Libraries and Learning Links of the Week

Web links about libraries and learning, every week.

Risks to knowledge economies

A long piece from Helen Beetham on Generative AI and higher education. There's a lot to unpack here but this part in particular struck me as important for academic librarians to grapple with:

Guidance from UNESCO, the UK Government, every university, and even OpenAI itself, is for students to ‘check with other sources of information’ before relying on synthetic text. But as synthetic text become the interface of choice for search, and as the results of search become more and more likely to be synthetic, it becomes difficult to see how this is going to work. Or at least, how students are supposed to operationalise this advice using their own tools and resources. What I think students may be hearing, from all the contradictory advice they are getting, is ‘keep trying until you get something that sounds right’.

Utah teachers could be criminally liable if banned books are found in their classrooms, new bill proposes

It's all there in the headline. The Fascist States of America continue to unravel.

Australian Universities Accord Final Report

It remains to be seen whether all or any of the recommendations here will be implemented. But if they are, the Universities Accord has the potential to fix a large number of structural problems in the Australian university system.

There's nothing here about the rampant casualisation and wage-theft that characterises higher education labour relations, nor anything to fix the absurdities of scholarly publishing, but it's a good start.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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I remember thinking around this time last year that once everyone stopped freaking out, the “pivot to AI” might just be seen as the beginning of a new era for librarianship. Or rather, the end of a period that has lasted most of my career, where the profession seemed to have given up on ever having anything to say on its own behalf, with professional bodies and institutional leaders retreating to a position of merely claiming that whatever the powerbrokers of the world wanted, we could help them either deliver their goals or clean up the mess they left behind them. I'm still feeling confident about that prediction, but maybe ask me in another year and we'll see where we landed.

Whose ethics? Whose AI?

Helen Beetham has a great newsletter called Imperfect Offerings, and she's delivered some real doozies lately. This is the first offering for 2024, and is a kind of reply to the replies to a keynote speech she gave. Whilst Beetham is speaking to a presumed audience of university educators, she has a lot of interesting things to say to librarians.

I feel we should probably avoid ‘prompt engineering’ as a term, and definitely stop selling it as an important skill. I think it will be about as relevant to graduate employment as writing html code, and for the same reasons. Alongside all the ‘100 best GPT prompts’ you can cut and paste from the internet, the ability to call up ChatGPT (or another model) is already being integrated into search engines and browser extensions and thousands of intermediary apps. They offer drop-down lists or push-button choices, or helpfully assume what it is you need to know. What I think we probably should do, working with our colleagues in libraries and study skills centres, is to update our support for search skills. Help students to understand what the algorithms are hiding as well as what they are revealing, how to search when you know what you are looking for as well as when you don’t, the business models as well as the algorithms of search, and how search online is being systematically degraded both by commercial interests and by these new synthetic capabilities.

Generative Artificial Intelligence: 8 Critical Questions for Libraries

A team from Oregon State University have put together this great paper which is to some extent an example of the sort of thing Beetham is talking about: finding the right questions to ask about machine learning and automation, rather than a series of “one weird trick”. In this case the questions are for librarians:

  1. Why AI?
  2. How can libraries make informed decisions without undue urgency?
  3. How can libraries engage in ways that align with library values?
  4. What policies are in place?
  5. How can libraries support the exploration of AI tools by staff and users?
  6. How does AI fit into library information literacy instruction?
  7. Moving forward, how can libraries lead conversations and collaborate?
  8. So what?

A Genealogy of Open

Betsy Yoon provides a history lesson, an interrogation, and ultimately a challenge regarding what we call Open Education. I hadn't realised until I read this that this is not just a rhetorical link between Free & Open Source Software, and Open Educational Practice, but also a more direct connection. And as Yoon shows, all the arguments between and dynamics of the Free Software movement and Open Source advocates are applicable to Open Education. It's definitely worth a read for anyone working in the Open Education space.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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This week we are leaning heavily into the technology side of libraries, and learning when to use the term “learning”.

