Category Archives: information literacy

wikileakipedia

Fascinating expose about the rise and influence of Wikileaks. I find it interesting that companies are spending so much money to prevent the already preventable:

It’s a well-worn carpet. Since late 2007 every major security software vendor, from McAfee to Symantec to Trend Micro, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire companies in the so-called Data-Leak Prevention (DLP) industry—software designed to locate and tag sensitive information, and then guard against its escape at the edges of a firm’s network.

The problem: DLP doesn’t work. Data is simply created too quickly, and moved around too often, for a mere filter to catch it, says Richard Stiennon, an analyst for security consultancy IT-Harvest, in Birmingham, Mich. “For DLP to function, all the stars have to align,” he says. “This is a huge problem that can’t be stopped with a single layer of infrastructure.”

Dead horse, meet sledgehammer:

WikiLeaks’ founder, in fact, seems to have trouble accepting that Mudge is working for the other side. “He’s a clever guy, and he’s also highly ethical,” says Assange. “I suspect he would have concerns about creating a system to conceal genuine abuses.” He dismisses Cinder as just another system of digital censorship. And those systems, he says, will always fail, just as China’s Great Firewall can’t stop well-informed and determined dissident Internet users. “Censorship might work for the average person but not for highly motivated people,” Assange says. “And our people are highly motivated.”

Very similar to issue of file sharing and DRM in the movie, music, even the publishing industries: hackers, geeks and now even disgruntled employees will always be one transnational step ahead.  Who would have thought that forcing companies to be honest could be such a grassroots movement, albeit a highly dangerous and potentially lethal one.

But where it’s called transparency in the corporate world, it’s called open source for libraries, as they actually try to promote the sharing of information, whether it through the Web itself or their own repositories.  Specifically with the rise of Wikileaks, where is the library’s place in advocating information dissemination? Are we to promote access to leaked troop positions or emails detailing corrupt politicians and their corporate enablers that may potentially endanger the lives of these or peripherally connected people?

After hard thought it seems that Wikileaks is really no different than Wikipedia in principle: users, whatever their intentions, can post factual, sensitive and/or erroneous information at will. And not that either is an inherently bad/evil idea or virtual creation; it’s just that no one thought that either would be so significant in generating user interest and participation. I suppose a coming challenge for libraries and librarians is to start incorporating informational ethics into their instructional literacy sessions. Just think…we’d make a killing with the corruptible market out there…charging by the hour plus adding a fee for virtual downloads, etc. We could create our own unaccountable banking system.

consider kali

Often times it is somewhat embarrassing to encounter the mindless conception of ourselves and our profession among the uninitiated masses. Most people I encounter do not have an accurate representation of what libraries are or more importantly, what librarians do.

Part of that is our fault. Libraries serve as a refuge, and it has been out of our compassion to accept more social responsibility than to specifically limit our professional responsibilities that we do a great many things to a great many people. Typically, we are left picking up the pieces of our shattered reality before we can attempt to promote our significance.

Rather than outright say what we are for others, for that would be a really boring post, I’ve been concentrating on others’ misconceptions. Normally the first thing associated with us is some form of nostalgia commonly associated with a rural family farmhouse. A little outdated, we are represented by the elderly, matronly, meek and respected guardians of the nourishing, sacred tomes and the all-around country quiet; though not quite altogether upstairs, we however are quaint and eccentric all the same, deserving of some form of respect as well as a new coat of paint before we meet our abrupt and untimely foreclosure, mostly figuratively speaking. Sadly, our image, our stereotype is rapidly in flux and we must redefine it.

If people were to see our work more through our eyes, more would understand why we are a little off, why our conventions are typically booze filled and generally outrageous. But again, without spelling it out, I humbly present an analogy.

At the risk of sounding a bit too high and almighty or righteous I propose that in order to reclaim and expand upon our identity, we should think big and identify ourselves with the more recognizable figures, for example religious and philosophic deities. I nominate the Hindu deity Kali. The connections are simply too logical. Continuing the stately female-centric image, which as a male librarian I fully endorse, I can think of no more fitting stereotype…ahem, representation.

A symbol of death, destruction, even time, Kali first and foremost signifies the death of library patrons’ ignorance and the change that will slowly blossom from the ashes of our jarring instruction on the nature of information. We are an urgent force and need to get peoples’ attention. Kali demands attention: she’s naked, crispy, wears a necklace of bloody heads and carries swords, among other trophies.

