Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

I picked up Everything is Miscellaneous to read while on vacation, and was promptly made fun of by my library school colleagues, because, apparently, it’s an assigned text in one of the cataloging classes. Well, I commend the person who’s assigning this book, because it’s really excellent. David Weinberger does a great job talking about complicated issues of information organization and changing knowledge structures in a way that is accessible and even entertaining.

Weinberger’s book discusses the ways that the new digital order is changing our innate drive to organize the world around us. He claims that humans have always been trying to bring order to an essentially miscellaneous world, and that the growth of the digital allows everything to remain in its miscellaneous state, while allowing each individual to order and access things in his or her own way. According to Weinberger, this frees people up for more higher-order work: innovating, thinking, collaborating, and creating, instead of organizing and ordering.

I think this book has some really fascinating implications for, most significantly, education. Weinberger only briefly discusses the way that students and teachers are using the digital infrastructure to learn and work differently, and I would have liked a little more depth on how students’ learning styles are changing, and how our educational systems are reacting to these changes. My guess is that they aren’t reacting nearly fast enough. I think it could be really interesting to spend some time thinking about how to bring this new disordered order into education, to take advantage of how people really learn.

So whether the book is assigned or not, I highly recommend it. I’m searching for some follow up blog posts, as I’m really interested to hear what other people have to say about Weinberger’s ideas. If you’ve read something interesting about digital organization, please send it my way!

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Twenty-four students at the University of Central Florida accepted a challenge from one of their teachers to go tech-free for five days. No cell phones, no email, no computers, video games, television, iPods (well, you could use your phone or computer for work or school, but that was it). Only two students made it through the five days. That’s not surprising. Hell, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not disappointed that students found it nearly impossible to leave modern technologies untouched for a week.

I’m disappointed by their weird crap attitudes about it. Few students even agreed to the challenge in the first place. The article quotes one student saying, “Why should I bother? It’s just pointless.” What happened to a sense of curiosity, a willingness to accept a challenge, a desire for experimentation? And students who did agree to the challenge? “This sucks. I better get a good grade.” Really, that’s what you have you to say about this experience? Pretty funny (sad?) to read, too, what the students did to “fill the void.” I especially like the kid who spent an afternoon doing donuts in his car. These are college students, yo. Whatever happened to reading a book?

I don’t know, maybe I’m too harsh. These are eighteen-year-old kids who don’t remember a world without the interwebs. It just seems to me that students should be more interested in something like this, in challenging themselves, in discovering how difficult it really is to disconnect yourself from the things we take for granted. It would be such a broadening experience, and isn’t that what college is supposed to be about? Or is it really just about getting good grades?

I don’t know, I’m kind of tempted to try it myself. In fact, one of my favorite bloggers is doing just that: Inspired by National Turn Your Television OFF week, she has decided to turn it all off. I look forward to hearing about her experience. And you might just hear something similar from me in the coming weeks. (Or, um, not hear anything coming from me, as the case would be.)

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Our panel discussion last Monday went well, despite our rather haphazard planning process. Of course, my foray into moderating exposed some of my lack of public speaking abilities: I completely jettisoned the whole introduction I spent the weekend writing in favor of letting the speakers get right to it, and most of the questions we came up with the previous week went unasked. Ahh, nervousness. No one thought a thing of it, though. Whew.

Our first speaker was Jessamyn West, who gave a presentation on access issues in rural Vermont. She used some interesting statistics from the Vermont Telecommunications Plan, showing the lack of basic infrastruction in much of Vermont, and she mentioned briefly the fact that Verizon and other companies that provide broadband access simply don’t have an interest in wiring this part of the country: It’s not cost-effective. Of course, private industry has no obligation to engage in projects that won’t make them money, but it did make me think of the process of getting telephone lines in most of the country. If I remember my history correctly, the US government essentially forced Ma Bell to cover the entire country with telephone lines. My communist-minded self doesn’t really see any reason our government shouldn’t do this again, but I will back up and say that I don’t really know a ton about current telecommunications policy in this country.

Jessamyn also talked about people who don’t really care to be connected, what she called the “information don’t care,” as opposed to the “information poor.” I think these people can get left out of the discussion sometimes when we talk about access issues. I have several friends who have no real interest in email or the web or being on Facebook or anything of that sort, and I’m going to go right ahead and say I think that’s kind of a travesty. Jessamyn talked about respecting people’s desire to remain disconnected, but I can’t help thinking about the economic limitations that people are accepting for themselves when they decide to remain disconnected.

Our next speaker was Susan O’Connor, of the Timothy Smith Network, here in Boston, in Roxbury, to be specific. The Timothy Smith Network is a philanthropic organization dedicated to providing community technology centers and training throughout Roxbury. Much of Susan’s talk revolved around the history of the Timothy Smith Network and the leadership and managerial issues involved in keeping centers open and providing training and access. She talked about the Open Air Boston initiative to provide affordable wireless access through Boston. Some points I found interesting: The Timothy Smith Network didn’t initially have a specific goal. They had money to spend and had to spend it, so they asked the citizens of Roxbury what would be most useful, and the citizens wanted computer centers. I think that’s a great example of a non-profit engaging in needs assessment and providing what people really want, instead of what a philanthropist thinks they want, and I also found it interesting that Susan didn’t talk about the “information don’t care,” probably because, working in a computer center, she’s not as exposed to those people?

Our final speaker was Pat Oyler, a faculty member at Simmons College who has spent significant time training librarians in Vietnam and working with them to build up their library infrastructure. She pointed out that the differences between rural and urban access in the US is very similar to that in Vietnam, although it sounds like the rural areas of Vietnam are far more bereft of infrastructure. The demographic that she talked about, too, is very specific: They are library students, so they clearly are invested in information technologies and access, and it’s hard to know how they might compare with the population at large. She talked about how most access in the country is through Internet cafes, and the connection fees are very steep for most of the people. I found myself curious to know what other kinds of access points are available, and how libraries in Vietnam might be working to change that.

