The Neutrality Illusion and How to Combat it

By amarti68

Robert Jensen brings up an interesting point in his article, “The Myth of the Neutral Professional” from 2004 when he states that an intellectual in any society is not neutral. Intellectual Professionals, such as librarians, serve a function; that function is to solidify the position of the elite. They do this by validating what they choose as important for the masses. Jensen talks about how librarians take on the agenda of the elite through things like acquisitions and programing, but something he does not acknowledge is the tagging system which also confirms the agenda of the elite. Librarians are the gatekeepers of information. Today, patrons have access to sources not kept by librarians for almost any information they like, however, the most valid source of intellectual information is still housed in some form of library. Libraries get their funding from somewhere, which makes them some form of extension of the elite as well. A library may house many voices, but a higher structure chooses those voices. Accessibility has changed how patrons interact with information. Librarians can use this to create a more open library system, and acknowledges its bias.
Intellectuals cannot ignore the interconnectedness of institutions in the United States. Institutional libraries do not stand alone in a web of power structures. A government unit of some kind does fund them. By extension, the rich and powerful elite, to some extent, control said government units. Libraries extend much farther than just career academics and intellectual professionals, especially academic libraries. Today the average millennial has to go to college to be financially secure; therefore the impact of an academic library reaches into more minds than ever before. The impact of so many people having their own perspectives in the social sciences could alter the future of how Americans think. The question is, with so many sources for information accessible, how will the average American react?
Just because there is an option for someone to verse themselves in new ideas, does not mean that, they will not simply narrow their field of view in order to focus on what matters to them. Whether to embrace knowing a little bit about everything, or accept that knowing everything about one thing is impossible seems to be the intellectual conundrum of the 21st century. I feel that in this paradox is where the excuse of neutrality is most dangerous. The idea of neutrality allows for those desiring to narrow their field of view to continue to do so without recognition of the bias they are gaining. By not advocating for new voices, libraries can enable this behavior, “[…] to take no explicit position by claiming to be neutral is also a political choice, particularly when one is given the resources that make it easy to evaluate the consequences of that distribution of power and potentially affect its distribution.” (Jensen, 2004) If you look at the structure of cataloging there is a particular field where this distribution of power is transparent: tagging. In the tags field, the goal is to describe a book in key words, findable to the patron. In a sense the librarian has freedom to tag something as whatever they like, but at the same time that person is limited to the acceptable “neutrality” where they must tag the item with accepted terms recognized by society as associated with the object. Using conventional tags for these materials is good for someone seeking out that information. But it limits the ability for someone to stumble upon this material, exposing them to something new or a new viewpoint on the subject matter. If it became the convention to tag things as related to a field that oppose it, or give a new view on it; less direct tagging, could be a solution to this small scale interest situation. The internalization of people is something that should be acknowledged by the intellectual professional, as well as their own biases. Another solution can be to add a new field to the tagging system recognizing the source’s lens before interacting with the source.
For example, if someone has limited themselves to knowing only about the issue of deforestation of the Amazon, they might limit their keyword search to “Deforestation” and “Amazon” which will educate them on that specific topic. The materials that person gains access to could include animals placed on extinction lists because of the deforestation, active parties causing the deforestation, and what governments might be doing to stop it. On WorldCat there is a field where that person can limit further by ‘Topic’. They can look at their subject of interest through a sociological lens, agricultural, anthropological, and many more. This field is the best solution one can find to the lack of neutrality in the library field. There are still limited available sources about the ‘medicine’ topic as a lens on the subject of the deforestation of the Amazon (one to be exact) but the patron can recognize a different lens on the same subject they have interest in.
The concept of neutrality in a library setting is an excuse for legitimacy at best. It needs to be clear to a patron that there are necessary biases involved when dealing with a body of information, whether that be in a physical library or when accessing an online catalog. As library professionals there are steps we can take to identify our catalog’s limits that will create transparency with patrons. Informing the public that they are exposing themselves to a limited collection of viewpoints at any given time could make that person more open to new voices. It may help that person realize that there will always be another way to view something, which is the true issue of the neutrality illusion; it creates an authority in something that can only honestly claim to be a small collection of intellectual thought.

Jensen, R. (2004). The Myth of the Neutral Librarian. Progressive Librarian, 28-34.

Information Deserts

By mmckale

Access to information is widely viewed as a core principle of democratic society. But what if there are populations who don’t know how to find what they need, or even know that it is available to them? This thought occurred to me as I read Chapter 1 of “The Wealth of Networks” by Yochai Benkler. Benkler, an optimist who believes deeply in the potential power of the internet as a force for good, argues that “From a more substantive and global perspective focused on human development, the freedom to use basic resources and capabilities allows improved participation in the production of information and information-dependent components of human development.” [1] While this is almost certainly true, Benkler’s reasoning relies on the assumption that potential users (and producers) of information know how to access and use it.

As we discussed this topic in class, I thought of the library in my neighborhood, the people who use it, and what they might use it for. The library, obviously, houses a wealth of information, and also provides practical services like help with becoming a citizen and registering to vote. But how do people learn how to access that information? How do people even know where their library is? What if they don’t have one in their neighborhood, or town? I believe that, in fact, there may be vast “information deserts” here in our own city, as well as around this country and the world, where most people are not able to access the resources that are, in theory, available to them.

The idea of an “information desert” is based on the “food desert” concept, defined by the USDA as “…parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas…largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” [2] An information desert, therefore, might refer to both geographic areas without libraries or perhaps internet access, as well as groups of people – the elderly, possibly, or non-English speakers, or people without cell phones or home computers – lacking the ability to access available resources.  

