Teaching Generation M

Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators is an important piece of work in the librarian’s toolkit.   In bringing together writings by 26 librarians and educators at colleges and universities across the United States to facilitate thoughtful planning for teaching Generation M in the college library, the book is separated into three sections, the volume begins with chapters defining Generation M and the meaning of the term literacy. The second section defines the culture of Generation M and the technologies it encounters. The final section focuses on best educational practices, theories, and applications to assist the librarian or other educator in serving this new population of “Generation M” students.

Patricia Dawson and Diane Campbell’s Driving Fast to Nowhere on the Information Highway: A Look at Shifting Paradigms of Literacy in the Twenty-First Century examines the history of librarianship and information literacy.   In it, they point out that librarians have been concerned about teaching people how to access and use library collections since the 1800’s.  In fact, library instruction had been taught in universities as far back as the Civil War.  Indeed, academic Lamar Johnson is credited with laying the foundations of bibliographic instruction when he offered tours of the library with instruction in the use of basic reference tools, point-of-use instruction, individualized instruction, and course-related instruction in the mid-20th century.  With online web technologies, bibliographic instruction evolved into “information literacy.”   The advent of the computer in the “information society” shifted from finding information in a physical library to searching for information using virtual online databases.

Yet, despite raving reviews of Generation M’s computer skills and constant connectivity and social networks, there continues to be (perhaps even more so) criticisms by academics and especially by employers that new graduates lack basic writing, communicating, and higher order information skills such as analyzing and evaluating content.    While Generation M might be tech-savvy, and used to 24/7 ubiquitous “anytime, anywhere” technologies, they are not necessarily so sophisticated in using this technology, especially in cases where information literacy skills that require critical evaluation of their found materials.

Digital literacy, in many ways, is the new paradigm of librarianship, perhaps an evolution of information literacy of the necessary for the early Web.  What a librarian was once a specialist in a subject area, be it a bibliographer of reference sources, drawing on his deep knowledge of books and creating finding aids for their patrons in the physical library, new generations of librarians must adapt to social media technologies, electronic books, e-Readers, providing grey materials, forging pathways in open access publishing, synthesizing thoughts into pithy blog entries, connecting with fellow colleagues across the world through social networks, delving into legal topics such as the Google Books court case, not to mention integrating existing cataloguing rules into the new web frontier.   Indeed, the librarian of the 21st century has evolved to the point where the profession is ready to have its voice heard in a new “digital strategy” movement.

Advertisements

Digital Humanities for Librarianship

The Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) has been a rising force in the digital humanities (affectionately known simply as “DH” in the field).  Having been hosted at the University of Victoria campus for more than 10 years now, DHSI has provided an ideal environment for discussing and learning about new computing technologies and how they are influencing teaching, research, dissemination, and preservation in different disciplines.  Every year, faculty, staff, and students from the Arts, Humanities, Library, and Archives communities as well as independent scholars and participants from industry and government sectors participate in the DHSI.    Digital Humanists can no longer be classified as a “fringe group” or sub-discipline; it’s grown to encompass its own set of theories, best practices, industry standards, and scholarly publications.     What is DH and why should we care?   Simply put, it touches on so much, as

an area of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Sometimes called humanities computing, the field has focused on the digitization and analysis of materials related to the traditional disciplines of the humanities. Digital Humanities currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from the traditional humanities disciplines (such as historyphilosophylinguisticsliteratureartarchaeologymusic, and cultural studies) with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisationdata retrieval, computational analysis) and digital publishing.

One of this year’s themes of DHSI 2011 is Editing Modernism in Canada, or better known as EMiC.    Bridging academia, technology, and industry, EMiC has slowly risen as the hub for training and networking graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, professors, publishers, and technologists.  Where traditional disciplines shun digital technologies, EMiC fills in by providing the resources necessary for researchers to conduct literary projects using cutting edge technologies, be it digitization, text-encoding initiative markups, or social media fluencies.   Although it aims primarily at preserving Canadian modernist literature, it serves as a the gold standard in innovation for the digital humanities field.

