Monday, January 28, 2008

UT Press ethnography proposal

I have been reading for 2 weeks now in the Ethnography Handbook (Atkinson, Coffey, Delamont, Lofland and Lofland, 2001) about all kinds of applications of ethnography, its history, its limitations, strengths, problems, etc. I have to conduct ethnographic field work pretty soon, and I still don't have a really good idea about what I am going to do. I need to do a research proposal for the IRB and present it to Joanna Hitchcock, the Press director, so that's probably where I should start to pin it all down, and I found a lot of helpful descriptions of the goal of ethnographic study in the chapter on ethnographies of work (pp. 220, 221, 227). The other chapter that seemed to suggest a profitable organization construct was ch 12 on Grounded Theory in Ethnography, pp. 160 - 171. But what about the fact that this course is about ethnography in communication? I don't really have a good grasp of the focus on communication. There was a chapter on that subject (ethnographies of communication) but it seemed to be its own subject. Surely this whole course isn't that narrow. If it were, I wouldn't think we'd be reading all these other essays. So at some point, it appears that I have to focus my observation and analysis on communicative aspects of the Press environment. Don't really get that yet.

Another thing that is beginning to concern me about this course is the idea that I have to fit this field work into a schedule that has no real slack time in it anywhere. But I think Dr. M plans to front-load the reading so that we have more time for field work after the first couple of weeks. We still have 1/3 of the ethnography handbook left, and 3 other small books about how to document our work, field notes and how to write ethnography. I guess we don't need that last one until the end.

So, ideas about the angle on my research at UTPress: I want to familiarize myself with the operation of the Press in the sphere of non-digital production as a prelude to studying the Press/Library collaboratives focused entirely on innovative digital publishing. I don't think I will have a good basis for understanding the transition that the collaborative represents if I don't have a sense of what analog book publishing entails. Here are some descriptions from the ethnography handbook: "to provide rich and contextualized understandings of" the work of the Press "through observation, participation and immersion" in day-to-day routines (p. 221). To grasp faithfully the meanings that individuals hold, the factors shaping those meanings, a full perspective on work organization and the dynamic nature of work life (paraphrased from p. 227). Consider in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys; analyze documents, Website, newsletters, annual report, etc.

What about the use of photos and film to document the Press operation? Ch. 21 is about how film and photography have promoted a concern with the realistic representation of the world, a claim which the author feels needs to be approached cautiously... She wraps up with the observation that digitization has enabled us to leave behind the idea of representing reality.

So, am I headed into the field just to understand, as prep for analyzing the Press/Library merger operation and its challenge in melding cultures from the Press and Library worlds? But I want to be able to situate my idea for a new research reporting interface within one of these collaboratives. I think I will be better able to do so if I have some understanding of how a Press operates day-to-day in analog. What facets continue into the digital collaborative; which do not; what are the entirely new concerns?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ideas for my proto-dissertation

As I'm in my last, or next to last semester of coursework in the Ph.D. program, lacking maybe only 1 methods course, which I'll take in the fall, I can start to think seriously about a proposal. I find that I need to talk to people about it. Almost everyone I try to explain it to offers me some insight into what I'm trying to say. It's really an interesting process.

At the moment, here's how it sounds: I want to design a new way to present research results in the social sciences. I think that a Press/Library collaborative is a good place to get ideas about what the design should be, as well as a place to try out what I conclude might work. I will base the design on what I can learn about how people use research reports right now, the different ways they use them at different times, how they read them, refer to them, mark them up, share them with colleagues, and talk about them with colleagues. My research about the new form of report will be in the new form of report. This seems to work with one of the ACRL research agenda items (Theme 4: Authorship and Scholarly Publishing: Research and develop authoring tools, publishing templates and open source software packages for scholarly discourse, teaching and publishing. Examine the feasibility and characteristics of registries of such tools.)