I will dropkick you if you refer to an LLM as a Librarian

I don't love Mita Williams' rather violent headline, but this is a pretty interesting piece that I definitely need to go back to so I can read all her references. Williams' makes the case for specificity of language when talking about computer automation, large language models and so on. Can a machine really “learn”? Can intelligence be artificial? She's sceptical.

On the matter of the British Library cyber incident

Ciaran Martin is the former head of the UK National Cyber Security Centre. This is a medium-depth dive into what happened at the British Library when they were hit by a “cyber incident”, and what can be learned from it. There are a lot of lessons for institutions like national and state libraries, and universities – like the British Library the effect of them being taken offline by a cyber attack is not obviously life threatening in the short term, but would have both a wide impact and cause a significant number of people to simply be unable to do their jobs.

No data? No problem! Undisclosed tinkering in Excel behind economics paper

Finally, from Retraction Watch the most bonkers story of the week. Swedish economics professor Almas Heshmati straight up just admitted to a PhD candidate who asked him that he had completely made up 10% of the figures in an international comparative study, including simply copying the data for Netherlands across to the next row and pretending New Zealand had recorded the same figures. His excuse? This is totally normal behaviour in the field of Economics 🙃.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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The Art and Science of Speaking (into Microphones) at Conferences

John Dewees has a great post on a single topic that he helpfully explains in his blog title:

Look at this person talking into the microphone at a distance of 6 to 12 inches pointed directly at their mouth. 10 out of friggin 10, absolutely no notes, utterly nailing it.

That's about 20cm for those of us who don't walk around saying things like “I walked a few leagues to the drug store to buy a stick of milk and a quart of butter”. Anyway, this is a great post that stays on message and has a strong message for Bob who refuses to work out how to switch the mic on:

If you refuse to do the above, or worse yet, refuse to use a microphone at all while speaking to a group, you are creating an inaccessible environment where almost certainly some members of the audience won’t be able to hear what you are trying to impart. ...If you aren’t interested in making sure everyone in the room can hear you by leveraging basic principles of accessibility and universal design than I’ll just assume what you have to say isn’t that important.


Ok this is kind of self-indulgent. I've rewritten by “Aus GLAM Blogs” app and now you can also register events, calls for papers, newsletters (like this one), and groups (elists, Discord groups etc), in addition to blogs.

Newsletters and blogs run on RSS in order to fetch the latest posts and editions, and there's also an RSS feed for each type (and combined) in addition to a Mastodon bot. Check it out!

Oh, also my apologies to those whose blogs weren't announced by the bot whilst I ironed out a few bugs. People like Emilia Bell...

Finding purpose & potential in library impact assessment

This piece from Emilia Bell is interesting on the perennial battle in libraries to actually assess what we're doing rather than simply collecting data hoping to prove that what we're doing is great:

Without a purpose for impact assessment, evidence collected on library services with a relational and connected quality (especially in teaching and learning) risks becoming transactional. The questions that drive the process of evidence-based practice start becoming more extractive, fixated on what evidence we can get (ahem, collect), rather than the community this evidence and impact benefits.

I have seen this dynamic everywhere I've ever worked. Often it seems to happen because the purpose of a program is assumed to be so obvious as to not require definition. Sometimes I've wondered whether it's because the librarians didn't really want to know whether their work was effective. And sometimes it seems to come from a genuine belief – as Emilia gestures to here – that there are aspects of our work that are simply intrinsically valuable to society and library users, and they can't be adequately captured in the form of measurable data.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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I'm back for 2024. I intended to start publishing LLLotW again a couple of weeks ago but I lost my mojo. Or my brain was still on holiday. Or something. Anyway here we are.

Cryptographers Are Getting Closer to Enabling Fully Private Internet Searches

It turns out this headline is a little excitable compared to the reality, but this is a pretty fascinating story. Partially because the example they give in the story of the holy grail – “fully private” internet search engines where the search term is not known to the engine – would be impossible to fund with a keyword-based advertising model.

