Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 10: September 2007


Following Up & Feedback

I was thinking about the relative lack of feedback on Cites & Insights essays (not helped by my failure to include this section in most issues)—and realized I had it all wrong. There’s plenty of feedback, but most of it appears in blogs rather than as email to me. Given what I said in On the Literature, I can hardly object to that. Blogging about a C&I piece continues a conversation immediately, precludes censorship (or inadvertent censorship through laziness) on my part, and is generally an appropriate way to respond.

I don’t usually pick up blog entries for Following Up and Feedback, at least not as feedback. To do so would be a little too recursive for my taste. Some of you will see those responses. Some won’t. That’s the way it goes with dangling conversations. Most blog entries here continue topics rather than serving as direct feedback.

Seth Finkelstein noted that my criticism of Michael Gorman for synecdoche (using “blog” for “post”) may be unfair. It’s a usage he’s seen fairly often, mostly among people who aren’t “old school” bloggers.

Bloggers’ Code of Conduct

Ron Miller wrote about the Kathy Sierra situation and O’Reilly’s proposed Blogger’s Code (C&I 7:6) in the June 2007 EContent. It’s a good summary. Miller’s quotes from Tim O’Reilly show just how contradictory O’Reilly’s proposal really is.

O’Reilly says he “does not want to play the role of censor”—but that’s followed immediately (in the article by “He only wants to set up some community standards to let the community as a group decide when to draw the line.” Once you say “draw the line” where speech is concerned you’re saying censorship. The distinction appears to be that O’Reilly’s happy to see censorship but by “the community.” A little later O’Reilly says “You have to tell people when they are out of line.” Out of line according to whom? Presumably according to the Code. Who does the telling? The mysterious “you.”

Chris Locke of Cluetrain Manifesto got in the middle of the whole situation, largely through conscious acts encouraging extreme snarkiness. Even so, it’s hard to disagree with Locke’s suggestion that, had the Code of Conduct shown any legs, it “could really go in some directions that are really antithetical to the whole notion of what the internet is about.” Fortunately, as far as I can tell, the Code was at most a two-month wonder.

Making it Work

I discussed John Dupuis’ “My job in 10 years” series in June 2007 (C&I 7:6). On June 13, 2007, Dupuis posted the conclusion to that series at Confessions of a science librarian (jdupuis.blogspot.com). A little of what he has to say in a seven-page essay that’s well worth reading on its own:

The interactive & collaborative web are opportunities; failing to seize the opportunities will come back to haunt us as institutions and as a profession. Engaging the net generation is also a formidable opportunity; failing in that task isn’t an option…

Our patrons and the social and technological tidal wave they are riding is what is going to drive us to embrace transformation and change.

So, if my extended ramblings over the last two years have a main theme, it’s that libraries and librarians have to be able to embrace transformation, to go with the flow. Where once we had a monopoly on research, back in the day when you had to come to the library to get anything done, now our students have options. And we want to remain one of those options.

We have to move on several fronts… [for example]:

We will have to accept and be at the forefront in changes in scholarly communications patterns. Open access, wikis, blogs, social networks, whatever, we don’t want to be viewed by the new generation of scholars as behind the times….

We need to become the social learning space on campus. This is vital. We have to transform our physical spaces to make then as collaborative and inviting as we possible can, to be the premier technology labs on campus for creating assignments. This will be a battle as labs in departments will see this as their mission as well. We also can’t risk abandoning older roles for our physical space….

As for our virtual spaces, we need to build systems that are flexible, scalable, modern, responsive, appropriate, usable, fun, social, studious. It’s not going to be easy….

What is the thread that binds all these forces acting upon us? All of these follow from the notion that we really need to figure out what we want to spend our money on. We have large budgets, mostly spent on staff and collections. We must continue to invest in the best staff with the best, most forward-looking skills. The new library I envision won’t have fewer people, it will have more, they’ll just be doing different things. They’ll be highly professional and highly skilled in a range of areas, some generalists, some with very a very narrow focus. So, where will the money come from for the transformation? I have to think that it might be from collections….

At the same time as all these forces are buffeting us, we must also avoid what I call vision drift. In our rush to embrace the new, to be all things to all people, to catch the wave, we must absolutely remember that our core mission is to serve the academic mission of the university. If we try to become a second student centre or cafeteria, then I’m not sure we’re on the right track. It’s great to be a social and collaborative learning space, but most of us didn’t become librarians to serve coffee to teenagers.