A specific example of the latter concept is discussed by Jeff Cohen in his 2013 article, “Living in a College Information Desert.” Cohen responds to a piece in the New York Times, “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor,” which highlights a disturbing statistic: “Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges.” [3] Cohen argues that “This phenomenon is largely due to a lack of information and access to cultural capital (i.e., knowledge about college and the associated application and financial aid processes)” and that “there are entire neighborhoods and even regions where nobody knows about or has attended selective colleges or, more importantly, that there are meaningful differences between the colleges that one might attend with respect to support, learning environments and graduation rates.” [4]

The effects of this situation are far-reaching. As the Times article points out, the graduation rate for low-income students attending local colleges is only 50 percent, versus 89 percent at selective colleges. [5] This fact alone limits the future prospects of these students, without factoring in that graduates of selective colleges will likely have better job opportunities than those who graduate from local colleges. When high-achieving students don’t attend universities with high academic standards, they are denied opportunities for success – and the world is denied their potential contribution.

The Times article suggests that the onus is on universities to address this issue. [6] Cohen has a number of suggestions, including funding more college counselors and programs that bring graduates from selective colleges to high schools in low-income communities. [7] I think a combination of efforts could, in this case, have a significant effect. I also think there is a role for the government, especially in ensuring that all public high school students know how to apply for financial aid (which may open up more possibilities for them).

More broadly, information deserts affect a variety of populations (but especially those in low-income communities). How, for example, do the unemployed search for jobs? If one has a home computer with internet access, we might say that it’s easy enough to use employment websites. But what if one doesn’t have a computer or internet at home? They can certainly use the library. But what if their community doesn’t have a library, or it’s too far or difficult to reach? This limits their options to a very narrow scope. (And even if they do have internet access, we are assuming that they know what sites to use and how to use them; we assume that they know how to write a resume and cover letter, etc; this is a different kind of information desert, perhaps – an information literacy desert.)

Benkler’s fantasy of the internet as a great equalizer has merit. But we still live in a time when not everyone can access the internet, and not all of those who can know how to use it to their advantage. This will surely change organically over time as our culture becomes more and more “plugged in.” But in the meantime, we must work to ensure that all populations have ways of accessing information that is critical to their lives. This may mean bringing computers into senior centers; providing free wifi in public spaces; advertising campaigns advising people as to where they can find information they need; and any number of other case-specific solutions. Awareness of the issue is the first step towards finding a remedy.

[1] Benkler, Y. (2006). “Introduction: a moment of opportunity and challenge” in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, 1–18.


[3] Leonhardt, Dave. “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor.” The New York Times, March 16, 2013.


[5] Leonhardt, Dave. “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor.” The New York Times, March 16, 2013.

[6] Ibid.


Can Our Stance Toward Facebook Be Critical Enough

By hwilli13

Oral Histories

By emolina3

I recently visited the Brooklyn Historical Society to conduct an interview with Brett Dion, whose official title is Oral History Project Archivist. Dion received his library science degree from Pratt, and began working at the New York Transit Museum during his final semester in school. He was there for seven years, at first in the archives and then as a registrar (which involved maintenance of the collection and loan paperwork). During his last couple of years at the Transit Museum, Dion began taking workshops at the New York Writers Coalition, and ended up volunteering with StoryCorps. As Dion describes, StoryCorps is a mutated version of oral history, because of the editing and streamlining process: often, when relating a story, people jump around and meander along in the telling. While from the oral history perspective, the narration should be left in its original state, StoryCorps condenses and edits to create a more straightforward version.

When Dion heard of an opening at the Brooklyn Historical Society in the oral history department last October, he jumped at the chance to interview. He wanted to expand his experience in collections, as he had never worked with audio recordings before. He was hired to stay on for two grant-financed projects; he is still working on the first, which must be 70% complete by this upcoming spring in order for the funding to continue. Much of the work done to preserve or archive collections at BHS is funded by grants, so much so that there is a staff member whose sole job is to apply for funds and write proposals. The project Dion is working on now is with legacy oral histories, which date back to 1973 and are stored on audio cassette. He is digitizing, doing conservation work for the tapes that are falling apart, and making the histories more available than they’ve ever been before. Using a system called the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS), developed at the University of Kentucky libraries, Dion will put them online and make them accessible in a novel way: the audio will be synched with the transcripts. When uploading an MP3 and a file of the transcript, it is possible to lock them in place and match up the words that occur at every one-minute mark. This entails Dion (or one of his two interns) listening to each oral history within the system. At every fifty second mark, a bell goes off to tell the listener to pay attention; another bell goes off at sixty seconds, which is when Dion or the intern must highlight the word that is being spoken at that exact time. It then jumps to the next fifty second mark, and so on. Dion says that after an adjustment period, the process can go pretty quickly. Before matching up the audio, there must first be an evaluation of the transcripts themselves, which were created when the histories were recorded, back in the 1970s and 80s. Dion and his interns listen to each recording while carefully going over the accompanying transcript, to make sure that the initial transcription was accurate, and to correct any misspellings. Often the narrators of the histories will share their birthdate, but that information must be bleeped out, as a protection against identity theft. The Oral Historian at BHS, Zaheer Ali, wants the year to be left in, so that listeners can have context about what was happening in the world at the time, so only the day and month are removed (in both the transcripts and the audio).

