An Unspoken Prescription for our Information Elites

By evolow

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the first day of the Avant Museology Symposium at the Brooklyn Museum. It was an experience my wife and I went into with little foreknowledge of the contents. We knew that the general subject matter would relate to the future of curation and exhibition design. I knew that the most inscrutable (least scrutable?) Art History department lecturer from my undergrad alma mater would be in attendance, and I knew there would be some famous curators there. All fuzzy notions. The event happened to fall three days after the United States unexpectedly elected Donald Trump as its next President, and the firmly liberal or left wing audience and speakers at the symposium had not recovered from the initial shock of that upset. In his opening remarks, artist and founder of e-flux (the organization responsible for the symposium) Anton Vidokle quipped that his friends were “depressed and catatonic.” There was indeed a feeling of catatonia or paralysis in the air.

A lecture by critic Boris Groys provided a retreat into the high-minded world of modern art theory, considering the question of whether museums provide art with too much protection or too little, calling up in the process the ghosts of Kasimir Malevich, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, and perhaps most of all Walter Benjamin.

Then the Americans took the stage. Or rather, two Americans and one Briton, though the effect of sudden westernization after two thoroughly Russian speakers was jarring. Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak and Chief Curator Nancy Spector sat on either side of artist Liam Gillick and discussed the (by their admission) confounding results of a 2008 group show at the Guggenheim Museum curated by Spector and featuring Gillick. The show, titled theanyspacewhatever, was a bold decision on Spector’s part to give over the space of the Guggenheim entirely to a group of ten critically acclaimed contemporary artists, with the idea that they collectively would transform the space in ways that challenge the dictates of the institution. Flipping through a slideshow of installation pieces, Gillick and Spector conceded that the exhibition lapsed into a collection of individual works rather than the grand collaborative statement originally intended. There was a wistful, unmoored feeling in the air as these three very established art world figures discussed further curatorial adventures, all the while projecting the feeling that they wanted to burst the bubble of their status and do something. The preview for the panel in the symposium program does indeed use the words “outreach” and “progressive,” but the three speakers, clad all in black and seated onstage on chic modern chairs, appeared comically distant from the America that had a few days earlier so startled and dismayed them. Between them and me lay three rows of mostly unclaimed reserved chairs. The audience, of course, appeared uniformly academic and/or artistic, skewed heavily toward age groups under 30 and over 50. The conversation lurched closer to the present political situation when the panelists called for questions from the audience. I almost spoke up, but held my tongue, cowed by the presence of my inscrutable old Modern Art professor and the knowledge of my own plainspokenness amidst all this abstraction.

The alien atmosphere reasserted itself with the ascent of famed Swiss curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist to the podium. Rail thin, the smartest dressed of all, he delivered his prewritten lecture at high speed with head bowed and a thick, not-quite-German accent.

I left the symposium stimulated and happy, but with the firm conviction that the star curators and critics I’d seen on stage could not be further removed from the benighted America they wished to reach out to. They might indeed be actively repellant. It made me sad to realize this, that for all their intellect this critical upper crust could not reach into the center, that they must in fact recuse themselves.

I thought of the election, the moral failure of the liberal elite, the wealthy centrists to blame, and the wealthy people I encounter every day at my fancy restaurant job. Then I realized a directive for the intellectual, artistic class.

My restaurant is owned by a charismatic, creative semi-celebrity chef, married to an artist and friends with the likes of Laurie Anderson and Paloma Picasso. Yesterday, Camille Pissarro’s great-grandson tipped me $10 for fetching his coat. The balance of the customer base, those who aren’t members of the creative elite, is made up of financiers, dentists, and attorneys. They don’t perform academic or creative work, but they are all too glad to express their appreciation of creative and unusual cooking. If they can claim a friendship with the aforementioned chef, even better. My realization is that these people, the plutocrats who so disproportionately dictate society’s course, rely upon the creative elite for validation. They desperately need the friendship, approval, or at least output of the creatively blessed to give their lives texture and meaning. They need to know that when they left this or that Ivy to pursue a JD or MBA, they did not somehow lose out to their friends and classmates who got MFAs instead. They must beat back the encroaching darkness of intellectual oblivion and moral bankruptcy. My recommendation to their more enlightened validators, then, is simply to wield that influence. Withhold validation. Nudge your moneyed acquaintances left, or let them suffer.

On the way home from the symposium, I found my confidence growing, wishing I had spoken up earlier. I decided to take my notes home and send an encouraging, clarifying email to Spector, Pasternak, and Gillick. Then I found that none of their email addresses are publicly available. The end.

Intelligence Machines

By jasonz

I watched a TED Talk presentation by Kevin Kelly, an executive editor of the Wired magazine, on how AI can bring on a second Industrial Revolution. The presentation analyzes the various stages of human evolution and discusses how artificial intelligence would become the center of the next phase of our technological evolution.

In his presentation, Kevin Kelly points out computing devices are derived from physics and nature despite all the wonderful things that they have done for us in the recent years,. Modern computing devices operate on nothing more than wires and switches. Computer programs simply make recurring patterns based on sets of instructions given by humans. As a result, regardless of directions of technological development, technology has tendencies. Kelly compares tendencies of technology to the movement of raindrops, while the movement may be erratic, the general direction is downward. Similar to raindrops, the general direction of modern technologies can be predicted despite the complexities behind them.

Kelly points out artificial intelligence will be the major area of research and development in the next stage of our technology cycle. Research and development effort in this cycle will be focused on making computer programs smarter and more intelligent instead of just softwares that help us perform repetitive tasks. He coins this next stage of technology cycle “cognification”. To exemplify the idea of “cognification”, Kelly brought up Google’s AlphaGo, the computer program known famously for defeating the world’s Go champion. Kelly also brought up Deepmind, another Google’s computer program that is capable of learning how to play video game.

Kelly points out our idea of artificial intelligence is generally misguided. We tend to think of artificial intelligence as analogous to a single music note that has only one attribute: loudness. He sees artificial intelligence is a symphony of different music notes in which deductive reasoning, spatial reasoning, memories all have roles in defining intelligence. As we change arrangement of “notes”, artificial intelligence can help us in different ways. For example, GPS device is capable of pinpointing our location because we program it to be good at spatial reasoning. Search engine is good at finding information because we program it to be good at deductive reasoning. As technology evolves so does the need to create different arrangement of “notes” to meet our other computing needs.

The presentation concluded with an analysis of the stages of human evolution. Kelly predicts that we are at the verge of next stage of technological evolution in which artificial intelligence, like steam power in the Industrial Revolution, would change the way we live. Machines would take on new meanings. Computer programs would become more than just productivity applications. While artificial intelligence may set us up for a future in which many jobs would be replaced by machines, it cannot do it easily without the help of humans. The rise of artificial intelligence would also engender new jobs and opportunities. We can take advantage of these opportunities by learning, understanding and embracing artificial intelligence.

While I do agree with Kevin Kelly’s prediction that research and development effort will directed to creating smarter and more intelligent technology, I think the word “intelligence” can be overused these days in describing the future of machines. According to Wikipedia, “intelligence” can be defined “in many different ways including as one’s capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity and problem solving. It can be more generally described as the ability to perceive information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context” Kevin Kelly’s vision on artificial intelligence reminds me of Phoebe Senger’s article that tries to give machines cultural identities. In “Practices for a machine culture” Senger points out that “the hope is that rather than forcing humans to interface with machines, those machines may learn to interface with us, to present themselves in such a way that they do not drain us of our humanity, but instead themselves become humanized” While machines that are capable of learning and problem-solving are on the horizon, we still have a long way to go in bringing other aspects of intelligence such as emotional knowledge, self-aware, and creativity to “intelligent” machines using just wires and switches.

I agree with Kelly that our understanding of artificial intelligence is limited. We are often sold on the idea of “intelligent machine” but we don’t understand the tremendous amount of effort involved in creating it. Even with advances made in AI architecture in the recent decade (“Why Deep Learning Is Suddenly Changing Your Life”) and the progress in natural language recognition using computer softwares (“Introduction to Natural Language Processing”) I think there is a long way for artificial intelligence to revolutionize our lives. Considering frequency of the words “artificial intelligence” appear in science journals and technology web blogs, I have yet to see any noticeable way “intelligent” machines are impacting our lives. Given the vast amount of resources tech companies like Google and Apple have poured in AI research (“Google Opens New AI Lab And Invests $3.4M in Montreal-Based AI Research”) and considering the fact that bots in video games have been learning our moves and beating us again and again in boss fight for many years, Google’s AI learning how to play video game and AlphaGo defeating the world’s Go champion isn’t all that impressive. Again, as someone, who is not involved in AI research, I am most likely underestimating the effort involved.

As an avid follower of emerging technology and fan of science fictions, I am always looking forward to an Utopia in which robots can provide assistance and answer to our need in meaningful ways. For this reason, I recently purchased a Google Home device, a Google product that represents Google’s latest attempt in bringing artificial intelligence to our homes. While the product is marketed to be the portal to Google’s most advanced AI platform. There is very little it can do other than playing music at the command of your voice and giving you generic answers to general questions. If Google Home embodies our vision of future artificial intelligence, then there is a lot more work to be done. In conclusion, while I am more inclined to Kelly’s hopeful vision over techno pessimists’ view of artificial intelligence, I think we need to educate ourselves about complexities and technical challenge of artificial intelligence before judging its potential.

Sengers (2000), “Practices for a machine culture: a case study of integrating cultural theory and artificial intelligence”

Roger Parloff, “Why Deep Learning Is Suddenly Changing Your Life” Web, Sept 28, 2016

Matt Kiser, “Introduction to Natural Language Processing” Web, Aug 11, 2016

Darrell Etherington, “Google Opens New AI Lab And Invests $3.4M in Montreal-Based AI Research”, Nov 21, 2016

Beyond Academic Journals: Addressing the Barriers to Scholarly Communication

By etoole

In late November, I chose to attend a panel on experiments in academic publishing hosted by the Scholarly Communication Program at Columbia University. Each of the three panelists addressed the issues faced by the academic community in the publication and distribution of scholarly work. The forward-looking discussion focused on strategies for reworking the funding structure of academic journals and alternative systems for the dissemination of research works.

The first presenter was Mackenzie Smith, University Librarian at UC, Davis. Her presentation focused on the unsustainable costs associated with maintaining academic journal collections from the perspective of someone in her position as university librarian. Due to the combination of inflating costs of subscriptions – which have been rising at a rate of 5% to 8% a year – and stagnant or shrinking library budgets, the number of libraries capable of affording such collections is decreasing. To address this problem, Smith assessed various alternative systems which hold the potential to reduce costs and improve access.

To begin, Smith compared North American and European models of academic publish. The model we are more familiar with in the US relies on libraries to pay the cost of publishing through subscriptions. In Europe, researchers (or, more likely, their institutions or grants) pay what is called an Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in journals which then provide open access to scholarly works. On the contention that the international nature of academic work forces the adoption of uniform publication systems, Smith proceeds with an investigation into how a global APC-funded, open access system would impact large North American research universities such as her employer.

