Finding Information

The most rewarding part of my day is helping people find things. Interaction with students, faculty, and anyone else who needs help gives me the opportunity to my job as a librarian. This might seem silly to some, after all Google can find anything you might need, right?

Over the past week I have taught 8 classes and had research consultations with almost two dozen students across all skill levels. Even for researchers that I consider advanced, there seems to be a reliance on Google (and Google Scholar) searching that seems blindingly devotional. Everyone does not need to use the Web of Science or SCOPUS with the greatest of skill, but when I talk to a student who is ABD in the social sciences and they have never heard of either of these resources I get a little cranky.

This issue sits squarely on the responsibility of librarians to the populations and institutions they serve. Prior to the avalanche of information, provided via the Internet, the library was the cultural institution of knowledge. The perception that “everything is on the Internet” was/is largely unchallenged (except for librarians who love to talk about this with other librarians).

Fake News is the latest topic that gives librarians the opportunity to teach about how to find information. Regardless of what anyone says, the answer to fake news is not technology. Yale held a“>hackathon to build an app to fight fake news. It is obtuse to believe that technology will fix the problem of fake news. Technological advancement has brought many convinces to society. But at its core, technology is reducible to a mathematical formula and humanity is not.

The only way for people to be better researchers and fight fake news is to read, and to do so carefully. How often do you repost something on Facebook without reading it? Do you consider the sources? Do you consider how that survey on parenting was conducted?

Yes, this is being annoyingly nit-picky. However, being informed requires more than just a glance at your Facebook newsfeed.

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Cell Phones & Health Care

Justin Chaffetz stated that people might need to choose between getting the new iPhone and paying for health care.

Former President Obama said much the same thing, albeit more eloquently.

Both of them are wrong.

Cell phones and Internet access were luxury entertainment items in 2000, but not any more. Having a cell phone is crucial to being able to operate in modern society. While it is possible to use a more basic cell phone, having a smart phone allows people access to services that are increasingly available only through the Internet.

You Do Not Need the Latest & Greatest.

This is simply wrong. Cell phones have a lifespan, a short one at that. Apple admits that iPhones are only expect to last three years. Personally, I find this laughable. Memory size is key to having a phone that will last those three years, as developers of these devices seem determined to create huge mandatory software updates that slowly eat away at any free storage space. This is not to mention how fragile the devices are themselves.


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The Digital Divide

The Digital Divide. Access to Information. Whatever you want to call it, is everywhere.

img_1201Consider this poster in Starbucks. First off, this is wonderful. Breast feeding is very important for the health of a new baby. The instinct to nurse does not always translate into an easy experience for either mother or baby. Groups like these help new moms find a venue where they can talk with other new moms about the experience of having a baby and some of the trouble they may have with nursing. This is especially important for women who might not have anyone else to talk to.

What might not be clear from the photo is how to contact this group. You can email. You can contact them on Facebook. But there is no phone number. The only way you can contact this group is do so via the Internet or show up at one of their meetings.

Not everyone has access to the Internet. Despite the fact that we constantly see people glued to their phones the reality is that there are still people without the ability to access the Internet. Yes, public libraries have Internet access for the public, but what if you do not have the ability to get to the library? If you live in Bloomington, IN you can live within the city limits but still be over a mile from a bus stop (with no sidewalk). How exactly are you supposed to get to the library?

Assumptions of access to technology create barriers for those that are disadvantaged. Groups like milk matters are extremely important. It is likely that people do just show up without having any previous contact with the group, but that is not the point. When we expect everyone to have Internet access people get left out. Those with access to the Internet understand how integral it is in order to be part of society.

Do you have any question that the water from your sink is drinkable? Probably not (provided you do not live in Flint, MI). It is difficult for most people to imagine not having access to potable water: it is just something that we all have. Therefore it becomes very difficult for us to empathize with those without such access.

While the Internet is not a biological necessity, it is very close. Paying bills, homework, finding information; these are all things that most of society does via the Internet with little thought of the means necessary for carrying out these tasks.

As the functioning of society continues to become entangled with the Internet it will become easier to forget those without access.



