Science Fiction and Fantasy: Looking at Information Technology and the Information Rights of the Individual

Science Fiction and Fantasy: Looking at Information Technology and the Information Rights of
the Individual, Saturday, 28 June 2008, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm in the Anaheim Convention Center, 304 A/B, Anaheim, CA (Disneyland)

Distinguished science fiction and fantasy authors discussed their ideas about old and new technologies, how technology impacts humanity and future implications for privacy rights. Authors were Cory Doctorow, Eric Flint, Vernor Vinge, and Brandon Sanderson.

Vernor Vinge was first to address the audience. Vernor Vinge, who argued back in 1993 that “we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence” (“The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era“) began the session with a warning of a possible coming “Informational Dark Age.” He mentioned that Digital Rights Management proponents who favor proprietary formats can hinder technological progress, which he believes is crucial for human progress. He mentioned Charles Stross’s Glasshouse as a useful analogy.

Brandon Sanderson spoke about the appeal of uchronias or alternate histories, where one looks at a time period “through rose colored lenses” in places where modern people and concepts exist. He mentioned that fantasy fans love uchronias, noting steampunk, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Burroughs, Robert Jordan, and J.K. Rowling. He said scientific uchronias were popular in the early 1900s, involving warrior-heroes, and now the trend is toward wizard-heroes, where physical strength is not as important as mental acuity, where information is power and “the person who gives information is one who wins in the end” adding, “what librarians have always known.”

Sanderson shared that he was initially a reluctant reader because he was given only “classics,” which only taught him that reading was boring and that he wasn’t a “good enough” reader. The book that made him a reader was Dragon’s Bane. This story, though fantasy, was familiar to him because the struggles within it paralleled his own family’s struggles. He said librarians should teach people to love information first and focus on getting readers books they will love because that will make them readers.

Eric Flint argued strongly against current copyright laws. He said the Berne Convention was badly structured and that author copyright protections encompassing 75 years are ridiculous. He believes 40 years is enough to support an author, that anything longer actually hinders authors and other creators. Flint states that copyright law works in favor of corporations and that corporations want to define fair use out of existence.

Flint also talked about the advantages to e-publishing, noting that one format does not rule out another. He mentioned that although his first book is still in print it still sells well even though it is available online for free through the Baen Free Library (which offers 40 authors and 100 different works with no encryption- the only restriction is that you do not make money off of it).

Cory Doctrow said that copying isn’t what the Internet is good at; the Internet is best at making it cheaper to take collective action, which he says is another name for family, library, school, academic disciplines, government, and culture. The Internet is about “storming, forming, and norming.” It is communicating and creating communities of practice.

Doctrow says we are in an era of universal access to all human knowledge. He says that humanity has progressed from the days of hoarding information to sharing all knowledge. He said this is true about developing nations as well and cited his findings from his work with ALA-IFLA in Africa. He said that no matter where you were people accessed technology, whether it be regularly in real time on the Internet or every quarter year by latent links from a CD-ROM.

Doctrow said information architecture is political. He sent a rallying cry to everyone to “fight for the future of civilization. Fight over whether devices will control you or obey you.”

If We Don’t Call it Distance Learning, Does it Exist?

If We Don’t Call it Distance Learning, Does it Exist?

Saturday, 8 am-noon, Paradise Pier Hotel in Anaheim, CA (Disneyland)

Kim Duckett, Librarian for Digital Technologies and Learning, North Carolina State University Libraries, Chad Haefele, Reference Librarian, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Samantha Hines, Assistant Professor, Distance Education Coordinator and Social Sciences Librarian, University of Montana, Howard Carter, Associate Professor and Manager, Instructional Support Services, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Harvey R. Gover, 2008 ACRL/Haworth Press National Distance Learning Librarian, Acting Chair and Consultant to the Distance Learning Section Guidelines Committee, and Assistant Campus Librarian, Max E. Benitz Memorial Library, Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Kim Duckett believes librarians should adopt a philosophy of blended librarianship. Duckett says a focus on distance learners will lead to better library experiences for all because traditional learners are becoming more like distance learners as more and more students receive their education online.

Duckett says as libraries offer more digital resources for both synchronous and asynchronous learning, offering everything from virtual reference to e-reserves,  a seamless integration of library resources into Web-based course-management systems should be a top priority for librarians everywhere. She asks librarians to increase their presence online and go where their users are. She asks librarians to think about their most difficult patrons, those who do not come into the library, surmising that virtual users, having had a satisfactory online library experience, will actually visit the library.

Chad Haefele’s presented his experiences while the interim head of distance learning services at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Before his arrival the distance learning department was isolated, offered limited service, was staffed by non-MLS professionals, lacked formalized procedures, and relied on a paper based system.

Haefele moved the distance learning services to the library and physically relocated it to the circulation desk. This move expanded the distance learning hours of service (7 am to midnight instead of 9 am- 5 pm). He also employed local students  who could relate student and curriculum needs to library resources. Daily tasks were formalized and computerized, allowing for formal procedures to take hold. The end result was a highy efficient service with better communication between departments, faculty, students, and staff.
The growing demand for online education, what Haefele calls an “assembly line approach to education,” will result in a greater need for librarian specialists and ultimately, all librarians will become distance learning librarians. Above all, he believes that the distance learning department should not be walled off because it will suffer from stagnation, lack accountability and lack overall effectiveness.

His advice to distance leaning librarians is to assume you will not be there tomorrow and that you are the only point of contact. He says education is becoming a commodity and recommends partnering with others, knowing copyright law, automating the mundane, focusing on students, opening up data sources, and using full APIs otherwise, “students will leave you in the dust…. Isolation doesn’t work.”

Samantha Schmel Hines opened her talk with a quote from Anne Lipow:

Rather than thinking of our users as remote we should recognize that we are remote from our users.

Hines asked us to move from thinking of the library as place to the library as service.  She traced the growth and pervasiveness of the Internet, the rise of digital education, and the challenges we face from the digital divide.

Howard Carter discussed the long history of correspondence education and distance education. He believes the greatest challenge to distance education came with the advent of the Internet and argues that best practices for Internet accessibility results in better experiences for everyone since most library users are online and distance is a disability which needs to be accommodated. He believes that the ACRL Standards for Distance Learning needs to address libraries in general since “technology is a subscription that needs to be renewed.”

Carter laments the lack of library funding overall (he noted that the 2010 book budget at Southern Illinois University Carbondale given the current level of funding will equate to zero) and highlighted the increase in adjunct virtual faculty members and the rise in for-profit universities. New degree models, he believes, should result in more library funding and more opportunities for librarians.
Harvey R. Gover’s role was “bringing some order our of the chaos.” He summarized the findings of earlier presenters and asked librarians to refer to the Blueprint for Success: The National Agricultural Library 2008-2012 and the soon to be updated ACRL Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services.