Trustworthiness is becoming an important issue on the web, with some of the biggest players taking new steps to mitigate the frequency of untrustworthy information on their websites. Trustworthiness is seldom a problem for libraries — at least for bricks and mortar libraries. We are pretty adept at providing library visitors with the psychological cues that build trust. But does your library website appear to be just as trustworthy as your physical library? If not, there are a few ways to change that.
Articles from Ohio Web Library:
Shyness? Yes, shyness. Along with big data, the convenience imperative, interlibrary loan trends and linked data, shyness was one of the topics on our blog that got the most traffic last year.
The OCLC Next blog launched in February of 2016. Since then, readers have stopped by nearly 60,000 times to check out 54 posts. From those, we’ve chosen five of the most popular to share with you again.
From everyone who’s worked on OCLC Next during its first year…thank you for reading and sharing our work and making the blog so successful! We hope you’ll continue reading. Have a happy holiday season and joyful New Year!
The Top #OCLCnext Blog Posts of 2016
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Transforming data into impact
by Skip Prichard, OCLC, President and CEO
Of all the data collected in the world, only about half a percent is ever analyzed. And libraries don’t collect data in order to preside over giant vaults of information for its own sake. We do it because library users are trying to learn, to grow, to succeed. Often it’s the insight of librarians that takes the potential stored in our vast collections and helps transform it into action that changes lives. Read more…#LibrariesInLife: the convenience imperative
by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D., OCLC Senior Research Scientist
We used to bring all our learning, content and media resources to various “watering holes” where folks would gather to consume it. Why? Because it was the fastest way to distribute a wide variety of materials. Now? The content comes to us through digital devices anywhere and at any time. And that repeals a lot of the laws that we grew up with concerning information dissemination and retrieval. Read more…Four interlibrary loan trends to watch in 2016
by Christa Starck,OCLC Sr. Product Manager, Resource Sharing
Many of the books featured in our list are not just popular…but are best sellers or have been highly publicized. This data proves an important point. While librarians have often thought of ILL as being primarily for unique and rare items, it’s clearly not. Which surprises many non-ILL librarians I talk to. There’s an assumption that ILL is mostly used for hard-to-find or unique materials. And while that certainly is the case, we can now see how important resource sharing is for popular works, too. Read more…Getting started with linked data
by Roy Tennant, OCLC, Senior Program Officer
“Linked data” is a popular topic at library conferences these days, with overflow crowds wondering what it might mean for their institutions and their personal professional development. Why? Because linked data can be easily understood by computers, resulting in opportunities for improved library workflows, enhanced user experiences, and discovery of library collections through a variety of popular sites and Web services, including Google, Wikipedia and social networks. Read more…Ranganathan on shyness: Get over it!
by Saskia Leferink, General Manager Benelux, OCLC
“If you want to be a reference librarian, you must learn to overcome not only your shyness but also the shyness of others.” Ranganathan used this quote to describe behavioral change librarians needed to make in his day, when they were transitioning to serving readers from preserving books. Change can be intimidating even when you know it’s needed. But with the support of colleagues and the strength of a community, this very difficult task becomes doable. Read more…
The Top #OCLCnext Blog Posts of 2016
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You’ve likely already noticed that many websites, including the Dynamic Website Kits that OPLIN manages, now have URLs that often begin with “https://” rather than “http://.” That’s no accident; we’ve been buying and installing SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates for a while now. Why are so many sites, not just OPLIN’s, now sporting the extra security? In a nutshell, it’s additional protection. Next month, January 2017, Chrome will even begin showing a warning to users when they visit sites without HTTPS, marking those sites as insecure. If your library’s website doesn’t already have HTTPS, better get ready.
From the Ohio Web Library:
We've been here before. We'll find our way forward eventually. I hope.
Sick of relying on commercial platforms for academic sharing? Humanities Commons, SocArXiv, and the Center for Open Science to the rescue!
Last week, Eset Research posted a report about malware they had discovered which gathered information about infected computers and reported it back to the attack server. That, unfortunately, is not unusual. What is unusual about this exploit is the way it is delivered to the victim computer — the attack code is hidden inside an image that looks like an ad. It is interesting to see the clever way this was done, and also the development of the exploit over time. It is also important to note that the protection against this attack (as with so many other attacks) is simply keeping your software patched and up to date.
Articles from Ohio Web Library:
Connecting users to knowledge and helping them achieve their learning goals is a major reason why we become librarians. And being part of a community that helps us do that is inspiring and energizing. Recently, at the National Taiwan University, I was part of a significant breakthrough of historical documents, which was made possible by library cooperation.
