John Unsworth at CLIR Camp plus Libraries and Scholars Interacting Over Time

John Unsworth spoke at the CLIR-DLF postdoctoral camp last week. I thought he presented some interesting ideas about the emerging cross-connections between libraries and publishers, as well as some speculations about the development of scholarly data communities around the existence of large-scale data resources. Unsworth works at Brandeis as a vice provost, CIO, and university librarian. He also serves on the executive committee of the HathiTrust Research Center. As part of the HathiTrust he has been directly involved in the development of a 11 million digital collection of books and journals scanned from the collections of member libraries.

Tracking the popularity of the sciences

I was thinking recently about the popularity of various sciences. Off the top of my head I believed that the social sciences were usually less popular than the natural/hard sciences. I also guessed that sociology or anthropology would be less popular than psychology, among the social sciences. The natural sciences get a lot of publicity from television programs such as Nova or Nature. I don’t believe there is very much coverage of the social sciences at all on television.

Information, Professions, and Technology

One of the research projects I began last spring is starting to show some initial results. I wanted to study the reception of some key technologies by information science professionals over the past 40 years. I was interested to see if there were any differences in professional attitudes toward different technologies. I decided on two cases to look at in depth: first was the development of OPACs, online public access catalogs, during the 1970s and 1980s; second was the World Wide Web, during the 1990s.

A history of computer viruses

A recent post by Douglas Rushkoff on government built computer viruses used in cyberwarfare makes me wonder if there have been any really great histories written about computer viruses. Even a really good history of hacker/cracker culture could be interesting, something on the more ethnographic side. A quick scan of Amazon turned up Digital Contagions by Jussi Parikka.

The NewAesthetic and the Sound of the Future

Two interesting articles passed the transom recently. Bruce Sterling started it all with a post on the NewAesthetic - a tumblr that has been collecting visual examples of our current age under the non-manifesto title the “New Aesthetic.” Most of these images are inspired by computer imagery, data mining, and new GIS technologies. Part of what they have in common is recording the breakdown of the digital and the unexpected appearence of the digital in the analog world.

Is there a starting point to the decline of the expert?

One of the reasons I’m interested in studying the interactions between experts and non-experts is my own perception that the respect we have for experts has declined, even over the 40 years of my own lifetime. There are many potential factors that have contributed to this decline, from the internecine fighting of postmodernism to the triumphant march of the market through the lifeworld, but today I’m interested in trying to find an approximate time to date this change.

Tom Wilson on Preservation - #asist2011

ASIST 2011 kicked off with a keynote by Tom Wilson on the challenges of preservation in the digital age. What we know about the past has been preserved through a series of happenstance and contingencies. Aristotle mentions over 100 playwrights in the Rhetoric but only 4 of them have been preserved to the present day. We don’t know why these 4 survived but we suspect that they were highly valued by the people of Greece.

Creativity Crises

Crises come and go. I think if you look deep enough into any field you can probably find a crisis brewing and probably a few that were brewing a few years or decades ago. There’s something that appeals to our hind brain whenever someone lets loose the cries of crisis. Just look at how long we’ve been inundated in the “education crisis.” (N.B. Education does have serious problems, I’m talking about the trope/rhetoric of crisis, not the specifics of education)

Will Steger and the Northwest Passage, or Change-Is-A-Coming

Back in my youthful glory days I remember watching with interest the adventures of Will Steger and his arctic band of adventurers. In 1986 Steger and seven colleagues traveled to the North Pole by dogsled. I even attended a speech by Ann Bancroft, the only woman in the 1986 expedition, in the late 1980s. The expedition left March 7 and reached the pole fifty-five days later, which works out to May 1st.

The Persistence of Decline

Last Saturday I met with some friends from the Minnesota Independent Scholar’s Forum to talk about Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan. The book is a short, well-written introduction to the many ways people use history for purposes other than understanding or getting to the truth. It parallels Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. Both MacMillan and Anderson discuss the often contentious moments when history becomes part of nation building and community definition.