Siva Vaidhyanathan on Outsourcing Risk

There’s an interesting piece in the Chron by Siva Vaidhyanathan – “A Risky Gamble with Google.” He argues that what some think is a David and Goliath story of Google versus big publishing is really more of a fight between Godzilla and Megalon.

He points out that the contract Google signed with U Mich does not protect patron privacy. “I know many librarians who would rather go to jail than reveal my borrowing habits to suspicious snoops. I doubt I can count on Google’s employees to be as committed to user confidentiality.” (By the way, when I wrote about this topic for Library Issues I contacted John Wilkin, Associate University Librarian, who said Google’s privacy policy was consistent with Internet business practices. In fact, that’s debatable – but what’s even more debatable is whether business practices are relevant in a library context.)

But what really worries him is that libraries are partnering with a huge for-profit corporation to “bet the Internet” on a copyright battle that could go wrong. Libraries have outsourced risk – and let Google lay claim to our social and technical role in society. He worries that in so doing, Google will “displace the library from our lives.”

The presumption that Google’s powers of indexing and access come close to working as a library ignores all that libraries mean to the lives of their users. All the proprietary algorithms in the world are not going to replace them. There was a reason why Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and others of their generation believed the republic could not survive without libraries. They are embodiments of republican ideals. They pump the blood of a democratic culture, information . . . Whichever side wins in court, we as a culture have lost sight of the ways that human beings, archives, indexes, and institutions interact to generate, preserve, revise, and distribute knowledge. We have become obsessed with seeing everything in the universe as “information” to be linked and ranked. We have focused on quantity and convenience at the expense of the richness and serendipity of the full library experience. We are making a tremendous mistake.

Well . . . I don’t know about that. We haven’t seen our libraries empty out as information goes online. I think libraries are as likely to be discovered as books are by their collections being searchable. Books will remain a viable format for sustained reading and engagement with ideas even if their contents can be found in snippets online.

But when it comes to the core values libraries have surrendered in order to let Google represent them in court – that’s certainly worth thinking about.

Follow Up To Gaming Post

Last week I posted (“ Connecting With Generation Xbox“)about trends in gaming and how this cultural phenomenon is impacting – or may be impacting in the future – on higher education. Whether you think it’s something to which academic libraries need to pay serious attention or it’s just a bunch of hooey, there’s no denying that there’s a segment within higher education that is already integrating game playing into the teaching and learning process. The big question is in what ways will academic libraries contribute to that – if at all. I asked ACRLog readers to take part in a completely unscientific and informal survey about attitudes and responses to gaming. I want to thank the 55 respondents for taking time to respond, and for their informative comments. Rather than take up space here with the results of the survey, I’ve created a separate and temporary page for those are interested in learning more about what the respondents had to say. There were some great comments and I wish I had the time and space to post them all, but I think the sampling provided will demonstrate the range of reactions to the gaming issue.

IL Catches the Wave

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has published a new report, Liberal Education Outcomes: A Preliminary Report on Student Achievement in College. The report “documents the emerging consensus among educators, the business community, and the accreditation community about a set of key learning outcomes that are essential for all college students in the 21st century.”

Information literacy is one of the handful of key learning outcomes.

I know, we’ve been making waves about this for years, but now – hey, surf’s up! We seem to be reaching a point where information literacy is widely recognized as a key part of what it means to be educated. This is likely to be a widely-read document. Time to place a few strategic calls, ask some of your favorite power brokers to have a cup of coffee. We made the wave, now let’s catch it.

Another finding of the report is that “little national data is available on how well students are achieving these key outcomes.” They find some value in standardized testing, but it’s not the only answer.

[T]he best evidence about students’ level of achievement on liberal education outcomes will come from assessment of students’ authentic and complex performances in the context of their most advanced studies: research projects, community service projects, portfolios of student work, supervised internships, etc. Institutions can and should use a common framework of liberal education outcomes to report externally on students’ level of accomplishment, but they should help the public understand that the standards for advanced accomplishment take different forms in different fields. The key accountability question to ask of campuses is whether they currently expect all their students to undertake complex projects and capstone assignments that are assessed for advanced liberal education outcomes.