Building community to share our stories
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in the eighth annual APRC membership meeting. It was so good to see nearly 260 attendees from 22 countries in Hong Kong for two days to discuss “Libraries at the Crossroads.” The meeting was a first-class event, with outstanding speakers, lively discussions and engaged members, all within a beautiful venue, the Harbour Grand Hotel. Follow this hashtag #OCLCHK16 to view some of the images and posts from the meeting.
Our membership meetings are always exciting. They provide an opportunity for our community across the Asia Pacific region to share experiences and get to know each other. It is also an opportunity for member libraries from around the region to explore and discuss trends that are shaping the future of the profession.
During the meeting, we shared a story about the power of library cooperation and a breakthrough in historical archives at my library at the National Taiwan University.
Connecting generations with historical documents
During World War II, many unique Japanese historical documents were destroyed. One of these was the Rekidai Hoan, a record of more than 400 years of diplomatic correspondence. The Rekidai Hoan was thought lost forever until a copy was discovered in a Taiwanese library in 1985 and shared with the world.
Sharing knowledge can connect us all in unexpected and wonderful ways.
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Now that document is available to current and future generations to help others at their individual and shared crossroads.
It is a tribute to library cooperation that an important historical collection from an Okinawa library was copied, saved and eventually shared with the world by librarians in Taiwan. It represents a bridge between generations, countries and conflicts. And it demonstrates that the preservation and sharing of knowledge can connect us all in unexpected and wonderful ways. You can get the full story by watching the video below.
Guest contributor Hsueh-hua Chen is Professor of Library and Information Science and former University Librarian, National Taiwan University, and a Global Council Delegate for the Asia Pacific Regional Council.
If you’d like to share a story about a breakthrough at your library, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and your library could be the subject of a future video.
I’ve seen a lot of comments saying something to the effect of, “post-truth isn’t anything new; call it what it is: propaganda!” Or, “post-truth is just a bullshit buzzword for disinformation!” While I understand the impetus behind the “post-truth = propaganda” line of thought, as a librarian interested in how people interact with information, I think it’s important to clarify that they do not actually describe the same phenomena.
As a point of reference for future writing on the topic (and to kill a few hours on the reference desk), consider what follows a helpful glossary on post-truth, propaganda, bullshit, and other contemporary terms of art. Some commentary follows.Glossary
bullshit (n.): a statement or statements grounded in a “lack of connection to a concern with truth” (Frankfurt, 2005)
disinformation (n.): (1) intentionally misleading semantic information; (2) misleading semantic information that has the function of misleading (Fallis, 2015)
fact (n.): an obtaining state of affairs
information (n): “a difference that makes a difference” (Bateson, 1972)
knowledge (n.): justified, true belief
misinformation (n.): inaccurate or misleading semantic information
propaganda (n.): “[semantic] information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view” (Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online)
post-truth (adj.): relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. (Source: OED)
semantic information (n.): well-formed, meaningful data (Floridi, 2015)
testimony (n.): an act of communication that is intended to communicate information
true (adj.): a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to an obtaining state of affairs (i.e., a fact)
truth (n): (1) an affirmation that corresponds to fact(s); (2) a set of true propositions
Your sense of identity–who you are as a person–is probably somewhere near the most important thing to you. I mean, it is you. How you understand yourself is…pretty much what it means to even have a self. And that sense of who you are is pretty much identical to the sum total of all the things you believe. Your beliefs about yourself, about other people, about life, love, the future, the past, the universe…taken together, your beliefs about these things define who you are. Of course, some of the things you believe are true and correspond to facts about the way the world really is; some of the things you believe are false and do not correspond to reality. Oh yeah, and some of the things you believe to be true are actually false and some of the things you believe to be false are actually true. We aren’t perfect. But, we all tend to acknowledge our own fallibility to some extent, and we all have a great big grey area in the middle; a great big grey question mark in the middle of you. These are the beliefs you haven’t decided are true or false. You’re probably more used to calling them questions.
So, there’s you. A huge set of beliefs you think are true, beliefs you think are false, and beliefs you just haven’t made up your mind on. Now, comes the question: should you try to have more true beliefs than false beliefs? If you say “yes” then it seems you have an obligation to learn. This impetus to pursue true beliefs and avoid false beliefs is pretty much the foundation for all of Western intellectual history (and most other cultures’ intellectual traditions as well). But, how do we know what’s true and what isn’t? Well, over time we’ve come up with means for justifying why we believe something to be true. That is, why we ought to believe it. And when we have a true belief that we can further justify to ourselves and others as being absolutely true, that’s when we say we have knowledge. Knowledge refers to those beliefs we have that we feel completely justified in believing to be true.
This is where cultures clash. Not in valuing true beliefs over false beliefs, but in agreeing on standards for justification. On what counts as knowledge. “I know it because God told me in a vision.” “I know it because I saw it with my own eyes.” “I know it because this book says so.” “I know it’s true because thousands of tests have confirmed it.” “I know it because that’s how we’ve always done it.” And so on. There are countless ways people have put forward to justify what they believe to be true. But, what (almost) every means of justification has in common is that justification relies on our acquiring information. Whether God’s voice, sensory perception, words on a page, patterns of bones, celestial phenomenon, stories about our ancestors, etc…it’s all information.
Now, there are too many different kinds of information to go into every kind, so I’ll just focus on one of the most important kinds of information: semantic information. Contrasted to sound waves hitting your eardrums or light waves reflected from objects, semantic information is well-formed and meaningful. It’s usually (though not always) information we gather from words. And, believe it or not, the vast majority of the things you believe are believed on the basis of other people’s words. How do you know your own birthday? Did you watch it yourself? How do you know the capital of a country you’ve never visited? How do you know that Donald Trump was elected POTUS? Did you count all the votes yourself? You know these things because you trusted someone’s testimony. Really, most of your beliefs–most of your very sense of identity–comes down to how much trust you put in the testimony you’ve gathered from people, books, magazines, websites, signs, graffiti, whispers, songs, poems, and so on.
Trust is hard. Not everyone who gives us information was careful in how they gathered it. They might give us false information: misinformation. Others may give us false information in order to deceive us: disinformation. Some give us false information in order to manipulate us: they lie to us. Some seek to control us by giving us a biased supply of carefully-selected (true) information mixed with disinformation; we call that propaganda. Other times, when people tell us something, they have no regard for the truth one way or the other; they’re bullshitting us.
All the while, we’re just trying to figure out what the truth is so we know what to believe. Over millennia, some information evaluation methods have become deeply entrenched: superstition, tradition, scriptural evidence, divine revelation, gut feelings, etc. Other information evaluation method have been proposed as replacements: direct observation, empirical experiment, logical inference, etc. We still debate over how to “reason” about the information we gather. But, whether it is the scientist making measurements or the priest consulting scripture, the aim is still the same: we want to know the truth.
And this is where the post-truth era comes in. In a post-truth world, the goal of information gathering is not to maximize true beliefs. The goal is to reaffirm sentiments, feelings, emotions. The very concepts of misinformation, disinformation, lying, and propaganda are irrelevant to the post-truth information gatherer because these concepts all require that we believe that true beliefs are more valuable than false beliefs. That’s what post-truth denies. So, to say that “post-truth is just propaganda” is to misunderstand both. Post-truth is not about the people giving us information. It’s about popular attitudes towards accepting information. Previously, we cared if what were told was true and we developed means (some better than others) of determining who to trust. But, in the post-truth environment, all that matters is how we feel about what we’re told. Truth doesn’t matter. And, by definition, if the truth doesn’t matter, then all we’re left with is bullshit.
Finally, don’t make the common mistakes of thinking that post-truth media consumption is a new phenomenon, or a uniquely right-wing phenomenon, or even a phenomenon rooted in ignorance. It was the rejection of post-truth sophistry that got Socrates sentenced to death, you know. More recently, it was post-truth that motivated Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Foucault’s post-structuralism and Derrida’s deconstructionism and Rorty’s neo-pragmatism and so on. I mean, it isn’t your right-wing, racist uncle reading Of Grammatology or lining up for the Judith Butler lecture; post-truth understandings of the world have been prominent in intellectual circles for some time. If anything, the current post-truth zeitgeist is nothing more than an affirmation of post-modern sensibilities. I’m not trying to make a blunt “critical theory is why Trump got elected” claim. I don’t think that’s true; post-truth really only applies to a small group of people and even then only to varying degrees. I’m just saying that post-truth media consumption is not considered a problem in some intellectual traditions (e.g., post-structuralism).
Okay. I’m done ranting. My overall point is that if we’re going to address the so-called “post-truth era” then we need to share a common language. We need to understand how information, misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, and bullshit all play into how people decide what to believe. And we need to understand that post-truth doesn’t care about any of that. And, like I said earlier, post-truth thinking isn’t even an all or nothing deal. Almost everyone has post-truth moments where they set truth aside in favor of something else (sentiment, feeling, convenience, etc.). We need to acknowledge that post-truth attitudes towards the media and towards expertise and towards politics are what people are really concerned about. That’s a hell of a mindset. How do you convince someone who thinks all media is corrupt, that all politicians are conspiring, that the only thing you can trust is what you already believe, that contradictions don’t matter, or that expertise is based on feeling? I’ve got ideas, but I don’t think ideas alone are going to change things.
Stuff I cited
Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books.
Fallis, D. (2015). What Is disinformation? Library Trends 63(3), 401-426.
Floridi, L. (2015). Semantic conceptions of information. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information-semantic/Frankfurt, H. G., & Bischoff, M. (2005). On bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press. [link]
The tech giants are at it again, in a brand-new arena. This time, the competition isn’t websites, tablets or phones; it’s personal assistants. With the success of the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker that answers voice commands, plays music, and controls smart homes, it was inevitable that competitors would emerge. However, when one starts examining this rivalry just a little more closely, it’s not too difficult to realize that the real game isn’t about personal assistants; it’s really about who is going to control the voice interface. While this race perhaps began with Apple’s Siri, Amazon and Google may be taking the final lap. Right now, these two giants are fighting it out for holiday shopping dollars.
From the Ohio Web Library:
A new report is out from Project Information Literacy. Make sure you read it before you get too far into a library renovation.
Many of the libraries I’ve worked with on local digitization efforts start with great ideas about a big collection they could develop…if only they had enough money. Maybe there’s a local trove of unique documents that are historically important. Or thousands of photos recovered from a private collection after a disaster. No matter the source, imaginations run high and big, lofty goals are set. A hopeful dollar figure is calculated and the quest for a grant begins…only to end in disappointment.
Why? The goal is good, the materials are fantastic, the benefit to the community is apparent. In my experience, the search for the “Million Dollar Grant” often fails because it doesn’t follow these six important steps:
OK, I admit it’s a cheesy way to introduce the topic. Steps 4–6 are, obviously, go get increasingly larger grants until you land the “big money” that you need to create your digital dream collection. But I’m absolutely serious—the best way to convince a grant-making entity to fund your program is to have a demonstrated series of successes with other grants. And just like with your career, you can’t start out in your dream job, you often have to work your way up from the bottom.
Because while you may have a clear picture in your head of what success looks like, the grant making agency doesn’t. Their picture is of you and your library’s history, reputation and experience. There are almost always lots of people applying for the same grant money. In order for your project to be successful, you have to demonstrate not just that you’ve got a great idea, but that you’ve got the know-how to make it happen.
Grants for digital collections require both a great idea and demonstrated know-how.
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Grants for digital collections require both a great idea and demonstrated know-how.
So start small. Find a project you can do that will require many of the same steps as your dream grant, but with lower time, partnership and money commitments. This will give you a chance to practice the process, get some experience and refine your story.How to get that first, small grant? Get good at setting goals
I support Stephen Covey’s advice of “always begin with the end in mind.” In other words, be goal-oriented. In many cases, libraries think of the “goal” as being “get this collection digitized and online.” Wrong! That’s not a goal, that’s one activity or tactic. Grant makers are interested in goals that emphasize benefits to the communities and people they support. You need to relate your project to their goals. Here are some tips on how to get that thought process started. Work with your colleagues and supervisors to identify:
For every partner involved, it’s important to have an idea of what success means to them.
As you go through the proposal process, take what you learn from each grant application and put it toward the next grant application. It’s also important to share your successes with other libraries. That will help them in their grant-applying process as well as help you receive future grants.When you’re ready to ask for that first, small grant
It’s smart to start by looking for grants that don’t require matching funding, since that would essentially double your work. Are there local foundations that support efforts like this? Maybe your state library has a digitization program? The Indiana Memory Digitization Grant guidelines are a good example.
There are many resources to help you with this process. Sometimes, the granting organization even provides resources for writing a winning grant application. Here are some examples that give you an idea of how to proceed:
Whatever your “dream project” may be, starting small is honestly the best first step. It will give you insight into the grant-making process, help you refine goals for all participants and establish a successful track record for your library.
Question: What’s the smallest digitization project you could get a grant for? Be creative, and let us know on Twitter with #OCLCnext.
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So there’s this phrase being bandied about: “post-truth.” As in, we live in a “post-truth era.” Popular use of the phrase is over a decade old, but its recent ascendancy lead The Oxford English Dictionary to name it Word of the Year for 2016; here’s the OED definition: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. I mean, we’re at the point where Trump supporters racists are literally saying that “there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.” Armchair political scientists and ersatz media commentators are having a field day using post-truth politics to explain everything from contemporary political discourse to Brexit to identity politics to the rise of neo-Nazism to the presidential election and everything in between. “We’ve let sentimentality take precedence over facts and look where that got us!” seems to be the rallying cry.
As you’ve probably noticed, librarians are all over post-truth. Librarians are adamant that information literacy can help combat the post-truth world of fake news. School librarians have been singled out as key players in combating post-truth. School Library Journal is advocating for news literacy toolkits. The Annoyed Librarian wrote something or other. And the hot-takes on Twitter are all over the place. “The post-truth era needs information literacy and that means librarians need to step up!” seems to be the rallying cry.
There’s only one problem with that: information literacy has never been about truth.
Go ahead and search the ACRL Framework, search the ACRL Standards, search the AASL Standards, search the SCONUL Seven Pillars. Across all of the major statements of information literacy, the word ‘truth’ never appears a single time.1 The word ‘fact’ is used only once: in the AASL Standards where it is qualified as “superficial.” Information literacy is not about truth or facts. Go back and read the old ACRL Standards and you’ll see that the closest the Standards get to truth or fact is in vague mentions of evaluating reliability, validity, and accuracy in Standard 3.2.(a). These aren’t unpacked and it’s hard to say how we’re supposed to evaluate and what constitutes reliability, validity, or accuracy. So while the old Standards may not be consistent with post-truth, they don’t exactly provide any guidance on how to reach truth or fact. Of course, this isn’t the case with the Framework. The Framework not only fails to mention truth or fact, it seems to be perfectly consistent with post-truth: authority is constructed and should be met with skepticism; scholarship isn’t about truth, it’s about negotiating meaning; the world of information is a negotiated commodity where powerful forces are routinely marginalizing voices; and so on.
That the Framework is (superficially) consistent with the world of post-truth politics and fake news should come as no surprise. For the past decade there has been a healthy body of literature casting doubt on any connection between information literacy and truth. As Simmons (2005) argued in a widely cited paper, “As a profession, we cannot remain comfortably in a modernist paradigm of certainty and unified truth when our surroundings have shifted dramatically to a postmodern paradigm of ambiguity and multiple truths.” (emphasis added). A decade later, Tewell (2015) demonstrated how “critical information literacy” has encouraged librarians to argue that there are multiple ways of knowing, that students should construct their own knowledge, that all facts are contested, that knowledge production as an inherently political act, that information is a social construct, and so on. This critical turn is and has been an intentional pivot away from objective truth and fact and towards an increased awareness that so-called “facts” cannot be separated from the social processes that construct them.
But, I’m getting off-topic. I’m just trying to say that, to date, discussions about information literacy have tended to be ambivalent towards truth at best. The few times truth is invoked directly, it’s typically in theoretical contexts urging us to reject the very idea of “truth” as some sort of positivist bogeyman or relic of the Enlightenment. And yet, we still make implicit references to truth as we urge students to focus on external markers of credibility, like publication titles, author credentials, peer review, funding models, and whatever.
Here’s my overall point: if the world of post-truth and fake news is going to be a concern for librarians, then we have to frame information literacy in such a way that it puts truth front-and-center: information literacy cannot address post-truth until it has addressed truth itself. I’m not saying that we have to couch everything in terms of true and false; I’m not advocating for some folk, quasi-positivism here. No, we have to be judicious. Sometimes we need to question the truth or falsity of what we read. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that the rhetoric of “truth” is masking something unsavory. Sometimes we need to call-out falsity. Sometimes we need to reject prematurely naturalized truths. But at all times, if we’re going to address the post-truth world as librarians, we need to defend the idea of truth. I posted something the other day about conditional probability and information literacy and the need for a more robust treatment of how we reason about information. This post continues that project. Some things are true, some are false. Somethings we can know to be true with a high degree of probability. Some things not so much. But we always have to keep the idea of truth in mind. If we’re going to address post-truth, truthiness, fake news, misinformation, disinformation, or whatever else, we need to start talking about the role of truth and facts in information literacy. I think we, as librarians, have a sort of tacit agreement that truth is a part of information literacy, but at the moment that isn’t really reflected in our discourse and I’m hoping that can change. I just want to see librarians start to discuss the nature of truth or at least explicitly mention truth when they discuss information literacy. Is that too much to ask?
Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as disciplinary discourse mediators: Using genre theory to move toward critical information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297-311.Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy: A review of the literature. Communications in Information Literacy, 9(1), 24-43.  Here’s the philosophy bit you can ignore if you so choose: So, ‘true’ and ‘fact’ are technical terms that need to be distinguished. Truth doesn’t exist in the real world, it’s a property of sentences. To say something is true is just to say that the sentence expressing it bears a certain relationship to reality. So, the sentence “The integer 3 is a prime number” is true because the proposition ‘the integer 3 is a prime number’ corresponds to the fact that 3 is prime. When we talk about actual reality, we’re talking facts. So, to say “the integer 3 is prime” is true is just to say that the sentence corresponds to the fact that 3 is actually prime. Of course, the propositions we really care about aren’t so cut and dry. The claim, “millions of illegals voted in the election” requires us to unpack a lot of terms: what does “illegals” refer to, what does it mean “to vote,” what do we refer to by “the election,” and so on. Can we define those terms and relations in such a way as to make the original claim correspond to some actual state of affairs? It gets complicated and we have some not-insignificant work to do. So, you see, there is a bit of a chasm between the truth of claims like “3 is prime” or “water is H2O” and claims like “millions of illegals voted” or “Bernie would have won the election.” Advocating for the concept of truth is decidedly not the same as advocating that determining truth is easy.
