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October 28, 2015

[liveblog] International Univ. Lib. conference: Afternoon panel

I’m at the International Conference on University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) in Mexico City.

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.

I am often relying on simultaneous translators, so the following is extra-specially unreliable.

Lynn Rudasill, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The process of traditional Business-Based Strategic planning

  • Define the mission

  • Establish measurable goals

  • Implements strategies for those goals

  • Align resources to support these efforts

  • Employ the strategy as a large, iterative formalized process

The IFLA Trend Report reports on regional trends. It was developed by info people, not librarians. It reports on five trends

  • Increasing access to info

  • Online education

  • Privacy and data protection

  • Hyper-connected societies

  • New societies

Another report worth reading: The ALA Center for the Future of the Library Trends.

Her favorite: The Horizon Report series. The reports lay out timelines. The recent one has some topics shared between Higher Ed and Academic Libraries, including maker spaces.

These reports make clear the problems for strategic planning: “”We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.””“We are no longer hierarchically based. We are networks.” Not top down.

So we have to move from strategic plans (static, hierarchical) to strategic planning (dynamic, networked). Alternatives:

Strategic Framework: Identifies service objectives and their populations. Locates services that are no longer useful.

Grassroots Strategic Planning: Open engagement by all employees, often beginning with an all-=staff retreat. Ideas are broadly solicited, often anonymously. All ideas a discussed equally. There are brainstorming sessions. Decisions are made by buy-in from all quarters.

SOAR (was SWOT): Strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. It’s an “appreciative inquiry to focus on best possible future.” It’s a much more positive approach.

Agile planning and scrum development: Flexible leadership, and overall leader and facilitator. Crosstraining. Teams focus on specific goals. The product owner is responsible for the final result.

Lourdes Epstein Cal y Mayor

[I missed the beginning. Sorry.] She thinks it important that research labs accept the ethical dimensions of what they’re doing. She quotes a tweet from @JGrobelny: “Libraries need to protect the culture of learning, not just its resources.” We have not done a good job measuring the impact of our work. What’s more important, our resources or our competencies? Even the distinction between hard and soft skills is suspect.

Ranganathan’s 5th Law of Library Science: “The Library is a Growing Organism.” We shouldn’t be surprised that libraries are changing. She cites Michael Gorman’s 1998 update of this.

We should pay attention to the growing number of Open Access scientific journals. This is crucial for libraries.

We need to be learning the lessons of Web 2.0. There is a profound change in the role of the social, in power relations. We need a broad view of what is happening.

The rise of VUCA: Volatility uncertainity, complexity, and ambiguity. We should match it with Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. We need to pay attention to those who we have written off or marginalized.

We should be doing more with predictive analysis to help our users. We need support from our institutions for this. For example, theDASH repository at Harvard (Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard). [Yay!] And “why aren’t we creating our own courses?”why aren’t we creating our own courses? We should be organizing info organiccally, with a virtuous circle of data, information and knowledge.

We live in amazing, amazing times. If we can join in the cycle of the generation of knowledge, we will succeed: user centered, open to society, and library-based…that’s how we create communities and networks of knowledge.

What do we do with information? Technologies of information set the emphasis. [Translation is fading out] Digital natives won’t be able to make sense of information unless we teach them the key competencies. The solutions are not technological. You can’t just hand out iPads.

We have to be mindful of our discourse. We get distracted by shiny tech. We have evolved from manuscripts constrained to the elite. But now with digital objects–not just digital books–there can be mass production of interconnected info, used by prosumers, some of whom may be kids coming up with worthy contributions. How do we assess all of these resources? That’s a major challenge for libraries.

But we’re learning. Bloom’s taxonomy is transforming into verbs: record, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. Now the last step of learning is to create. If I’m not creating, I’m not fully learning. A library that does not understand this will turn into a museum or a warehouse. Creation and collaboration the keywords of our time. Our use of library space should reflect this.

We need to move from:

  • individual to collective

  • Consumer to producuer

  • Resources to rpocessors

  • Institutional to “out-stitution” [does not translate well]

Scott Bennett

Scott is Yale University Librarian Emeritus. His topic is “Library as Learning Space.”

He says there have been leitmotifs today, including the librarians ought to act more as educators. Librarians tell him that they want to build a space for learning, but then can’t say what they want to go on in the space. Scott is going to talk about what learning is.

Libraries have recently faced two revolutions. First, the self-empowerment revolution brought about by the presence of Internet browser. Second, pedagogical changes from the Sage on the Stage to a Guy on the Side. This changes the relationship between learner and teacher, and between novice and expert.

As a consequence of the first much of the print collection has disappeared from prime library space. Because of the second traditional services–reference services–are vanishing. Scott will focus on the second.

Two concepts help understand the revolution in learning. First, from learning about to learning to be. E.g., away “from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist.”from learning facts of science and toward learning to think like a scientist. Second, learning as a perpetual process of becoming.

We should think of ourselves first as educators. That will help us decide how to shape library space. “We must focus most fundamentally on the voluntary relationship between expert and novice, teacher and learner.”

The first question is: Who owns the learning space of libraries? Second: How do we shape the experience of becoming.

Wh owns library space? “Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors.”Almost everyone on campus feels ownership. Yet we typically treat students as guests or visitors. We’ve started creating student-owned commons, especially in science buildings. Students own their tutoring space as they occupy it.

“How does our presence shape our relationship with students?” Reference desks announce a relationship in which one person owns the desk and has authoritative knowledge. The desk also is designed for queueing. “”So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.””“So designed, service desks reinforce a transactional, consumerist vision of what we do.” We’ve tried re-designing them, but we rarely think about how we can present ourselves to learners, establish a relationship with them, without using the desk to define who we are and how we work.

Tutoring staff typically do not see themselves as Sages on Stages. This determines how they shape their tutoring spaces, which sends a distinct message to learners that is quite different from that of the typical library space. Librarians think of themselves as learning coaches, but the spaces and services send a very different message. That helps librarians sense of themselves as professionals, but does not engage in the new forms of learning.

To become educators, we have to rethink our presence in library space. Presence involves issues of ownership and pedagogy. Librarians understand themselves primarily in terms of learning and not service delivery. The goal is for us to be in learning spaces without dominating them. Presence in learning is the single most important issue in planning spaces.


Q: Libraries are filled with people doing low-quality learning, sitting quietly. But we have spaces that can accommodate more engaged, embodied learning.

Q: What traits must a librarian have to become an educator in this learning speaes?
Scott: The librarian should shift his/her sense of primarily focus from the student to the faculty because that scales better. Mopping up after a bad teacher is not as effective as working with the teacher. “Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines.”Librarians ought to have their offices with the educators in their disciplines. The library building should not be their home.

Q: All organizations ought to have strategic planning.

Lynn: Sometimes we only the measure the things that are easy to measure. We don’t go beyond log analysis to see what the students are learning. Also our planning, we tend to be driven by the advances of techology. But why aren’t we driving technology instead of allowing it to drive us?

Lourdes: We’re moving to new processes but haven’t established ways to measure. Now we can automate much of the measurement. But we also need to carry out qualitative studies. But we also have to ask what we’re going to do with the data. We have done many studies but we do nothing with them. We don’t go to the Dean and ask for backing for new programs.

Q: I agree with Lourdes that the library ought to be seen as a lab. We have to adapt.

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[liveblog] International Conf. of Univ. Libs: Morning talks

I’m at The 13th annual International Conference of University Libraries (Conferencia Internacional sobre Bibliotecas Universitarias) at the Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

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.

I keynoted, and now there is a panel discussion, led by Dr. Saul Hiram Souto of the Universidad de Monterrey.

Mariel Alvarado

The first speaker, Mariel Alvarado, is from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.. [I’m listening to a simultaneous translation, so I will get more wrong than usual. Her topic: “Reinventing the Library: Technology as a Catalyst.”

Human capital is the most important factor for the success of any organization. “Our users often are ahead of us in technology. ”Our users often are ahead of us in technology. Librarians must become better at this, understanding the available tools. We need pedagogical dexterity: educators + librarians. Three steps: 1. Investigate what’s happening and how our users are operating. 2. Develop solutions. 3. Innovate differentiated services suiting our culture’s needs.

Librarians need to be at the heart of education. They need to be teaching media literacy. They need to be going where the students are so they can consult with librarians at any time. Mariel’s group is building online scheduling of meeting with libraries. Help students decide which journals to publish in. Rural students need to learn how to use the Web to search the university library.

Look at user needs to design services. Her library uses a well-developed methodology that runs from user interviews through wireframes and usability tests of prototypes.

The library is more than books. We should reinvent our spaces, from social spaces to high-tech knowledge commons. Also: exhibitions. But we also need “libraries everywhere.” Libraries can be parts of conferences by being given a small space.

Worldwide trends: Libraries should become part of the syllabus; teach students about the use of libraries. Students need to learn how to use digital information. Libraries also need more competencies because of all the new tools. But libraries also have to radically change. We have to increase attention on data management. We have to better understand and promote Open Access. We should help our students to be creative and innovate in “micro-spaces,” i.e., spaces dedicated to particular topics.

Libraries need to show their influence on their community. Publishing is expensive, leading to more emphasis on Open Access. “Let’s make sure we’re part of this technology.” There’s a decreasing demand for traditional library services. “We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.”We need to be involved in the semantic web, linked data, not just the old cataloging.

We have to be respectful of copyright and not facilitate theft. We should help control plagiarism. We need institutional archives that have copies of the publications of all of our faculty.

We need to support accessibility.

How do we measure use? We generate lots of data, which allows us to be strategic, looking for patterns of use. We can do predictive analytics. [She goes through some analytics with charts that I cannot capture.]

Ferndando Ariel Lopez

Fernando is an Argentina scientist and educator. Techno @fernando__lopez.

Where are we in the economic, social, and cultural changes occurring now? The way knowledge, culture, and science are created, distributed, and consumed is changing. Many more of you have seen a movie on the Internet recently than in a theater [as evidenced by a show of hands]. We are sending msgs on WhatsAPP rather than ringing a doorbell.

The adoption rates are accelerating. It took radio 38 years to reach a million users. It took the iPad 80 days. It’s all converging on mobile. In Mexico, the 15-24 year kids are the most connected online: 31%.

Fernando points to evidence of the size of the Net. Lots of YouTubes and Facebook posts every minute. Plus the Internet of Things. But there are privacy implications.

We should be training not on TIC but TAC and TEP [couldn’t read them on the slide]. These technologies empower people.

How to share?“ Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing.” Identify, normalize, render visible the knowledge that our universities are producing. Fernando covers the the concept of openness, which he sees as a cultural change. Open Source. Open Hardware. Open Education. Open Data. Open Science. (We just had the 8th worldwide Open Access Week, he reminds us.)

He goes through categories of tools for each.

