After years (really, over a decade) of kicking these thoughts around, I’ve finally published my thoughts on the challenges of born-digital scholarship in a world that values tradition, legibility, and durability over innovation.
It isn’t the final word, but it is nice to have this off my chest and into circulation.
I enjoyed Middlebury’s own Laurie Essig’s recent Chron article Profs Fail iEtiquette 101 which makes many useful points about the evolution of manners and good taste over time, but also about the mounting evidence that multi-tasking is actually not possible, and that it largely results in mediocre or worse results all around.
Charles Henry, the President of the Council of Library and Information Resources (aka CLIR) visited Middlebury last week to give a talk about how the future of higher education is being disrupted by a set of major national and international initiatives that collectively bring both promise and challenges to the existing system of teaching, learning, and scholarly communication.
The projects and initiatives he highlighted included the following:
- National Endowment for the Humanities Digging Into Data
The projects supported by NEH explore what happens when humanists apply various algorithmic and more importantly collaborative approaches to research in fields that have up to this point been mostly been pursued as solitary scholarly inquiries of an individual mind interacting with a culturally significant work.
- Hathi Trust
This digital library brings forward a significant collection of texts that, once/if copyright issues are resolved, provide scholars and students with access to a treasure trove of materials that (see digging into data above) promote whole new ways of thinking about teaching and inquiry.
- Digital Public Library of America
This audacious project proposes to take the democratic impulses of our bricks and mortar public libraries and extend them to the internet, providing the general public (and yes, the general public includes the scholarly community) with access to the cultural, artistic, and historical record of our nation and beyond.
See above, and apply to the culture, art, and history of Europe. Now imagine these two projects merged.
- Digital Preservation Network
A completely digital system requires checks and balances to assure that our archives and our systems of record are reliable, robust, and durable over the long-haul, with the long-haul being measured not in years but in centuries.
- Linked Open Data
New ways to publish data using open meta-data standards allow for inquiry and discovery that may make blush the blunt instruments of google and its brethren.
- Semantic Web
Connected to projects to promote linked open data, the semantic web proposes data structures that enable new modes of discovery, analysis, and correlation that rely less on serendipity, and more on the ability of networked computers to communicate with each other independent of human intervention.
- Data Curation
As we move increasingly to an all-digital world of scholarly communication, there is a growing need to establish sustainable methods for providing long-term curation of research data. (See digging into data above.)
Anvil is a national effort to help the world of academic publishing think through how to support the seemingly inevitable transition from print to screen, from analog to digital, and in so doing, both embracing the real benefits of the digital platform without completely discarding the traditions and benefits of the previous system of scholarly communication.
- Internet 2
Once just a way to provide more bandwidth and higher quality network services, Internet 2 of late has become a very interesting way for the higher ed community to aggregate needs and to negotiate very favorable rates for commercial services.
Kualia is an effort to develep an open-source/community-source alternative to commercial ERP (e.g. Banner, PeopleSoft) that has the potential to provide Higher Education with a way to improve administrative efficiency at greatly reduced cost.
Each of the eleven topics in and of themselves are important and pose important questions for us as we think through our own local technology and library strategies. More provocative, and potentially far more disruptive, is to think (as Chuck encouraged us to do) about how all of these seemingly disconnected trends might connect with one another to enable a whole new ecosystem of teaching, learning, inquiry, and scholarly communication. How might such a system allow us to provide to our faculty and students new services, improved access to resources, new platforms for scholarly communication and collaboration? What role if any might we play in helping to ensure that these transformations do not cause us to abandon that which is essential to our identities? What can we do to help this brave new world be a world that we want to be part of?
It is increasingly clear that the most important work is happening not on individual campuses, but rather as part of consortial projects, or as part of projects spear-headed by entities such as NSF or NEH. The lesson I took away from my time spent talking with Chuck about all of these complex topics is that the future lies in collaboration, innovation, and working at a scale that most schools can not sustain on their own. Unlike other nations with far more influential national systems of education, we live in a country that lacks a tradition of thinking about education (or libraries) at a national level. To a certain degree this consigns visions of a unified and open system to just another idealistic pipe-dream. On the other hand, the entrepreneurial and opportunistic environment that our national non-system of higher education presents may in fact in the end allow for creative and productive disruption to carry the day.
One of the big differences for me in moving to Vermont a few years ago is that I have a social life that is far more intermingled with my professional life than my pre-Vermont social life. For better and worse, this is one of the features of living in a small town where a great deal of the social life revolves around events at the College.
Yesterday our men’s and women’s basketball teams played Williams. I was in the stands with my nine year old boy, sitting next to my doctor and one of my colleagues in the college administration. We noticed that all of the coaches were wearing suits and sneakers. I asked my doctor, my colleague, and my son if they knew why this might be, and they had no idea. Despite the fact that the coach’s wife (also a colleague and the mother of my older son’s girlfriend) was but three rows away, I decided the simplest way to get an answer was to turn to twitter. I posted:
Now it was time to wait to see if the Twitterverse would provide an answer. As the game progressed, I would check my phone during timeouts to see what was up. Now it turns out that the network of people who follow me on Twitter is not the network of people who pay much attention to Division Three College basketball, and so I came up empty on that question.
However, I did happen to catch on to the fact that MiddTwitt was live tweeting the game in her inimitable style. She posted at one point
Now being a sweatshirt-clad and balding Vermonter that happened to have brought a nine-year old to the game, I laughed out loud and passed my phone around to my friends, who really didn’t get it, because they don’t follow Twitter to begin with, and haven’t been following MiddTwitt and her hilarious efforts to find love in Vermont during J-term.
The very next morning I get an email that had been forwarded to the College from a firm that was looking to help us out with our social media strategy. I will confess that I have not been particularly involved in developing the College’s social media strategy. While there are those within LIS who work closely with our colleagues in Communications to think about this, I have taken at best only a passing interest. I had been thinking (mistakenly) that social media practices mostly take place on somebody else’s infrastructure, and don’t really impact our core duties. As a result, while we may need a College strategy, we don’t really need to have an IT strategy for social media. Like I said, this was not the most strategic way of thinking about this.
Upon reflection, it is clear that the entire College, including and perhaps especially LIS, needs to think through how we want to engage with social media: twitter, facebook, youtube, foursquare, wikipedia, and the list goes on. How can these platforms be used to help us achieve our mission of producing liberally educated leader/citizens ready and willing to engage the challenges and opportunities of a world that is rapidly changing? How do we use these platforms to attract and retain great faculty, students, and staff? To ensure that the curriculum remains both rooted in the tradition of the liberal arts and yet dynamic and adapting to new disciplines and new ways of approaching traditional disciplines? To engage our alumni, parents, and friends in the mission of the College?
How do we build these networks? How do we challenge our academic and administrative colleagues to engage in these sorts of questions and to continue their experiments with how this can help us more effectively communicate, collaborate, and educate ourselves and others? How do we measure the effectiveness of our various efforts so that we can learn and improve? And as importantly, how do we balance these on-screen efforts with our efforts to build community in what William Gibson calls meatspace?
As I think back on using Twitter at the basketball game, I wonder what my experience of the actual game might have been had the Twitter backchannel been more active. What happens to communal activities when many or most of the audience is both in the stadium but also on-line? The same issues, challenges, and opportunities of technology in the classroom are bleeding over into all of our other social events. There are no simple answers to these questions. But we need to keep asking them, in order to shape our practices to help make sure that we don’t create unintended effects by chasing after every new technology simply because it is new, or ignoring important new platforms because they are clearly threatening to the status quo.
(And it turns out that the coaches wearing sneakers was part of a national ‘coaches versus cancer’ event organized by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The hashtag is #coachesversuscancer . )
- Customer Relationship Managment (CRM) as a new tool in our toolchest
A number of schools both large and small are using CRM to track the on-going contact that they have with prospective students, enrolled students, alumni, faculty, and other stakeholders. Are these specialized tools duplicative of what we provide through Banner and Hyperion, or is this something we need to explore? One instance of how CRM was being used at a virtual high school in Utah seemed both incredibly powerful, but also slightly big-brotherish. How do you balance the improved services you can offer through this sort of data mining with the obvious privacy issues that come with allowing this kind of complete view of an individuals use of our systems and our interactions with individuals?
- Is MIT obsolete?
Neil Gershenfeld from MIT gave a fascinating keynote talk (video available) on the future of computing and fabrication. While his vision of things that think may not be anything we need to worry about in the next five years, his views on the future of institutions of higher education in a networked world (see his article Is MIT obsolete? ) provides a fascinating example of how scientific research is changing.
- fair information practices/privacy frameworks
Tracy Mitrano from Cornell gave an interesting talk entitled “International Privacy Laws for Global Universities” that compared the US’s fairly lax privacy standards with the far more articulated privacy standards that the EU has adopted. Most interesting for me as we continue to think about shifting services to the cloud was her analysis of fair information practices that focus on informing users of our systems about what use (if any) will be made of their data. Tracy and I will be working on creating a set of privacy questions framed around these fair information practices that we will be able to use as we evaluate cloud providers.
- seeking evidence of impact
The Educause Learning Inititiative (ELI) has launched an ambitious program to find what they are calling ‘evidence of impact’. As they write on their website for the project:
As the pace of technology change continues unabated, institutions are faced with numerous decisions and choices with respect to support for teaching and learning. With many options and constrained budgets, faculty and administrators must make careful decisions about what practices to adopt and about where to invest their time, effort, and fiscal resources. As critical as these decisions are, the information available about the impact of these innovations is often scarce, uneven, or both. What evidence do we have that these changes and innovation are having the impact we hope for?
- next generation learning challenges grant opportunities
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded Educause $20 million to
“identify and scale technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion, particularly for low-income young adults. The program will provide grants, gather evidence about effective practices, and create a collaborative community.”
We discussed this program at the Oberlin Group/CLAC meeting, and while it wasn’t obvious how this might be applicable to schools like Middlebury, there was interest in how we might collaborate on expanding successful practices on our campuses to reach other populations of learners.
- idea of order
At the meeting of CLIR CIOs that I attended, we read in advance CLIR’s recent publication “The idea of order” which contains a series of essays on the future of the library, the future of the book, the cost of pbooks (aka books on paper). Given that we tend to have our heads down with our local problems and projects, I keep wondering how we can create space on campus to look out a bit more into the future in order to understand how the environment is changing, and how we need to prepare for that future.
- obeclac collaboration ideas
We had a joint meeting of members of the Oberlin Group and CLAC to explore how these two groups might collaborate. To seed the conversation, we ran a uservoice poll to collect ideas. Those ideas can be found at http://obeclac2010.uservoice.com . From these, we identified two promising areas: identity management and ebooks/ereaders. We’ll be forming two working groups that will we hope generate actual projects or spaces for sharing relevant information. Stay tuned!
- shared shelf presentation
Jeremy Stynes from ARTStor and I co-presented on Shared Shelf. Our slides can be found at http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/powerpoint/E10_208998.ppt . Jeremy did most of the talking, as well he should have, since he knows more about it!
- CNI presentation
I attended the annual ‘What’s new at CNI’ presentation. Cliff Lynch and Joan Lippincott took us through a whirl-wind tour of the highlights of things that CNI is paying attention to. The list includes
- data curation
- archiving the personal
- special collections: how to connect to audiences, how to curate digital special collections
- netgen learners
- mobile devices
- spaces: libraries, labs
- how to be responsive to how learners want to interact with info
- data curation services: how to manage balance of payment, and trust
- specialized cataloging and collection development for foreign languages
Of particular interest to me (as always) is the CNI program for the year (http://www.cni.org/program/ ) which lays out their plans for the year. In addition, their website has a growing amount of high-quality content including podcast.
- NITLE Advisory Board Meeting
I attended the advisory board meeting for NITLE. I learned more about their efforts to develop a more robust consulting service, their work in digital humanities, and the re-organizational efforts.
