Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Interviewing the French Librarian about the Future of Libraries

I'm preparing for a trip to France in a little over 2 weeks and I'm just now nailing down my interview questions. I need to review a couple of books I've read earlier about the Google digitization project (Jeanneney's book and the book about Google and Libraries from a conference a year or so ago). I guess in a way I can't quite believe I am doing this. I've felt like I was in a dream for almost a year now, and going to France just seems like part of an unreal experience. And yet, I have a plane ticket, a TGV ticket, hotel reservations in Paris, a friend to stay with in Lyon, and a couple of libraries to visit and librarians to talk to. Wow, what a life.

This caps off my first year as a grad student. I will be writing up some sort of non-traditional report of this part of my research, in which I hope to include video, images, sounds, as well as text. I want to use some sort of innovative publishing mechanism. I was hoping to use Sophie, from Institute for the Future of the Book (if:book), but it is so alpha that it is hopeless for me to figure it out well enough to create a reliable presentation platform for a research project. So, I'll have to figure out some other platform. Bottom line though: no "paper." If I am going to research the future of the book for the next couple of years, I am going to practice what I preach, so to speak. Besides, it's more fun that way.

So, off to Paris and Lyon (and the Cote d'Azure, with Zarah, for a 4 day weekend in the middle of the trip), and then back to a summer class on Systems of Human Inquiry, which apparently is going to familiarize me with all the major philosophers, which sounds like a cool way to spend 5 weeks. Hope it sticks!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some things read this week, 15 - 21 April 2007

I've been reviewing my rss feeds this evening and came across a post by author "Mark" who calls his blog, "Off the Mark," well, ok, but the post is about what he has read this week: Some things read this week, 15 - 21 April 2007. Seems like a fabulous way to keep your bibliography up to date and your annotations work from becoming overwhelming at the end of the semester.

I had originally conceived of this blog as a way to keep track of what I was reading and finding interesting on the Web, but with the time I need to devote to CIP Collectanea, I find I'm worrying a lot less about this blog. Additionally, this semester, which is 2 weeks from conclusion, was not at all about papers. It was about projects. No really interesting readings that were not way on the practical side, not the kinds of things that have a lot of relevance to the themes I'm interested in pursuing as I get to focus on research more. So, it's been like a little break from writing. Sounds good, except that I like writing. I have to be a lot more careful about what I take in the future. I really didn't have a choice about these 2 courses given that I was in the MSIS program and they were both required for my degree and my fellowship (digital libraries concentration), so there's nothing I could have done differently, but that is not the case now. Now that I am in the Ph.D. program, I really need to choose only courses that allow me to tailor what I learn to what I need to learn, for example, do research that is of interest to me, using what I'm learning in the class. Research methods courses are supposedly designed this way. We'll see. I have my first one this summer, starting end of May.

So, Mark's post was a pleasant reminder that I probably ought to go through the readings from this semester and see if any of them should make it onto my bibliography, end note, which I'm not all that impressed with yet, or noodlebib, which I really love, but which has its limitations. In either case, they are tools for documenting, but my blog is a tool for sharing, and that seems a lot better to me. Thanks Mark!

Monday, April 16, 2007


Ah, the semester draws to a close and it's time to think about what to take in the fall. I've gone from seeing all the world as my oyster (ie, I could take anything and it furthered my goals) to not being able to find a single course in the entire catalog of the University of Texas at Austin (we are talking a b*i*g place here) that really gets at what I want to know more about. I've seen idea after idea go up in smoke after writing to the faculty member teaching what looks like an intriguing course, when the response is pretty much forget about it -- either the course isn't really as relevant as I had hoped, it's really aimed at undergrads, it has a prerequisite that I don't have, etc. I have to take these electives from other schools, and that's a great idea, but trying to take a graduate course in a field where you haven't studied previously is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack. Why should someone in the English department want me in a graduate writing seminar, when I haven't taken a writing course since I was an undergrad, 30 years ago?

Maybe I should make up my own elective, the perfect class, and then find a teacher to do an independent study with. Yeah, like that's an investment of time someone who doesn't know me from Adam is going to want to make. This just isn't working out. I don't have the option to take more classes at the iSchool. I've already put in my 12 hours (16 actually) of iSchool courses. I need other electives, and methods courses. I can't find one of those I want to take either. I'm going to have to just settle for something in the end and that seems really wrong. I am here because I want to pursue things of interest to me, not because I don't have anything better to do than take courses I have absolutely no interest in just to punch a ticket somewhere. I think I'm just going to take what interests me whether it counts towards my degree or not. Yes, that's what I am going to do.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The TV Is Dead. Long Live the TV -

I have read a couple of articles lately that, together, conspire to depress me a bit. Take this one, for example, The TV Is Dead. Long Live the TV -. It's about how strong and vibrant television is now and will continue to be over the next decade. Seems innocent enough. But this morning I read an article from yesterday's Financial Times about the guy who started MySpace and sold it (as part of a larger asset) to Murdoch, and is on to his next big thing. Let's see if I can find that article on the Web...Hmm. 10 minutes later, I can't turn it up. The Financial Times site is not very helpful. The article was just published yesterday. You'd think... Well, enough of that. The point is that the article was really depressing. It was about how pervasive big money has become in the economics of the Web. It was about how one couldn't just come up with a good idea anymore, it had to be someone with lots of financial backing because the dynamics have moved beyond that era.

And I'm putting these two articles together with some of the points Lessig has made over the years in his books about how entrenched media giants have successfully shut down public potential to use new media in ways that threatened to undermine the older business models. He tells these stories in Free Culture and the Future of Ideas. This battle appeared anew most sharply in the net neutrality issue that's been playing out before Congress for the last several sessions, but these articles suggest that the dynamics of the Web itself, even unimpaired by gatekeepers charging more for what we think of today as normal speeds of transmission, have moved beyond the possibility that it can be the force for expansion of freedoms and expression that people like Benkler extol. That the war could already be lost, right when success seems to be within grasp, geez that's depressing.

These articles also make me aware that I am really out of touch with the mainstream (I know, the mainstream is supposedly becoming a thing of the past 'grace a' the long tail, but that's just the point that's at issue here, is it?). The dollars that are being spent on consuming popular culture are astounding, and the preferences mystifying. The image above I clipped from the NBC official tv site. I have no idea who it is or what she does on tv. The image is badly degraded in the copy, compared to the way it displays on the NBC site. That nicely illustrates the 'scared to death mainstream content owner' and the overall point of this post. If you look directly into the eye of the tiger, it's hard to believe you're not just lunch. Game over. How could we have imagined otherwise?