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How Many Repositories Do We Need?

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Last month Kathleen Fitzpatrick announced the launch of a new open access repository for the humanities, CORE. I love repositories and I love open access; so, I’m happy to see it. As a new repository, CORE has the advantage of an existing collection of users, members of MLA Commons–an academic social network that hopes to grow into a larger network for the humanities. MLA Commons/CORE is not the first academic social network to enter the repository space, but it’s the right direction for repository development. Even so, it’s a reactionary development and it’s about a decade too late. and ResearchGate (RG) have proven that scholarly authors want academic social networking–these authors might poo-poo the notion in department meetings, but when they return to their desks they succumb to barrage of promotional emails from RG and and create profiles on the sites. Now that the sites have active users, luring a portion of them into uploading a few articles or book chapters (copyright be-damned), is not so hard. In this context, the work of uploading an article is akin to posting a nice family photo to Facebook or posting your latest promotion on LinkedIn. It’s not a challenge to the predatory pricing of commercial publishing; it’s not an altruistic commitment to sharing knowledge with a world of readers; it is, rather, a moment for celebrating professional accomplishments.

I wish that library-supported institutional repositories (IRs) had invested more effort in facilitating social networking, but libraries have a long history for quiet spaces and shushing. Libraries like metadata and preservation; social networks are full of chatter. Metadata and preservation are good things, but they do not attract active users–people interested in building an online connections.

So, should IRs scramble to build social-networking features into their software platforms? Probably not–the market-share is elsewhere and one’s academic social network is much broader than the members of a single institution. It would make more sense for IRs to work seamlessly with the social-networking platform of choice. I know that there are some efforts to make this happen, but they are limited by the technical specifications of the many IR software systems and social-networking platforms. If we could start over, would it have been advantageous to pool resources to develop a universal IR system? One that would be exposed, so to speak, to easy ingest in the social-networking tool of choice? Or if not building the one IR to rule them all, why not adopt technical standards that would make it easier for other sites to use our IRs? Wasn’t that part of the point of all that careful metadata people have been creating? And what about the OAI-PMH?

I think the IR software development game is in a world where less is more–competing platforms, new tools for uploading and managing content, dueling disciplinary sites … these are all developments for people that are focused on the wrong customer, the repository manager. These well-intended efforts–efforts that, as a repository manager, I encourage–are ignored by most authors. For most authors, the IR is just another website and kind of an ugly one at that. IRs were designed, like many libraries, on the assumption that content is king–it is not. People, also known as “users,” rule the Internet. IRs do not collect users, but social networks do! So, a social network that moonlights as a repository (even a poor repository), is likely to outperform most IRs. Less would be more: fewer ways to run a repository; fewer teams of people developing new tools; more collaboration across all existing repository platforms; more effort on non-profit, open source systems that focus on people first and content second.

The IR is a powerful tool for increasing open access to scholarship–as such, I’m proud to use it. But, it just might turn out that the social network is the real engine of open access–and if it is, now what?


Written by Jere

November 13, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Some Notes on the Loneliness of “Literacy”

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Keller-Cohen, Deborah. 1993. “Rethinking Literacy: Comparing Colonial and Contemporary America.” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 24 (4) (December 1): 288–307. doi:10.2307/3195932.

Keller-Cohen wants to have her cake and eat it too. She observes that the concept of “literacy” is over applied, that the word has become merely metaphorical (if not cliche); but then, she would use the power of this metaphor to advocate for the role of reading, writing and speech (I believe this was once called “rhetoric”) in culture and education. Keller-Cohen ends with four things to think about, but I’m not entirely certain what she would have us do. Her “directions for refiguring literacy” include:

1) “Clarifying our conception of what people need to know and what role literacy plays in it.”

As I have said, here, she really wants to have her cake and eat it too. She does not like “sexual literacy” … but she does want us to think “in more heterogeneous ways about what people need to know.”

2) “Placing more emphasis on literacy as a collaborative practice.”

I think this is the most interesting and problematic part of the story that Keller-Cohen tells about literacy in America. On the one hand, posters from the American Library Association do not mark the birth of reading and writing as a solitary activity. For those of us who can read and write, the act will often be solitary … I think this has always been the case — St. Jerome had some rabbits, a squirrel, a bird, a lizard and a lion to keep him company — and often will be. I will share what I am writing (now) online, but I write this in a room, by myself.

Giovanni Bellini, St. Jerome Reading in the Countryside

On the other hand, this article from the early 90s includes one footnote about “electronic mail” — the “pressure” it brings upon one’s notions about the difference between written and spoken language. And, thus, one may read such an article with some nostalgia — which is fitting, given that it is a very nostalgic article — for the mere decades past in which the practice of reading mainly involved a paper medium. I don’t think this detracts from the argument of the article, but one might wonder what the author thinks about the social space the internet now provides for readers and writers. One seldom hears good news about the internet and its role in fostering “literacy” — rather, it’s typically that the youth are going to hell on a cell phone and tweeting all the way.

3) “Examining the relationship between the speaking and writing skills of students.”

Sure. Why not? I call this “rhetoric” and, when thinking about my kids, “language skills.” In graduate school I started reading my papers “aloud” prior to submitting them — the practice typically resulted in a few hours of revision. Does anyone teach dictation? Were I to dictate this post, how would the prose differ? Many of the great prose and verse stylists dictated much of their work: Milton, Wordsworth, Yeats.

4) “Broadening the sites for literacy acquisition.”

I note, here, every summer my daughter begs me to sign her up for the library’s reading program. So, it’s not just the schools that have been working to promote “literacy.” But, it’s a noble sentiment nonetheless and I think that Keller-Cohen is right — we do need more reading in America. (Would it be possible to have too much?) Even so, if we’re to extend literacy beyond the school setting — where else could we get as much bang for our buck? Truancy laws, more or less, make the school years one of the truly shared experiences of our culture. If one wanted to intervene on the behalf of “literacy” is there any better place?

Written by Jere

July 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Libraries, Reading

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A Social Contract for Medical Librarians?

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I continue to read Wicclair’s Conscientious Objection in Health Care. In the second chapter he, somewhat doggedly, examines multiple ethical theories of the health professions. The formula is: name a theory, describe it, show how it does not necessitate a position of conscience absolutism (that one’s conscience must over rule all other factors in every decision), nor does it necessitate a position professional incompatibility (that one’s professional duties must over rule, in every case, the dictates of one’s conscience).

Inadvertently, the chapter gives a pretty good overview of the ethical theories which guide moral decision making in the medical professions. I can’t help but think about my own “profession.” (I suppose I really should make an effort to finish reading Preer’s Library Ethics.) What are the grounds upon which the medical library profession has established its codes? How is it that medical librarians navigate ethical dilemmas? Or, that is, what self-knowledge as a librarian guides them through these dilemmas?

Do medical librarians have an “internal morality” … one grown organically from the nature of the services that we provide?

Do medical librarians have an understood social contract? In other words, does society expect something from us in exchange for granting us professional authority? (Which begs the question: what do people expect from us?)

Or … do we (merely?) practice, by association, borrowing the ethical frameworks of our institutions? Hospitals, clinics, academic medical centers?

I suppose I am still struggling to understand who medical librarians are as a profession. Depending on the circumstance the medical librarian may be professionally embedded in clinical care, teaching students, conducting health research, or providing the services which are common to all libraries. Thus, it would seem, that no one ethical or professional self-conception would guide them.

I also worry that efforts to transform the profession–such as re-branding ourselves as “informationists”–will serve to alienate the professional from the historical practices which guide ethical reasoning … but that is a digression for another day.

