Friday, December 28, 2012

Google Translate, Digitization and "What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?"

Jaron LanierSmithsonian Magazine has an interesting article about Jaron Lanier, who is a computer scientist, inventor, author, and speaker.  He was a pioneer in the field of virtual reality.  Lanier helped to create the web as we know it today, yet in the last decade he has turned against what the Internet has become.  This is a fascinating article, even if you don't believe his point of view.  One of the things he discusses is how the Internet has changed our economy and he uses Google Translate as an example.  Google Translate is fueled - we can assume - by digitized and born digital texts.  Lanier said:
But there’s another way to look at it, which is the technically true way: You gather a ton of information from real live translators who have translated phrases, just an enormous body, and then when your example comes in, you search through that to find similar passages and you create a collage of previous translations.
The word "collage" stands out to me.  A collage version of a photograph is different. It may evoke different emotions and meanings.  It may tell a different story.  Pulling together different pieces of translated text from digital works may leave the reader with the wrong impression.  It may be close to what a human translator would say, but it is not the same.

If you had asked me 20 years ago if digitization would lead to fuzzy translations, I would have said "no" and I would have been wrong.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Year in Review: My life as teacher and director

A friend asked me recently if - when I began teaching at Syracuse University - I thought I would become the director of its library and information science program...and the answer was "no!"  In 2001, teaching graduate students was something I was going to do for a couple of years.  But then, I kept doing it part-time and then...well...I realized that it was what I really wanted to do.  But be the program director?!  It wasn't until Dave Lankes became the director that I saw something that I wanted to do and so here I am.  [BTW Dave and I are like "two peas in a pod" as well as like "ying and yang."  It can be quite interesting, especially for the students!]

My SU officeTeaching - I now teach four different graduate courses over the course of an academic year, two each semester.  In addition, I co-teach the graduate gateway course in the iSchool, with several other faculty members.  Teaching dominates my weeks during the academic year.  Besides class prep and time in the classroom (or on the computer for my online classes), there is time grading assignments.  Grading assignments is not something that goes quickly, so when you multiply the time for each student's assignment  by the number of students in the class, and then by the number of assignments in the class, it can be overwhelming.  Yet it is the feedback on assignments - whether individually or en masse - that makes a difference, so all of those hours sitting, reading, and commenting are worth it.  (I do have to remember to get up occasionally and exercise, as well as get another cup of tea!)

Directing - Add to the hours of teaching the task of directing the program, which is not a trivial task.  Which is more important?  That depends on the moment - literally. Some days are filled with meetings, emails and tasks that must be done then in order to keeps things - recruitment, marketing, course scheduling, new initiatives, etc. - moving forward.  And there are evenings when I come home with the best of intentions to grade papers, only to be faced with a slew of emails that need to be answered. My colleague Dave Dischiave says that email is not communication tool, rather it is a to-do list because every email requires an action.  True.

[By the way, my school does not have departments, so no one has the title of "chair."]

Jill, Nick Berry, Loranne Nasir, Colin Welch & Topher Lawton. Photo by Sara Kelly Johns
Jill & LIS students at NYLA 2012
What does the director do?  What don't I do!
  • Meet and communicate with prospective students.
  • Get involved in admission and scholarship decisions.
  • Meet and advise current students.
  • Write letters of recommendation.
  • Hear complaints and hear words of praise.
  • Arrange...stuff.
  • Run and attend meetings.
  • Email...about...stuff.
  • Meet with prospective employers.
  • Explain the program to....
  • Assist with course scheduling.  (This is more work than you think!)
  • Represent the program/school at events/conferences. Juggling conference attendance with teaching is an interesting act.
  • Oversee accreditation related activities.
  • Care about...everything.
  • In the face of all adversity and disenchantment, stay calm and try to smile.
  • Try to maintain a home life and stay healthy.
The last is important to mention because academic institutions do not have a start or end time to their days.  Things are happening all the time (literally) and that often translates into long days (and weeks).  I learned from Kenny Crews the importance of engaging in activities where you cannot do work at the same time.  Thank goodness then for bowling, gardening, canning, and walking.

The March Toward 2015 - For every director, chair or dean of an LIS program, the re-accreditation of the program is a huge responsibility.  Our next review is in 2015 and it has already been on my mind since I said "yes" to this position.  Look at my to-do list and you'll see tasks that are tied it.

I'm not sure where to put those that are critical of LIS programs (and who isn't), a hint...understand the accreditation activities that the program is involved in, whether that's ALA or NCATE (which is changing to CAEP) or something else.  Can you turn your criticism into a help as the program prepares for re-accreditation? Yup, that will get their attention!

Aldo LeopoldAs I look ahead to 2013 - two years before 2015! - I see a full year in front of me...teaching, conferences, admitting new students, graduating current students, meetings, email, and more. (Can you say accreditation tasks?) Hard to believe that in May, I will be one of the people to shake hands with our graduating LIS students as they walk across the stage.  Yes, another duty of the director and one that I will do with great joy! In the end, it is seeing them graduate, land jobs, and become members of the profession that makes everything else worthwhile.

Here is hoping that your 2013 is as full, challenging and rewarding as I believe mine will be!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 Year in Review: Conferences

Buckhead, GA: Outdoor fire pitNormally I can recite with ease the conferences that I attended in a year, but not this year. Wow...what a year! The joy of attending conferences is joy of learning something new.  With the number of conferences I attended, this year, I'm glad that I have notes and blog posts to help jog my members.  Here are the highlights.

January - SLA Leadership Summit in Atlanta (Buckhead), GA - One of the things about this mid-winter SLA event is that no matter where the conference is held, it is always colder than expected.  Atlanta was no different.  (Watch out Dallas this coming February!)

The Leadership Summit is exactly as it is named...a meeting of SLA's leadership from around the world.  It is hoped that every unit in the Association is represented at this meeting, in order to keep the units up-to-date on the Association's activities.  Those who are seeking leadership positions in the Association are also encouraged to attend.  Not only are new procedures discussed, but there are activities to help the leaders gain new skills.

This meeting was at the start of my second year on SLA's Board of Directors and what stood out to me was the information that unit leaders needed to be hearing or paying attention to.  Indeed, my perception of "what's important" has changed since being on the Board, including what meetings are important (like the open Board of Director meetings).  I recognize that every SLA member cannot attend this event, but I also know that more members should be there to meet with the leadership, discuss issues, etc.

In March, I spoke at both the NYS Educational Media Technology Association Spring Conference and the Computers in Libraries Conference.  Educational Media Technology Association Spring Conference is a small event that impressed upon me the role of school library systems.  The conversations and presentations were inspiring and informative, especially around the use of ebooks with young children.

Computers in Libraries in one of my favorite conferences in one of my favorite cities.  I found Michael Edson's keynote to be very thought provoking.  In talking about innovating, his thoughts were a whisper of what I would be hearing more of later in the year.  My notes say:
Keep in mind that this is an endurance sport.  Think Big.  Start Small. Move Fast.
I went to several sessions on ebooks and that topic repeated itself throughout the year. (If you're looking for a definitive answer in what is going with ebooks, suffice it to say that we are all still learning about them and that includes the authors and publishers.)

Leslie Reynolds presenting the SLA IT Divisionoutstanding member award to Jill
This year, I spoke at both the spring and fall SLA Upstate New York Chapter meetings (April and October).  While these are not conferences, it does allow me and others to talk about what occurred at the SLA conferences.  I'm pleased that as a member of the SLA Board of Directors I am able to bring information to my chapter that will be helpful to them. 

Not on my blog calendar was the #140Cuse Conference that was held in Syracuse in April. My presentation was on digital literacy, which also was a theme in 2012.  (By theme, I mean something that kept coming up in conversations or conferences sessions like change, risk, ebooks, and digital literacy.)

I spoke at three conferences in June: New York Archives Conference, NYS Higher Education Initiative, and HighEdWeb Syracuse. Each provided an opportunity to hear what was on the minds of others, which included thoughts around technology and change.  Our profession continues to be in the midst of change.  We might even say that change is truly a constant for us.  In order to survive as an information professional, you need to be able to thrive in an industry that is in a constant state of flux.