A Stanford study finds students are really bad at evaluating sources. But how do we get them to care?
We’re all generally aware that websites – and perhaps library websites especially – should be accessible to people with impaired vision. One aspect of that accessibility is the contrast between the color of the text and the background color of a webpage; too little contrast and the text becomes too difficult for some people to read. Fortunately, there is no need to guess about the proper contrast, because there are standard measures and a number of software tools that can calculate the contrast ratio and tell you if it is within the correct range. Unfortunately, some web designers ignore color contrast in the interest of making websites prettier – at least to their eyes on their monitors.
Articles from Ohio Web Library:
In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan, a mathematician and librarian who is widely regarded as a founder of modern library science, published his seminal work, The Five Laws of Library Science. His five principles about managing the library get most of the publicity, but tucked away on page 65 is a gem of a quote sometimes overlooked but extremely important in our fast-changing world.
“If you want to be a reference librarian, you must learn to overcome not only your shyness but also the shyness of others.”
Ranganathan used this quote to describe behavioral change librarians needed to make in his day, when they were transitioning to serving readers from preserving books. No longer were readers considered a nuisance—they became the focus of the library. Librarians had to lose their shyness and come out from behind the desk to serve users, as well as overcome any reader shyness.
As we in the library community wrestle with change management, Ranganathan’s words ring as clearly today as they did 85 years ago. You can’t be shy when tackling change. Change requires a boldness that leaves reticence behind in order to embrace something new.
Change requires a boldness that leaves reticence behind.
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Getting a formula for change
Last month, I had the honor of hosting the 12th annual OCLC Contact Day in the Netherlands. More than 300 members from across the country came together in Utrecht for one day to discuss change—what it means to us as both professionals and individuals.
Ben Tiggelaar, well-known Dutch publicist, trainer and researcher on behavioral sciences, was our keynote speaker that day. He shared his insights on the psychology of change and led us through the process of change as well as how to deal with the continuum of change in our day-to-day lives.
Appropriately, Ben used Ranganathan’s quote on shyness to introduce his five steps for adapting to change:
Ben’s presentation hit home with attendees, who had identified transparency, listening and warmth as the behaviors they would like to see more of in their libraries. Here’s what a few of them said:
Well, that’s where our library cooperative shines. And why we come together every year at Contact Day. This annual gathering has grown into one of the biggest events for the Dutch library community because of the desire to support one another in our quest to lead the library profession forward. We are a community that shares knowledge and knows that, collectively, it’s easier to change together.
Change can be intimidating even when you know it’s needed. It means uncertainty, especially in times like today, when it seems unending and unrelenting. But with the support of colleagues and the strength of a community, this very difficult task becomes doable.
S.R. Ranganathan knew it. And our members know it as well.
Question…What is the biggest change your library has achieved? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext.
So, I’ve been trying to come up with a research agenda. I mean, I can’t be the “Framework is stupid” guy forever;1 I don’t want to get pigeonholed.
Anyway, it’s Sunday night and I’m thinking that if I’m going to turn my back on whatever the ACRL comes up with, I’ve still got to have a working concept of “information literacy” (or something to that effect.) Well, I’ve had this idea rattling around for over a year and the other day I finally thought I’d pursue it. So I fired up the LISTA database and started searching for something I figured some librarians somewhere had already researched thoroughly: Bayesian interpretations of information literacy.
Nothing. Not a single article. I checked a few of the major journals. Nada. Google Scholar? Just one 2002 article by Carol Gordon (formerly of Rutgers and clearly on to something). I headed over to Twitter and asked where the rest of the research was? Crickets. From what I can tell, no librarians are applying Bayesian theory to information literacy. Shoot, the impression I’m getting is that most information literacy librarians have never even heard of Bayesian inference. So that’s going to be it. My research agenda will be to introduce a Bayesian approach to information literacy.
But what does that even mean? Here’s a brief overview:Bayesianism
That formula at the top of this post is the simple form of Bayes’ Theorem. It’s been around for a few hundred years and even though you’ve probably never seen it in library studies, it is absolutely everywhere in information science, cognitive science, legal studies, communication, epistemology, logic, and other assorted fields where people talk about concepts like reliability, credibility, the trustworthiness of information sources, how to evaluate online news, and other things that sound a hell of a lot like “information literacy.” When applied to information literacy, the basic idea behind a Bayesian approach is that your confidence level in the truth of some claim that you’ve read (or watched, heard, etc) is proportional to your confidence level in that claim being true before you read (or watched, or heard, etc) about it times the likelihood that it is actually true. Let’s look at a fairly standard example of Bayes’ Theorem in action.
Suppose there’s a 12% chance that a woman will develop breast cancer (which is scary true). Now, let’s say that contemporary mammograms have an 85% success rate at discovering breast cancer (about right). However, they also have around a 55% false positive rate, meaning they falsely show cancer when there really isn’t any (again, about the right number). Now, if a woman gets her mammogram results back and they come up positive for breast cancer, how worried should she be? This is where Bayes comes in. We’ll start with a slightly extended version of the theory:
where in our example, the values are like this:
Pr(A|B) = probability of breast cancer given that the mammogram results are positive
Pr(B|A) = probability of positive mammogram results when cancer is actually present. A.K.A., the reliability of the mammogram = 85%
Pr(A) = likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer = 12%
Pr(B|¬A) = probability the mammogram is reporting a false positive = 55%
Pr(¬A) = likelihood a woman does not develop breast cancer = 88% (100% – 12%)
Plugging in the values and you get:
Which means that when a typical mammogram returns a positive diagnosis, there’s only a 17% chance that cancer is actually present.
With me still? Wondering what this has to do with information literacy? Instead of thinking about “does vs. does not have cancer,” how about thinking of “is or is not a fact.” And instead of thinking “how reliable and accurate is this medical test” how about thinking “how reliable and accurate is this information source.” See where I’m going?Bayesian Information Literacy
Consider the “fake news” problem everyone is talking about. Let’s say your Facebook friend hears that Bernie Sanders can still win the presidential election thanks to “this one weird trick.” You know the kind of story I’m talking about. Now, let’s say that before reading anything but a headline, your friend is already 90% sure that’s not really true, but decides to read anyway. The first article she reads is from U.S. Uncut and she already thinks that U.S. Uncut is a pretty dodgy news source, so she only gives the website around 40% reliability. That is, it’s more unreliable than reliable. Applying Bayesian probability, we can say that her belief changes from 90% to 93% sure it’s not true. As in, if an unlikely piece of news is reported by a source you deem unreliable, you are slightly more inclined to reject the news than accept it. But, let’s say she then reads a CNN article that says the same thing and she thinks CNN is moderately reliable. Maybe CNN reports are more like 75% true. Bayesian approaches allow us to combine her prior confidence from after reading U.S. Uncut with the information from CNN and give your friend room to doubt. Now she’s only 82% sure the story is a fake. She reads more about Bernie’s chances on Occupy Democrats (55% reliable), NPR (90% reliable), and ABC News (80% reliable) and ends up being 91% sure that Bernie still has “one weird trick.” Neat, huh?
Sure, those percentages are just made-up, but the exact numbers aren’t important. And, it’s important to note that this example only addresses her subjective attitudes towards how reliable various sources are. It’s also worth noting that the formula for combining these multiple, sequential prior probabilities is a bit more complicated than the one I put up earlier. Yet, still, broader insights fall out when we think about information literacy in Bayesian terms:
It’s Bayesian inference that explains why your racist uncle believes everything on Breitbart and InfoWars and refuses to accept the New York Times as a legitimate news source. It’s Bayesian inference that explains why a flood of spurious news stories from barely reliable sources can add up to convince otherwise rational people that…yeah, maybe Hillary Clinton did intentionally let Benghazi happen or, yeah, maybe Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. It’s not a question of true or false. It’s a question of levels of confidence, and if a news source shared on Facebook says 99 true things and 1 false thing, you’re more likely to believe the false thing at least a little bit. It’s why sites like Breitbart are so successful: the (slight) majority of the things reported on Breitbart are factual, but selectively reported or couched in false claims. Like, right now, the cover story on Breitbart is that Trump hasn’t selected a Secretary of State yet. I think Breitbart is a garbage source for news, but I believe that particular story is most likely factual. Same for the stories about Trump selecting (the asshat voucher-lover) Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary or about some right-wing immigration group arguing that the SPLC should lose tax exempt status. These are plausible, factual stories. They’re selectively reported, to be sure, but they are largely factual. But there’s an article right in the middle defending a alt-right Nazi rally, and this is where we need to think critically about how people engage with information sources, because modern members of the alt-right Nazis aren’t created by late night Mein Kampf study marathons. They don’t get their start on fringe alt-right Nazi websites. They’re wooed by hateful, racist garbage “news” sources that receive a veneer of plausibility by being couched in factually reported information. You tell a student that Breitbart is biased and point to the article defending the alt-right Nazi rally; the student says it’s not and points to the dozen other more-or-less factually correct articles. How do you respond to that? We naturally evaluate information on Bayesian lines, to one degree or another and when we get too subjective with how we assign credibility to sources or too dogmatic/uninformed/etc. about what we want to be true, we stumble into confirmation bias, selective reading, echo chambers, filter bubbles, and so on.Bayes explains it. Check out this NPR story from Friday about a dude who’s built a fake news publishing empire in the San Francisco suburbs. He never explicitly says Bayes, but he absolutely describes how he uses Bayes to manipulate his (mostly right-wing) audience. If peddlers of misinformation and disinformation are using Bayesian concepts to manipulate, shouldn’t we pay attention so we can set things straight?