How Universities Lost the Internet

A cry into the void from Robert W Gehl, bemoaning the fact that universities worldwide – at the beginning of the Internet, the place to access, learn about, and develop it – have rapidly moved in the last decade to a point where almost nothing is managed in-house and most things are run by a tiny handful of powerful US companies.

Lessons learned: 1,000 Days of Distributed at Atlassian

This has a software industry flavour to be sure, but it's a really interesting, data-backed paper from Atlassian on their “distributed first” work model and what they have learned from it.

The biggest blockers to productivity, connection, and innovation are not location-based. They center around how work gets done: back-to-back meetings, vague priorities, confusing email threads, and streams of distracting notifications. All knowledge workers face these challenges, regardless of where they work.

Something that was almost a sidenote also jumped out at me, given my own (multi-location) workplace's habit of using synchronous events for Big Announcements by leaders:

We aim to have leaders share announcements asynchronously first, so that Atlassians are less likely to miss important information.

Anyway if you're in a leadership position in an organisation doing “knowledge work” like libraries and universities, this paper is definitely worth a read. You can't necessarily change the work-from-the-office rules, but you can certainly influence the culture and practices in your own team.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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ALIA Skills, Knowledge and Ethics Framework for the Library and Information Services Workforce

ALIA have been sweating over this one for over a year, and it's finally here. The Framework is part of the broader Professional Pathways project, which has been ...well, it's been contentious. Interestingly, ALIA has recently announced they intend to draft a Code of Ethics, with a first draft arriving in March next year. Unsurprisingly all this talk of professional ethics caused several participants in the Professional Pathways consultation (including yours truly) to point out that it's a bit weird to have statements saying librarians should abide by professional ethics without an official articulation of the ethical standards you expect.

Assessment reform for the age of artificial intelligence

Here it is! The guidance document every academic in Australia has been waiting for! Except that it's not really, because it doesn't have any simple answers. This is a very succinct paper from TEQSA given the extent of the issue and the interest in it. The most interesting thing to me is that they mention several times that not only does there need to be a wholesale review of assessments in universities, but that they need to be reviewed across whole courses of study, not at an individual unit/subject level. Unclear what this means for academic libraries, but we'd be foolish not to take advantage of a wholesale review of assessment by looking at our own role in assessment, critical thinking, information literacy, and subject readings.

Conversations With Open Textbook Authors: The Factors That Help and Hinder Accessibility

The conclusion speaks for itself:

Accessibility is imperative to making OER truly available to all learners. Thus determining what factors help or hinder OER creators’ ability to adhere to best practices and standards, like WCAG, is crucial. Our study found that accessible OER depend on collaboration and the expertise and the effort of diverse teams, as well as the wider OER community. Financial support, especially to pay staff or students and afford faculty creators more writing time, and following project management best practices, like planning for accessibility at the start of the project, are also factors that helped make OER in the study accessible.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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Leiden rankings to add open-source version in 2024

This story came out in September and I thought it was interesting, though not for the reasons Leiden University might have hoped.

The Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which publishes university rankings, plans to start a new ranking based entirely on open data and open algorithms in 2024.

The open-source CWTS ranking will sit alongside listings produced, as in previous years, based on bibliographic data from the Web of Science database of Clarivate*.

I might write something up about this at some point, but in short there are three problems here:

  1. The new index is simply in addition to the “normal” one;
  2. Web of Science is pretty problematic (see below);
  3. Rankings are extremely bad of teaching, research, and universities generally, regardless of what data they are based on.

Recalibrating the scope of scholarly publishing: A modest step in a vast decolonization process

There seems to be a bit of slightly dodgy geo-location data in this paper but apart from that, it's pretty interesting. This is by some people associated with Open Journal Systems and this paper is essentially a study of the reach of the OJS network (as best they can tell) and the extent to which it is represented in major systems purporting to encompass “global world's scholarly output” (not much, but Web of Science is the worst).