Presence on social networks is very important. That’s where our users are. We should create Facebook fan pages for our libraries, and we can put our search engines there.

Three sites to know about:

David Schumaker

David Schumaker is at the Catholic University of America. His topic: “The Management of Knowledge Work and Innovation.” “There is a human element that must be present,” which is his focus.


  • Library services have changed

  • The roles and skills of library staff are changing

  • Library management practices must change

Four mgt changes:

  • Library service positions must be re-defined.

  • We need new supervisory practices, based on Peter Drucker‘s ideas.

  • Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.

He introduces Christensen’s theory of disruption. Library services has been disrupted by the Net and Web. Libraries are adopting new, higher-value services where the disruptors are not competing.

Some data: In academic libraries, initial circulation is down 44% since 1991 and reference questions are down 69% (source: Association of Research Libraries). These numbers only collapsed around the year 2000, coinciding with the increased use of the Net. “This is classic disruption.” Many librarians resisted and disdained this, but the Net become the first resort for many users.

But the number of attendees at group presentations held by the library has gone up 144%, while the number of those presentations grew 81%. Presumably, many of these were teaching info literacy.

1. “Library service positions must be redefined.” The demand for traditional ref questions is down. “The predominant questions are now directional and technical.” Libraries need to staff up with people who are excellent instructors.

2. “Library knowledge workers ‘cannot be supervised closely or in detail. They can only be helped.'” (Drucker) Effective instruction adopts multiple learning styles. The best instructor is not delivered as a one-shot lecture. Librarians have to establish strong relationships with instructors. Librarians will increasingly work in cross-organizational roles. “How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures?”How do we manage staff who largely work outside of the library, engaged in knowledge work not measured by our traditional measures? Drucker says that managers have to become facilitators.

3. “Library managers must become relationship managers.” Library managers have to establish collaborative relationships with their counterparts in the university.

4. “Library assessment must focus on measures of impact and value.” The old measures measured collection size, budgets, activity counts, etc. New measures: Anecdotes of library contributions to teaching and research, and the impact of info literacy instruction on student success.


Q: Should libraries set aside a budget for these changes?

Fernando: That’s always a good idea. But the technology I mentioned is free, although there are training courses. But in my experience, money is not the limiting factor.

Q: How can professional libraries foster a culture of critical thinking about the new tools, e.g., social networks, Google, etc.? Often these companies are not neutral.

David: First we have to be critical thinkers. The rise of new technologies has shaken some of the traditional assumptions of many librarians about, for example, the quality of research. allows scholars to become aware of flaws found in scholarly published papers. That kind of capability has upset the traditional mindset of librarians that if it was published in a reputable scholarly journal, it must be ok. “The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech.”The meaning of critical thinking has changed because of the new tech. Librarians should be leaders in understanding the implications of this. Only then will we be in a position to lead.

Mariel: We need three things: 1. When deciding about tech, we have to ask: what is the goal? 2. What are the alternatives? Open Access, Open Data offer free services. 3. What is our budget?

Fernando: There has to be state policy about technological independent. E.g., some countries mandate the use of open source software, and that Google et al. must keep a copy of their data in the country. Librarians must focus on training people on technological literacy. Also, the young have a poor sense of privacy. They should know that they should keep a copy of their social network data.

Q: [Didn’t get it]

Mariel: Tech is moving to the cloud, which is more convenient. ILS’ will not be eliminated in the short term. In the long term they will be assimilated into other services.

Saul: Library catalogs are no longer the trustworthy source for journal titles that we hold. When I saw what the new discovery services will do, I said that they’ll take our jobs. A lot of what we do will be redundant. Obviously there are other factors in play. Libraries are a compulsory part of universities. We have to take these changes on.

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June 3, 2015

[liveblog] Walter Bender

Walter Bender of SugarLabs begins by saying “What I’m all about is tools.” “The character of tools shapes what you can do.” He’s an advocate of “software libre” that lets the user be the shaper. That brings responsibility, which Walter wants to celebrate.

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.

He’s going to talk about

He goes back to Papert and Cynthia Solomon who in the late 1960s invented Logo. Fifty years ago. Then Jobs and Gates gave us babysitting: sw was there to be used, not an environment for creating ideas. You have to be given the tools and the knowledge.

In 1971, Papert and Solomon wrote “Twenty things you can do with software.” Walter today is going to give us a sense of the breadth of things you can do with software:

  • Using Turtle Blocks to draw interesting shapes, or create a paint program or paint with noise or attach pen size to time. “Once it belongs to you, you’re responsible for it it. And then it has to be cool, because who wants to be responsible for something that’s not cool?”

  • Challenges and puzzles

  • Add sensors, cameras, etc., create aa burglar alarm that photos the burglar

  • measure gravitational acceleration

  • Continent game written by a third grader

  • Build a robot

  • Model math

  • Collaborate across the network in a multimedia chat program

You can even extend the language. You can export your program into another programming language. A child wrote an extension to the language to download maps.

Turtle Blocks tries to make the learning visible to the learner — statistics about what the learner is doing, etc.

It’s got to be easy enough that you’ll try it, but it has to be hard if you’re going to learn. Many tools have low floors to enable easy entry but they also have low ceilings.

“Debugging is the greatest oppportunity for learning in the 21st century.” (Walter ties this idea to Cynthia Solomon.)

What motivates people: autonomy, a sense of mastery, and having a sense of purpose.