I have attended every SLA Annual Conference since 1992 and this was the first one to be held in July and in Chicago.  It was HOT!  The keynote speaker was Guy Kawasaki, who had recently published the book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.  I never did write up notes from his talk, so here are notes from Chris Vestal, who did an excellent job capturing Kawasaki's main points.

The session that had the biggest impact on me was a talk given by Robin Bew from the Economist Intelligence Unit on the world economy.   We tend to think about our own regional or national economy, however, Bew provided a world view that I think we need to hear.   I recorded a podcast after Bew's talk, which will give you an idea of what thoughts he raised in me.

Here is a video of Robin New speaking in China in May 2012. While this is not the same speech that he gave at SLA, I think it is still worthwhile hearing the perspective that he gives. Start around the 5 minute mark, after his introduction to the event itself.  Part way through, he begins talking specifically about the Chinese economy.  While that sounds like it may not be relevant to you, it is interesting to hear what he says about business in China.


Chicago was an interesting venue for the conference.  All of the sessions were held at McCormick Place, which must be one of the largest convention centers in the world. There is talk every year among SLA members about what venue, location, etc., would be best for the conference.  Perhaps because I've been to over 20 SLA conferences, I know the positives and negatives of every option people put forth.  Every conference attracts those for whom it - and its location - make sense.  For some, that means going to a easy-to-reach location, etc., while for others it means traveling to an out-of-the-way  location for a very different experience (a la R-Squared below).

I didn't attend a conference again until September and the R-Squared Conference in Telluride, CO.  I wrote several blog posts during and after that conference, and you can read them here. For me, this was the most important conference I attended all year.  Why?  First, because I learned brainstorming and other techniques (e.g., community surveys and action briefs) that I have already been able to use and will continue to use.  Second - and more importantly - because it was a conference that dared to do things differently from where it was held, to having interactive keynotes, to unconventional sessions/tracks, etc.  This conference proved that we are hungry for events that feed us in different ways than what has become traditional.  I fully expect that other conferences will implement some of what was done at R-Squared and I'm sure they will be the better for it.

The two keynote speakers at R-Squared - Josh Linkner and Tamara Kleinberg - are both authors and their books are available for purchase.  I really appreciated the various brainstorming techniques that Linkner taught us in his interactive keynote session.  I have used several of them since then (role storming, brand storming and the long list).

In November, I attended the New York Library Association Annual Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. I blogged about NYLA here and here. If I counted correctly, 20 students from the SU MLIS program attended the conference this year, which is 6-8 more than last year.  For me, that is one of the highlights of the event - watching the students interact with library practitioners (and future colleagues), listening to their observations, and hearing what they have learned.  Some wrote blog posts about the conference and I've linked to them from mine.

The keynote was given by David Weinberger. Here is a 3-minute video of MLIS student Pamela Gardner talking about both Weinberger and the session given by George Needham.

David Weinberger has written several books and I've provided links to them below. It was wonderful to see how his thoughts resonated with the NYLA attendees and I look forward to hearing him speak again.


If you've been keeping track, then you know that there are only four months this year where I did not attend a conference (February, May, August and December).  I am very fortunate that my employer helped me attend those conferences that were not in the Central NY region.  And I am also fortunate that a number of conferences were held "in my backyard."  That always makes getting to a conference much easier!  I also know that not everyone is so lucky.  For those who cannot get to a conference, we owe it to them to bring back what we have learned and to share it!  That sharing may be through tweets, blog posts, presentations, write-ups, or conversations.  If we come back from a conference and keep what we have learned to ourselves, then we have not helped our profession or society.  So if you have not yet talked about what you learned this year at a conference or educational event, please take time to do so.  Consider something you need to do to wrap-up 2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Resources for dealing with tragedy (#newtown)

Statue across from the site of the Oklahoma City bombing
[Nov. 22, 2015: I've just checked all of the links in the post and updated any that no longer worked. Why? Given recent events, I want to be able to circulate this post again.]

