First Link Round-Up of 2018!

Happy New Year! For this round-up of LIS News, I thought it would be interesting to highlight stories about the construction and conception of the Obama Presidential Library (pictured above). There is a great deal of controversy over the location and what will, or perhaps in this case what will not be included and exhibited in Obama’s library. What seems to be most shocking to some critics is that there are no plans to include physical copies of manuscripts, letters, or documents but will instead have a digital archive. Adam Campbell of Liberty News Now refers to this as “simply host(ing) a digital archive” but as I’m sure many LIS professionals would agree, there is nothing ‘simple’ about digitizing thousands of materials in multiple media formats (paper documents, photographs, born-digital, etc.) so that they are accessible and successfully preserved.

In a column for the Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman, an Obama supporter, writes that “what brought [him] up short was a space labeled ‘test kitchen.’ Presumably that reflects Michelle Obama’s war on junk food. The museum’s champions similarly suggest it could host yoga classes. President Obama, is that how you want to be remembered? As the healthy-eating and meditation advocating president?” Grossman vehemently disagrees with the concept of the Obama Library and goes on to suggest how he thinks the museum should be designed and what stories it should tell.

I think that this harsh criticism at the thought of a test kitchen and yoga studio being present in a library reflects a larger societal disconnect between how the public and how LIS professionals view the purpose of the institution of the library. For example, the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) has a very successful 3-year-old initiative called The Culinary Literacy Center (CLC) located in its central branch. The CLC advances literacy through cooking lessons, nutrition classes, and neighborhood environmental sustainability workshops that are mostly free and available to the entire Greater Philadelphia community.

While the FLP is not part of a Presidential Library and is perhaps not subject to the same scrutiny when breaking from tradition, it is still a major hub in one of America’s largest cities, similar to how Obama’s Library may ultimately serve Chicago. Libraries can be extraordinary centers for community engagement and growth as well as a place of innovation and creation. Rather than following the status quo and more traditional concept of Presidential Museum and Library, the Obama Foundation seems to be more future-focused and it will be interesting to follow this national conversation on what a library should or should not be.

Debate Over Obama’s Presidential Library

Yoga, basketball and a test kitchen: Obama’s Presidential Library Plans via The Guardian

Please, Mr. Obama, skip the test kitchen and make it a museum via Chicago Tribune

University of Chicago faculty tell Obama to move ‘socially regressive’ library via Washington Times

Obama Library Hires Minority-Owned Construction Firms via Next City

Residents Convince Obama Foundation to Remove Garage from Midway via Streets Blog Chicago

Obama Criticized for Lavish Library via Liberty News Now

Librarianship & the Future

Libraries Under Capitalism: The Enclosure of the Literary Commons via
“Our public libraries, our literary commons, are gradually being enclosed — sealed off to the public by a series of acts of our government — local, state and federal — as it bows to the dictates and priorities of corporations. The public library is one of the few settings where people can enter for free, access materials for free and stay without being expected to buy anything. The value of public libraries not only exists in the materials they lend and the non-commercial model they embody but in the commons that they represent: A public area that offers Americans liberated intellectual spaces, the potential for community dialogues and organizing.”

Libraries and Librarians Aren’t About to Disappear via Inside Higher Ed
“Last month a publication called 24/7 Wall St. published an article titled “America’s 25 Dying Industries.” Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the article analyzed how employment levels in various sectors changed between 2007 and 2016. The article, which was recently republished by USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others, ranked libraries and archives as one of the fastest-declining industries in the U.S., second only to video tape and disc rental. The publication of the article prompted a strong response from librarians, who questioned the validity of the analysis.”

Innovative Programming

To Infinity and Beyond: Skyping with Astronauts via ALSC Blog
“How did one humble library end up with a direct line to outer space? We all know that libraries are about sharing books, movies, magazines, music, and more.  In today’s ever-evolving world, libraries have also become a place where people can gather to share ideas, learn about new topics or technology, and expand their skills.  These thoughts were what propelled me to apply to NASA for an In-Flight Education Downlink a year before the actual event occurred.”

NC Kids Digital Library: PL Directors Launch Innovative New Digital Reading Program Statewide via Knowledge Quest
“NC Kids is a database of more than 6,000 high-quality, high-interest digital books suitable for grades K-4th that are available for checkout through NC Cardinal. Anyone in North Carolina can access this database with a public library card and any device connected to the Internet.”