The tapes are composed of sixty-seven interviews (starting in 1973) of Puerto Ricans, most of whom were born in the 1880s, and emigrated to Brooklyn in the 1920s and 30s. As a result, many were trying to get jobs just as the Great Depression was hitting; not only did they have this going against them, but they were very badly mistreated by other immigrants at the time. Dion says the tapes have survived remarkably well, but that as he is doing the transcription and audio work, he is often struck by the scripted quality of the interviews. He notes that it seems clear the interviewers have some purpose in mind, and are guiding the narrators to tell a specific story. This, of course, made me think of “The Ethics of Fieldwork,” by PERCS, and how one of their specifications is to not ask leading questions (p. 6). I was not able to hear the recordings Dion has been working on, but his description led me to believe that the interviewers at the time were not being as ethical as one may have hoped (of course, at that time, the ethics of fieldwork were much less defined than they are now). We can also only hope that the participants were not chosen to be interviewed because they were seen as “exemplified or erotic,” (p.8) and that it was simply because they were new residents of Brooklyn. Zaheer Ali’s philosophy is much more within the ethical framework PERCS lays out: he usually has a certain theme in mind, which dictates who he conducts the interviews with, but his strategy consists of letting those he speaks with tell him about their lives in whichever way they choose. One such theme revolves around the neighborhood of Crown Heights; in 1991, a riot broke out between the Hasidic Jews and African Americans who lived there. Fatalities occurred, followed by days of violence and unrest. BHS went to the area two years later, to find out how people were healing and recovering. As it is now the 25th anniversary of those riots, BHS is collecting new oral histories, and making the 1993 recordings available to the public.

I see oral histories as giving voice to those who are not always heard, and undermining what Kincheloe and McLaren describe as discursive practices, which they write are “defined as a set of tacit rules that regulate what can and cannot be said; who can speak with the blessings of authority and who must listen; and whose social constructions are valid and whose are erroneous and unimportant” (2002, p. 94). This might be a romanticized view, as the decision of who to interview and why is up to the organization collecting the oral histories; as a result, one person (or, more likely, a committee) is deciding who is worth interviewing. This means that many groups who may greatly benefit from being heard may never get that chance.


Elon University. Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. The ethics of fieldwork module. Retrieved from percs/EthicsModuleforWeb.pdf

Kincheloe, J. L. & McLaren, P. (2002). Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In Y. Zou & E. T. Trueba (Eds.), Ethnography and schools: Qualitative approaches to the study of education (87-127). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Library As A Political Arena

By dlachenm

Ever since their onset as a public institution, libraries have been political in nature. After the death of Alexander the Great and the subsequent break up of Macedonia in the Hellenistic age, there was a boom in the creation of libraries as institutions of the state, where previous collections of merit were kept privately by the elite. Kings recognized the value information had in a world that was continuously vying for power and control. In many instances they would go to great lengths to obtain scrolls and works of prominent thinkers, which in turn would draw scholars and the elite to their libraries, only furthering their prestige and power. Most notable of these first state-funded libraries was the Library of Alexandria, which became a “comprehensive repository of Greek writings as well as a tool for research” under the Ptolemaic dynasty ( Threatened by the new and growing status of the Library of Pergamum the Ptolemaic kings adopted strategies of war to ensure that the Library of Alexandria would remain at the top of the pedestal, by cutting off trade of papyrus and imprisoning scholars wishing to trade sides. While by no means as violent or even overt in its undertaking, I would argue that libraries and fields of librarianship remain arenas of political advocation today, whether used as such or not. What is born political, remains political. As Birdsall puts it, modern “libraries are the creation and instrument of public policy derived from political processes” (Birdsall, 2). And it would be more advantageous to embrace this sentiment than attempt a detached stance of neutrality or impartiality.

In the vein of the political, libraries have long been heralded as institutions embodying democratic values. Ideals of intellectual freedom, free and open access, literacy, and inclusion have been championed by public figures like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and even Keith Richards, with the library specifically in mind (Bushman, 3-4). Many of these ideals are ones that this country claims to be governmentally founded on, but have not been fully realized or enacted until quite recently. In keeping with this tradition and continuing to break with the structure of white, male, elitist hegemony, librarians are in a position to enact change in a professional and academic setting. Whether it is advocating for more politically correct classification and subject headings through the Library of Congress or using displays in local libraries to address social and cultural issues in their specific community, librarians have a great opportunity to channel democratic values, expand perspective, and seek social justice in seemingly small but penetrating ways. There are many in this field who wish to remain apolitical and would like to keep politics out of libraries altogether. This can be exemplified in a fairly recent comment by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. Representative of Florida’s 23rd congressional district and member of the Democratic party. In respect to the discussion of the Library of Congress updating the subject heading of ‘illegal alien’ to ‘noncitizen’ or ‘unauthorized immigration,’ she is quoted as saying that the Library of Congress should choose “subject headings without political influence” ( I, however, would argue that it is impossible to create an appropriate subject heading for people who wish to be and are not yet citizens of this country without any allusion to politics, just as I would argue that removing politics from the library altogether is impossible. In shadowing both Desmond Tutu and Robert Jensen, the application of neutrality in any professional environment simply does not exist. There will always be a distribution of power and to “either overtly endorse or reject that distribution is, of course, a political choice” (Jensen, 3).  Furthermore, to remain detached from the issue by claiming neutrality is essentially the same as agreeing with the powers that be or the current state of affairs, a specific stance and also a political undertaking. Instead of tiptoeing around this issue or keeping the political nature of ourselves dormant, I propose we embrace it as a catalyst and a much more constructive and productive way to bring about change.