So, I want to think about what's possible in terms of technology, but also what people really do already (how they interact with physical and digital artifacts that contain research results). Based on those things, I should be able to predict that some kind of format, or rather, many facets of a report form, would improve the experience of acquiring and using research reports. For example, I read Andrew Dillon's, Designing Readable Digital Text and in the final chapters he summarizes many ways that people handle and process journal articles. Based on his findings, one can conclude that a format or interface should have certain features to be of greater utility to readers, to improve their experience. So, if I designed such an interface and a report to utilize it, its usefulness could be tested. Then the results of that test could also be written up in the new format. It's like two papers really. The proposal for the design and the story of that exploration, then the testing of the design in real life.

I have an ethnography class this semester and, as background for the proto-dissertation, I plan to take that opportunity to learn more about UT Press' internal operations. I need to know more about what Press' current concerns are to better understand how a new form of research report will fit into their practice. I have a feeling it won't, and that's where the collaborative with the Libraries becomes essential. There may have to be a partner that's not inside the box in order to facilitate thinking outside it. But the Press has so much experience and perspective on scholarly communication, that to try to fly without all that would likely be a waste.

Finally, there is in the background the whole issue of copyright and business model. It is my hypothesis that if inexpensive authoring tools can be provided to academics, they will prefer to distribute their works as widely as possible without erecting toll access. In other words, the cost to produce and distribute should be kept as low as possible, to eliminate the need to charge either authors or readers. If the peer review process and Press imprimatur can remain a vital part of the process, copyright may be able to slide into the background, assuring attribution only, and perhaps even disappearing after a short period of time (like the Founder's copyright).

I learned from last semester that the whole thing won't make sense immediately, but I nonetheless need to get started. Only with grappling with real on-the-ground issues will I eventually turn over the rock that has a good idea under it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And, we're off...

The last day of the 5th week. Dennis just took off for Houston to begin the spring semester at UH; I'm officially finished with vacation. I've got my spring schedule, my books, have had a look at old syllabi for the courses I'm signed up for (new ones not online yet), and I had a chat with Phil, the chair of my committee yesterday about entering the next phase of Ph.D. study, as I'll finish my coursework with a single class in the fall, a statistical methods course. So, I am excited about where I'm at, a little anxious about getting through another steamroller of a semester, especially with the outside commitments I have made:

  1. OGC's System-wide eres/Bb analysis and recommendations

  2. UT Austin's eres/Bb analysis and recommendations

  3. UMUC's CIP workshop at the end of this month

  4. UMUC's CIP paper to finish (Mass Digitization)

  5. UMUC's spring conference

  6. NYC Bridgeman symposium

  7. CAA's Dallas conference

  8. Theater Library Assn's Board of Directors' meeting in February

  9. Texas Conference on Digital Libraries in June

  10. Google's Book Search Library Partner's meeting in Boston in May

What on earth am I thinking? I can't possibly do all that, oh, I forgot about...

  1. Phil's class, copyright talk on Eldred v. Ashcroft in January

  2. Phil's class, copyright talk on licensing in April

I should be just taken out and shot. I'm insane. I am going to be so stressed out by the time this semester is over that I'll want to quit school, but actually, the classes part will be almost over, so maybe I will survive it all. Of course I will. It just seems crazy, but it's really not. I just have to completely ignore every other aspect of my life but school and copyright for the next 5 months. I can do that. I've done it before.

And that brings me to my New Year's resolution, and the photo above (found at Burningbird). I decided to learn, really learn, how to balance things this year. This will be the year. After May. I know that the secret to balance is not committing to things that require that everything else be given up to accomplish them, and of course, I've already over-committed for the spring. In the past it was always work that took too much of the days, but that seemed unavoidable. Perhaps I'm just thinking that once I have finished coursework, I have at least a chance to commit more reasonably. At least it's possible. Maybe it won't be hard when it's possible at all. Maybe that's all that it ever was, was impossible. We'll see, starting with what I sign up for for fall, what I do with my hours at work, what I commit to in moving my Ph.D. program forward.

So, I am adding one more thing to the list: a weekend Tai Chi workshop at The Crossings, taught by Heloise Gold. Next weekend (not this one, but the one after). A luxurious indulgence, but I expect it to set me up with a nice do-able Tai Chi routine for the year. Balance in all its aspects: physical, mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual. I know, too much to ask for...