I’m leaving out a lot in these excerpts. Dupuis also offers a few second thoughts on what he’s said during the two-year series of posts. For example:

I sometimes think I’m overestimating the speed at which print books will decrease in importance. For sure, the decline probably won’t happen anywhere near the same way outside scitech fields, but even in scitech fields I’m not sure we won’t be buying more textbooks and popular science than I thought before…

One of the things which I suspect I’m underestimating is the speed at which search & discovery will be transformed by new search tools, new OPAC platforms and the changing nature of scholarly communication…

And speaking of scholarly communications, I also think this is an area where I’ll be completely surprised by what happens, and surprised a lot sooner than I think. This will be one of the most fun areas to watch…

If I were starting this project all over, I would definitely start with an environment scan. I would look at both the trends and characteristics of the millennials as well as higher level forces that are affecting and changing the higher education environment.

I can see no good way to excerpt the three long closing paragraphs. In the last, Dupuis clarifies that he’s less committed to realizing the future he’s imagined than to bringing about a future, “one that is good for our patrons but one that also has me in it. And I think that’s what we should all aspire to in our professional lives, to bringing about the best future we can imagine, for ourselves and our patrons.”

In the July 2007 Making it Work, I quoted portions of Pete Smith’s “What are we for, revisited” (at Library too, havemercia.wordpress.com), finishing the excerpts with “If libraries are everything, eventually they will be nothing.” Smith followed up in “What are we for?” on July 2, 2007, saying (in part):

Getting people in is a good thing. Having a lively community feel is excellent. But I still can’t help thinking that if we don’t say clearly why we want people there we will be in trouble.

Libraries must still function as libraries, providing a service not found elsewhere. Libraries are distinctive because they make accessible the products of human imagination, and the people who work there care about that. The environment in which this takes place should be as comfortable and welcoming as possible; and an impromptu party is a wonderful indicator of how people value the space. But if this kind of service becomes the focus, what will be the point of libraries? Why will they be needed instead of other community venues?...

This is not a change resistant position. Rather it is a call not to fetishise change, to not identify change with progress, to be careful as we extend ourselves.

To do all this we need a balanced approach; to know what we should be doing and have a clear idea of why; and we need to know when we can say no. The reasoned ‘No’ is still important.

Pew Do You Trust?

Bo Kinney posted “I’m a connector” on June 21, 2007 at The letter z (letterz.wordpress.com). He notes a brief June 20, 2007 memo from John B. Horrigan of Pew Internet & American Life, “Don’t blame me: It’s the phone’s fault!” and got to the little quiz at its end—the quiz (differently worded, I think) that resulted in Pew’s offensive “Lackluster Veteran” label for me and a few million other Experienced Skeptics (as I discussed in C&I 7:8). Kinney found that he’s a Connector, one of Pew’s favored categories—people who “surround themselves with technology and use it to connect with people and digital content. They get a lot out of their mobile devices and participate actively in online life.”

Here’s where it gets interesting—a few excerpts from Kinney’s essay (yes, it’s an essay-length post; Kinney admits that he likes to “discourse at length,” which I’m not one to complain about!):

Well, ok, I guess. I don’t have any mobile devices, though, no blog and no wireless laptop. (Which, incidentally, is why I’m sitting in the DC Public Library and frantically trying to peck this out before my Internet time runs out.) Maybe this makes me one of those Luddites I’ve been hearing so much about lately. But I suppose the quiz did the best it could with the answers I gave it… [Kinney then provides longer answers to Pew’s questions, including these:]

[Re feeling overloaded or liking having so much information available:] Well, actually, I feel overloaded and I like having so much information available. I think that I am becoming something of an ICT junkie, in fact, at least in terms of the Internet. Heaven knows what would happen if I stopped being a Luddite and got myself a cellular phone…

[Does Kinney like that cell phones etc. allow Kinney to be more available to others?] Not really. This is actually what I like least about cell phones and other mobile devices. I don’t mind having others available to me, but I’d prefer to be available only when I want to be. I guess this means I do think ICTs give you less control over your life.

[Is Kinney more productive because of all those electronic devices?] Yikes. I don’t even want to think about that one. I suppose I do produce more using my electronic devices than I do with my non-electronic ones. But I also spend vast quantities of time doing things like reading RSS feeds in a very unproductive fashion. So if you measure productivity as amount produced divided by time spent, I’m afraid the answer would be no.

I’m worried about how difficult these questions were to answer, and I wonder how that reflects on Pew’s classification. I do believe, though, that Pew used a far more detailed set of questions for the actual study. I suppose the quiz I filled out is just a game, just another piece of information for me to consume. And now, hopefully, for some of you to consume as well in your unproductive RSS feed reading. I’m glad I could pass this on. After all, I’m a connector.

The brief memo discusses “themes” that emerge from the typology document to explain “why many Americans are not tuned into the information age.” Horrigan’s on my bad side already, since he seems to assume that if I’m not using ICT tools 24/7 I’m not “tuned into the information age.” The two themes are usability and utility—lots of people have trouble getting new gadgets to work and “many technology users simply do not associate ICTs with greater levels of control or productivity in their lives.”

Short response: Well, duh. “Only” one-third of respondents who have cell phones or internet access agrees “a lot” with the proposition that ICTs make them more productive. This clearly distresses Horrigan, but not me. I’ve been more connected than usual the last two-three weeks, for various reasons—and much less productive than usual, until I turn off the connections and focus.

A group whose aim was to study the effects of the internet on American life might say, “That’s interesting: Most people who have access don’t find it makes them more productive.” But Pew is not a study group, at least not any more: It’s an advocacy group. So the brief paper goes on to draw “lessons” on how to get two-thirds of us to be more enthusiastic. Oddly enough, the issue doesn’t seem to be making us more productive—just getting us to believe that ICT makes us more productive.

One remedy makes sense: “The technology industry could improve how it designs gadgets, especially for older Americans.” Let’s set aside the possible ageism here… The second remedy: “Efforts to convey the social benefits of ICT use to several segments of the population would have substantial payoffs.” Then there’s that sad admission that “some people will probably remain technological contrarians.” [Emphasis added.] You know: Lackluster Veterans and Connected but Hassled people—18% of the adult population, who know how it works but aren’t enthralled, plus all those others who (by Pew’s standards) just haven’t learned the drill yet. There’s damnation by labeling again: Even though we seem to reflect the attitudes of two-thirds of cell and internet users, we’re “contrarians.” Why? Because we’re not on board with Pew’s enthusiasm.

The more I read of Pew lately, the more disturbed I am. When you start calling people who are both knowledgeable on a topic and reflect the supermajority view of that topic “contrarians,” you’re stretching the language a little too far.

On Disagreement and Discussion

Steven Bell offered this feedback on that Perspective:

I did enjoy reading your reaction to my Inside Higher Ed essay—in the piece titled “On Disagreement and Discussion.” I think you have some valid points, and I knew folks would argue some of my points by sharing their own observations of “plenty of discussion and disagreement.” However, in the comments to the essay only one person could point to a written defense of Gorman—otherwise there was not much evidence of individuals siding with or coming to Gorman’s defense. I don’t doubt there are disagreements, but I wanted to focus on the lack of more discourse. While there are some incidents to which you and others can point, I continue to believe that gratuitous praise far outweighs serious discourse or disagreement. But your comment and those of others will have me looking more closely for signs of discourse.

I certainly didn’t expect anyone to still be bringing up that “silence in the stacks” IHE piece. I still think my comments are misunderstood. I think you do a good job of pointing out what I was trying to get at—even if you might disagree with it to an extent. Many jumped to the misunderstanding that I was saying there are no academic librarian bloggers. Heck, I point out some of them in the article. My point was that there was no one in the profession dedicating their blogging to the “issues of the day” as I call them. Even the person who blogs as “academic librarian” does not consistently blog about academic library issues. We certainly try to keep on topic over at ACRLog.

On the first point, I hadn’t focused on whether people were defending Michael Gorman (who seems quite capable of defending himself). On the second—well, I guess part of the issue is whether a blog must be dedicated to a single topic. Caveat Lector isn’t dedicated to either open access or institutional repositories, but I consider it to be a source of serious commentary in both areas, and thus a source of serious commentary on some aspects of academic librarianship.

Daniel Cornwall, who was quoted in the essay, wrote “Of mad dogs and loved ones” on July 24, 2007 at Alaskan librarian (alaskanlibrarian.blogspot.com). He’s puzzled that I got the impression that either he or Mark Sanborn might be suggesting that civility be used as an excuse to avoid disagreement—and agrees that there’s a huge gap between loved ones and “mad dogs,” but the people within that gap are “all still people and have their…dignity and we need to be respectful in our disagreement.” That’s an excellent point.

On the Literature

Laura B. Cohen offered this feedback on that Perspective (also C&I 7:9):

I’ve been reading your latest issue of Cites & Insights with (as always) great interest. I was especially struck by your comments about the peer review process and the timeliness of publication. As you know, I’ve blogged about this issue often enough.

I think that many academics who publish for peer-reviewed journals have horror stories to tell. My most recent peer-reviewed article (my ninth) was delayed by two years due to a mess with the soon-to-be-moribund journal Research Strategies. The only “good” thing about this incident was that the article was posted online a few months before the issue came out in print. In another situation, an article of mine was accepted at a top tier journal within two months, but the editor lost track of the acceptance. After many months, I worked up the courage to ask him what was going on. Only then was my article re-discovered.

I’m on the editorial board of Information Technology & Libraries. Occasionally we have fast-tracked articles and gotten them out within a few months. A good editor (and by this, I mean the editor of the journal) can work wonders.

I think that the pressures of Web publishing will change the nature of peer-review publishing. But given what I see in academia, I think it will take a new generation of scholars to make it happen.

As I noted to Laura, ITAL is my “home journal”—if I ever do another scholarly paper, it’s likely to wind up there. I’ve refereed articles for ITAL as well and can speak to the role of a good editor in assuring fast turnaround.

Eric Schnell wrote “Scholarly communication metrics must change” at The medium is the message (ericschnell.blogspot.com) on July 30, 2007, based partly on my On the Literature perspective—but he’s writing about issues of Authority, and I note his comments below.

A gratifying large number of bloggers commented on this essay. Thanks to them all, although I’m probably not mentioning them all here. Jennifer Macaulay posted “The value of library blogs” on July 23, 2007 at Life as I know it (scruffynerf.wordpress.com), noting (in part):

I have to say that library blogs are also my primary source of information about library issues as well as my primary means of discussing said issues. To me, liblogs are an invaluable resource. If I don’t read about something via one of the hundreds of blogs to which I subscribe, chances are that I will not hear about it at all.

In all honesty, identifying relevant titles and articles and wading through scholarly journals has absolutely no appeal. I don’t mean in any way to imply that they aren’t important or vital to the library field. However, unless I’m doing research on something for school or work, flipping through peer-reviewed journals is something that I am extremely unlikely to even pretend to do... Blogs actually make it easier to identify articles of importance—and bloggers often give overviews of an article’s content. I have found that blogs have much more impact on my day-to-day life as a librarian than scholarly journals ever could—which makes them more critical to my own professional development.

What does all of this mean to me? It means that I am not particularly interested in writing scholarly or peer-reviewed articles, especially at this point in my career and my life… I have become very comfortable with the blog medium. It suits me. I can explore my ideas and think about issues in more creative ways. The ideas and thoughts of other library bloggers challenge me and force me to think about things in new ways. I find it rather edifying.

The world of library blogs adds a wonderful and dynamic element to the ways in which librarians talk about their craft. Blogs create an atmosphere that is conducive to meaningful conversation. Should more people take blogs and the discussions that take place in the liblog world seriously? Definitely!

Paul R. Pival posted “Blogs vs. traditional literature” on July 24, 2007 at The distant librarian (distlib.blogs.com). Some of what Pival has to say:

I, too, get most of my current library info from blogs; both the original thoughts of their authors, but also pointers to the best of the traditional print literature. I try to stay current with the print literature, but it’s so much more convenient to receive postings in my aggregator (though I do of course receive what TOCs I can via RSS). I recently read an article about IM reference service, and actually started at the list of references to see if any blog postings were referenced. Not a one. While the article was solid, I wondered if the authors had read the most current information from the front lines—the reports from the bloggers…

There’s great information in the traditional literature, but there’s also wonderful information, sometimes even written by the same people, in the blogosphere. I read it and I’m proud of it. I write it, and I’m proud of that too. But I’m preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?