Secondly, her image endures due mainly to her batshit rage emanating from her presence, inciting instantaneous fear in enemies. This is appropriate especially with those in the public service side of the profession, who incessantly deal with patrons trying to take our pens and staplers, deceive us out of their printing and late fees, as well as expect us to babysit their children while they’re off scoring their next fix. With a bit more of our tough instruction, people will learn to respect our professional boundaries and our wrathful knowledge.

Thirdly, she is a multitasker, as evidenced by her numerous limbs. I think nearly everyone in libraryland relates to this, though I couldn’t think of any deity possessing many emanations wearing an assortment of hats. In any case, we do a lot of different stuff, things not normally expected of us and often times without extra compensation or simple gratitude. I cite the wrath mentioned above, all things being feeding off each other and stuff.

So as a passing warning to library-goers, if you’re ever wondering why that circulation or reference librarian is looking especially pissed off, consider the Kalis among us. We are only invoking our disdain upon the complacency of the masses for their (your) benefit. We will happily destroy your ignorance with violent force by: simultaneously instructing you on OPAC searching techniques with one pointed, scarred hand, accepting your overdue fines with another clawed and outstretched palm, shushing you with a third as we hold a bloody finger to our charcoal lips before a dangling and frothy tongue, and grasping a mobile device in a final hand, tweeting your idiocy to the world as we dance upon your expired library card which we can make happen anytime we want.

So in our grand quest for identity, it may better for you dear patrons, as well as fellow librarians, to think of ourselves as such.

skimmers and scanners

Sayeth David Carr:

What changes our brains is, on the one hand, repetition and, on the other hand, neglect. That’s why I believe the Net is having such far-reaching intellectual consequences. When we’re online, we tend to perform the same physical and mental actions over and over again, at a high rate of speed and in a state of perpetual distractedness. The more we go through those motions, the more we train ourselves to be skimmers and scanners and surfers. But the Net provides no opportunity or encouragement for more placid, attentive thought. What we’re losing, through neglect, is our capacity for contemplation, introspection, reflection — all those ways of thinking that require attentiveness and deep concentration.

Granted, graduate students of all types are often forced into being “skimmers and scanners” but they are graduate students…research is central their raison d’etre, whereas for undergrads…not so much. And while certain sites do encourage attentive thought, I suspect that the groupthink will outweigh the introspection and contemplation for  which Carr longs.  Hence people will be seeking out their suppositions, rather than actually slog through the process of learning. The Internet magnifies the potential for dumb aggregation of information, not the coherent synthesis of it.

library time

There’s not enough of it:

Academic librarians are eager to offer sessions for students on what we call “research education.” But the mistaken assumption that students don’t need it means that many professors don’t ask us to meet with their students, or even respond to our enthusiastic offers to lead such sessions. Students don’t need to be taught anything about working online, because they were practically born digital, right?

Research education is not tools education. Research education involves getting students to understand how information is organized physically in libraries, as well as electronically in library catalogs and in powerful, sometimes highly specialized commercial databases. It means teaching students to search effectively online to identify the most relevant and highest-quality books, articles, microform sets, databases, even free Web resources.

Knowing how to Tweet doesn’t equate to knowing the LexisNexis interface.

plagiarism via osmosis

Breaking news, infomaniacs!  Another virus affecting grey matter everywhere is potentially reaching pandemic proportions.  The predisposition to copy-and-paste has now entered the professional ranks of journalistic ethics and integrity.  In addition to recent actions of journalists unable to verify falsified wikipedia entries, a peculiar outbreak of  the “dragon-click” virus has afflicted the central processing unit of New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd, who plagiarised a political blogger for her latest column:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has admitted to using a paragraph virtually word-for-word from a prominent liberal blogger without attribution.

In addition to having the excerpt taken virtually word-for word, the most peculiar aspect to Dowd’s thievery, fellow news freaks, is that her explanation suggests that she was a victim of osmosis.

Dowd, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990, told The Huffington Post that the mistake was unintentional. She claims she never read Marshall’s post last week and had heard the line from a friend who did not mention reading it in Marshall’s blog.

I emphasize the last line because, like the wikipedia scandal, she relied on an unverified source, a nameless “friend” if you will, who in effect had performed the plagiarism when speaking to her. That their conversation conveyed the exact contents of the blogger’s posting is, to quote Mr. Spock, fascinating.

wikipedia & primary sources

You know the state of information literacy is bad when journalists are copying and pasting quotes that are in fact hoaxes:

When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

“The moral of this story is not that journalists should avoid Wikipedia, but that they shouldn’t use information they find there if it can’t be traced back to a reliable primary source,” said the readers’ editor at the Guardian, Siobhain Butterworth, in the May 4 column that revealed Fitzgerald as the quote author.

Oh my.