In the internet age, librarians are focusing less on books and more on teaching. Is something getting lost in the transition?
I think the most important thing it suggests is that relatively few libraries that actually do cancel their Big Deals end up regretting it.
For years, we in libraries have been predicting the imminent demise of the manifestly-unsustainable Big Deal — and yet it has persisted. Now that may be changing. The post When the Wolf Finally Arrives: Big Deal Cancelations in North American Libraries appeared first on The Scholarly Kitchen .
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Speaking at the Educause Annual Conference last month, Chris Bourg, director of libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said something that seemed to resonate with her audience.
“I don’t think we need to save libraries, but I do think we might need libraries to save us,” Bourg said.
Bourg was presenting a report on “The Future of Libraries,” the outcome of a year’s worth of conversations between faculty members, staffers and students at MIT. While its findings and recommendations are still preliminary, the report presents a vision of the library as an “open global platform” that gives people (regardless of whether they are affiliated with MIT) access to information that can help them solve global challenges such as increasing access to clean water or discovering new clean energy sources.
In a follow-up interview last week, Bourg described the report as a “moon shot” for libraries. At more than 26,000 words, the wide-ranging report covers digitization, open access, redesign of physical spaces and more, but it ultimately recommends libraries focus on four “pillars”: community and relationships, discovery and use, stewardship and sustainability, and research and development.
“What the report and the work of the task force say is that libraries aren’t just about buildings, and they’re not just about books,” Bourg said. “Providing access to credible information and the tools to assess, use, understand and exploit it is what libraries, librarians and archivists have always done. It’s more important than ever now.”
MIT, with its focus on science, technology, engineering and math, is in a different position to grapple with those issues compared to universities with traditional strengths (and extensive library collections) in the humanities and social sciences, other library directors and researchers said.
But MIT is not the only institute of its kind to take a long look at the role its libraries should play. The Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, has launched a Library Renewal Project that includes moving about 95 percent of its physical books to a cold storage facility it shares with Emory University. The space gained by cutting down on stacks will help the library in its transformation into a service organization, administrators there said.
More broadly, the MIT report reflects attitudes among academics highlighted in a national faculty survey conducted this year by Ithaka S+R, a research and consulting nonprofit. The survey found faculty members look to their libraries to offer more and more services, from acquiring new scholarly materials and preserving content to training students and serving as a starting point for research.
MIT isn’t committing to gutting its libraries of print books or other drastic changes just yet. The institute is still collecting feedback on the preliminary report, and the library staff will next decide which areas to prioritize.
They have plenty of opportunities to choose from among those discussed in the report. They could choose to boost the library’s role as a steward of knowledge first, tackling the task force’s recommendations that it serve as a repository for research and develop new models of preserving digital content. While many researchers rely on commercial services such as Figshare and Mendeley, “Academia in general is best served when the libraries are the trusted long-term repository for the scholarly record,” Bourg explained a blog post.
Alternatively, it could take a closer look at how it disseminates knowledge, for example by examining how MIT shares research with the world or by creating platforms that let users share and discover new information. Those efforts would go beyond digitizing, Bourg wrote, to ensure that new digital content isn’t simply being stored in its own silo.
Following the presidential election and the rise of racist incidents and protests across the country, libraries also need to consider how they can serve as “town squares” to promote diversity and social justice, Bourg said.
“College and university libraries need to step up to the plate here,” Bourg said. “They stand for intellectual freedom and the free exchange of ideas.”
Bourg said the task force effectively punted on two topics: library redesign and open access. The report only recommends that new groups be formed to look more specifically at those issues. While the task force on libraries was deliberating, MIT this summer announced a stand-alone committee to examine the future of its OpenCourseWare initiative. That committee is expected to issue its own recommendations before the new year, according to Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s vice president for open learning.
Elliott Shore, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, said in an email that the report lays the foundation for future collaboration between researchers, librarians and others involved in scholarly communication.
“This is a vision for MIT libraries that makes very clear the need to collaborate at scale,” Shore wrote. “It demonstrates that MIT knows it can’t go it alone and doesn’t want to — what it wants to do is to fulfill the goal of the university to create new knowledge as a public good.”
