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By Keith Marzullo, dean and professor, University of Maryland College of Information Studies, iSchools North America regional chair
In this information age of the collection and analysis of massive amounts of data about people by both the private and public sectors, and of social media-supported hate crime, genocide, and attacks on democratic processes, who should help us think about how to protect ourselves? In a recent Forbes.com article titled “Computer Science Could Learn A Lot from Library and Information Science,” Dr. Kalev Leetaru gives an excellent answer: librarians.
He’s right. Let me give you an example. The USA PATRIOT Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. It was swiftly passed by Congress in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks. This act included Section 215, which allowed the government to obtain a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order that required third parties to hand over any records or other tangible thing if deemed relevant to an international terrorism counterespionage, or to a foreign intelligence investigation.
The American Library Association (ALA) sounded the alarm about Section 215 and its risk to privacy and to society. The ALA president, Carla Hayden (now the Librarian of Congress), pushed back strongly when the Justice Department claimed that libraries were a logical target of surveillance. Hayden said “libraries are a cornerstone of democracy—where information is free and equally available to everyone. People tend to take that for granted, and they don’t realize what is at stake when that is put at risk." Her arguments were a rallying cry for civil libertarians, and Section 215 was soon referred to as the "library provision." Their opposition argued that the risk of terrorism was too high to hamstring the FBI, and in any case, the FISA court judicial review would ensure that civil rights would be protected. In the examples used in these arguments, libraries were often featured.
Libraries were, of course, a proxy argument, and the librarians were right. As we now know, Section 215 was subsequently used by the National Security Agency to secretly collect phone records of millions of Americans. This use was authorized by FISA courts. The disclosure of this program, which is often referred to as PRISM, furthered the erosion in trust many Americans had in their government. According to PEW, only 17 percent of Americans now say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right at least most of the time. Thirty-seven percent, however, believe libraries contribute “a lot” (and another 37 percent believe they contribute “some”) to helping people decide what information they can trust.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, that we ended up with PRISM. The NSA rightfully wanted to protect Americans, and were strongly motivated to get as much data as possible to do so. A colleague of mine, who worked in the NSA, told me that the PRISM effort was made up of engineers. Engineers are taught to ask what can be done with data. Librarians, on the other hand, are taught to ask what should be done with data.
This is the kernel of Dr. Leetaru’s argument. He says we need more people trained in Library and Information Science (LIS) to inform the people who are developing social media platforms and who are collecting and making use of the massive amounts of data being collected about people. LIS degrees cover topics such as values in design, data minimization, information behavior (including from different historical and cultural viewpoints), cataloging theory, and community informatics. Knowledge like this could help ensure that our evolving information infrastructure protects and promotes civil rights for people and communities.
I’m a dean of a college whose largest graduate program is the Master of LIS (MLIS). I agree with Dr. Leetaru. We need more people trained in LIS topics working with engineers and data scientists in both the public and private sectors. But, I question a claim he makes later in his article:
Sadly, however, as Library and Information Science schools have undergone a wave of rebrandings over the past decade into “iSchools,” this emphasis on data minimization and privacy, use and users of information, community informatics, civil liberties and the human dimension of informational creation and consumption has been steadily eroded in favor of the same harvesting, hoarding, mining and manipulation that were once the exclusive domain of computer science programs.
Our college became an iSchool over a decade ago. There are more than 100 colleges and departments worldwide that identify as iSchools and belong to the iSchools organization. There is considerable diversity among iSchools and the programs that they offer, and it is hard to make generalizations; indeed, not all iSchools came from LIS schools. Some have had an erosion in the interests that Dr. Leetaru mentions, but many have not – including ours. Instead, we have become multidisciplinary, bringing in computer scientists and engineers, sociologists and psychologists, ethnographers and human-computer interaction designers to address the exact problems that Dr. Leetaru points to in his article. We have not run away from LIS values he emphasizes as being needed, but rather broadened the application of them through our educational programs and our research.
Here are two examples from my college. One large NSF-funded project, called PERVADE, studies how diverse stakeholders (big data researchers, platforms, regulators, and user communities) understand their ethical obligations and choices, and how their decisions impact data system design and use. They have many goals, including developing implementable and sustainable best practices for research ethics. This project is made up of researchers from many communities, including archivists, computer scientists, and socio-technical designers. Another project, called Morphic, focuses on providing ICT access to people facing barriers to the use of computers due to disability, literacy, digital literacy or age. They are already deploying prototype technology, including at my university’s library. A major concern of the project is protecting the privacy of the people using the technology in terms of their disabilities. They have turned down corporate sponsorship because they will not share information about their users with companies, and are even setting up an external Data Ethics Council to oversee privacy after Morphic leaves the University. The Morphic researchers come from accessibility engineering, biomedical and health informatics, computer science, and HCI.
The skills and values taught by LIS programs are even more sharply needed now that information is becoming ever more deeply embedded in our lives. We badly need to bring engineers and computer scientists together with LIS-trained experts to work together. That is what our iSchool, and others like ours, do. We are the library and information science schools for the information age.
Image: Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, speaking at the 2019 iSchools' iConference. (Image by Craig Taylor / University of Maryland)
The deadline for iConference 2020 full research papers and short research papers is Sept. 16, 2019. This means that, as of press time, authors now have three weeks to finalize and submit their research findings. Papers accepted for presentation at iConference 2020 will be published in Springer’s Lecture Notes in Computer Science.
iConference 2020 will take place March 23-26, 2020 in Borås, Sweden. Jointly hosted by the University of Borås and Oslo Metropolitan University (Norway) and presented by the iSchools, this is the 15th event in the annual iConference series. Papers on all current critical information issues are invited; contributions within the 2020 conference theme of Sustainable Digital Communities are particularly encouraged. Participants are invited to discuss sustainability from ethical, social, ecological, economic and technological perspectives. This includes trusting communities, equality, openness, privacy, cultural heritage and access to digital worlds.
In addition to research papers, iConference 2020 seeks research posters, visions papers, workshop proposals and proposals for interactive sessions; all are due Sept. 23. Doctoral Colloquium applications are also due Sept. 23; meanwhile, applications for the Early Career Colloquium and Student Symposium are due Oct. 15.
All information scholars, researchers and practitioners are welcome to make submissions and participate at the iConference, whether they are with a member-school or elsewhere; affiliation with the iSchools organization is not required.
Visit the iConference website for more information, and follow the conference on Facebook and Twitter, #iconf2020. Participant registration will open in mid-November.
Kim S., like half of mobile phone users, has an application to track her daily eating and fitness. But Kim is newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and wants to start tracking the glycemic index of her food, her blood glucose levels, how low blood sugar affects her moods, and feelings of fatigue. People with complex or unique health tracking needs like these can struggle to find a single tracking app and often resort to using multiple apps, spreadsheets, and lists.
Dr. Eun Kyoung Choe, at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool), in partnership with researchers at Seoul National University and Microsoft Research, is tackling this challenge of individualized and unique data tracking needs through the development of a mobile data collection platform, called OmniTrack.
OmniTrack allows people to easily design their own personalized tracking tool (whether for food tracking or other health or fitness needs), selecting what they want to track and how to track it, and adding extra support like reminders. The app can also sync with external tracking devices, such as smartwatches, to integrate data scattered across multiple platforms. OmniTrack is in fact so flexible, that it can be used for people with unique tracking needs across domains, such as exercise, sleep, mood, or productivity.
Dr. Choe and UMD students Yuhan Luo and Peiyi Liu are also looking at potential applications of OmniTrack specifically in supporting the tracking of complex food and other contextual data to support individuals and patients with complex diet needs, such as individuals with diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or eating disorders.
Read more of this story on the UMD iSchool website.
The School of Economics and Management at Nanjing University of Science and Technology has joined the iSchools organization of more than 100 leading information schools. It becomes the eighth school to join the iSchools this year, and has opted to support the organization at the prestigious iCaucus level.