For anyone interested in “information literacy,” understanding how people actually evaluate sources is vitally important. It also helps as we try to determine how people should evaluate information. Again, these all may sound like obvious observations, but that’s only because Bayesian inference underlies most of our common-sense understanding of how people reason from information sources and I think it’s time library studies took notice. I hope to write more as I learn more, but I can already see several research questions that are unanswerable within the current literature on information literacy, but that might be addressed with Bayesian concepts:
I could keep coming up with questions. And if, after this post, I get the impression that this is an area of information literacy that people might be interested in, then I’ll keep asking questions. But, keep in mind that this is a hastily written sketch of Bayesian inference. I can point to a few mathematical errors and omissions I left in for the sake of explaining the general theory better. There’s also a lot of work out there on assigning reliability, assigning confidence levels, estimating prior probabilities, and so on. There’s also a lot of related work that needs to be covered on things like the epistemology of testimony. So this post only barely scratches a scratch on the surface. Here’s the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Bayesian Epistemology if you’re interested in a longer introduction. You can also just Google it and find hundreds and hundreds of articles and essays delving into Bayesian source evaluation.
So, I don’t know why this has escaped the notice of librarians for so long (Carol excluded!), but it’s where I’d like to take information literacy. And, I’m not just interested in bringing the theories of cognitive science, psychology, information science, economics, philosophy, law, decision theory, and so on into library studies; I’m also interested in asking how librarians can bring their expertise to bear on the problems being investigated in those other, related fields.
What do you think? Does this make any sense at all? I’d love to hear in the comments.
EDIT 11/30/2016: Just to be clear, I’m not saying we should teach students about Bayesian inference. I’m saying that Bayesian theory can help improve our understanding of how people use information. A Bayesian approach can help highlight important concepts that we need to address. How we choose to address those concepts is quite separate.
ADDENDUMY THING: I was just about to hit post, I stepped away to grab a beer, and I had another thought I want to put down. One of the interesting areas of inquiry with Bayesian inference is how the coherence of our beliefs affects are receptivity to new information. Let’s say there’s a hypothetical person, Jan, who only has three beliefs: (1) Trump won the electoral college, (2) the presidential election was rigged to favor Hillary Clinton, and (3) Trump won the popular vote. Clearly, these aren’t all true, but it’s plausible that Jan believes them. And, importantly, they form a coherent set of beliefs. Now, let’s say we introduce a new piece of information: (4) Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Bayes tells us that Jan’s willingness to accept (4) is very small given that it does not cohere with (1)-(3). So, the subjective confidence Jan places in an information source reporting (4) is going to have to be incredibly high for Jan to be willing to reassess (1)-(3). That, or an incredibly large number of highly reliable (according to Jan) sources are going to have to consistently report (4) in order to overcome the coherent set of beliefs (1)-(3). Now, think back on your Thanksgiving meal and ask yourself if any of your relatives sound like Jan. Are you a sufficiently reliable source to overcome Jan’s coherent web of beliefs? Interesting, right? (see BonJour’s The Structure of Empirical Knowledge (1985) for an intro to coherentism. I’m not a coherentist per se, but I do think coherence is a huge factor in belief acquisition. Addendumy thing over.
 No, but seriously, the Framework is pretty stupid.
As librarians, we digitize, collect, archive and promote content collections for many different reasons. Our digital collection management efforts often revolve around the idea of preserving materials for historic and scholarly purposes. That’s obviously important, and librarians have always played a major role in such programs. But sometimes we discover far more personal connections to these materials.
While I was working on the Montana Memory Project from 2009–2012, it made perfect sense that some of the students we sent to the National Archives would be Native Americans, as the materials they were digitizing were from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Local history being preserved by local students for the use of historians is often a part of these programs. What we were not expecting, however, was that some of our students would find materials that involved their own direct ancestors.
In some cases, the documents being scanned had actually been handled, signed or marked by the students’ own family members. How thrilling for them that was! Even something as simple as a telegram or deed can hold so much meaning when you know the background personally.
We are, in many ways, the sum of our ancestors and their history.
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More than any other project I’ve worked on, that brought home how important the work we do is. Not just for scholarship and study. But for the deep, personal connections that our efforts make possible. We are, in many ways, the sum of our ancestors and their history. To be able to touch and preserve and understand a small part of what shaped them—and us—is a rare privilege.
Guest contributor Bonnie Allen is Dean of James E. Walker Library, Middle Tennessee State University, and Chair, OCLC Americas Regional Council.
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