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Safety Nets (for information): Commentary on Jefferson Bailey’s Program on Information Science Talk

November 7, 2017 Leave a comment

Jefferson Bailey is Director of Web Archiving at Internet Archive. Jefferson joined Internet Archive in Summer 2014 and manages Internet Archive’s web archiving services including Archive-It, used by over 500 institutions to preserve the web. He also oversees contract and domain-scale web archiving services for national libraries and archives around the world. He works closely with partner institutions on collaborative technology development, digital preservation, data research services, educational partnerships, and other programs. He presented the talk recorded below, entitled, Safety Nets: Rescue And Revival For Endangered Born-digital Records — as part of Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series:

Bailey abstracted his talk as follows:

The web is now firmly established as the primary communication and publication platform for sharing and accessing social and cultural materials. This networked world has created both opportunities and pitfalls for libraries and archives in their mission to preserve and provide ongoing access to knowledge. How can the affordances of the web be leveraged to drastically extend the plurality of representation in the archive? What challenges are imposed by the intrinsic ephemerality and mutability of online information? What methodological reorientations are demanded by the scale and dynamism of machine-generated cultural artifacts? This talk will explore the interplay of the web, contemporary historical records, and the programs, technologies, and approaches by which libraries and archives are working to extend their mission to preserve and provide access to the evidence of human activity in a world distinguished by the ubiquity of born-digital materials.

Bailey eloquently stated the importance of web archiving: “No future scholarship can study our era without considering materials published (only) on the web.” Further, he emphasized the importance of web archiving for social justice: Traditional archives disproportionately reflect social architectures of power, and the lived experiences of the advantaged. Web crawls capture a much broader (although not nearly complete) picture of the human experience.

The talk ranged over an impressively wide portfolio of initiatives — far too many to do justice discussing in a single blog post. Much more detail on these projects can be found in the slides and video above, Bailey’s professional writings, the Archive blog, and experiments page, and archive-it blog for some insights into these.

A unified argument ran through the Bailey’s presentation. At the risk of oversimplifying, I’ll restate the premises of the argument here:

  1. Understanding our era will require research, using large portions of the web, linked across time.
  2. The web is big — but not too big to collect (a substantial portion of) it.FOOTNOTE: Footnote
  3. Providing simple access (e.g. retrieval, linking) is more expansive than collection;
    enabling discovery (e.g. search) is much harder than simple access;
    and supporting computational research (which requires analysis at web-scale, and over time) —
    is much, much harder than discovery.
  4. Research libraries should help with this (hardest) part.

I find the first three parts of the argument largely convincing. Increasingly, new discoveries in social science are based on analysis of massive collections of data that areis generated as a result of people’s public communications, and depends on tracing these actions and their consequences over time. The Internet Archive’s success to date establishes that much of these public communications can be collected and retained over time. And the history of database design (as well as my and my colleagues experiences in archiving and digital libraries) testifies to the challenges of effective discovery and access at scale.

I hope that we, as research libraries, will be step up to the challenges of enabling large-scale, long-term research over content such as this. Research libraries already have a stake in this problem because most of the the core ideas and fundamental methods (although not the operational platforms) for analysis of data at this scale comes from research institutions with which we are affiliated. Moreover if libraries lead the design of these platforms, participation in research will be far more open and equitable than if these platforms are ceded entirely to commercial actors.

For this among other reasons, we are convening a Summit on Grand Challenges in Information Science & Scholarly Communication, supported by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation. During this summit we develop community research agendas in the areas of scholarly discovery at scale; digital curation and preservation; and open scholarship. For those interested in these questions and related areas of interest, we have published Program on Information Science reports and blog posts on some of the challenges of digital preservation at scale.

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Labor And Reward In Science: Commentary on Cassidy Sugimoto’s Program on Information Science Talk

October 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Labor And Reward In Science: Commentary on Cassidy Sugimoto’s Program on Information Science Talk

Cassidy Sugimoto is Associate Professor in the School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University Bloomington, where researches within the domain of scholarly communication and scientometrics, examining the formal and informal ways in which knowledge producers consume and disseminate scholarship. She presented this talk, entitled Labor And Reward In Science: Do Women Have An Equal Voice In Scholarly Communication? A Brown Bag With Cassidy Sugimoto, as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In her talk, illustrated by the slides below, Sugimoto highlights the roots of gender disparities in science.

