Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crowd-Sourcing Peer Reviews

While procrastinating and staring blankly at my Twitter feed a moment ago, I noticed this post by ACRL (ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries):

@ALA_ACRL: RT @chronicle: Open, crowd-sourced peer review works for one humanities journal:

As an OA journal editor, I was intrigued. When you click the link above, you're lead to a Chronicle article about Shakespeare Quarterly's new approach to the review process. Basically, a draft of the publication is placed online, and is open for comment by a pool of reviewers with varying specialties. The process is not an anonymous review, so those comments that are made about a submission are attached to the reviewer's name. 
I was pleasantly surprised for a number of reasons. First because SQ is a well-recognized and respected humanities publication, so the fact that they are taking the lead on re-thinking their methods is a good sign that others might follow. Second, I was happy to see positive responses from the authors: Michael Whitmore mentioned getting citations and helpful feedback from 6 people who actively involved themselves in reviewing his work (think of how much more help that would be than the usual 2-3 'experts!') I was also glad that the reviewers included both junior and senior scholars. 

One critique I have is the focus on expertise. I agree, we want people who are knowledgeable in the area in which they review, otherwise it is much harder to create rigorous scholarly publications. However, if we look for expertise alone, we lose sight of the passion of someone who might be less experienced, but who is dedicated to their field and eager to learn and share what they know. I wonder how we can balance these: perhaps through putting out a call for reviewers in addition to inviting those we know we want to work with? For some reason I keep thinking of publicly-created metadata in relation to this, and I think the underlying argument is the same: how much control do we want to give 'just folks' in determining what information is considered 'quality' or how that information is classified? Is an article's intrinsic value lessened if someone outside of the literary field (or someone outside of academia entirely) comments on it? 

This definitely gives me some food for thought to mull over with the other folks involved with B Sides-we've just set ourselves up (and are about to enter our 2nd semester) as a student journal, and part of our purpose is educational (i.e. to teach students and alumni about the publication process). Since, by and large, most journals still do the "submit research>peer review>revisions>publication" thing, I would be really hesitant to let go of peer review for B Sides when we are using it as a tool to help our fellow LIS students!
However, I think that crowd-sourced peer review is an AWESOME idea, because it lets us engage with both the author and other reviewers, provides more feedback (and more varied feedback) from a larger number of people, and allows authors the chance to gauge the reaction of those who would actually be reading their work after it was published (i.e. people in the field but not necessarily people who have been selected as reviewers). 
This sort of reviewing is also an excellent opportunity for us graduate students: I can't speak for every grad student, but I definitely think that the more opportunities we have to get involved with the review and publication process, get our voices heard, and gain expertise the better! It makes me wonder how to construct a place within our department (or even independently, if anyone is interested in working on this with me!) to create a similar model for graduate student publication, or even just to put our work out there for feedback in a less formal setting--fellow students, educators, researchers, what are your thoughts?  I am hoping this model becomes more and more accepted and widely used!

Tips and Tricks from Library School

Lauren Dodd recently posted The Dos and Don'ts of Library School on her blog, and it got me to thinking what advice I would give to people entering a Master's program. I would definitely recommend reading her post: it has some great suggestions, all of which I agree with! I thought of a couple other things that I would suggest as well, and so I am adding them here.

#1: Social networking is your friend
I shied away from becoming an active user of social networks and Twitter because I didn't see any benefit to spending my time tweeting/updating my status/etc. The last year has taught me that social networks as a professional development tool take very little time and can give you big returns. Here are the things I've found to be most helpful:
-Twitter: actively seek out other people in the field and follow them. It doesn't matter if they work in the same kind of library or have the exact same interests as you (they can even be in a different field altogether)--following a broad range of people lets you keep your finger on the pulse of the field in a much more holistic sense, and can help you refine (or redefine) what your interests are.
I've also found that it's a great way to generate a response to my own work: I always tweet when I post on this blog, or publish an article for B Sides, or speak at a conference. When you look at your 'mentions' (in my case it's @BookishJulia) you'll find that people who are reading your posts are likely to respond with helpful information about what you're working on, or even with encouragement before a conference talk.
Did someone post a link to an interesting article, or some tidbit that you find timely/useful/whatever? Re-tweet it so your followers can see it too! I learn so much from what others are reading, and can stay on top of goings-on without having to spend the whole day trying to track down articles, etc.
Use hashtags (#subject) and use them often. Same goes for mentioning people (@username). Hashtags are a way of grouping your messages with others by subject: for example, all people tweeting from ALA's annual conference this year used the hashtag #ala10 so that other conference-goers could find their tweets. This keeps your tweets from getting lost in cyberspace! If you aren't sure if a subject has a hashtag, then be the first to use it! Mentioning folks is not only a great way to have a conversation via tweets, but also allows your followers to become aware of that other person (and potentially start following them). The most useful way to do this: #FF (which is 'Follow Friday'). For example, if I want people to follow my fellow editor at B Sides, I would tweet "#FF @hypatlikeya" tomorrow (which is Friday) and my followers could follow her if they so desired. I hadn't even heard of this site 12 months ago, but if you have an e-mail with a .edu extension (which, as a student, hopefully you do!) this really is the most wonderful networking tool, especially for researchers. What's great about it is that it tracks when Google searches are done on your name, and tells you the time, date, and country in which the search was conducted--I've learned that there are more folks in the U.K. that are looking up my research than I thought. It also lets you upload papers/links to papers, abstracts, conference presentations, your CV, etc. so people can learn more about who you are and what you do, and then hopefully can follow your work! Another great option is, which has many of the same features (except the Google search thing. Also, you have to add people to your network--like adding a friend on Facebook--rather than following, which does not have to be reciprocal).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Digital Publishing for Higher-Ed Students

As some of you know, I'm a co-editor (along with the lovely Katie Devries Hassman) at B Sides: the student journal for the University of Iowa's School of Library and Information Science. As we draw ever nearer to the beginning of a new school year, I am getting more and more excited about sharing the journal with SLIS' incoming class. Because of this, I've spent quite a bit of time lately pondering digital publishing generally and by students in particular, and how we can make the process of publishing itself and educational experience.
One of the things I like so much about B Sides is that the two founding editors, Angela Murillo and Rachel Hall, put a lot of thought into how to adapt the journal to the needs of SLIS students and alumni who might not be interested in publishing scholarly articles, but who want to share their work while learning about the peer review process. This isn't to say that we just publish absolutely anything, but we try to make the peer review process as transparent and un-intimidating as possible so that students aren't afraid to submit work and get feedback on it. We also try to expand what 'publishable' means in terms of format: we publish LibGuides, websites, collection lists, reviews, class papers, slideshows, and more. All of the publications are great in terms of content and quality, and give me a much broader perspective of what's going on in the field outside of strict scholarly research. It also gives me a much better sense of what's being taught and learned in the classroom, and what students consider to be their best/most interesting work.
I know there are other student publications out there, but I am not sure how they present the journal to potential authors. We try to present B Sides not only as a place to learn about the publication process, but also a place to get feedback for your work (i.e. when preparing the final poster presentation before graduating) and a way to build your resume. One thing I'm spending a lot of time pondering right now is what other ways the journal might be beneficial to students, either in its present form or in terms of additional avenues we could explore to engage readers and authors (I would welcome any suggestions!)
The most enjoyable part of B Sides for me is talking with authors about their work and then sharing it with the world. I think in academia we can forget that people approach all types of intellectual pursuits with the same passion that I would approach, for example, my thesis research. B Sides has been a breath of fresh air because it allows me to engage with others who are doing valuable work throughout the field of LIS, but without the stricter constraints on format or subject matter that would otherwise keep me from learning about the work of librarians and students from all walks of life. It makes me appreciate the inclusive and welcoming nature not only of our journal but of the field at large, and has done a lot to shape myself as a professional and as someone searching for PhD programs (I knocked quite a few history programs off the list because I felt like they would not be open to this model of publishing).
Another great thing about B Sides (and other free digital journals) is that it opens doors for those without monetary or institutional resources to access information we present. Obviously there is still some implication of privilege in that one needs access to a computer and internet, but I would like to think that most people who want to learn about what our students and alumni are producing can do easily. I would be interested to see how well the B Sides model translates to other fields, or even to LIS departments at other schools. We don't get paid as editors, but our piggy-backing on the university's institutional repository means that we have no overhead (save for the $60 I spent on a student copy of Adobe Pro so I could work on journal stuff in my pajamas!) We are also able to attract alumni submissions (we have already published several), and have both alumni and current students who are all interested in serving as peer-reviewers. I think LIS is a great place to experiment with how we can broaden our notions of what 'digital publishing' and 'scholarship' mean, to encompass work that is done outside of academia. I can't speak to this personally as someone who is not strictly within the Humanities, but others I've talked to have said that there is some tension and unease in regards to digital publishing (most notably in regards to a digital publication not being as 'good' as that in a printed academic journal). As the cost of subscriptions can be prohibitive, it would be great to see publishing in open access journals rise in status: otherwise I worry that we will be barring all except those at well-funded research institutions the ability to make use of the most current scholarship.
I would be curious to hear about others' experiences with digital publishing: how have you been able (or struggled) to engage students in the publication process? What are your perspectives on digital publishing and access? And what direction do you think this is all headed?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Continuing Trends at CRPL