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[liveblog] Renee Hobbs on teachers as creators

Renee Hobbs from the Harrington School of Comm and Media is giving a talk about teachers as makers.

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 myth of the digital native has hurt teachers and students alike. Students come into classrooms feeling superior. Teachers think the students already know how to use tech.

The concept of literacy is changing. It means being able to go out in the world and do something. That means educators who have to learn concepts like open access, multitasking, transmediation, identity, curation, play. We have to think about who owns our data, how our community is represented, addiction, displacement, and propaganda. And there are more and more “stakeholders.”

There’s a big opportunity to connect culture and the classroom. E.g. minecraft. E.g., analyzing the news. Vital to make connections between school and the world. Popular culture is an important tool for connecting and relevancy. We need to make the “stand and deliver” method obsolete.

There is an art to creating a digital literacy learning environment. Renee has encountered several archetypes:

Teacher 2.0 helps students use media and tech to connect with and learn from others as networked digital citizens. Another teacher is a “spirit guide”: help students use media to support their social and emotional well-being.

So Renee’s group developed a “horoscope”: questions that show what sort of teacher you are, eg., trendsetter, taste-maker, watchdog. (see, etc.

When teachers become media creators, they gain confidence. It’s important for them to learn how to use the relevant tools. E.g., a couple of teachers made a video about “how to solve a maht problem.” Another made a short video of children helping someone across the street. Another used Screencast-o-matic to capture interaction with a google doc to share a lesson plan. The teachers eventually got more playful and fun.

As teachers became more comfortable as media creators, they were better able to connect to students as creators.

“The same way that music is not in the piano, learning is not in the device.”

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[liveblog] Jeremy Roschelle

Jeremy Roschelle is at Stanford Research leading the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning ( is going to talk about cyber-learning. But first he asks to take a deep breath and reimagine learning.

He shows images of places of learning. “What tech we think is good for leaning depends on what we think learning looks like.” Therefore, we need to imagine learning, not tech.

To advance education we need to advance both the science of deep learning and tech.

Jeremy studied with and was inspired by Seymour Pappert.

Learning sciences teach us some principles:

  • Learning is social, and we must design supports for collaboration

  • Learning is multi-representational: it’s important to onnect stories and pictures, and connect the everyday and the symbolic, and enable children to see the meaning among these

  • Learning is in a situation: Take advantage of the setting, the people, the physical world, not only the tech


[liveblog] Todd Revolt on AR

Todd Revolt is worth Meta. It has 70 people. It’s shipping a Meta 1 developer kit. You use common hand gestures to manipulate virtual things.

He shows a video of people wearing Oculus Rifts in the real world and failing to navigate. Instead, Meta wants you to be together with people in the real world.

With augmented reality, he says, people know how to work it without training. Examples:

Fourth largest cause of death in the US: medical error. But with AR we can do more useful simulations. You can see the vital signs and the next steps in the procedures.

Princess Leia standing on your clipboard.

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[liveblog] Miriam Reiner on VR for learning

Miriam Reiner is giving a talk on virtual reality. Her lab collects info about brain activity under VR to create a model of optimal learning.

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.

Her lab lets them provide sensory experiences virtually: you can feel water, etc. New haptic interfaces. There’s a kickstarter project for an Oculus Rift that lets you smell and feel a breeze and temperature.

They also do augmented reality, overlaying the virtual onto the real.

A robot she worked with last year suffers from the uncanny valley. Face to face is important. “Only 10% of information is conveyed through words.”

In an experiment, they re-created a student virtually and had her teach another student how to use a blood pressure machine.

VR can help us understand what learning is. And enhance it.

Exxample: A human wears electrodes. As she plays a VR game, her brain activity is recorded. They measured response times to light, auditory, and haptic signals, Auditory was fastest. But if you put all three together, the response time goes down dramatically. What does this mean for learning? We should find out. It looks like multi-modal sensation increases learning.

If you learn something in the morning, and they test you over the next few days, your memory of it will be best after sleep. Sleep consolidates memory. If you can use neuro-feedback perhaps we can teach people to do that consolidation immediately after learning. Her research suggests this is possible.

“The advantage of vVR is not just in creating worlds that do not exist. For the first time we have a mthod to organize and enhance learning.”

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June 1, 2015

[misc][liveblog] Alex Wright: The secret history of hypertext

I’m in Oslo for Kunnskapsorganisasjonsdagene, which my dear friend Google Translate tells me is Knowledge Organization Days. I have been in Oslo a few times before — yes, once in winter, which was as cold as Boston but far more usable — and am always re-delighted by it.

Alex Wright is keynoting this morning. The last time I saw him was … in Oslo. So apparently Fate has chosen this city as our Kismet. Also coincidence. Nevertheless, I always enjoy talking with Alex, as we did last night, because he is always thinking about, and doing, interesting things. He’s currently at Etsy , which is a fascinating and inspiring place to work, and is a professor interaction design,. He continues to think about the possibilities for design and organization that led him to write about Paul Otlet who created what Alex has called an “analog search engine”: a catalog of facts expressed in millions of index cards.

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.

Alex begins by telling us that he began as a librarian, working as a cataloguer for six years. He has a library degree. As he works in the Net, he finds himself always drawn back to libraries. The Net’s fascination with the new brings technologists to look into the future rather than to history. Alex asks, “How do we understand the evolution of the Web and the Net in an historical context?” We tend to think of the history of the Net in terms of computer science. But that’s only part of the story.

A big part of the story takes us into the history of libraries, especially in Europe. He begins his history of hypertext with the 16th century Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner who created a “universal bibliography” by writing each entry on a slip of paper. Leibniz used the same technique, writing notes on slips of paper and putting them in an index cabinet he had built to order.

In the 18th century, the French started using playing cards to record information. At the beginning of the 19th, the Jacquard loom used cards to guide weaving patterns, inspiring Charles Babbage to create what many [but not me] consider to be the first computer.

In 1836, Isaac Adams created the steam powered printing press. This, along with economic and social changes, enabled the mass production of books, newspapers, and magazines. “This is when the information explosion truly started.”

To make sense of this, cataloging systems were invented. They were viewed as regimented systems that could bring efficiencies … a very industrial concept, Alex says.

“The mid-19th century was also a period of networking”: telegraph systems, telephones, internationally integrated postal systems. “Goods, people, and ideas were flowing across national borders in a way they never had before.” International journals. International political movements, such as Marxism. International congresses (conferences). People were optimistic about new political structures emerging.

Alex lists tech from the time that spread information: a daily reading of the news over copper wires, pneumatic tubes under cities (he references Molly Wright Steenson‘s great work on this), etc.

Alex now tells us about Paul Otlet, a Belgian who at the age of 15 started designing his own cataloging system. He and a partner, Henri La Fontaine, started creating bibliographies of disciplines, starting with the law. Then they began a project to create a universal bibliography.

Otlet thought libraries were focused on the wrong problem. Getting readers to the right book isn’t enough. People also need access to the information in the books. At the 1900 [?] world’s fair in Paris, Otlet and La Fontaine demonstrated their new system. They wanted to provide a universal language for expressing the connections among topics. It was not a top-down system like Dewey’s.

Within a few years, with a small staff (mainly women) they had 15 million cards in their catalog. You could buy a copy of the catalog. You could send a query by telegraphy, and get a response telegraphed back to you, for a fee.

Otlet saw this in a bigger context. He and La Fontaine created the Union of International Associations, an association of associations, as the governing body for the universal classification system. The various associations would be responsible for their discpline’s information.

Otlet met a Scotsman named Patrick Geddes who worked against specialization and the fracturing of academic disciplines. He created a camera obscura in Edinburgh so that people could see all of the city, from the royal areas and the slums, all at once. He wanted to stitch all this information together in a way that would have a social effect. [I’ve been there as a tourist and had no idea!] He also used visual forms to show the connections between topics.

Geddes created a museum, the Palais Mondial, that was organized like hypertext., bringing together topics in visually rich, engaging displays. The displays are forerunners of today’s tablet-based displays.

Another collaborator, Hendrik Christian Andersen, wanted to create a world city. He went deep into designing it. He and Otlet looked into getting land in Belgium for this. World War I put a crimp in the idea of the world joining in peace. Otlet and Andersen were early supporters of the idea of a League of Nations.

After the War, Otlet became a progressive activist, including for women’s rights. As his real world projects lost momentum, in the 1930s he turned inward, thinking about the future. How could the new technologies of radio, television, telephone, etc., come together? (Alex shows a minute from the documentary, The Man who wanted to Classify the World.”) Otlet imagines a screen and television instead of books. All the books and info are in a separate facility, feeding the screen. “The radiated library and the televised book.” 1934.

So, why has no one ever heard of Otlet? In part because he worked in Belgium in the 1930s. In the 1940s, the Nazis destroyed his work. They replaced his building, destrooying 70 tons of materials, with an exhibit of Nazi art.

Although there are similarities to the Web, how Otlet’s system worked was very different. His system was a much more controlled environment, with a classification system, subject experts, etc. … much more a publishing system than a bottom-up system. Linked Data and the Semantic Web are very Otlet-ish ideas. RDF triples and Otlet’s “auxiliary tables” are very similar.

Alex now talks about post-Otlet hypertext pioneers.

H.G. Wells’ “World Brain” essay from 1938. “The whole human memory can be, and probably in a shoirt time will be, made accessibo every individual.” He foresaw a complete and freely avaiable encyclopedia. He and Otlet met at a conference.

Emanuel Goldberg wanted to encode punchcard-style information on microfilm for rapid searching.

Then there’s Vannevar Bush‘s Memex that would let users create public trails between documents.

And Liklider‘s idea that different types of computers should be able to share infromation. And Engelbart who in 1968’s “Mother of all Demos” had a functioning hypertext system.

Ted Nelson thought computer scientists were focused on data computation rather than seeing computers as tools of connection. He invnted the term “hypertext,” the Xanadu web, and “transclusion” (embedding a doc in another doc). Nelson thought that links always should be two way. Xanadu= “intellectual property” controls built into it.

The Internet is very flat, with no central point of control. It’s self-organizing. Private corporations are much bigger on the Net than Otlet, Engelbart, and Nelson envisioned “Our access to information is very mediated.” We don’t see the classification system. But at sites like Facebook you see transclusion, two-way linking, identity management — needs that Otlet and others identified. The Semantic Web takes an Otlet-like approach to classification, albeit perhaps by algorithms rather than experts. Likewise, the Google “knowledge vaults” project tries to raise the ranking of results that come from expert sources.

It’s good to look back at ideas that were left by the wayside, he concludes, having just decisively demonstrated the truth of that conclusion :)

Q: Henry James?

A: James had something of a crush on Anderson, but when he saw the plan for the World City told him that it was a crazy idea.

[Wonderful talk. Read his book.]