All of which suggests we might want to make sure information literacy is part of our institutions’ common framework and that we become as aware as we can of all the assessment initiatives on our campuses that might help us find in student work the evidence that we’ve made a difference – and where we may need to improve.

Connecting With Generation Xbox

You’ve no doubt been following some of the discussion about gaming, and how higher education responds to this massively influential societal trend. Even before the Chronicle partially covered the issue with their story about the Millennial Generation – many who are gamers – publications such as Library Journal devoted articles to gaming and OCLC sponsored a lengthy program about it at last year’s ALA midwinter conference, and offered some articles in one of its newsletters. That program offered the wisdom of Jon Beck and other gurus of the gaming phenomenon’s impact on society and culture.

So having digested all of what’s being said about gaming, what position are most academic librarians taking? I had no doubt that there was a gaming culture among the students at my own institution. The big question for both our profession and our faculty is do we change our methods to accommodate the changing nature of our students. Should faculty seek to integrate gaming techniques into the teaching and learning process? Should academic libraries offer video game titles for loan, or sponsor video game competitions in the library? What are we willing to do to reach Generation Xbox and draw them into the library? What if you and your library staff know zilch about video games, or perhaps you see them as abhorrent wastes of times, not to mention finding the shoot ‘em up, violent aspects of some video games to be morally repugnant. How do you respond to the video game phenomenon?

No matter how we may feel about it personally, I don’t think we can ignore it professionally. Last week, along with the Dean of my institution’s Design and Media College, we offered a program on “Teaching Generation Xbox”. Our speaker, Christopher D. Clark, developed sixteen video games, and currently develops simulations for the government. He spoke about the history of video games and current industry trends. He then explained how games are developed, and the factors that go into making a game irresistible to players. Clark stated that the best games get players emotionally involved, and he believed that educational simulations can do the same. Clark’s most memorable statement: video games and learning simulations have 30 seconds to hook the player or the player is gone for good. Once hooked however, gamers will spend hundreds of hours to master the game.

I’ve been thinking about that with respect to what happens in most campus classrooms and my own instruction. I think most of us would fail the 30 seconds test. Then again, we can’t offer car chases, create war battles, put a laser sword in someone’s hand, put them in the cockpit of a fighter jet, or offer any of the many other escapes from reality offered by video games. All we can offer is a chance to learn something new to help a student successfully complete an assignment or achieve lifelong learning. It seems our challenge, in reaching Generation Xbox, is to establish methods to get students emotionally connected to our content and to do it quickly. It’s much easier to simply say “they’re here and they have to learn it my way,” but perhaps that mentality no longer gets the job done. I’d like to know what you think. I hate to do this to you again now knowing most of you feel over surveyed, but please take a few minutes to complete this six-question survey instrument, and I’ll share the results in a future post.

Report from ACRL-NJ: Quarantine the Plagiarism Plague

I recently attended an all day ACRL-NJ conference on plagiarism. NJ librarians have really taken the lead on this issue, spurred on by Rutgers University librarian Vibiana Bowman’s book of essays, the Plagiarism Plague. Previously I hadn’t thought too much about plagiarism, conceding the issue to disciplinary faculty and wondering what the librarian’s role could be. Librarians at least need to begin to inform themselves on the various issues surrounding plagiarism, such as defining what plagiarism is, gauging if it is on the rise and if so what are the causes, and then figuring out what we can do about it. Plagiarism seems to be on the rise throughout our culture, not merely among college students. Librarians can provide information about citation, develop tutorials, and be part of an overall culture that discourages academic dishonesty. In giving an overview of the legal issues of plagiarism detection services, Luis Rodriguez (Montclair State) made a point that stuck with me: he connected plagiarism to student learning. This seems to me a fruitful possible way to tie together plagiarism with information literacy.