 

Sugimoto abstracted her talk as follows:

Despite progress, gender disparities in science persist. Women remain underrepresented in the scientific workforce and under rewarded for their contributions. This talk will examine multiple layers of gender disparities in science, triangulating data from scientometrics, surveys, and social media to provide a broader perspective on the gendered nature of scientific communication. The extent of gender disparities and the ways in which new media are changing these patterns will be discussed. The talk will end with a discussion of interventions, with a particular focus on the roles of libraries, publishers, and other actors in the scholarly ecosystem..

In her talk, Sugimoto stressed a number of patterns in scientific publication:

  • Demise of single authorshop complicates notions of credit, rewards, labor, and responsibility
  • There are distincted patterns of gender disparity in scientific publications: Male-authored publications predominate in most field (with a few exceptions such as Library Science); women collaborating more domestically than internationally on publication; and woman-authored publications tend to be cited less (even within the same tier of journals).
  • Looking across categories of contribution — the most isolated is performing the experiment. And Women are most likely to fill this role. Further, if we look across male-and-female led teams, we see that the distribution of work across these teams varies dramatically.
  • When surveying teams — women tended to value all of the forms of contributions more than men with one exception. Women judge technical work, which is more likely to be conducted by women, as less valuable.
  • Composition of authorship has consequences for what is studied. Womens’ research focuses more often than men on areas relevant to both genders or to women.

Sugimoto notes that these findings are consistent with pervasive gender discrimination. Further, women as well as men frequently discriminate against other women — for example, in evaluation of professionalism, evaluation of work, and in salary offers

Much more detail on these points can be found in Sugimoto professional writings.

Sugimoto’s talk drew on a variety of sources: publication data in the Web of Science; from acknowledgement and authorship statements in PLOS journals. Open bibliometric data, such as that produced by PLOS, the Initiative for Open Citation, and various badging initiatives can help us to more readily bring disparities to light.

At the conclusion of her talk, Sugimoto suggested the following roles for librarians:

Sugimoto’s talk drew on a variety of sources: publication data in the Web of Science; from acknowledgement and authorship statements in PLOS journals. Open bibliometric data, such as that produced by PLOS, the Initiative for Open Citation, and various badging initiatives can help us to more readily bring disparities to light.

  • Use and promote open access in training sessions
  • Provide programming that lessens barriers to participation for women and minorities
  • Advocate for contributorship models which recognize the diversity of knowledge production
  • Approach new metrics with productive skepticism
  • Encourage engagement between students and scholars
  • Evaluate and contribute to the development of new tools

Reflecting the themes of Sugimato’s talk, the research we conduct here, in the Program on Information Science is strongly motivated by issues of diversity and inclusion — particularly on approaches to bias-reducing systems design. Our previous work in participative mapping aimed at increasing broad public participation in electoral processes. Our current NSF-supported work in educational research focuses on using eye-tracking and other biological signals to track fine-grained learning across populations of neurologically diverse learners. And, under a recently-awarded IMLS award, we will be hosting a workshop to develop principles for supporting diversity and inclusion through information architecture in information systems. For those interested in these and other projects, we have published blog posts and reports in these areas.

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Guest Post: Building Trust: A Primer on Privacy for Librarians

August 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Margaret Purdy is a Graduate Research Intern in the Program on Information Science, researching the area of library privacy.


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Building Trust: A Primer on Privacy for Librarians

Privacy Protections Build Mutual Trust Between Patrons and Librarians

Librarians have accepted privacy as a central tenet of their professional ethics and responsibilities for nearly eight decades. However, by 2017, privacy as a human right has been simultaneously strengthened and reaffirmed, defended and rebuffed, but rarely do we as librarians take the time to step away and ask why privacy truly matters and what we can do to protect it.

The American Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations have both asserted that the patrons have the right to privacy while seeking information.1 The ALA in particular brings up the notion of privacy allowing for intellectual freedom – the ability to consume information and know they will not face repercussions such as punishment or judgments based on what they read. Librarians are in the business of disseminating information in order to stimulate knowledge growth. One major stimulus for such growth is the mutual trust between the library and the patron – trust that the patron will not use the knowledge in a destructive way, and trust that the library will not judge the patron for information interests. Ensuring patron privacy is one way for the library to prove that trust. Similarly, the IFLA2 emphasizes the right to privacy in its ethics documentation. In addition to the rights of patron privacy that the ALA ensures, the IFLA also allows for as much transparency as possible into “public bodies, private sector companies and all other institutions whose activities effect [sic] the lives of individuals and society as a whole.” This is yet another way to establish trust between the library and its patrons, ultimately ensuring intellectual freedom and growth of knowledge.