April 14, 2015

[shorenstein] Managing digital disruption in the newsroom

David Skok [twitter:dskok] is giving a Shorenstein Center lunchtime talk on managing digital disruption in the newsroom. He was the digital advisor to the editor of the Boston Globe. Today he was announced as the new managing editor of digital at the Globe. [Congrats!]

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.

As a Nieman fellow David audited a class at the Harvard Business School taught by Clay Christensen, of “creative destruction” fame. This gave him the sense that whether or not newspapers will survive, journalism will. Companies can be disrupted, but for journalism it means that for every legacy publisher that’s disrupted, there are new entrants that enter at the low end and move up market. E.g., Toyota started off at the low end and ended up making Lexuses. David wrote an article with Christensen [this one?] that said that you may start with aggregation and cute kittens, but as you move up market you need higher quality journalism that brings in higher-value advertising. “So I came out of the project doubly motivated as a journalist,” but also wanting to hold off the narrative that there is an inevitability to the demise of newspapers.

He helped started and got recruited for the Globe. There he held to the RPP model: the Resources, Process, and Priorities you put in place to help frame an organizational culture. It’s important for legacy publishers to see that it isn’t just tech that’s bringing down newspapers; the culture and foundational structure of those organizations are also to blame.

If you take away the Internet, a traditional news organization is a print factory line. The Internet tasks were typically taken up by the equivalent groups with in the org. Ultimately, the publisher’s job is how to generate profit, so s/he picks the paths that lead most directly to short-term returns. But that means user experience gets shuffled down, as does the ability of the creators to do “frictionless journalism.” On the Internet, I can write the best lead but if you can’t read it on your phone in 0.1 seconds, it doesn’t exist. The human experience has to be the most important thing. The consumer is the most important person in this whole transaction. How are we making sure that person is pleased?

In the past 18 months David has done a restructuring of the Globe online. He’s been the general mgr of Every Monday he meets with all the group leads, including the sales team (which he does not manage for ethical journalism reasons). This lets them set priorities not at the publisher level where they are driven by profit, but by user and producer experience. The conceit is that if they produce good user and producer experiences, the journalism will be better, and that will ultimately drive more revenue in advertising and subscriptions.

The Globe had a free site ( and a paywall site ( This was set up before his time. relative to its size as a website business has a remarkable amount of revenue via advertising. is a really healthy digital subscription business. It has more subscriptions in North America outside of the NYT and WSJ. These are separate businesses that had been smushed together. So David split them up.


They’ve done a lot to change their newsroom processors. Engineers are now in the newsroom. They use agile processes. The newsroom is moving toward an 18-24 hour cycle as opposed to the print cycle.

We do three types of journalism on our sites:

1. Digital first — the “bloggy stuff.” How do we add something new to those conversations that provides the Globe’s unique perspective? We don’t want to be writing about things simply because everyone else is. We want to bring something new to it. We have three digital first writers.

2. The news of the day. We do a good job with this, as demonstrated during the Marathon bombing.

3. Enterprise stuff — long investigations, etc. Those stories get incredible engagement. “It’s heartening.” They’re experimenting with release schedules: how do you maximize the exposure of a piece?

In terms of resources: We’re looking at our content management system (CMS). Ezra Klein went to Vox in part because of their CMS. You need a CMS that gives reporters what they need and want. We also need better realtime analytics.

Priorities, Processes + Resources = organizational culture.

Q: You’re optimistic…?

A: We’re now entering the third generation of journalism on line. First: [missed it]. Second: SEO. Third: the social phase, the network effect. How are we engaging our readers so that they feel responsible to help us succeed? We’re not in the business of selling impressions [=page views, etc.] but experiences. E.g., we have a bracket competition (“Munch Madness“) for restaurant reviews. We tell advertisers that you’re getting not just views but experiences.

Q: [alex jones] And these revenues are enough to enable the Globe to continue…?

A: It would be foolish of me to say yes, but …

Q: [alex jones] How does the Globe attract an audience that’s excited but civil?

A: Part of it is thinking about new ways of doing journalism. E.g., for the Tsarnaev trial, we created cards that appear on every page that give you a synopsis of the day’s news and all the witnesses and evidence online. We made those cards available to any publisher who wanted them. They’re embeddable. We reached out to every publisher in New England that can’t cover it in the depth that the Globe can” and offered it to them for free. “We didn’t get as much uptake as we’d like,” perhaps because the competitive juices are still flowing.

Then there are the comments. When news orgs first put comments on their site, they thought about them as digital letters to the editor. Comments serve another purpose: they are a product and platform in and of themselves where your community can talk about your product. They’re not really tied to the article. Some comments “make me weep because they’re so beautiful.”

Q: As journalists are being asked to do much more, what do you think about the pay scale declining?

A: I can’t speak for the industry. The Globe pays competitively. We’re creating jobs now. And there are so many more outlets out there that didn’t exist five years ago. Journalists today aren’t just writers. They’re sw engineers, designers, etc.

I’m increasingly concerned about the lack of women engineers entering the field. Newspapers have as much responsibility as any other industry to address this issue.

Q: How to monetize aggregators?

A: If we were to try to go to every org that aggregates us, it’d be a fulltime job. We released a story online on a Feb. afternoon about Jeb Bush at Andover. [This one?] By Friday night, it was all over. I don’t view it as a threat. We have a meter. My job is to make sure that our reporting is good enough that you’ll use your credit card and sign up. I’m in awe in the number of people who sign up every day. We have churn issues as does everyone, but the meter business has been a success.