Overall, it was definitely informative and through provoking. We did podcast the event, and as soon as it’s edited it will be available on the GSLIScast website. I’ll try to remember to provide a link directly to it when it’s up, too. I would love to hear some of your questions and thoughts about some of these issues, too. There is certainly more to say than we could cover in even the two hours that the panel ran, and I am already thinking of a follow up event. Because, hey, I’m not busy or anything, right? :-)

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The panel yesterday on the Digital Divide went well, though I kind of chickened out and neglected to deliver my carefully crafted introduction. Doh. I’ll have more to say about what was discussed when i have a few minutes (hopefully tonight), but I wanted to be sure to link to Jessamyn’s slides, which are worth checking out. We podcasted the event, and that will be available online soon. I’ll be sure to share a link when the mp3s go up.

You might also want to check out Jessamyn’s slides from a presentation she gave on OPACs (one of the topics I’m most personally interested in). I wish I could have seen that one personally!

I promise to share more information soon!

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Can’t believe I haven’t posted this here yet! Bad blogger.

If you’re in Boston on Monday, Simmons College GSLIS is hosting a panel discussion on the Digital Divide. Come and hear Jessamyn West of librarian.net, Susan O’Connor of the Timothy Smith Center, and Pat Oyler, Simmons GSLIS faculty member, talk about access issues in the US and abroad, and what librarians can do to make technologies accessible to one and all. I will be moderating (yikes!) but I promise I won’t talk too much. :-) This should be a totally rad event. Yeah, I said totally rad.

Monday, April 7, 3 pm in the Faculty/Staff Dining Room, Main College Building, Simmons College.

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The first issue of Conversants, a journal focused on participatory networks, came out on Friday, and it features an editorial by Andrea Mercado, “Making Library Schools Smarter.” Mercado touches on a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about lately: The fact that librarianship requires higher level computer skills, and the unfortunate fact that library schools aren’t really teaching them (or at least they aren’t requiring they be learned). She makes the point I made last week that part of the blame also lies with library school students, and she argues that admissions requirements should be much steeper.

What I find most interesting in her editorial are the practical curriculum recommendations she makes, most of which I think are great. I especially like the idea of having Technology Labs that are not affiliated with one particular course but that students take throughout their time in library school, where they would learn and use emerging technologies. And I would love to take a class on managing technology projects–while I am learning that stuff on the job (sort of) it would be great to have a course dedicated to looking at different project management techniques and tools, best practices, and potential problems and conflicts. Frankly, I learn better in a classroom than on the job; that’s why I’m in graduate school.

An article totally worth reading for anyone who’s been involved in the recent debate (alright, it’s not really a debate) around librarians and systems knowledge. I haven’t read any of the other articles in Conversants yet, but a few of them look pretty interesting. This might be a good one to add to the ever-growing reading list.

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I’ve been contemplating this question since I started library school last semester, when I was enrolled in my program’s basic technology course, the only technology course students are required to take. Where are all the next system designers and OPAC developers and library tech programmers? They certainly weren’t in my class.

Lately it seems a lot of other people have been contemplating this question as well. Dorothea wrote an outraged post about the lack of systems awareness and the hands-off approach librarians take to their technologies, and her words have resonated with librarians throughout the bloggity blogging world. She makes some important points: Library schools aren’t requiring their graduates to have a thorough grasp of library technologies. Librarians don’t consider managing their technologies something they should have to do. Many libraries don’t even have a dedicated systems librarian on staff. These things have to change. But the problem lies, too, in the students currently attending library school.

I am constantly surprised to find how few students in my program know, or want to know, how library systems work. There was a girl in my tech class last semester who had never even had an email account before enrolling in the program, and she frankly wasn’t much interested in learning about using it, or using any of the other technologies she will be presented with in her career. To my mind, librarianship is increasingly about the technologies we’re using, and if you aren’t interested in those technologies, you have no business going into the field. Harsh, perhaps, but for libraries to be players in the networked, information saturated world, we have to step up our game, and we’re not going to be able to do that with a bunch of librarians who can’t even be bothered with email.

Some part of the problem does lie with the library schools. While my program requires one technology class, it was kind of a joke of a technology class. We didn’t deal with HTML (although I hear tell another professor teaching the course does), we didn’t really learn about managing an ILS, or a server, or databases, or even basic computer troubleshooting. If that is the sole course students take on library technologies in their time in library school, they are poorly served to go into the increasingly technology-reliant library profession, and the profession will suffer for it.

Perhaps some of the problem lies, too, with organizations like ALA who are not promoting the notion that librarians are technology professionals. If the major professional organization doesn’t seem to think that technology is a major component of the job, why would people outside of the field, who might be contemplating becoming librarians, think they need to learn about it?

Again, maybe it sounds harsh, but I often find myself thinking that those librarians who don’t want to learn to manage a server or build a better OPAC or manage an open source ILS should quit and make way for those of us who can and want to build better systems for ourselves and our patrons. No, I don’t think every librarian should be a programmer (well, I don’t always think that, anyway), but I think if you can’t figure out how to connect to a printer or install software or build a basic website, you are in the wrong field. And if you’re not willing to learn these things, you shouldn’t be in library school.

I’d like to see more people talking about why these basic skills should be minimum requirements for every library job, and what the schools and the organizations should be doing to promote the field as a technology-related one. And I’d really like to see more of my fellow students excited about creating awesome library tools. To my mind, that’s the best stuff in the field right now, and with well-taught, excited, engaged technology professionals, there is no end to the cool stuff we could do.

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