Bourg said MIT does not assume it can accomplish everything it sets out to do in the preliminary report alone, and that it needs help from other scholars, universities and publishers to bring its vision to life.
“We tried to write the report as an invitation,” Bourg said. “If this is your vision for the future, too, come join us, help us build it.”
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Concern about the prevalence of fake or sensationally biased news sources has escalated in the days following the presidential election, with many citing it as a factor (some even the primary cause) of Donald Trump’s win.
The central focus of the concern is Facebook, which has grown beyond a social platform and is now a key information distributor from which 44 percent of Americans get their news. Though Mark Zuckerberg stated publicly that the idea that fake news on Facebook influenced the election was “crazy,” a BuzzFeed News report uncovered that people within his own company consider this response flippant and are busy organizing in secret to dig into the data and make recommendations to senior leadership. This news came out after a Gizmodo report stated that Facebook had already built a system that could weed out fake news but had chosen not to deploy it because of the undesirable optics of the tool going after mostly right-wing “news” sources. Facebook has denied that report, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about what’s going on behind closed doors.
On top of Facebook’s issues, the first Google search result for election results for several hours on Monday was a tiny conspiracy blog that wrongly showed Trump winning the popular vote. Google and Facebook both announced on Monday that they would block fake news sources from using their ad networks (one of the key ways that small to moderately sized websites make money), but the issue of fake news creeping up in search results and news feeds is still an urgent one.
All of this is compounded by the reality that a lot of people don’t know fake news when they see it, sensationalized reports are more likely to go viral on social media than sane ones, and distrust of traditional (and genuinely more reliable) media sources is rising.
To get a better idea of how we can fight misinformation, The Verge talked to Professor Nicole A. Cooke of the University of Illinois. Professor Cooke works in the University’s top-ranked School of Information Sciences, focusing on human information behavior, information literacy, and diversity in librarianship. We discussed why it seems to be getting harder and harder for people to keep track of the truth, what libraries are doing to help them, and what we all need to do going forward.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What kind of work do you do with information literacy at the University of Illinois?
We essentially teach and train aspiring librarians. The librarians that you see in public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries — they all go through a master’s program. That is primarily the work that I do. Prior to coming to Illinois I was an academic librarian in northern New Jersey and I did information literacy instruction. I used to teach college students and faculty members and members of the community how to be better consumers of information. At the library school I teach future librarians how to give that kind of instruction at their organizations and institutions.
For you, how has the job of training librarians changed over the last few years alongside this growing concern we have about fake news?
I think the main change we have to confront is really just the volume of information. Librarians… we’ve always talked about information literacy. Information literacy is just trying to get people to be savvy consumers of information, and getting them to be able to really interrogate the information that is available to them, to see what is quality, to evaluate sources, et cetera.
It’s part of what we’re calling information overload. We’re just inundated with so much information it becomes just more difficult to parse out where the quality information is. And these fake news sites are increasingly savvy. We used to talk to students about “How does the website look? Does it look like you could have done it on your laptop or does it look like there’s a corporation behind it?” We used to and still do look at the url: “Is it a .net, is it a .org?” But these new sites are so savvy, the interfaces can be really slick, and they can look a lot like what we consider to be reputable sources. There’s is also now a lot of manipulation of the domains. I saw something not too long ago that had “.edu.co.” We say that if it has an “edu” it’s a reputable site but there’s that added manipulation with the “.co.” It becomes trickier to identify these deceitful sites right away unless you’re really paying attention and doing due diligence.
Do we have any rules of thumb for identifying fake news left? Is it too complicated now to lay out these simple tricks?
I don’t know that it’s going to be that much trickier. I just think that people have to take the time to actually do it. If you see something on Facebook or Twitter, a lot of people get caught up with just forwarding information without actually reading the article or examining the site. When you see a very salacious headline or something that’s challenging, sometimes the inclination is to forward it without checking. You have to ask: does this appear in multiple places or did you only see it on Facebook? This misinformation is perpetuated because people aren’t taking the time to evaluate sources before they accept it as truth and / or pass it on to others.
Do you think it’s always an issue of people not knowing the news is fake, or do you think it’s possible that they just don’t care?
I actually think it’s both. There is some credence to the idea that people are not investigating sources because they don’t want to believe [the information] is wrong. And they get caught in an echo chamber — they lean towards and absorb news that agrees with and confirms their own sensibilities. I also think that, as I mentioned, part of it is that the fake news sites are so sophisticated now. It is harder to tell with the same techniques that we used to use. But yes, there are some people who are just purposely skipping over things that they don’t agree with.
There’s also a lot of talk about a growing mistrust of conventional media. Do you think that’s in any way related? Do people get the idea that all media is inaccurate and figure it’s not worth it to investigate facts?
Absolutely. I think there’s a lot of credence to what you say about a general mistrust of the media and you hear a lot of comments about “this source is biased” or “this source is slanted.” Lots of media outlets do have a particular stance and if people don’t agree with them then it’s easy [for them] to say “I don’t trust them and I won’t consult them.”
Part of the problem there is a lack of understanding of the idea of neutrality. People are saying “It’s on the internet…” or “It’s in a newspaper so it has to be true and objective.” But the truth is that there are very few truly neutral spaces. Lots of places have a particular idea about what they believe, and that comes out in the reporting. I think the word “distrust” is overused a little bit in the sense that I think a lot of people say that they “distrust” something not because it’s not trustworthy but because they actually just don’t agree with it.
Has the citizenry of the US actually become less informed in an age of seemingly unlimited information? Or is that just cynicism?
In some of the research that I’ve done, we’ve found that there’s a conflation of being able to navigate the technology and being able to evaluate and interrogate the information. There’s an assumption about millennials and younger people, that because they were raised on these technologies that they know everything. That they know how to get information and use it properly. And that may not be the case.
Even people who seem like they’re really talented with technology — that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to evaluate the information they’re coming across. In that sense, with people just clicking and forwarding headlines, there’s too much speed here. I think we are perhaps less informed, just because of the speed of technology.
As far as addressing the problem, are high schools at all focused on these issues?
Yes and no. There are some amazing school librarians that are doing good work and I know they’re familiar with information literacy and what that means. I don’t know how much opportunity they get to actually do that. School librarians are doing 100 different things in the course of the day, but I’m positive that they’re covering it. Perhaps if given the time they could do a lot more. They have a lot of different class needs and they just might not have the time. I know that they are addressing it, and they do realize the importance of it. The earlier they can get the students to be more news literate and savvy information consumers, the better.
It seems like there are two different types of literacy to talk about here. There’s the academic literacy, which is about looking for the academic sources and peer-reviewed sources that are necessary for your formal education, and then there’s this citizen-training which is more about being savvy about the type of information that you see around you all the time. Is that second type of literacy actually a part of written curricula or do you just have to hope individual librarians consider it important enough to teach?
In my department, in my school, I actually teach a class on library instruction and we’re trying to teach aspiring librarians to value that. It is an information literacy instruction course and that’s what we’re talking about: how do we prepare ourselves to teach and train our students, our patrons, our community members? There are lots of classes in library programs across the country in which we explicitly cover this and explicitly cover this type of teaching and learning and instruction for librarians that will go into various types of libraries.
Certainly it is up to librarians to keep up to date and engage in professional development, but it is very likely that they will have the opportunity, if they so choose, to take an information literacy course while they’re in a graduate program.
How are we doing with high schools? Are people getting better at teaching these things? Are we outdated? I know that when I was in high school not too long ago, I heard the same things that you mentioned before like “trust a .edu” and “don’t trust Wikipedia.” But Wikipedia at this point is probably much more reliable than a lot of the news sources we’re talking about.
I do think that information literacy instruction has changed. Just for example, when I was in high school it was early internet, so we didn’t even have that type of instruction. And during my course of doing this work in a college setting my instruction changed as the technology changed. That’s going to be the same for school librarians. There’s still the type of instruction going on that you described, but it’s just a matter of getting more up to speed with the technology as it changes.
