Seely Brown’s Keynote at IL2011

I’m not really a fan of the "notes as blog post" genre. Hasn’t Twitter sort of made that obsolete? But, I’ve been taking notes at the Internet Librarian conference. Why not reshape them a little here?

I actually read John Seely Brown’s "Social Life of Information" book after getting tired of it hounding me on Amazon when I was in library school. Pretty good read, and the takeaway—that "working from home" doesn’t usually work that well—made some sense to me as someone who moved away from his grad program, then failed to finish his Ph.D.

I liked the opening of JSB’s talk. He argued that we are in a new moment in which the technological rupture we have experienced is not leveling off, not stabilizing, as technological ruptures of the past have. (Although whenever someone tells me we are in a totally new historical moment, I think, "really, just like the modernists said?")

The bit about how it is increasingly difficult to evaluate textual authority was highly relevant, and only going to become more so. He had a lovely example of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which for a significant period was only covered outside of traditional news sources. A funny moment: he says, in this context, that librarians are more needed then ever. Of course I agree, but I know that in my organization (I do not exclude myself here), we still play the "these (more mediated) sources have authority, and those (Web/social media) sources don’t" game. We need to face these changes.

At times I could have used a few examples. For instance, "the half-life of a skill is now 5 years." What kind of a skill are we talking about here? Not plumbing, or car repair. Not Web development—yes, the technologies change, but someone who learned HTML ten years ago would still be able to use a good deal of it, though they’d need to have kept up with developments. Although I guess I’m not even clear on what it means—sort of complicated to use "half-life" this metaphorically.

Like so many good talks, it sort of petered out as he told us that we need to embrace play for learning—I mean we knew that, right, even without the rest of it? Then remix, Harry Potter fan fiction, and we’re done. So, in summary, winners: Carla Hesse, David Weinberger, Andrew Sullivan, Piaget; losers: stuffy people everywhere.

homo Luden's

I have lots of notes from other panels…

p.s. Many of the ideas in the talk appear to be in an article called Minds on Fire published in the Educause Review.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe writes for content farm

I recently noticed a content farm called Similar to, it solicits brief articles from a base of users and licenses them to third parties, taking a cut and kicking pennies back to the authors, or something. I’m not going to pretend I understand the whole process and am not going to join to find out. I’m guessing there’s a healthy dose of SEO optimization and web trackers involved.

Helium: Where Knowledge Rules Write - Get Published - Get Paid - Join Helium Today

This site is a treasure trove for information literacy instruction—better in some ways than eHow, because of all the inflated truth claims ("Where Knowledge Rules") and over-the-top advertising and social media integration. To get the full effect of the site, turn off all ad-blockers.

Why is this site so great? Because you can simply show students an article—just about any will do—on some serious topic, and ask them to find out more about the author (link conveniently provided), who is invariably someone well-meaning person who loves hacky sack and/or snowboarding, but has no business telling you how to recover from head trauma. Basically to be a Helium writer it’s less important to know how to write than to not know how to stop writing.

sample 'about me' page from demonstrating 'compulsion to write' as reason

So, I’m trolling the site looking for some basic article on the death penalty, click on one called "Assessing the Death Penalty" and go straight to the author’s page. Dude sports a more impressive resume than most, military background…  and, it turns out, he’s the current U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

Charles Ray's 'About Me' page at

Is it really him? Seems to be, based on the U.S. Embassy page:

screenshot of Charles Ray's page at Zimbabwe U.S. Embassy site

Does Ambassador Ray enjoy his work in the content farm? Sure seems to.

My Stats. Articles Written: 561. Writers Invited: 3 

Sample article titles:

I think he’s probably not writing for money; his page shows that he has sold 12 articles and donated $3 to charity, which I’m guessing is the total earned. Still, it’s kind of odd, right? What exactly is this site offering him? The strangest thing is that he’s not on LiveJournal or some other virtual community based around self-expression—this one is founded on the idea of creating banal blurbs with some vague assurance of reliability conferred by an obscure ratings system. How exactly do you choose Helium as your writing platform? What does that selection process look like?

Why I write: Because I feel compelled to.

Library bookmark, ripped from NCBI ROFLblog

Made this bookmark (pdf version) for our People’s Day celebration—wasn’t present for most of it so few of them got out there. Anyway, I found it amusing. We’ll see how long they stay at the Reference Desk…

People's Day 2010 bookmark. Download PDF version for readable text

Statement to Academic Senate on Internet Content Filtering at LRCCD

(I delivered this statement to the SCC Academic Senate today, and provided senators with copies.)

The District Office recently began employing a device that filters out certain classes of websites district-wide. The principle reason for this action was to block access to sites known to distribute spyware and malware, which pose a significant threat to the security of our network and the privacy of its users.

The use of the filtering device was expanded when Vice Chancellor Bill Karns, motivated by evidence of widespread and sustained viewing of pornographic and gambling websites on staff computers, ordered that sites classified as pornographic or gambling sites by the filtering device be blocked.

Few if any of us would defend the use of campus computers and/or work time for gambling or the viewing of sexually explicit material. Yet DO’s actions merit our concern, both for the substantive question of content filtering in an academic environment and for the non-transparent and unilateral way in which these actions have been and continue to be conducted.

Content Filtering

Institutions of higher learning value freedom of information as central to the cause of free inquiry and the development of critical thinking. Inasmuch as the Los Rios Community College District strives to create “an atmosphere of thoughtful, unfettered expression, discussion, testing, and proof of ideas,” content filtering plainly contradicts this effort.

Sacramento City College librarians unanimously endorse the American Library Association’s statement of Intellectual Freedom Principles for Academic Libraries, which holds:

Open and unfiltered access to the Internet should be conveniently available to the academic community in a college or university library. Content filtering devices and content-based restrictions are a contradiction of the academic library mission to further research and learning through exposure to the broadest possible range of ideas and information. Such restrictions are a fundamental violation of intellectual freedom in academic libraries.

Even without this blanket statement, the well-known technological limits of filtering devices (sometimes referred to as “censorware”), which are prone to arbitrary “overblocking,” make them unacceptable in an academic environment.

Lack of Faculty Input

The introduction of content filtering took place without broad campus discussion. The actions did not become known to faculty members until the filtering device temporarily impeded access to library subscription databases. The issue was placed on the agenda of the January meeting of the Educational Technology Committee only at the request of faculty members seeking more information.

Filtering of the Internet affects a core academic resource and therefore has far-ranging implications for teaching and learning. Faculty must be involved in decisions regarding campus-wide access to the Internet.

New tutorial released into the wild

As of last Friday, it is available, with PDF and D2L quizzes. Waiting for problems to arise. I have some concerns about accessibility of the Flash elements (presentations and embedded review quizzes, made with an old version of Captivate) that I am starting to address.

And now I’m in a 1-month Instructional Design continuing ed course from ACRL, cataloging all the things I did wrong. And finding lovely quotes e.g. this one, from an e-learning task force at SUNY: “It is estimated that 500 hours of one librarians [sic] time is needed to design a web-based tutorial.” But that was way back in 1998, when the Web was complicated…

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