In order to truly and fully express how this can be accomplished, I would like to showcase Jenna Freedman, a blue haired reference librarian at Barnard college, and the work she has done to actively bolster politics in the field of librarianship through her creation of a feminist zine collection at Barnard in 2003. Zines are themselves an anomaly, in that they are an untraditional medium for cataloging in libraries. They are do-it-yourself magazines that run the gamut from handwritten and stapled to professionally printed, serving as a unique form of personal expression on an array of topics and can be considered primary source material about contemporary popular culture. As a self-proclaimed anarchist and punk, it is Freedman’s nature to “critique privileges and challenge social hierarchies,” (Eichhorn, 126) “in favor of egalitarianism and environmentalism and against sexism, racism, and corporate hierarchies” (Eichhorn,126). It is through this lens that she has founded the feminist zine collection at Barnard, which currently consists of more than 1,500 zines in their open stacks collection and over 4,000 zines in their adjoining archive. All of the zines in their open stacks collection are duplicated in their archive for preservation and cataloged in Worldcat, so they are visible to not just Barnard, but the library community at large and available through interlibrary loans (Eichhorn, 128-29). The political and activist nature of this collection is two-fold, encompassing the “actual space of the library and the more conceptual space of the library catalog” (Eichhorn, 129). The fact that Freedman herself is not just a reference librarian, but crosses over the boundaries of special collections librarian, archivist, cataloger, and scholar makes her a defier of professional library tradition within the space of the library. Her decision to catalog the zines was a “way to change the status of the zines,” (Eichhorn, 129) giving them validation and making them as important as any other published material. Additionally, by adding the zines to Worldcat she has given researchers greater access to contemporary feminist material, a “discourse on feminism that, at least until the late 1990’s, was still primarily accessible in private collections” (Eichhorn, 130). There are only a few other collections of zines of this nature, including the Riot Grrrl collection at the New York University and the collection at the Sallie Bingham Center at Duke University. As if this wasn’t enough, Freedman keeps an open dialogue with the producers of the zines in her collection due to the highly personal content in the zines, in the case that they want their name removed or in the case that a female to male transgendered zinester no longer wants their work apart of a feminist collection (Eichhorn 130-31).

In an age where we have just appointed Carla Hayden, a woman and an African-American, as the first person in 214 years to hold the post of Librarian of Congress other than a Caucasian man, it is high time we went the way of Freedman. Her willingness to cross boundaries of librarianship and assert her tenacious beliefs in order to provide greater access to knowledge are most definitely political, as well as something to be admired.

A Place for Google Books in Critical Information Studies?

By theo_walther

Having worked at the New York Public Library since January 2010, I was only around to see the end of the library’s active partnership with Google on their ambitious Books project. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to recount the entire history and controversy surrounding the Google Books project, from its informal beginnings in 2002 to today. However, I will try to place the project and the NYPL’s participation in context, but more importantly consider whether such a project could be a beneficial tool for use in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s concept of Critical Information Studies, as well as whether it would raise his concerns about copyright issues.

Google Books began with the idea of doing nothing less than scanning all of the world’s books and making them available and searchable online. Work on the project began in secret in 2002. A small group visited some of the more notable, existing digitization projects, including the Library of Congress’ American Memory Project, Project Gutenberg, and the Universal Library at Carnegie Mellon University, to see how they worked and the challenges they faced.[1] Google co-founder Larry Page also reached out to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, site of digitization projects such as JSTOR. When told it would take an estimated 1,000 years to digitize the university library’s seven million volumes, Page said he believed “Google can help make it happen in six.”[2]

It wasn’t until December 2004 that the NYPL became involved with the Books project as an initial partner in what was then known as the Google Print for Libraries project. The Print for Libraries project was the next big step in the Books project, attempting to scan and make searchable the collections of several major research libraries, including Oxford, Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Stanford.[3]

However, it might have been the announcement of this next big step that led to the controversy and lawsuits that would mire the project for years to come. While the agreements Google made with the research libraries would only allow it to “publish the full text of only those library books old enough to no longer be under copyright,” it also stated that for copyrighted works, ”Google would scan in the entire text, but make only short excerpts available online.”[4] Even if they were only making short excerpts available online, though, the fact that Google was scanning entire texts of copyrighted work without first obtaining the permission of the author or copyright holder led to lawsuits. The most notable of these lawsuits were the ones filed on behalf of authors by the Authors Guild[5] and on behalf of publishing companies by a group consisting of McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons.[6]

What, then, would Vaidhyanathan make of the Google Books project, particularly as it relates to his concept of Critical Information Studies (CIS), as well as his concerns about copyright? Just as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recount the entire history and controversy surrounding the Books project, it would be just as difficult, if not impossible to include Vaidhyanathan’s possible reaction to each point of history and controversy. Instead, I will try to imagine Vaidhyanathan’s opinion of the Books project around the time of the NYPL’s initial involvement and ensuing lawsuits.

On the surface, a project to scan all of the world’s books and make them available and searchable online would be a tremendous tool related to the first field of CIS as described by Vaidhyanathan in his article “Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto.” Vaidhyanathan believes that people should have “the abilities and liberties to use, revise, criticize, and manipulate cultural texts, images, ideas, and information.”[7] Although not a complete fulfillment, Google Books would certainly have allowed people to use and criticize cultural texts in previously unimaginable ways and scale.

