Joho the BlogOctober 2013 - Joho the Blog

October 27, 2013

[2b2k] Globalization of local expertise

In August, I blogged about a mangled quotation supposedly from Mark Twain posted on an interstitial page at When I tweeted about the post, it was (thanks to John Overholt [twitter:JohnOverholt]) noticed by Quote Investigator [twitter:QuoteResearch] , who over the course of a few hours tweeted the results of his investigation. Yes, it was mangled. No, it was not Twain. It was probably Christian Bovee. Quote Investigator, who goes by the pen name Garson O’Toole, has now posted on his site at greater length about this investigation.

It’s been clear from the beginning of the Web that it gives us access to experts on topics we never even thought of. As the Web has become more social, and as conversations have become scaled up, these crazy-smart experts are no longer nestling at home. They’re showing up like genies summoned by the incantation of particular words. We see this at Twitter, Reddit, and other sites with large populations and open-circle conversations.

This is a great thing, especially if the conversational space is engineered to give prominence to the contributions of drive-by experts. We want to take advantage of the fact that if enough people are in a conversation, one of them will be an expert.

1 Comment »

October 25, 2013

[dplafest] Advanced Research and the DPLA

I’m at a DPLAfest session. Jean Bauer (Digital Humanities Librarian, Brown U.), Jim Egan (English Prof, Brown), Kathryn Shaughnessy (Assoc. Prof, University Libraries, St. John’s U), and David Smth (Ass’t Prof CS, Northeastern).

Rather than liveblogging in this blog, I contributed to the collaboratively-written Google Doc designated for the session notes. It’s here.

Comments Off on [dplafest] Advanced Research and the DPLA

[dplafest] Dan Cohen opens DPLA meeting

Dan Cohen has some announcements in his welcome to the DPLAfest.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

The collection now has 5M items. These come from partner hubs (large institutions) and service hubs (aggregations of smaller providers). Three new hubs have joined, bringing the total to nine, from NY, North Carolina, and Texas. Dan stresses the diversity of contributors.

The DPLA sends visitors back to the contributing organizations. E.g., Minnesota Reflections is up 55% in visitors and 62% in unique visitors over the year since it joined the DPLA.

He also announces the DPLA Bookshelf, which is a contribution from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab that I co-direct. It’s an embedded version of the Stacklife browser, which you can see by going to DP.LA and searching for a book. (You can use the Harvard version here.

Dan announces a $1M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to help local libraries curate material in the DPLA and start scanning in local collections. Also, an anonymous donor gave $450,000. [I don’t want to say who it was, but, well, you’re welcome.] Dan Cohen suggests we become a sponsor at T-shirts and, yes, tote bags.

There have been 1,7M uses of the DPLA API as of September 2013. Examples of work already done:

Dan talks about DPA Local, and idea that would enable local communities to use the services the DPLA provides.

Dan says that all of the sessions have Google Docs already set up for collaborative note-taking [an approach I’m very fond of].

Comments Off on [dplafest] Dan Cohen opens DPLA meeting

October 24, 2013


The Emily Dickinson archive went online today. It’s a big deal not only because of the richness of the collection, and the excellent technical work by the Berkman Center, but also because it is a good sign for Open Access. Amherst, one of the major contributors, had open accessed its Dickinson material earlier, and now the Harvard University Press has open accessed some of its most valuable material. Well done!

The collection makes available in one place the great Dickinson collections held by Amherst, Harvard, and others. The metadata for the items is (inevitably) inconsistent in terms of its quantity, but the system has been tuned so that items with less metadata are not systematically overwhelmed by its search engine.

The Berkman folks tell me that they’re going to develop an open API. That will be extra special cool.

Comments Off on E-Dickinson

October 23, 2013

[2b2k] Does the Net make us stoopid?

Yesterday I participated as a color commentator in a 90 minute debate between Clive Thompson [twitter:pomeranian99] and Steve Easterbrook [twitter:smeasterbrook], put on by the CBC’s Q program.The topic was “Does the Net Make Us Smart or Stupid?” It airs today, and you can hear it here.

It was a really good discussion between Clive and Steve, without any of the trumped up argumentativeness that too often mars this type of public conversation. It was, of course, too short, but with a topic like this, we want it to bust its bounds, don’t we?

My participation was minimal, but that’s why we have blogs, right? So, here are two points I would have liked to pursue further.

First, if we’re going to ask if the Net makes us smart or stupid, we have to ask who we’re talking about. More exactly, who in what roles? So, I’d say that the Net’s made me stupider in that I spend more of my time chasing down trivialities. I know more about Miley Cyrus than I would have in the old days. Now I find that I’m interested in the Miley Phenomenon — the media’s treatment, the role of celebrity, the sexualization of everything, etc. &#8212 whereas before I would never have felt it worth a trip to the library or the purchase of an issue of Tiger Beat or whatever. (Let me be clear: I’m not that interested. But that’s the point: it’s all now just a click away.)

On the other hand, if you ask if the Net has made scholars and experts smarter, I think the answer has to be an almost unmitigated yes. Find me a scholar or expert who would turn off the Net when pursuing her topic. All discussions of whether the Net makes us smarter I think should begin by considering those who are in the business of being smart, as we all are at some points during the day.

Now, that’s not really as clear a distinction as I’d like. It’s possible to argue that the Net’s made experts stupider because it’s enabled people to become instant “experts” on topics. (Hat tip to Visiona-ary [twitter:0penCV] who independently raised this on Twitter.) We can delude ourselves into thinking we’re experts because we’ve skimmed the Wikipedia article or read an undergrad’s C- post about it. But is it really a bad thing that we can now get a quick gulp of knowledge in a field that we haven’t studied and probably never will study in depth? Only if we don’t recognize that we are just skimmers. At that point we find ourselves seriously arguing with a physicist about information’s behavior at the event horizon of a black hole as if we actually knew what we were talking about. Or, worse, we find ourselves disregarding our physician’s advice because we read something on the Internet. Humility is 95% of knowledge.

Here’s a place where learning some of the skills of journalists would be helpful for us all. (See Dan Gillmor‘s MediActive for more on this.) After all, the primary skill of a particular class of journalists is their ability to speak for experts in a field in which the journalist is not her/himself expert. Journalists, however, know how to figure out who to consult, and don’t confuse themselves with experts themselves. Modern media literacy means learning some of the skills and all of the humility of good journalists.

Second, Clive Thompson made the excellent and hugely important point that knowledge is now becoming public. In the radio show, I tried to elaborate on that in a way that I’m confident Clive already agrees with by saying that it’s not just public, it’s social, and not just social, but networked. Jian Ghomeshi, the host, raised the question of misinformation on the Net by pointing to Reddit‘s misidentification of one of the Boston bombers. He even played a touching and troubling clip by the innocent person’s brother talking about the permanent damage this did to the family. Now, every time you look up “Sunil Tripathi” on the Web, you’ll see him misidentified as a suspect in the bombing.

I responded ineffectively by pointing to Judith Miller’s year of misreporting for the NY Times that helped move us into a war, to make the point that all media are error prone. Clive did a better job by citing a researcher who fact checked an entire issue of a newspaper and uncovered a plethora of errors (mainly small, I assume) that were never corrected and that are preserved forever in the digital edition of that paper.

But I didn’t get a chance to say the thing that I think matters more. So, go ahead and google “Sunil Tripathi”. You will have to work at finding anything that identifies him as the Boston Bomber. Instead, the results are about his being wrongly identified, and about his suicide (which apparently occurred before the false accusations were made).

None of this excuses the exuberantly irresponsible way a subreddit (i.e., a topic-based discussion) at Reddit accused him. And it’s easy to imagine a case in which such a horrible mistake could have driven someone to suicide. But that’s not my point. My point here is twofold.

First, the idea that false ideas once published on the Net continue forever uncorrected is not always the case. If we’re taking as our example ideas that are clearly wrong and are important, the corrections will usually be more obvious and available to us than in the prior media ecology. (That doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of getting facts right in the first place.)

Second, this is why I keep insisting that knowledge now lives in networks the way it used to live in books or newspapers. You get the truth not in any single chunk but in the web of chunks that are arguing, correcting, and arguing about the corrections. This, however, means that knowledge is an argument, or a conversation, or is more like the webs of contention that characterize the field of living scholarship. There was an advantage to the old ecosystem in which there was a known path to authoritative opinions, but there were problems with that old system as well.

That’s why it irks me to take any one failure, such as the attempt to crowdsource the identification of the Boston murderers, as a trump card in the argument the Net makes us stupider. To do so is to confuse the Net with an aggregation of public utterances. That misses the transformative character of the networking of knowledge. The Net’s essential character is that it’s a network, that it’s connected. We therefore have to look at the network that arose around those tragically wrong accusations.

So, search for Sunil Tripathi at and you will find a list of discussions at Reddit about how wrong the accusation was, how ill-suited Reddit is for such investigations, and how the ethos and culture of Reddit led to the confident condemning of an innocent person. That network of discussion &#8212 which obviously extends far beyond Reddit’s borders &#8212 is the real phenomenon…”real” in the sense that the accusations themselves arose from a network and were very quickly absorbed into a web of correction, introspection, and contextualization.

The network is the primary unit of knowledge now. For better and for worse.


October 21, 2013

Lessons from Reddit

I gave a webcast talk at Library2.013 titled “Lessons from Reddit.” It’s available as an mp4 for streaming or downloading here. (You might want to start about 3 minutes in, in order to save 3 minutes of your life.)