Q: [me] As you redo your CMS, have you thought about putting in an API? If so, would you consider opening it to the public?

A: When I’ve opened up API sets, there has been minimal takeup.

Q: What other newspapers are doing a good job addressing digital issues? And does the ownership structure matter?

A: The Washington Post, and they have a very similar ownership structure as the Globe.

Q: [alex] What’s Bezo’s effect on the WaPo?

A: Having the Post appear on every Kindle is something we’d all like for ourselves.

Q: Release schedule?

A: Our newsroom’s phenomenal editors are recognizing and believing that we are not a platform-specific business. We find only one in four of our print subscribers logged on to the web site with any frequency. We have two different audiences.We’ve had no evidence that releasing stories earlier on digital cannibalizes our print business. I love print. But when I get the Sunday edition, I feel guilty if I recycle it before I’ve read it all. So why not give people the opportunity to read it when they want? If it’s ready on a Wed., let them read it on Wed. Different platforms have different reader habits.

Q: What’s native to the print version?

A: Some of the enterprise reporting perhaps. But it’s more obvious in format issues. E.g., the print showed the 30 charges Tsarnaev was charged with. It had an emotional impact that digital did not.

Q: Is your print audience entirely over the age of 50?

A: No. It’s a little older than our overall numbers, but not that much.

Q: What are you doing to reduce the churn rate? What’s worked on getting print and digital folks to understand each other?

A: I’m a firm believer in data. We’re not pushing for digital change because we want to but because data backs up our claims. About frictionlessness: It’s so easy to buy goods. Uber. Even buying a necklace. We’re working with a backend database that is complex. We have to tie that into our digital product. The front end complexities on how users can pay come from the complexity of the back end.

Q: [nick sinai] I appreciate your comments about bringing designers, developers, UX into the newsroom. That’s what we’re trying to do in the govt. for digital services. How about data journalism.

A: Data journalism lets you tell stories you didn’t know where there. My one issue: We’ve reached a barrier: we’re reliant on what datasets are available.

Q: How many reporters work for print,, and

A: 250 journalists or so work for the Globe and they all work for all platforms.

Q: Are different devices attracting different stories? E.g., a long enterprise story may do better on particular devices. Where is contradiction, nuance, subtlety in this environment? How much is constrained by the device?

A: Yes, there are form-specific things. But there are also social-specific things. If you’re coming from Reddit, your behavior is different from your behavior coming from Facebook, etc. Each provides its own unique expectation of the reader. We’re trying to figure out how to be smarter in detecting where you’re coming from and what assets we should serve up to you. E.g., if you’re coming from Reddit and are going back to talk about the article, maybe you’re never going to subscribe, but could we provide a FB Like button, etc.?

Q: Analytics?

A: The most important metric for me is journalistic impact. That’s hard to measure. Sheer number? The three legislators who can change a law? More broadly: At the top of the funnel, it’s how to grow our audience: page views, shares, unique visitors, etc. As you get deeper into the funnel it’s about how much you engage with the site: bounce rate, path, page views per visit,time spent, etc. Third metric: return frequency. If you had a really good experience, did you come back: return visits, subscribers, etc.

[Really informative talk.]


April 7, 2015

[shorenstein][liveblog] Phillip Martin on reporting poverty, and Boston’s racist image

Phillip Martin of WGBH is giving a Shorenstein Center lunch. He is a Boston-based investigative reporter who (says Alex Jones) “tries to explain the city to itself.”

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.

Phillip starts “at the intersection of memory, history and symbolism.” The first image that comes to his mind is the instersection where he came of age in Detroit. It’s now considered to be one of the most dangerous in the area, which masks the complexity of the place. Coverage of poor people oversimplifies matters all too often. His neighborhood was composed of “full-bodied individuals.” His mom and step-dad had third grad educations but were very smart and pushed the children into watching thew news every night. And to the library, where they found The Detroit Free Press.

Later in 1967 the Detroit Riots occurred, which is political neighbors called “The Detroit Uprising.” An image that always sticks in his mind is of a kid nicknamed Bobo. He was a bully, but Phillip remembers his parents’ anguish as Bobo was pushed up against a tree and was beaten by the National Guard and police for violating the curfew. “There’s no excuse for this,” said Phillip’s father, even though he didn’t much like Bobo either.

Phillip saw that the images in the news didn’t match the reality in the streets. One radio newsman referred to the people in the streets as “wild animals.” But Phillip didn’t see any “wild animals” at the church fish fry the week before. “They were people and they were sinners, and they were enjoying themselves.”

He was working on the docks of a newspaper. A labor reporter (Steve Orr [?]) liked to talk with him. He was reporting on the UAW and plants closing across Detroit. The coverage by this reporter did jibe with what Phillip saw happening and what his cousin Cyrus said about his experience working in an auto plant. Phillip started talking with this reporter about journalism.

At Wayne State he joined the student newspaper briefly. He “was not enamored with the structure” of journalistic reporting and push back against the edicts of the paper.

From Detroit, Boston seemed exotic. In 1974 he was hearing about: A Haitian man being pulled out of his van and beaten in South Boston. School buses being stoned when they drove through white neighborhoods. A woman being set on fire. That was a different vision of Boston than his next door neighbor Willy had painted. So Phillip decided he’d like to write about Boston.