Hommocks Middle Students Get Real-Time Data on Reading via
“We said to ourselves, ‘How can we learn more about the secret reading life of kids?’ said Rob Andrews, an assistant principal at Hommocks. ‘It was kind of a simple idea in the beginning and it’s grown into this tool that has empowered us not only to give teachers access to the secret lives of kids but promote conversations between teachers and kids.’”

Technology & Projects

2017 Patent Rankings – Hot Off the Press via infoDOCKET
“A record number of 320,003 patents were granted by the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2017—a 5.2 percent increase from 2016…The computing, telecommunications, and medical industries are continuing to receive a high volume of patents. New technologies showing rapid growth include e-cigarettes, 3D printing, and autonomous vehicles.”

Michigan State University Awarded Mellon Grant to Build Slave Trade Database via infoDOCKET
“Michigan State University, supported by nearly $1.5 million from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will create a unique online data hub that will change the way scholars and the public understand African slavery. By linking data collections from multiple universities, the website will allow people to search millions of pieces of slave data to identify enslaved individuals and their descendants from a central source. Users can also run analyses of enslaved populations and create maps, charts and graphics.”

University of Washington Reality Lab Launches via UW News
“The University of Washington is launching a new augmented and virtual reality research center — funded by Facebook, Google, and Huawei — to accelerate innovation in the field and educate the next generation of researchers and practitioners. The $6 million UW Reality Lab, funded with equal contributions from the three initial sponsors, creates one of the world’s first academic centers dedicated to virtual and augmented reality.”

A Librarian’s Perspective about the Misleading “Let Me Google That for You” Act

When Senators Tom Coburn [R-OK] and Claire McCaskill [D-MO] introduced the “Let Me Google That for You” Act to the Senate in April 2014, the bill seemed to have good intentions. It plans to consolidate government information and resources by determining if the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is critical to the economy of the United States. In sum, the bill encourages eliminating a government agency because it assumes Google can find the information you need for free.

According to the NTIS website, the organization is “the largest central resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business related information available today,” and provides access to businesses, universities, and the public. Over the past 60 years, NTIS has provided resources to approximately three million publications covering over 350 subject areas. While many of the resources provided by the NTIS are available elsewhere at no cost, NTIS offers information access and retrieval services, in addition to content.

Despite the bill’s good intentions to streamline services and save taxpayers money, the name of the bill’s title, “Let Me Google That For You Act” indicates a remarkable lack of knowledge about the collection and distribution of information in an electronic environment. While Google is a used by patrons and librarians countless times every day, it cannot predict what information will be relevant to an individual. Other reports suggest that areas of the Internet accessible to Google comprise about 1% of the total information available. While Google may be the latest and greatest search engine among a long line of existing ones, librarians know that just because information exists somewhere, in some form, it does not mean the information is accessible to users.

Librarians and information providers assist people in finding information relevant to them. Anyone can type a phrase into Google (or any other search engine) and expect to receive a few million “hits” of information. Yet knowing whether any of it is useful, relevant, or correct is becoming increasingly complicated. In the case of the NTIS, the information it collects is focused on specific audiences. The NTIS Bibliographic Database is a repository of specialized information which is not easily collected or understood without assistance. According to the NTIS website, “contents include research reports, computer products, software, video cassettes, audio cassettes and more. The complete electronic file dates back to 1964. On average, NTIS adds over 30,000 new records per year to the database. Most records include abstracts.” The fee-for-service involves retrieval, evaluation, and analysis of an individual’s request and a time-efficient search strategy, as well as translation services into 25 foreign languages from English. “The cost is based on the level of effort required. Because the research and analysis is carried out by specialists, the information you receive will be on target and on time. The minimum fee is $500.” The cost in time saved in not requiring people to search through every branch of the federal government for crucial information could be enormous.

While the bill may be an appropriate way to save taxpayer money with the elimination of a government agency, it is not clear yet that this is the case. As a librarian, I support a thoughtful evaluation of the NTIS to recognize its value to its patrons. It would be shortsighted to eliminate a still-useful source of information. More importantly, the flippant dismissal of information professionals’ work evidenced in this bill reinforces the need for additional advocacy by the library and information science profession. It is our responsibility to reach out to our patrons and to the communities we serve, and to tell them about the value of our work. Clearly, we cannot leave it to others to intuit the value of the materials and services we provide. Without a change in the way we work as professionals, the assumption that all of us can be replaced with Google is likely to have a terrible impact on the profession.

By Assistant Professor Mary Wilkins Jordan and Dean’s Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer