June 24, 2005
At lunch time today I witnessed a group of young people playing croquet on the grass oval in front of the Kelvin Smith Library. That's great! How civilized! How genteel! And an activity that doesn't involve any kind of networked device.... One of my colleagues observed that perhaps next we'll have polo matches on Freiberger Field.
New ALA report: Nearly all libraries offer free internet access
The American Library Association has released a new report, reported in today's New York Times, that finds that 98.9% of all libraries offer free internet access to their users.
The study also reported that almost 40 percent of public libraries filter public Internet access to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually related materials.
June 21, 2005
A Failed Wiki Experiment
Today's New York Times has an article about an experiment by the Los Angeles Times using Wiki technology to let readers alter a 1,000-word editorial, in much the same way as the Wikipedia allows alterations in articles.
After Slashdot.org posted a link to the "Wikitorial," the LA Times started finding pornography posted, and the paper was forced to take the site down after a day and a half, early on Sunday morning. Here is the LA Times story on the episode. The paper expresses hope that some version of the feature may be tried again in the future. Too bad that "juveniles" (in emotional maturity, if not age) had to screw it up for others.
June 20, 2005
ALA Study of Government Inquiries to Libraries (More on the Patriot Act)
The New York Times today reports in an article about a new study conducted and just released by the American Library Association which gathers statistics about inquiries by government officials to libraries related to the government's counterterrorism activities. (As of this morning, I could not find a link to the study itself on the association's web site.)
According to the article, "the study does not directly answer how or whether the Patriot Act has been used to search libraries. The association said it decided it was constrained from asking direct questions on the law because of secrecy provisions that could make it a crime for a librarian to respond. Federal intelligence law bans those who receive certain types of demands for records from challenging the order or even telling anyone they have received it." [Tim's comment: Check out that last sentence--in some cases libraries not only cannot challenge the demand for information, they cannot reveal that they received it! That is scary, folks. The government could very well ask what you checked out or read, we would have to tell them, and we would be prevented from telling you that they asked about you.]
The survey included 1,500 public libraries and 4,000 academic libraries, most of which had not received any inquiries. But from those who did, extrapolated to 500 libraries, there would have been about 600 requests for information.
Bush Administration officials said they had not yet seen the details of the study but proceeded to denounce it anyway.
June 16, 2005
U.S. House Votes to Revise U.S. Patriot Act
CNN reports today that the U.S. House of Representatives, in an unusually bipartisan fashion, has voted to repeal one of the most troubling parts of the U.S. Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and includes a provision allowing law enforcement agencies to examine circulation records in libraries and book sales records for bookstores for any reason, without warrant. This provision has been decried by librarians and booksellers around the country as a serious invasion of privacy and gives law enforcement agents a blank check to go on "fishing expeditions."
Libraries have long been highly protective of their readers' right to privacy. It is part of librarians' code of ethics that readers have a right to read and check out of the library what they want without intrusion by others. Most online library systems, including the system used by Kelvin Smith Library and other libraries on campus, automatically discards all personal information about who has checked out books once the book has been returned, retaining only a count and general demographic statistics about the circulation transaction. Library staff are trained not to discuss or divulge who currently has a book checked out. (This question comes up quite often: for example, a professor will come in and say that he or she needs a book. We say that it is checked out, and the professor says, "Oh it's probably one of my students that has it, tell me who it is." It is our policy not to divulge such information. We instead offer to hold the book when it comes in, or, if it is overdue, to recall it. We can also try to request another copy on OhioLINK.)
President Bush has threatened to veto a bill that reduces federal authority over the records.
June 04, 2005
Wikipedia is a free open-source online encyclopedia containing over 1.5 million articles in 76 languages, include 576,000+ articles in English. The concept is that groups of people thinking and working on the same topic bring more knowledge than does any particular individual. It is an alluring idea that has a great deal of merit for certain narrowly defined applications. It originated as a mechanism to create online technical manuals for software developers in 1995.
The Wikipedia, however, has serious flaws as a medium of scholarly communication. Here are a few of them:
- Since the very nature of the Wikipedia is that articles are updated, it is impossible to know the state of "completeness" or accuracy at any given stage. If someone has posted a highly inaccurate or incomplete article on an obscure topic of interest to only a few people, that inaccurate information may stand for a long time before it is corrected. The unknowledgeable reader could be seduced into thinking that the information is correct and/or complete.
- Since anyone can add to and edit Wikipedia articles, it is possible for the author of a paper to add his or her own content/conjecture to a Wikipedia article to support that individual's position. Wikipedia does not insist on a standard scholarly apparatus that serious research requires. Assertions can be made without citation.
- Wikipedia articles are written by people who are interested, not necessarily by people who are scholars, in a particular topic. Indeed, most reputable scholars disdain the Wikipedia and expend their energies on more traditional scholarly communication.
- Although Wikipedia could be considered to have the ultimate peer review (i.e., anyone can change content), that is its ultimate downfall: why should I trust anything that is there.
- Like the elephant constructed by committee, there is no overall viewpoint in articles, thus lending to a lack of feeling of authority in the articles and odd holes in the coverage, even within a single article.
I really want to like the Wikipedia. Every few months I go to the site and check out several articles in topics on which I have a great deal of personal knowledge (mostly music). I have to admit that although the content is not outright incorrect, it is very incomplete. For example, the entry on the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) has a "Selected list of works" that includes a citation for a very early (and decidedly minor) piece of background music for a BBC film of 1936, and the trivial "Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury" but does not include a listing of any of the voice and piano song cycles, such as "Winter Words" based on poetry of Thomas Hardy, or any of the five Canticles, any of which is more significant than some of the other works listed, not just in my opinion, but by any number of more scholarly and authoritative sources about Britten.
The Wikipedia may be an enchanting entertainment for the interested amateur, but I still have to dismiss it as a serious tool for scholarship.
June 01, 2005
Reviewed in the NY Times: A blog worth checking out
There are zillions of blogs out there and most of them (including, perhaps, this one) aren't worth the time it takes to open the URL to read them. Yesterday's New York Times had a review (yes a review of a blog!) of something very different. It is called PostSecret. PostSecret is described "as an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade [4 x 6 inch] postcard." The postcards are then scanned and, and the images are posted to the blog.
The secrets run from the trivial ("I save all the staples I pull out of papers at work. They're in a box on my desk and weigh a pound and a half." or "I leave poetry in library books.") to the horrific (Caption on a postcard showing a photo of the burning twin towers on 9/11: "He should have been at work that day. I wish he had been." or "My father was jailed for rape and molestation of his girlfriend's daughters. He's been there several years I've always suspected he molested me as well. But I've never said anything and I'm scared to find out if my suspicions are true. I'm not sure if my farther is the imprisoned one, or if the one imprisoned is me.")
The site doesn't have any fancy features, just the postcards, which you could spend hours reading. (It is so compelling that I have to pull myself away from it.) This is a true "digital exhibit" in which the art and the anonymous artists speak for themselves.