However, in a June 23, 2006 conference hosted by the Library and Information Technology Association entitled “Contracting for Content in a Digital World,” then Andrew W. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of the Research Libraries at the NYPL David Ferriero described two troubling anecdotes that seem antithetical to the second field of CIS, quickly ending any possible embrace of Google Books by Vaidhyanathan. Ferriero described Google as “very private about their scanning operations; we’re not allowed to take pictures; they developed their own equipment, their own software for the OCR, etc.”[8] Such a secretive, proprietary process to digitize the books seems at odds with Vaidhyanathan’s support of open source software as a way to “facilitate access to and use of scholarship and information.”[9]

More damning, however, is Ferriero’s explanation that “according to the terms of the agreement, the data cannot be crawled or harvested by any other search engine; no downloading or redistribution is allowed.”[10] While he did note that “the partners and a wider community of research libraries can share the content,” it still goes against not only Vaidhyanathan’s previously mentioned support of open source software but, more importantly, the second field of CIS.[11] Vaidhyanathan believes that users should have the “rights and abilities…to alter the means and techniques through which cultural texts and information are rendered, displayed, and distributed.”[12] With Google limiting access to their search engine and prohibiting downloading or redistribution, the Books project fails to be an appropriate tool for use in Vaidhyanathan’s CIS.

But what about the issues of copyright raised in the lawsuits filed against Google by groups representing authors and publishers? Vaidhyanathan spends time in his article describing everything from the history of copyright in Europe and the US, famous writers’ interest in copyright, theoretical concepts of copyright, to more recent, controversial copyright laws and cases. Despite that, it doesn’t seem that Vaidhyanathan would have as much of an issue with Google Books, at least regarding the copyrights of authors and publishers. It’s not that he wouldn’t want authors to be fairly compensated for or have no control over their work. But in his commitment to the dynamic, interdisciplinary nature of CIS, Vaidhyanathan exhorts that “every scholar committed to CIS should insist on retaining some of her or his rights to publications and making them available as widely and cheaply as possible.”[13]

Where the question of copyright and the Google Books project might become more concerning for Vaidhyanathan is what Tim Wu described in his 2016 The New Yorker article as a possible “monopoly in online, out-of-print books.”[14] To that I would add that through their partnership with many of the world’s leading research libraries, Google would have access to books that, while they may no longer be under copyright, are rare or difficult enough to access that Google would have an effective monopoly on them as well. Combined with their above described walled garden approach of access to information and it would almost give Google an implicit copyright and ability to make money on any out-of-print or rare out-of-copyright books they can scan.

A plan to scan all of the world’s books and make them available and searchable online at first seems like it would be an ideal tool for the scholarly analysis and debate of such dynamic, interdisciplinary fields as those found in Critical Information Studies. However, the restrictions of access placed on the project by Google itself are antithetical to those fields of study, as well as the abuse of copyright with which CIS often concerns itself.

[1] “Google Books History.” Accessed September 9, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Markoff, John, and Edward Wyatt. “Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database.” New York Times, December 14, 2004. Accessed September 9, 2016.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Authors Guild Sues Google, Citing “Massive Copyright Infringement”.” The Authors Guild. September 20, 2005. Accessed September 9, 2016.

[6] Wyatt, Edward. “Arts, Briefly; Major Publishers Sue Google.” October 20, 2005. Accessed September 9, 2016.

[7] Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto.” Cultural Studies 20, nos. 2-3 (March/May 2006): 292-315.

[8] Stuivenga, Will. “Contracting for Content in a Digital World.” LITA Blog. July 11, 2006. Accessed September 9, 2016.

[9] Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto.” Cultural Studies 20, nos. 2-3 (March/May 2006): 292-315.

[10] Stuivenga, Will. “Contracting for Content in a Digital World.” LITA Blog. July 11, 2006. Accessed September 9, 2016.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manifesto.” Cultural Studies 20, nos. 2-3 (March/May 2006): 292-315.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Wu, Tim. “What Ever Happened to Google Books?” The New Yorker. September 11, 2015. Accessed September 9, 2016.

Visiting the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection and Archive

By alchomet


“He just went right over to that picture of him and Diane and smiled.” Eileen Chapman, Associate Director of the Arts at Monmouth University, explained to me what it was like when Bruce Springsteen himself came to visit the archive of his fan materials at the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection at Monmouth University. “He mostly wanted to just look around, but he didn’t request anything.” Still, she seemed pleased with the memory. “I can’t believe I forgot to ask him to sign the guest book!”  Eileen acts as director of the archive, assisted by Alana, a social work student at Monmouth. Together with another student assistant, they have tackled the work of tracking, arranging, and housing the collection, corresponding with patrons, providing reference, and serving the reading room.

There are no professional archivists on the staff, and none have ever worked there, but the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection is not a typical archive in a lot of ways. Most notably, the collection has nothing to do with Monmouth University’s library system, although it is housed on the Monmouth campus–the collection is not in the library, the librarians do not work on it, and the library system, for now, is not in the process of acquiring it. The archive is a single house located on Monmouth’s campus across the street from the student center, and adjacent to the performing arts building. It still looks a lot like a house–until the Springsteen collection moved in, it had been a living space for Monmouth students.

Eileen explained that the collection had been kept at the Asbury Park Public Library until 2011, when she suggested that the Friends of the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection (the group of fans who support and act as a kind of Board of Directors for the collection) move it to Monmouth University, only a few miles north of Asbury Park. She said that the public library really didn’t have space to house the quickly-growing collection, nor did they especially have the tools to provide access to its wide range of audio-visual formats. Various parts of the collection were being in stored closets and other strange spaces in the library, she explained, and library staff and directors began to disagree with the Friends over the treatment of the collection. Eileen was eventually able to convince Monmouth to take it on, although it took years. She told me that it had been a hard sell to the University to agree to house the collection–the library director did not agree that it would be relevant to the school’s library, and it remains apart from it today. The archive house only gets a few visitors a week–maybe 4 or 5, according to Eileen, and none of the University faculty have incorporated the collection into their coursework.