Situating Search

The last in our reverse-chronological list is a paper from Chirag Shah and Emily Bender (of “stochastic parrots” fame) published in March 2022. It's actually more interesting to me how this holds up perhaps even better now than it did before the explosion on LLMs and “AI” search tools that it is about. This paper is really coming at it from an information science perspective rather than a computer science perspective, and has given me a bunch of references I now need to read!

In short, from the introduction:

removing or reducing interactions in an effort to retrieve presumably more relevant information can be detrimental to many fundamental aspects of search, including information verification, information literacy, and serendipity.

But there is way more to it than that, outlined in the paper. Really interesting stuff for anyone who needs to assess search tools for a living (hint: it's me).

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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Transformative Zombies – By Every Means Necessary

An interesting post from Dave Ghamandi back in August, talking about Transformative Agreements/Read and Publish (RaP) agreements, and the effect on journals. This is an interesting take, with Ghamandi pointing to the pressure on editors to accept more articles as the income flow moves from subscribers to authors, and editorial teams pushing back.

Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition

A new OER from BC Campus:

The goal of the Accessibility Toolkit – 2nd Edition is to provide resources for each content creator, instructional designer, educational technologist, librarian, administrator, and teaching assistant to create a truly open textbook—one that is free and accessible for all students.

Researching file formats 6: EndNote Citation Library Format

Ashley Blewer has been publishing a series of short blog posts on file formats, and this hilarious one on Endnote citation files gave me flashbacks to when I first properly encountered Endnote citation formatting files earlier this year. I think I went through every stage of indignation Ashley expresses here. Anyway it's useful if you need to work with these files and funny even if you don't.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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3 surprising ways that captioning improves learning for all of your students

Many Australian academic librarians will be revising and updating their lesson plans, slide and other resources for teaching library and information skills into various subjects. It's a great time to check how accessible your material is – and not simply to address minimal requirements for students with recognised sensory challenges or disabilities.

Making the Most of Cognitive Surplus: Descriptive Case Studies of Student-Generated Open Educational Resources

I'm not sure I agree with the framing of this article around “cognitive surplus” or their interpretation of Clay Shirky's use of that term, but this is a really valuable pair of case studies on the use of open educational resources in higher education, and how it works as just one part of a broader open educational practice. Definitely worth a read.

Hannah Forsyth on the Rise and Fall of the Professional Class in the Anglophone World

Who makes cents: a history of capitalism podcast is really fantastic, and this interview in particular was fascinating. Hannah Forsyth is an Associate Professor of History at the Australian Catholic University and in this episode she talks with host Jessica Ann Levy about the themes in her recent book, Virtue Capitalists: The Rise and Fall of the Professional Class in the Anglo World, 1870-2008, which have a lot of relevance to librarians and the fierce arguments around ALIA's recent Professional Pathways consultation. What does it mean to be a professional? Is it a class? And what does it have to do with managerialism? A great listen.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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Yes I'm back. Sorry about the less-than-weekly posting regime, I got distracted and didn't have much to share last week.

VALA 2024 Reiterated – Getting IT back to grass roots

VALA has just announced a call for submissions for the 2024 VALA conference and it's clear this one is going to be a bit different. Goodbye enormous conference and convention centre, hello RMIT's Storey Hall. Will this change in focus for the conference result in a change in behaviour from librarians? Only time will tell, but get your submission in soon!

AI companies have all kinds of arguments against paying for copyrighted content

In news that will surprise precisely nobody, American corporations aren't interested in paying to use other people's copyrighted works. I can't decide whether my favourite response is Apple saying they shouldn't pay, but should still be able to copyright code written by “AI”, or whether it's Andreessen-Horowitz whining that they haven't paid billions of dollars just to be subject to the law like little people.

Introducing the “Towards Responsible Publishing” proposal from cOAlition S

Plan S have a new, uh, plan.

I've not read this properly yet, but the gist seems to be “publish early, publish often, and then filter”.

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every week by Hugh Rundle.

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