It was found that, if the processing charge for all research publications in a given year was covered by UC Davis, the cost would amount to almost double the annual journal subscription budget. Furthermore, shifting the burden of publishing costs to those institutions which produce the most research would disincentivize publication without resolving the problem of funding. Her research also showed that the attitudes of academics to the acceptable amount of processing charge depending on where the money was coming from. Broadly, they were insensitive to the cost of publication if funds were derived from institutional sources or the library budget. On the other hand, if this cost was taken from their discretionary research or departmental funds, they tended to be much more frugal. In conclusion, Smith suggested that this price-sensitivity could be leveraged to initiate competition between publishers and induce them to lower their processing charges.

The second presenter was Kevin Hawkins, Assistant Dean of Scholarly Communication for the University of North Texas Libraries. His presentation focused on future strategies for collection and proper usage of “big data about published research.” Hawkins was concerned that such a quantitative picture of the academic publishing would could improperly inform the evaluation of different fields and be used to marginalize certain fields based on their poor performance in the realms of purchasing, licensing and online usage. His presentation thus focused on developing a “consensus framework” and some sort of cooperative of “libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, aggregators, and other stake holders.” Membership would provide entities with the relevant big data while also stipulating adherence to a code of conduct which would prohibit its misuse.

The final presenter was Peter Muennig, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at Mailman School of Health. His work was directed at the development of a free journal which requires neither subscription or publication fees that reworks the structure of incentives to encourage peer-review and commentary by verified scholars. Broadly targeting scientific research, OurJournal will combine text-mining and other automated techniques to connect articles in need of peer-review with scholars whose research interests match the article’s subject. The software then sends an automated “natural language” email to potential reviewers who will receive increased presence on the platform. The novelty of Muennig’s project is the use of a digital/social platform to expedite the lengthy peer-review process, the way it ensures the visibility of less established contributors and its optimization for hand-held devices.

Overall, the panel gave the impression that the academic publishing is in crisis. Conventional academic publications are increasingly unaffordable even to the university libraries whose mission is to provide students with access to a wide range of current academic works. It is hard to grapple with the fact that the scholarly community which both publishes and consumes all of these works is mediated by a dysfunctional system of publications which sets financial barriers to either the transmission or the receipt of knowledge produced.

While some of the presenters proposals gave hope for an improved solution, I was left wondering – likely because of my lack of prior engagement with issues of scholarly communication – why the tactics focused on restructuring funding of journals or creation of new journals. Instead, now that the means of distributing information are exceedingly cheap, why not abandon the publishers altogether? Muennig’s platform seemed to come closest to this by rejecting money altogether. However, his platform is still understood to be an open access, free and online journal rather than a wholly new model. At the onset of the panel the  host encouraged the audience of scholars to make use of Columbia’s Academic Commons and noted that “note everyone has the privilege that we have to have access to the information and we want to increase that access through the AC.” I hope that, after the collapse of the current regime, this sort of scholarly communication network will prevail and remove all barriers to access both within and without research institutions.

The ARChive of Contemporary Music: A Closed-Off Treasure Trove

By tim gann

The ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC as they like to be called) is located in the first floor of a building in Tribeca, just south of Canal St. Frequently closed to the public, the only way to enter the building is to call someone inside, or tap on the glass doors with a key. Stepping inside, one is greeted with many rows of shelving units roughly 15’ tall, all filled with records. The archive grew out of the personal collection of B. George, an ex-DJ who worked with artists such as Laurie Anderson and literally wrote the book on Punk and New Wave, and who is also giving me some time to ask him some questions. Interestingly enough, the biographies found on the ARC website of George as well as Fred Patterson, the Head Archivist, have more music credits than they do traditional LIS credentials. The only other employee is Alex Curtin, a recent LIS graduate, and the only one with any formal training. “We had a real archivist here,” George jokes, “but they didn’t know anything about music!”

Still, this lack of trained professionals is reflected in they way the materials are stored: records are tightly packed on some shelves, too loose on others, and stacked horizontally in some cases. The staff has little to no control over the temperature and humidity of the building, creating potentially harmful environments for the materials. In addition to the bulk of the collection on the first floor, there is also a basement storage section. This area, which houses, among other things, what Patterson tells me is “maybe the largest collection of Country music in the world,” is peppered with roach traps, some of which are not empty. Dust is thick in the air, and considering the institution’s location towards the tip of Manhattan, it feels less than stable.

George knows this, though. It is no fault of his own that these conditions fall far short of ideal; he and ARC are merely victims of a scarcity of resources of many kinds. Despite the high-profile projects and jobs they’ve completed – old clients include MTV, Rolling Stone, and Martin Scorsese – they are still underfunded. Though they have applied for state and federal funding in the past, they have been routinely denied to the point where they no longer try (this, George explains, is because ARC’s collection is deemed commercial because the recordings fall under the wide “Pop” umbrella, which encompasses any genre that isn’t classical). Rent costs for the building, again considering the location, are terribly high (though George is hopeful that a permanent building will be bought for them with the help of Atlantic Records, which works closely with ARC and donates recordings). ARC’s collection and funding are completely donation-based, though some funds are given with the express purpose of buying particular records; however, this limits how much money can be spent on operating costs.

The lack of funding and staffing also affects access: with only three full staff members, George explains, and so much work to be done, it’s too much for them to have to deal with people coming in to use the collections – they’re just too busy. Michelle Caswell writes about and tries to dispel the cliche of archivists as “bureaucrats who hinder rather than aid access to records,” but ARC in some ways embodies this cliche – focused solely on preserving the records, ignoring anyone who might want to use those records. But George is quick to point out that the main mission and purpose is to build the collection for preservation purposes, and that’s what they need to focus on in their day-to-day operations.