There are other subtle downsides to the archive’s move: unlike the public library, the house is open from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays only, rendering it inaccessible to most with a full time job. Its location–set back from an arterial street of the campus–is not exactly easy to find, even with a GPS. I had in fact taken a cab from a New Jersey transit station in order to get there, but then had to wander a bit before I saw the little unmarked house. Further, moving it even a little way outside Asbury Park makes it a harder stop for Springsteen tourists to make (although all visitors need to make an appointment with Eileen before coming in).

The archive house still retains some of the cozy feeling of a home, although much of the actual living spaces are occupied by steel shelving and Hollinger boxes, housing around 20,000 items of Springsteen fan material. The front living room of the house operates as the collection’s reading room. There is a large circular table for researchers to review material, and a reference desk across from the front door. There is a TV equipped with VHS and DVD players, as well as stereo equipment for playing records, CDs and cassettes. The kitchen has a few PCs, a microfilm reader, a flatbed scanner, a copy machine, and some arranging space on the counters. The rest of the house is the collection: the downstairs bedroom-like space holds newspapers and printed out internet-published articles, while bedroom spaces upstairs house academic papers, A/V materials, fan ‘zines, printed books, posters, t-shirts, and more. Decorating the living/reading room are beautiful, rare photos by Barry Schiener, a rock photographer, of Bruce in the ’70s and ’80s.

I love the idea of the archive house. Springsteen himself writes frequently of houses in his songs–the bedroom as personal space, the threshold, the porch, the yard, all hold immense weight in the universe of his lyrics. Only cars get more airplay in his lyrics than houses. It should go without saying, too, that his work glorifies the lives of working class Americans perhaps better than any other artist’s does–what better space to honor that vision than a simple home? Still, the collection might be even slightly more accessible if there were some signage by the road.

Eileen spends most of her time at the University working at the arts center, so when I visited on a Friday in November, a student assistant, Alana, worked with me. She has been working at the collection for four years, and is now in the middle of getting her Masters degree in social work from Monmouth. She seemed excited that I was studying to be an archivist, but hadn’t decided to go that route herself, although she loves working with the Springsteen collection; for one, Monmouth doesn’t offer a library or archives program.

Unfortunately, the collection barely has an online presence. The archive’s site has inventories of the collection by format, but no functioning OPAC (it remains un-integrated into the University library’s OPAC). Alana uses an excel spreadsheet to manage the archive’s inventory. For now, however, the collection is small enough that with some assistance, it’s not too difficult to assess and retrieve items of interest. When I requested to browse some of the ‘zines, Alana seemed unsurprised, and brought down a few boxes that she knew were popular. I mentioned that I was looking for a ‘zine a friend had made, and she worked with me in the inventory to find it, although there were no author names associated with ‘zine titles. My friend’s ‘zine (probably) wasn’t there–I should mention that almost all of the material in the collection has been donated.


While there are a myriad of examples I could make of what professional archivists would do differently in the Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, there’s a whole lot that they get right. Would a University library even be the appropriate space to house the fan collections of the man who sings, “We learned more from a three-minute record, baby/than we ever learned in school”? Indeed, professionals are trained to provide better far better access to materials like these, and I am dreaming of the day that the collection gets a detailed online catalog, but absorption into a more sterile academic environment would likely mean losing the comfortable feeling of the archive house. It was a pleasure to talk to Eileen and Alana (Alana and I talked a lot, actually), and our feeling of camradarie was facilitated by the homey environment. It’s harder to just hang out with librarians in a library or archive, not in the least because of . In this sense, I think Alana and Eileen have beaten the burnout blues that plague a lot of University librarians. I felt that I could walk away knowing that the archive was conceived of and run with the rabid love of fans–this seems especially important given Springsteen’s powerful interpretations of alienated work in America.

When it was time to close up, Alana gave me a ride back to the train station (the archive house is located about 2 miles from the Long Branch New Jersey Transit stop on the Shoreline route). I had suggested that I could walk, but she seemed to expect that she would drive me, without us talking about it first. She said she frequently drove visitors to and from the collection. We drove past her old dorms on the way and she pointed them out–brick and square and overlooking the Jersey shore, but we were listening to pop radio in her car, and not The Boss. She assured me that she did indeed love Bruce, but, you know, some of her friends were bigger fans.


…Oops! The Insidious Illusion of Privacy in the Networked Public

By beeewrites

If you’re a regular social media user, it can be easy to forget how public the internet really is. “Following” is a typical feature offered on social media sites, letting users choose who to see content from and creating a unique mini network visible on a personal home page. Facebook’s Newsfeed is a famous example of this, showing content that is populated by friends’ online activity. Sites like Twitter and Tumblr follow this same model, but somehow users are more cavalier with the types of things they share and say – perhaps because both networks function using user created pseudonyms. It’s unlikely to see someone post a scathing, detailed rant about their boss on Facebook because there is an understanding that it will be easily traced back to the author, but that same rant on Tumblr can theoretically only be traced back to the pseudonym. Although unique usernames do provide a certain level of anonymity, the vast audience of the internet remains the same. This can foster a false sense of security for users who are so comfortable in their self made networks that they let down guards they would otherwise keep in place.

