Archive for: June, 2011

Social networks and degrees of evilness

Sometimes two posts just collide in my brain.

I thought I'd share a recent case of this phenomenon.

First up, marketing/PR/social media Rock Star Mitch Joel on taking the best advantage of the inherent evilness of social networks like Twitter in The New Media Pecking Order.

Newsflash: the world is one big pecking order.

My friend - the rock star - travels infrequently by plane. I'm a loyal customer of the airline. It doesn't seem fair and it doesn't make sense. C'est la vie. Klout, PeerIndex, Twitter Grader and others simply bring to light something we've all known for a very long time: it's always been about the numbers and who we all - individually - influence... now we're just starting to see where we all sit. Pushing this further, if everyone has their own media channel (because of our own, individual Twitter feeds, Facebook friends, personal Blogs, etc...) that are published for the world to see, why shouldn't they be subject to the same public rating systems and reviews that traditional media channels have to endure?

It's quite an interesting post. The comments are equally interesting as some wholeheartedly agree with the high school model and others are more skeptical both about the validity of the tools used to measure "influence" and the desirability of the whole project of measuring online influence.

There are also some interesting parallels with the kinds of impact measurements used in the world of scholarly communications -- citations, impact factors and all the rest. But that might be a completely separate post.

The other piece that collided in my brain is Scott Rosenberg's Circles: Facebook's reality failure is Google+'s opportunity. It's about the coming clash of titans in the social networking world, the "Don't Be Evil" gang at Google versus the "Let's Be as Evil as Possible before anyone Notices" gang at Facebook.

I like the way Rosenberg frames what Google is trying to do:

So which was Facebook: a new space for authentic communication between real people -- or a new arena for self-promotion?

I could probably have handled this existential dilemma. And I know it's one that a lot of people simply don't care about. It bugged me, but it was the other Facebook problem that made me not want to use the service at all.

Facebook flattens our social relationships into one undifferentiated blob. It's almost impossible to organize friends into discrete groups like "family" and "work" and "school friends" and so forth. Facebook's just not built that way.


Of the technology giants, Google -- despite its missteps -- has the best record of helping build and expand the Web in useful ways. It's full of brilliant engineers who have had a very hard time figuring out how to transfer their expertise from the realm of code to the world of human interaction. But it's learning.

So I'll embrace the open-source, distributed, nobody-owns-it social network when it arrives, as it inevitably will, whether we get it from the likes of Diaspora and or somebody else. In the meantime, Google+ is looking pretty good. (Except for that awful punctuation-mark-laden name.)

A great post, definitely worth reading the whole thing. I have to admit that initially I wasn't the least bit interested in Google+ but now I'm intrigued.

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TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 1: Adding value

Jun 25 2011 Published by under acad lib future, academia, librarianship, tedxlib, yorku

As you read this, I'll be at TEDxLibrariansTO helping out with registration. And having a great time talking about librarians as thought leaders!

As I've done for the last few days, here is my answer for yesterday's TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Question:

Question 1: What means should librarians choose to encourage their institutions to embrace change?

I'm not sure I know how to approach even beginning to answer this question other than to just say 42!

However, I was lucky enough to attend Drew Dudley's amazing keynote address at yesterday's York IT Day conference. He really talked about redefining leadership in a such a way that everyday everyone has a chance to add value to their lives and organizations. Everyone can make a difference just by being more mindful of how they conduct their everyday lives.

I really liked how he used six questions we can all ask ourselves everyday to frame his value adding strategy.

With Drew's permission, here they are:

  1. What have you done today to be helpful?
  2. What have you done today to make it more likely you will learn something?
  3. What have you done today to make it more likely someone else will learn something?
  4. Have you said something positive about someone to their face today?
  5. Have you said something positive about someone when they're not even in the room today?
  6. What have you done today to be good to yourself?

It's a start. Make a difference.

(More on the questions forthcoming in Anyone Can Make the Waitress Laugh: 'Lollipop Moments' and Redefining Leadership by Drew Dudley)

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Friday Fun: The Top 10 Types of Douchebags in Tech and How NOT to be one

Jun 24 2011 Published by under friday fun, social media

This one's pretty funny, but in a painful way.

I'm sure this one rings true for a lot of people out there.

I like Number 8:

8.) Self-Entitled Social-Media HotShots

Who You Are: Your license plate reads "SCLEXPT". You spend all day teaching computer illiterate people how to create a facebook pages and twitter logins and you mock anyone who doesn't spend three hours a day updating their FB status or tweeting photos of their lunch. You have about as much "expertise" as 24-hour online certified priests, but tout your "knowledge" like a peacock on parade.

What's the Remedy:
Make somebody money. I'm offering a $1000 bounty for the first social media expert that has ever made money with their social stream. Here's a tip: if you have more friends online than you do in real life and they're people you've never actually met, become more of an expert at forming real life relationships.

Read them all!

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TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 2: On the qualities of a thought leader

Following on from the last three days, here are my answers for today's TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions:

Question 1: What are the similarities or characteristics of thought leaders that you know? Tell us about the attributes that your ideal thought leader would have.

I don't think any one person could actually have all the qualities of the idea thought leader but there are some commonalities across the ones I've encountered.

  • Originality. A thought leader needs to bring something new to the public sphere, or at very least take an established idea and present it in a fresh, original way.
  • Humbleness or Humility. A thought leader needs to be able to understand and accept their own limitations and the limitations of their ideas.
  • Vision. Not all thought leaders will have a vision of how things could be improved or changed, but most will.
  • Consistency. A thought leader needs to have a focus and not be jumping around a bunch of different ideas. While they need to be flexible and adaptable, wishy-washy probably won't work either.
  • Articulate and Accessible. They need to be able to explain their ideas clearly and concisely.
  • Domain Knowledge. A thought leader needs to actually know something and not just guess or speculate or BS.
  • Perspective. And by this I mean a kind of awareness of the scope and limitations of their ideas. They also need a solid historical context about their domain area of expertise so that they're not just repeating what others have said before. They need to understand what their ideas mean and how they apply to the world. They need to avoid any kind of false universalization and over generalization -- that's what annoys me most. I'm a grownup, I can take complexity. This is kind of where I would distinguish between a thought leader and a guru. Thought leaders are closer to what we would understand as public intellectuals -- people that really have something to offer. Whereas a guru would more likely be someone who's ideas were ultimately empty or superficial.

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York University Faculty Assocation (YUFA) Librarian Members' Letter to McMaster President in support of McMaster librarians and archivists

Jun 23 2011 Published by under academia, librarianship, yorku

The Library Chapter of the York University Faculty Association has released the following unanimously approved letter:

York University Faculty Association, Library Chapter
240 York Lanes, York University
4700 Keele St.
Toronto, ON
M3J 1P3

June 2, 2011

Dr. Patrick Deane, President and Vice-Chancellor
238 Gilmour Hall, McMaster University
1280 Main St. West
Hamilton, ON
L8S 4L8

Dear President Deane,

We write in support of the librarians and archivists at McMaster University. In particular we express our grave concern over the recent downsizing of professional staff, the casualization of labour at McMaster University Library, and the recent comments from Jeff Trzeciak, the University Librarian, diminishing the value and future of librarians at McMaster. Such comments provide clear evidence of a highly uncollegial and unsupportive work environment. We have previously written indicating our distaste for the organizational restructuring that led to the creation of new positions quickly deemed irrelevant and the subsequent firing of two highly respected senior colleagues. As new and even more worrisome issues grow increasingly apparent, we are compelled to write again.

While we recognize and embrace a need for other kinds of skills and specializations in academic libraries, they should not come at the expense of professional expertise that has taken many years to assemble. Such disregard is particularly troubling coming from an administrator at an institution of higher learning, which should have the highest regard for knowledge, specialization, and expertise.

Even more crucially, changes to staffing models should not come at the expense of academic freedom. We are deeply troubled by the casualization of labour involved in replacing full-time positions with precarious contract positions. Non-librarian/archivist employees in limited term contract positions do not enjoy the academic freedom or the background and systemic awareness required to express new challenging ideas or disagreement over the strategic directions or priorities of the Library and consequently the quality of internal debate and the imaginative possibilities of the library system as a whole will suffer as a result of an increasingly centralized, hierarchical orthodoxy.

While change is certainly needed as we approach the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century, it is critical that the professionals charged with preservation and stewardship of our academic and cultural heritage be at the forefront of any sustainable renewal and planning process. A university librarian, much like a dean, is not a CEO, but a collegial partner in collective governance of a public institution. Change cannot be effectively managed in a highly charged and hostile work environment. Note that the McMaster Health Sciences Library, the one not administered by Mr. Trzeciak, managed to absorb budget cuts without rancor or losing staff.

The reputation of McMaster's Library is suffering as a result of the actions of its University Librarian. For instance, see the recent article by Ian Brown in the Globe and Mail, where Mr. Trzeciak's vision was openly dismissed. One only has to take a quick look at library-related blogs and social media to see that McMaster University Library is quickly becoming known amongst librarians as a rogue institution. Nor does your Library seem to provide a supportive environment for grassroots innovation from librarians and archivists. Innovation appears to be only permitted from the top down. Such a reputation does not bode well for future recruitment of excellent librarians or post-docs. We also suspect that retention of your current librarians and archivists--highly respected by their national colleagues--will become an increasingly large issue for your institution. No-one could blame them for looking elsewhere, given the climate Mr. Trzeciak has created.

We are also disturbed by the recent agenda-setting "Future of the Academic Library Symposium" organized by Mr. Trzeciak, which initially had only three female speakers out of a possible 21 on the program and no front-line librarians or archivists. Such inequity would be unrepresentative and egregious in any context but considerably more so in this instance as, according to CAUT statistics, 73% of academic librarians in Canada are women. The issues raised by this symposium might seem distinct from the concerns raised above, but we connect this inequity of gender to the obvious inequity of recent labour practices at McMaster University Library. We see voices being silenced: the voices of professional librarians and archivists and the voices of women. The message from this symposium and from the overarching ideological agenda espoused by Mr. Trzeciak is that the future of libraries is controlled and dictated entirely by library administrators. Male library administrators.

In the wake of all of the above, we were particularly troubled to learn that Mr. Trzeciak's most recent review and reappointment occurred without the input or involvement of MUALA or indeed any of the librarians at McMaster-the people in fact best positioned to evaluate a library director's performance.

This letter has been unanimously endorsed by our York University Faculty Association Library chapter. The YUFA executive, representing all our faculty and librarians, has also publicly expressed its support for McMaster librarians. We continue to monitor the situation at your institution and continue to advocate for the rights and responsibilities of archivists and librarians at McMaster, believing as we do that our responsibilities for, and commitment to, the preservation of Canada's scholarly and cultural heritage transcends the boundaries of our own institution and extends across them all.


York University Faculty Association, Library Chapter

Cc: Ilene Busch-Vishniac, Provost and Vice-President Academic, McMaster University
Jeff Trzeciak, University Librarian, McMaster University
McMaster University Librarians' Association
McMaster University Faculty Association
York University Faculty Association

For more information and background, please check my regularly updated post on the situation at McMaster.

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TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 3: On humbleness

Jun 22 2011 Published by under acad lib future, librarianship, social media, tedxlib

Following on from the last two days, here are my answers for today's TEDxLibrariansTO Coundown Questions:

Question 1: How can experience of failure contribute to making an effective thought leader?

Failure is useful for a thought leader in the same way that it's useful for everyone. We can learn a lot from our failures: how to dust ourselves off and start over, how to rethink what we've done before and learn from our mistakes, how to put what we do in a larger interpersonal, organizational and social context. After all, just as we rarely succeed alone, we also rarely fail alone. Sure, the act of failure may be uniquely our own but very often we end up dragging others down with us.

Hopefully the most important thing we can all learn from failure is a bit of humbleness. Thought leaders by definition are going to need to be confident and forthright. They are going to need the inner strength to be able to stand up and state their ideas in full view, to take their lumps and engage in vigorous debate.

But they also need to be able to see the web of interconnections between all the stakeholders their ideas may influence. They need to be honest and realistic about the value and scope of their ideas, not over-hype or over-universalize or oversell.

I'll admit to being generally quite skeptical about thought leaders in general and in particular of self-proclaimed thought leaders.

It's those thought leaders that are the most desperate to be recognized as such, who most need the accolades and attention that come with being an influential expert or important innovator -- they are the ones I instinctively distrust.

And it's often because they seem to lack a certain humbleness. It's difficult to balance confidence and humbleness, I know, but those are the thought leaders I really value.

(Am I throwing stones in a glass house here? Am I a self-proclaimed thought leader whose immense hubris has lead me to publish this delusional and ill-advised screed? I'm afraid I just can't tell. You'll have to let me know.)

Question 2: What venues are available to us to constructively criticize each others ideas?

This is a tough one as I've been involved in a few Internet scrapes myself over the years. But I'll have to go with the rough and tumble dialogue we see online in blogs and on Twitter and Friendfeed as the best places to debate and criticize each others ideas.

It can be unpleasant and angry and seemingly uncivil at times but it's the best and most honest and open forum we have.

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Intelligent design & creationism vs. teaching & scholarship

A couple of odd ones from last week's Inside Higher Ed, both related to the way scholarship, higher education and the intelligent design/creationism movement intersect.

First up, Blasphemy of a Different Kind, involving people possibly being fired for teaching evolution at an Adventist school. Although the university involved claims that the firings weren't related to the teaching of evolution, it's hard to imagine that there wasn't some connection.

The president of La Sierra's board of trustees on Friday asked for the resignations of Jeff Kaatz, the vice president for university advancement; Jim Beach, the dean of arts and sciences; Lenny Darnell, a trustee; and Gary Bradley, an adjunct professor of biology, according to a campuswide note from the administration.

The university, which is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, has been dealing in recent months with a controversy over the teaching of evolution that has its Adventist benefactors threatening to withdraw its religious accreditation -- and the $4 million per annum that comes with it. Now the university faces a scandal in which a trustee, a vice president, a dean, and an adjunct professor were asked to resign over a recording made, purportedly by accident, of the four men talking informally about the church and university leadership.

Next is Paying for Rejection about a case where a journal has rejected/retracted an article by and Intelligent Design advocate after it was initially published on their website but before it appeared in the print edition. The published reached a financial settlement with the author to compensate for the retroactive rejection.

A mathematics journal has reached a financial settlement with an advocate of intelligent design after withdrawing a paper by him shortly before publication.

Applied Mathematics Letters accepted the paper by Granville Sewell, professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso, earlier this year. The paper, "A Second Look at the Second Law," questioned the second law of thermodynamics: a fundamental law of physics that states that disorder - entropy - always increases in a closed system.

The paper was posted on the journal's website but was retracted shortly before its scheduled publication in the print edition.

In response to a complaint about the article from science blogger David vun Kannon, the journal's editor-in-chief, Ervin Rodin, director of the Center for Optimization and Semantic Control at Washington University in St Louis, offered his apologies for even considering the paper for publication.

"Applied Mathematics Letters is attempting to live up to its aim of being an outlet of 'rapid publication.' Unfortunately, this may sometimes lead to hastiness," he wrote.

A couple of very interesting cases, certainly not completely clear cut to the outsider in terms of exactly what happened or why. It both cases I would guess that we have far from complete information.

Read the IHE stories and see for yourself. Both are certainly case studies in the fact that science and religion just don't mix.

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TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 4

Following on from yesterday, here are my answers for today's TEDxLibrariansTO Coundown Questions:

Question 1: What should we expect/demand of our thought leaders?

I'm not sure I like the way this question is phrased, preferring something like, "What do thought leaders actually do?" We certainly shouldn't demand anything of our thought leaders, it's not like we're paying them to do their jobs. Even "expectations" seems like a strong word.

To a large extent, thought leaders just are. I'm not sure we can speak of "followers" having "expectations" of leaders in the same way we could in a more traditional organizational or institutional context.

So what do I "expect" of a thought leader? To just continue to be themselves.

In my experience, thought leaders that become too conscious of their status as thought leaders, who pander to who they perceive as their followers, well, they become parodies of themselves.

Question 2: We can't all be thought leaders all the time. Often, by necessity we are followers. So, what does it mean to follow a thought leader well?

Once again, this question makes me a bit uncomfortable.

The only thing I want to say here is that I don't think we should follow "thought leaders" in the same sense that we would follow our bosses or political leaders.

We respect thought leaders by listening to their ideas, critically evaluating them and judging whether or not adopting or advancing those ideas makes sense in our own context. These are the values that librarians promote in our own practice so we should walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

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TEDxLibrariansTO Countdown Questions: Day 5

The very fine TEDxLibrariansTO team is counting down to this Saturday's big event with some daily questions for us all to consider.

The topic, of course, is Librarians as Thought Leaders!

These are the questions for Day 5. I'll attempt to answer them and every day's questions very briefly. I figure if I go for extremely brief answers, there's actually a chance I'll get to them every day!

Question 1: Name one thing we could do right now in order to be perceived as thought leaders outside the profession.

My Answer: Predictably, perhaps, I'll answer that we should mostly (but not completely) stop attending and presenting at librarian conferences and instead attend and present at the conferences our community members attend and present at. For academic librarians, this means attending disciplinary conferences as well as conferences on curriculum and pedagogy in higher education.

Check out my Manifesto for more.

Question 2: How do we recognize a thought leader?

My Answer: I'm not sure if this means recognize and in identify or recognize as in reward and acknowledge.

For the former, I think we need to try and track which librarians are embedded in their communities and making a difference in a way that really reflects the values of librarianship. In other words, for an academic librarian, say, a thought leader would be someone who blogs at a general higher education site, like Barbara Fister.

For the latter, let's invite them to write and talk about their experiences at the librarian conferences we do attend and in the blogs and journals we read.

Question 3: Are the loudest voices online actually representative of important thought currents?

My Answer: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. This one is really hard to quantify in anything other than an anecdotal sense.

My tendency here is to encourage and develop a healthy skepticism about those loudest online voices, to try and understand where they are coming from, what their goals are, what their biases are, who they represent and what's in it for them.

In other words, I try and bring librarian values to bear on that particular question.

I also recognize and understand that the most valuable voices are often the quietest and that we should try and pay attention to the less hype-ridden corners of the online world as much as to the busiest part.

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From the Archives: Follies of science: 20th century visions of our fantastic future by Eric & Jonathan Dregni

Jun 19 2011 Published by under book review, science books, science fiction

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future, is from April 26, 2007.


I don't have to much to say of a deep or profound nature to say about this book. It's one of those "Whatever happened to the future with all the flying cars and robot butlers you science guys promised me!" books. And, as such, it's very successful in that it doesn't take itself too seriously. This book is just plain fun.

The chapters basically run the gamut of all the promises that futurists have made over the decades. Chapter One is about transportation, talking about the dreams of jet packs and flying cars, zeppelins and atomic airplanes. Chapter Two is about our great friends, the computer and their great friends, robots. Utopian and dystopian, it's interesting to see our love-hate relationship with computers goes way back. Are they are friends or will they take over the world? Chapter Three is about how we will progress as a species beyond the need for war. An interesting idea, this, one that seems tragically flawed. Can machines replace us in the trenches? Will amazing super-weapons make war obsolete?

Chapter Four is on the cities of the future, gleaming, perfect and full of labour saving devices, perfectly planned, domed or doomed? Zeppelin highways, weather controlled with hanging gardens. Chapter Five is full of medical marvels: the end of pain, using radioactive skin creme, atomic farming, an extremely bizarre section on "marital aids", drinking your pee, living forever and human experimentation. Chapter Six is about that most perfect of fantasies of the future, space colonies! Rockets powered by steam, mad scientists faster than light, finding buxom alien babes on Mars! Finally, Chapter Seven is a series of predictions for our own future! Taken from Hank Lederer, we see that by 2015 we'll have foldout computer screens; 2035, implantable organs and limbs; 2030, smart paper; 2040, immortality; 2050, a food creator; 2060, poverty eliminated and 2100, space colonies!

I have to say that you really don't want this book for the explanatory text anyways. You really want it for the fantastic illustrations and the lively presentation. The book makes heavy use of old sf pulp covers and old catalogue illustrations; the captions are often quite funny as well. One complaint is that the illustrations aren't very well credited. There are a few sf art books in the bibliography (a treasure trove for amusing popular science collection development, by the way) and a mention of the use of old catalogues, but I wish there was better citing. At very least, the artists for a lot of the science fiction illustrations would have been nice.

In the end, I can't really recommend this book for academic collections, there's just not enough substance. However, public libraries would find a ready audience for a colourful book like this, as would most school libraries. It would also make a great holiday or birthday present for the science fiction loving techy gal/guy in your family.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

Dregni, Eric & Jonathan. Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future. Denver: Speck Press, 2006. 127pp.

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