It’s not as if George wants to keep the collection away from people. George expresses great hopes that partnerships with Atlantic Records as well as the Internet archive will help expand access to the public. ARC has partnered with the Internet Archive for several projects, and Brewster Kahle, founder of the IA, also serves on the board of advisors. They have not only helped ARC with digitization projects, but have also helped store some of ARC’s collections, particularly the CD and 78 collections. The Internet Archive has also begun to digitize these collections on their own, taking those responsibilities over from ARC. On the other end, the IA gave ARC one of their Scribe machines, which ARC has used to digitize books, primarily on Jazz, in ARC’s collection. These digitization projects have allowed the IA to open up a listening room in San Francisco, and George hopes that access can be opened up even more as these projects develop.

ARC is wise to prioritize their CD collections. As Bob points out, CDs are relatively unstable media compared to vinyl, especially CD-Rs (which ARC collects – one particularly bright part of ARC’s policies is their willingness to accept music even if it’s an extremely low-budget, DIY self-release). Still, there are no current plans to digitize ARC’s LP collection, which is the real bulk of the institution. While they pledge to try to keep two copies of everything, it’s not as if these copies are stored offsite, instead residing next to one another on the same shelf. With no digital copy, some of these recordings are at great risk of being lost in the event of a disaster. And considering the conditions detailed above, it’s easy to imagine a scenario that could decimate the collection. But understandably, there is only so much time, and only so many resources, and ARC’s collections contain millions of recordings, all of which could not even be listened to in several lifetimes. And the collections only grow as the years pass – certainly, there has been no dearth of new music over the years.

It is enough that ARC does what it can, because ARC is unique. No other institution collects the music ARC collects and certainly not in the capacity they do, and ARC is the largest collection of pop music in the country. After all, there is a huge struggle in many institutions between the ideals presented by standards and the often-grim reality of their situations. Despite these issues, there is hope for improvement, especially as collaboration between the IA continue. The IA has helped immensely in managing, storing, and digitizing materials, and with their considerable resources, ARC will certainly be able to continue collecting more and more music.

Caswell, M. (2016). “The Archive’ is Not An Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies” Reconstruction 16(1).
George, B. (2016, December 5). On ARC Operations [Personal interview].

Observation at the NY Federal Reserve’s Archives

By kraines

On Friday, December 9th, I joined associate archivist, Julie Sager, and observed her work at the New York Federal Reserve’s. I spent a few hours in the afternoon with Miss Sager, observing the work she does and discussing current issues in archiving. The day was as exciting, as it was interesting. Simply entering the building was awe-inspiring as you can’t help but imagine you’re walking into a castle. A tower adorns one corner of the stone structure and huge arched ceilings mark an era of grandeur in New York construction.

First we stopped up in the library, a bustling room of cubicles and chatty voices. Miss Sager described the work she does on most days, starting with email and research in the mornings. Some afternoons consist of status meetings or a recent committee to re-establish the access and retention policies for records stored on-site. However, most afternoons are spent researching in the archives for queries and FOIA requests.

Most information requested through FOIA is already available through public record but many people think a FOIA request is required. When information is sealed, a FOIA request does not guarantee access. Access is determined by the law department. Other times, the requester want to see the steps taken during research by the archivist, as required by FOIA requests. Miss Sager helped to develop the reporting system used to track the workflow of research using a program called sharepoint. The library and archivist team is able to track all research because the program allows for reproducible searches and reduces research time for similar or multiple inquiries on the same info.

Next, we walked through the archives and records rooms as she discussed a recent problem. We pulled a few boxes in archives to search through later. The archives and records are stored in old cash and coin vaults. They are sealed behind huge metal doors with complex locking mechanisms (picture gringotts in Harry Potter.) Recently, Miss Sager has been following the trail of some missing records. Lending to banks was typically recorded in the meeting minutes by members of the federal reserve; however, during WWI lending practices reported through a different method. Miss Sager was able to determine why the records are missing from archived meeting minutes but has not been able to find the missing information. Interestly, Miss Sager is now responding to the 3rd of 4th request from different parties in the last year for the same missing info.

Records are created by outside parties, such as banks and businesses, and are stored on-site for a predetermined amount of time. Miss Sager has recently been involved in the research and decision to change the time a record is kept in storage at the federal reserve. Based on information she has found at other institutions, she suggests they keep records for 20 years before removing or archiving them. When a record is removed, it is either returned to the creator or destroyed. I asked how Miss Sager feels her career may be affected by the move toward digitization in archives and libraries. She says that her career will be secure for at least the 10-20 years left in current records. She and her boss also plan to find classes based on archiving born-digital documents. She says, “There aren’t as many solutions to born-digital [records] yet… I have records now that are printed emails because they didn’t know how to save them at the time.”

The idea of printing emails to save them is laughable but during a time when servers couldn’t host, save, or archive important emails, printing was the best solution. Digital preservation comes with the challenge of fragility. Born-digital objects do not fade in sections or lose only portions of information as a book or printed object would. Rather, they become unusable with time due to file corruption and most often because hardware has upgraded. (1) Most often in preserving born-digital materials, we rely on printed emails, screenshots, and other second hand methods of retention. The original will never be captured fully, although snapshots may convey the intention. This method of preservation may be the only solutions we have currently but in the overwhelming amount of information created in today’s digital age, new options will need to be explored.

(1) Rosenzweig, R. (2003, June). Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era. The American Historical Review, 108(3), 735-762.

Diversity in Art Libraries

By aguzmanb

For the observation post I decided to do something a bit different. I will be speaking of three libraries, all focused on art. I will not only speak of public libraries but also private (an internal library) focusing on the diversity of the employees and clients of customers. From here on, I will refer to myself as the author.

