Information Flux in the 21st Century

Content Curation

My employer recently sent my fellow digital librarian and me a link to post on Robin Good’s blog, Content Curation: Why is The Content Curator The Key Emerging Online Editorial Role of the Future. After reading this post, I began to contemplate what I do, and whether my new degree is necessary. I returned to school to pursue a Masters in Information and Library Science (MILS) because I anticipated that there would be a need for web content curation, although I thought of it as web or digital librarianship, and believed the education was necessary to do this job well. And, I still do.

Ultimately, content curation is pretty much what my job entails, and I could not imagine doing it competently without the additional education. But, I started thinking about other areas where content curation could be done without an MILS. If all you’re doing is scouring the web for specific content, what does the library school education give you? Well, you learn about the importance of authority, for one. And, how to determine a reputable source.

There are news sites, focused content websites, reference resource sites, news site blogs, personal blogs, social media sites, etc. I think part of what we digital/web librarians bring is the ability to organize and sort the sites and content to determine which information is of most value to the organization. It may not necessarily be the authoritative information, depending on the organization, but we are skilled to make those decisions. With the social/collaboritive aspect of the web in the 21st century, this skill is more critical than ever.

I am a big proponent of the social and collaborative aspect of the web. I delight in seeing it in action. The other day I witnessed an error in an online article that was caught and the correction posted in a comment in real time. This was on the New York Times website, although I’m sure it is not a unique occurrence. On the flip side, I read in the book Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger a response by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, to the media about an accusation of an erroneous entry in Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales said “Wikipedia contained an error. How shocking.” I chuckled at this comment. Of course, entries in Wikipedia often contain errors. They’re not written and edited by Nobel Laureates, and scholars in particular fields (well, maybe sometimes), but there are entries on just about everything you can think of, and then some. It is more often than not the go to online resource for a definition on just about anything. Should we stop there? Heck no, it should be a springboard to further research.

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word curator is museum curator. What is a museum curator? The first sentence in the definition on Wikipedia is “Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g. gallery, museum, or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections.” (Check out the resources listed for this entry!) So, as content curators, our content is information, and as librarians we’re nothing if not information specialists. As my employer aptly put it, digital librarians: content with authority!

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

An Event on Information Island in Second Life

At 9 pm last Thursday night, Jackson Darkwatch strolled into the open air auditorium on Information Island, ready to listen to a group of panelists discuss the topic, “Are LIS Programs on Target for Today’s Workplace?”. Jackson sat in a floating seat attentively looking in the direction of the panelists. As the panelists were beginning, a newcomer landed smack on the stage, facing the audience, and boldly admitted he was a newbie. He followed with questions about getting the audio element to work. After struggling through this myself, I chimed in with my mode of success; Jackson Darkwatch’s hands moved as I typed.

Information Island is in Second Life. I began my exploration into this virtual world last year, but my first avatar, Simona Moonwall, had some problems; I lost her hair and made her into a cloud. I retired Simona, named a new avatar Jackson Darkwatch, put a hat on her and called it a day. Jackson is in a respectable enough form to teleport aimlessly to random places. Occassionally, when situated in one of these random places, she has been approached by an avatar inviting small talk. This was not stimulating enough to waste, ahem, spend time there. However, the invitation to listen to a panel of librarians was intriguing. Librarians have a home in Second Life. Information Island is that home and the space is actually used as a resource center, staffed with a “librarian.” I can say from experience that a librarian is not there 24/7; the last time JD visited, the place was desolate.

The Island was hopping on the night of the event. Avatars were landing left and right. Once I found the right coordinates on the map for the location of the auditorium, I got Jackson there. I muted my speaker when prompted to do so, fixed the audio component so that I could hear the panelists, and kept a low profile for Jackson. The panel was comprised of academics, information professionals, and a library school student. All had somewhat zany sounding names, not dissimilar to Jackson Darkwatch and Simona Moonwall. A moderator directed questions to an avatar to answer. Common responses were heard: “depends where you end up working,” “subjects have evolved, i.e., cataloging, and that is not always reflected in the classroom,” and so on. The dual degree dilemma was discussed. One panelist talked about how she was perceived as credible outside the library community by her MBA, not her MLS. The discussion was lively and civilized. Jackson sat still the entire hour (except for the few moments of hand movement while I typed.) I, however, left for a few minutes to put my daughters to bed.

I could see how Second Life is a bit, well, outré. Facebook is more tangible, of course in the virtual sense. As is Twitter. But, Second Life does fit into the canon of Web 2.0, so I’m not throwing an apple into a group of oranges here. I must admit, after listening to the panelists, I did appreciate the experience, and got something out of this professional development event. And, not to disappoint, my observation about the insularity of the library community was once again reinforced. Before the panelists began speaking, question after question appeared in the chat screen to inspire their discussion. Jackson’s name was associated with mine about RDF and Semantic Web with regard to libraries; a reply of “*shiver*” was shot back from one of the panelists. Jackson followed with “Shouldn’t libraries be sharing their treasures?” My heart was warmed by a simple reply of “yes” from another avatar.