I am doing research at Cedar Rapids Public Library today, and I always get excited when I notice almost immediately the same trends occurring here that I've noticed in other parts of the state. For example, both Cedar Rapids' and Burlington's libraries were keen to advertise at the 'moving picture shows' starting in 1912. A frame would be shown with an ad for the library on it. Both also publicized themselves in the local newspaper (which seems to have been rather common around the state).
They also mention a 'Bohemian Library' which, since there is a sizeable eastern European population in Cedar Rapids, might be a separate foreign-language library? I'll have to look into it!
Just like today, many of these libraries are also facing shortages in space, but have tight funding that prohibits them from expanding. Cedar Rapids' seems more comfortable than most, but it's interesting to read the librarians' reports from around the state pleading that more money be given to them so their libraries can function.
Cedar Rapids and Iowa City especially were very active in the local schools. Both tried to distribute library cards and encourage reading at all grade levels, and nearly every month the librarians talk about visiting schools and speaking to classes. In Cedar Rapids, these visits included going out to country schools and providing books for classes. At one point in 1912 I believe, the librarian lamented that they did not have an automobile the library could use so these schools could be visited more frequently.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Modern Literacy

Books and Literacy in the Digital Age

I know a lot of writing is going on both in print and in the blogosphere about the future of books and the changing face of literacy in 'the digital age.' A lot of it is really good, but the article above (from American Libraries) caught my eye because the author shares my love of the printed book as an object as well as reading material. I have recently flung myself headlong into blogging, tweeting, etc. as professional activities, but I still spend as much time at a quiet table with dusty old library records so I appreciate the balancing act I feel like Raab is describing at the beginning of the piece. I feel like I have to put less work into balancing my digital content with my historical research (which at this point uses the tangible records as a jumping off point for discussions that largely take place in the realm of the digital). My question at this point is how the balancing act differs for folks who are doing research on digital objects/writing code/whatever. Do folks who work with born-digital content feel less of a push and pull between their media? I also wonder how much of this is due to climate: the field of LIS is one that is so rapidly developing and much more willing to embrace change and adopt new technologies than some other segments of the humanities, and I think such adaptable programs will be more likely to remain relevant than humanities programs that stick to the 'academia as ivory tower' model.

By virtue of following educators and librarians of all types in social media, I've learned a ton about technology's impact on literacy and education. One thing that comes up repeatedly and is of great interest to me is the concept of the 'digital divide.' Millenials (of which I am one) were born and raised alongside the explosion of digital technologies, and so we are (ideally) better-suited to operate within the expectations that labor-saving technologies create. However, this article and my own experience attest to the fact that reality is of course much more complicated. With the ability to research umpteen-million things a minute comes the ability to waste alarming amounts of time looking at irrelevant information (how many times this week have you played jumped between 'related articles' on Wikipedia?). More important is the fact that classing all 'millenials' within a certain technological aptitude denies the fact that not everyone is equally capable when engaging with the digital world.
The digital divide is so interesting to me because I resisted fully engaging with digital technologies for a long time, preferring instead to work with paper-and-glue books and strongly identifying myself within more traditional academic models. While I think some of the notions behind what makes a 'quality' academic career have merit (such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals, after all I edit one!), I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my friends in my department for showing me all the opportunities that digital technologies offer us as academics and educators, especially in terms of access. For example, publishing in open access journals allows scholars to share well-done research with others, even those who can not afford prohibitive paper or web-based journal subscriptions. It is great to see these sorts of ideals being embraced in everything from publishing to music. That being said, there is still a lot of privilege inherent in digital technology that is a large component of the 'digital divide.' This privilege exists in age (as a twentysomething, I am way more comfortable using my computer as a tool than my grandparents), as well as income and education.

For more on the digital divide and teaching special needs students, I definitely recommend Lauren's recent post "The Digital Divide and Library School Students."

Monday, July 12, 2010

Email and "Oral History" Interviews

I recently submitted an article entitled "E-mail as a Medium for 'Oral History:' A Personal Account" (it's under review at the moment). Basically I conducted a personal history interview using e-mail, and I wanted to compare that experience with that of recording an oral history interview in the traditional way. One thing that really excited me is that these interviews are already digitized (although obviously there isn't a digital audio component), which could save libraries money on creating digital copies of interviews (a theory that only works, of course, if a lot of interviews are done this way and then gifted to libraries. Otherwise the effect would be negligible).
There were a couple things that I pondered on a bit during the course of the research, but that weren't necessarily within the scope of the paper (which was written for a diverse audience that might not be terribly interested in the more technical details of the work).
1. The first obstacle I ran into in my own work was how to organize the e-mails. The interviewee would tend to type a few short responses to a question, but they would be in separate e-mails throughout the day as he remembered more about an event. I wanted to organize them by subject, but worried this classification would have caused these e-mails to become separated. Right now, they are organized by date, where I can look at the string of responses, although that makes it hard to find specific pieces of information. Eventually, I would like to take the e-mails and copy them into more of a 'transcript' format, which can then be a text-searchable document, but I haven't gotten that far yet.
2. Privacy concerns were something else I grappled with. Obviously, there's a level of confidentiality you need to respect when working with interviewees: you don't, for example, want to reveal their real names without their express permission. One thing that really excites me about this type of interview is how easily we can share the contents of those interviews. For example, posting an interview online would be especially easy and would allow others to more easily access historical information from that person's vantage point than they otherwise might. What I wonder about is how to balance the desire to share history with the desire to protect privacy. How do we navigate the need to ask permission before sharing information with the fact that such information can be so easily copied, pasted, linked to, etc. once it's online?
3. I also feel like this format is constrained by being accessible only to interviewees with a certain level of privilege. For example, e-mail is not a practical solution for interviewing elders who might not own, or know how to use, a computer. Similarly, people living in poverty may not own computers, and it may be prohibitive to go to a public space with free internet (i.e. rural users trying to access the local public library, particularly if they have to buy gas/bus fare to make an extra trip there). However, I've discovered it's a great way to conduct an interview with someone who is hearing impaired but still has decent vision. It's also great for people who don't have much time to devote to the interview process. I guess with any format there will be those who it privileges more than others, but it's still a useful thought exercise.

The Inaugural Post!

Hello world!
This is the first post of my research blog, where I'll chat about the latest developments in my research, especially those tidbits that are interesting but perhaps not relevant to the final published articles.
My biggest project I'm working on right now is my thesis, which I'm defending in December. I'm researching Iowa libraries during World War I, and talking about how libraries during this time changed policy/removed materials in order to better align themselves with the sentiment of the time (which was not so favorable toward German-Americans, of which there are many in Iowa). What I'm doing that I'm particularly excited about is looking at the administrative records from the libraries (board meeting minutes, finding lists, etc) so I can get the libraries' view of what happened and try to determine a motive behind their decisions. So far I've visited Iowa City, Mt. Pleasant, Burlington, Davenport, Dubuque, and gotten records scanned and sent to me from Council Bluffs. I still have to visit Cedar Rapids, Wellman, Ottumwa, and Waverly. I was hoping to visit more, but time/money constraints mean that I probably will not get to!

I've noticed a couple trends that are not *at all* relevant to my thesis topic but that I'm really fascinated by. The first is that in most of these places, it seems like the librarian ends up leaving their job soon after the war (1919 or 1920). No idea why--a lot of the resignation letters don't reveal much, but it's an interesting trend.
The other thing I love looking at is how the libraries responded to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. Most were closed for at least a couple weeks, and in a couple cases they burned materials from infected households. This is eventually going to turn into a separate research project after I go through all the records, so keep your eyes peeled for more information as my work progresses.