Gagosian Gallery (Private gallery)

The Gagosian Gallery has a growing private library – of approximately 3,000 books, not including the approx. 560 books in the private library of Larry Gagosian, the owner, and the approx. 1,000 auction houses catalogs, dating back to 1989 – for its employees, mainly in its 980 Madison and 555 West locations. Currently, the author is one of the two library interns that work under the supervising librarian. The Gagosian library services the professional staff of the company with art history, museum and private collection books for research for current and future – up to a year in the future – exhibitions and publications. Additionally, the interns can utilize the books in-house for university research or assignments given to them by the staff. In short, the Gagosian in general is not  a very diverse company. Since the staff – and interns – are 95% white and of money, the lack of diversity is very apparent. There are some people of color: the security staff is all black, two of the staff are Hispanic and the two library interns are of color – one black and the author, a Hispanic. There is no one of visible disability and few gay men, which seems to be a norm in the art world. The author spoke to some of the staff about the huge disparity in economic and race of the company and got answers like: “it’s always been this way” or “I never noticed, I don’t see color or care how many money people have.” One of the employees went as far to say, “it is better this way, there’s no reason to change if it works. I mean, if it’s not broken why fix it?” So this is what it is like to be ignorant to the lack of diversity in a workplace… Like Vinopal says, effectiveness of bias awareness interventions is the first step to developing insight into how implicit biases affect negative workplace behavior. But, if most think this way and no one is willing to do anything different, who is going to be the person doing the intervention? It can’t be an intern because they are there to “learn,” not give inputs about how things are run. This has got to be one of the most frustrating things in the business.

(This library was chosen because it is a place representative of the gallery world, a once attractive world to the author. This study was specifically about the Gagosian 980 Madison location)

Frick Art Reference Library (Public with membership)

The Frick Art Reference Library is a must for research in the art community of New York City; hence, the author felt she must speak of it. Let’s begin with the staff itself. The woman who does the check in of bags and coats was of color, not sure if black or hispanic. However, the rest of the staff appeared to be white. What was very noticeable was the age of the staff, many being young – at least front-of-the-house. The people who came to visit also seem to be young, and there specifically for research and not for pleasure. It appears that this library is mainly used by students and scholars since the author did not see that many older people come and go. Not much stood out and so there is not much to say.

Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Public with membership)

The Thomas J. Watson Library is, as the Met itself, a prestigious institution with great research resources. The library services not only the public but the staff and volunteers of the museum. The Watson Library is a closed stack (non-browsing) and non-circulating collection devoted primarily to art history. Hence, the author had to request books in advance to be able to sit in and observe the staff and visitors. There is a different library on site, the Nolen Library, for researchers who would prefer to use a browsing collection – which the author found out about after the visit. However, the Watson has a collection used by other museums, galleries and school, which is why it was chosen. The day chosen for a visit seemed to be a particularly slow day, however, the staff seemed more diverse than the others visited. The library had  a staff full of different races, sex orientation and gender identity. It was pleasantly surprising. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, is a highly regarded institution that has been actively working to create and appeal to a diverse community so it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It has an initiative that aims “to create ongoing relationships with the many diverse communities that make up New York, to diversify Museum visitorship and Membership, and to increase participation in Museum activities” – which truly shows even in the staff. Of course, it mainly employs people of the white race but it is definitely going in the right direction. This library, and institution, gave the author hope that change is happening – at least in larger institutions.

Vinopal in her article expresses, “we are starkly lacking in diversity based on race and ethnicity (we are overwhelmingly white), age (librarianship is an aging profession), disability, economic status, educational background, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other demographic and identity markers of difference.” And how right she is. Even though the author is a hispanic woman of color, she never really paid attention to the disparity of the art world, including libraries. Vinopal gives a few ideas for LEADERS to ponder over and create change in her article, but real change seems ions away. It is upsetting to notice that there isn’t a very diverse group of people working or visiting art libraries. We shouldn’t have to think of diverse groups by race, sexual orientation or disability, etc., but when most people you encounter are white, it is hard not to.

Vinopal. J. (2016). “The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action.” Lead Pipe.

The Metropolitan Museum’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative:

The Rose Reading Room South Hall: A Few Observations

By amarti68

On November 20 2016 I went to the New York Public Library and entered the Rose  Reading Room for the first time. It had been reopened for only a few weeks. After seeing the amount of hype and press surrounding the reopening alone I was pretty excited to see how the new retrieval system worked, how many people would be interacting with the new materials available again to the public, and who would use the other resources available within the room. I observed the room for three hours on Sunday and found that many people are not there for the books now available to the public, or to use the resources found within the library itself; but for the space to use their own devices to use New York Public Library’s wifi.

I stayed in the Rose Reading room on a Sunday afternoon for two reasons: that is when I assumed people that lived in the city had the most free time, and the materials found in the rose reading room are not able to physically leave the room. This restriction forces users to remain in the room for however long it takes them to digest the material. The hours I remained in the reading room were from two o’clock to five o’clock.

When I entered the room it was divided into two sections, I chose the South Hall because it allowed tours to enter and take pictures, then leave in order to truly get a sense of how much traffic the Reading Room was receiving. I also chose this side of the room, because there was only one scanner. If someone wanted access to the materials in the room, but could not dedicate the time to fully read it, the possibility to scan the work is of great interest. I assessed every half an hour how many people were currently within my half of the room taking pictures, how many people were sitting at the tables, using their own computers, as opposed to the computers in the room itself, had books, were on their mobile device, used the scanner or copy machine, and spoke to the librarians.

For some items I check throughout the half hour, and others I checked stagnantly. In relation to the number of people that spoke to the librarian, and using the scanner and copy machine, I recorded throughout my time in the South Hall. For all other items I recorded every half hour, due to my inability to focus on them all at once and record my findings accurately.

During my first half an hour of observing, there were fifty-seven people seated in the room. There were ten people in the tourist area by the entrance taking pictures, and three people in total spoke to the librarian. There were only three people using the provided research computers, and two people used the copy machine. A total of five people had books on the tables in front of them. Thirty people of the fifty-seven had their own computers or laptops in front of them and nine were on their phones.

During my second half hour of observation there were sixty people seated, and eighteen in the tourist area. One person in total spoke to the librarian, three had books, and two were on the research computers. Independently, thirty two people were on their own computers, and nine were on their phones. One person in total used the copy machine.

From three pm to three-thirty sixty people remained seated, and thirty-six were standing in the tourist area. Thirty-four of them were using their own computers, three were using the research computers and ten people had books. Two people used the copy machine and nine were on their phones.

For the next half hour sixty people were seated and twenty five were in the tourist area. Fifty people were using their computers, and fifteen were on their phone. Seven people had books and two were on the research computers.

From four to four-thirty the number of seated people remained sixty, the tourists area had twenty-five people, fifty remained on their own computers, and fifteen on their phones. Seven had books and no one spoke to the librarian in an hour and a half.

For my last half hour of observing there were fifty people seated and twenty in the tourist area. No one spoke to the librarian or used the copy machine as in the previous half hour. Ten people were on their phones, two were on the research computers, and forty were on their own computers. Five people had books.

An important note on the low levels of usage for the scanner is that it does not do what most scanners are able. The scanner does not have the capacity to send scanned images to an e-mail address, they can only sent to USB. This is very limiting in that not everyone carries a USB drive with them, yet everyone has access to an email address. The copy machine costs ten cents a copy, this is the reason I assume there was so little use of these two resources.

I also attempted to take out books from the Rose Reading Room as a final test to see how well it performs as a lending library. I requested my books at two forty-five and the librarian dictated to me that the wait time would be forty-five minutes. In order to do so, I needed to have a library card, an address, a phone number, and an email address to fill out the form with the book information on it as well. I waited until the library closed at five o’clock that night and heard nothing about my book requests. I received an e-mail at ten o’clock that my books were then available and ready for pick up for the next five days. I never received my books nor did I have the time to return to the library and even look at them.

This kind of behavior from the largest public library in North American is unacceptable. The books I requested were not available to the public while the Reading Room was under renovation, and then the retrieval time for said books is much longer than the dictated amount. The amount of free time someone must have in order to interact with this system and be available to interact with the materials that the library houses is unrealistic for the average American living and working in New York City unless they have a certain amount of priviledge where they have hours of obligation-less time. For those well seasoned in how the New York Public Library functions, and is familiar with the long wait times, I do not see how this experience would be encouraging for a first time user’s repeat visit.

The Littlest Patrons

By mmckale

“If libraries were just for adults, we would have closed a long time ago.” – Jodi Shaw, Children’s Librarian

I visited my local library in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, at naptime. A pleasant time of day there, when the library is as one expects the library to be: quiet. In a few hours, this space would become an explosion of sound, with kids of all ages arriving to read, play, and discover.

The Carroll Gardens branch is under the umbrella of the Brooklyn Public Library, a network of 60 libraries serving over 2.5 million residents [1]. The branch is staffed by Ms. Shaw, three other full-time librarians, four clerks, a part-time librarian and a technical research specialist. It is one of eighteen “Carnegie” branches of BPL, known as such because they were built with funds from a 1901 gift from Andrew Carnegie (previously, the library had “…typically rented retail space to provide local service.”[2]) The Carnegie branches are beautiful, welcoming spaces – though not always organized ideally for a modern library. Stroller parking is an issue at the CG branch, and the bathrooms are not easily accessible via the elevator.

This particular location is also one of several where the children’s section is on the same floor as the main library, which makes for some challenges – generally, from 3 pm on, adults seeking peace and quiet must look elsewhere. But, as Ms. Shaw noted, the under-5 set is exactly with whom she is looking to engage.

Though adults certainly use the library – there were a number there during my observation, many on computers (watching TV! Using FaceBook!) and a few reading newspapers or browsing the stacks – it is children around whom the world of the library revolves. Programming is heavily weighted towards kids, with four weekly storytimes – often with kids and caregivers lining up around the block up to an hour in advance –  an ongoing arts & crafts program, monthly dance party, and frequent workshops like Lego challenges and Library Lab. There are also four computers dedicated just to kids, which offer educational games and programs like ABC Mouse.

Many of the children’s programs are generated by the Central Library for use by the various branches. While this seems like a practical way to organize a vast network, Ms. Shaw has reservations about this “top down” method. As she pointed out, the community served at the Carroll Gardens branch is very different than the community served at, say, the Brownsville branch. So shouldn’t the librarians at each branch have the opportunity to build programming that is most appropriate for their community?

Ms. Shaw did note that there are some ways in which she and the other librarians can get creative. First, any funds raised through events with their “Friends” group – a volunteer library advocacy group [3] – go directly to the branch. The Friends of the Carroll Gardens Library group is robust, and regularly holds book sales and bake sales – including a recent bake sale on Election Day (the library was a polling place) that raised almost $1,000. Second, Ms. Shaw and her colleagues have a fair amount of autonomy when it comes to spending these funds and developing new programming.

Ms. Shaw also recently worked with library manager John Leighton and the office of Congressman Brad Lander to submit a proposal for Lander’s participatory budgeting project, in which neighborhood residents have the opportunity to vote on how to spend their tax dollars.[4] Their proposal, for a dedicated teen space and an after-hours book drop, won $350,000. With these funds, they plan to improve the lighting, add outlets, and free up some open space where they can install comfortable furniture, all of which they hope will encourage teens to use the library as a safe place to hang out after school.

The Carroll Gardens Branch is a special place, and Jodi Shaw is a huge part of that. She is an engaged, excited librarian, committed to her constituents in a way that seems rare. She is an active member of the American Library Association and regularly attends their conferences (BPL pays her way at one conference each year); she hopes to take on a leadership position there soon. She has written several articles for Public Libraries Online [5], exploring topics from collections digitization to figuring out how to manage crowds at storytime. And she is working hard to engage with the Central Library to ensure that her branch is meeting or exceeding its community’s needs.

Any visitor to this branch will note that it is a community hub, where people of all ages come to work, play, and engage with their neighbors. But it is especially friendly to its littlest patrons.






Webinar Event: “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility”

By nfesta

“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.”[1] Similarly, we can say the same about scholarly publications in the digital age. The Webinar event, “Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility,” presented by Dr. Martin Paul Eve and hosted by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) discussed the ways in which the digital age and the unlimited reproducibly of scholarship has changed the expectations of researchers toward scholarly communication. Our digital technology promises the notion of access to infinite resources. But as Eve identified, our social and economic processes do not compliment this idea of abundance. This lecture therefore considers a variety of challenges with open access as a way in which to identify solutions to this disconnect between infinite reproducibility and scholarly publications.


The lecture began by considering why academics publish as a way to refocus the objectives of scholarly communications systems. According to Eve, academics publish their research for two key reasons, dissemination and assessment. Scholars disseminate their work as a way to communicate their results to their academic communities as well as to put their ideas “on the record”. Publishing also ensures that their records will be preserved by institutions, colleagues and within the footnotes of future scholarship. Additionally, scholars publish their work so they can be assessed. Assessment allows for recognition and promotion. By having research published, especially by a renowned publishing house in the field, the work is recognized as a critical contribution to scholarship and results in salary promotion within Universities. While publishers will pay scholars a small salary of patronage, which enables academics to produce work that will contribute to their field, the majority of their salary depends on Universities, as their contract requires and incentivizes publishing research. Scholars are not dependent or affected by the royalties from the sale of their publications. Therefore, publishers can make a profit, often substantial, from the sale of these publications to library institutions. A major problem within libraries is that they have insufficient funding to provide academics and students sufficient access to these publications year after year. Moreover, since libraries purchase the publications rather than researchers, researchers are not cost sensitive to the publication ecosystem. This entire system results in researchers driven to produce ever more work, hyper-inflationary price increases, libraries unable to afford to purchase publications, and the micro-monopolies of scholarship.[2] However, as Eve argued, these issues also existed in the pre-digital age, beginning at the age of mechanical reproducibility. And, digital technology might help us with these conflicts.


Referencing Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Eve asserts that the digital age and digital reproduction and dissemination, similar to the technical reproduction era of photography and film in the early 20th century, has caused a profound change in its effect upon the public.[3] But as discussed in class, the digital (computer) revolution, has affected a much larger and wider scale of people than that of the industrial/ print revolution. Similarly, as Moor theorized, “as computers permeate more and more of our society, I think we will see more and more of the transforming effect of computers on our basic institutions and practices.”[4] We have consequently seen this effect as our traditional work has transformed into instructing a computer to do a job.[5] Therefore, the job in which we now assign to a computer to complete has become an invisible operation.[6] And this notion of the invisibility factor in the computer revolution is directly applicable to Eve’s conceptions of the effects of digital scholarly publishing.


In the digital age, we don’t need multiple print copies. We can reproduce, disseminate, read and access information digitally. Moreover, we can have interactive scholarly communication. As the Internet is a system that provides us with information freely, it has become expected that free access be given to articles on the Internet. As a result, when a user is asked to pay for an article, it is believed that the fee is for the shareholder’s return and going towards the author and/or publisher. However, the fee for access to the article is actually for the invisible labor of the producing the article. As Eve clearly articulates, digital reproduction hides labor functions seen within the print age and the costs of labor have changed between print and digital. While labor functions, such as type setting, proofreading, editing, preservation, marketing, legal budgets, etc., are still included in digital labor costs of production, the cost of dissemination is lower in the digital age. This is why digital reproduction has invisible labor in comparison to print reproduction. These issues of labor invisibility within digital reproduction of scholarly communication are also reminiscent of our class discussion on computer invisibility. Computer invisibility of software and systems inhibit the public from evaluating where the information is coming from as well as prevents technology literacy. Digital labor invisibility and computer invisibility therefore, similarly impact and change the public’s perception of information provided and consumed through digital technology. Thus, systems such as open access and open software/free software are seen by many as a solution to several of the concerns of invisibility within digital technologies.


Open access systems provide free access to read and to refuse scholarly communications by enforcing a processing charge on library institutions. However, as Eve asserts, the current open access system is not economically sound. It costs more for institutions to pay the article processing charges for open access than it did for them to just subscribe to publications individually. Since our current scholarly publishing system enables publishers to have control over an authors work, they also determine how the work will be accessed within open access systems. As Eve points out, it makes no sense for scholars to produce their research to then hand it over to publishers for almost no cost, as it is then sold back to the university libraries for a high price. To combat digital publishing’s economic and labor systems within open access systems, Eve proposes that many small to moderate sized libraries should pay a small sum to companies like the one he helped found, Library Partner Subsidy (LPS), as LPS will conduct the labor of publishing so that the scholarly works can be available to everyone. By having many institutions participate in this system, they will be able to provide fully free access to their users to a wide range of publications for a fraction of the cost. While Eve’s analysis and solution lead us to support his own initiatives, his ideas are interesting to consider. By having a middle-man institution working with providing libraries with open access by removing the labor costs placed on the shoulders of publishing firms, institutions and their users can gain more access to information for less of cost.

[1] Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,”(2005 [1936]).

[2] According to Eve, Micro-monopolies in this context refers to the concept that each scholarly published work is individual and cannot be supplemented by another scholar’s or publication’s work.

[3] Eve references Walter Benjamin’s theory of mechanical reproduction

[4] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[5] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 5.

[6] Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,” Pg 6.


Technology and Publishing: The Work of Scholarship in the Age of its Digital Reproducibility

Benjamin, W. (2005 [1936]). “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” trans. Andy Blunden. philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

Moore: “What is Computer Ethics,”


Critical Awareness of Big Data

By emolina3

The article by danah boyd and Kate Crawford, “Critical questions for Big Data: Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon,” discusses the shortcomings of Big Data, specifically in correlation with social media. One of the arguments they put forth in their paper is the way in which data from Twitter is not what it appears to be. Since posts are public by default on Twitter, the “data” from the site is often analyzed or used in research, but those publishing their findings don’t always make it clear that Twitter posts aren’t necessarily representative of what they claim to be. As boyd and Crawford point out, “Twitter does not represent ‘all people’, and it is an error to assume ‘people’ and ‘Twitter users’ are synonymous: they are a very particular sub-set…Nor can we assume that accounts and users are equivalent” (2012, p. 669). As they go on to explain, some users have several accounts, or many people use the same account, or tweets on an account are generated by a bot. There are also those who use Twitter in a passive sense: rather than participate, they simply look at what others are saying. These varying types of users are indicative of the fact that Twitter cannot be relied upon as a representative sample of the population. Unfortunately, however, although some researchers do point out the inherent flaws of using data from Twitter, many news sources do not. Thus, many people don’t question the analysis of what users are expressing on Twitter, or statements relating to statistics of what is happening on the site.

It is this lack of questioning, and lack of awareness, that is worrisome. Big Data is everywhere we turn, yet many people don’t stop to think about the ways in which it is all around us. When the iPhone came out with the touchpad home button, many people didn’t think twice about turning over their thumbprint to their phones (and, as an extension, the company that makes them). Payton and Claypoole write in their book, Privacy in the Age of Big Data, “As business and government collects and benefits from all of this data, capturing data becomes an end in itself. We must have more and more data to feed the insatiable appetite for more. And yet, we are not having a serious public discussion about what information is collected about each of us and how it is being used” (2014, p. vii). This is most likely because the average person does not stop to think how creepy many of these tracking systems are; they either don’t care or don’t realize it’s happening. To return to iPhones as an example: several updates ago, location tags suddenly appeared on photos. As I am very paranoid about any possible intrusions into my private information, I immediately went to my settings and turned off location services for every single app except for Google Maps (and even then, the location is activated only while I am using the app). However, when I brought the issue up to friends, no one else seemed to care that their phones were essentially tracking them.

And yet, the joke is on me. Because GPS is not the only form of tracking on phones. Pinging between cell towers can also help determine location (the first season of “Serial” should have taught me that). It can also be tracked via WiFi, if the phone is continually searching for different networks (another default setting, although that function can of course be turned off – and it most certainly is on my phone). Not only does tracking happen through these types of relatively subtle ways, but it can also happen in the form of a game. As laid out in “Terms of Service,” the graphic novella by Keller and Neufeld, participating in social media can be highly compelling, even if it means giving away a plethora of information about yourself (apparently checking in on Foursquare enough times to become “mayor” of a space is enough to overcome any feelings of hesitation). For those who don’t participate in the technology at all, it can feel isolating: “Once enough people reveal their information, then NOT revealing your information becomes a stigma” (2015, p. 12). There is also a form of pressure that can happen when a person doesn’t have social media accounts: people may think or act like that person is weird for choosing to abstain.

Many of the services that are touted as time-saving and efficient, such as Amazon Go, are actually tracking insane amounts of data on each user. Of course, it’s clear that Amazon is on a mission to take over the world (and no one seems to be upset about it), but people should at least be on the alert about a service that is keeping tabs on users in multiple ways. Using Amazon Go would mean providing the company with data on your physical location, your buying and eating habits, and your credit card information. The convenience of it all (not having to stand in line to check out, not having to interact with another human being), as well as the novelty, is what consumers will focus on, but what if Amazon’s databases are broken into and suddenly a hacker knows everything about you? Not worth the convenience after all.

There are also, of course, the new types of technology that have recently begun to invade homes: Google Home, Amazon Echo, ivee, etc. Here are some very worrying default settings for the Echo (and the other devices work similarly): past recordings are kept to improve answers the for future questions; location services are activated, the better to suggest nearby stores and restaurants; and the microphone is ALWAYS ON (Studio One Networks, 2016). These settings can all be changed, but will the average consumer know/care to do that?

In this day and age, everyone needs to be aware of, and protective of, their privacy. It is all too easy for both corporations and the government to keep track of and use data that is collected on the average citizen. Knowing the ease with which your movements, preferences, beliefs, habits and more can be recorded and tracked, it is the responsibility of every person to, at the very least, be aware of the accessibility of their individual data. People can decide for themselves how much or how little to reveal through their use of products and websites, but it is important for everyone to question the necessity of the data they are putting out into the world. Knowledge of this, as in most cases, is power.



Boyd, D. & Crawford, K. (2012). “Critical questions for big data: provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon.” Information, Communication & Society 15(5): 662–679. 10.1080/1369118X.2012.678878

Keller, M. & Neufeld, J. (2015). “Terms of service: understanding our role in the world of big data.” Al Jazeera America.

Payton, T. & Claypoole T. (2014). Privacy in the age of big data: Recognizing threats, defending your rights, and protecting your family. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Studio One Networks. 2016. Expert Q & A: How private is the new Amazon Echo? Retrieved from

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