Some of this is going to depend on when the librarian was in school. Things have changed dramatically in just the last five years, never mind the last 10 or 15. More to your point, I think the approach is going to need to be more understanding. People use Wikipedia, and students just need to be made more clear on the editing process. It is possible that there is some misinformation and disinformation because you don’t know who’s editing. Wikipedia requires some fact-checking and digging a little bit deeper. For school librarians the question is how do we get students to go a step further. We have to meet them where they are. We know students use Wikipedia and other sources that were frowned upon at one point — how do we meet them where they are and challenge them and really teach them how to take that a step further?
As education budgets get cut, it seems library resources are always one of the first things to go, and this might be the worst possible time for it.
This has been going on for many years. You see states and regions laying off librarians left and right. And then the ones that are remaining, they have to cover multiple libraries. While they may have just had one library, now they’re responsible for four, and then, as you said, the resources are also being cut. I think it should be a huge priority, but it’s not always up to the district. Money’s tight everywhere. I don’t necessarily have an answer for it, but school librarians are doing more with significantly less, both time and material, than they were before.
It’s unfortunate, and sometimes they probably aren’t able to do everything they want particularly in terms of information literacy because they’re literally trying to keep the doors open.
What about public libraries? What’s being done to help an older generation that might be even more overwhelmed by the internet and by false information?
The public libraries are a slightly different situation in that they don’t run classes in the same way, but on the flip side of that they probably have a lot more access to the community. The best thing they can do is just having good programming and a real focus on seniors because they do have different technology needs. Librarians in a public setting have to be mindful of the different levels and really just introduce information a little bit at a time. Depending on the audience, you might have to have a program where you have basic computer literacy so someone knows how to navigate just turning the computer on and off and getting to the internet. And then you have to level up and ask “How do you find sources online?” And then you have to talk about how to evaluate those sources.
With seniors, it might be about having multiple programs and just having an opportunity to address multiple issues instead of trying to get them from soup to nuts in one hour-long session.
It seems like an issue that might be hard to hit head-on with people. If you’re told, “Oh, you’ve been falling for fake news,” it can come off as “Oh, you’re dumb.”
Yes, it’s defensiveness. Maybe it’s just phrasing: we can ask people to “broaden their horizons,” or something. That sounds cliché, but how do we make it attractive to people, the idea of being able to investigate multiple sides of an issue and know how to fact check? When the debates happened this last election cycle, there was a lot of discussion and what seems to be a little fascination with people saying “Ooh, they fact checked the debates.” Well, yeah. [For] some of us, that’s what we do for a living.
I think some of this is new to people. We have to increase that awareness and say, “Yes, you need to fact check the election, and here’s how you do it.” If people think that it’s relevant to them, they’re less likely to be defensive.
This is all sounding pretty bleak. Are there specific things we can do, or has the internet kind of run away with us?
It is getting harder, just because of the proliferation of information. We have to have more conversations, we have to have more programming, we have to have more classes. For those who are concerned, those in the media, we have to prioritize this as something that’s really important. This is a headline right now given recent events, but will it still be a headline past January? We get into these cycles where we realize it’s an issue and that we should address it and we have good conversations, but then it just peters out. We need to have the conversation and actually do it.
There are lots of good initiatives through the American Library Association and other professional organizations such as the Public Library Association. There’s the Association of College and Research Libraries and lots of other organizations of professional librarians. They need to offer more programs, and librarians need to request things when they feel like they need extra training or a refresher or just some more tips on how to teach a class about fake news sites. There’s been lots of great resources popping up in the last couple of weeks that say things like “how to spot fake sites” and tell you how to address them. You know, it’s going to be a development issue on our end. I would hope there’s enough conversation that our patrons and students start actually asking for instruction.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously referred to the Association of College and Research Libraries as “the Association of College and Resource Libraries.”
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The presentations at the Library of Congress’ Collections As Data conference coalesced into two main themes: 1) digital collections are composed of data that can be acquired, processed and displayed in countless scientific and creative ways and 2) we should always be aware and respectful that data is manipulated by — and derived from — people.
Read full post here.
“The Task Force and the community members we heard from (Appendices 3 and 4) envision the library as a networked set of global platforms replete with content, data, metadata, images, audio files, laboratory notebooks, course materials, and more. We imagine a repository of knowledge and data that can be exploited and analyzed by humans, machines, and algorithms.”
School libraries are no longer simply quiet places for students to study or check out printed materials. Many have transformed themselves into vibrant hubs of school life, boasting makerspaces, computer access, collaborative work areas, quiet zones, and many more ways for students to access information. Students are now using a variety of devices to do schoolwork and access textbooks or other class materials. To help meet their needs, librarians are scrambling to curate effective digital collections accessible through a variety of devices, but it’s a complicated and often expensive task.
“Every outgoing senior class is vastly different from every incoming freshman class,” said New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala in an edWeb webinar. “When we look at our collections, are we ready for that shift? Every year is a different cohort.”
Shifts in student population and usage patterns, in addition to a quickly changing media landscape, make the school librarian’s job difficult (if the school even has a librarian). While the e-book market is growing, it’s not yet clear how it will play out in schools where educators have diverse needs for books. Some e-books can only be licensed for a limited amount of time to schools, which might be a good thing if schools are constantly changing curriculum, but also means the school doesn’t own the book outright.
“It is still the Wild West,” Luhtala said. “Things are changing before our very eyes. That’s exciting and fascinating, but it requires a lot of attention and knowledge and it can be confusing.” In the past, Luhtala might have ordered seven print copies of a new book, now she’s ordering four print books, two e-books and an audiobook to offer various avenues for students. But it might cost $200 extra for that diversity of formats.
“My administrators have no idea that we don’t pay the same for an ebook as they do on Amazon,” Luhtala said. A book that costs a consumer $39 might cost a school $150, in part because if the school will own the ebook in perpetuity, many more people will read it than one consumer.
And school librarians aren’t just stocking library catalogues, they’re also ordering books for courses and supporting teachers with resources. Increasingly digital access to books is part of classroom instruction. At New Canaan, students read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond every year at the same time. That’s difficult for Luhtala because that particular e-book title used to only be accessible under a year-long license, even though her students are only using it for a few weeks. That money has to be spent again the following year.
Why do societies fail? With lessons from the Norse of Iron Age Greenland, deforested Easter Island and present-day Montana, Jared Diamond talks about the signs that collapse is near, and how — if we see it in time — we can prevent it.
DIGITAL COLLECTION CHANGES
The many ways schools use titles make it difficult for publishers to figure out pricing. Plus, they’re concerned about losing control over the intellectual property they’ve worked hard to create.
“One of the great moves that we’re seeing is that some publishers are realizing that for the same title they need to offer single user, multi user and limited licensing,” said Randal Heise, co-owner of Mackin Educational Resources. Heise’s company aggregates digital content on a platform that schools use for easy access. His company is a middleman between the needs of educators and the business interests of publishers. They worked with publishers to offer an ebook sale, for example.
“The biggest fear, and the reason the publishers didn’t just jump into the ebook world, is the infrastructure wasn’t there,” Heise said. “They’ve come into this world begrudgingly.” That’s why their recognition how schools use books — and the necessity of various forms of licensing — is a step in the right direction.
Another possible new development that hasn’t fully been fleshed out is the “classroom license,” which would give access to a book for six to nine months, during the school year. “The classroom license is really an exciting possibility,” Heise said, although he acknowledged that right now there are a lot issues with how to keep track of such licenses.
“If you could buy access to material for three months that you could use with your students for four-to-five dollars per student, those are some economies of scale,” Heise said. “I think it’s going to take some time for people to wrap their heads around it on both sides of the industry.”
This shifting landscape might lead educators to disavow digital collections completely and stick to paper books. But Luhtala doesn’t think it’s fair to give students only one way into the library’s collection. Worse, she worries it might turn them off if they can’t access their reading in ways that are most natural to them.
“We really want the kids to have as many avenues as possible to the collection and have the most seamless entry,” Luhtala said. “They should be able to be instructed about all of those options and have the ability to make that choice.”
Many librarians see the digital collection as an inevitability and are working to make publishers aware of their needs. A new advocacy organization called Transform Your School Library has even begun serving as an intermediary between educators and publishers. Heise helped start the organization.
“Tell us what you want,” Heise said. “Tell us where you’re going. Tell us what’s not working for you. The whole industry gets better when we get better. We’re sort of the little engine that could.”