Located in the Jiangsu Province of China, the School of Economics and Management at Nanjing University of Science and Technology is headed by Prof. Peng Wu. The school has 32 professors, 65 associate professors, and 28 lecturers, as well as 15 teaching staff and 6 adjuncts. The school’s undergraduate programs include: Information Management & Information Systems; Management Science & Engineering; Accounting & Information Systems; and Business Management & Organization Science. Master’s programs include: Library Science, Information Science & Archival Science; Information Resources Management; Business Administration; Management Science and Engineering; Library & Information Science; and Master of Professional Financial Engineering.
The school's Ph.D. program was established in 1998, and there are currently five specific directions under this program: Information system and knowledge management; Quality management and quality engineering; Operational strategy and supply chain management; Management evaluation and decision analysis; and Industrial development and innovative management. In the last three years, 27 students have received a Ph.D. through this program.
According to the school’s profile, the Nanjing University of Science and Technology (NJUST) was founded in 1953, and is one of the seven universities under the administration of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in China. In 2017, NJUST was selected to be part of the construction plan of Double-Frist Class (world-class universities and first-class disciplines). The School of Economics and Management (SEM), as one of the key schools in NJUST, takes the first position in the ranking of social science disciplines of the university. It has an influential impact in both managements field and information field within and outside Jiangsu Province.
The school looks forward to engaging with the iSchools organization in innovative ways as the organization continues its mission of spreading the iSchools movement worldwide.
The University of Washington announced a $5 million investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to create the Center for an Informed Public to resist strategic misinformation, promote an informed society, and strengthen democratic discourse. The Center is also funded by a $600,000 award from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
This interdisciplinary effort is being led by the UW Information School, Human Centered Design & Engineering and the School of Law, with collaboration from the Communication Leadership Program at the UW and numerous other university and community partners.
Read the full story here on the UW iSchool website.
The iSchools website now has a “Resources” section that will contain a collection of free resources that should be of interest to faculty, students, and other iSchool stakeholders. The inaugural resource is The Discipline of Organizing, first published by MIT Press in 2013 and now in its 4thedition published by O’Reilly Media. The Discipline of Organizing (TDO) unifies concepts and methods from library and information science, informatics and computer science, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy, business, law, and other fields.
The transdisciplinary breadth of The Discipline of Organizing has enabled it to be used as a primary or supplemental text in more than 50 schools (more than half of them iSchools) in 20 countries. It has been used for courses in Information Organization, Knowledge Management, Digital Collections, Information Architecture, Information Systems Design, Data Science, and other related fields.
O’Reilly Media has given us permission to make TDO freely downloadable at no cost under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License. Not only does this put the book closer to its primary users (instructors of iSchool courses), but we hope it sets an example of “open access” texts that the iSchools can curate for their members.
In addition to the complete text of all three versions of the latest edition of TDO, the resources collection contains nearly 100 case studies that apply TDO’s framework for designing or analyzing an organizing system. Most of the case studies were written by students as “mini term papers” to demonstrate their mastery of TDO, and they have proven useful as supplemental readings in many courses that use the book.
An editorial board headed by Bob Glushko and Vivien Petras is being assembled to manage the continued evolution of TDO as a useful resource for the iSchools community.
The iSchools may assemble an analogous editorial board to evaluate further submissions to the Resources collection to ensure their quality and relevance to the iSchools community.
Berlin, Germany. Major award for Berlin: The Berlin University Alliance has won funding as a group in the Universities of Excellence funding line of the German federal and state governments’ Excellence Strategy.
The German Council of Science and Humanities announced the decision on July 19, 2019, in Bonn. The four Berlin partners – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (where the iSchool Berlin School of Library and Information Science is located), Technische Universität Berlin and Charité (the medical school jointly owned by FU and HU) -- submitted a common proposal entitled "Crossing Boundaries toward an Integrated Research Environment" and in a highly competitive process were able to convince the reviewers of its feasibility.
As of November 1, 2019, they will receive up to 196 million euros at first over a seven-year period. The Berlin Senate will contribute an additional 6 million euros annually through the Einstein Foundation Berlin to support top-level appointments and research projects.