In a portion of the post not quoted here, Pival points to “Bright is the old gray,” Lorcan Dempsey’s take on my opening sentence, posted July 23, 2007 at Lorcan dempsey’s weblog (orweblog.oclc.org). Noting my use of “gray literature” as a label for blogs, C&I and the like, Dempsey responds:

Gray? Gray! Blogs, reports published on the web, web journals: these are brightly colored and shining. They are connected to the life of the web—link and search—and are visible, referencable and available.

In contrast most of the formal library literature is a very dreary affair. Dull publications, hidden for the most part from the web. Determined not to have any influence outside their niche. Gray, Gray, Gray ....

I think we need to revise our terms ;-)

The web has shone a light on the formerly gray; the formally published seems to want to stay in the shadows and become the new gray.

Tara E. Murray posted “Shades of gray literature” at DIYLibrarian on August 7, 2007 (diylibrarian.org/). She’d just gotten a rejection from her first submission to a peer-reviewed journal when C&I 7:9 came out and was taken by the lead sentence of the essay. Her comments:

In preparation for writing my article, I did a literature review and read some scholarly articles. I also read a lot of blog posts and online publications. Reviewing the journal literature was helpful for background, and uncovered some things (mainly having to do with special libraries) that hadn’t been reported elsewhere. But for the most part I found the journals to be seriously behind the curve.

By the time I revised my article and submitted it to another journal, and then waited for review and publication, it would really be old news. While the idea of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is appealing, in part because I work in a research environment, it is neither required nor supported in my current position. My real motivation in writing this article is sharing a story with my colleagues, and most of them are probably more likely to read it on a blog or listen to it at a conference than they are to pick up a journal and read about it there….

I think there is probably a place for all kinds of literature in our profession, but right now it’s all I can do to keep up with the gray literature, and it feels more relevant to me as a practicing librarian.

I absolutely agree that there’s a place for all kinds of literature—and with the rest of the post as well.

T. Scott Plutchak (tscott.typepad.com) has devoted extended effort to making traditional library publishing work well; he edited the Journal of the Medical Library Association for six years. In the August 10, 2007 post “Publishing faster” he notes the biggest disappointment of that tenure: “my complete failure to reduce the time lag between submission of an article and its actual appearance.” He says the new crew is doing better—but since it’s producing a print quarterly, it’s still unlikely that an article can appear within five months of submission. Scott takes issue with Schnell’s conclusion that traditional publishing “can no longer be the trusted source for the dialog and communication going on in our profession” and notes ongoing problems with Haworth in particular. Scott mentions alternatives—open access, online, but still fully peer reviewed. He concludes:

On many campuses today, librarians are working with their local faculty to encourage them to make smarter choices about where they submit their manuscripts. Librarians should do the same. If you’re unhappy with “traditional publishing,” your first step should be to quit sending them manuscripts and quit serving on their editorial boards. Publishers will only adapt when they’re forced to.

I should note Christina Pikas’ July 28, 2007 post at Christina’s LIS rant (christinaslibraryrant.blogspot.com), “I believe in research…” Part of what Pikas has to say (and what she says relates to more than one of my essays):

I believe in evidence. I believe in carefully planned, well-executed, carefully analyzed, and well-presented studies of user behavior... Doing research is hard work. It takes a really long time and planning — and everything can go wrong…

There’s plenty of room for this-is-how-I-did-it articles, columns, thought pieces, and commentaries—but to really move our field forward, we need actual evidence. This evidence can come from qualitative or quantitative research, if that research is well-planned, carefully executed, and appropriate to the problem… The reports of work completed must be reviewed by peers in the field who are competent to judge the appropriateness of the methods used, the claims made, the analysis used. It does matter!

…I’m not concerned with scholarly and authoritative (right now). I’ve read some poor articles from authorities in our field—the evidence needs to stand for itself. Using fancy language to hide poor execution is not good, either.

I want to be clear: I’m not opposed to blogs going on CVs or being counted as professional work. Columns and thought or theoretical pieces belong on CVs, so why not blogs?..

I enjoy blogging and I think it’s a great way to develop ideas and communicate with others in our field and adjacent fields. I think there are many ideas that deserve to be captured in a more permanent format… I think that bloggers who come up with these fabulous posts should take the time and discipline required to develop the posts into articles and, at minimum, archive them at D-List or E-LIS…

…I hate to see young librarians with fabulous ideas [failing to publish formally]. Get a mentor, get help getting started, and publish!

I would note that there’s no good reasons blogs can’t be permanent (and there’s nothing inherently permanent about a refereed journal). C&I is being archived by a third party (the OCLC Library). Would C&I essays be somehow more worthwhile if I recast them as traditional articles and archived them at E-LIS? I don’t see how. Would that make them more suitable for indexing, which C&I apparently is not? Maybe—and I’m not sure why.

On Authority, Worth and Linkbaiting

Seth Finkelstein commented on this essay (C&I 7:9) in a July 24, 2007 post at Infothought. He says my comment about Britannica’s linkbaiting working is off the mark—PageRank as displayed publicly is “typically a few months old.” I like his note about the Britannica Blog: “It’s actually not a bad blog on its own term, a bit like an upscale liberal-arts type magazine. But that’s not going to draw readers like taking a stick to the web-evangelist hornet’s-nest will.” Personally, I unsubscribed after a while—but I don’t take the upscale liberal-arts magazines either.

Wayne Bivens-Tatum wasn’t responding to my essay when he posted “Thoughts on Authority” at Academic librarian on July 20, 2007 (he couldn’t have unless he was prescient, since the issue appeared on July 22). It’s an interesting commentary about the general issue of authority and how academic librarians tend to treat it—which is, he suggests, with more respect than it may deserve. Excerpts:

Academic librarians are very un-postmodern. They like Authority, at least in some senses.. The notion of Authority helps us both in academic collection development and in reference. We don’t have the time or expertise to read and evaluate everything we buy or recommend, so we often rely upon some authority to distinguish the best material.

But what are we doing when we use Authority as a criterion for scholarly materials? Surely none of us believe that because Renowned Professor A published this article in Standard Scholarly Journal B that the article is thereby true, even if we believe in notions of truth… The scholarly conversation captured in books and journals and even blogs isn’t necessarily any better because of who wrote it or where it was written, but we often act as if it is, using Authority as a metonym for something else. I’m not sure what that something else is, though. Truth? Probably not. A certain standard of scholarly rigor? Maybe…

I’ve seen that in a lot of standard introductions to students, evaluating information often boils down to authority of some kind, rather than if the work is well reasoned or carefully researched…

Tips for evaluating websites usually have the same approach. Who wrote this? What’s the url? Where is the page from? Does the author have the right credentials? I’m not saying this is bad. I do the same thing myself… But is this anything other than a shorthand way of evaluating something without reading it? Would what I write, for example, be any different, any better or worse, if the url of this blog were different or if I had a different job title?

When we challenge students to evaluate information sources, the “authority” of the source should only be one method to evaluate the source, and even then only if it’s a relevant criterion. We need to emphasize that “authoritative” means that a work has met some standard of criticism and has been judged a worthy entry into the scholarly conversation by someone or some group, but that it doesn’t mean the source is “right” or “true,” and it doesn’t necessarily mean other sources aren’t also useful or reliable…

We also need to understand when the notion of authority has no relevance (as when there is no author), and when we have to substitute some other standard of value instead. For Wikipedia and other wiki products, what would that standard be? Or perhaps a more relevant question — what can the shorthand criterion be if we can’t use Authority the way we’ve been used to?

Alice Sneary points to one possible answer (or set of answers) to the questions in that final paragraph in a July 25, 2007 It’s all good post, linking to “The new metrics of scholarly authority” by Michael Jensen in the June 15, 2007 Chronicle of Higher Education. (The post has the same name minus the “The.”) Jensen proposes seventeen measures and says, “None of those measures could be computed reasonably by human beings.” He seems to believe that they could be computed automatically—and I wonder. Here’s the list, with numbers added:

1. Prestige of the publisher (if any).

2. Prestige of peer prereviewers (if any).

3. Prestige of commenters and other participants.

4. Percentage of a document quoted in other documents.

5. Raw links to the document.

6. Valued links, in which the values of the linker and all his or her other links are also considered.

7. Obvious attention: discussions in blogspace, comments in posts, reclarification, and continued discussion.

8. Nature of the language in comments: positive, negative, interconnective, expanded, clarified, reinterpreted.

9. Quality of the context: What else is on the site that holds the document, and what’s its authority status?

10. Percentage of phrases that are valued by a disciplinary community.

11. Quality of author’s institutional affiliation(s).

12. Significance of author’s other work.

13. Amount of author’s participation in other valued projects, as commenter, editor, etc.

14. Reference network: the significance rating of all the texts the author has touched, viewed, read.

15. Length of time a document has existed.

16. Inclusion of a document in lists of “best of,” in syllabi, indexes, and other human-selected distillations.

17. Types of tags assigned to it, the terms used, the authority of the taggers, the authority of the tagging system.

Sneary offers useful comments about which of these could reasonably involve social networking (5-7, 9-10, 13-14, 16-17) and some other notes.

To some extent, 4 and 5 are classic measures in a new form—and 1-3 rely on “prestige,” thus classic Authority once removed. (Portions of 6, 12, 13 and 17 are also based on classic Authority.) For that matter, 11 is a classic Authority method to exclude independent researchers and bozos like me. #10 strikes me as a prime candidate for gaming the system: If it’s possible to compute, it’s possible to use as a way to assure that some section of a paper (or post or whatever) has “the right stuff,” the Proper Phrases. I cannot for the life of me see how Using the Right Phrases in any way implies quality, originality or authority; it certainly implies a knowledge of appropriate clichés, but is that really a good thing?

I realize as I write this that most of my quibbles are meaningless given the context of the article. Jensen is not proposing metrics for worth, truth or quality. He is proposing metrics for scholarly authority—the “reputation” a scholar (not a writer, a scholar) has or deserves. That’s quite a different thing.

As noted above, Eric Schnell feels that the metrics for scholarly communication need to change. What he says cuts across both essays. Here’s part of Schnell’s post:

In an era when the library world changes every 18 months, all too many important library related topics are irrelevant once they go through the glacier like 9-18 month publication cycle. Yet, in the eyes of promotion and tenure committees that paper I wrote in 1994 on Gopher remains to this day more important than this blog—mainly because it was peer reviewed prior to publication and quality indicators can be tracked through ISI Web of Science.

This blog, and the blogs of my colleagues, serves as a very important scholarly communication tool… This blog allows me to get concepts out there as I think of them and receive instant feedback from a qualified network of peers who may, or may not, agree with me. This blog allows any idea I present to be discussed, questioned, and debated upon by a networked peer review community through comments and referrals. Any one of my posting may go through a more thorough post publication review that any one of my print articles…

..Promotion and tenure committees must take the time to learn about, and give credit for, the new methods of scholarly communication instead of relying on scholarly publishers as the sole tool in establishing the importance of our contributions.

The problem becomes metrics. How does one quantify the impact that a blog has? The number of subscribers? The number of comments? The number of trackback links? Each has its own set of issues, many not unique to blogging. For example, some have complained about blog cliques which comment and link to each other’s posts and in effect boost their individual Technorati rankings. This is not unlike the scholar that references a colleague’s work and in effect boosts their citation report. The difference being the turnaround time and ease in which the boosting can be accomplished.

The Speaking Life

Here’s an odd case: The email suggesting a followup arrived several months before the issue (C&I 7:7, Mid-June 2007, COAP2)—because it was related to earlier (republished) material about speaking fees (originally in C&I 7:2, February 2007). Alane Wilson, then of OCLC, noted that I “didn’t include anything…for people like us—employees of organizations/companies who are full time salaried staff.” I didn’t deal with corporate policies on speaking.

I didn’t say much about that because many organizations either have their own formal policies or their own informal assumptions and those policies are likely to differ wildly. So, for example, applying OCLC’s rules, when I spoke at Washington Library Association this year, OCLC considered it work time and covered all expenses—and I didn’t accept an honorarium (nor would I have been allowed to keep it). I’d be surprised if high-level employees at most library vendors accept fees or expenses when speaking to current or potential customers of those vendors. On the other hand, while I worked for RLG, unless the speech was directly related to my work at RLG (most of them weren’t), money issues were my own business—and I might or might not need to use vacation time to do the speeches.