In 1975 he came out here with other students. “It was much worse” than he imagined when it came to race relations. Boston was almost equated with Birmingham, Mississippi. There was a demonstration in Carson Beach to keep blacks and Latinos off the beach. This was in response to court ordered desegregation and busing. The more he learned, the deeper it got. The people protesting blacks and Latinos were in the same economic class as they people they were objecting to. Phillip wrote a few pieces that “did not land me a job in journalism.” But it did increase his curiosity bout Boston. “And it scared me. I didn’t know if I could live in a place like this.”

When he went back to Detroit he realized that the city had become much worse in the course of a single summer. So he went to San Francisco, but found it too cold [laughter]. Detroit’s economy was deteriorating further. So he tried Boston again.

In Boston he heard Danny Schechter (“The News Dissector”) on WBCN doing a report on the poor that didn’t rely on stick figures, that let people speak for themselves. Phillip approached him out of the blue and asked to be an intern.

Years later, after trying to broaden his worldview through self-education and the Fletcher School of Law Diplomacy, he started working for Oxfam America. Oxfam’s notion of self-development was very important to him. He was in charge of Oxfam’s “hunger banquets,” but he didn’t think he was doing enough to change journalism’s “framework of assumption” about poverty. He was interested in how race frames so many aspects of our society.

In 1992 he went to South Africa. Apartheid was still in place. He picked up an Afrikaner hitchhiker who said that Americans know nothing about South Africa. Phillip was thinking, “This is amazing! I’d never get this perspective if I were a black South African.” The perspective was complex. Ridding South Africa of apartheid will be difficult because you have individuals who fully believe that a black government would be terrorist and communist. He wrote about this for the Boston Globe, which led to more work for them.

In 1994 he was back in South Africa for the election and was in Johannesburg when a bomb went off on April 24. NPR asked him to come on broad as a commentator. In 1995 he wrote a commentary after the Oklahoma City bombing that compared the two bombings and about what the proliferation of guns means to him as a black man.

He was conflicted about journalism because he wasn’t sure that news media would let him explore beyond the standard framework. But then PRI’s The World came up and he was asked to help put it together. He started to cover the intersection of international relations and race.

He went from there to a Japan fellowship looking at disaffected minorities in Japan. The themes he’d cared about all his life were resonating internationally.

After a Niemann Fellowship, he was hired as NPR’s first race relations correspondent, looking at race in terms of ethnicity and hue and tone. “We all know that race is a false construct,” but hue and tone are nevertheless used worldwide to discriminate.

His interest drifted to Europe at the end of the Cold War. He was talking with a right-wing friend from Romania who, when the wall came down, said that the neo-Nazis are going to come out of the woodwork. He went to Germany on a Marshall fellowship in 2003, and saw some of that happening, as well counter movements…


Q: [alex jones] You’ve come across the fundamental truth about American journalism that journalists don’t know poor people and thus don’t do much reporting on poverty. How do we break through that? The reporting on gays has been better because reporters do know gay people.

A: Let people speak for themselves. There have been some great series that do that. When experts interpret information, they often allow their expertise to be the proxy for how people are really feeling. That’s problematic. Journalism has to go deeper.

Q: Whenever I have friends visit me from other cities, they’re always struck by the degree of segregation in Boston — particularly on the T where there will be a car of white people, another of minorities… [Really? I’ve never seen this. I’m mainly on the Green and Red lines,] How does Boston look to you these days?

A: I’m a middle class guy. The city has changed in extraordinary, fundamental ways. I once went to the North End and when I came back, my windows were smashed. I went into South Boston in the 1980s and got into a scuffle on a train platform. I remember being afraid to be in Charlestown. Gentrification has made some of these neighborhoods palatable for people of color. They opened up but also closed: you can go to certain neighborhoods but are unable to live in those neighborhoods. True both for whites and for people of color.

He recently asked Julian Bondwhat he thinks of Boston. Bond said that he’s still afraid of the city. He’s afraid to go to a baseball game. Phillip told him that the city has changed. Bond admitted that this is simply how he perceives Boston. Boston just got a milllion dollar grant to change the perception of race in Boston. Many people across the country still think of Boston in terms of the 1970s pro-racism actions. Now Boston is demarcated by economic classes.

Q: Are media orgs doing enough to diversify their staffs?

A: NPR has made a major effort and some of those have seen fruit. NPR works on the use of words that carry racial meaning. Michele Norris [in the audience, which Phillip just discovers; Phillip has a totally delightful reaction] has done extraordinary work on race.

A: Michele Norris: The member stations are the feeder system for reporters. The staffs of the member stations are overwhelmingly white. The pipeline is not sufficiently diverse.

Q: My sister is a documentary film maker who made a film called “Daddy Don’t Go.” You come away understanding that the dads in it have made a lot of mistakes, but they love their children. The reception she’s getting is disturbing: everyone is telling her that it’s too dark, too sad. It really lets these guys speak for themselves.

A: Maybe she should join forces. E.g., Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Both want to have their voices amplified.

A: Michele Norris: Also try to get it in front of African-American audiences.

A: Jackie Calmes: For the past 35 yrs I’ve seen a regression of the efforts in journalism to hire women and minorities, and it’s worse for minorities in my experience. But, in covering poverty the mistake that’s made too often is equating poverty with black people.

A: Phillip: I agree 100%. A filmmaker at the CBC asked me to work on a series about a black man traveling through poor white America. The idea is to show how structurally problematic poverty is in this country. It engenders a view that this is America. It’s a false picture. White people need to understand the problems in terms not only of race but also of income inequality. We need to bring the contradictions in our understanding to the fore.

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