SL, like Twitter, has its virtues. Will I let Jackson attend another professional event? Yes. Will I teleport her aimlessly again? Maybe. Do I have a Twitter account yet? Yes. infoflux.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ourcourts.org – Part 2

I didn’t mention in my last post that I told my daughter’s teacher about ourcourts.org. Today, Nathalie came home from school and told me enthusiastically that her teacher gathered up laptops for the students to use so that they could look at the resources and play the games on ourcourts.org. The research and technology teacher (aka school librarian) now knows about ourcourts, and has put a link to it on her website. I’m so glad the word is out, at least in my daughters’ school.

Any math teachers out there developing interesting game sites for kids?

October 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Ourcourts.org launched!

ourcourtsOurcourts.org is an online initiative conceived of by Sandra Day O’Conner. The goal is to teach civics to children in an easy to understand way that engages and fosters interest. The website offers straightforward information, a couple of games (at least for now?), resources for teachers that include games, links to other sites, and links to news stories.

I first heard about ourcourts.org at the Games for Change conference last June. This is one of the game ideas that got me thinking about how games in new media can inform our education system.

I went to ourcourts.org to find a resource when I was helping my daughter with her social studies homework. Her homework was to put in her own words descriptions about the three branches of government. She had a handout for this assignment that distinctly illustrated the responsibilities of each branch. However, she struggled with the meanings. Legislative and Executive made some kind of sense to her, but the Judicial branch was more difficult for her to understand. “What does interpret laws mean,” she asked. If only I could come up with a good example, and break it down for her.

One of the games on ourcourts.org is The Supreme Decision. This game enlists the player in a case about a student’s rights to wear a band t-shirt after his school banned band t-shirts because arguments broke out over them and disrupted learning. The attorneys for each side state their case and then the player listens to four pairs of judges interpreting the case. The player answers questions about the arguments presented by each pair of judges. There’s even an earlier case mentioned that shows how precedence can be used to defend an argument. My daughter played the game, and continues to play it over and over, interpreting the judges arguments differently to see how the case plays out. She now understands the concept of interpreting laws.

Last night my daughter came home with some more civics related social studies homework which she had no problem with at all. Is this due to the immersive experience she had while playing the game? I’d like to think so.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

140 Character Revolution

Picture 1
I have a confession. I do not have a Twitter account. So far, it has been easy enough to follow others’ noteworthy tweets without an account. And, I haven’t felt compelled to write my own tweets for interested, or uninterested followers. Although I have seen the value for certain uses, I remain somewhat of a Twitter cynic.

Apparently, I am missing out on something so revolutionary, a whole world is forming around the 140 character microblog. Organizations are available to educate on how to adapt to 140 character communication. There’s a 140 character conference. Statisticians are monitoring the flow of these short messages in order to read public opinion and sentiment in real time. The UK’s Royal Opera House is creating a Twitter Opera. Of course, Twitter is a must have for marketing purposes. The list goes on…

Does this mean that as a society we are destined for an ever decreasing collective attention span? Do we have to look forward to movies that will be the equivalent in length to a commercial? A 140 character literary genre? As funny these seem (at least to me), they are a reality already. Clearly, the 140 character world is here, big time. But, let’s not forget; less is more may apply to design, but not everything else.

Okay, so now I am feeling social media pressure to succumb. Before too long, I will finally become a late adopter of Twitter. So, how about you, Maureen Dowd? It wasn’t long ago that you said to Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, “I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?” To which Biz Stone replied, “Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter. You might want to type out the message “Help.””

August 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Children’s Book Recommendations and Social Media

200px-The_Secret_Garden_book_cover_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17396A few weeks ago, on July 4th to be exact, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times took time out of his daily reporting on the atrocities of the world to share some thoughts on kids and summer reading in his column. And, in his blog that day, he invited readers to offer comments on their favorite children’s books. The comments came flooding in. So much so that his subsequent blog post was a follow up that included some recommendations from the over 2,000 comments that he personally moderated over the 4th of July weekend. Admitting the joy he ultimately felt at this task wasn’t necessary; that came through in his post.

I read the column and first blog post late on July 4th and had to immediately put in my suggestion, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The next day, I showed the column and blog post to my 9 year old daughters. The reason I showed them the column was to remind them that they like to read. After all, it was only a week before, when they were still in school, that they were reading for at least a half hour a day, and enjoying it. One of my daughters wanted to comment on her favorites, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, and Becoming Naomi Leon and Esperanza Rising, both by Pam Munoz Ryan. She typed in her comment, stating that she “really loved these books because they were about strong girls who faced their difficulties with true, brave hearts.” I was so proud. If only reading could come as natural an activity now, in the middle of summer, as going on the computer is, but, I digress.

The fact that I have the utmost admiration for Nicholas Kristof aside, I love that he took the time to write about this subject, and to bring readers of his column into the discussion. Mr. Kristof did what I anticipate will happen more and more. He listened to his readers and let their views be melded with his. Not only did he acknowledge and share the recommendations of his readers, he wrote that he bought a few of the recommended books that he hadn’t yet read to share with his children. Social media changes the rules of publishing — it is no longer one way. Writers write, readers write, writers listen, and sometimes rewrite.

I mentioned Mr. Kristof in my post on Games for Change and Gaming in Libraries.

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

16th Century Chapbook: Object of 21st Century Search

FaustYesterday, I stopped at my local library branch to see if there were any movies on the shelves I wanted to borrow. The movie “Cabin in the Sky” caught my eye. This is a movie from the early 1940s based on a play from the same era; both had all black casts. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne were movie cast members. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli. I was intrigued. I took it home, and began my research on movie, subject, and more. Google, Wikipedia, NYPL’s online catalog and databases served me well, up to a point.

“Cabin in the Sky” led back to Faust. From there I wanted to know about the first published version of the legend. It was a chapbook, I discovered, printed by Johann Spies in Frankfurt in 1587. Oh sure, Dr. Faustus had some interesting characteristics: scholar, seeker of knowledge about many things, including alchemy and necromancy, and the list goes on. And, then there’s that pact he makes with a disciple of Satan, a cool fella named Mephistophiles (sp?) depicted in various forms in different versions. Those tidbits didn’t impress. There was little challenge in finding information about the subject. No, I wanted the object. I wanted to see the actual chapbook. How big or small was it? How many pages? Were there woodcuts? What did the type look like? What was the paper like? Watermarks?

I got as far as excerpts about the chapbook in the book, “The Sin of Knowledge” by Theodore Ziolkowski, courtesy of a Google Books full text search. But, the meaty section following “But none of these earlier compilations were published. It was not until 1587 that…” was missing. Below the page number, 52, was a pale blue banner with text on it that read “Pages 53-54 are not part of this book preview.” The same book had other excerpts that teased. A caption below a big blank space states “Fig. 4. Title page of Faust chapbook. Frankfurt am Main, 1594. Courtesy of The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. (The illustration is identical with that of the first illustrated Faust chap book: Strassburg, 1588).” That was frustrating. A search on Worldcat was frustrating for the lack of results on the Chapbook itself. Beinecke did not appear on my search result list. Sad to see that treasures of this kind are not catalogued. These objects may be too fragile to be displayed briefly, or even to be adequately exhibited, but we should at least know where they exist.

Happily, I will continue my research about this elusive object. I found out I can see the book I mentioned above at the NYPL’ s main branch on 42nd street. I can also shell out $49.95 to own the book in order to see the image of the title page of the chapbook. But, other than a visit to the Beinecke Library, where I could be, at the very least, in close proximity to the object, I don’t think any more research I could do about the object as subject, will completely satisfy. Now, I’ll go watch “Cabin in the Sky.”

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

New MoMA Website – Where’s the Information Architecture?

Last Thursday my family and I went to the Museum of Modern Art. As is typical for me before a museum visit, I went to the MoMA website to check hours, and to read a little about the exhibit I wanted to see. I was overwhelmed by the chaos on the home page. There were big blocks of color with words on them, but none pertaining to the James Ensor exhibit, or to any exhibit information for that matter. Where was the link to exhibitions? Where was the navigation? Then, the blocks disappeared and images appeared in their place, with a continuous rotating cycle of images and color blocks. I waited for an image of a James Ensor painting to appear so that I could get where I wanted to go. I clicked on the image and went to the page with the information I was seeking, but then I made the mistake of clicking on Exhibitions in the breadcrumb trail. On this page are timelines of the different exhibits. Confusing! Back on the home page, I noticed “Take our Online Survey” on one of the blocks of color. Of course, I couldn’t resist.

It was all coming back to me. The MoMA website’s redesign was launched around the time I went to the Museums and the Web conference in April. Yet, I never took the time to check out the redesign, despite having been to a session at the conference where one of the key members responsible for the redesign spoke.

The redesigned site seems to defy so many of the principles I learned in my Information Architecture course. The main navigation is at the bottom of the screen. There is second level navigation on some secondary pages, but not all. And, those breadcrumbs I mentioned earlier, they seem to provide the only consistent secondary navigation paths. Am I missing something? Are museum websites specifically designed to offer an experience that does not readily accommodate resource discovery? Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate some of the experience. I liked the online James Ensor exhibit, once I found it. However, when I wanted to return to the main site, I was pressed to figure out how to do so. Lo and behold, that small MoMA logo does link back to the main site.

I don’t think that MoMA was negligent, however. I discovered in the results from my survey on museum website usage that the area respondents most visited was visitor information. So, not surprisingly, this is the first option in the main navigation. Still, my information organization oriented mind craves a traceable taxonomy, even on a museum website. Fortunately, MoMA gave me the chance to tell them so.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments