more exposure to classical lit. As a critic of orthodox grammar and linguistics I can definitely use a formal class. More importantly, I hope it will help me describe and discuss that which I have known at a deep and intuitive level for most of my life. I’m also looking forward to reading the BCR short fiction submissions. I don’t read much short fiction, at least not for a long time, and I look forward to discussing and engaging with it critically. Also, how often does one get asked to take a class by the professor?

Vacation

I thought I’d bring folks up-to-date on what I’m doing work-wise. Since mid-September 2010 I have been working 5 hours/week as a feral cataloger at Briar Cliff University’s Bishop Mueller Library. Technically, I am an independent contractor, not an employee.

The majority of what I do is copy cataloging,  although I have derived a couple of records for different editions and have done a very few original records. I do miss original cataloging but I do not miss the inordinate  increase in problems to be solved.

BCU is undertaking a large-scale weeding project so for the last month or two I have also been removing records from our Sirsi catalog and holdings. Although I almost broke the annual record for addition of records to the catalog (and would have smashed it if I had worked a whole year), I have removed even more in a much shorter time frame. Yes, this collection needs weeding but the cataloger in me would much rather add records than remove them. Yes, my job is (to help with) maintenance and creation of the entirety of the catalog and I respect that. But. I prefer creating and adding bibs than removing them. Nonetheless, good work is being done and that is what matters.

As of a week ago, I was asked to undertake the actual weeding of the PZs. To support this extra responsibility my hours have been increased to 6/wk. I haven’t physically begun but I have been doing some research by browsing the collection, noticing some of the easy decisions on reclassing into (primarily) PR and PS (Dickens, Twain, Austen, Bronte, …) and some juvenile fiction to send downstairs to the Children’s Collection. I’ve also been reviewing assorted lists of “important” fiction (the little I’m not familiar with), and looking up authors/titles in our new ebrary collection.

I am looking forward to this as an opportunity to help BCU but also as a learning experience for myself. Once I finish the PZs I am hoping to slide right into the general science Qs. Science faculty have been helping with specific disciplinary materials but no one has looked at the Qs themselves. I am at least as qualified to make decisions on Qs as I am on the PZs.

So. The title of this post? The amazing Franciscan Sister that I work with/for is at a gathering of Iowa’s Franciscan sisters for a couple of days. So I am on “vacation” until next Wednesday. Back I go to the largish Summer to-do list. Not much of a vacation really.

At home I am also weeding; trying to remove some of the clutter of stuff accumulated over 50 or so years. I am also weeding my computer and migrating my photos from iPhoto to Aperture. There are loads of books to be read, book reviews to write/finish, articles to be entered into Zotero, things to be packaged and mailed to dear people, ….

I recently got caught up putting photos in Flickr. Last year I got stuck in the midst of putting up those from our vacation in the 2nd half of July and never got started again. I am now up to those I took for my summer digital photography course and I probably won’t bother putting many of those up although I would like to put up those from the portfolio I submitted.

And then I still need to do something about our wedding photos from May 2010. ::sigh::

Not much of a vacation, is it?

Nardi and O’Day. Information Ecologies

This book should be required reading for all librarians and for anyone using technology. Oh, yeah, everyone.

I read this immediately after Brown and Duguid which was about “information” and thus IT, and which sought a middle ground. This is about seeking a middle ground for “technology.” They are more or less contemporaneous with this being 1-2 years older.

Contents:

  • Preface
  • 1 Rotwang the Inventor
  • 2 Framing Conversations about Technology
  • 3 A Matter of Metaphor: Technology as Tool, Text, System, Ecology
  • 4 Information Ecologies
  • 5 Values and Technology
  • 6 How to Evolve Information Ecologies
  • 7 Librarians: A Keystone Species
  • 8 Wolf, Batgirl and Starlight: Finding a Real Community in a Virtual World
  • 9 Cultivating Gardeners: The Importance of Homegrown Expertise
  • 10 Digital Photography at Lincoln High School
  • 11 A Dysfunctional Ecology: Privacy issues at a Teaching Hospital
  • 12 Diversity on the Internet
  • 13 Conclusion

Preface

“A key to thoughtful action is to ask more “know-why” questions the new typically do. Being efficient, productive, proactive people, we often jump to the “know-how” questions, which are considerably easier to answer. In this book we talk about practical ways to have more “know-why” conversations, to dig deeper, and reflect more about the effects of the ways we use technology” (x).

The book uses the movie Metropolis by Fritz Lang as an insight into technology with the first chapter providing a synopsis of the movie.

“We believe that we can and should argue about how technology is created and used. Lang suggested in Metropolis that technical sweetness is not enough. Technology development and use must be mediated by the human heart” (x).

Part I Information Ecologies: Concepts and Reflections

1 Rotwang the Inventor

A synopsis of Metropolis.

2 Framing Conversations about Technology

Nardi was trained as an anthropologist and O’Day in computer science. They have worked in industrial research labs at HP, Apple, and Xerox. (14)

“This book is addressed to people who work with and around technology. This includes schoolteachers and school administrators, engineers, salespeople, professors, secretaries,journalists and others in publishing, medical professionals, librarians, people who work in finance and banking, and many more. [Everybody!] We believe that our colleagues in technology design will also find this book useful.
For all of our readers, what we hope to accomplish is a shift in perception” (15).

“We have noticed two blind spots people seem to have in considering  work settings: informal practices that support work activities and unobtrusive work styles that hide valuable, skilled contributions” (16).

The rest of this chapter consists of three sections: The Rhetoric of Inevitability, Conversational Extremes: Technophilia and Dystopia, and A Different Approach. They discuss the unfortunate trend for technology development to be frequently characterized as inevitable; the two extreme views this inevitably drives discourse to, “the ends of a continuum [that] leave us with poor choices for action” (20); and call for a third way.

“Technological tools and other artifacts carry social meaning. Social understanding, values, and practices become *integral aspects* of the tool itself” (21).

“The issue is not whether we will use technologies, but which we will choose and whether we will use them well” (22).

3 A Matter of Metaphor: Technology as Tool, Text, System, Ecology

This chapter discusses the metaphors of technology as tool, text, system and ecology to reveal certain facets of technology because metaphors “both illuminate and obscure the relationships between people and technology” (25).

§ Technology as Tool

Discusses “affordances” (J.J. Gibson): “those properties of an object that neatly support the actions people intend to take with the object” (28).

“The tool metaphor is useful for questions and discussions about utility, usability, skill, and learning” (30).

“People who see technology as a tool see themselves as controlling it” (27).

§ Technology as Text

” … as a form of communication, a carrier of meaning that may be reinterpreted as the technology passes through different social situations” (31).

§ Technology as System

“[P]rovides the richest, most troubling and most mind-altering perspectives” and breadth of vision (33).

Jacques Ellul and Langdon Winner are the theorists mentioned here. I have read a fair bit of Ellul, and taken a few seminars which focused on much of his work, although I have only read a small bit of Winner. I admire and agree with much of Ellul’s take on technology as a system but, as the authors state, these views leave us little room to act. They are totalizing. “This view does not address with enough force the possibility of local and particular change” (43).

The themes in the section on the Neutrality of Technology include how technology conditions our choices, “reverse adaptation”: the adjustment of human ends to match the character of the available means, and the pervasive adaptation of standards.

4 Information Ecologies

Definition: “a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment.” The spotlight is “on human activities that are served by technology”; not the technology itself. (49)

The concept of information ecologies is introduced “in order to focus attention on relationships involving tools and people and their practices” (50).

§ Characterizing Information Ecologies

  • System
  • Diversity
  • Coevolution
  • Keystone Species
  • Locality

metaphorical – ” to foster thought and discussion, to stimulate conversations for action” (50).

§§ System

“Like a biological ecology, an information ecology is marked by strong interrelationships and dependencies among its different parts.” Change is systemic. (51)

§§ Diversity

Different kinds of people, tools, roles, ideas, resources (51-2)

§§ Coevolution

“Information ecologies evolve as new ideas, tools, activities, and forms of expertise arise in them” (52).

“The social and technical aspects of an environment *coevolve*” (53).

§§ Keystone Species

“An ecology is marked by the presence of certain keystone species whose presence is crucial to the survival of the ecology itself” (53).

“Mediators—people who build bridges across institutional boundaries and translate across disciplines—are a keystone species in information ecologies. Ironically, their contributions are often unofficial, unrecognized, and seemingly peripheral to the most obvious productive functions of the workplace” (54).

§§ Locality

With references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Faust we get that “[t]he name of a technology identifies what it means to the people who use it” and that “it positions the technology more directly under the control of its users” (54).

“The habitation of a technology is its location within a network of relations;” “its set of family ties in the local information ecology” (55).

There is an opportunity but also a responsibility for “the participants of an information ecology [to] establish the identity and place of the technologies that are found there” (55).

§§ Why Ecologies?

“We are suggesting that people act locally in a committed, reflective way that acknowledges technique as Ellul documents it, but having recognized it, chooses to respond with initiative that is grounded in local understanding and values” (56).

6 How to Evolve Information Ecologies

Summarized as:

  • work from core values
  • pay attention
  • ask strategic, open-ended questions about use (65)

Part II Case Studies

7 Librarians: A Keystone Species

Based on studies at Hewlett-Packard Library and Apple Research Library (82)

§§ Information Therapy (reference interview) (85-92)

8 Wolf, Batgirl and Starlight: Finding a Real Community in a Virtual World

A text-based virtual world centered on Longview Elementary School in Phoenix, AZ, with Phoenix College, Xerox PARC and some senior citizens

9 Cultivating Gardeners: The Importance of Homegrown Expertise

“Gardeners” (140-1)

  • tinker with computers
  • learn software a little better
  • often good at configuring hardware
  • troubleshoot/solve problems when others are stumped
  • likes to help others with tech tasks
  • learn about computational things on their own
  • translate concepts and mechanism back and forth between domain of work and the technology
  • occupy a special niche = bridge

11 A Dysfunctional Ecology: Privacy issues at a Teaching Hospital

“Information was taken out of its original context and presented in a new context, without the buy-in of the people who generated the information.
Information changes shape and function dramatically when its broadcast boundaries are altered” (182)

Exactly! Begins to explain some of the issues in our networked, “broadcast” world as I see them; thinking primarily of the Internet and re-sharing/purposing of information and how it changes context. Multiple ecologies must be added in/considered.

12 Diversity on the Internet

“We view the internet as a set of environmental conditions that provide a substrate for the growth of ecologies that span traditional geographic and social boundaries. The Internet can serve as connective tissue between and within information ecologies” (185).

13 Conclusion

“We want to avoid being taken in by the rhetoric of inevitability. This rhetoric is powerful in part because it takes two seemingly opposite forms: the despair of dystopia and the don’t-worry-be-happy optimism of technophilia. A key impediment to creating and nurturing robust information ecologies is believing (optimistically or pessimistically) that technical “progress” is ungovernable and inevitable. The most extreme but not uncommon manifestation of the rhetoric of inevitability is believing that any kind of technology is desirable as long as it can be reasonably engineered and manufactured.
We have adopted an ecology metaphor because it matches the dynamics we observed in the settings we studied” (211).

This is an important and still timely book which pairs quite well with Brown and Duguid’s The Social Life of Information.

Brown and Duguid. The social life of information

This is the 8th book for my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

Short version: Librarians, and others in any “information industry,” should read it and ponder its critiques of “information fetishism.”

I bought this book back in May 2005 and finally got around to reading it. I am following it up with Nardi and O’Day’s Information Ecologies which I bought in May 2006. Where this book focuses on the binary rhetoric of “information,” and thus of information technology, Nardi and O’Day focus on the binary rhetoric of “technology.” Nardi & O’Day is 1-2 years older, is cited by Brown & Duguid, and I am hoping they’ll make a nice complementary pair.

Contents:

  • Preface: Looking Around
  • Introduction: Tunneling Ahead
  • 1 Limits to Information
  • 2 Agents and Angels
  • 3 Home Alone
  • 4 Practice Makes Process
  • 5 Learning—in Theory and in Practice
  • 6 Innovating Organization, Husbanding Knowledge
  • 7 Reading the Background
  • 8 Re-education
  • Afterword: Beyond Information

This book lived up to what I thought it might be after seeing so many references to it over the last 6 years. Originally released in 2000 (my ed. from 2002) I would say that it has held up quite well. Although I would love to see it updated, I truly doubt that much of the analysis would actually change. But with the changes in higher ed, and all of the mergers of massive media conglomerates over the past decade plus, it would be interesting to see if and how their take on the issues might change.

Optimism and pessimism “are both products of the same technology-centered tunnel vision. Both focus on information and individuals in splendid isolation. Once agents are set in a social context, both conclusions—sublime and despairing—seem less probable” (xi).

“This book is particularly concerned with the superficially plausible idea … that information and its technologies can unproblematically replace the nuanced relations between people. We think of this as “information fetishism”” (xvi).

“Our underlying argument in the discussion of education and the common thread that runs throughout … this book is that change is not necessarily occurring where, how, or when predicted, nor for the reasons most commonly cited. Hence, we suspect, many people have become increasingly unhappy with the binary simplicities of predictions about new technology” (xxii-xxiii).

Ch. 2 is primarily about bots, ch. 3 about telecommuting, ch. 4 business process reengineering, ch. 5 knowledge management and learning, ch. 6 knowledge as sticky and leaky, ch. 7 paper and documents, and ch. 8 higher education.

Ch. 7 “Reading the Background” provides excellent examples of what documents do, of the social roles they fill, and of the societies that they help to create. Seeing as I approached this primarily as a librarian that is the area I will focus my excerpts on.

“Among many things relegated to history’s scrap heap by relentless futurism have been, …, paper documents. Here, focus on the information they carry has distracted attention from the richer social roles that documents play—roles that may sustain paper documents despite the availability of digital ones. … …, we believe that documents, like other older technologies, probably will not be replaced (when they should be) or augmented (when they could be), if their richness and scope are underappreciated (xix-xx).

Argues that until we understand what documents do—physically and culturally—we will not understand what they are and how to replace or improve them. A narrow focus on the information that documents carry will fail to result in useful change.

“Documents not only serve to make information but also to warrant it—to give it validity. Here again, the material side of documents plays a useful part. For information has trouble, as we all do, testifying on its own behalf. Its only recourse in the face of doubt it s to add more information” (187).

“So documents do not merely carry information, they help make it, structure it, and validate it. More intriguing, perhaps, documents also help structure society, enabling social groups to form, develop, and maintain a sense of shared identity” (189).

“Documents then contribute not only to forming and stabilizing the worlds but also, …, to reforming, destabilizing, and transforming them. The presence of heretics reminds us that the “information” is not the sole contributor here. The orthodox and the heretics both form around the same information or content. They are distinguished from one another by their unique disposition toward that information” (193-4).

“The political scientist Benedict Anderson provides yet another example of the way groups form around documents. He considered networks so large, so diverse, and so spread out that individual members could not possibly know one another. They nonetheless may develop a sense of membership and belonging if they can create an image of the group as a single community with a single identity. Anderson described the communities as “imagined” and claimed that shared documents play an essential part in this imagining.

Anderson argues that such a document culture made a key contribution to the creation of independent nations” (194).

This is an important work and is still highly relevant. I am going to let it simmer for a while in the back of my mind. But I do think it fits well with my slowly awakening thesis that “information” as a foundational concept for libraries and librarians is a dangerous one.

CAS Decision Made

I have decided that I will not write my thesis and thus will not finish my Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) from UIUC.

Earlier this morning I emailed my Dean, who is also my advisor, with my decision.

As some of you know, circumstances arose almost exactly 3 years ago that, at the time, I was considering a temporary derailment.  I had just finished my course work towards my degree and was registered for my 8 hours of thesis credit to be completed in the spring semester of 2008.  But I found myself unable to process the things I had learned, and unable to get them down on paper.  I was burned out after 10 years of mostly full-time education.  In consultation with my faculty, we decided I would take a break for a few months and then write the thesis.

Many things happened in the intervening months, some bad, most good. Some even extraordinary. Many have been mentioned on this blog. I now find myself up against a university imposed deadline of defending before the spring 2011 semester is over.  While I would like to finish, and have always intended to do so, I find my heart is simply not in it.

I know that many would counsel that I buckle down and “just do it.”  And while that is a strategy, it is not one that will work for me; not any longer at least.  It has been a couple of years now since I wrote anything “academic” and I am finding it more than difficult to pick up where I left off.

And, No, I did not leave this until the last minute. I have been re-reading and re-familiarizing myself with my materials and my argument for the last several months. This fall I had set myself two tasks. First, draft one, preferably two, chapters and send them to my advisor. It would have been nice to do more but I figured that if I could get that far—back into the groove, so to speak—then the remaining 3-4 chapters would come fairly easily. Second, write an article for a major journal based on my concluding chapter. In fact, if done correctly, it could then easily be retrofitted to serve as the conclusion. The article could have been simple or detailed. It certainly wasn’t a given to have been accepted for publication, but it was semi-invited.

I tried to work on these two tasks but I got nowhere. I put myself in anguish, I tortured myself, I scolded myself. I chastised myself for doing anything besides them, and I generally made myself feel miserable, all the while getting nowhere on them.

This needs to end now!

I even forewent taking any of several classes that I was seriously interested in this current term (Dec-Feb) at Briar Cliff with professors whom I want to study with. A couple of these are nearing retirement, also, so that was a tough decision.

Pros of not writing the thesis

  • Can stop causing myself so much anguish and other negative feelings, all of which have real consequences in my life.
  • Can move on with the many other interests and passions that are calling to me.
  • Will perhaps be freed up mentally and emotionally to finally write one or more papers on my topic, when I am good and ready to do so.
  • I still received—as in took—a great education at UIUC GSLIS.
  • I have the required professional degree required to be a librarian.

Cons of not writing the thesis

  • May need to get a 2nd masters. This assumes I get back in the academic librarian game, at a place with tenure and at one requiring a 2nd masters for tenure, and one which would have accepted my CAS as equivalent.

In a perfect world I would prefer to have finished this degree. While it was a struggle coming to realize what it was that I was going to do and that a decision had to be made, after a while, the decision was an easy one. Taking care of myself is what matters most.

I am still fully coming to grips with the decision but I do know that it is the proper one for me. I already feel a great sense of relief, and release, because this educational journey (the CAS) has been a huge part of my life for almost 5 years now and will take some time to fully process its end.

Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support over the last several years.  It has meant a great deal to me!  I am still highly interested in Integrationism and issues of language and communication within library and information science. So you may well see more from me on these topics.

Kuhlthau – Seeking Meaning

This is my 4th book review for the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

I mostly enjoyed this book, which I read from 10 October to 26 November.  It is written fairly straightforwardly, is reasonably well edited, and has a better than average physical layout.

The last couple of chapters do seem fairly repetitive.  The last chapter seems particularly so.  Well that it should, as it is the wrap-up and conclusion; but somehow it doesn’t seem like it is seriously serving that purpose, only that it is repetitive.  All in all, this is a small gripe.

The ideas in this book, centering around the Information Search Process (ISP), are important ones.  Keep in mind, the ISP is for more complex tasks, such as researching and writing a term paper or preparing a case for trial, for example, and not for simple fact-finding questions.

  • Ch. 1 The Constructive Process in Library and Information Science Theory
  • Ch. 2 Learning as a Process
  • Ch. 3 The Information Search Process
  • Ch. 4 Verification of the Model of the Information Search Process
  • Ch. 5 Longitudinal Confirmation of the Information Search Process
  • Ch. 6 Uncertainty Principle
  • Ch. 7 Roles of Mediators in the Process of Information Seeking
  • Ch. 8 Zones of Intervention in the Process of Information Seeking
  • Ch. 9 Implementing the Process Approach
  • Ch. 10 Information Search Process in the Workplace
  • Ch. 11 Process-Oriented Library and Information Services

The “book is about library and information services for intellectual access to information and ideas, and the process of seeking meaning” (xv).