The phenomenon of feeling like the only active person in a sea of strangers is also common; it is easy for users who don’t get much direct interaction with online peers to feel like they are operating in a void. Twitter user @whateverdude alludes to this during an outage period where the site was experiencing difficulties updating: “twitter is down, so for the next hour, i’ll be scrawling shit on post-its and tossing them out the window,” he writes. People who use their social media accounts like personal journals miss out on (or dismiss) the networking aspects of these websites and behave as if they are invisible. It might feel a bit like a modern, tech infused version of the old adage about a falling tree in an empty forest, except on the internet, someone is ALWAYS listening.

Earlier this year, a teenage girl on Tumblr posted an awkward picture of herself stuck standing in a stacked tower of classroom stools. “I was alone in the art room and had the thought ‘I wonder how many stools I can get over my head,'” she wrote. “Long story short i got stuck and the class walked in to me pathetically trying to wriggle out without being knocked over.” This simple, diary-like post suddenly started rapidly spreading, with other Tumblr users sharing it as a visual joke. What was originally relatively “private” and self-deprecating suddenly became mortifying, and the original poster reposted the photo with the note “stop reblogging this.” This made the joke even funnier, and the photo and its captions were spread even more. Pleading a third time, the poster writes, “Do you honestly think I want to be known as the ‘stuck in stools’ girl[?]”

The unfortunately dubbed Stool Girl. Identity kept ‘private’ here, but extremely traceable elsewhere.

In a piece for the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Nancy K. Baym and danah boyd speak on the precarious nature of networked publics, saying

“Most of the people engaging audiences and building identities and publics through social media are not […] fortunate. Some develop a sensibility through experience; others find themselves struggling to make sense of and manage their participation in networked publics; some misunderstand the consequences of their actions and make mistakes without realizing it.”

The only kind of mistake made by the teen on Tumblr was sharing too much and taking privacy for granted; the sudden visibility of her post led to embarrassment and therefore was a lesson in discretion. Concrete mistakes with real world implications are a dime a dozen for celebrities on Twitter, however. Posting a tweet from your phone takes mere seconds, and the 140 character limit forces users to make concise statements that can often come off as offensively blunt. The short form of Twitter also makes tweets extremely easy to misinterpret.

“the challenges of differing and sometimes unknown audiences can complicate self-presentation.” Baym and boyd continue. “Having to imagine one’s audience is a fundamental human problem rather than one distinctive to social media. But social media make it particularly challenging to understand “who is out there and when” and raises the potential for greater misalignment between imagined and actual audiences.”

This problem of forgetting about ones audience can be devastating to the carefully crafted images of public figures, giving fans insight into the potential true characters of their idols.  In 2011, actor Ashton Kutcher tweeted “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste” in response to Iowa State football coach Joe Paterno being fired for covering up a sexual abuse scandal. Fans instantly criticized Kutcher for his insensitive remarks that prioritized athletics over abuse victims. Within a day, Kutcher’s Twitter account was officially taken over by his PR team as he had to scramble to apologize for his error. Apparently he did not know all the details of the news story and had tweeted his immediate thoughts without thinking – a costly mistake that changed some fans’ opinions of him indefinitely.

A more recent celebrity Twitter controversy involved Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift, and was also apparently due to carelessly quick tweeting. After releasing a popular but polarizing video featuring women of color for her song “Anaconda,” Nicki Minaj was hopeful her video would be nominated for a coveted MTV Video Music Award. When no nomination came, Minaj tweeted, ” If your video celebrates women with very slim bodies, you will be nominated for vid of the year.” Taylor Swift, whose video had been nominated, directly responded to Minaj less than an hour later, saying “I’ve done nothing but love & support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot..” Swift’s tweet was immediately met with confusion from many fans and even Minaj herself, who responded directly to clarify her disappointment was not with Swift. Even more fans pointed out the irony of Swift’s mention of ‘pitting women against one another,’ since the very video that garnered her nomination depicted exactly that. Two days later, Swift apologized and admitted her mistake in thinking the jabs were directed at her, veritably admitting that her tweet was a mistake based upon a quick assumption.  Again, this error proved to be costly as it colored fans’ perceptions of Swift and questioned whether or not her comments (and later, silence) were part of a bigger scheme to cause a stir.  Authentic or not, Swift’s ironically eponymous initial action revealed she did not fully consider her audience or the implications of her post.

“As people engage in and reshape social media, they construct new types of publicness that echo but redefine publicness as it was known in unmediated and broadcast contexts,” Baym and boyd state.  Even though the act of image sharing or tweeting can be performed alone in one’s home, the minute the content is posted it becomes public.  Whether it is the security of a pseudonym or the general ease of sharing that makes users so cavalier with their content, blunders of all kinds will continue to be made online for all to see.




A Better Curated Web

By keneilb

The amount of information is seemingly endless on the internet. We’ve created mass amounts of connections upon connections where people can collaborate, exchange, debate, share, and consume as much as they desire. It’s an amazing time that we live in. For me, it is quite difficult to image what it was like to grow up in a world where such connections were limited, where it would take days if not weeks before my letter to someone far away were received and even longer before I could get a reply. Now, everything is at our fingertips.