Alane says, “I’ll bet universities have policies on this.” It would be interesting to know what those policies are, and I suspect they vary widely. My understanding is that many academic institutions allow employees to retain copyright and earnings on writing even when that writing is work-related, but require that patents be turned over to the university for work-related inventions. Speeches are much closer to writing; I’d anticipate that the same rules would apply. I could, of course, be dead wrong.

Conferences & Speaking

Dorothea Salo showed up several times in this special issue (C&I 7:7). A July 18, 2007 Caveat lector post makes a promise she may have trouble keeping: “Conferences, the last post.” You should read the post itself—and the earlier post linked to in the first paragraph, which comments at length on some issues raised in C&I. Here’s part of what Salo has to say:

I believe, more and more strongly as time passes, that the mega-conference and the association conference as currently constituted are on their way out, so all this wrangling over compensation models will eventually become moot…

What do these conferences do? What are they (de facto or de jure) for?

1. Provide social networking and reunion opportunities.

2. Provide a venue for vendors and (potential) clients to meet-and-greet.

3. Provide face-to-face meeting time and space for the association.

4. Provide résumé opportunities for those who need them.

5. Provide opportunities for idea exchange, professional growth, and learning.

…I go to conferences for point 5. I’m the one you see carefully annotating the conference schedule so that I maximize my learning time. I don’t care about the vendor floor, I’m happy to see people but it’s not the highlight of my day, I’m not doing association business (yet), and my résumé’s quite healthy, thanks.

Nerds like me are in a distinct and (I believe) shrinking minority…

What’s more, the Sage on the Stage model is about as tired at conferences as it is in the classroom. The kind of learning more and more librarians need can’t be got from a Sage on the Stage…

…Eventually some enterprising association is going to decide that conference-session money is better spent—on almost anything, really…So what will association conferences look like then? Me, I think they’ll split into several pieces. Vendor expos will be vendor expos, and they’ll be cooperative events handled regionally, with profits split among sponsoring associations… Association business will move online, because it’s dead stupid that it hasn’t already done so.

And the teaching and learning will take place at smaller, tightly-focused venues…

I think that’d be a good world, a more honest world, certainly a better world than the one we’ve got for conference nerds like me. It’s a world that will respond faster to what librarians need, because it’ll be attendees (rather than conference committees) deciding how and with whom to group themselves for best learning…

My crystal ball is murky when it isn’t outright broken. Librarianship also has a remarkable capacity to resist good, even necessary, ideas. So maybe the association conference as currently constituted will last out my career.

If it does, it won’t be for intrinsic merit or even interest, however.

I’m leaving out chunks of her post, including one section that suggests that she believes conference sessions at ALA were badly attended (based on “what I hear”). That certainly isn’t my experience: With one exception, the sessions I tried to attend at ALA were either full or overflowing, including an 8 a.m. session on the thrilling topic of MARC field and subfield usage.

I guess I don’t believe there’s any such animal as the association conference—at least not based on the two dozen (or more, including repeats) state library association conferences and absurdly large number of ALA conferences I’ve attended. Some associations spend serious money to bring in Big-Name Speakers—sometimes non-library speakers. Some don’t; if they bring in out-of-state speakers at all, they make sure they get their money’s worth (and it’s usually not lavish money). Some associations spend very little conference time on business meetings (as a nonmember, I’ve seen cases where such “what do I do now?” slots are nearly invisible). Some, ALA perhaps foremost among them, probably spend way too much time on administrivia that could better be handled online.

Will association conferences change? In some cases, sure—just as they have over the years. Some states go to biennial conferences. Some join up with other associations or other states for larger conferences. I wouldn’t be surprised to see fewer conferences with “outside” speakers. I would be surprised to see exhibits split off from sessions—both for money reasons and because I see interactions among attendees and between attendees and vendors that don’t split neatly along those lines.

Will the traditional state or national conference disappear, or exclude vendors, or entirely exclude business meetings? I’d be surprised, and I’m not sure it would be a good thing. As to the biggest of them all—well, the 2007 ALA Annual Conference set an all-time record for attendance, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because libraries are so awash in money that they just had to send lots of people. As to the long term: My crystal ball’s no better than Salo’s.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 7, Number 10, Whole Issue 94, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at OCLC.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.

Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to waltcrawford@gmail.com. Comments specifically intended for publication should go to citesandinsights@gmail.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2007 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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