Whither ACRLog?

The launch of ACRLog last week generated some buzz among library blogs, but also some questions. Since this blog is a work in progress, it’s worth collecting some of those comments to think about how they might guide future developments.

InfoMan started out with an easy one, asking if we should pronounce the name of our endeavor as “A-C-R-L-og” or “A-C-R-log”. For the record, I have no idea. I’ve been using the latter, but I’ve already found blogs where that has resulted in our parent organization being referred to as “ACR,” so maybe that won’t work.

DrWeb was excited about the potential for our fostering a “discussion of overarching ideas, issues, and matters of debate within the college and research library community.” I agree, but how do we identify those ideas, issues, etc., and, from a design point of view, how do we build them into the architecture of this site? Do we, for example, adopt Hisle’s still-excellent listing of top issues? Do we create feature discussions on issues identified either by the ACRL President or as part of the ACRL strategic plan? More broadly, how do we allow for grassroots discussions of issues while being, at the same time, the “official” blog of ACRL? Again, I don’t have the answer, but it’s something that we on the Advisory Board will have to look at as this project gets off the ground.

But, it was really John Dupuis who asked the questions where the rubber hits the road, for example, how do we expand the list of contributors (both at the “comment” and the “posting” level) to better reflect the broad diversity in the college and research library community? We’ve asked ourselves that a number of times, as we have asked how to bring the best of the college and research library-oriented discussion happening on other blogs into this discussion space. One way, of course, is for interested library bloggers to seek appointment to the ACRL Blog Advisory Board (see this month’s C&RL News). The BAB is an editorial appointment like any other and there are terms of appointment that follow the guidelines established throughout ACRL. If you want in, volunteer. There have to be others ways, though, and we’d like to hear your ideas.

Finally, one blogger (and I apologize for not saving the link) asked some very important questions, e.g.: (1) how does an ongoing blog sponsored by an ALA division complement the information, discussion, and community already available by other means, both official (e.g., ACRL electronic discussion lists) and unofficial (e.g., blogs such as those mentioned above); and (2) how does an ongoing blog integrate the periodic increase in official blogging that have started to revolve around conference reports. The PLA blog provides some insight, but, like everything else, this is a moving target.

We welcome your input and hope to see more of you on the “comment” logs and (some of you) in the volunteer stream for new BAB members after Midwinter.

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.

Let’s Get On The Right Train Right Now

After an EDUCAUSE session last week a colleague asked if I’d read the column in the latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review (n-d ’05) that “slammed” libraries. Fortunately I was at the one place where finding a copy of ER is not a problem. Paul Gandel’s piece, “Libraries: Standing at the wrong platform waiting for the wrong train” doesn’t quite slam academic libraries, but he does take them to task on two counts: hastening their own marginalization and failure to innovate. It’s a good read, and it’s important for authors to send a call to arms when change is imperative. But when it comes to spotting trends it seems Gandel is late arriving at the train station. Pointing out that academic libraries are suffering from a case of diminishing relevance and innovation is nothing new. Bell and Shank have written in depth about marginalization issues and authors as diverse as Coffman, Tennant, Pace, and others criticized librarians and our system vendors for lacking innovative.(note – registrations required to view some links)

Gandel wouldn’t be the first author to make points made previously by others, and sometimes there is no harm in reminding us we need to do better. He is also writing for a different audience – our IT colleagues. Where I do find fault with his article is that it identifies problems but offers no solutions. Granted, this is just a two-page article, but surely there can be a better balance between what’s wrong and how we fix it. Lack of innovation? Has Gandel walked through the poster sessions at an ACRL conference? Has he joined or visited an online learning community where academic librarians are exploring cutting edge ideas? If he had I think that instead of implying that Amazon and Google offer models we should adopt, he’d be identifying solutions that promote better user education programs and the integration of library resources and services into those places where learning occurs. Yes, we absolutely must rethink our policies and procedures for digital environments. There’s no question we must offer systems that balance ease of use and sophisticated algorithms that yield high quality results.

To truly avoid, as Gandel puts it, “being rendered obsolete in an increasingly digital world” we all need to work hard at putting ourselves and resources where the learning is happening. If we do that it should help our faculty and students to make better use of our collections and reference services – two areas that Gandel finds particularly problematic. I agree with Gandel that our old “just put it out there and hope they find it” model of librarianship needs improvement. But there are many librarians that are advocating change as well as libraries that are innovating so they can avoid being marginalized. I encourage Gandel to discover them. When he does I hope he uses his space in ER to share this information with his IT audience. He should encourage them to work with the campus library to make sure it is technologically well equipped to support the library’s effort to achieve relevance and sustainability in the digital landscape.

Right And Wrong In Cyberspace

EDUCAUSE ended with a lively session about ethical behavior in the digital world. It could have gone on for hours – and I would have listened to the four experts for that long. Clearly, we are in unknown territory, and the experts covered the spectrum from defending censorship and banning resources when it is for the greater good to allowing a free for all in cyberspace environment to allow for a “re-norming” of ethical behavior. While the discussions about the new nature of public information (we need to realize that so much of our lives is now publicly accessible – what’s on your web site?) and privacy/security of information were good, I think the most challenging issue for the panelists was their discussion of plagiarism. Clearly, cheating is never right, but the real issue debated was the use of detection software – there are many ethical issues here. As one speaker asked, “Why do we treat students as potential criminals?” Unfortunately, other than a comment from an audience member, little was said about plagiarism avoidance as a solution to the “countermeasure” war. The most salient point I heard was from the speaker who said that with respect to the ethical issues discussed, we have already lost the current generation (I assume he means millennials) – they are set in their ways. We could debate that but I think you know what he means. If they think it’s all right to plagiarize, illegally download, or practice other ethically questionable behavior, no faculty member or librarian will likely change their attitudes. He said we need to start educating the next generation, or at least have an educational system in place so that we can begin to create the necessary cultural change that will perhaps instill more ethical behavior in cyberspace. Hmmm, offer user education to create cultural change. That sounds like a familiar theme with respect to the changing culture of student research. Is it too late to reach the current generation with user education? I think not, and maybe that’s a debate for another day. The complete post is not there yet, but it appears someone will be blogging this session at the EDUCAUSE site – should you want more details.

Risk or Reward in Google Print?

First, authors sued Google over their library project. Now it’s publishers’ turn, according to an article by Scott Carlson in the Chronicle – “5 Big Publishing Houses Sue Google.”

When Google first announced their library project I figured this was an interesting way to call the question: what does fair use really mean in a digital age? Google believes not only that this project would be good for the publishing industry, but that it’s within fair use. Jonathan Band agrees in an ARL report – but clearly the old concept of “copy” needs tweaking in a digital era. These will be precedent-setting cases to watch.

Academic librarians tend to frame our understanding of – and conflicts about – intellectual property around issues of scholarly communication. But as Nancy Ramsey points out in a New York Times article, “The Hidden Cost of Documentaries,” the implications for culture are far wider and more complex. We need to be aware of copyright issues beyond scholarly communication. Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and Siva Viadhyanathan’s Anarchist in the Library are interesting approaches to the big picture.

Incidentally, Lessig’s book is free online from his site; Vaidhyanathan’s is full-text searchable through Google Print and Amazon. So far, civilization as we know it hasn’t fallen as a result. And it didn’t stop me from buying both in print.

I can’t help wondering – if lending libraries were invented today, would publishers lobby to delete the “first sale” doctrine from copyright law, arguing it enables a harmful form of organized piracy?