Written by Jere

May 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Rebeginning again and reading

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I have read less of the history of medical libraries that I had planned. I have read less of everything than I had planned, but that is a fact of life. I am 3 pages deep (and months stalled) into Gertrude L. Annan’s “The Medical Library Association in Retrospect, 1937-1967” (Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1998 Apr;86(2):270-8.). I vaguely recall an impression that the beginnings of the profession were inauspicious, born of print-based indexes, and (later) necessitated by unfriendly databases. And the whole thing leads one to wonder, what would be the state of medical libraries were it not for the creation of the NLM? But I’ll return to that train later.

Now I am reading “ethics.” And the saddest sentences of the day (after noting that physicians making “justice-based” refusals may be said to be acting on conscience only if they meet three criteria: 1. they have a core set of moral beliefs; 2. justice is one of those beliefs; 3. providing care would conflict with the doctor’s concept of justice), Mark Wicclair writes:

Without questioning the sincerity of physicians with justice-based objections to providing medical treatment, it is unlikely that many will satisfy the second condition. If a person’s conception of justice is among her core moral beliefs, she is likely to experience guilt, remorse, loss of self-respect, and/or shame if her actions are incompatible with her conception of justice. Regrettably, however, injustice is something that many physicians and non-physicians alike have learned to tolerate and live with.

Wicclair, M. R. (2011). Conscientious objection in health care: An ethical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.8.

Written by Jere

May 1, 2012 at 11:20 am

Posted in Conscience, Ethics, Libraries

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Re-opening a blog with the hope that an empty digital space would motivate me to read and write more often about my academic and professional interests has proved to be as silly as buying an empty journal. Merely creating the space has not resulted in the extra time and motivation to do the work. I may have to disband this virtual journal club of one and find some colleagues to keep me honest. At the very least, I must adopt new habits. I plan to read and write in this space about the fields of library and information science, medical humanities, and bioethics. The list is, of course, too broad, but one must begin somewhere … so, I’ll begin with the history of medical libraries. But first, I must find.

Written by Jere

August 5, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Libraries

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Privacy Risks – Social Bookmarking on a Medical Library Website?

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If you have been following me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been thinking a lot about the privacy risks of using social networking tools. Of course, if you’ve been following me on Twitter, I doubt that you have too many concerns about your own privacy risks when using these tools. And, if I were truly concerned about my own risks, I wouldn’t use them either; in fact I wouldn’t write this blog post. So, why do I care. Well, it’s not my risks that I’m worried about, but the library users’ risks that concern me. I am working on an academic website that will allow users to create profiles and share their interests … especially their interests in medicine. While the site will mainly be used by researchers, it will also be used by the community. Therefore, an unsuspecting community member could misinterpret the option to share interests as a place to list one’s medical conditions. If this individual also created a profile that was easily identifiable … a photo, a simple user name … then that person’s private medical information could be disclosed to employers, insurers, friends, colleagues, law enforcement, marketers, and anyone else that might used the site and recognize the person.

One solution would be to make it painfully clear to participants that they, by using the site, are exposing themselves to risks … but what are these risks, exactly? And how does one best communicate them to patrons, patients, researchers, and the any other person that might use the networking service?

Written by Jere

May 7, 2008 at 12:00 am

Posted in Ethics, Libraries

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LIS: Writing About What Works?

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This little aside in a review from Judith Seiss caught my attention recently:

Tales of Technology Innovation Gone Wrong, by Mary Mallery. – It is very unusual for anyone to write about what didn’t work, but Mallery has put together a list of failures that we can learn from. She even says, “technology is not the best solution for every problem in a library”—what a concept! There are good sidebars on issues to consider before and after innovating. Well worth a read. – Computers in Libraries 28(4):22-25, April 2008

Is it true? Do LIS writers usually report what works? Without more than an occasional comment from a peer or two and my own sense of the literature to back me up, I think so. If true, why? Why does LIS literature (if Seiss is correct) lean toward to the positive? The how-we-done-it-right articles? Tenure? Job security? Some urge to prove to one’s budget minders that the librarian’s work is worth it? More importantly, if this assessment is accurate, is this a healthy paradigm for the discipline?

Written by Jere

April 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm