First – if you support the NIH plan to make tax-funded research publicly available, take a minute to call your senators. Right now. There are some amendments to be voted on today that could gut the NIH proposal. Tell them to vote no on Senator James Inhofe’s amendments #3416 and #3417 to the 2008 Labor-HHS-Education bill.

Okay – are you done? Good.

Now, here’s some other news about access to research. The Chronicle reports that humanists will have a place to share their work in progress just as scholars in the social sciences have done for over ten years. This site for sharing documents is something between informal blogging and formal publication – more like a conference presentation without the hotel bill or airfare to pay for. The social sciences have had such an Internet forum since the SSRN was founded in 1994. There, some 131,000 papers have had over 4 million downloads in the past year. These are clustered into “networks” – rather like conferences – where people working in related areas can share their work. If you look toward the bottom of the page, classics, US and British literature, and philosophy have new networks. It looks as if these will be spun off into a new HRN – Humanities Research Network.

I’m not that familiar with how SSRN works and would be interested in hearing from anyone who has an insider’s view. All I know is that I’ve downloaded a lot of good articles from there, so I’m happy to see it expand into new fields.

Culture Clash

Inside Higher Ed has a good recap of the controversy kicked up by Anthrosource going to Wiley/Blackwell from U of C. The title of the piece says it all: it’s all about values. But which values? On the one hand, the value of a publication is that it generates the revenue to sustain a scholarly society. On the other, the value of the research and the values of the profession are all about making knowledge more widely available. Technology has made the second value easier and the first more complicated.

(The absurdity of trying to lock up “intellectual property” in a digital age reminds me that we just saw the first conviction of a criminal who was caught in the act of filming Transformers in a movie theatre. A girl who happened to have a camera with her took a twenty second clip to show her little brother. In spite of all the scare tactics, it just didn’t occur to her she was engaging in piracy. She was just doing what comes naturally in an age of digital gadgetry. And now has a criminal record for it.)

One irony mentioned in the IHE article: as libraries make online bundles more conveniently accessible, scholars are dropping their memberships, presumably because the benefit it once gave them – access to journals right on their desktop – is being provided by libraries now, whereas you used to have to hike over to the building to get your hands on your membership journal. Societies and their members need to find new ways to support the dissemination of their work and to fund their own professional organizations. Honestly, shouldn’t professional communication itself be not only easier but less expensive in a digital age? We need to figure out what our values are – and then figure out how to carry them out in an affordable manner.

ACRL itself could practice what we preach. We could use our own society as a sandbox to create some innovative models for sustaining an organization and fostering its values using new technologies – and then show other societies how to follow our lead.

Register Now For A Google Course

As if Google wasn’t already getting enough attention in the mass media, now that fascination with Google is expanding into college classrooms. Courses about Google are appearing with greater frequency in college curriculums. These courses are typically offered in the computer science area, and often focus on the technical aspects of Google. But some newer Google courses are focusing on the search engine’s impact on society or culture. One such course at Duke is doing just that. The course is called “Google: the Computer Science Within and Its Impact on Society“. The course is described as follows:

The Internet and World Wide Web have become repositories of the sum total of human knowledge, thoughts, intentions, and actions. Web search technology in general, and Google in particular, is the all-important tool we have today to extract actionable information from this vast mine of data. Millions of people use Google daily to satisfy their wants, needs, fears, and obsessions, which Google has transformed into an immensely successful and growing business. A not so obvious fact about Google is that its impressive array of services are based on basic concepts of Computer Science spanning information retrieval, databases, distributed systems, human computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and data mining. This course explores the science behind Google’s technology, the social and economic impacts of this technology, and the ethical issues (privacy and censorship) surrounding this technology.

It’s fine that faculty are developing courses that may assist students in better understanding how Google is changing our world. But a course like this seems to offer an opportunity to learn more about the library research environment as well, and where it fits into or is associated with the search engine universe. Some faculty who teach these Google courses may disagree. But for a faculty member to make a statement about the web as the “sum total of human knowledge”…well, that’s just wrong. It also sends a message to students that reinforces the myth that all the information they’ll need is available for free on the Internet. Creating a session in this course devoted to the library research environment would educate students about their information options, and provide awareness that the Internet doesn’t have the sum total of all knowledge. After all, in a course devoted to Google, doesn’t the library deserve some equal time.

Finally A Literary Form I Have Time For

It isn’t every day you stumble across a new literary genre, but Flash fiction (yeah, I linked there!) could be just the thing for people like us who aren’t capable of sustained reading of complex texts. Flash fiction consists of short stories of limited word count that, unlike vignettes, have elements of plot such as setting, characterization, and resolution. Anthologies date at least back to Thomas, Thomas and Hazuka’s 1992 Flash Fiction: Very Short Stories but flash fiction has gained in popularity recently due to (surprise!) the Internet. Here’s a few Webzines known for flash fiction: Brevity, double room, SmokeLong Quarterly, Vestal Review. So no more excuses, put down those tech manuals and the library management crap literature and get literary!

By Marc Meola