The internet is a well spring. However, we live in a society that is highly capitalistic, and this effects even how we use the internet. Marketer’s are constantly begging for our attention, trying to advertise to us this and that, and trying their hardest to make it interesting. With the internet, this has become a much easier task since now websites are constantly collecting information on us that can now specifically target your interest based on your browsing habits. Have you ever searched up the sweater you wanted on Amazon, only to find that same sweater showing up again and again on the corner of your eyes on other web pages like Facebook? You might have even finally given in and bought it because it was so tempting. Honestly, its genius. But how does it help us explore such a wealth of information as the internet? We might find ourselves searching for a topic, only to have the search engine suggest sources to our already preconceived notions due to our browsing history. We get locked into our own little bubble, “curated” for us. McChesney points out this very fact, saying:

“Cyberspace is becoming less a frontier where citizens are like explorers on a glorious adventure than a cul-de-sac where advertising driven cues keep people in their little individualized bubble, making it unlikely for serendipity to occur.” (McChesney, 2013 p. 76)

In order for us to be able to explore the internet, a lot must change. For one, this method of curating our own little bubbles. The internet should be a place where serendipity happens and happens frequently. We should be able to look for something, and find something completely unexpected yet beneficial. Jason Silva, creator of Shots of Awe, has a very positive spin on this. Although I do not always agree with Jason because sometimes he is a bit overly optimistic about technology and its use today, I love listening to him because of that same reason. Jason gives us an inspiring look at what technology could be if we could do it right, without manipulative and controlling corporations and commercial media.

In this video, Jason Silva explores the idea of using algorithms that would take advantage of Big Data, and essentially create a semantic web that would be able to contextualize and take us out of our bubbles to find things that we might not have exactly been looking for but happens to be exactly what we needed. This would rid us of the “cul-de-sac” the internet likes to put us in today.

I’m not very sure when or how we will achieve this, but the idea is amazing. It would make the way we browse the web today seem primitive and useless. However, it still seems essential that for this kind of technology to work, our bread crumbs and foot prints on the web must still be collected and analyzed, which would not solve our discomforts with privacy. So far, it seems that it’s a give and take. If we want technology to improve past its current threshold, privacy must be sacrificed. That is, until someone can come up with a way to do this in a less invasive way.



McChesney, R. (2013). How can the political economy of communication help us understand the internet? In Digital disconnect: How capitalism is turning the Internet against democracy. The New Press.

Technology and Communication

By mgarci23

The most interesting topic that came up for me during this section was the history of technology and the evolution of communication. I loved learning about how people expressed their fear and wonder of the new emerging technology that could allow for greater communication. If history is anything to go by, methods of communication have been dominated by those who were powerful enough to control it. Thankfully, today governments and other influential organizations have lost some of the control they once had. Now anyone, with access to the internet or a mobile device, can communicate faster, farther and easier than before.

For a long time the only forms of communication were the spoken and written word. However, neither could reach great distances. For the Greeks and the Romans, town criers would receive the “news” of the town and speak about it.  The invention of the printing press in the mid 15th Century allowed books to be printed and distributed more frequently to those who could read and afford the prices. The invention of the telegraph, radio and then television provided, those with the means to do so, a way to send messages to others far away. Phones, computers, tablets and even the internet, were created to incorporate societies need to communicate quickly and efficiently. Email, text messaging and applications have facilitated the change from letters and telegrams to instant communication.

It was fascinating to read about the fear Walter Benjamin had that governments would misuse technology for their own, possible evil, deeds. In his article, Benjamin writes that,

“If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society.”

During the class discussion however, my group discussed how technology has been able to stop or at least limit how much propaganda governments create. Modern media methods counteract any government oversight. There are sites that allow users to live stream events recorded by people at the events. Its because of these sites that protests from parts of the world that are normally ignored by large media outlets.

Websites and pages on social media are dedicated to speaking out against corruption in other governments all around the world. Even locally, small new outlets, independent journalists and/or bloggers are able to spread socially important stories over the internet that while they may not be important to large media outlets, certainly matter to most of the population.  

Sites like Humans of New York on Facebook have connected people from different backgrounds and parts of the world. In the collection of Syrian refugees, the photographer was able to demonstrate the struggle many went through to escape their war torn countries and the difficulties they’ve faced finding a new place to call home. Millions of followers of the page have helped raised funds for those in need. Some have reached out to the people mentioned on the page to either help with living arrangements or to put them in contact with other people who would be able to help.

The most important aspect of the Humans of New York (HONY) is that it connects people. I don’t think that even Walter Benjamin could have imagined how powerful technology could become or how it could connect people from different parts of the world instantaneously. Thanks to sites like HONY, the photographer, Brandon, has been able to document and shed light on the difficulties refugees face when trying to enter a new country.

Hackers (even though it is illegal)  are able expose corrupt people or organization because of technology. Recently, the group known as Anonymous vowed to expose prominent members of the KKK and ISIS. By using their computers members of Anonymous used the social media as a tool for social justice. Their actions are another example of how the Internet, another element of technology, has been able to help fight against corruption and prejudices.  

While the internet was designed to expand communication between everyone, many people have used the internet to post or dismiss ideas. Facebook itself has become a daily news source where regular people can post “news” about themselves. Cellphones, laptops, tablets, have given media mobility. Live-streaming from mobile devices have allowed people from all over the world to watch and witness protests, speeches, demonstrations, and any other public events from different parts of the country or world.  

Many argue that cellphones and computers are limiting communication. I agree to come extent that this is true. Text messaging is not the same as having an in person conversation. Text messaging doesn’t convey emotion the same way as a verbal dialog. However phone calls and even video messages have replaced letter and in live communication. With a video call a person can be across the ocean and a group of people can have conversation face to face. There are limits to these forms of communication unfortunately. Video calls can only be made by people with computer and Internet access. In a way this is similar to the letters before computers and cell phones. If a person couldn’t write, they couldn’t communicate.

There is even technology that allows people with verbal or textile difficulties to communicate. So yes, technology can be used to spread evil doctrines and hate. However, technology can be used to counteract those actions as well. Therefore, people can argue that technology is neither a positive or a negative. It just exists as a tool in this time.

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