Integrating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the Curriculum and Digital Collections in a Predominantly White Liberal Arts University: ACRL Virtual Professional Development Session

I enjoyed presenting about digital scholarship at Bethel and hearing about projects from other library colleagues at the University of South Carolina, and the University of Alberta, Edmonton. Stacy Winchester and Amie Freeman from University of South Carolina University Libraries Digital Research Services presented on assessing a digital skills workshop for graduate students, and Hanne Pearce and Lydia Zvyagintseva from the University of Alberta Digital Scholarship Centre, presented on Digital Literacy programming. The ACRL Digital Scholarship Section hosted this Virtual Professional Development session and it was a privilege to be included. The recorded session is available on the ACRL YouTube channel and the slides are available to download.

Below is the script of my portion of the presentation (which begins at 22:35 minutes) and a link to an organized list of all the resources and projects categorized by formative Library concepts, pedagogy, race, model projects, and some recommended Twitter accounts and hashtags to learn more.

Introduction and Some Foundations

Hello everyone, I am honored and humbled to have this opportunity to present today on some of the digital scholarship and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts here at Bethel. For brevity, I will use DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion going forward.

Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression is a great model of combined digital scholarship and DEI and demonstrates the importance of understanding technical systems and critical inquiry. I also appreciated last year’s virtual discussion of this book hosted by Kristen Mapes and Heather James of the DEI groups within the Digital Scholarship and Rare Books and Manuscripts Sections of ACRL. We are all better off when harmful distortions of black women in Google results (or any system) are confronted and corrected. In direct relation to our profession, April Hathcock’s work is an important critique of systemic issues in librarianship and its whiteness.

A currently developing example of the combination of digital scholarship and DEI and how representation, visibility, and agency are matters of life and death is this pandemic. The Atlantic articles by Ibram Kendi, data projects like the COVID Tracking Project, and visualizations from Mona Chalabi reveal how Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color.

So how can we engage this at Bethel?  This presentation focuses on the process of personal and professional relationships and resources that enable this at the scale of a mid-sized liberal arts university. There are a lot of great resources out there but I want to highlight a few that have been most helpful to me and relevant to this topic. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (and her other works) encourages me to grow by taking risks. Robin DiAngleo’s, White Fragility, (2011 article, 2018 book) and Beverly Tatum’s, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria and Other Conversations About Race, helped me to better understand aspects of whiteness, racial identity, and how to engage these conversations with resilience, particularly in the context of education.

We all have personal and social identities that influence how we see ourselves and others. I want to start by acknowledging the aspects of my identity that form my perspective illustrated by this Social Identity Wheel worksheet provided by Melissa Prescott in her Anti-Racist Pedagogy for Librarians workshop (source of worksheet is this Inclusive Teaching website). These identities such as being white, straight, Christian, middle-class, and male, place me in a social context with privileges, blind spots, or vulnerabilities. Having an awareness of them grounds me in order to have difficult conversations. I’ve found the book Difficult Conversations: How to Talk About What Matters Most to be an invaluable guide on how to recognize and navigate difficult conversations, personally and in the workplace, and it provides tools in recognizing how identities might be involved in the conflict and tensions.

Professionally, I’ve worked in libraries for a total of 15 years. My first few years were as a paraprofessional at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and I’ve been in my current role, managing Bethel’s digital library collections of cultural heritage and scholarship for 11 years.

One of the principles that keep me focused as a librarian, even in times of rapid change, is the Mission of Librarians from David Lankes which is, “To Improve Society through Facilitating Knowledge Creation in their Communities”. I like how it connects the community we serve with broader society and “Facilitating Knowledge Creation” motivates me to be active and seek out opportunities to engage students and faculty in the whole research cycle.

About Bethel

Bethel University is a private, faith-based, liberal arts university within the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area of Minnesota, on the ancestral homelands of the Dakota and Ojibwe people. Bethel has an FTE of about 4,500 students, the majority consisting of around 2,300 undergraduates.

Bethel’s demographic has changed by 10 percent in the last ten years with the most current percentage of students of color in 2018-2019 at 16.7%. With an 83% white student body, Bethel is a predominantly white institution or PWI. Even with this growth, whiteness can still be seen as the center or “norm” and one way I can be an ally is to be intentional about informing myself of the broader issues and lived experiences of the community of color. This includes attending events and programs of the academic and co-curricular groups having these conversations and engaging in active listening, building personal relationships, and using platforms I have to amplify voices.

Projects overview

For the rest of my talk, I am going to feature two different projects that engage digital scholarship and DEI in different ways.

We were asked to focus on aspects of collaboration, challenges & opportunities, sustainability and best practices and the key to all of these is to actively listen and engage others with courageous curiosity and humility. I also recognize the power dynamic based on my identity and need to ensure that collaboration is truly done with people and not for them. None of these projects were done on my own and is due to the effort and labor of students, faculty and staff, and years of reading, listening, and engaging in conversations with collaborators.

First, I want to place both of these projects into a digital scholarship pedagogy framework and then I will explain the four aspects of each one. From a pedagogical point of view, I really like Rebecca Frost Davis’ scaffolded approach to digital scholarship projects and assignments. It reflects a progression of complexity and skills from consumer to creator and is helpful when considering what is required of students at a developmental level (and faculty too).

The first project, the Digital Archives module in the Introduction to Digital Humanities curriculum, involves the first two levels of consumers and contributors. I asked students to visit and analyze a Digital Public Library of America exhibit (as consumers) and participate in a crowdsourcing project from the Library of Congress (as contributors).

The second project, the Looking Back to Move Forward Timeline, involved one of my student workers working on an independent project and creating a digital exhibit based on his skill set and research interest (as creator).

Digital Humanities Curriculum

Information Literacy Frames

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as Process

The first project is a four-class-period module about digital archives where students are introduced to the overall process of digitizing items, describing them with metadata, and placing them in collections and exhibits.

Inspired by Melissa Prescott’s Anti-racist Pedagogy workshop, I committed to highlight digital scholarship projects that are made by or feature people of color in the digital humanities curriculum. To illustrate how they all come together I have them visit the History of Survivance: Upper Midwest 19th-Century Native American Narratives exhibit in the Digital Public Library of America which includes a majority of its material from the Minnesota Digital Library.

In addition to the technical aspect of how the exhibit is pulled together I also emphasize and ask them to reflect upon who is telling the narrative and make connections between where they live and Dakota/Anishinaabe/Ojibwe life and traditions.

For instance, wild rice, or manoomin, is a distinctive Minnesota food featured in restaurants and stores, but students might not know that it is an integral part of the continuing tribal traditions that have been in existence for thousands of years. Bags of rice like this one are currently for sale from the Ojibwe tribe.

The second part of this module, once they’ve had some experience, is to contribute meaningful metadata to an existing project. We were fortunate enough to be able to work on some of Rosa Parks’ papers with the Library of Congress crowdsourcing project in late February. Students needed to reflect on their experience with the technical aspects of the website and also what they learned about Rosa Parks as a person. My hope is that they learned to see her as more than just the woman who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus. To model this, I shared how I learned, from transcribing her calendar, that she was involved as an organizer of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by keeping track of who she was giving rides to during the boycott.

Collaboration

The collaboration for this project is primarily focused on interaction with faculty and how it is based on the established trust and relationship that the Library has with the History department at Bethel. Two innovative and energetic history faculty members, Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry, invited me to join them in proposing the digital humanities major and hiring a digital humanities/history faculty member. Because I had an established role in digital collections, sought out ways to support them, and also actively researched, discussed, and presented about digital humanities and digital scholarship they were willing to invite me to the table. The digital humanities faculty member, Charlie Goldberg, and I meet weekly to discuss the progress of whichever digital humanities class is offered. This spring semester is Introduction to Digital Humanities – DIG200.

Challenges and Opportunities

The challenges and opportunities are that I have to plan and develop lesson plans for a four segment teaching session on digital archives. It is a privilege to have this much time but still challenging to find the right proportion of technology, content, and critical inquiry.  The students are in a very formative time as first-years or sophomores and it is important to consider what I can reasonably expect from them in assignments due to their cognitive development and stages of identity formation.

Sustainability

The sustainability of this project is aided by collaboration with Charlie Goldberg and making sure to document all the decisions and discussions about assignments and learning objectives. It is also important to make sure that the course content overlaps with digital library program goals like adding content to the digital collections.

Best Practices

The best practices I can recommend that are more widely applicable would be to encourage you to build on your existing skills and relationships and try to stretch yourself personally and professionally. Be prepared to engage topics of DEI and on digital scholarship including voices outside of librarianship. I was invited in because I put myself out there beyond management of the digital collections to discuss and meet some faculty needs and ideas. Acknowledge and approach the ones who are interested in stretching themselves too by joining book discussions or invite them to events that relate to their teaching or research interest. Lastly, stay informed of  projects that highlight voices outside of the dominant culture.

Timeline Exhibit

Information Literacy Frames

  • Research As Inquiry
  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as Process

The second project, the Looking Back to Move Forward Timeline Exhibit,  was inspired by a challenge and a call to action. The challenge came from former Princeton archivist, Jarrett M. Drake, in his 2016 keynote at the Digital Library Federation Forum. He discussed how archives and liberal arts colleges can perpetuate systemic oppression and how archiving student activism on campus counters this.

The call to action came from my Digital Library student worker, Ammanuel Robinson, who chose to work on a project focusing on Bethel’s history of discrimination.

This project represents Frost Davis’ creator stage of the scaffold because Ammanuel created a new tool based on his interest. I always give my student workers some choice in what projects they work on based on their interest or skills which also helps with motivation and matching their personal interests and passion.

Ammanuel wanted to investigate the topic of discrimination to establish the past and current pattern of incidents and invite meaningful dialogue about it. We discussed the purpose and form of the project and decided together that to highlight existing articles from the student newspaper collection and highlight them using TimelineJS and a custom CONTENTdm page could achieve this goal. We were looking for a title and a theme when I introduced him to the concept of Sankofa which is used by some other Bethel programs as well as many in the US and around the world.

The word comes from the Akan tribe of Ghana, which roughly means “it is important to understand the past in order to move forward into the future”, and is accompanied by the symbol of a bird that is pointed forward and looking backward to gather an egg. He liked this philosophy and we named the timeline the Looking Back to Move Forward timeline in honor of it.

Collaboration

First of all, I want to acknowledge that more than half of the digital collections would not exist without the careful stewardship of Professor of History and Archivist, Diana Magnuson. She has been a staunch ally and steadfast collaborator from the beginning of my time at Bethel. Also, all of the digital collections are products of years of student work and I am grateful for their time and unique contributions.

In this project the main collaboration was with my student worker but it also required a great deal of conversation with other students, staff, and faculty. Choosing a critical theme like discrimination is challenging and it helped to get advice from the community including student groups like United Cultures of Bethel, faculty trusted by students who engage in conversations about race, the Dean of Diversity and Intercultural Engagement, and the Chief Diversity Officer.

Challenges and Opportunities

There were many challenges and opportunities and some early ones where decisions on what content to use and what technology will best achieve the evidentiary and invitational purposes. Limiting it to the student newspaper and choosing TimelineJS made the project achievable in a reasonable amount of time with an interactive exhibit. Some of the material is sensitive and even hurtful and that is challenging to be both historically accurate while framing the content appropriately. For this reason, we chose to pull out direct quotations rather than add commentary on the timeline except for the introduction to provide context. A great opportunity is that the timeline has already stimulated conversation with students and faculty and has been used as an assignment in an Educational Equity class. It will likely be the focus of an event next year with the United Cultures of Bethel student group and the Clarion student newspaper.

Sustainability

It is challenging to sustain a student project when they are only on campus for a few years. Communicating with other campus collaborators helps to mitigate the transience.

To make sure the project was sustainable I committed Digital Library resources to host the exhibit and supporting content. The TimelineJS timeline is embedded into the CONTENTdm collection as a custom page to give it a stable web location.

Best Practices

Best practices from this project would include making space for student workers to make choices about their projects when possible. They are a great source of collaboration. As before be prepared in multiple ways with technology tools, library expertise, and issues of race and culture within your area. Lastly, don’t go it alone. Seek wisdom from as many sources as you can so that you are prepared when an opportunity comes your way and so that you have strong relationships to build upon when the next digital scholarship project emerges.

Thank you, and here is a slide with my contact information and links to all of the resources I mentioned.

Resource List

Teasing Apart the “Normal Library” and Finding Room for Traditional and Innovative Library Services

I appreciate how Alia Wong’s article, College Students Just Want Normal Libraries, raises the issue of what people value in libraries as a critical part of their higher education experience but I also want to address some points that are missing in that piece. Wong begins by accurately pointing out that academic libraries have weathered change before as they dealt with space constraints and the onset of the Internet. She mentioned that they survived but didn’t mention how.  Libraries and librarians survive by paying attention to the change in formats, technologies, economics of publishing, and educational philosophies and have dealt with changes spanning millennia. Questions as varied as “scroll or codex?”, “manuscript or printing press?”, “catalog in print or on computer?”, “cassette or DVD?”, “DVD or streaming video?”, “ebook subscription with which vendor?”,  “what aspect of information literacy or digital competencies are we teaching our students?”, “how do we preserve and maintain access to all these materials?” are all issues that have challenged libraries and have helped them to evolve.  Libraries and librarians (and their predecessors) have always been involved in a changing landscape of information as participants and change agents on behalf of the community they serve. The article would have benefited from having this context in place to help understand why some of these technologies and techniques are showing up in libraries right now.

The second point I need to critique is the title’s reference to a “normal library” which is something that does not exist.  Often when someone says a “normal library” they mean their preferred or familiar kind of library and it seems to be the case here. Wong’s point could benefit from widening the conversation and acknowledging what students and researchers see or value will depend on their past experiences in other libraries, their academic discipline, their demographic, or their institutional context (community colleges have different needs and demographics than large research-focused universities).  It is certainly true that many students and faculty prefer print materials. It is certainly true that students prefer quiet space to study in solitude. However, it is also true that some prefer the convenience of digital resources and will be satisfied with “good enough” even if they might prefer print. Some are actively seeking out a chance to try new technologies like visualization tools for personal enrichment, preparation for future employment, or as a part of their scholarly inquiry. Some want to meet in a group to discuss a project and eat some snacks. These do not have to be mutually exclusive kinds of services.

University Library gathering spaces for study and innovation

The third point I want to address is that the article sets a tone of an either/or choice for traditional services and innovation. Even with pressures coming from constricting budgets, it is possible to have a both/and approach to traditional services and innovative ones. It is true that some places might use innovative services or technology for the “glitz factor”, but many, if not most libraries, adopt new services or resources based on how they serve the curricular, research, and lifelong learning needs of their community in alignment with their institutional and educational mission. At our small to medium size private liberal arts university in the Midwest, different students can come to our library to find a quiet study space, to seek help finding articles from a librarian, record and edit a video, and test out a virtual Egyptian tomb with VR headsets in our makerspace. Sometimes the same student may come in to the library for one kind of service and shift to a different kind in the same day. Our own internal ethnographic research has found that students want quiet space to study alone or in the midst of others who have a similar focus to get work done and find quality materials. We have also found that like the September 2019 Ithaka research report on student needs in community colleges that:

  1. Students have different struggles and needs for support,
  2. Students value support for information needs within the curriculum and outside of it,
  3. Students need greater access to technology.

Some students need a print book and some need a 3d printer. Some students need to research a certain school of philosophy and some students need to understand how the design process works in 3d modeling. Some students are reading 19th century British poetry and others are coming together to record video of their debates over the themes and interpretations of that same poetry. We serve the needs across the academic and curricular spectrum and it is not detrimental to learning to have both. In fact, it is necessary that libraries continue to grow and adapt to the varied needs of their communities. If anything, that is what a “normal library” is: a dynamic and intentional service that meets a variety of informational needs for their community.

I recommend some other excellent responses to this article on Twitter by Librarians and Library researchers Meredith Farkas, Eileen Daly-Boas, and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg. Wolff-Eisenberg is the co-author of the Ithaka S+R research report on student needs in community colleges that Wong cites at the end of her article and Wolff-Eisenberg explicitly confronts Wong’s either/or conclusion by saying that:

“Our research indicates that students are looking for libraries to both build on what their roles have traditionally been AND innovate around new services to help them navigate college, connect w/ social services, provide family friendly spaces, & more.”

Digital Skill Landscape for Librarians in Digital Scholarship and Digital Humanities

The Case for Digital Skills Development for Librarians

Digital skills are increasingly in demand from the 21st century workplace while the digital divide continues to widen and this is a key concern as libraries seek to support the needs of their communities and pursue professional development.  Marketplace Tech recently interviewed Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark Muro about this topic and the content of a 2017 report that he and his colleagues wrote called Digitalization and the American Workforce. The Marketplace segment focused on the part of the report that shows how the digital divide is widening between rural and urban areas. Librarians are always looking for ways to bridge the digital divide for their communities and one way to do this is through professional development.

The broader focus of the report analyzed how digital skill levels changed in 545 different occupations from 2002 to 2016. 517 of the 545 occupations had an increase in digital skills including Librarians (Figure 1) and Library Technicians (Figure 2) based on a digital score between 0-100. Both Librarians and Library Technicians moved from the medium range to the high range scoring between 60-100 with Librarians at 65.9 (+27%) and Library Technicians at 62 (+35%) moving up from their 2002 scores of 52 and 45.8 respectively.

Figure 1 - Librarian

Figure 1 – Librarian | Courtesy of The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

Figure 2 - Library Technicians

Figure 2 – Library Technicians | Courtesy of The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

The area of digital scholarship in librarianship is one manifestation of these changes in academic libraries. It is becoming more likely that a librarian will be asked to create a database in addition to being able to search them. It is increasingly likely that librarians will be asked to teach the use of digital creation tools like timelines, maps, and digital archives as well as the consumption of information from the outcomes of these tools. The Digital Scholarship resource page at the Library of Congress Labs is a great example of this trend in librarianship and is full of great resources to get started including Eileen Jakeway’s Digital Scholarship 101, that focusing on six digital tools that are relatively easy to learn.

Some more advanced tools that are worth learning that are not on the Library of Congress Digital Scholarship page are programming languages Python and the R Project for Statistical Computing, or just R, that can be used for text mining or data visualization projects. They are both a big part of data science and involved in many digital scholarship and digital humanities projects. An R user and researcher, Robert Muenchen, published a report, The Popularity of Data Science Software,  tracking the most popular data science software in job postings and in scholarly literature. Figure 3 shows the results of his study of data science-related job postings on Indeed.com in February 2017 and highlights where Python and R fall on that list.

popular data science software in job postings

Figure 3 | Chart copied from Muenchen’s site on November 2018 and I added highlights to Python and R.

Figure 4 shows the prevalence of R and Python in the scholarly literature through the whole year of 2016.

occurance of R and Python in scholarly literature during 2016

Figure 4 | Chart copied from Muenchen’s site on November 2018 and I added highlights to Python and R.

Free Resources to Learn R and Python

With these trends in mind there are many resources a Librarian can seek out to develop skills in these areas. To learn R or Python within the context of digital scholarship and digital humanities, Programming Historian, is an excellent source of tutorials to learn some of these skills from the perspective of fields that do not typically have computer programming experience. To get a deeper understand of Python while starting out as a beginner, Automating the Boring Stuff with Python, by Al Sweigart is a great free textbook with quality exercises and explanations. Code Academy’s free Python tutorial is an easy way to get some experience with Python without having to load it onto your computer. I was also reminded by a colleague about Python Anywhere, which is a free online platform that has the environment set up with different versions of Python and a place to store your code files. It works very well for workshops, tutorials, and classwork because it is web-based and avoids some of the pitfalls of loading Python onto a personal computer or onto shared, enterprise computers.

Subscription-based Resources to Learn R and Python

If you have access to Lynda.com through your institution or local library, it has a rich variety of video tutorials to learn about data science, Python (my playlist), and R (my playlist).

Note: [post updated Jan 2, 2019 with Python Anywhere mention]

Fake News, a New Media Ecology and Information Literacy

In an era of fake news and technology-enabled meddling with elections, the need for information literacy, media literacy, and digital competency is greater than ever. It is now possible to record 20 minutes of a person’s voice, rearrange some text, and replay a completely different sentence that the person didn’t say with a new kind of software. While this kind of technology is not yet available to everyone, the need for critical engagement with technology should be a concern for anyone from policy makers to educators to general citizens.

In addition to the audio modification technology,  labs and centers at different universities are currently investigating and improving face modeling video technologies. A research paper about a technology called Face2Face from scientists at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics, and Stanford University show how they can modify YouTube recordings of George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Daniel Craig and Donald Trump in real time by overlaying a second person’s facial expressions on top of the original recording. The WNYC podcast, RadioLab, explored this topic even further by investigating how detectable this kind of technology would be to experts and how concerned we should actually be. They got mixed answers from experts and decided to pursue their own investigations while trying to create a fake video of their own.Fake News RadioLab video

It can be tempting to disengage and be discouraged at the level of disruption that this can cause. However, we can also take this as motivation to more deeply understand the technological context around us and become more informed and skeptical at the same time. Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and Simon Adler took the approach to engage the technology that concerned them and came out with an informed respect and wariness while also dispelling the most paralyzing fear that there was now no way to discern the truth.  We must continue to wrestle with Pandora’s box and this is another challenge for librarians and digital humanities practitioners to pursue.

Artificial Intelligence: Concerns, Benefits, and Libraries

artificial intelligence

Gerd Leonhard

The city of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are growing centers for the development of artificial intelligence and a recent Studio 1A program had an interesting panel discussion on the development of the technology and how it is impacting the city. I was struck by the discussion at the end of the panel summarizing artificial intelligence’s drawbacks and benefits. One important drawback was communicated through astrophysicist, Steven Hawking’s, quote from a few years ago that artificial intelligence would outpace humanity in development by the mid-21st century based on our differing rates of evolution. The real strength of computers is their speed of calculation and efficiency, and helped by algorithms developed by people that help them to learn independently, they can develop systems and environments faster than humanity without the input of emotions or ethical considerations. In a way it sounds like a scenario where parents raise children to be efficient and fast without teaching them values or community ethics. That is a world that concerns me.

It was also interesting to hear that one of the benefits of artificial intelligence was “freedom from pain” which sounds like a benefit until you hear how it echos the promise the arch-villian, IT,  gave to Meg, the hero, in the classic novel by Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  IT is an evil, disembodied brain that subjugated a whole planet to its will and in order to break down Meg’s resistance, IT promised her that if she gave in she would be free of the burden of having to make decisions and experiencing pain.

There are certainly benefits worth considering for artificial intelligence and knowing about them and how they work is crucial to our future. The benefits discussed in the Studio 1A program include how  a city transportation system driven by AI would be more efficient and would be likely to have less accidents. The core technology driving artificial intelligence is algorithms, the steps involved in solving problems and doing calculations. This 1-hour documentary,  The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms (available on Netflix or if your institution subscribes to Films on Demand), discusses what algorithms are and shows an example of how they are used to match kidney donors and recipients in the UK health system. matching algorithm graphicThis example of artificial intelligence takes a large amount of health data and processes it using algorithms designed to find patterns that will match donors and recipients across the country much faster than existing human-run networks can do.

So what does this have to do with Libraries? The capabilities to find matches across vast stores of data and dispersed communities reminds me of Interlibrary Loan. I wonder what would happen if artificial intelligence was applied to the matching process of libraries lending to one another?  What data would we apply algorithms to?  What algorithms already exist or could be further developed?  What ethical concerns are there when applying AI to this context? What is the role of the librarian in this scenario?

Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised by the Cambridge Analytica Facebook Issue

One of the chilling aspects of the Cambridge Analytica Facebook relationship is how they used sophisticated psychological profiles based on personal data to market and influence individuals during the presidential election. While the level of detail and manipulation of personal data is shocking this methodology is not new. Advertisers and groups seeking wide societal influence in modern times have used targeted profiling and data to focus their efforts and gain influence since the 1950’s.

Rites of Men coverReading this passage, written in 1999, in Varda Burstyn’s Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport about how advertising and spectacle sports became more deeply intertwined reminded me of the issues at the heart of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica story:

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, advertising relied on demographic measurement to help design effective campaigns. In the early 1970s, the industry took a major step forward in enhancing the power of their appeals by introducing a technique called ‘psychodemographics.’ A product of the impact of psychology and neurology on the advertising industry, psychodemographics could evaluate the effects of a given visual-auditory messages on the feelings and behaviors of demographically grouped viewers, and then aid in producing tailor-made advertisements to stimulate particular responses.

Burstyn goes on to quote Joyce Nelson, The Perfect Machine: TV in the Nuclear Age (1987, 74):

According to the new model of communications that emerged the human receiver is by no means an empty vessel waiting to be filled with a potent message. Rather, the human receiver is a bundle of needs (many of them unconscious or below the threshold of awareness) and a compendium of emotional experiences (many of which are common to all of us as members of this society)…the receiver is a highly involved participant in the communication. The goal is to shape the message so that it matches the unconscious needs, emotional experience, and coded expectations of the desired audience – so that it speaks to, or resonates with, their deepest feelings and beliefs. This isn’t putting something into the receivers, it’s drawing something out of them and attaching it, or labeling that emotion with the product being advertised.

Watchers of Mad Men, the series about the advertising business in 1960’s New York, may recognize some of these ideas in the market research scenes.

Facebook reactions for like button

When Facebook added Reactions to the Like button in February 2016 users now had the ability to literally label items with six different emotions,  deepening their psychoprofiles along with any personality quizzes they may have participated in. Some anticipated that this feature had a purpose beyond broadening user expression which eventually came to light as Cambridge Analytica utilized that data to influence people in ways that Nelson describes in ways that one could refer to as mind control.  Some of my colleagues at Bethel in Political Science, Computer Science, and Neuroscience discuss this in a podcast last May called Social Media and Mind Control.

Keeping in mind what is new about this situation and what is a progression of an established practice help to frame our responses. For instance, the Congressional hearings about this with Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, may have gone better if the Senators were more informed about this advertising practice and what is unique about Facebook’s technology and data practices.

Review of Mary Aiken’s Cyber Effect

The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes OnlineThe Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online by Mary Aiken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who is a parent or spends significant time online this is an important and terrifying book. Dr. Aiken is a psychologist who specializes in forensics and public policy regarding the Internet, particularly in the international context with INTERPOL. She is also a consultant for the television show CSI:Cyber and has a position to influence public knowledge of these concepts through that medium as well. With this focus, she understandably comes into contact with the worst corners of the Internet. She begins the book by establishing a foundation of how human behavior changes online such as: increased inhibition and the ability to amplify and spread behaviors more quickly. She goes on to survey a wide swath of Internet activity from gaming, online dating, social media, black markets, predatory behavior, hacking and fringe communities finding each other on the Internet.

As a librarian that stands for a healthy exchange of ideas in society, her advocacy for limitations on the Internet and mentioning China as a model for segmenting the Internet from its citizens is a bit unsettling. However, she does mention the importance of a balance between regulation and the protection of personal privacy. The free exchange of ideas is one that she sees more as a risk and danger rather than a social good. There is a whole aspect of hacker culture and ethics that she misses because of her focus on criminal and malicious hacking activity. Because she is grounded in cybersecurity and forensics and librarianship is grounded in providing access and information to all, there is an understandable tension between our philosophical and professional perspectives.

With that said, there are some truly nasty and disgusting corners of the Web that I wouldn’t want to go and certainly wouldn’t want my children coming into contact with. As a parent it is important that I train my kids to learn how to navigate the Web and be aware of the dangers as well and blocking off access for their benefit. Her portrayal of child predator behavior online is worth the price of the book alone as a parent. Also, her attempts to get countries to cooperate with each other on legal jurisdiction to combat trafficking and sexual exploitation are good to read about. There are also technological measures that can be taken and her algorithm to detect cyber-bullying on social media is a promising aspect of using technology in a positive way.

I recommend this book with the qualification that it be read alongside a book that takes a deeper and philosophical approach like Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Turkle’s book fills the gaps in research that Aiken doesn’t cover and does a better job of balancing the positive and negative aspects of technology. Turkle has also done decades of research on the aspects of how behavior changes online. Aiken, pulls work like Turkle’s into the broader world of security and public policy. Parents and professionals will have a more complete view of this topic if this book is not the only one that is read about the impact of the Internet and online behavior.

View all my reviews

Found and Not Found: Scholarly Literature on the Web

Spurred by a recent New Yorker article about the birth and necessity of the Internet Archive, and how it helped identify who might have shot down the civilian plane in Ukraine, I looked into Jill Lepore’s sources to learn more.

She references a December 26, 2014 and a May 9, 2014 article in the open access journal PLOS ONE that are significantly related to information literacy and scholarship on the Web.  I would be curious to hear your responses.

1. Not Found

Lepore mentions “reference rot” and an article that found that 1 in 5 links used as citations in scholarly literature no longer work.  The research was conducted by library researchers who analyzed Science, Technology, and Medicine journals between 1997 – 2012. This is certainly an important point for us to note and help our students and faculty choose wisely.

2. Found

Another set of researchers attempted to identify how many pieces of scholarly literature were freely available on the Web.  Of the 114 million English-language articles they found, 24% or 27 million were freely available.
I wonder how these two impact our services and how they contribute to and inform the perception that “everything is available online” in the domain of scholarly literature.  I can’t help but notice that the open access nature of the articles in PLOSOne helped update and enrich the information in this more “popular” magazine with scholarly information.

Copyright in Space with Commander Hadfield and David Bowie

Space Oddity Hadfield Screen shot

David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the International Space Station

On May 13, 2014, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield announced on Twitter that his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity performed on the International Space Station would be taken down from YouTube after his one year term of permission was over:

Bowie's last day - we had permission for a year, so our Space Oddity video comes down today. One last look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo …

This led to an outcry from the general public who viewed the video over 22 million times during the year it was available including appeals to David Bowie to keep the video up.

Ownership of the Song Rights

The irony here is that the publishers Essex Music International, Inc. / Onward Music, Ltd. managed by Bucks Music Group, not David Bowie, own the rights to give permission to his song. Bowie was publicly criticized by many when he was actually supportive of the video and encouraged the publishers to allow Hadfield to use it for free for one year. Other versions of the video are still available on YouTube through SkyNews and many others who downloaded a copy.

International Space Copyright Concerns

An article in the Economist explains the fascinating copyright implications because it was in space, was international, and articulates some of the complications between creators, rights owners, and jurisdiction (the location of responsibility where legal cases are heard and decided).
Hadfield did a great deal of planning for the video and contacted David Bowie for permission. He also contributed some creative elements to the song including modified lyrics, background noise from the space station, and of course the stunning video footage from the Space Station.

The continuing development of this case study promises many more interesting discussions about the roles copyright and fair use in our culture. It can be argued that Hadfield’s video increased the awareness of the original work considerably and also rekindled the public’s interest in the International Space Station.

Correction (July 28, 2014):  A representative of Fairwood Music International notified me that they are not the music publisher and rights holder of Space Oddity and I’ve updated the post to reflect the correct copyright holder: Essex Music International, Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music Ltd., Essex Music International Inc., Onward Music/Essex Retentions c/o Bucks Music. Fairwood does publish many other David Bowie recordings, like Ziggy Stardust, Let’s Dance, and Fame, but does not manage Space Oddity.