Yes? Digital Technology is the Future

Professor Monahan asks us to discuss where we lie are on the spectrum of digital generation theory.

Are we techno utopians that believe the internet can save the world?

Are we techno dystopians that believe the internet is a harbinger of the end of civilization?

Are we cautious enthusiasts who want to figure out how to use the new technological changes for good?

Are we skeptical of the entire discourse?

Yes?

To all of it?

We are in a transitional moment in our culture. This transition exists for many reasons, but one of the most profound is technology, especially digital technology. Our technology changes so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up or anticipate the possible outcomes or consequences.

The kids who are growing up in today’s world live in an entirely different technological landscape than I did, and I’m only thirty. While I think I fit the digital native category, I was born in 1985: I didn’t grow up with cell phones or with constant internet access. Computers and growing tech were prevalent throughout my childhood, but nowhere near to the extent that exist today.

Right before this class started, the mother in law of a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook titled “It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” I have multiple issues with this article, but I thought it was interesting that this sort of fearmongering and finger pointing towards technology is occurring in an age where technology is so ubiquitous. The thought struck me that this was written by someone who is not a digital native, and I wondered how scary this new world must be to someone who can’t keep up (or apparently take responsibility for their parenting styles)? (It should also be noted that the author of this article is a doctor in a rehabilitation clinic for addictions and might have more than a small personal agenda to support here). This sort of digital immigrant, as Marc Prensky points out, “w[as] ‘socialized’ differently from their kids, and [is] now in the process of learning a new language” (Prensky, 2001). And of course, this is exactly the topic of the article we read by Plowman and McPake on “Seven myths about young children and technology”.

This is certainly not a new idea either, Alvin Toffler addressed this in his 1970 novel Future Shock and the debate has continued to rage ever since.

In one of my other classes, Children’s Resources, one of the very first things we discussed was the necessity of not limiting information given to children because we think it might be too advanced for them. Children need to be able to take in information and extrapolate from it what they need without adults interfering in the process. I think this point is also necessary when looking at children and what technology we present to them. My first response to the article comparing ipads to heroine was thinking about how I would never deny my children access to the tools that they will need to succeed.

I absolutely believe that digital technology is the current state of the future, and that children today must be exposed early and often to what is available to them in order to afford them future success.

My mother did not let me play videogames as a child. Much like the themes in the above article, she believed that too much screen time was detrimental to my well-being and would firmly boot me outside to go play in the sunlight. Granted, I was much more “addicted” to reading, and she had larger problems prying books out of my hands when it came time to focus elsewhere, but…at the end of the day, one of the things I’ve noticed when comparing myself with friends of mine who did avidly play video games is the extreme difference in technological skills that we carried out of childhood. My friends who were gamers did much better in the STEM areas than I ever did, and have largely chosen professions that utilize technologies that quite frankly I can’t even begin to understand. And again, that was over twenty years ago, so I can only imagine what might happen to child today who is denied access to technology. As Bennett, Maton and Kervin state in their article on digital natives: “Immersion in this technology-rich culture is said to influence the skills and interests of digital natives in ways significant for education” (Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008). If digital technology is the wave of the future, the children who will succeed will be those who are comfortable with that technology and understand how to use and create it.

Marc Presnky’s article on digital natives starts with the quote “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (Prensky, 2001). I think this is extremely true. The sister of a friend I grew up with recently began high school. Her school required all incoming freshmen to have Mac laptops. Would this have happened even ten years ago? Probably not. My own elementary school now teaches classes on how to use the internet, on internet safety, and incorporates that discussion into regular coursework. Students use Twitter to talk to others all over the world, and introduce video-making and social media into their arsenal of regular classroom tools. They do this because:

If we want the children of today to continue to be learners tomorrow, we need to help them develop a sense of themselves as competent learners who can function in diverse settings. In order to accomplish this goal, the Lower School curriculum exposes children to different approaches in learning, enhances their awareness of their own individual learning styles, and aids them in discovering that there are many resources for information and knowledge, both within and outside of school. (The Columbus Academy, Lower School)

Can the internet save the world? I think the Egyptian Revolution is a good example of how the internet can cause drastic change for both good and ill. A Wired article about the Egyptian Uprising and social media says: “Did social media like Facebook and Twitter cause the revolution? No. But these tools did speed up the process by helping to organize the revolutionaries, transmit their message to the world and galvanize international support” (Gustin, 2011).

We can certainly argue over the politics and whether we believe what happened in Egypt was right or wrong…but think about that: The fact that common people were able to use a tool like Twitter to help an actual revolution take place. That is no small thing.

In the long run, are the Egyptians better off? I’m sure that only someone living in Egypt right now could even begin to give you that sort of answer. The Wired article makes a good point though, social media and other digital technology is a tool, a tool that is still being used by humans, which we all know are capable of great good and great evil. So while these tools can cause wonderful things, they can also cause terrible things. Globalization, which I believe to be one of the major things that digital technology is ensuring will happen, can be both good and bad. It can bring jobs, communication and assistance to those who need it; it can also take them away.

The protests at Standing Rock are a good example of this as well. It seems like most mainstream media is refusing to cover the protests, but Facebook has allowed continual information and communication to spread. The fact that journalists who are covering the action are being arrested, point to social media becoming a safer, more efficient way of covering future revolutions.

But am I skeptical? Of course. We are only in the beginning of the digital world. Even if we consider technology that was developed in the World War eras of the mid twentieth century, we have not yet even ventured for a century into this new world of technology. In the span of human history, that is a mere drop in the bucket.

I think there’s a huge reason that dystopian futures are so popular right now. People can obviously see the possibilities of a world brought about by technologies with devastating effects, effects we cannot predict.

But I am hopeful. I think that technology gives us the capabilities to do things that we have never imagined before. I think I will see the types of change in my lifetime that my grandparents couldn’t even dream about.

What will these drastic changes in our technological landscape bring? Only time will tell.

 

References:

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The digital natives debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786.

Gustin, S. (2011). Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt’s Revolutionary Fire. Wired.

https://www.wired.com/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/

Lower School. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2016, from

http://www.columbusacademy.org/Page/Academics/Lower-School

Kardaras, N. (2016). It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. New York Post.

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

Plowman, L., & McPake, J. (2013). Seven myths about young children and technology. Childhood Education, 89(1), 27.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York: Random House.

Hot Topic – Library Related Privacy Concerns

The International Federation of Library Associations considers privacy to be a basic human right, based on statements from Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Office of Intellectual Freedom, 2010, pg 8). The United States Bill of Rights also upholds the right of citizens to privacy, and grants Americans access to publicly funded libraries. The American Library Association states that the right to privacy is “essential” to the right of free speech and free association, and created their Library Bill of Rights in response, saying: “The American Library Association affirms that rights of privacy are necessary for intellectual freedom and are fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship” (ALA, 2014). Therefore, privacy is seen as a core value of librarianship. For years, libraries have worked to educate patrons on privacy issues and to keep the information provided by patrons confidential. But rapidly changing technology is challenging libraries’ approach to privacy issues. Recent government policies, such as the Patriot Act, make the job of the library much more difficult when it comes to privacy and confidentiality. Libraries are having to change the conversation about privacy issues and work to reevaluate how to handle these issues within the library to ensure that the ethic of privacy is being appropriately upheld.

The ALA maintains that all library professionals have a responsibility to uphold privacy ethics and to facilitate free access to information. While providing access to information without censorship, libraries have upheld basic standards such as withholding patron information from third parties, not monitoring what materials patrons access, and not retaining any information collected in the course of regular patron use of resources (ALA, 2014). In the past, this has been relatively easy. Libraries have disposed of any personal information collected on patrons, such as check out histories and interlibrary loan requests. But with the advent of new technologies, like cloud sharing, this information is not so easily lost. And recent federal laws have made it even harder to deny government requests for information. Libraries continue to try to maintain control over personal information and actively work to resist government violations of privacy rights, but find themselves having to carefully balance lawful requests for information with more stringent, often unethical rights violations from government authorities (ALA, 2014). Federal agents often make this much more difficult by giving federal orders to librarians that tell them that they cannot share the information that the federal government is looking into personal information on patrons in libraries.

The emergence of the internet, Open Access and other communication technologies changes the traditional methods of libraries in regards to privacy issues and concerns. Resources that libraries have conventionally provided in print are now being offered online, and the field is at a crossroads for collecting and managing collections (Zimmer, 2013, pg 29). Web search engines, like Google, provide instant access to millions of information sources, allowing patrons unprecedented access to unfiltered, unverified data. Libraries are having to integrate this new electronic environment into their traditional services, and to approach these platforms as widely accepted sources for their users. But this brings up new questions for library ethics, especially in regards to privacy issues. In the past, intellectual activities have been protected by standards in the library field. But now, unlike in the past, to harness these new resources, libraries have to “capture and retain personal information” in order to “create user profiles, engage in activities that divulge personal interests and intellectual activities, be subject to tracking and logging of library activities, and risk having various activities and personal details linked to their library patron account” (Zimmer, 2013, pg 31). And unfortunately, due to excitement over new possibilities for access, privacy concerns are often being compromised by libraries enthusiastic over new digital possibilities (Zimmer, 2013, pg 36). The lack of clear guidelines that address developments in the new technological age creates a policy vacuum that libraries must consider going forward to further their goal to uphold patron privacy.

The difficulty comes from patron privacy being seen as a “facet” of intellectual freedom. In his article on privacy concerns and electronic resources in libraries, Alan Rubel says: “While electronic resource use, coupled with policies regarding that use, may diminish patron privacy, thereby diminishing intellectual freedom, the opportunities created by such resources also appear liberty enhancing. Any attempt to adjudicate between privacy loss and enhanced opportunities on intellectual freedom grounds must therefore provide an account of intellectual freedom capable of addressing both privacy and opportunity” (Rubel, 2014, pg 184). Vendors of electronic resources provide customized services for patrons, which in turn allows vendors to collect much more personal information on patrons and their usage of resources than ever before. While patrons receive a better product and service, they give up personal information without the ability to control how that information is used. Vendor privacy policies are not usually on par with that of library privacy policies, and vendor ethics do not line up with the ethics of libraries (Rubel, 2014, pg 185). Libraries have to walk a narrow line between service and ethics that is becoming harder and harder to navigate as time goes by. Licensing contracts often require libraries to monitor usage and provide those statistics to vendors. While this information can be used innocently to keep track of what resources are actually needed, it can also be used to track personal usage without patrons ever being aware that this information is being shared.

In their article on the paradox of privacy, Campbell and Cowan state that “Privacy, then, exists at the juncture between the user and the information used. Free and untrammeled exploration of the library’s information resources can only take place if users are free from showing others what they are reading and having to explain why and users need not fear that the information they use will enable others to identify them” (Campbell and Cowen, 2016, pg 493). Technology has the ability to create both positive and negative opportunities for privacy, and Campbell and Cowan point out that the exploitation of personal information can exist without patrons knowing that it is happening. In order to ensure that the true library ethic of privacy is attained in this new world, libraries have to continue to acknowledge the right to privacy, no matter what excuse or rationale is given.

Campbell and Cowan examine the experience of LGBTQ library patrons who use the library as safe space to locate information about their gender and sexual identities. While the library should provide a private place to research this type of information, if that privacy is given up for technological advances, these users could be “outed” and harmed unintentionally. The library assists these users to “identify information [which] requires the gradual evolution of an ability to modulate and control one’s own revelations” (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg 501). The library has created an image of itself as a safe space for these individuals to come and do research for themselves, but this can easily change if the library is not mindful of the type of personal data that it is giving out to third parties. Staff need to be trained in how to handle these privacy issues and concerns, and libraries need to be mindful of the electronic infrastructure that we are creating and using to ensure that traditional ideas of privacy can be maintained in a very new technological environment.

Social media is another resource that needs to be examined. While budgets are being cut, social media is a very good way for libraries to advertise services and continue to bring patrons through the doors. Social media allows for multiple opportunities for exposure and advertisement. But social media is a tool for Big Data Analytics to turn users into resources for information. By tagging users, or following a page, patrons give up information about themselves that they aren’t even aware that they are sharing (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg. 503). As libraries, we have a responsibility to monitor these privacy issues and to police ourselves to make sure our patrons are aware of the risks, as well as the rewards, of using these types of resources.

Because of a constantly changing digital environment, privacy is an ever evolving concern, and libraries need to be constantly mindful of how we are handling this concern. One way to stay on top of privacy assurance in the twenty-first century is to keep doing what we are already doing, only do it a little better: “The ALA’s Core Value of Privacy rests on an assumption that continues to be valid: namely, that by exercising up-to-date collection management and accurate and effective bibliographic control, we empower users to locate information with a minimum of interference” (Campbell and Cowan, 2016, pg 505). In the future it will be necessary to continue to be mindful of the effects of technology on privacy issues and to be willing to be flexible in how we tackle the use of these technologies. There is no one right answer to the question of how to fully maintain an ethical policy in regards to privacy, but libraries must not overlook privacy in their excitement over new and better technological products. Privacy as a core library value has not diminished: in some ways, it has only become more necessary than ever before.

 

References

ALA Council. (amended 2014, July 1). An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved

July 1, 2016, from

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

Campbell, D. G., & Cowan, S. R. (2016). The Paradox of Privacy: Revisiting a Core Library

Value in an Age of Big Data and Linked Data. Library Trends, 64(3), 492-511.

Office of Intellectual Freedom. (2010). Privacy and Freedom of Information in 21st-Century

Libraries. Chicago, Ill: American Library Association.

Rubel, A. (2014). Libraries, Electronic Resources, and Privacy: The Case for Positive

Intellectual  Freedom. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 84(2),

183-208. doi:10.1086/675331

Zimmer, M. (2013). Assessing the Treatment of Patron Privacy in Library 2.0 Literature.

Information Technology and Libraries (Online), 32(2), 29-41.

Reflection Paper #1 – Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age

Reflection Paper #1
   
          In the book Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age, author Alex Wright concludes: “Otlet’s Mundaneum will never be. But it nonetheless offers us a kind of Platonic object, evoking the possibility of a technological future driven not by greed and vanity, but by a yearning for truth, a commitment to social change, and a belief in the possibility of spiritual liberation” (Wright 2014, 308). This statement sums up the model of information services that libraries and librarians offer in answer to the question ‘what can libraries can offer that institutions and organizations cannot?’ While Paul Otlet was an idealist who struggled his entire life towards a three dimensional system of information, an idea similar to H.G. Well’s concept of ‘A World Brain,’ he also understood the need for standards and common terms: “He…advocate[d for] his belief in international standards, arguing that librarians should embrace common protocols, including a universal set of subject headings that could enable them to share their work more effectively across institutional and national boundaries” (Wright 2014, 88). Libraries and librarians respond to the specific needs of their users by adhering to standards and core competencies of the library alone, never letting a single organization or institution monopolize or control how information and data is found and organized. Without having any agenda other than open access to their materials, libraries are able to offer their patrons something that corporations and institutions never can: access to information without advancing private interests in an environment that works for social change and a dedication to the latest trends in information.
          Unlike corporations, the primary goal of the library is in meeting the needs of its users. The agenda of the library is in openly offering access to information, while maintaining the privacy of patrons. In their article on future data curation trends, Weber, Palmer and Chao state: “Thus, the essence of librarianship holds—maximizing the ‘effective use of graphic records’ by adding value that is aligned with the social structures of a broader intellectual community” (Weber, Palmer, & Chao, 2012, 306). By functioning this way, the library becomes an important part of the publishing lifecycle of information, one not isolated by the agenda of a specific institution or entity. When a patron accesses information offered by a library, that material has already been deemed acceptable under the library’s expectations and standards, ensuring that the patron does not have to take the extra steps of reviewing that information for themselves. And if the library to which one goes does not have what one needs, it’s very possible that the inter-library system can procure that resource for you. This is just one example of the library as a collaborative model that works within a wide range of groups and institutions to facilitate research and information sharing with no hidden agenda.
          Paul Otlet was working to create a system that allowed users access to knowledge in a more convenient manner than was available at the time. Convenience seems to be a big point in the consideration of meeting user needs easily and rapidly. By adhering to core competencies and agreed upon standards, libraries meet user needs more conveniently than any single organization could. In her article on how libraries can meet user needs in a rapidly changing information environment, Mary Pagliero Popp states: “The concept of convenience is not new, but it is likely that some of these findings are even more important now in the context of current technologies Librarians must determine better ways to help users while being cognizant that most of the users they are helping want to get research done and go do something else” (Popp, 2012, 85). Libraries serve as a user-driven resource which implement systems and databases to aid in quickly finding needed information. The library as an institution itself is dedicated to facilitating this need for information easily found and accessed. By a commitment to agreed-upon core competencies and standards, libraries offer services that are more convenient to users than a more individualized organization might. Libraries constantly work to seek out the newest technologies and possibilities for the dissemination of all information, with no focus according to agenda, allowing them to present the most up-to-date capabilities much sooner than most individual organizations. The library constantly looks at changing trends in the information world and remains flexible, adopting those trends to allow information to be more convenient for our users: “The issue of change must be at the forefront of planning in all libraries, regardless of size. Both economic realities and the impacts of technology have the potential to greatly alter the way libraries are organized, the services libraries provide, and the work that is done by library employees” (Popp, 2012, 85-86). A commitment to change is one of the greatest assets that libraries are able to offer their patrons.
          But how do we sort out the services we need to offer our users to create an atmosphere of both competency and convenience? In her article, Tamara Pianos poses the question of knowing our patrons and their specific needs: “What does the user want? And who is the user? Or rather who are our users?”(Pianos, 2010, 5). While search engines like Google offer access to an amount of unprecedented information, the library is able to shift through that information and ensure that it is coming from acceptable sources, tailoring that information to their specific community: “However, user needs for filter options, expert search options and subject-specific search options are not fulfilled by Google, even though Google by now offers a few facets. This is traditional library turf; libraries should use their advantages creatively and intelligently” (Pianos, 2010, 10). When a user approaches information found at a library, that information is ready to use. They do not have to worry about whether or not that source has been peer reviewed or comes from a reliable author. The library has already put that stamp of approval on the source just by the act of offering it.
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References:
 “Code of Ethics of the American Library Association.” Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Accessed October 5, 2015. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics.
 Pianos, T. (2010). EconBiz Meeting User Needs with New Technology. Liber Quarterly: The Journal of European Research Libraries, 20(1), 424. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lih&AN=88858709&site=ehost-live
 Popp, M. P. (2012). Changing World, Changing Libraries, (April), 8489.
 Weber, N. M., Palmer, C. L., & Chao, T. C. (2012). Current Trends and Future Directions in Data Curation Research and Education. Journal of Web Librarianship, 6(4), 305320. http://doi.org/10.1080/19322909.2012.730358
Wright, Alex. Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age. Oxford University Press, 2014.

