Friday, November 27, 2015

Article: Wisdom of the Crowd

During any holiday period, I try to catch up on my journal reading.  (I don't think you really want to know how far behind I am!)  Yesterday, I finally read this article by Matt Enis in the June 2015 issue of Library Journal.  In "Wisdom of the Crowd", Enis discussed the crowdsourcing activities that libraries are using in order to make more of their collections available.  He notes: the past half decade, libraries have taken cues from long-running projects such as DP, using crowdsourcing as a way not only to outsource work that would be impossible for staff to attempt but also to engage volunteers.
The article is full of excellent examples and strategies.  If you're considering crowdsourcing aspects of your digitization program, for example, you might use this article to locate people and project to talk with about their practices.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Creative Commons says "Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Harm User Rights and the Commons"

Free Stock: Copyright sign 3D renderThe Creative Commons has analyzed the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and found six items of concern related to copyright and the public domain.  One of those concerns is the extension of copyright protection in those countries which do not already protect works for the life of the creator plus 70 years.  The Creative Commons notes:
The ratification of the TPP would limit the size and diversity of materials that are available for everyone to build on, from art, music and other expressive cultural creations, to education resources to scientific research. It will also exacerbate the problem of orphan works, because those works would have entered into the public domain because their copyrights had expired. Instead, they’ll remain restricted by copyright for additional decades even though no ownership claim has been made, and no owner located to exercise the exclusive rights that copyright grants.
You might look at this and think "what does it matter?"  Like most things, the impact will not be on you, but will be on those that come after us...those who can't use materials published in their own century, without seeking permission, because of copyright protection. To me, that seems wrong.

The Creative Commons has a petition, if you would like to sign it.  There are also petitions at

Monday, November 16, 2015

From Graduate Level Writing to Professional Writing

All my pensOnce I left graduate school, I went to work in industry which influenced how I write. Writing for me is not an academic exercise. Rather I write to make point, to influence, or to inform.  My writing tends to be straightforward and not what I consider "academic."

When I read student papers, I first look for students to write a a graduate level. Now...this is a "know it when I see it" difference between undergraduate and graduate writing.  Undergraduate writing may not be as probing or analytical.  (Yes, I know that is a broad assumption and it doesn't fit every undergraduate author.) When I give feedback on writing that I want to be more graduate-level work, then the question becomes how to convey that difference to someone.

So what is graduate-level writing? As I've talked to colleagues and former students, these points are mentioned:
  • In a professional program (which library science is), the student is writing for his professional peers, which includes fellow students, faculty and members of the profession. This is different in tone and structure, I think, than undergraduate writing. It may be academic in style or may be more business like, depending on the assignment.
  • Some consider that graduate students should strive to write in language similar to that of their professors. The student should try to strive - through his writing - to be a intellectual peer of the professor.  If this uncomfortable for the student, then the student needs to strive to get comfortable with it.
  • Graduate-level writing is not regurgitating information.  Instead there needs to be synthesis.
  • Graduate students are expected to immerse themselves in the topic. That immersion should be evident when someone reads the paper. That immersion does not necessary  translate into a longer paper, but in how the topic is discussed.
  • Graduate-level writing should include both the big picture and details. It is up to the student to understand how to balance both in the context of the paper.
  • The paper should stand on its own.  It does not leave people wondering because it contains holes.
If that is how we might define graduate-level writing, what is professional-level writing?  
  • For me, professional-level writing is more succinct and more to-the-point.  
  • It might not have much theory in it, but rather focus on what is happening in the field. 
  • Structurally, professional works are laid out so that the executive can quickly locate specific sections to read.  Subheadings and lists (bullet points) are using to organize the information.
  • The material is actionable.  In order words, it is clear how the information might be applied.
We have samples of professional-level writing all around us. You can look in professional and trade journals to see this, as well as industry reports.

So how do I move a student from undergraduate-level writing to graduate-level writing, and then onto professional-level writing?  With feedback, conversations, arm waving, and assignment descriptions. others, not in one step, but through what is likely a series of small steps.  I have to get the student to know it when he/she sees it, and that is not easy.  It can help if the students have a chance to view each other's work, but that needs to happen in a way that is comfortable for everyone. During that "view", I can ask students to notice formatting, synthesis, etc.

It can also happen through assigned readings, if students see those readings as representative targets for which they should strive.

I also think that you - internship site supervisors and people who see student work (perhaps it is a project they are doing for you) can also provide feedback. Tell the student what you're expectations are in terms of style and content, or how what they did would be different if done in a professional (non-academic) setting. Show them examples of work that you feel epitomizes what you are looking for. You might even recommend publications or writers that they can follow in order to be constantly exposed to the writing style for they should strive.

If you and I can help students improve their writing - even slowly - it will be helpful to them. We know that employers evaluate an applicants writing style in a number of ways, and so those students need to be able to shine when that happens. 

Nov. 20, 2015: I've had conversations with people who appreciate that I wrote this post, but who also disagree with me on some of it.  If you have a different point of view, PLEASE leave a comment!  I think it would be helpful if employers and other faculty commented, especially if your opinion differs.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Podcast: The Myth of Serendipity

Thomas EdisonKevin Ashton, who wrote How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, said:
The more you work, the more likely you are to succeed.
That is not the message that you would expect to hear in a podcast about serendipity, but then perhaps serendipity is not what we think it is.

RN Future Tense did a 30-minute program on serendipity entitled "Designing for Serendipity." (See links below) In it there is also information on the myth of serendipity, hence the name of this blog post.  We think serendipity just happens, but there is work behind serendipity. Serendipity is based on doing the work, never giving up, spotting opportunities, and engaging in opportunities.

Hearing the podcast reminded me of two "events":
  • When I was a graduate library science student, many of the reference questions required me to go to the library and look for/through books. The subject area might contains dozens of books and I needed to find the one that contained the answer. I used to say that I found the correct book right before I passed out from exhaustion! It seemed like the mythical serendipity, but in reality I was doing the work and never giving up.
  • Job offers can seem like the mythical serendipity.  You hear people talk about an opportunity coming from "out of the blue". In reality that person has done something to make himself known and to demonstrate competence. It might mean that the person spotted opportunities that helped him demonstrate competence. The person definitely didn't just sit at home and wait. The person took action. (Yes, I had a job offer that fits into this category.)
At the New York Library Association Annual Conference last week, I enjoyed watching people take risks, seize opportunities, do the work and never give up...and I heard some talk about the fruits of that labor.  One out of work librarian (perhaps a recent graduate) took a huge risk during a fun event, which attracted the attention of potential employers. I don't know if it has led to a job offer and that may depend on whether the person has put in the effort in terms of education and previous work. Still it may all feel like the mythical serendipity.

I am still working on a large project. On this project, things don't just "happen", rather there is a lot of work that is going into every part of the project. Still some pieces might feel a little "serendipitous", yet when I look at those pieces I see that they were created by opportunities pursued and work completed.

Yes, doing the work creates opportunities. Sounds simple.

Designing for Serendipity notes and transcript:

Designing for Serendipity Audio:

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Article: How to think straight in the age of information overload

After writing a four-part series on the topic, it is nice to see that CNN published this article on decision fatigue just this week.  The article contains info that supports my series, including:
Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they're living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don't distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.
Go the whole article and then work to lessen the number of decisions you're making by creating habits, routines, checklists, to-do lists or whatever it takes.