It seems an opportune time for academic libraries to take note.  To a certain extent, academic libraries have slowly shifted in that direction, with such positions as Digital Humanities Librarian at Brown University’s Center for Digital Scholarship.    University of Toronto Library has its own digital scholarship librarian, and in the process of creating its own Digital Scholarship Unit.  The University of British Columbia Library forged ahead in creating a brand new division called Digital Initiatives.   It seems quite clear: academic libraries have an important voice in DH.   For humanists, who only recently had been questioned whether it will survive the 21st century, it’s only logical to collaborate with one of academia’s oldest partner: the library.  So let’s move forward.

The Need for Theory?

Conrad Taylor’s Whose Information Profession Is It, Anyway?adds to an already expansive corpus of literature on the definitions of the information profession. If librarians have a tough time explaining what a librarian is, information professionals have mountainous terrains to travel before they can come close to a consensus. One point that Taylor points out is the lack of a definitive, universal “theory” which the information profession can build on, as a starting place for standardizing practices and promoting the profession.   But as Taylor warns, in the internet culture of today:

With its self-service approach to information discovery and skepticism about classification, disrupts this paradigm.  Meanwhile in public libraries, half the space looks like an Internet cafe, and the job of librarian isnt’ what it used to be.

Examining Susan Myburgh’s ideas, he proposes that the information profession needs to draw on a “constructivist” agenda, one which draws on such fields as semiotics, linguistics, cultural studies, and epistemology.  In other words, there needs to be a manifesto that requires a “clarity in our thinking”.     It seems that this is begging to say it’s time that we take  hold of social media as a core of whatever grand meta-narrative we choose to evolve for this profession.    It’s true that the “librarian isn’t what it used to be,” and perhaps this is the precise time for library and information professionals to grasp the profound changes taking place.   Let’s take a look at a few reasons why:

(1) Evaluation Metrics – A culture of assessment has always been a main staple of the information profession. To promote, to evaluate, to provide value to users. Most libraries measure the value of their reference services, the usage of collections, the number of patrons and users taught in classes, among the many items.  How do we evaluate social media?  How do we measure the impact a reference inquiry on a blog post?  It’s nigh time we become the experts on evaluating social media itself.  We can fill the role of experts on this critical area of information.

(2) Promoting the Physical, Using the Digital – The library (or information centre) has always been about connecting users to the physical space, of promoting its collection (whether print or digital) to its audience, or contributing culturally and humanely to its community.   Historically, it’s done this mainly through print.  Businesses, entrepreneurs, activists, politicians (in no particular order), are all mobilizing social media as their tools for engagement.    We should too.

(3)  Gathering, organizing, and dissemination – At the core of the profession is still an inherent need to do all three things — and do them with precision and recall.  Yet, in the world of digital media, it’s become more interesting to capture the ephemeral nature of “information.”  Social media has great power in assisting us in doing this, but social media has been the source of compounding much of the problems, too.   Last check is that the Web has more than 48 billion pages indexed, and is slowly climbing into the petabytes.     With this said, isn’t it about time librarians start finding ways at controlling and organizing this digital chaos?    Why not?  The Library of Congress has already made the first step.

Clay Shirky’s Social Media View of the World

One complaint about the idea of new media as a political force is that most people simply use these tools for commerce, social life, or self-distraction, but this is common to all forms of media. Far more people in the 1500s were reading erotic novels than Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses,” and far more people before the American Revolution were reading Poor Richard’s Almanack than the work of the Committees of Correspondence. But those political works still had an enormous political effect. (Shirky, Foreign Affairs, 2011)

Clay Shirky has finally made it.  Often championed as one of the modern thinkers of technology and society, but also maligned as a mere naval-gazing pop intellectual who talks the talk, Shirky’s recent article The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change in the long-renowned journal, Foreign Affairs, has penned some thought provoking gems about the changing political order thanks the effects of ordinary citizens’ use of social media technologies.

Social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements, just as most of the world’s authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it.In response,the U.S. State Department has committed itself to “Internet freedom” as a specific policy aim. Arguing for the right of people to use the Internet freely is an appropriate policy for the United States, both because it aligns with the strategic goal of strengthening civil society worldwide and because it resonates with American beliefs about freedom of expression. But attempts to yoke the idea of Internet freedom to short-term goals-particularly ones that are country-specific or are intended to help particular dissident groups or encourage regime change-are likely to be ineffective on average. And when they fail, the consequences can be serious.

1.  A New Political Science? – What social media has done is essentially re-write the rules of political science and even the social sciences.  It would be impossible to describe the recent political crises in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Moldova, or Thailand (among the many) without discussing the use of mobile media and online tools by those resisting against authoritarian governments.  Such social technologies have mobilized grassroots citizenry and civic grassroots journalism to not only effecting change in the political landscapes in countries, but ultimately bringing down regimes.

2.   What Is Civil Society? – What social media has down is ultimately breaking down the state’s ability to use violence and oppression, truly allowing for a degree of civil society unheard of before the age of the internet.   Shirky views this as a shift in the balance of power between the state and civil society that has ultimately led to a largely peaceful collapse of communist control.  As such, when civil society triumphs, many of the people who had articulated opposition to the communist regimes-such as Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland and Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia- became the new political leaders of those countries.  Communications tools during the Cold War did not cause governments to collapse, but they helped the people take power from the state when it was weak. The same should be seen from the power of social media — perhaps even in a more intensified process.  And we’re witnessing that as we speak.

3.  The “New” Public Sphere – The famed social philosopher Jurgen Haberman’s concept of the public sphere is being challenged and perhaps will soon be thrown right out the window in this age of intensive social media.   Developed during the Renaissance in Western Europe and the United States, Habermas viewed a vibrant public sphere acting as a positive force keeping authorities within bounds lest their rulings be ridiculed.  As such, the public sphere is a place between private individuals and government authorities in which people could meet and have debates about public matters.  With such critical discussions taking place, they anchor as a counterweight to political authority.  The “public spheres” more importantly, happened physically in face-to-face meetings in coffee houses and cafes and public squares as well as in the media in letters, books, drama, and art.  Forward three hundred years, and we’re seeing the physical public sphere turn digital: in the blogosphere, twittersphere, Facebook, and viral video sharing sites.

4.  Communications – Although mass media alone do not change people’s minds, the process does.  As Opinions and ideas are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. Eventually, it is the social network that influences and forms political opinions.  This is the step in which the internet in general, and social media in particular, effects change. As with the printing press, the internet spreads not only media aconsumption, but also media production.  As Shirky argues, “It ultimately allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views.”  How’s that for social change?

Have You Been Screw-gled Lately?

Greg sighed. He knew Google too well: Every time you visited a page with Google ads on it, or used Google maps or Google mail — even if you sent mail to a Gmail account — the company diligently collected your info. Recently, the site’s search optimization software had begun using the data to tailor Web searches to individual users. It proved to be a revolutionary tool for advertisers. An authoritarian government would have other purposes in mind. (Scroogled, 2007).

Canadian writer Cory Doctorow is best known as the proponent of copyright laws that should be liberalized and allowed for free sharing of all digital media. Arguing that copyright holders should have a monopoly on selling their own digital media, he proposes that copyright laws need only come into play when someone attempts to sell a product currently under someone else’s copyright.  How’s that for digital democracy?

Doctorow is also a science-fiction writer, and a futurist.   In 2007, Doctorow penned a fascinating, but eerily nihilistic view of the Google-dominated universe.  Like the panopticon, Doctorow’s short story, Scroogled, is about a world gone terribly astray, where every action parsed directly or indirectly by Google is effectively used to monitor our every action.

Not surprisingly, there is a search engine that goes by this very title that  Scroogle, a site designed for those who don’t want Google tracking their searches back to them.  Disguising the Internet address of users who want to run Google searches anonymously, Scroogle is a web service that gives users the option of having all communication between their computer and the search page be SSL encrypted.

Think about it: Google can keep your searches on record for up to a year and a half.  It’s said that if you do not want a record of all your searches in storage, then using Scroogle’s “scrapper” might be an effective method.

Are we living in a paranoid dimension here?   The librarian in me says that freedom of privacy and information is of course central to a democratic society.   Think about it: Google does have an enormous influence on us, although we are only subtly aware of it:

1.  Societal Influence – It has been a mental influence on people that if your search is not found on google it does not exist.  In fact, if it’s not ranked highly, it isn’t important.  And if one Google yourself (which a lot probably do), it’s a reflection of one’s “importance” virtually and physically, too.  Think of all the resources that companies are exercising in raising their Google ranking. Think of all times you search for meaning and answers to life, all coming from Google search results.  If Google isn’t a convenient magic eight ball, then what is?