Click here for full story.
A $5 million gift from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will enable the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to launch a new research center focused on evaluating the impact of the internet, social media, and other forms of digital information sharing on society and politics. The UNC iSchool is lead partner in this new endeavor. The funding is part of a broader Knight Foundation initiative that is investing nearly $50 million for research around technology’s impact on democracy.
At Carolina, Knight Foundation funding will help establish the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP). The UNC iSchool is lead partner in this new endeavor, but CITAP will foster interdisciplinary research and exchange across the UNC campus and beyond. An additional $750,000 contribution from Luminate and $600,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will further accelerate and expand the center’s impact.
“CITAP capitalizes on the fact that Carolina is home to some of the nation’s leading communication, information, journalism, and legal scholars, as well as highly regarded centers focused on media law and innovation and sustainability in local media,” said Gary Marchionini, dean of the iSchool at UNC-Chapel Hill. “We envision the center as a crucible for ideas and a living laboratory for understanding the core information needs of American democracy and other socio-political systems.”
Read the full story on the UNC iSchool website.
Professor Judit Bar-Ilan passed away on July 16, 2019. Professor Bar-Ilan was born in 1958, and most recently worked in the Department of Information Science at Bar-Ilan University, where she served as head of department for several years. Her research interests included internet research, information retrieval and informatics.
Professor Bar-Ilan received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1989. She received the Derek de Solla Price Memorial Medal in 2017 from the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics, and the Association for Information Science & Technology Research in Information Science Award in 2018. She served as a member of the editorial boards of Scientometrics, Cybermetrics, Online Information Review, Journal of Informetrics, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, and PLoS One.
Professor Bar-Ilan was a vibrant and valued member of the information science community, and she will be sincerely missed. We offer condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.
The Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan) is making strides in addressing the country’s historically low K-12 school attendance through the implementation of a multi-year education development strategy that focuses on education quality. However, many of the underlying causes of low school attendance by Kyrgyz youth do not have immediate solutions, such as poverty, disabilities, and remote rural locations.
The University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) is helping Kyrgyzstan find solutions to these access-to-education challenges by leveraging a perhaps unlikely resource - the country’s public libraries.
Dr. Mega Subramaniam, a Fulbright Specialist from the UMD iSchool and internationally renowned youth library programming expert, visited Kyrgyzstan this past spring to provide support to the National Children’s Library of Kyrgyzstan in leveraging local public libraries to help address educational disparities among Kyrgyz youth, particularly in impoverished and remote communities.
Kyrgyz libraries are working hard to develop programs for early-childhood education, education for youth with disabilities and their caregivers, family learning, youth digital skills development, and much more. While they are making great strides, they have run into barriers with inadequate space, funds, and training for staff.
Dr. Subramaniam, with expertise in developing youth programming in the United States (US) for libraries and communities faced with similar challenges, introduced concepts of design thinking and connected learning that require minimal resources while also building capacity. For instance, leveraging youth peer mentors, implementing digital literacy and STEM learning tools that require little funding, space, or staff supervision, and leveraging partnerships with local communities and industries to help engage youth in the library programs.
Dr. Subramaniam illustrated implementation of these concepts through examples of her work with US libraries to support marginalized youth. For instance, a partnership between the Providence Public Library and Nordstrom to teach youth about merchandising and marketing – and a Washington DC Public Library computational thinking program for children and their families that does not require using any technology tools. She was also interested to learn about some of the extremely innovative ways that Kyrgyz libraries are already leveraging resources, such as a partnership with a brewery that helps fund the rental of athletic fields throughout one city. She found that youth in the impacted communities are so inspired by the role libraries are playing, or are beginning to play, that there is a surge of interest in librarianship careers.
Dr. Subramaniam is currently developing a study abroad program so that UMD students can visit Kyrgyzstan and experience first-hand how these libraries are doing a lot with so little, and also provide assistance to the libraries in designing, implementing, and evaluating youth programs.
Read this story in its entirety on the UMD iSchool website.
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