Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conventional wisdom about digital preservation upended?

Roy Tennant, in the lastest issue of Current Cites, highlights an interesting article I hope to read:

Rusbridge, Chris. "Excuse Me... Some Digital Preservation Fallacies?" Ariadne (46)(February 2006)(http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue46/rusbridge/). - In this tenth-anniversary issue, Rusbridge takes on some digital preservation assertions or assumptions that he believes underlies many of the preservation discussions happening today. They are: 1) digital preservation is very expensive, 2) file formats become obsolete very rapidly, 3) interventions must occur frequently, 4) digital preservation repositories should have very long timescale aspirations, 5) 'Internet-age' expectations are such that the preserved object must be easily and instantly accessible in the format de jour, and 6) the preserved object must be faithful to the original in all respects. After arguing with these assumptions, he restates them at the end of the piece as: 1) digital preservation is comparatively inexpensive, compared to preservation in the print world, 2) file formats become obsolete rather more slowly than we thought, 3) interventions can occur rather infrequently, ensuring that continuing costs remain containable, 4) digital preservation repositories should have timescale aspirations adjusted to their funding and business case, but should be prepared for their succession, 5) "Internet-age" expectations cannot be met by most digital repositories; and, 6) only desiccated versions of the preserved object need be easily and instantly accessible in the format de jour, although the original bit-stream and good preservation metadata or documentation should be available for those who wish to invest in extracting extra information or capability."


Catalogablog is pointing to a new paper about "tagging," an issue which I have discussed previously in this blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reliablility and authority

We've discussed the nature of authority and its relationship to information sources last year. It's been a rough year or so for traditionally "trusted" sources of information, as well as the processes for insuring authoritative, reliable information (e.g, peer review). First, the much heralded Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, a traditional reference work, was discovered to be riddled with errors. Then a study showed that a sample of Wikipedia science articles had only a slightly higher average error rate than those same articles in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Now, The Scientist is running an article providing damning evidence that peer review may be (or always has been) broken.

News like this is important for both librarians and non-librarians to know. Librarians have traditionally taught that reference books like the EB and the DNB and scholarly journals are sources of reliable, authoritative information. Reference books, the conventional wisdom goes, are carefully edited and contain entries written by experts. Articles in scholarly journals go through a rigorous, blind review process to ensure the research is original, plausible, and useful. However, the above articles blow down the doors of these quaint, somewhat naive beliefs.

It is never enough to say, "This information is reliable, authoritative, and correct." I really liked Marc Meola's article, "Chucking the Checklist" (alternative link). While he is focusing on evaluation of Web sites, his method of evaluation works in other information contexts. It is essentially threefold method: promoting peer- and editorially-reviewed resources, comparison, and corroboration. While I have just criticized peer- and editorially-reviewed sources, they can be used in conjunction with comparing the information to other sources and finding evidence to back them up.

This week we had a friendly debate in the library about President's Day that nicely illustrates this method of evaluation. One librarian adamantly contended that President's Day was actually the celebration of Washington's birthday. I insisted it was both Lincoln AND Washington's birthdays. (After all, wasn't that what I was taught in elementary school? Had I been living a lie for a large part of my life?) We hit the reference collection. I found three reference books that supported my position. She found one the supported hers. We went online and located the relevant statutes for the State of Minnesota and the federal government. Minnesota's President's Day is a celebration of both; the federal holiday is a celebration of Washington's.

What's It Like to Work as a Librarian?

Jessamyn West describes her work week. Admittedly, her job is not the most typical for librarians, but it does show how varied the work can be.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Keystone Kops, Legalistic Librarians

Here's a bizarre story from the Washington Post (that I found via Boing Boing). County employees hired to patrol public buildings, who happened to be wearing Homeland Security hats, ordered a library patron out of the library for allegedly viewing porn. Busting people for viewing porn wasn't in their job description and they've since been reassigned.

Guys hired to protect public buildings from terrost attacks shouldn't be intimidating library patrons. Good for the library for making that clear. But I find the idea that patrons must be allowed to view porn in a public library because librarians aren't legally empowered to determine obscentity more than a little bizarre. What is the library worried about, a lawsuit? Or are librarians just not trusted to make a call? I'm sure it's not pleasant to approach someone and say "that's not appropriate here," but I wouldn't go so far as to say that would be a violation of the first amendment. An awful lot of Internet porn is clearly porn, and it doesn't take a lawyer to make that determination.

Though I'm against mandated filters (because they don't work well enough to limit their filtering to unprotected obscene speech) I think this approach makes librarians' legitimate defense of free speech seem extremist and ridiculous. Not to mention fairly inconsiderate of the majority of library users.


Raised by Wolves?

There's an essay in Library Journal by James G. Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University in New York entitled "Raised by Wolves: Integrating the New Generation of Feral Professionals into the Academic Library".

He worries that too many professional positions in libraries are being filled by those without an MLS or who earned the MLS in distance programs, which he feels fail to socialize students to the profession. But he also seems to think these ravenous, uncivilized, unconventional librarians will change things in ways that may be positive. He concludes:

Library professionals prepared and socialized outside the traditional MLS education channel have been “raised by wolves.” They may fit effectively or be creatively disruptive in the transformed libraries we are seeking to create. Either way, they are needed for their important contributions to academic library innovation and mutability. They will grow in their influence and relevance to the future academic library.
I'm not sure that traditional library science programs - which are often based on practical needs and are relatively short in duration (usually one year as opposed to, say, a three-year law school program) ever were that devoted to "taming" students, or that the new access to distance education is really going to bring in "feral" werewolf-like students who chew the furniture and demand to do things differently. To my mind the changes in the profession are more profoundly disruptive than the changes in the students or in who is drawn to the profession. And having earned a degree a couple of decades ago, I'm still learning - so however I was socialized to the profession has undergone a lot of changes.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

American Libraries Direct poll

In the current issue of American Libraries Direct, the survey question is,

Should librarians support the right of newspapers to publish commentary or images offensive to Muslims or other religions?

How should librarians respond, especially given the charged political and religious climate? Interestingly, the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights states,

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgement of free expression and free access to ideas.

Respondents seem to have voted accordingly. At last check, the ayes had it by a margin of 3 to 1.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Crying Game

Michael Gorman, current president of the American Library Association comes in for a regular drubbing by bloggers (well, he did say some rude things about blogging in the past...) but he also has charged library schools with falling down on the job; in fact the ALA's Midwinter meeting had a three-hour meeting about it. I'd love to hear comments from anyone who was there.

Anrew Dillon and April Norris take issue with his stance, saying he's "crying wolf." Caveat Lector has a different take - he just thinks library school core courses are badly taught, especially those that introduce principles of cataloging. He and Jessamyn West think more schools should focus on recruiting and training librarians who can code.

Guess I was lucky. I liked most of my library school courses and even remember some of the assignments fondly - and this was several centuries ago, so those teachers must have been doing something right.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Do (No) Evil

Annalee Newitz, Alternet's "surly media nerd," compares the evils of Microsoft and Google - and concludes they're both creepy. As we discussed here earlier, she believes their defense of privacy is more a protection of their own trade secrets. And she concludes, as many have, that the best way to defend privacy is to avoid collecting all that information about our search habits in the first place.