Monthly Archives: December 2006

Digital Scholarship Beyond the Sciences

I finally got around to reading the report from the American Council of Learned Societies on cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences released late last summer. (Actually, it fell off my radar until it was mentioned recently at if:book.) Rather than focus on what digital scholarship could look like, it asks a more fundamental question: Now that the Internet is changing creation and communication, what is the role of the scholar and who are the audiences for their work?

The report talks of mining, animating, exploring, “reverse engineering” historical events, role playing, and using virtual worlds to understand real-world issue. They encourage scholars to think of students and citizens, hobbyists and specialists as the audience, not just scholars writing for other scholars in toll-gated subscription collections.

Naturally, the sticky issue of copyright comes up. After describing the current state of scholarly publishing, the authors conclude “there seems to be general agreement that the system is broken, or breaking” (29) They suggest “It may make more sense to conceive of scholarly communication as a public good than as a marketable commodity” and, taking a leaf from the NIH’s approach to science research, they argue: “If public funds are involved in the creation of a digital resource, proportional elements of those resources should be freely available to the public” (35).

Of particular interest to librarians is the section of the report in which the authors describe a gap between librarians and scholars, and argue scholars in the disciplines should take a greater leadership role.

Librarians, rather than scholars, have provided much of the recent leadership within the academy on issues of cyberinfrastructure in the humanities and social sciences. Reflecting the conservative culture of scholarship,some scholars have questioned librarians’ investments in building digital collections and acquiring online resources. Given that the library constitutes the historic infrastructure of scholarship, it is entirely appropriate that librarians have sought to re-ignite scholarly engagement with infrastructural issues. Nevertheless, others now need to take up the cause and shoulder their leadership responsibilities. (40)

They encourage scholarly societies to take our lead in establishing organizations focused on the future such as the Coalition for Networked Information, the Digital Library Federation, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

The conclusion, worth quoting at length, addresses the hypothetical question: if this report were successful, what would we see in five or six years?

The answer is two-fold: first, if this report’s recommendations are implemented, then in five or six years there will be a significantly expanded audience for humanities and social science research, among the general public. A relatively small audience on the open Web will still be a far larger audience than scholars in these disciplines have been able to find up to now in academic bookstores, in research libraries, and in print journals. Second, if the recommendations of this report are implemented, humanities and social-science researchers five or six years from now will be answering questions that today they might not even consider asking.

The Commission understands that increasing access to scholarly research and experimenting with new research methods both entail some risk, but it firmly and collectively believes that the risk of not doing both is far greater, in terms of the ultimate sustainability of the disciplines in question. Senior scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and senior administrators in research universities, must lead the way to a new, more open, and more productive relationship with the public, and to new ways of doing scholarship.

Sharing Some Worthwhile Quotes

I came across some quotes recently, via articles and blog posts, that I thought were worth sharing here. They should, I think, resonate with academic librarians:

“Simplicity is an important trend we are focused on. Technology has this way of becoming overly complex, but simplicity was one of the reasons that people gravitated to Google initially. This complexity is an issue that has to be solved for online technologies, for devices, for computers, and it’s very difficult. Success will come from simplicity. Look at Apple, the success they have had, and what they are doing. We are focused on features, not products. We eliminated future products that would have made the complexity problem worse. We don’t want to have 20 different products that work in 20 different ways. I was getting lost at our site keeping track of everything. I would rather have a smaller set of products that have a shared set of features.”

Sergey Brin, Co-Founder of Google, from a recent Business 2.0 feature on “How to Succeed in 2007″

“Despite an entire industry now doing ‘professional development’ in technology, keeping up with every technology has been declared impossible by the kids. In their words: “You’ll only look stupid.” So what’s a teacher to do?…Relax, you do not have to learn to actually use any of the new technologies. The kids can use these technologies far better than you or I ever will, no matter how hard we try. Our job as educators…is to become familiar enough with the results that the technologies produce to help our learners evaluate good quality from bad. In the case of search engines and Wikipedia, for example, the lessons are the difference between “search” which means finding everything, and “research” as we have defined it over hundreds of years, which means using multiple sources and understanding the relative value of those sources…Teachers should let the kids do the work, and figure out and teach the key lessons beneath the obvious.”

Marc Prensky in an essay titled “The Train Won’t Stop” that appears on p. 80 of the November-December 2006 issue of Educational Technology.

Newspapers Still Evolving For The 21st Century

Newspapers make an interesting case study for academic librarians. Newspapers, like libraries, are coping with new forms of Internet competition. Newspapers, like libraries, are primarily information mediators in an age when access to information has been disintermediated. I occasionally share news about the challenges newspapers face in the 21st century as it might enable library professionals to better understand the challenges that we confront.

In a step in the right direction a consortium of seven newspaper chains representing 176 daily papers across the country announced a broad partnership with Yahoo to share content, advertising and technology, another sign that the wary newspaper business is increasingly willing to shake hands with the technology companies they once saw as a threat. For the newspapers, which have struggled in recent years as readers and advertisers have flocked to the Internet, the deal represents an effort to earn a greater share of the fast-growing amount spent online on all types of ads.

But John Dvorak, columnist for PC Magaine, is less enthusiastic about some newspaper practices, and takes them to task in a recent column. He has a problem with newspapers because they still refuse to provide links to useful information, and they don’t use web screenshots to provide additional information. I have to admit that I don’t recall having seen either used in a newspaper, but it certainly sounds like an idea that newspapers should pursue. Dvorak gives some reasons for why he thinks the newspapers are holding on to the old ways, and how it’s likely to hurt them in the long run.

Academic libraries are learning this lesson, and moving in the direction of adopting technologies and service delivery methods that better meet the needs of net savvy users in hopes of meeting their changing expectations. As Tom Sanville, Executive Director of OhioLINK, recently advised in an interview, we need to move past the old ideas and routines that have been successful in the past – but which will not keep us successful in the future.

I Miss Them Already

Finals have ended. Faculty have posted their grades. The circulation desks are swamped with book returns. (Yes, a good reminder of how many books are still checked out – when they come back en masse at the end of the semester!) The library is very quiet. It seems so odd. Sure, it is nice to have a little bit of down time to clear out the to-do list, file paperwork, and prepare for the spring semester. But – it seems so odd. As exhausting as it can be to have thousands of students in the library over the course of a day, it is also inspiring and invigorating. All that learning, growing, thinking, debating, negotiating, etc., going on just last week and now it is just quiet. I miss them already.

Money Doesn’t Talk – It Silences

I’ve never been a fan of automated approaches to plagiarism, but the idea seems to be taking off for the corporations who are upset with people who clip and remix – because, well, that’s ours and besides, surely there’s some way we can make money off it?

The Wall Street Journal reports a new venture will scan the web for your property so that you can either put a stop to it or charge for the use.

Attributor appears to go further than existing techniques for weeding out unauthorized uses of content online . . . [Company execs] claim to have cracked the thorny computer-science problem of scouring the entire Web by using undisclosed technology to efficiently process and comb through chunks of content. The company says it will have over 10 billion Web pages in its index before the end of this month

So if I understand this, they copy web pages to see if they’ve been copied. And this kind of indexing, unlike the Google library project, doesn’t violate anything because media companies might make money from it – and the heck with innocent bystanders whose work is copied into this massive database without permission. They aren’t in business, so their rights don’t matter. Right?

What corporations don’t seem to understand is that a lot of the people involved in remix culture aren’t interested in monetizing “intellectual property” – see the total puzzlement when business folk tried to figure out why the Craigslist founder didn’t want to maximize his profit. They just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. (Thanks to Library Juice for the link.)

The secret of Web 2.0 is that it revels in creation without worrying about artificially limiting access by charging a toll. This outpouring of creativity challenges the standard wisdom that the only incentive for creators is cash.

I can’t help but be reminded of how so many academic publishers are also stymied by this new reality. As Jon Jensen said in a speech last March -

I watched the more open access Muse journals like PostModern Culture get far more traffic than the closed ones. It was at Project Muse that I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation which convinced me that we were spending more of our grant money *preventing* people from access to the online journals, via security and IP-range subscription system development, than we spent enhancing access and adding value. This opened my eyes to some strange realities of electronic scholarly publishing.

He moved to the National Academies Press, and proved that open access works – it enables discovery, generates book sales, and frees up the publisher to do what they do best. When will big media catch up to the idea that someone posting thirty seconds of Jon Stewart on YouTube isn’t in it for the money – but drives audience to the show? If they could figure out that we’re not all into monetizing, and stop spending so much money trying to make us stop, they could relax and reap the benefits of fans growing their market.

Take it from the Person of the Year. Some of us don’t want to maximize revenue – we just wanna have fun.