Given the tragedy that occurred this morning in Newtown, Connecticut, where someone with a gun entered an elementary school can killed several people, I have pulled together these resources for dealing with tragedy.
For more information on today's tragedy, please consult your local or national news (U.S.).

T is for Training (podcast): In Theory or But Really In Practice

For the last several years, I have participated in a podcast called T is for Training hosted by Maurice Coleman. Begun in 2008, T is for Training is a podcast (or "call" as we often say) by library trainers for library trainers.  However, sometimes the conversation isn't about training, but rather about other things that affect libraries. 

Two weeks ago, it was just Maurice and I on the call, and Maurice turned his interviewing skills on me and asked me lots of questions about my role as director of the library and information science program at Syracuse University. If you're interested in knowing what I'm up to, this will clue you in (60 minutes).

T is for Training's Talkshoe  page,
T is for Training's web site (not up to date):

Thursday, December 13, 2012

NYLA12: All libraries are involved in politics

I started this blog post a month ago. Guess it's time I finished it! 

One of the lessons that is ringing in my head after the New York Library Association Annual Conference is one that I've known for a long time...and one that I don't think we tell our LIS students about.

All libraries are involved in politics.

2020 vision brainstormingBefore I go further, what does the word politics mean?
    • the policy-formulating aspects of government as distinguished from the administrative, or legal
    • the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, esp those relationships involving authority or power
    • the civil functions of government
    • the art and science of government 
    As an entity unto itself, a library is subject to "office politics," where human nature, personalities, and hierarchies all play a role.  Like all politics, office politics can be benign and can  help to get things done.  Problems occur when the "politics" heat up and its maneuvering leads to interference.

    Most libraries exist as part of a larger entity, whether that is a larger organization, a municipal government, town, etc. Here is were the politics get interesting.  In a town or city, does the public library understand the politics - the relationships - in the area?  Does the library director and staff know who in the community "pulls the strings" whether done overtly or behinds the scenes?  Is the library in a positive relationship with those that could affect its future, whether those people are its trustees, friends group, local politicians, etc.?

    The problem with politics is that you can't teach the gamesmanship that goes along with it.  (At least, I don't think you can.)  Learning comes from watching, listening, trial and error.  It comes from knowing when to walk away from a situation, rather that "playing all your cards" in an effort to win.  It comes from looking for win-win situations and sometimes making those situations appear out of thin air.

    At the core of politics is information.  You can't get involved in the politics of your community or organization if you do not have good information and lots of it.  Since we're information people, by nature we have the basic material to be effective political agents. How we use that information is what really matters, when it comes to being an effective political agent.

    If you find that you need to become more involved in the politics that surround your library, here are some things you might want to do:
    • If your library is governed by trustees or a board of advisors, attend any open meeting that they have.
    • If your library has a friends of the library group, interact with them. These are people from your larger community, who may be well connected and can clue you into the larger political realm.
    • Talk to those that use the library and ask how things are going for them and for the larger community.  You don't need to offer advice, etc., just listen and consider how what you are hearing impacts the library.  (Note that this works no matter if you are a public, academic or special library.)
    • Invite those that seem to hold the power in your community to library events.  Send them personal invitations, then be sure to thank them for coming. Not only will they learn by attending the event, it is a powerful political message to have them seen in the library.
    • If you are part of a public library, go to town/city government meetings like the planning board.  In one town where I lived, I went regularly to the planning board meetings and it was very educational!  That is where the area's values are clearly demonstrated.
    • Get to know the reporters that cover local politics or local news.  Feed them information about possible stories.  Invite them to library events.  Ask them what's going on in the community.  They always know more than what they can "print."
    • Listen...listen...listen.  Listen more than you talk. Listen for connections between pieces of information.   Take in more information than what you share.  Ensure that what information that you do share is correct and relevant. 

    Monday, December 03, 2012

    Video: Should "Happy Birthday" be Protected by Copyright?

    I talk about this in my copyright class and so it is cool to see someone tackle the subject in a video. Produced by the PBS Idea Channel, the first five and half minutes are copyright and why "Happy Birthday" will not be in the public domain until 2030.