Changes to platforms we use regularly are always slightly traumatic, as we invariably discover when we roll out a new library website and the complaints begin, or we find out a database interface has changed radically the day we’re introducing it to students. Platform changes are even more distressing when they are sites to which we contribute content. By creating social circles and sharing information on websites, we often forget they belong to other people who have values and motivations different from ours.
Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s takedown of Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation in The New Yorker has been getting a lot of attention. Twitter subsequently presented me with a fascinating analysis of how this theory has influenced higher education. Essentially, individual entrepreneurs are considered valuable because they find cheaper ways to reach new markets. We don’t want smart and knowledgeable workers, because they will frustratingly improve things incrementally rather throw everything out in the race to cut costs and get ahead of entrepreneurial smash-a-thons.
I heard a couple of very interesting presentations this spring given by extremely smart people on ways that libraries can do more with data to improve the user experience, help students succeed, and make a case for the value of libraries. Last week, a group of brave speakers decided to start their slide presentation with a cow and conclude with a grilled steak, asking us to consider whether it was time to finally tackle this library sacred cow: privacy.
In a course I teach, we spend a little time thinking about the role fear plays in the construction of social issues. Philip Jenkins and Joel Best have both written persuasively about the ways in which anxiety is a potent lever for influencing public opinion and gaining attention for various causes. Once a problem has been identified and named, various claims-makers have incentives to associate their pet issues with the named threat, often expanding the domain of the problem by widening its purported influence. In the process, the threat is often distorted.
The first phase of the Lever Initiative is nearly complete, so it seems a good time to share what we’ve learned. In 2010, I sent an email to a group of liberal arts college library directors suggesting a crazy idea: what if we jointly investigated the possibility of starting an open access press? We formed a task force to explore the idea. The next step, should we decide to go forward, will be to explore what exactly we might do and how we would fund it.
Facebook just turned ten years old. A lot has changed in that decade. We’ve grown accustomed to sharing details of our lives through a single platform that tracks our likes, dislikes, friendships, and interests, and follows us when we leave the site to browse the web. We’ve gotten used to using our Facebook login to sign up for other services. We’ve grown resigned (to the point of indifference) to the panopticon that corporations like Facebook have created by using our activity on the Internet as our window on the world and their big-data window into ours.
When I read Nina de Jesus’s blog post, “Locating the Library in Institutionalized Oppression,” I stashed it away so that I could mull it over. I am a bit of a library Pollyanna, making grand claims for the values libraries uphold, but I also remember the many times I went into libraries and felt intimidated. I am, aS many undergraduates are, loath to publicly announce my ignorance by asking questions that I can’t quite articulate. Where is everything? How does it work? Am I in the right place? Should I even be here?
Jamie LaRue, an erstwhile public librarian (recently turned consultant) in Colorado who has done some cool things (such as negotiating directly with publishers for ebooks while refusing to pay crazy amounts for popular titles), has thought-provoking things to say about the dynamics of change in libraries. Reflecting on a discussion at the Arizona Library Association where something he said apparently raised eyebrows, he expanded on his remarks in a blog post, taking particular aim at a pattern he sees (and many of us will recognize) in library organizations. A decision is made, a direction taken, and then the sabotage begins, conducted by people who contributed little to the discussion as the decision was being made.
I am always amazed that people who have ideas to share don’t actually take steps to share them. Yes, academic librarians, I’m looking at you. Why is it that librarians agitate for open access and, at the same time, are content to put our own scholarship behind paywalls?