Curating conversations on the web

I’ve been investigating ways to curate conversations that take place on the web, via social media and in other places. I’m doing so at this point mainly to be able to display some of the great conversations that happened in the two New Media Studies first year seminars (#nmsf09 and #nms_f10) where I was the Twitter-embedded librarian. So far I’ve been looking at Storify.com (where I have put my name in for an invite), Memolane.com, and Curated.by, which I have signed up for and begun to play around with.

Here is an example of a conversation that took place during #nms_f10 that spanned several social media tools.


What happened was that one student in the class had seen a CNN article about viral hits on the web, bookmarked using Delicious.com using the class’ designated hashtag. During the class that day, I asked him via Twitter (using our class hashtag) whether he was the one who had bookmarked that (I was still trying to get Twitter handles, blog names, usernames, etc. sorted out at this point in the semester…) and when he responded positively, I sent him the link to one of my favorite timelines that someone created using Dipity.com.

I like curated.by fairly well – they have a nice bookmarklet that you can use to create your “bundles” but so far I haven’t been able to see a way to easily reorder the items you put into your bundle. I’d like to add the final tweet in this conversation that I forgot to add originally, but if I added it in now, it would add to the top of the bundle, which would make no sense. I’ve contacted their support to see if I’m just missing something or whether that function is just not in the application. We’ll see. It looks like, from this Professor Hacker post, that Storify.com let’s you reorganize your content in the way I’d like. (Anyone have an invite they want to send me?)

So far, I’m really liking this type of social media curation, to tell stories, display conversations across different platforms, to archive content, or for marketing purposes. The possibilities are myriad.

Wired Campus Article

I’m very excited to be the subject of an article by Jeff Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog called “Embedded Librarian on Twitter Served as Information Concierge for Class.”

The experience I had being the “Twitter-based librarian” to Dr. Gardner Campbell’s New Media Studies classes is really the highlight of my career so far. It stretched me professionally, to be sure, but it was also a whole bunch of fun! The students in last semester’s class took to calling me their “Guardian Librarian” and I truly feel like all of my Twitter students are my “charges.” Any time they want to tweet me a question, I’ll be there!

Blogging

Written for the first session of Baylor’s New Media Faculty Development Seminar, January 26, 2011

Blogging is one of the most important aspects of Baylor’s New Media Faculty Development Seminar.

The syllabus states:

“Understanding new media is almost impossible for those who aren’t actively involved in the experience of new media; for deep understanding, actually creating new media projects is essential to grasping their workings and poetics. The ideas described in these selections can open important new creative areas for beginners and professionals alike.”

Blogging is one very important way to be actively involved in the experience and creation of new media. Blogging is not just a more informal medium than academic writing for professional journals. It’s an inherently different animal. It is a medium which allows us to be free to use pictures, video, links (which can function as both citation and conversation). It is a medium in which we can be free to share how we are learning and growing in understanding. As Gardner puts it in another blog post,

I think blogging is utterly (and radically) unlike writing for professional journals. Maybe part of the problem here is that folks don’t have a deeper understanding of blogging itself. It’s freer, looser, more voice-filled, more exploratory, more goofy, more fun, more multimodal. I’ve written for a number of professional journals, and blogging isn’t that at all—and shouldn’t be in this context either. It should be thoughts, scraps, false starts, stories of the progress of one’s own learning and missteps and questions and problem-finding….

I think the fact that blogging is utterly unlike writing for professional journals is one of the reasons it’s so hard for faculty to do (or at least to start doing). They feel lost and vulnerable without those professional journal structures. And they’ll say weird things to me like “who wants to read what *I* have to say?” This from people who are professors making their living from people who pay to hear what they have to say! No, I truly believe that blogging in this context should free us for authentic learning and sharing of our learning.

The how-tos and technical aspects of blogging I will demonstrate during the seminar today, as well as the rest of the way the seminar network will be set up. But for now, just know that blogging is one of the most important aspects of the seminar. It might be strange at first, and it might take some discipline as you get started, but it will ultimately be very valuable both to the seminar as well as to yourself.

Marshall McLuhan understanding blogging

Libraries and New Media

These are my rambling thoughts on a few of readings from over the past month.

First of all, after reading Illich, I was delighted to learn that my profession survives in his vision of a deschooled society:

The professional personnel needed for this network would be much more like custodians, museum guides, or reference librarians than like teachers.

As a librarian, I have heard every verse, chorus and variation of the “why do we need libraries when we have Google” song, but I believe that that protest has it exactly opposite: it’s the libraries (and librarians) that are exactly what’s needed in this information/media rich culture, and Illich sees this (after all “Reference Services” shows up twice in his list of approaches to a deschooled education). Finding one’s way among all the information on all the different media that are out there is difficult. I encounter students overwhelmed by information, not knowing how to evaluate information, etc. all the time. And a librarian is an information professional – they can point you in the way to go, can help you find the best information for your need, and the library structure (both physical and digital) can provide the access to what you need. Just the other day, a student I was helping in my office said to me “You know how like, long ago, librarians helped you find books and stuff? Well, I feel like you’re like that, but for the internet.” That was one of the proudest moments of my professional life so far.

New Media vs. Old Media

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I get just as frustrated with the reactionary “libraries should be only about books” idea that gets tossed around in library-land as well. This gets repeated most often by the past-president of ALA Michael Gorman. One of the things he said fairly recently in an article about the future of libraries was

“If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries,” said Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Assn. “The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, ‘Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky’ — it seems ludicrous to me.”

He seems to be taking a jab at the recent development in many public libraries to check out video games and host gaming nights and Nicholas over at Information Games, sums up Gorman’s argument as “video games are not books and books are the real business of the library.” (That whole post is brilliant by the way, and is a great counter to Gorman’s reactionary bloviation.) In reading what Gorman said, I also thought about Turkle’s assertion that “Protest against video games carries a message about how people feel about computers in general.”

That got me thinking about some of the other readings for our seminar – Scott McCloud on comics, Bill Viola on video, and Sherry Turkle on video games. Three distinct forms of media. Libraries have eagerly embraced collecting graphic novels – they are, afterall, printed in books which we love and are familiar with – and while film and video had some early hiccups in the conversation about their place in library collections, now are collected eagerly and are some of the highest circulated items. The medium of video games just happens to be at the forefront of the discussion right now in the library world, and therefore it will bring out the “others, primarily book-oriented [that] claim the newer media are uncomfortable to use, expensive in time and money to acquire, difficult to administer, and require too much specialized knowledge and skill to be worth the trouble of learning to produce and use for educational purposes.” (That from an article in 1954 called “The Place of Newer Media in the Undergraduate Program” The Library Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 358-373)

Brilliant Quote

There will always be new forms of media and the library will have to figure out a way to collect, organize and provide access to them. Just because “books on paper” have reigned supreme for the majority of the life of the modern library doesn’t mean that that is what we should be all about. Libraries are about accessing information, wherever that information resides. So now we have to try to figure out how to collect things that we traditionally haven’t collected – video games, e-books, web pages, Tweets, digitized info of all kinds.

I am the new library consultant to the communication studies department, which includes the best kept secret on campus: the film and digital media program. They teach about video games there. They PLAY video games there. Yet our library doesn’t collect video games. I’m formulating a plan to change this, by the way, in part as a result of the readings in this seminar and some other wonderfully thinky library blog posts I’ve read recently… I’m excited about the possibility of pushing our library forward into collecting new forms of media. I also excited to see what other new forms of media might be on the horizon that might throw a wrench into the library world yet again. Nicholas at Information Games says this near the end of his post:

As libraries become less and less about books and more and more about, well, whatever it is we are about, we are going to need innovative problem solvers who can deal with disruptive technologies.

That’s who I want to be.

circulating video games collection is shelved with the graphic novels

The schizo structure of research

I should be posting on the Sherry Turkle essay, since that is what we’re reading this week and I’m even presenting on it with Blaine today. But as I sat down yesterday morning and scanned through Twitter, a post by @wedaman caught my eye, about reading Engelbart to kindergarteners. (Which… fascinating, yes?) So I clicked through to his Twitter account and then to his blog to read a bit more and came across the post called “The Conduit Metaphor.”

In this post he mentions that in education, the metaphor of learning being a “conduit” (via which knowledge passes from the learned one to the unlearned students) is defunct. But that it too often is still in place in the Library/IT world. He says…

If you scratch the surface of your representative library or IT staff member you’ll find someone who thinks they are providing a passageway for people to get to things, whatever those things might be. Information. Computer Help. Study space. What have you. That the organization is a kind of storeroom of resources or services or skills, and its customers a kind of chaotic mass of generally needy and bemused people operating according to the principles of Brownian motion, needing to be channelled into tidy streams, have their velocity restrained somewhat, and their questions and needs regulated, prior to the provision of service unto them. The channels? Your service desks or call centers or liaison staff or webpages–windows or openings or . . . Conduits.

Relegating your community to people on the other other end of a conduit, and yourselves to the role (undeserved, really) of the Guardian of the Conduit, and your services to those that are simple enough that they can actually be conduited (if you will) is generally dehumanizing. Not only does it not really win you the hearts of your people, it blocks them from you. It re-enforces the black box reputation your library and IT organization should do everything to combat. It makes your work no fun. It closes down your opportunity to hear the needs of your community and to use those needs in a pedagogical way–to teach yourself what services you should actually provide. And it doesn’t allow people to do together what they are designed to do together, which is, in my humble opinion, to learn.

That passage hit me strongly, because as a librarian, I actively self-identify as a person whose passion is connecting people with the information they need. Have I been an unconscious guardian of the conduit? Am I one of Ted Nelson’s Priesthood, this time not of the computer, but of the information?

I reflected on this a bit and on how I interact with patrons both at the desk (in person and virtually) and with students in the classroom, and I thought back to my grad school days. In grad school I taught library instruction classes to English composition students and I had a very planned out and rigid way of doing so. I chose the topic with which I would demo the search. Then I did a whole lot of pre-searching so as to be able to show the students the perfect search with the perfect list of results that had exactly all the characteristics I wanted to be able to demonstrate.

I don’t do that now. I get students to volunteer their topics and we go off on a research rollercoaster – sometimes we start off on a search and it doesn’t net us many results, so we talk about how to broaden your search terms. Sometimes (actually, most of the time) the topic the student offers is really broad, so we think up strategies for narrowing the search. There are rabbit trails, there are dead ends. I always give time for students to do their own searching, because they will hit invariably hit these dead ends and I want to be there to walk them out of it.

I think some of the change in the way I interact with students in the classroom has come from experience and confidence in my teaching ability. But some of it has come with being willing to reveal to students that the research process most definitely can have the “schizo structure” that Bill Viola describes, and to walk with the students through the confusing maze of resources and in the end, hopefully, to see them get excited by the possibilities of research that today’s computer mediated has opened up to them.

A fuzzy picture of me teaching a class. But that's ok. Research is a fuzzy process.

In conclusion, here are a few tweets I received later yesterday morning from @wedaman about this topic:

Yes.