Monthly Archives: June 2010

Add Cyberwar Contingencies To Your Disaster Plan

Two new reports from ACRL serve to remind the academic library community that our future is increasingly one based on digital collections and a virtual presence. Both the Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025 and the 2010 Top Ten Trends in Academic Libraries point to the importance of paying attention to our external environment and the ways in which it could impact on our operations and services. The short-term view in the latter report makes multiple references to digitization projects and an increasingly electronic collection; that’s certainly what many of our user community members want us to offer. But the former report points to one scenario that may come to pass well before 2025, that should concern all of us who acknowledge our growing digital future.

Of the scenarios that the majority of the respondents thought were both possible and likely to happen sooner rather than later, the likelihood of disruptive cyberwar, cybercrime and cyberterrorism was among the top four. Any one of these different forms of cyber attack has the potential to cripple a largely digital academic library operation.

The same week the 2025 report was issued, MIT’s Technology Review for July/August 2010 featured an article on the dangers posed by cyber warfare:

Ingenious solutions are multiplying, but the attacks are multiplying faster still. And this year’s revelations of China-based attacks against corporate and political targets, including Google and the Dalai Lama, suggest that sophisticated electronic espionage is expanding as well. “What we’ve been seeing, over the last decade or so, is that Moore’s Law is working more for the bad guys than the good guys

So what does all of this mean for academic libraries? Clearly we are poorly positioned, as are our institutions, to have much impact on the growing possibilities for global cyberwar. Even Google, with all of its resources, was breached by cyberattacks from China. Russia lives under constant threat of cyberterrorism from its enemies. The United States is taking this so seriously that it just appointed a general who will focus entirely on preventing cyber attacks and developing a strategy for engaging in global cyber warfare.

So at best we need to be aware and alert, and add this new and challenging threat to those other ones in our disaster plans. What would we do without access to our digital resources? How would we communicate with our users and each other? How would we support both on campus and off-campus faculty and learners if there was an extended loss of connectivity, files, networks or other essentials of our digital age? Just as with all those disasters for which we prepare in our plans, be they fire, floods or worse, we all hope they never come to pass. But be prepared we must.

Finally, the threat of cyber war and terrorism should bring attention to the value academic libraries provide to their communities as stewards of the print institutional collection and experts in locating information in those collective assets. The challenge of balancing growing print collections and diminishing space already moves us toward growing our digital materials. There are many good reasons to maintain strong print collections, and the potential for a total network collapse should remind us that doing so is just one of our many important responsibilities.

Caught Between the Old and the New

Over the past academic year I’ve worked on a research project with a colleague to study the ways that students do their scholarly work, similar to the project at the University of Rochester a few years ago. We finished with data collection for this year and are spending the summer analyzing our results. We’ve gotten an additional grant and plan to collect data at a few more sites next year; ultimately we’ll produce a comprehensive analysis of all of our data. But in the short term, we’d like to share our preliminary results and analysis from this year’s research.

Here’s my dilemma: the fastest and most efficient way to disseminate our results is to share them on the website we’ve set up for the project. When I was an archaeologist we wrote up an interim report after each field season and a final report when the project was complete, and I’m thinking along these lines. However, I’m also a junior faculty member on the road to tenure, and the currency of the realm is, of course, the peer-reviewed journal article.

A peer-reviewed article will take considerably more time to be published, up to a year or even longer, especially if our submission isn’t accepted on the first try (as seems true for most article manuscripts). I’m a strong advocate of open access publishing, and it just seems wrong to keep our data to ourselves for all that time. But I do value the peer review process, and while I hope that posting a report on our website would generate comments, there’s no guarantee.

Ideally I’d like to write both a preliminary report, to be posted online by the end of the summer, and a scholarly article, submitted around the same time and (hopefully) published sometime next year. I’m not sure that we have time for both, though. While the summer months are slower in the library, we’re still open, and there are classes and reference desk shifts to staff and programs to plan for next year. So we are probably going to have to focus our energies on just one publication.

As I’ve been thinking on this recently there’s been lots of other news in the world of academic publishing. The University of California proposed a possible faculty boycott of the Nature Publishing Group. And an unusual scholarly publishing project came out of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University: Hacking the Academy, a book that gathered all of its submissions in just one week. I can’t help but think that we’re in an odd scholarly communication moment right now, stuck between old and new worlds of knowledge dissemination, and I’m not always sure how to chart my course.

Planning Out Your Presentation

With June comes the ALA Conference (except for Chicago years), and when it ends that also signals a close what I would call the library “presentation season” for both academic librarians who present and those who attend. While there are programs throughout the year, I find that the months between April and June bring the heaviest concentration of programs. ACRL chapters are having their spring programs, information literacy conferences are being held, there are many library staff development programs and quite a few other regional and local conferences from which to choose.

It also means that many of us are experiencing our roles as presenters and attendees, where we prepare and deliver presentations or we are on the receiving end as attendees. Did we make the best of our opportunity to present, and what did we learn from the experience as a presenter or attendee? While I gave a few presentations, I was also learning from other presenters who demonstrated new ideas and new techniques with their programs. With the end of the presentation season just ahead, we will soon have time to reflect and think about what we can do better or differently to improve our presentations.

Some good advice comes from Dave Paradi, a blogger and author who specializes in consulting with others to improve their presentations, although he mostly concentrates on PowerPoint and using it for more effective communication. In a recent post he shared some ideas that made good sense. The gist of the post is that presenters start their preparation by creating the visuals that become their slide presentation. Once the presentation starts to take shape, the presenter becomes personally invested in slides and it becomes difficult to make changes, and almost impossible to scrap it and start again with a completely different approach. He writes:

Why the resistance? Because they are heavily invested emotionally in the slides they spent so much time creating. It is human nature to resist changing something that we put a lot of time and effort in to…there is no way we are just throwing it out and starting over again

Paradi’s advice for avoiding the emotional attachment trap is to adopt a different way of creating presentation visuals. He suggests that presenters start their presentation preparation away from the computer. He believes it is better to:

Start by thinking about the goal of the presentation – what do you want the audience to know at the end of the presentation…The structure of the presentation can be done on a whiteboard, pad of paper, or, my favorite, sticky notes so I can move them around

When beginning a new presentation I tend to follow Paradi’s suggestion to start away from the computer. I will either develop a rough script for my presentation or sketch out my ideas as a way of determining what the three or so main concepts or themes are. Then I’ll work on fleshing each of those out and building in more detail. Here’s an example of some rough sketches of new presentation on which I’m working.


You may argue that ultimately it is better to avoid using traditional slide presentations all together, and I would tend to agree. I’m not opposed to using PowerPoint. Despite some recent criticism , PPT is only software and it’s up to each presenter to use it to achieve the outcomes of the presentation in a way that makes for a good learning and program experience for the attendee. The best presentation advice I’ve heard is that you need to begin with a passion for the audience, and a desire to make the presentation about them. I’ve been experimenting with a variety of techniques, including storytelling (with mixed results), my own hand-drawn sketches (a love it or hate it proposition for some), video that I mix and then integrate into the slides, and more conversation with attendees when it fits. Between that variety of techniques I’m hoping each attendee will believe I’ve designed the presentation with their needs in mind.

One presentation I attended was a nice combination of using Prezi and hands-on activity. Another presentation I attended was based on the Garr Reynold’s style of using images alone or with a single word or short phrase. I’m sure you’ve seen many presentations in this style as it has grown in popularity in recent years. But other than a few clever photos, I found myself paying little attention to the slides at all, and instead found the speakers were doing quite well just sharing what they knew. For me, the images became a distraction and did little to communicate ideas or engage me. This was a case where no slides at all may have been better, but I suspect, as Paradi suggests, that the presenters were quite heavily invested in their slides and likely thought of them as absolutely necessary for the talk.

Whether you did the presenting or the attending, think about using the summer months to practice new presentation techniques or focus more on the preparation process. If you are heading to ALA, take special note of the presentation techniques and look for new ideas. If you see something of interest, take time to ask the presenter about their methods. The best way to become a better presenter, besides getting as much authentic practice as you can, remains observing others, spotting good technique, viewing videos of great presenters, and then learning how to adapt those techniques to create your own unique style of presenting.

Not a Crisis, a Transition

Chronicle staffer Jennifer Howard reported from the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses, where the incoming president, Richard Brown of Georgetown University Press, challenged the idea that scholarly publishing is in crisis. A crisis, when it isn’t resolved for decades, becomes a way of life, and his preferred description for that way of life is “perpetual transition.”

That should resonate with librarians. Welcome to the club!

Even better, he plans to make improving communication with librarians, who he calls a “kindred community,” a priority this coming year. He recognizes how we are dependent on one another, and points out that open access isn’t free; it takes money to select, organize, make editorial improvements, and make scholarly work discoverable. (Doesn’t most of that sound eerily familiar?) Though some discussion at the conference focused on joining forces to make e-books available to libraries, it seems as if we’re still seen as a revenue source, as customers, not as partners in publishing. I’d much rather invest my money in books that my students and faculty can use without the hassle of DRM, that won’t disappear if I have a bad budget year and have to cancel a subscription, and that are available to everyone in the world. Chances are I’d still buy some of the books in print – for those that will be read closely, not just harvested for quotes, the cost of printing a copy is worth it. I just don’t want to invest in collections of e-books nobody uses. (I know some libraries have had success with e-books; most of our students don’t like reading anything longer than a paragraph unless it’s on paper or can be printed. No, I don’t want to pay for a database and pay a second time for printing. Google, I’m looking at you.) And until e-readers are affordable, platform-agnostic, and embraced by our students and faculty, I don’t see them as significant change agents; in any case, they’re design is based on the consumer market, not on the kinds of sharing and sampling that scholars need to be able to do.

The reason we need university presses is because they put their books through a far more rigorous peer review process than trade publishers and so have earned enormous prestige among scholars. They also publish research that may seem entirely without value to commercial publishers, to whom the only value is market value. For university presses, their work is a mission, not just a business, but it’s work that needs funding. We need to be more than customers; we need to be working together, making the best use of our pooled resources.

Jennifer Howard (she has been busy lately) also recently wrote a long piece about institutional repositories. It’s fascinating reading, and suggests that various models are meeting with some success, if libraries are willing to put a lot of time and energy into it. But while IRs are great for local materials, niche information (test reports on tractors – who knew how many people were eager to get their hands on that!) and gray literature, they are not the fix for the scholarly communication crisis, no matter how many institutions adopt open access mandates.

Rather than have university presses look for lessons from trade publishing while we try to coax faculty into using open access platforms, I’d like to see librarians sit down with university presses and talk about where our missions and our skills align, figure out how to fund publishing of quality scholarship, and embrace open access.

Is that so hard? Don’t answer that question.

type at the press at Colorado College

Reflections On Blogging

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This month the series takes on a slightly different topic than the Annual Conference. Miriam Rigby, Assistant Professor, Social Sciences Librarian for Anthropology, Sociology, Ethnic Studies,Geography & Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, shares some thoughts about blogging.

One of the questions posed to our Emerging Leaders team when we took on this project to write posts for ACRLog and ACRL Insider, was whether blogs were still relevant. Based on my habits, which include subscribing to over 60 blogs through Google Reader, my initial gut reaction was “of course!” But then I started wondering, “are blogs the new Second Life?” No offense to people who find Second Life useful or entertaining, but outside of the realms of librarianship and advertising, very few people I know think it is relevant; some are surprised to hear it still exists or is used at all. And these people are visibly shocked when I tell them of ACRL conference presentations in which Second Life is used, or even discussed. Anecdotes, to be sure – from a small pool of people no less – but noteworthy, I think.

Blogs seem different though. The New York Times has dozens of blogs. There are mega-blogs run along the lines of traditional news sources, with multiple, regular columnists and editors; take Boing Boing or Gizmodo for instance. There are even peer-edited blogs such as In the Library With the Lead Pipe. And if, for a minute we can conflate the ideas of blogs and rss feeds, even the Anthropology Department that I am a subject-specialist for at the University of Oregon has a “blog” to which I can subscribe to keep up to date with all of the awards and accomplishments the department achieves.

As an aside, subscriptions like these, through my Google Reader, are crucial to my blog reading habits; this rss aggregator compiles all of the blogs I follow in one place, and I am notified when there is a new post. This saves me hours of bouncing around the web, trying to find out if anyone has posted something new.

Blogging is not just a hobby or a personal journal option, but also a career for many. It seems to me, that some people who are anti-blog are that way because they have an outdated view of what blogs are. Blogging is a format that has grown up and developed itself in terms of content over the past decade or so. And as it is a fairly versatile format, I don’t think that it will disappear too quickly. What I mean by all this, is that when anti-blog people think of blogs, their negativity may stem from an outdated idea of teenagers’ LiveJournal or GeoCities pages from the ‘90s; they expect the rants of an individual, rather than interesting news and links to more information. Blogs certainly still can be this (not to suggest that this particular one isn’t great, it is), but they can also be well crafted, cited, authoritative sources of cutting edge science like the Public Library of Science’s (PLoS) Medical Blog. Blogs don’t have many constraints; if you can imagine it, you can probably make it and call it a blog. And as that lovely Wikipedia entry states, you can embed pretty much any content you like.

Of course, I couldn’t write a post on information sharing on the web, without mentioning social networks like Facebook and Twitter – places that are somewhat blog-like in the way that people write posts (no matter how short) and share information with each other. Perhaps these will kill the Blog?

Perhaps, but on the other hand, where is this information that is being shared via links coming from? Online newspapers… and blogs! In response to this, and Facebook’s ongoing privacy issues, some people are leaving Facebook for other sites like Tumblr, a socially networked blogging platform, while others are coming up with their own new concept for online networking and information sharing, as with Diaspora.

Notre Dame recently hosted a science and mathematics career conference for 11-14 year old girls, Expanding Your Horizons. Data Librarian, Michelle Hudson, had the pleasure of talking to some of these young women about careers in library science and information architecture, and in the process, discussed blogging with them. Apparently, none of them “blog,” but they do use Facebook. (Michelle notes that it wasn’t clear if they recognized features like “notes” on Facebook are blog-like, and their reading habits were not explored.) So, maybe there are generational differences, maybe blogging is for people over 30. Or maybe it’s a semantic issue; many things look like blogs to me, which may not be called blogs, or be understood to be blogs by their users.

But what kind of a librarian would I be if I just told you my thoughts and didn’t invoke some Web 2.0 participation via blog comments? So, you obviously read some blogs – you are here reading this. But how many blogs do you tend to read? What are your favorites? And do you go directly to the blogs’ webpages, or do you import them via RSS to a reader? And do you think blogs are relevant, or do you know of some newer, cutting edge method of keeping up to date with news and internet memes?