- clir-cio meeting
I attended a half-day meeting of CIOs from CLIR schools. We talked about ERP systems, CRM systems (see above) , reporting tools, the storage of institutional data, google apps, the changing role of IT and the library on our campuses, budgeting, and other vexing, complicated topics. A few specific ideas for projects were bandied about:
- a guide to thinking about privacy and the cloud (see above)
- an unconference on the future of liaison programs
- opportunities for collaboration around opencourseware (see obeclac note above)
- Open education, analytics, CRM, and feedback loops
http://www.educause.edu/E2010/Program/FS16 (video available)
David Wiley gave a fascinating talk on open education and data, describing an instructional design process that is in use at a virtual high school in Utah, but provides a view into a future of curriculum development more broadly. Through the use of analytics, the model suggests how feedback loops can be created to help improve the quality of open educational resources through tracking their use and their impact on learning outcomes. What is unclear is how applicable this model might be for domains of knowledge that might not lend themselves as easily to this form of instruction. Nonetheless, a fascinating view of how these systems can work together.
From the vendor floor, spent some time talking with the folks from Identity Finder, who sell a product that helps make sure that we are properly securing personally identifiable information. (Security team might find this useful.) They are rolling out an update next year to allow scanning of cloud services.
- Google Apps
Chris Norris and I spent some quality time on the vendor floor with a rep from Google Apps. We threw our hardest questions at him, and we got back some useful information about how Google handles security and privacy. We’ll be posting an update to the Google Apps blog shortly.
- Garnter Group
Chris and I also had a meeting with the folks from the Gartner Group to talk about whether or not Middlebury might want to subscribe to this service. I suspect that they’ll be coming back to campus to provide us further details about how their services might complement our planning efforts.
Two states over from Vermont in the great state of Maine, our library colleagues at Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin are in the midst of what to many might seem to be a radical experiment. They have created what is known in Library Land as a shared approval plan for all three schools. They have all agreed to buy more or less all of their books through a popular vendor called Yankee Book Peddler, known as YBP. Every week, YBP sends shipments of books to only one of the three schools. The result of this is that they now think of themselves as a single library collection that happens to reside on three residential campuses relatively close to one another. A van shuttles books back and forth among the campuses on a daily basis. The consequence of this is that they are able to build a richer collection of materials with less money, at the cost of forcing their patrons to plan more, since they can no longer rely on their local (meaning, on campus) collection being complete.
In thinking about this disruptive practices, I also recall a scheme that my former colleagues at Kenyon and Denison cooked up. It’s called a floating collection. The idea is pretty simple. Kenyon buys a book. They catalog it and put it in the stacks. A Denison patron requests the book. The folks at Kenyon send it down the road to them. The Denison patron returns the book to the Denison library and then the Denison library puts it back into the stacks at Denison. This means that if the next person who wants the book is at Denison, they just go into the stacks and retrieve it, while if the next person who wants it is from Kenyon, then the book takes the trip back to Gambier.
Put together and thought of on a slightly grander scale, these two fairly simple ideas have huge implications. What if, for example, all of the NESCAC schools, who collectively spend upwards of $40 million dollars per year on library materials, began to think of themselves as being a single library collection that worked together to build a single collection to serve their collective curricular and research needs? What if all of the materials that would need to travel among the participating schools only had to take one-way trips to the places where they were wanted? What happens to our notions of a unique collection when you outsource the selection process to the approval plan software that our book vendors write to emulate the expertise that our collection development librarians develop over a career of studying the local curricula on our campuses? And what happens when you think of this collection as needing to span the needs and interests of all the schools in this consortiuum?
While this notion of a floating collection of ‘books on paper’ that sloshes around the northeast corridor of the United States may appear untenable for any number of reasons, there are of course other strong forces within the publishing economy that suggest that now is not the time to invent new models for supporting an old, and perhaps soon-to-be obsolete format: the physical monograph. Print-on-demand technologies like the espresso book machine and qoop, devices like amazon’s kindle, and large-scale digitization efforts like google books all give anyone paying attention pause. What if the demise of the mass-market or not-so-mass-market printed book happens faster than anyone ever expected? What if we grow quickly accustomed to reading our books on screens? What if we manufacture on-site or on-demand just-in-time the books that we need, rather than collecting miles and miles of books just in case?
As anyone who has paid attention to library budgets over time, the shift to digital has produced exactly the opposite budgetary effects as one might have hoped for. The world of analog print is a world organized around sharing. Libraries have been heroes in developing infrastructure and policies to allow for broad and generous interpretations of copyright law that have enabled interlibrary loan, and in fact the very act of loaning out one’s collection to patrons. The digital revolution, while making the activity of sharing technically trivial, has also tied our hands. Instead of relying on fair use and the rights associated with first purchase, the shift to licensing instead of outright purchase has limited our ability to share. In the new world of e-books, the resource sharing that we’ve enjoyed in the world on analog books is very much in question.
What can a small liberal arts college and its library do in the face of all this uncertainty? Do we stay the course and stick to the tried and true? Do we circle the wagons with like-minded friends and hope that we can wait it out while this storm passes? What role if any can we play in the definition of the rules of engagement for this new world?
I’m not an economist by training or even by disposition, but my job requires me to think in economic terms on a regular basis. My latest challenge is to figure out a pricing scheme for charging for printing on campus. Free printing, like free anything, is an example of what economists call the tragedy of commons, where a public good is overconsumed because there is no incentive for the individual consumers to moderate their consumption.
Why should students who pay upwards of $50,000 a year to attend our school have to be nickeled and dimed by being asked to pay for the print-outs that they need to make because their professors assigned them 1,000 pages of electronic reserves, or asked them to do peer-review paper exchanges of their 20 page paper with 5 of their classmates?
One answer is environmental. Because there is no cost associated with printing, our students (and the rest of the community, for that matter) print roughly 1,000,000 pages every month. They print out their reserve readings over and over again because they forget to bring them to class, or because they forgot what printer they printed them out on, or because the copy they already printed out is in their dorm room. They don’t do soft proofs of their papers on screen, but instead print out multiple drafts to get the layout and formatting just right. If there was an actual out-of-pocket cost to printing, much of this printing would just stop.
One answer is accidental. If one were to look back over the history of printing in the last fifty years, you would discover that up until the last years of the 20th century, the idea that your college would cover this sort of expense would not have even come up. Before photocopiers and laser printers, students got their reading materials from the bookstore or the library, and they produced their written work on typewriters or by long-hand. With the advent of the photocopier, students could start to (on their dime!) make copies of reserve readings, and bookstores could produce coursepacks that students could purchase. As for typing, students bought their typewriter ribbons and typing paper (and white out!) usually at the bookstore. With the advent first of the laser printer, and then of the web, suddenly the paradigm shifted. Some schools quickly figured out that free printing services created the aforementioned moral hazard, and immediately imposed charges.
Middlebury missed that boat.
So here we are having to think about how to bring some order to what is by all accounts a messy situation.
Question One: Should we institute a quota? Some schools provide students with a quota, and only charge them for their printing after they exceeed their quota. Some economists argue that this is a bad idea, as it creates a new, albeit less severe, moral hazard.
Question Two: If there is a quota, should it be the same for all students, or should it vary based on the amount of writing or e-reserves assigned in the course? or on financial need?
Question Three: In our current economic climate where we are having to cut budgets, what is the objective in introducing a charging scheme? Should our pricing be so low that printing costs are still subsidized, but just less so than our present system of not charging at all? Should we try to recover all the costs associated with printing? Should we be so bold as to try to change our printing system from a money-loser to a revenue source, allowing us to (for example) increase the amount of internet bandwidth or wireless in the dorms?
Question Four: How do faculty connect to this? In the same way that responsible faculty factor in the cost to the student when choosing texts for a class, should faculty begin to factor in the printing cost when assigning reserve readings and writing assigments?
There is some urgency to these questions, as our intentions are to introduce a quota and charging scheme in the Fall of 2009. We’ll be spending the spring thinking about these questions, talking with faculty, students, and other schools to figure out the right way to proceed. Use the comment feature of this blog to record your own thoughts, or track down a member of SLAC (the student LIS advisory committee) to voice your opinion.
Here’s a start to my blog, which will serve as a way to provide me (and whoever else might find such things interesting) access to all the various things that I’m working on or thinking about. Topics that I’m already composing in my head include: the future of word processing, the cult(ure) of print, email and the never ending workday, the convergence of time and project management. It’s not clear yet how often I’ll feel compelled to write in this space, nor exactly who I think the audience might be for this other than myself.