It was a bit discursive. I had a few topics I knew I wanted to talk about, but I just talked. Here are the topics (with start times), as drawn from the lowest-value slide deck ever:

  • Why this topic? 3:00

  • What is Reddit? 5:10

  • Conversations are engineered 11:17

  • We are constantly surprised by scale 23:25

  • We don’t have interests. Interests have us.30:25

  • The virtue of echo chambers 36:40

Comments Off on Lessons from Reddit

October 20, 2013

[templelib] Temple Univ. library symposium

On Friday I had the pleasure and honor of attending a symposium about libraries as part of the inaugural festivities welcoming Temple University’s new president, Neil Theobald.

The event, put together by Joe Lucia, the Dean of Temple U. Library, featured an amazing set of library folks. It was awesome to have some time to hang out with such an accomplished group of people who not only share values, but share values that are so core to our culture.

I liveblogged the talks, with my usual unreliable haphazardness and cavalier attitude toward accuracy and comprehension. Here are the links, in chronological order (which of course is the reverse of blogological order):

  1. James Neal: 26 truths about libraries

  2. Siobhan Reardon: Renewing Philadelphia’s public libraries

  3. Nancy Kranich: Engaging the academic community

  4. Rachel Frick: Innovation outward

  5. Anne Kenney: Cornell’s hiphop collection

  6. Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

  7. Charles Watkinson: Univ. press partnerships

  8. Craig Dykers: Architecting libraries

I led off the session with a talk about why the networking of knowledge and ideas, especially in college communities, should encourage libraries to develop themselves as platforms in addition to being portals.

1 Comment »

[templelib] Craig Dykers: library architecture

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Craig Dyker‘s company — Snøhetta — is a transdisciplinary group of architects of various sorts. (Snohetta is where Valhalla is.) They have offices in NYC and Oslo.

He points out that half of the people who come to the charging bull statute in NYC (next to his office) pose at the front and half come to the back. We are irrational creatures, he says. And tactile things are very much a part o who we are. (He has us shake hands with our neighbors.)

“There seems to be a liberal attitude couples with professional angst” among librarians. He’s been told that librarians have the most tattoos and skin piercings. There are many sites for librarians with tattoos. “Librarians won’t go away because we have this deep rooted fetish for libraians. It’s a fetish.” [TMI, Craig, TMI.] He’s not sure where it comes from except librarians are interesting people and you have intimate conversations with them.

If you ask people to describe a library, you get different answers. “As soon as you design for the state of the art, the art changes.” As architects, Snøhetta designs for versatility versus flexibility.

Their first library job: designing the new library in Alexandria, Egypt. He shows the building, which looks beautiful. It’s completely accessible. There’s a 4 acre plaza open to the public. “Libraries don’t stop at the door.” The police and the military wanted a wall around the plaza with guard towers. “We fought for six years” to build it without one.

During the uprisings, the students at the university and other citizens formed a human chain around the library to protect it — people on both sides of the argument. The plaza became a place for prayer and open debate.

Books and computers are just lumps until people interact with them. Libraries have always been about these interactions. This affected the design of the Hunt Library at NCSU. The existing library was foreboding, scary. The inside looked like a bank. The librarian decided to replace the furniture, but through a screw up, there wer 6 months when it had no furniture. So they bought 300 $10 bean bags…and library attendance tripled.

Then they decided to build a new library, on the engineering campus. Snohetta wanted to tie it to its place, which has rivers, weaving. They wanted natural light and fresh air, for the sake of the users but also the people who work there. There’s a balcony at the top where people congregate for fresh air and the view. Gardens are fed by rainwater from the roof. The building looks like it’s looking somewhere.

Books are fetched by a “robot,” whih people enjoy watching.

They want people to take the stairs, so they painted them yellow and put an inviting “Ask Me” sevice at the top. They put the elevators in a dark, less convenient place.

There are lots of types of chairs, but the swivel ones are very popular; bodily movement is really important, Craig stresses.

[He gives a guided tour which I can’t capture. You need the photos.]

“Libraries are as much about making as about taking,” so there are 3D printers, etc.

Einstein said that our technology has exceeded our humanity. Craig loves tech, but if tech manages his life, he becomes inhuman. Nothing we’ve invented in the past 30 years isn’t an elaboration of something before there were computers.

Library furniture and equipment looks like it’s for dental offices, so they put glass on top of regular tables, etc. “If you write on something you feel like you own the place.”

The NCSU library is designed for walking. But, you need a place to walk to. So, they had an arresting mural created.

Comments Off on [templelib] Craig Dykers: library architecture

[templelib] Charles Watkinson: “The Library in the Digital Age”

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Charles Watkinson is Director, Purdue Univ. Press. He says he wishes everyone were like Bryn [see prior post]. But univ. presses generally only receive 15% of their income from the university. So, Bryn’s model isn’t generally applicable.

His toddlers watch Dinosaur Train. “I know you perceive university presses as dinosaurs” but as in the show, some dinosaurs are different from others.

John Thompson in Books in the Digital Age talks about “publishing fields.” He says it’s complex but not without order. We’re seeing the emergence of several different mission-driven publishers: university presses, scholarly societies, library presses. He will talk about univ and library presses. (He points to Envisioning Emancipation as a univ. press at its best.) He goes through some of the similarities and differences between the two presses.

He takes as a case study the Purdue U Press and Purdue Scholarly Publishing Services as an example of how these types of presses can be complementary. (He mentions Anne Kenney’s partnering of Cornell Library with DukePurdue U Press on Project Euclid.)

The aim, Charles says, is to meet the full spectrum of needs, ranging from pre-print to published books. He points to the differences in brand styles of the two and how they can be merged.

So, “What can we do together that we couldn’t do apart?”

“We can serve campus needs better.” He points to the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research, which combines library skills (instruction, assessment, institutional outreach) with publisher skills (solicitation for content, project management, editing, design).

Also, together they can support disciplines. E.g., Habri Central Library skills: bibliographic research, taxonomy, metadata, licensing, preservation. Publisher skills: financial management, acquisition of original content, marketing.

Also, solve issues in the system. E.g., the underlying data behind tech reports, e.g., JTRP. Library skills: digitization, metadata, online hosting, linked data, preservation. Publisher skills: peer review administration, process redesign, project management.

Questions for these merged entities: What disciplines can best be served together? How to build credibility? How to turn projects into programs? What is the future role of earned revenues? Will all products be Open Access? What is the sustainability plan for OA?

Maybe libraries should turn to university presses for advice and help with engagement since “that’s what university presses do.”


Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Bryn Geffert is College Librarian at Amherst.

Imagine a biologist at Amherst who writes a science article. Who paid for her to write that article? Amherst. But who paid Amherst? Students. Alumni and donors. US funds.

Now it’s accepted by Elsevier. The biologist gives it to Elsevier as a gift, in effect. Elsevier charges Amherst $24,000/year for a subscription to this particular journal. It’s Looney Tunes, Bryn says. There isn’t a worse imaginable model.

Since 1986, serial [= journal] prices have increased 400%. Why? Because a few publishers have a monopoly: Wiley, Elsevier, Springer. With increasing prices for serials, libraries have less money for books. In 1986, academic libraries spent 46% of budgets on books. Now it’s down to 22%. And the effect on book publishers is even worse: when they can’t sell books to libraries, they shut down publishing in entire disciplinary fields. The average sales per academic book is now 200 copies. Since 1993, 5 disciplines have lost presses. E.g., the number of presses sserving British Lit have dropped by about half. More and more academic works are going to bad commercial presses — bad in that they don’t improve what they get.

These these are just the problems of wealthy institutions. How about the effect on developing countries? He gives three examples of work of direct relevance to local cultures where the local culture cannot afford to buy the work.

University presses are dying. Money to purchase anything except journals is dying. Academic presses are dying. And we’re paying no attention to the world around us.

Why does Amherst care? Their motto is “terras irradient”: light the world. But nothing in this model supports that model.

What do we have to do? He goes through these quickly because, he says, we are familiar with them:

  1. Open Access policies
  2. Legislation that mandates that federally supported research be Open Access
  3. Go after the monopolies that are violating anti-trust
  4. Libraries have to boycott offenders.

But even so, we need to design a new system.

Amherst is asking what the mission of a university press is. Part of it: make good work even better and make it as widely available as possible.

What is the mission of the academic libraries? Make good info as widely available as possible.

So, combine forces. U of Mich put its press under the library. This inspired Amherst. But Amherst doesn’t have a press. So, they’re creating one.

  • Everything will be online, Open Access (Creative Commons)

  • They will hustle to get manuscripts

  • All will be peer reviewed and rigorously edited

But how will they pay for it? Amherst’s Frost Library is giving two positions to the press. In return, those editors will solicit manuscripts. The President will raise money to endow a chair of the editor of the press. They’ll take some money from the Library to pay freelancers for copy-editing. Some other units at Amherst are kicking in other services, including design and building an online platform.

People say this is too small to make a difference. But other schools are starting to do similar things. This means that Amherst is a recipient of free content from them. Bryn can imagine a time when there’s so much OA content that the savings realized offset the costs of publishing OA content.

The goal is to move away from individual presses looking out for their own interests to one in which there’s free sharing. “I want to see a world in which the students at a university in Nairobi have access to the same information as students at Columbia.”


Next Page »