Globally, internet privacy and surveillance are also matters that are currently getting much more notice and debate, and government regulations, such as the EU General Protection of Public Data (GDPR)3, are working to strengthen individuals’ abilities to control their own data and ensure it does not end up being used against them. The GDPR is slated to go into effect in 2018 and will broadly protect the data privacy rights of EU citizens. It will certainly be a policy to watch, especially as a litmus for how effective major legislation can be in asserting privacy protections. Even more practically, however, is that the GDPR protects EU citizens even if the one collecting data is outside the EU. This will potentially affect many libraries across the United States and the world at large, as there is an added level of awareness required to ensure that any collaboration with or service to EU citizens is properly protected.

Libraries Face a Double-Barreled Threat from Government Surveillance and Corporate Tracking

In addition to the ALA and IFLA codes of ethics that ensure librarians work to ensure patrons’ rights to privacy, multiple governmental codes deal with the right to information privacy. In the United States, the fourth amendment protects the right to remain free from searches and seizures, and has often been cited as a protection of privacy. Similarly, federal legislation such as FERPA, which protects the privacy rights of students, and HIPAA, which protects medical records have reasserted that privacy is a vital right. Essentially every US state also has some provisions about privacy, many of which directly relate to the right to privacy in library records.4

However, in recent years, many of the federal government’s protections have begun to slip away. Immediately after 9/11, the USA PATRIOT Act passed, allowing the government much broader abilities to track patron library records. More recently, as digital information became easier to track, programs such as PRISM and other governmental tracking arose. Both of these government programs directly threaten the ability for library patrons to conduct research, information-seeking, and more in privacy.

Businesses have also learned ways of tracking their users’ behaviors online, and using that data for practices such as targeted advertising. While the vast majority of this data is encrypted and could not be easily brought back to personally-identifiable information, it is still personal data that is not necessarily kept in the most secure way possible. And while breaches do happen, even without them, it is not out of the question for an experienced party to be able to reconstruct an individual from the data collected, and to know not only that individual’s browsing history and location, but also potentially information such as health conditions, bank details, or other sensitive information.

While this information is often used for simple outreach, including Customer Relationship Marketing, where a company will recommend new products based on previous purchases, it can also be used in more invasive ways. In 2012, Target sent out a promotional mailing containing deals on baby products to a teenage girl.5 Based on their data they had tracked about her purchases, the algorithm had determined, correctly, that she was highly likely to be pregnant. While this story received extensive media attention, businesses of all types, including retailers, hotels, and even healthcare systems participate in similar practices, using data to personalize the experience. However, when stored irresponsibly, this data can lead to unintentional and unwanted sharing of information – potentially including embarrassing web browsing or shopping habits, dates that homes will be empty for thieves, medical conditions that could increase insurance rates, and more

Growing Public Concern

One of the most pressing risks to privacy protections currently is user behavior and expectations. With the information industry becoming much more digital, information is becoming easier to access, spread, and consume. However, the tradeoff is that users, and the information they view, is much easier to track, by both corporate and government entities, friendly or malicious. Plus, because much of the tracking and surrendering of privacy, including the ability to save passwords, CRM, targeted algorithms, and more, make it more convenient to browse the internet, many patrons willingly give up the right to privacy in favor of convenience.

A recent poll6 showed that between 70% and 80% of internet users are aware that practices such as saving passwords, agreeing to privacy policies and terms of use without reading them, and accepting free information in exchange for advertising or data surrendering is a risk to privacy. However, a large majority of users still participate in those practices. There are several theories as to what causes users to agree to forgo privacy, including the idea that the accepting the risks make browsing the internet much more convenient, and users are hesitant to give up that convenience. Another theory is that there really is no alternative to accepting the risks. Many sites will not allow use without acceptance of the terms of use and/or privacy policy. A 2008 study7 calculated how much time users would spend reading privacy policies were they to actually read all of them, and found that, on average, user would spend nearly two weeks a year just reading policies, not to mention the time taken to fully understand the legalese and complicated implications.

Another similar poll8 shows that more than half of Americans are concerned about privacy risks, and over 80% have taken some precautionary action. However, most of that 80% are unaware of more that they can do to protect themselves. This is true for both government surveillance and corporate tracking. The public has similar levels of awareness and concern about both, but are unaware of how to better protect themselves, and thus, are more likely to allow it to happen.

Best Practices for Librarians

 

Given the increasing public concern and awareness, as well as the longstanding history of librarians’ focus on privacy, librarians have a perfect opportunity to intervene and re-establish the trust from users that their information will not be shared and to meet the professional ethical model of always protecting privacy. There are nearly endless resources that can outline in great detail what librarians should do to defend their patrons against attacks on privacy, whether that comes from government surveillance or corporate tracking. Some of these involve systematic evaluations of all touchpoints in the library and recommendations for implementing best practices. These exist even for areas that do not seem like obvious ways for privacy to be violated, such as anti-theft surveillance on surrounding buildings, or through third-party content vendors.

By dedicating library resources to systematically check for privacy practices, librarians can take some of the burden of inconvenience off of the individual patron. Many of these best practices involve taking the time to change computer settings, read and understand privacy policies, and negotiate with vendors, which few, if any, individuals would do on their own. With the muscle of the library working on it, though, the patrons will still benefit, without needing to dedicate the same amount of time. This serves a dual function as well, as in addition to actual steps to protect patrons, librarians can also serve as an educational resource to help patrons learn simple steps to take to protect their personal systems.

Some examples of protectionary moves are to create policies on library computers that ensure that as little information from user sessions is saved. There are several incredibly simple steps that, while they reduce the convenience slightly, ensure users a safe and private experience. This includes, settings that clear cookies, the cache, and user details after each session (also known as “incognito mode”); or the clearing of patron checkout records once the book is returned.

In addition to those tweaks, the ALA and LITA offer checklists of privacy best practices to systematically implement in libraries. These cover everything from data exchanges, OPACs and patron borrowing records, protection for children, and more in great detail. NISO also provides overarching design principles for approaching library privacy in a digital age. Additionally, there are recommended security audits, many of which Bruce Shuman mentions in his book, Library Security and Safety Handbook: Prevention, Policies, and Procedures.

Additionally, the library, already known for educational programs and community-oriented programming could serve as a location to educate the public about the real risks of tracking and surveillance. There is a definite gap between the public’s awareness of the risks and the public’s action to mitigate those risks. While librarians cannot force behavior, and most would not want to, offering patrons trustworthy information about the risks and how to avoid them in their personal browsing experiences helps re-establish privacy as a core value and gives patrons a reason to trust the library. This recent post from Nate Lord at Digital Guardian offers simple and more in depth steps that patrons can take to ensure their digital information is secure. If a library offered some of these in a training course or as a takeaway, it could serve as a valuable resource in narrowing the gap between patron awareness and activity.

Ultimately, privacy is often one of those words that many people give lip service to, but without fully understanding the risks and consequences, the motivation to give up convenience in order to protect privacy is not always there. However, we as librarians, who value privacy as one of the professions’ core tenets have a real opportunity to help protect patrons’ data against these threats. Resources, such as the aforementioned privacy checklists and audit guides, exist to help librarians ensure their library is in compliance with the current best practices. The threats against privacy are growing, and librarians are well-suited to intervene and ensure patron protection.

Recommended Resources

 


References

1. ALA Code of Ethics. (1939). http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/proethics/codeofethics/Code%20of%20Ethics%20of%20the%20American%20Library%20Association.pdf

2. IFLA Code of Ethics. https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11092

3. GDPR Portal (2016). http://www.eugdpr.org/

4. Adams, H. et. al. (2005). Privacy in the 21st century. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

5. Hill, K. (2012). How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/#1bd0d38d6668

6. Ayala, D. (2017). Security and Privacy for Libraries in 2017. Online Searcher, 41(3).

7. Cranor, L. (2008). The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies. I/S: A Journal Of Law And Policy For The Information Society.

8. Rainie, L., & Rainie, L. (2017). The state of privacy in post-Snowden America. Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/21/the-state-of-privacy-in-america/

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Utilizing VR and AR in the Library Space: Commentary on Matthew Bernhardt’s Program on Information Science Talk

June 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Matt Bernhardt is a web developer in the MIT libraries and a collaborator in our program. He presented this talk, entitled Reality Bytes – Utilizing VR and AR in The Library Space, as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In his talk, illustrated by the slides below, Bernhardt reviews technologies newly available to libraries that enhance the human-computing interface:

Bernhardt abstracted his talk as follows:

Terms like “virtual reality” and “augmented reality” have existed for a long time. In recent years, thanks to products like Google Cardboard and games like Pokemon Go, an increasing number of people have gained first-hand experience with these once-exotic technologies. The MIT Libraries are no exception to this trend. The Program on Information Science has conducted enough experimentation that we would like to share what we have learned, and solicit ideas for further investigation.

