The following is a list of all entries from the Uncategorized category.
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 . )
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.