2.  Street View – I must admit, I am admirer of Google Street View, especially when I want to see places I haven’t been before.  However, it has also been accused of taking pictures and coming too close inside people’s private homes and people who walk down the street not knowing they are being watched on Google’s service.   While they were at it, Google collected about 600 gigabytes of data from users of public WiFi stations (which are not owned by Google) during 2006-2010, including snippets of emails.

3.  Politics – Being the world’s largest company ultimately drags it into the political sphere, too.  Case in point: although Mainland China had already enforced by filters colloquially known as “The Great Firewall of China,” Google.cn search results were further filtered so as not to bring up any results concerning the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, or websites supporting the independence movements of Tibet and Taiwan, or the Falun Gong movement.  It wasn’t until only recently after a clash with China that Google stepped out of placating the world power.   But is Google tempting fate as a multinational corporation?   I guess while we wait for the answer, we should at least give Scroogle a try.

Beyond the Nation-State and Social Media


It’s a recent phenomenon: social media is altering world history.  As the recent Iranian resistance from twittosphere has shown, as well as the recent events in China, Burma, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt resistance, not even the tightly drawn cloak of authoritarian regimes can regulate what seeps through the social web.  Just look at what Wikileaks is doing to open up once tightly withheld information, and ultimately, the political order.

Don Tapscott argues in Macrowikinomics, that we have entered the age of “beyond the nation state.”    Microfinancing, virtual activism, and global agenda partnerships via the social web are but a few developments that are breaking down the nation-state’s grip, and challenging the very notion of its importance to its citizens.  Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are clearly gaining legitimacy and relevance, even by nation-states.   NGO’s have become effective change agents. And social media is only intensifying this change.

Vancouver-based HootSuite is one example of how social media is challenging the stronghold of the notion of the state.  In particular, social media  helping people in Egypt circumvent the government’s shutdown of the Internet.  Hootsuite, which offers social media portal feed for cross-posting to Twitter and Facebook, is reporting that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with the most from this past week of January — mostly from mobile devices.

The company, which offers users a social media dashboard for posting to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, reports that signups are up sevenfold this month in Egypt, with most in the past week and most from mobile devices.   Blocking Internet access and text messaging as well as Twitter and Facebook, the Egyptian government hasn’t deterred its people from going through proxy servers or using third-party applications like HootSuite and TweetDeck to voice their dissent.

Here’s something interesting: although HootSuite users who had already signed up before the Internet are being shut down in Egypt, they are still able to use the service as new users who must register a new account online at twitter.com.   Moreover, iPhone users can sign up for new HootSuite accounts through the mobile app.  From all the developments we’re witnessing about the transformational change social media has afforded us, it’s changing the course of history as well.   We’ll see more in the upcoming years ahead.

What Is Daedalus, Why Should We Care?

The Daedalus Project is something to keep an eye out for. Introducing Nick Yee, who just happens to be a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Yee and his colleagues recently commenced a project to conduct a rather ambitious study of the World of Warcraft. In particular, they’re trying to find out what our behaviors in WoW reveal about who we are in Real Life.

Not surprisingly, this research has garnered great interest in the media. It’s become rather high profiled, you can say. With this grand project, in which the research into the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs integrated with the social media technology of gaming, it has collected survey data from over 40,000 game players. The research that has resulted from these interviews has been cited extensively by game scholars, game developers, and popular media, so much so that research has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and CNN International, among the number of media outlets.

Yee’s journey into the world of MMORPG’s began when he started researching EverQuest in 2000. Interestingly enough, Yee’s graduate work took him into the world of avatars, particularly how appearance of an avatar can change how the user behaves both inside and outside the virtual environment.

As he reveals in an example, in a:

series of several studies, we found that users in taller avatars negotiate more aggressively in the virtual environment and that this behavior carries over to other social interactions outside of the virtual environment. We dubbed this “the Proteus Effect”.