Several themes run through Matt’s talk:

  • VR should be thought of broadly as an engrossing representation of physically mediated space. Such a definition encompasses not only VR, AR and ‘mixed-’ reality — but also virtual worlds like Second Life, and a range of games from first-person-shooters (e.g. Halo) to textual games that simulate physical space (e.g. “Zork”).
  • A variety of new technologies are now available at a price-point that is accessible for libraries and experimentation — including tools for rich information visualization (e.g. stereoscopic headsets), physical interactions (e.g. body-in-space tracking), and environmental sensing/scanning (e.g. Sense).
  • To avoid getting lost in technical choices, consider the ways in which technologies have the potential to enhance the user-interface experience, and the circumstances in which the costs and barriers to use are justified by potential gains. For example, expensive, bulky VR platforms may be most useful to simulate experiences that would in real life be expensive, dangerous, rare, or impossible.

A substantial part of the research agenda of the Program on Information Science is focused on developing theory and practice to make information discovery and use more inclusive and accessible to all. From my perspective, the talk above naturally raises questions about how the affordances of these new technologies may be applied in libraries to increase inclusion and access: How could VR-induced immersion be used to increase engagement and attention by conveying the sense of place of being in an historic archive? How could realistic avatars be used to enhance social communication, and lower the barriers to those seeking library instruction and reference? How could physical mechanisms for navigating information spaces, such as eye tracking, support seamless interaction with library collections, and enhance discovery?

For those interested in these and other topics, you may wish to read some of the blog posts and reports we have published in these areas. Further, we welcome collaboration from library staff and researchers who are interested in collaborating in research and practice. To support collaboration we offer access to fabrication, interface, and visualization technology through our lab.

Categories: Information Science

Creative Data Literacy: Commentary on Catherine D’Ignazio’s Program on Information Science Talk

June 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Catherine D’Ignazio is an Assistant Professor of Civic Media and Data Visualization at Emerson College, a principal investigator at the Engagement Lab, and a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab/Center for Civic Media. She presented this talk, entitled, Creative Data Literacy: Bridging the Gap Between Data-Haves and Have-Nots as part of Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In her talk, illustrated by the slides below, D’Ignazio points to the gap between those people that collect and use data, and those people who are the subject of data collection.

D’Ignazio abstracted her talk as follows:

Communities, governments, libraries and organizations are swimming in data—demographic data, participation data, government data, social media data—but very few understand what to do with it. Though governments and foundations are creating open data portals and corporations are creating APIs, these rarely focus on use, usability, building community or creating impact. So although there is an explosion of data, there is a significant lag in data literacy at the scale of communities and citizens. This creates a situation of data-haves and have-nots which is troubling for an open data movement that seeks to empower people with data. But there are emerging technocultural practices that combine participation, creativity, and context to connect data to everyday life. These include data journalism, citizen science, emerging forms for documenting and publishing metadata, novel public engagement in government processes, and participatory data art. This talk surveys these practices both lovingly and critically, including their aspirations and the challenges they face in creating citizens that are truly empowered with data.

In her talk, D’Ignazio makes five recommendations on how to help people learn data literacy:

  • Many tutorials on data use abstract or standardized examples examining cars (or widgets) — this does not connect with most audiences. Ground your curriculum in community-centered problems and examples.
  • Frequently, people encounter data “in the wild” without metadata or other context that are needed for constructing meaning with it. To address this, have learners create data biographies — which explain who and how the data was collected and used, and its purposes, impacts and limitations.
  • Data is messy, and learners should not always be introduced to it through a clean, static data set but through encountering the complex process of collection.
  • Design tools that are learner-centric: focused, guided, inviting, and expandable.
  • People like monsters better than they like bar charts — so favor creative community-centered outputs over abstract purity.

Much more detail on these recommendation can be found in D’Ignazio’s professional writings.

D’Ignazio’s talk illustrated two more general tensions. One general tension is between a narrow conception of data literacy as coding, spreadsheets, statistics; and a broader conception that is not yet crisply defined but is distinct from statistical-, information-, IT-, media-, and Visual- literacies. This resonates with work done by our program’s research intern Zach Lizee on Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship in which he argues for a form of literacy that prepares learners to engage with the evolving role of information in the world, and to use that engagement to advocate policy and standards that enact their values.