It proposes a process approach, the ISP, based on: Constructivist theory of learning – John Dewey (provides historical & philosophical perspective); Personal construct theory – George Kelly (provides psychological perspective); and an Integrated perspective – Jerome Bruner (xvi).

It critiques the bibliographical paradigm and systems approach that remain predominant within library and information science (LIS); at least within the literature.  This does seem to be slowly changing, though.

Much of what Kuhlthau writes seems highly integrational to me.

A model of sense-making information seeking should incorporate three realms of activity: physical, affective, cognitive. These form a complex interplay.

“The criteria for making these choices are influenced as much by environmental constraints, such as prior experience, knowledge, interest, information available, requirements of the problem, and time allotted for resolution, as they are by the relevance of the content of the information retrieved” (6).

The ISP is a 6 stage model which associates the feelings (affective), thoughts (cognitive), and actions (physical) that accompany each task and the process of moving along the information search process.

Initiation, when a person becomes aware of a lack of knowledge or understanding so that uncertainty and apprehension are common

Selection, when a general area or topic is identified and initial uncertainty often gives way to a brief sense of optimism and a readiness to begin the search

Exploration, when inconsistent, incompatible information is encountered and uncertainty, confusion, and doubt frequently increase

Formulation, when a focused perspective on the problem is formed and uncertainty diminishes as confidence begins to increase

Collection, when information pertinent to the focused problem is gathered and uncertainty subsides as interest and involvement in the project deepens

Presentation, when the search is completed, with a new understanding of the problem enabling the user to explain his or her learning to others (165-166)

I think these ideas are extremely valuable and that they ought be taught to children in school as early as they begin doing projects of this kind of scope.  Kuhlthau reports on some studies where this was done in the book.

All in all, I think the ideas in this book need to be given far more prominence in our schools and our libraries.  Students should be educated in this process from a fairly early age.

LIS services and systems should take this model into account when they are designed and implemented.  Reference and instruction can certainly benefit from the model; but our systems ought also be designed to assist with the process.  The old bibliographic paradigm and systems view that provides one or more “relevant” sources for the user is a failed paradigm.  This claim of failure is mine (and others) based on many things external to this book.  I believe Kuhlthau would agree that it is a failed paradigm but I do not think she showed that as well as she might have, nor do I believe she used the word “failed.”  Although, to be fair, the book is not about the bibliographic paradigm, nor the systems view, so she probably dedicated a reasonable amount of space to her critique.

My concern is the same as with all similar sorts of reform of our services and systems.  Where will the time come from?  This is not something that can happen in a one off instruction session.  Also, it needs to happen at a much earlier age than when students get to college.  But so much needs to change in our educational system, and society, before I can see a strong emphasis on teaching something like the ISP, that I have little hope that much progress can be made.

But. If for whatever reason you are still doing information seeking for complex tasks, such as writing long papers (thesis, perhaps) maybe learning a bit about the ISP might help you understand the kinds of feeling and thoughts that go along with the process as well as understanding the proper attitude to take towards your information seeking at each stage.

Recommended for reference librarians, instruction librarians, those who routinely undertake reasonably complex information seeking tasks, and anyone interested.

The following is a link to something I wrote a bit over 6 years ago in one of my early required masters courses regarding an article by Kuhlthau: Kuhlthau’s ISP Model

Looks like I finally got around to reading Seeking Meaning, and I stand by what I wrote way back when.

“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

In Fall 2005 I took a class with Prof. Chip Bruce on Pragmatic Technology. One of our assignments was to:

Produce an analysis of one keyword of your choice (see Raymond Williams, Keywords A vocabulary of culture and society. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press) for examples. This keyword is not just an index term as in the bibliography, but a core concept for the field. The analysis is a short essay (1-2 pp.) on the definition, history, and multiple uses of a term, which is central to understanding a text or a field of study.

I chose “technology.” This assignment represented 10% of our grade.

I found this little piece the other day while poking around my hard drive and decided I was going to put it here for assorted reasons, if only primarily for myself so I might find it easier in the future.

LIS590PT Fall 2005  Keywords Assignment  Mark Lindner  14 Sep 2005
“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

Plato distinguished Techne (art) from empiriae (knack) as having a logos, a rationale which “necessarily includes a reference to the good served by the art” while knack consists of “rules of thumb based on experience but without any underlying rationale” (Feenberg).

Feenberg argues that we moderns have lost the connection between techne and the good.  “We can still relate to Plato’s emphasis on the need for a rationale, a logos, but we’re not so sure it includes an idea of the good. In fact, we tend to think of technologies as normless, as serving subjective purposes very much as did Plato’s knacks” (Feenberg).

What is the history of technology in between, and is Feenberg correct?  The OED lists several senses of technology that are of relevance to us:

1. a. A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts. (1615 BUCK Third Univ. Eng. xlviii)

b. transf. Practical arts collectively. (1859 R. F. BURTON Centr. Afr. in Jrnl. Geog. Soc. XXIX. 437)

c. With a and pl. A particular practical or industrial art. (1957 Technology Apr. 56/1)

2. The terminology of a particular art or subject; technical nomenclature. (1658 SIR T. BROWNE Gard. Cyrus v.)

Oxford American lists the etymology of technology as from the Greek, tekhnologia systematic treatment, from tekhnê art.

Thus, as far as standard English usage goes technology was earliest applied to language about, or the language of, the practical or industrial arts.  Over time this meaning shifted to the practical arts collectively, and then finally as a referent to any of the individual practical arts.

It seems to me that in American usage that technology has come to shift meaning over the last half-century or so from referring primarily to technoscience or applied science to the machines produced and used by such to primarily refer to the electronic gadgetry of everyday life; personal computers, iPods, DVD players, etc.  Most “normal” Americans think of technology as normless, as Feenberg said.  Atomic bombs, depleted uranium shells, land mines—it all depends on what you do with them.  Their development and existence is morally neutral according to this view.

Philosophers of technology use technology differently than in standard usage, but even there the meaning has shifted over the last sixty or so years.  Classical philosophers of technology (Ellul, Mumford, Heidegger; et al.) thought that technology “…must not be thought of as applied natural science, that is less an instrument than a form of life, and that it must be understood as a “system” (in Ellul’s word) or as a “megamachine” (Mumford)” (Achterhuis, 3).  Ellul uses the French word technique specifically due to the narrower connotation of technology with machines.  For Ellul, “technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” (xxv).

Newer philosophers of technology (Noble, Hughes, Scwartz and Thompson; et. Al.) have pointed out the intertwining of technology and society as “technosociety,” “technoculture,” “network of technological affairs,” and as a “social process that is extraordinarily inaccessible to us because we are so much a part of it” (Achterhuis, 6-7).

Pacey points out in Meaning in Technology that technology has both social and individual meanings.  He also points to the difference between the “political economy” of the use and development of technology and its wider role in society and, the “social construction” of technology through a “variety of “actors” responding to a complex of social pressures” (4).  Pacey’s point about the shift from the “political economy” of technology to its “social construction” is similar to the shift from the early focus on the material and historical conditions for the rise of Technology as a system to the more recent focus on technologies that impact society while being influenced by the same society.  Pacey’s book is an attempt to redirect some of the focus back onto the meaning of technology created by the individual’s experience of technology, not just of society’s experience.

Sources Cited

Achterhuis, Hans, ed. American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books, 1964.

Feenberg, Andrew. “Can Technology Incorporate Values? Marcuse’s Answer to the Question of the Age.” Paper presented at the conference on The Legacy of Herbert Marcuse, University of California, Berkeley, November 7, 1998.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. online, 1999.

Pacey, Arnold. Meaning in Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

“Technology.” Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.