I had the pleasure of joining about 150 librarians in Baltimore this week for OCLC’s inaugural Americas Regional Council meeting. Over two days, October 30-31, librarians heard an array of speakers and panels address the theme of “Smarter Libraries,” certainly a timely agenda in our increasingly data and tech-driven age. Among the highlights: keynotes by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden; OCLC CEO Skip Prichard, and an address by Wikimedia executive director Katherine Maher.
The Americas Regional Council meeting is not new, of course, but this was the first time librarians involved with the council have gathered for a separate two-day meeting—usually the event is held as a forum at the ALA Annual Conference. Attendees I spoke to were delighted with the event, both the program, and being able to spend more time with their fellow librarians without having to squeeze it into a jammed ALA schedule.
We’ll have more from the meeting in the coming weeks, but I’ll just offer a couple of quick, personal takeaways.
First, it’s still early in her tenure, but Carla Hayden has already made a significant difference as Librarian of Congress. Hayden has made it a point to engage the library community, and that has energized the library community, and has local librarians feeling like they once again have an engaged partner at the national level.
“Our commitment to the library community is that the Library of Congress is going to share our experiences,” Hayden told attendees in Baltimore. “And that means the failures, false starts, and all of that, because as you innovate you can learn from what worked, and what didn’t work. And we want to be partners with everyone and make sure that we are part of [the library] ecosystem.”
In his keynote, Skip Prichard ran down the ways technology is rapidly changing the world, from the powerful computers we now carry in our pockets to smart homes, and self-driving cars. And he laid down a marker for librarians, via a 1990 quote from businessman Jack Welch.
“When the rate of change inside an organization becomes slower than the rate of change outside the organization, the end is near,” Prichard said. “For all types of libraries, this is really very important.”
Stephen Hawking Shares His Dissertation and His Thoughts on Open Access, Breaks the Internet
In conjunction with Open Access Week, Cambridge University made Stephen Hawking's 1966 doctoral thesis, Properties of Expanding Universes, freely available online on October 23—and demand was so intense last week it crashed the university’s open-access repository, known as Apollo. As the Scientific American put it, “a lot of people want to read something they'll barely understand.”
But notably for librarians, Hawking’s views on open access are more easily understood. “Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding," Hawking said in a statement announcing the public release of his thesis. “Each generation,” he added, “stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.”
Is Consuming Fake News a Disorder?
Commissioned by the Council of Europe, this report is fascinating reading, especially for librarians on the front lines of information literacy efforts. “The debate about mis- and dis-information has intensified,” write the authors, “but, as our report argues, we’re still failing to appreciate the complexity of the phenomenon at hand—in terms of its global scale, the nuances between behavior on different communication platforms (both closed and open) and the fact that information consumption is not rational, but driven by powerful emotional forces.”
Notably, the report doesn’t use the term “fake news” and the authors urge journalists, academics and policy-makers to also retire the term, noting that it is “woefully inadequate to describe the complexities of information disorder,” and that the term has been “appropriated by politicians worldwide to describe news organizations whose coverage they find disagreeable.”
The New York Times Explores the World of Fake Academic Journals
Academic librarians know all too well how hard it is to navigate the legitimate world of scholarly publishing. But this week New York Times reporter Gina Kolata explored another underreported, complicating factor—the rise of fake, predatory journals. How bad is the problem? Check out this example, noted in the article:
“Recently a group of researchers invented a fake academic: Anna O. Szust. The name in Polish means fraudster. Dr. Szust applied to legitimate and predatory journals asking to be an editor. She supplied a résumé in which her publications and degrees were total fabrications, as were the names of the publishers of the books she said she had contributed to…The legitimate journals rejected her application immediately. But 48 out of 360 questionable journals made her an editor. Four made her editor in chief.”
What may be most disturbing, however, is that many academics trying to navigate the publish-or-perish world of academia know exactly what they’re getting into, Kolata concludes. “The relationship is less predator and prey,” she writes, “than a new and ugly symbiosis.”
28 Libraries Receive ALA, Google “Libraries Ready to Code” Grants
The American Library Association (ALA) has announced more than $500,000 in grants for 28 libraries in 21 states plus the District of Columbia to design and implement coding programs for young people. The grants are part of ALA’s ongoing Libraries Ready to Code initiative sponsored by Google to promote computer science (CS) and computational thinking among youth. The winners were selected from a pool of more than 400 public and school libraries.
Among the grant winners: The White Plains (NY) Public Library, where PW contributing editor Brian Kenney serves as director. How will White Plains use their grant? “Next summer, we will hold an iOS App Development Camp, something I haven’t seen any other public library offer,” explained the library’s Manager of Youth Services, Joshua Carlson. “Teens will learn coding, and create apps to be submitted to the Apple App Store where they will then be available for download.” In addition, Carlson adds, the library will bring in people who use coding skills in their professional lives “so teens can meet them and learn about career possibilities and real-world applications.”
Deadline for ReadersFirst E-Book Survey Extended
How would you like to see e-book lending in libraries improve? Answer the brief ReadersFirst survey and have your voice heard. Although response to the survey has been good, the more information the better—and you still have time to participate in the survey. ReadersFirst officials told PW this week that the deadline for replies has been extended to November 13. Take the survey.
Trump Tax Proposal Could Threaten Libraries
For library advocates, the everlasting battle for support on Capitol Hill has entered a new and dangerous phase with introduction of President Trump’s tax cut proposal this week. After staving off Trump’s budget proposal to eliminate all federal library funding, the GOP's bid to “simplify” the tax code could have a more serious, and systemic effect on libraries. In a release this week, the National Council of Nonprofits warned that charitable deductions—which libraries benefit from—are likely to go down dramatically under this bill, as many middle and upper-middle-class families would no longer itemize their deductions, and thus would lose their tax deduction.
At the ALA’s National Legislative Day in May, outgoing executive director Emily Sheketoff warned librarians to stay engaged with their local legislators. “If a tax bill goes through,” she said, that means less money [for libraries].”
So Angry…and so Hopeful
Library advocacy takes many forms—including a good, profane Twitter rant. By now, you’ve probably heard about how a Portland (Oreg.) librarian named Alex Halpern, now Internet-famous as TheAngriestLibrarian, helped mobilize a chorus of library supporters on Twitter to shut down a columnist named Andre Walker who dared suggest libraries be abandoned. Fair warning: yeah, there's some profanity.
But if you haven’t read Halpern outside of his Twitter feed, you should. He recently posted an op-ed that shows his thoughtfulness and wit extends beyond 140-character bites.
“The rant that led me to my brief bout of Twitter fame was likely popular because of my stereotype-defying profanity and insults, but the fact that it resonated so strongly with librarians was what convinced me that we are on the right track as a profession,” Halpern writes. "Those mousy, quiet librarians are a thing of the past, if in fact they ever existed at all outside of Hollywood…We are a profession in dire need of a makeover, and a new generation of librarians is absolutely killing it in the effort to make that happen."
Resistance at the Reference Desk
Reference has evolved in many ways in recent years, but I'm not sure anyone saw reference librarians in 2017 as, well, freedom fighters. But as Etta Verma writes in Library Journal's annual reference feature, that's how things are playing out. "Politics has always been part of library work," Verma writes. "But librarians are also going the extra mile in their local systems and branches, aiding and becoming activists and combating the problem of “fake news” by creating and curating reference materials and programs. Publishers and vendors, too, are stepping up with works that help patrons oppose the forces that keep them misinformed and economically disadvantaged."