Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Copyright and Free Speech

Kevin Smith has blog about a recent lecture he attended given by Anthony Falzone. These paragraphs caught my attention:

In setting the context for his discussion of fair use, Falzone made the fairly common point that copyright is a monopoly, which is something we usually disapprove of in the US as economically and socially inefficient and harmful. Jamie Boyle, in his book on The Public Domain, discusses the reluctance felt by Jefferson and Madison over copyright for this very reason. But Falzone went a step further to stress that copyright is a monopoly over speech. For me this fell into the category of things I knew but had not fully considered; Tony helped my really think about what it means to give someone a monopoly over expression in a nation where free expression is the first guarantee in our Bill of Rights.

The message I came away with is that fair use is not really primarily about who has to pay whom, when and how much. Rather, fair use is a safety valve that protects one of our most fundamental values. Do we really want a copyright owner, for example, suppressing an expression of political speech such as the Barack Obama HOPE poster or the Ben Stein movie Expelled? From this perspective, fair use is a fundamental and absolutely necessary part of the fundamental structure of copyright in the context of American values. It is an incentive for creative expression just as much as the exclusive rights themselves are. Without fair use, I asked myself, would copyright’s monopoly be unconstitutional?

He goes on to talk about our (Universities/libraries) need to exercise and protect fair use and not cave in at the first threat of a law suit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Screens like paper

Christopher and I were talking about the new screens they're coming out with that will be like paper - the same size and flexibility. This article also says they will have the same clarity as a printed page. (The article is hopeful it could save the declining publishing industry!)
The end of paper?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The postmodern information-retrieval culture

I was reading an essay for my class ("Heidegger and Borgmann on Technology" by Dreyfus and Spinosa). They were talking about how our culture has changed from modern to postmodern. They labeled the shift as a change from a "library culture" to an "information retrieval culture." In the "library culture" there is a focus on careful selection of texts, authenticity, classification and organization, and permanent collections. In the "information retrieval culture" there is a focus on access to everything, inclusiveness of all texts, diversificiation of ideas and paths to follow, and dynamic collections. They say "the user seeking information is not a subject who desires a more complete and reliable model of the world, but a protean being ready to be opened up to ever new horizons."

I hadn't thought about this before - how post-modernism, with its relativism and ideas about constructing truth, could affect research. Certainly if you don't believe in a solid truth or reality, you won't be as concerned about trying to find it. If you think that all ideas are equally valid and that we can create our own truth, then why trust a scholar more than a random person on a blog? The random person may be as useful as the scholar.

I've encountered this somewhat when I'm teaching (even older students) and I'm trying to convince them why they should be finding scholarly rather than popular sources. And to some extent I can agree with them - one student asked why a scholar would be better than a pastor for a pastoral issue. (Especially since many scholars are more liberal.)

So how does this affect how we teach students to evaluate information? Perhaps more and more we'll be fighting against an entire worldview that says that each idea is equally valid. How much should we fight it and how much should we work within that worldview?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cyberbully attacks Dead Sea Scroll scholars

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an article about a cyberbully who was using different aliases to attack Dead Sea Scroll scholars on blogs and via email. He is the son of a Dead Sea Scroll scholar, and was using this method to try to defend his father's views and attack his opponents. One of the scholars he attacked was an IT person, who tracked him using the IP addresses of the different aliases. The cyberbully also impersonated another scholar and sent email messages with his name.

I don't know enough about the Dead Sea Scroll debate to know which side we would agree with, but one of the attacks charged that there was a "Christian agenda" to an exhibit (apparently a horrible charge!).

It reminded me of Lee Seigel's complaints about anonymity on the web. I was a little curious why the scholars involved were so concerned about this, when they should know the web isn't reliable anyway and are full of flame wars. But they said that the web can influence people who don't know a lot about the topic. There was also a comment that scholars should take more responsibility to use the web to educate the public with accurate information. -Of course, it would help if they could prove they are who they say they are and aren't being impersonated!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Google Books

I was just reading more about Google Books new agreement with libraries:
Google Book Settlement Agreement

There were a couple of things that sounded like we should pay attention to.
-- The in-copyright, out of print books that Google had scanned from libraries had previously only had snippet views. Now they will allow page views like other books.
-- People will be able to pay to access full books online (including out-of-print books).
-- Libraries will be able to purchase subscriptions so that their users can access the books. (I wonder how much that will cost?)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thoughts on Twitter

So far I've not set up a Twitter account and generally been a skeptic about micro-blogging. In my mind I've thought of Twitter as basically a different way of sending Facebook status updates - a feature of Facebook that I don't use particularly well.

But as I've talked to twitters about their tweets (what a fun sentence fragment that is!), I've learned they don't think of them as status updates. Instead they tell me that Twitter is best used to send out interesting links preferably with snarky comment attached. Seldom do they actually try to communicate much in the 144 character limit other than point to useful information or reply to people who've done that. One of the big advantages of Twitter thus far over Facebook is that you can search Twitter for info you want.

I'm sure others use Twitter differently but this use makes sense to me. A common mistake with new web technologies is to use them to do the wrong thing or to try and make one tool work like another. If we are going to use Twitter, Facebook, or even blogs I think it is important we try to understand what the technology does well and use it for that.

Twitter might be a good way for us to send out suggested link of the week (or more often) to the TIU community.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Using Twitter and Facebook

You may have noticed in the today@trinity announcement that the graduation office is using Twitter and Facebook to communicate with upcoming grads. I wonder if this will be a growing trend for announcements on campus? And I wonder if students will get annoyed if they get too many announcements that way? Maybe if they volunteered to sign up for it, like in this case, they would be okay with it. I wonder how many would voluntarily sign up for library announcements? Probably some dedicated library users.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

60-second lectures

The Chronicle of Higher Ed had an article about a university that is creating 60-second lectures for their online program. Professors have to take their one-hour lectures and condense them into 60 seconds. It sounds like it's been very popular - the program has grown quickly. The students do spend time after the lecture with hands-on assignments that help them learn the material. I could actually see this as a positive thing. Students are likely to learn something better if they're actively engaged in the process, instead of passively listening to a lecture - especially if it's online from a distance.

But it's also interesting to think about the decreasing attention span of people. As a few professors in the article noted, you can give brief information but you can't make a sustained argument you need longer than 60-seconds.

But the short-attention span is probably something we'll have to increasingly consider in the library. We may have to make our instruction sessions more concise and to the point. Information on the website may have to be as brief as possible, which still conveying needed information.

ebook Reader Comparison Guide

Check out this comparison guide for ebook devices put together by Charlotte Hoffman of SIU-Edwardsville and William Harroff of McKendree University.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Netbooks & Kindle

I wanted to share a couple of news items that got my attention recently.

First, the New York Times is reporting today that Amazon plans to sell ebooks for Apple products breaking from their previous practice of only selling ebooks for the Kindle. Amazon is hoping not only to extend their dominance in the print book world to the ebook world but also that people exposed to ebooks on iphones and ipods will want to buy the Kindle for a better reading experience. I think this is a significant step forward for ebooks and an interesting strategy to sell more Kindles.

Second, in the March copy of Wired magazine there is an article about netbooks (not yet online). These are small, cheap lap tops with little memory but the ability to connect to the web. Originally designed as a way to get children in poor countries onto the internet they have proven quite popular with adults in rich countries. This goes against the trend of people buying more and more powerful computers and suggests that consumers are starting to realize they don't need super powerful computers to check email, facebook, or twitter. As cloud computing matures many of the most popular computer tasks can be done in a browser that requires less resouces from your computer.

So we see the continued progression of trends toward small, very mobile computers or phones that can function as computers. I'm not sure what all this means for libraries but I think these are trends we need to be thinking about as we plan for the future.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wide vs. narrow research

My professor asked me what I think about the new search tools such as Google Books vs. the old-fashioned method where you would actually go to the shelf and browse the books. I answered that I thought it was a different style of research. Google Books and other tools like that allow you to get much more specific in your research. I've been using it a lot lately for my research. It helps me to pinpoint which books cover something related to fairly narrow topics that I'm researching. I don't have to wade through as much unrelated material to find what is useful.

Although that made me wonder if I am missing something by not doing that. Perhaps I get too narrowly focused on my specific topic and miss some of the broader perspective of the larger topic. It reminds me of what history class, where we learned about how at the end of the 19th century there was a trend toward increasing specialization in education. Before that time, professors were more generalists, and were knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. But there was the increasing trend toward doctoral studies being focused on very narrow topics, and professors becoming experts in their niche.

I do appreciate the new tools that enable me to more quickly research exactly what I'm most interested in, and thereby to make more of a unique contribution. (Speed and efficiency probably play a role here too!) I do want to avoid the danger of becoming so narrowly focused that I miss the big picture. Perhaps I can try to address it to a certain extent by reading some broader overview works - and wasting time browsing (both online and in print).