D’Ignazio’s talks also highlights a broad general tension that currently exists between the aspiration of open data and data journalism to empower the broader public, and the structural inequalities in our systems of data collection, sharing, analysis, and meaning-making. This tension is very much in play with respect to Libraries and Universities approaches to open access.

Much of academia, and many policy-makers have embraced the potential value of Open Access to content. The MIT libraries’ vision also embraces the challenge of building an open source platform to enable global discovery and access to this content. Following the themes of D’Ignazio’s talk and based on our research, I conjecture that library open platforms could be of tremendous worth — but not for the reasons one usually expects.

The worth of software, and of information and communication technology systems and platforms generally, is typically measured by how much it is used, what functions it provides, and what content/data it enables one to use. However the importance of Library participation in the development of open information platforms goes beyond this. Libraries have not distinguished themselves from the Googles, Twitters and Facebooks of the world in making open content discoverable, or in the functionality that their platforms provide to create, annotate, share, and make meaning from this content: The commercial sector has both the capacity and the incentives to do this — as it’s profitable.

The worth of a library open platform is in the core library values that it enacts: broad inclusion/participation, long-term (intergenerational) persistence, transparency, and privacy. These are not values that current commercial platforms support — because the commercial sector lacks an incentives to create these. To go beyond open access to equity in participation in the creation and understanding of knowledge, libraries, museums, archives, and others that share thesevalues must lead in creating open platforms.

Reflecting the themes of D’Ignazio’s talk, the research we conduct here, in the Program on Information Science, engages with the expanding scope of information literacy, and with inequalities in access to information. For those interested in these and other projects, we have published blog posts and reports in these areas.

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Becoming a Practitioner Scholar in Technology for Development (And Involving students!): Commentary on Laura Hosman’s Talk

Professor Laura Hosman, who is Assistant Professor at Arizona State University (with a joint appointment in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and in The Polytechnic School) gave this talk Becoming a Practitioner Scholar in Technology for Development as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In her talk, illustrated by the slides below, Hosman argues that, for a large part of the world “the library of the future” will be based on cellphones, intranets, and digital-but-offline content.

 

 

Hosman abstracted her talk as follows:

Access to high-quality, relevant information is absolutely foundational for a quality education. Yet, so many schools across the developing world lack fundamental resources, like textbooks, libraries, electricity, and Internet connectivity. The SolarSPELL (Solar Powered Educational Learning Library) is designed specifically to address these infrastructural challenges, by bringing relevant, digital educational content to offline, off-grid locations. SolarSPELL is a portable, ruggedized, solar-powered digital library that broadcasts a webpage with open-access educational content over an offline WiFi hotspot, content that is curated for a particular audience in a specified locality—in this case, for schoolchildren and teachers in remote locations. It is a hands-on, iteratively developed project that has involved undergraduate students in all facets and at every stage of development. This talk will examine the design, development, and deployment of a for-the-field technology that looks simple but has a quite complex background.

In her talk, Hosman describes how the inspiration for her current line of research and practice started when she received a request to aid deployment of the One Laptop Per Child project in Haiti. The original project had allocated twenty-five million dollars to laptop purchasing, but failed to note that electric power was not available in many of the areas they needed to reach — so they asked for Professor Hosman’s help in finding an alternative power source. Over the course of her work, the focus of her interventions has shifted from solar power systems, to portable computer labs, to portable libraries — and she noted that every successful approach involved evolution and iteration.

Hosman observes that for much of the world’s populations electricity is a missing prerequisite to computing and to connectivity. She also notes that access to computing for most of the world comes through cell phones, not laptops. (And she recalls even finding that the inhabitants of remote islands occasionally had better cellphones than she carried.) Her talk notes that there are over seven billion cell phones in the world — which is over three times the number of computers worldwide, and many thousands of times the number of libraries.

Hosman originally titled her talk The Solar Powered Educational Learning Library – Experiential Learning And Iterative Development. The talk’s new title reflects one of three core themes that ran through the talk — the importance of people. Hosman argues that technology is never by itself sufficient (there is no “magic bullet”) — to improve people’s lives, we need to understand and engineer for people’s engagement with technology.

The SolarSPELL project has engaged with people in surprising ways. Not only is it designed around the needs of the target clients, but it has continuously involved Laura’s engineering students in its design and improvement; and has further involved high-school students in construction. Under Hosman’s direction, university and high school students worked together to construct a hundred SolarSPELL’s using mainly parts ordered from amazon. Moreover, Peace Corps volunteers are a critical part of the project. The people in the Corps provide the grass-roots connections that spark people to initially try the SolarSPELL, and provide a persistent human connection that supports continuing engagement.

A second theme of the talk is the importance of open and curated content. Simply making a collection freely available on-line is not enough, when we want most people in the world to be able to access it. For collections to be meaningfully accessible they need to available for bulk download; they need to be usable under an open license; they need to be selected for a community of use that does not have the option of seeking more content online; and they need to contain all of the context needed for that community to understand them.

A final theme that Hosman stresses is that any individual (scholar, practitioner, actor) will never have all the skills needed to address complex problems in the complex real world — solving real world problems requires a multidisciplinary approach. SolarSPELL demonstrates this through combining expertise in electrical engineering, content curation, libraries, software development, education, and in the sociology and politics of the region. Notably, the ASU libraries have been a valuable partner in the SolarSPELL project, and have even participated in fieldwork. Much more information about this work and its impact can be found in Hosman’s scholarly papers.

The MIT libraries have embraced a vision of serving a global community of scholars and learners. Hosman’s work demonstrates the existence of large communities of learners that would benefit from open educational and research materials — but whose technology needs are not met by most current information platforms (even open ones). Our aim is that future platforms not only enable research and educational content to reach such communities, but also that local communities worldwide can contribute their local knowledge, perspective, and commentary to the world’s library.

Surprisingly, the digital preservation research conducted at the libraries is of particular relevance to tackling these challenges. The goal of digital preservation can be thought of as communicating with the future — and in order to accomplish this, we need to be able to capture both content and context, steward it over time (managing provenance, versions, and authenticity), and prepare it to be accessed through communication systems and technologies that do not yet exist. A corollary is that properly curated content should be readily capable of being stored and delivered offline — which is currently a major challenge for access by the broader community.

Reflecting the themes of Hosman’s talk, the research we conduct here, in the Program on Information Science, is fundamentally interdisciplinary: For example our research in information privacy has involved librarians, computer scientists, statisticians, legal scholars, and many others. Our Program also aims to bridge research and practice, support translational and applied research, which often requires sustained engagement with grassroots stakeholders. For example, the success of the DIY redistricting (aka. “participative GIS”) efforts in which we’ve collaborate relied on sustained engagement with grassroots good-government organizations (such as Common Cause and League of Women Voters); students; and the media. For those interested in these and other projects, we have published reports and articles describing them.

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Guest Post: Zachary Lizee on Digital Literacy and Standards

December 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Zachary Lizee  who is a Graduate Research Intern in the program on information science, reflects on his investigations into information standards, and suggests how  libraries can reach beyond local instruction on digital literacy to scaleable education on to catalyze information citizenship.

21st century Libraries, Standards Education and Socially Responsible Information Seeking Behavior

Standards and standards development frame, guide, and normalize almost all areas of our lives.  Standards in IT govern interoperability between a variety of devices and platforms, standardized production of various machine parts allows uniform repair and reproduction, and standardization in fields like accounting, health care, or agriculture promotes best industry practices that emphasize safety and quality control.  Informational standards like OpenDocument allows storage and processing of digital information to be accessible by most types of software ensuring that the data is recoverable in the future.[1]  Standards reflect the shared values, aspirations, and responsibilities we as a society project upon each other and our world.

Engineering and other innovative entrepreneurial fields need to have awareness aboutinformation standards and standards development to ensure that the results of research, design, and development in these areas have the most positive net outcome for our world at large, as illustrated by the analysis of healthcare information standards by HIMSS, a professional organization that works to affect informational standards in the healthcare IT field:

In healthcare, standards provide a common language and set of expectations that enable interoperability between systems and/or devices. Ideally, data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared between clinician, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of application or application vendor in order to improve healthcare delivery. [2]

As critical issues regarding information privacy quickly increase, standard development organizations and interested stakeholders take an active interest in creating and maintaining standards to regulate how personal data is stored, transferred, and used, which has both public interests and regulation by legal frameworks in mind.[3]

Libraries have traditionally been centers of expertise/access of information collection, curation, dissemination, and instruction.  And the standards around how digital information is produced, used, governed, and transmitted are rapidly evolving with new technologies.[4]  Libraries are participating in the processes of generating information standards to ensure that patrons can freely and safely access information.  For instance, the National Information Standards Organization is developing informational standards to address patron privacy issues in library data management systems:

The NISO Privacy Principles, available at http://www.niso.org/topics/tl/patron_ privacy/, set forth a core set of guidelines by which libraries, systems providers and publishers can foster respect for patron privacy throughout their operations.  The Preamble of the Principles notes that, ‘Certain personal data are often required in order for digital systems to deliver information, particularly subscribed content.’ Additionally, user activity data can provide useful insights on how to improve collections and services. However, the gathering, storage, and use of these data must respect the trust users place in libraries and their partners. There are ways to address these operational needs while also respecting the user’s rights and expectations of privacy.[5]

This effort by NISO (which has librarians on the steering committee) illustrates how libraries engage in outreach and advocacy that is also in concert with the ALA’s Code of Ethics, which states that libraries have the duty to protect patron’s rights to privacy and confidentiality regarding information seeking behavior.  Libraries and librarians have a long tradition of engaging in social responsibility for their patrons and community at large.

Although libraries are sometimes involved, most information standards are created by engineers working in corporate settings, or are considerably influenced by the development of products that become the model.  Most students leave the university without understanding what standards are, how they are developed, and what potential social and political ramifications advancements in the engineering field can have on our world.[6]

There is a trend in the academic and professional communities to foster greater understanding about what standards are, why they are important, and how they relate to influencing and shaping our world.[7]  Understanding the relevance of standards will be an asset that employers in the engineering fields will value and look for.  Keeping informed about the most current standards can drive innovation and increase the market value of an engineer’s research and design efforts.[8]

As informational hubs, libraries have a unique opportunity to participate in developing information literacy regarding standards and standards development.  By infusing philosophies regarding socially responsible research and innovation, using standards instruction as a vehicle, librarians can emphasize the net positive effect of standards and ethics awareness for the individual student and the world at large.

The emergence of MOOCs creates an opportunity for librarians to reach a large audience to instruct patrons in information literacy in a variety of subjects. MOOCs can have a number of advantages when it comes to being able to inform and instruct a large number of people from a variety of geographic locations and across a range of subject areas.[9]

For example, a subject specific librarian for an engineering department at a university could participate with engineering faculty in developing a MOOC that outlines the relative issues, facts, and procedures surrounding standards and standards development to aid the engineering faculty in instructing standards education.  Together, librarians and subject experts could  develop education on the roles that standards and socially responsible behavior factor into the field of engineering.

Students that learn early in their career why standards are an integral element in engineering and related fields have the potential to produce influential ideas, products, and programs that undoubtedly could have positive and constructive effects for society.  Engineering endeavors to design products, methodologies, and other technologies that can have a positive impact on our world.  Standards education in engineering fields can produce students who have a keen understanding of social awareness about human dignity, human justice, overall human welfare, and a sense of global responsibility.

Our world has a number of challenges: poverty, oppression, political and economic strife, environmental issues, and a host of many other dilemmas socially responsible engineers and innovators could address.  The impact of educating engineers and innovators about standards and socially responsible behavior can affect future corporate responsibility, ethical and humanitarian behavior, altruistic technical research and development, which in turn yields a net positive result for the individual, society, and the world.

Recommended Resources:

Notes:

[1] OASIS, “OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications TC,” <https://www.oasis-open.org/ committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=office>

[2] HIMSS, “Why do we need standards?,” <http://www.himss.org/library/interoperability-standards/why-do-we-need-standards>

[3] Murphy, Craig N. and JoAnne Yates, The International Organization for Standardization (ISO): Global governance through voluntary consensus, London and New York: Routledge, 2009.

[4] See Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability, edited by Laura DeNardis, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011.

[5] “NISO Releases a Set of Principles to Address Privacy of User Data in Library, Content-Provider, and Software-Supplier Systems,” NISO,  <http://www.niso.org/news/pr/view?item_key=678c44da628619119213955b867838b40b6a7d96>

[6] “IEEE Position Paper on the Role of Technical Standards in the Curriculum of Academic Programs in Engineering, Technology and Computing,” IEEE,  <https://www.ieee.org/education_careers/education/eab/position_statements.html>

[7] Northwestern Strategic Standards Management, <http://www.northwestern.edu/standards-management/>

[8] “Education about standards,” ISO, <http://www.iso.org/iso/home/about/training-technical-assistance/standards-in-education.htm>

[9] “MOOC Design and Delivery: Opportunities and Challenges,” Current Issues in Emerging ELearning, V.3, Issue 1,(2016) <http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciee/?utm_source=scholarworks.umb.edu%2Fciee%2Fvol2%2Fiss1%2F6&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages>

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