10 Years Later – Still Recovering

I have a confession to make.

Last night, I got lost in the stacks. I hear your gasps of horror from here. I know, I know, Librarian shaming all around!

In my defense it was the end of the day. And the elevators were down….And most of our stairwells are closed…And some of the stacks are closed off due to the construction…And the call number of the book I was looking for was literally in the last, dark, twisty corner in the whole place…

I know, I know…excuses, excuses.

But seriously…have you ever been to a library where there is a major construction project going on?

Where you don’t have basic things like, say, heat and air conditioning?

Where there’s drilling and pounding and alarms going off frequently?

Because I’ve lived it for the last two years. Really, the last five years.

And for my institution, it’s been the last ten years.

Can you imagine working in a library where you don’t even have temperature control? Especially in the tropics?

When I was on campus at the University of Pittsburgh and visited Hillman Library for the first time, I nearly cried. I haven’t had the pleasure of using a fully functioning academic library in years.

I currently work for the Tulane University Libraries and most people know that Hurricane Katrina devastated us ten years ago. What most people don’t know is that we are still recovering from it.

When I started working here five years ago, I knew there would be challenges. I manage the Acquisitions department and both through my own research, my interview and just being familiar with the infrastructure of New Orleans, I knew that part of my job was going to be helping with the recovery process. I also knew that the office itself wasn’t going to be fun.

I was asked right off the bat if I could deal with extreme temperatures.

Have you ever seen a pair of these before?

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Just a pair of finger-less gloves? Wait, what are all those wires?

These are electrically heated gloves that plug into the USB port of your computer. Think of them like an electric blanket, except for your hands…imagine what you might start thinking when these are a standard issued piece of office equipment given to you on your first day of work for office temperatures in the winter. Think I’m kidding?

11045378_1579761962268021_2566473218070965303_nThis was me sometime last January. Wearing full winter gear to survive the 50 degrees of my office all day. Some of you up North may laugh. 50 degrees? Up here we wear short sleeves in 50 degrees!

If you’ve never worked a full day, indoors, in 50 degrees, that you don’t know how draining and exhausting it truly is. And this is a regular occurrence in the winter months.

Another piece of standard office equipment these days, are a pair of these:

1

Industrial strength! To combat all of the noises of the construction going on around us.

And personal discomfort aside…none of this comes close to what happened to the library during Hurricane Katrina and directly thereafter.

There’s an infamous story down here. The day after Hurricane Katrina hit, then university president Scott Cowen walked Tulane’s campus and said, “Thank God! It could have been so much worse!” The next day, the levees broke and the campus flooded and it was worse.

This was the front of the library:

The basement was flooded by eight feet of water. We had three collections in the basement that had to be drained and sorted.

Can you imagine dealing with this?

Damage sustained to special collections in Tulane University’s Jones Hall building as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Photo: Andy Corrigan/Tulane University

Damage sustained to special collections in Tulane University’s Jones Hall building as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Photo: Andy Corrigan/Tulane University – from the article “The ‘Landmark Undertaking’ of the Tulane Libraries Recovery Center

When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was working on my undergraduate degree. I remember seeing the images of the disaster and watching the news. I was horrified just like the rest of America, but for the most part, it was so far removed from my life that it really couldn’t touch me. It never occurred to me that it would have such a huge impact on both my personal and professional lives.

Our recovery has been really amazing and that’s mostly due to the dedicated staff who were here to immediately deal with what had happened. I can only imagine what our staff faced the day they came back and found what the flooding had left behind.

Amazingly enough, the first conference held in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the American Library Association’s. They braved the still devastated city and brought business back to us. A few years ago, ALA came back and several library organizations who were coming to the conference asked the Tulane libraries to give a presentation on what we did to deal with the recovery from the flooding. The Head of Technical Services and the Head of Database management put a presentation together and showed it to us before taking it off to the conference. By the time that presentation was over with, our Head of Technical Services had to walk out in tears and none of us remained dry eyed after seeing all the pictures. And that was six years after the fact, so imagine what it must have been like on day one and two and three…we lost so much in Hurricane Katrina and the last ten years has been a daily fight to recover.

Assistant Dean, Andy Corrigan, wrote this article about the recovery process – With A Bucket of Extremes: Saving an ARL-Size Library Collection in New Orleans  With the help of a company called Belfor Restoration, we were able to recover an amazing amount of the materials that were trapped for days underwater. As Andy says in the article: “The collective damage to academic library collections in New Orleans has also been enormous and very likely also without precedent on domestic soil” (Corrigan 84).

While we have officially replaced the actual library materials and once more become a functioning ARL library, we are still dealing with the long term consequences of the flood.

Our Head of Technical Services, Donna Cook, recently put a ten year anniversary exhibit together for the library about the recovery process. You can see it here!

In order to help us rebuild, FEMA is currently funding a project that adds two whole new stories to our building. There is no way to waterproof our basement and it just isn’t feasible to use it for collections again. So, for the last two years, we have lived in a building that is having two entirely new floors added to it. We’ve had to move entire collections, move offices, cover stacks in plastic, had major roof leaks that caused damage and many other crazy flood/construction related issues. And yes, created an environment where just walking through the stacks is like attacking a new labyrinth meant to fool you, day after day.

So needless to say, as prepared as I thought I was for working at the Howard Tilton Memorial Library, nothing could have really prepared me for what life was going to be like here.

And it goes beyond the obvious issues. Yes, we lost physical things, physical space, but the people here also survived something that most people can only imagine. Whether they were here for the storm or returned afterwards, this is the sort of event that marks you for the rest of your life. My staff have stories about losing everything they owned, about living with family for months out of state, about what it was like to come back to the library and deal with things like the smell of mold that lasted for months and not knowing if they were going to lose jobs and paychecks. They have stories about knowing people who died, and about the squalor they endured after surviving both Katrina and hurricane Rita, which hit a short time later.

I have learned so much in my time at the Tulane University libraries, things that I probably would never learn anywhere else.  And it hasn’t been all doom and gloom, just like with any tragedy, there are as many amazing things that have come out of the flooding as there are terrible things. The sheer perseverance of those who have been here all of this time is a lesson in and of itself.

Last month we got back a functioning HVAC unit and have actual air control again, so hopefully I never have to use those gloves again.

This afternoon I am going to go on a tour of the two new floors which are expected to be finished sometime in December.

Last week, Dean Lance Query, who was here through all of it, finally retired after having promised to see the recovery through to the end. He’s still around too, stuffed up in a study carrel somewhere to make sure the final details are finished to his high expectations.

Our students and patrons have been largely understanding and have worked with us to accommodate the inconveniences of  working in a library that is dealing with all of these things.

I am proud to have been a part of HTML’s recovery process, and I am super lucky to have gotten to work with the number of amazing librarians and staff members who have been really the main reason we are still here. And as uncomfortable as it’s been, this is a place like no other and I would not have changed the discomfort and upset for the world.

And it’s important to remember, that the Tulane Libraries were not the only libraries affected by Katrina. Every library down here suffered, all have had to recover and rebuild since the storm.

We have been particularly lucky in having the resources to rebuild; not everyone has.

In the end, the New Orleans’ libraries are still here, still going strong, still working to build community and to provide services and materials to our patrons.

I think that’s pretty remarkable.

So the next time you’re sitting in your library, take a minute to appreciate the space around you. I’ve seen and experienced first hand what it’s like when you lose it and how hard it is to recover it. While I hope I never have to work in a library that is dealing with these issues ever again, after my time here, I know that recovery is possible and that’s something we should all remember. The physical space may be damaged, but the heart of the library is not even its collections, it’s the people. And while they are still here, so is the library.

To Read More about the Tulane Libraries and Katrina, check out:

Hurricane Katrina and the Library’s Collections

Tulane Libraries Recovery Center

The “Landmark Undertaking” of the Tulane Libraries Recovery Center

LAC Group Helps Tulane University Libraries Mark Hurricane Katrina 10th Anniversary

Google, Digitization, Internet Privacy and the Library

I thought a good way of opening this blog is through discussing one of our first assignments: we watched the film, Google and the World Brain and were asked several different questions that we could choose to answer.

Through their ‘Google Books’ project, Google wants to digitize the world’s books and work to create H.G. Well’s idea of the world brain. (If you would like to read more about Wells and the idea of the world brain, you can check this article out.) The film takes a look at Google’s interactions with university and other academic libraries, exploring the legalities, fears and possible outcomes of Google’s digitization project and its effect on libraries, publishers, authors and other book concerns. Just because we have the technology to digitize libraries, should we and how far should we go? And what concerns do we need to pay attention to?

In the film, we see Google first approach Harvard and ask to digitize their collections, which is an expensive and time consuming process which most libraries can’t afford. Harvard jumped right in and joined the project, as did several other libraries, despite many of the red flags: Google did not seek copyright permission from publishers and authors, and eventually a lawsuit was brought to bear on Google. In contrast, many libraries opposed the project and started their own digitization projects in response.

The question I decided to discuss deals with internet privacy and technology. “The issue of online privacy is a major theme in this film.  What do you think of the comment that if people don’t like the privacy policies of a particular technology, then they should retreat: go hide in the mountains? Is that a real option in our society?  Why are people worried about privacy? Are these concerns valid? What problems do these issues create for information professionals?”

In watching this film, My attention was caught by this comment, made by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine. There is a certain level of blind arrogance in this comment that shows an unwillingness to really recognize and study the privacy issues at hand. I do not believe that anyone involved in the information age has the option of simply opting out of a technology. We are constantly surrounded by technology: there is no escaping it in the modern, American, world. I can’t think of a single job that does not require the use of some form of technology: I’ve seen statistics that show that a good majority of Americans use smartphones in one form or another. The Pew Research Center reports that:

  • 90% of American adults own a cell phone
  • 32% of American adults own an e-reader
  • 42% of American adults own a tablet computer

These are not small numbers, and the data shows that most of our population relies in one form or another on technology to connect them to the rest of the world.

What really shocked me was the source of this statement:  the co-founder of Wired Magazine, someone who would certainly have an interest in copyright and use of the work he makes available to his readership. Technology is inescapable, and just because it is a requirement of daily life does not mean that we should have to sacrifice our private lives to enjoy it.

As librarians, we are invested in making information available to everyone. I think we saw that in how the Harvard libraries reacted when Google first approached them with this idea of Google Books: excitement over the tools to digitize their massive collections, which libraries are often unable to do because of the various issues discussed. I was personally shocked that they so willingly decided to allow Google to scan their books, and I was somewhat relieved that the Director of the French National Library, Jean-Noël Jeanneney, had the same reaction I had. How did the Harvard libraries not see the possible outcome of a digitization project of this level without the legalities hammered out beforehand? In my current professional position in Acquisitions at a large ARL library, one of the larger parts of my job is dealing with licensing issues during the purchase books and other library materials. Just because we make our materials available to the public does not mean that we lose sight of copyright issues and publisher requirements. As a writer and artist myself, I was horrified when Kevin Kelly stated that “artists do not own their ideas” (@45:00). This statement in fact blatantly contradicts the U. S. Copyright Act of 1976.

I might confess to having a cursh on Jean-Noël Jeanneney after watching this film.

I might confess to having a crush on Jean-Noël Jeanneney after watching this film.

When one librarian was asked what he thought about the possibility of Google profiting from the digitization of the books they scanned from that particular library, his face registered complete shock and he couldn’t think of what to say. He finally fell back on the legal agreement his library made with Google that stated that he couldn’t discuss those sorts of details.

Privacy issues are of extreme concern when we are looking at corporations like Google and Facebook. Google may say they have grand ideals, but at the end of the day, they are a for-profit corporation. There is nothing to stop them from handing over vast quantities of personal information when someone (anyone) offers them enough financial incentive to do so. The government absolutely does not need to know what books I am reading (or anything else I am doing). The fact that Google seems willing to gloss over the possible use of this information is a huge red flag.

Google simply does not understand books as anything other than a profit-making asset. The idea of “Leaves of Grass” originally being filed under the subject heading ‘Gardening’ is both hilarious and tragic at the same time. Why should we put such important archival work into the hands of corporations that do not have the academic integrity to understand what they are actually doing? As someone in the film said, Google has these great ideas and implements them without thinking of the possible consequences of their actions. I see one of my roles as Librarian as not simply making the information available, but to do so in a responsible way so that the people that need that information can find it and use it without forgetting where that information came from. Jaron Lanier said: ““Copyright is our way of remembering who those people are” and that “cyber culture is missing the point of copyright” (@45:30). Copyright is not an outdated issue; it is a something that we as librarians have a responsibility to understand and help others understand so that they can use it in furthering the work that has already been done. Copyright is not dead. In fact in an age of instant transmission of information, it becomes an even greater issue.

I am very glad that Judge Chin ruled against the original settlement. Privacy is a major concern in today’s world and what we decide to do with it now will affect all of our future generations who are not being exposed to this technology for the first time.

Judge Denny Chin.

Judge Denny Chin.

As a writer and artist myself, copyright exists for a reason. I may be building on the ideas of those who came before me, but just like those who came before, I deserve recognition for the work that I am adding to the canon. And just like Google, I too make money from my work. While most authors and artists love what they do, they also publish their work for the revenue it generates. We aren’t in this simply for the fun of it, we also have bills to pay.

One of the first lessons we are taught as college students is citation and the importance of not plagiarizing the work of other authors. The consequences of plagiarism are extreme and can result in being kicked out of schools or permanently having our academic records blemished. Google seems to have gone with the theory that they are too big to be punished in a similar manner. Thankfully it seems that this is not the case.

Friends of mine are often shocked to hear how expensive ebooks are for libraries to purchase. They don’t realize that we have to choose user licenses and make agreements with the publishers on how the ebook will be used. While on average I might pay around $35 for a physical book, if I buy a multi-user license for the same book, I might pay anywhere from $125 and $350 for the same title. At the same time, unlike use of the physical book, I have no guarantee that this title will always be available. The publisher can yank that title off their platform at any time and we will not receive any money back for that title. The physical book is permanent; the ebook is definitely not.

And I can’t even blame publishers for their strict control over their titles. Google’s blatant refusal to acknowledge copyright and the legalities of digitization shows they have a right to fear for the loss of control over the content they are spending massive amounts of money to produce.

The Hachette/Amazon dustup over ebooks is another good example. Hachette argued with Amazon over whether or not they, the publisher, has the right to set their own prices on their ebooks. A New York times article stated: “What began as a spat between supplier and retailer — completely routine, Amazon said — soon became a public standoff. Depending on where you stood, it was a struggle between the future and the past, the East Coast and the West Coast, culture and commerce, the masses and the elite, technologists and traditionalists, predator and prey.”

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/isbnsnet-allows-book-buyers-to-avoid-amazon-vs-hachette-saga-261239931.html

As librarians I think we have a duty to make knowledge freely available to everyone, but I think we also have to pay attention to copyright and the bigger picture aspects of disseminating information. We need to educate our patrons on current copyright issues, and keep our communities informed on the latest news and updates on issues like personal privacy and security. We also need to realize that taking the easy way out when it is offered to us is not the right way to go. We need to digitize our collections properly and take the time and spend the money we need to ensure that our information is preserved in the best way possible.

About a year ago the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled “A Good, Dumb Way to Learn from Libraries.” The author expressed dismay at the unwillingness of libraries to release their user data and statistics. Each year our libraries collect huge amounts of data about how our information is used and we do not publish that information outside of very specific library groups like the ALA and ACRL. Of course we use this information to determine how to improve the informational resources we provide our patrons, but as this article points out, many people are extremely upset by the refusal of libraries to release this data due to privacy concerns. This author seems to think that we are “crippled” by our unwillingness to release this data. I think that in this digital age people are unwilling to take a deeper look at privacy concerns and really examine the sheer amount of data that is collected from even simple user statistics. One of the reasons I am so happy to pursue this particular career path is because of the code of ethics that the ALA maintains: “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”

As the author of the article points out: “Library search engines could be tuned to what’s shown itself to be relevant to their communities. Researchers could explore usage patterns over time and across disciplines, schools, geographies, and economies. Libraries could be guided in their acquisitions by what they’ve learned from the behavior of communities around the corner and around the globe” (Weinberger). This author seems to think that this information could just make everything infinitely better, but like Kevin Kelly, this author also seems to blindly refuse to acknowledge the possible outcomes of this invasion of privacy.

I think we are at a very pivotal moment of the information age. It is absolutely vital that we do not ignore privacy concerns and continue to stand up and say no to this seemingly unthinking need for whatever information anyone can get their hands on. I like the thought that one of the ways we can do this as librarians is by keeping our patrons informed and provide the training on how to do that. I also think that it is very important that we as librarians continue to stand up for privacy issues and to continually remind people that privacy is a fundamental right.