Twisting in Hot Air

Some news out there that is troubling for anyone concerned about intellectual freedom. The University of San Francisco Law Review edited out a section of an archived article when one of the parties in a lawsuit discussed in the article threatened to sue. The publisher couldn’t afford to go to court. The author couldn’t either. And the author’s institution – the University of Oregon – wouldn’t agree to foot the bill, even though there was a high likelihood of winning. Moral of the story? If you don’t like something an academic publishes, threaten to sue. Even if you don’t have a hope of winning, you might be able to edit the record just by being a nuisance.

Or just legislate it out of existence. In France, lawmakers have passed a law that requires textbooks to paint French colonial history in a positive light. In spite of recent events, parliament voted to uphold this la vie en rose approach to history. If you’re having trouble getting your legislators to pay attention, a little talk radio can help. A few years ago our own Congress voted to condemn an article published in The Bulletin of the American Psychological Assocation after a vigorous public campaign by Dr. Laura to discredit it.

More recently, one of the authors of that article had his article yanked from The Journal of Homosexuality when a right-wing group caught wind of its imminent publication. The press has since agreed to publish the other articles in the issue and even, apparently, to publish the offending article in a future supplement. Haworth’s Editor in Chief said delaying publication made sense because it “was unnecessarily controversial in the current social and political climate.” Um … isn’t then exactly when we need to talk about controversial things?

This seems to me to be an issue academic librarians need to follow closely. We believe in making many different perspectives available in our collections. But that’ll be difficult if those perspectives are never published.

ACRL/Harvard 2006

ACRL has opened registration for the ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute 2006. Reviews of earlier Harvard programs have been strong, and this year’s program again promises participants the opportunity to explore their own leadership style and to critically evaluate how well-positioned their home institutions are to meet future challenges.

There are a variety of leadership development initiatives now available to librarians, including regional programs like TLA’s Tall Texans, IT-infused programs like EDUCAUSE’s Frye Institute, and programs designed to prepare leaders for specific initiatives, including information literacy instruction, and scholarly communication. And, of course, there’s Senior Fellows. I’d be interested to hear from program alumni what they gained from these programs in the area of leadership and, for those who have attended more than one, how they felt the different programs complemented one another.

An addendum: given all the resources dedicated to these programs, it’s also worth asking how effective they have been in terms of actually helping to prepare the current/next generation of library leadership. I remember some work that Mark Winston did some years back tracing the career trajectory of Snowbird alumni, but haven’t tracked any similar studies that may have been done of regional program alumni, etc.

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.

Academia’s Conflicted Reaction To Blogging

It seems that the reaction to blogging in higher education is a bit schizoid. On one hand the admissions office embraces blogging as a way for selected students to share their campus experiences with potential students. Admittedly, those blogs may be less characteristic of the true spirit of blogging than the ones created by students outside the constraints of administrative oversight – and student blogging sometimes leads to disciplinary actions. But the negative reaction to blogging by faculty at some institutions, mainly to the blogging of their peers, is perhaps even more puzzling. Isn’t the type of dialogue we see in blogs – the questions, debates, exploring controversial issues – at the heart of the university’s ideals? A number of stories have circulated about academic bloggers questioning if failed bids for tenure might be owing to their blogging.

The conflicted reactions to blogging in higher education are discussed in a good article at Slate titled, “Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs.” It suggests several reasons while academic blogging is looked down upon, including departmental jealousy, that it’s considered a waste of time that should be spent on serious research, and that it falls outside the traditional peer-review journal system. Blogs however, seem to fulfill in many more ways the “fruition, not a betrayal, of the university’s ideals.” The article then considers that if a major objection to academic blogs is that they lack peer review, how might a system to judge and review them be put in place.

Efforts to fit round blogs in to the square hole of peer review seems quite puzzling, but perhaps the discussion will lead to some greater acceptance of blogging as a legitimate form of scholarship. I’ve yet to hear of any stories about tenure or employment issues related to academic librarian bloggers. Perhaps within the greater scheme of things in higher education our blogs are still flying under the radar. Still, current and potential academic librarian bloggers may wish to reflect on higher education’s response to blogging, and how it might impact on future employment and promotion opportunities.