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Data + Data + Data = Nothing (probably)

nIn the Nov. 3, 2016 HBR there was a wonderful article titled, “You Don’t Need Big Data — You Need the Right Data.” The normal cheerleader rah-rah stance of the HBR was somewhat dulled; acknowledging that data is not always the answer.

Anytime a story runs regarding “how much data exists” my attention is piqued. For example, “By the year 2020 about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be produced every second for every human being and we will be dealing with 40 Zettabytes of data” (Korolit, 2015). I am a little unclear on the math here, as this rate of production based on an estimated population of 7 billion people = 1.2 Petabytes/Second or 72 Petabytes/Minute. Nonetheless this is a lot of data.

Mega –> Giga –> Tera –> Peta –> Exa –> Zetta –> Yotta

This is mind numbing. How much could possibly be learned from this much data? Ok, there is probably a lot we can learn from this, but that is entirely dependent on the ability of computers to analyze the data.

Until computers become self aware (at which point humans will cease to matter) there is a limit to how much valuable information can be extracted from Zettabytes worth of data. Computers are good at performing the same task over and over. This is why self-driving cars will eventually be far superior to any human driver. Self-driving technology will be able to learn from all the data collected by all the other self-driving cars and be better at anticipating actions than any human.

How much value can we get from all this data?

Industries are always looking for the next competitive advantage, and many seem to view big data as just the ticket. This is short sighted. Society continually puts faith in the ability of technology to answer problems. While this happens on occasion it is not the rule. Additionally, 40 Zettabytes of data from who? Will everyone have Internet access? This data will not reflect the actions of those that have no access to the Internet or more importantly the Internet of Things, which is where (I am guessing) all this data will come from.



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Fake News

In a few weeks I am going to give a talk about fake news here at IU. More than anything this post is meant as a starting point for that talk.

When teaching, I often talk about validity of information. For example, when society relied exclusively on printed media (as opposed to mobile and computer content) it was incredibly difficult for fake stories to spread. Should the New York Times print some erroneous story it would be discovered in relatively short order and corrected. Fake news could not spread in a print dominated world because readers had time to actually think. For instance, the Bloomington Newspapers reported that an enemy aircraft carrier was spotted off the California coast two days after Pearl Harbor. This was false and quickly corrected. However, in our current environment of being able to share everything at every moment there is increasingly no time digest information.


From the microfilm collection of Indiana University-Bloomington. Special thanks to Leanne Nay.

When news breaks in 140 characters or less we start reacting instead of thinking. How many stories are shared on social media in which neither the poster or the commenter(s) have only read the headline? I cannot find reliable data on that, but am guessing that it is alarmingly high.

Fake news exists the way it does (at this moment in time) because current technology has made it possible. Unfortunately, no amount of technology will fix this issue. This is a cultural problem, one that was born out of anger and suspicion.

We should not be surprised that fake news has become an issue. The only surprise is that it has taken this long for it to be acknowledged.

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Facebook is (mostly) Dead to Me

This gallery contains 6 photos.

I have created at least three Facebook accounts since 2006. My temperament is not one to do things in moderation: check Facebook 30 times a day, or not at all. As professional and personal life becomes more demanding it is increasingly … Continue reading

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Technology Changed the Political Landscape

One of the biggest motivators for Tuesday’s election was (directly or indirectly) jobs. There are a lot of formerly middle class white workers that no longer have the high-paying jobs they once had. These jobs are gone, not because of politics, but because of technology.

Technology will be the single largest killer of jobs in the country over the next two decades. Even if steel plants came back to the U.S. they would employ only a fraction of the workers once needed as most of the work is now automated.

Trucking will be completely automated in 10-15 years. As of October 2016 there are 1.4 million people employed in the trucking industry earning an average of $22/hour ( Yes, full automation will require a lot of tech workers, but the 1.4 million people driving trucks right now will likely not have the skill set to go into the technical aspect of automated driving.

No one is paying attention to this, and nothing is being done to prepare 1.4 million people who will suffer a dramatic change in their economic wellbeing.


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