Libraries and Learning Links of the Week

Web links about libraries and learning, every week.

Scaling Small; Or How to Envision New Relationalities for Knowledge Production

This is a really interesting article about “scaling” as it relates to open access scholarly book publishing. Relying heavily on Anna Tsing’s theories of scale, the authors discuss ways open and scholar-led presses can think about what “sustainability” means, and why they should focus on relationship-building rather than growth.

Open Education Awards for Excellence – 2023 shortlist

Great to see this shortlist includes contributors from 38 countries, albeit there is a strong USA and anglosphere bias. There's some really good projects here so it's well worth checking out.

Climate Change Exposure for METRO Region

This report contains the findings and recommendations of a study to contextualize and understand climate change exposure for METRO’s membership region, carried out by Eira Tansey (founder and manager of Memory Rising, LLC) between February and June 2023.

METRO here is “a network of libraries, archives, and museums in New York City and Westchester County”. This is a really interesting project because it's looking at how the network will need to adapt and respond to the reality of climate change. This kind of work, unfortunately, is probably an upcoming “growth area”.

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

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Predictable Book Shifting

I like this article because it's putting the “science” back into “Library Science”, but mostly because it's a practical tool for everyday maintenance in libraries. So many journal articles and conference talks are focussed on new or potential technologies, but mostly what we spend our days doing is keeping old things running and doing routine administration. Storing and moving physical books in sensible ways on open shelves is very much A Thing That Happens in libraries. You wouldn't know this from most of the things one reads about libraries whether it's in publications for the general public or for librarians, so this was great to see in Code4Lib journal.

The First App to “Help” Libraries and Schools with Book Bans Has Arrived–It’s Not What It Seems

Speaking of the obsession with tech innovation...

I don't really like the headline for this article because this app is exactly what I would expect. American politicians are busily banning children's books from school libraries so as to “protect freedom”, much as US America launched an enormous military invasion of Iraq for the same reason, conducted extra-judicial executions of wedding guests via military drones in order to support human rights in Afghanistan, and maintains a global network of military bases in order to promote peace. Anyway I digress. Ed-tech grifters “BookmarkED” have created a software application that is essentially Net Nanny for school students' library book borrowing. It serves both to enable parents to preemptively block their children from borrowing certain books, and amplify the spread of book bans:

Parents would be able to decide which books their kids have access to at the school library and have “real time” access to what their students are checking out. School libraries would know which books are being challenged statewide, ostensibly so they can take part in the mass censorship or prepare for challenges to those titles in their own collection. The website for BookmarkED purports this would save districts money around the book challenge process and ensure educators can make “informed selections for materials that support curriculum.”

RHS Digital Collections

Now for something a little nicer. The Royal Horticultural Society has a wonderful digitised launched fairly recently, “spanning over 500 years of gardening history and science.” If you want beautiful, copyright-free colour images of plants of all types, or to read old gardening books, this is the place!

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

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Lantern: A Pandoc Template for OER Publishing

The older I get, the more I appreciate plain text files and simple tools designed to interact with them. I'm also increasingly working with and around open educational resources in my paid work, so this article is extremely my jam.

Lantern is a template and workflow for using Pandoc and GitHub to create and host multi-format open educational resources (OER) online. It applies minimal computing methods to OER publishing practices. The purpose is to minimize the technical footprint for digital publishing while maximizing control over the form, content, and distribution of OER texts.

There's a couple of really clever things the developers have done here. Firstly, even though they champion the use of plaintext (and specifically, Markdown formatted files as the source), they are also realistic about the likelihood of convincing OER authors to write in Markdown rather than using a word processor. So Lantern first converts the manuscript from the presumed docx or maybe odt into Markdown first. The other smart thing is they make use of GitHub Actions to essentially automate the whole thing. It's a really interesting concept, related to my dream (fantasy) of replacing Libguides software and workflows with static sites running Zola with custom shortcodes.

The Politics of Rights Retention

This is a pretty in-the-weeds look at author rights-retention in academic publishing. The author steps us through the history of rights-retention, and – as you might expect – considers what its politics is.

Despite being couched in the neoliberal logic of market-centric policymaking, I argue that rights retention represents a more combative approach to publisher power by institutions and funders that could yield significant benefits for a more equitable system of open access publishing.

That is – it's not the real revolution we need, but it has the potential to push us a bit closer to that.

Books. No kids.

This is an interesting and useful website from Keira Paterson.

NoKidsBooks has two aims: 1. To help childless and childfree people find books that reflect their lives and experiences, and are 'safer' to read for people in deep grief. 2. Running the Inclusive Libraries Project, to encourage libraries to stock books by, for, and about childless and childfree people, and embrace us as part of their communities

The site includes some recommended reads, and information for librarians about why this is something they need to consider.

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

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Yes, I'm publishing on a Monday. I don't do paid work on Mondays, so it seems like a more sensible day to publish LLLotW. This is our new schedule until I change my mind.

A Request for Comment: Automatic Digital Preservation and Self-Healing DOIs

This is a pretty interesting proposal:

I will write another post, soon, on the reality of preservation of items with a Crossref DOI, but recent work in the Labs team has determined that we have a situation of drastic under-preservation of much scholarly material that has been assigned a persistent identifier. In particular, content from our smaller Crossref members, with limited financial resources, is often precariously preserved. Further, DOI URLs are not always updated, even when, for instance, the underlying domain has been registered by a different third party. This results in DOIs pointing to new, hijacked, and elapsed content that does not reflect the metadata that we hold.

We (Geoffrey) have (has) long-harboured ambitions to build a system that would allow for automatic deposit into an archive and then to present access options to the resolving user. This would ensure that all Crossref content had at least one archival solution backing it and greatly contribute to the improved persistent resolvability of our DOIs. We refer to this, internally, as “Project Op Cit”. And we’re now in a position to begin building it.

Humane Ingenuity 47: AI Is Coming for Scholarship Next

I always enjoy Dan Cohen's newsletter. I don't necessarily always agree with everything he writes, but it makes me think. This is a really interesting overview of the thinking around SALAMI and Universities:

In hallway conversations at the CNI meeting, attendees had no trouble connecting the AI dots: point these tools at your digital lab notebook or other research sources, have AI summarize the existing literature in the field, and then auto-generate drafts of the standard sections of an academic paper. Maybe a little light editing and you’re done! Could the traditional academic struggle of “publish or perish” become a painless series of clicks?

Such chatter went from possibility to probability, and then to profound concern about the future of academia, a month later at the annual meeting of the Society of Scholarly Publishing. The dark title of SSP’s plenary session: ““Resolved: Artificial Intelligence Will Fatally Undermine the Integrity of Scholarly Publishing.”

The Gamification of Reading Is Changing How We Approach Books

Readers of my blog will know I contribute to the open source project BookWyrm. So I found this article really interesting. Again, I don't agree with everything (or even most things) Greta Rainbow writes here, but I found it an interesting jumping off point for conversations about books and reading. I'm not a competitive reader, but reading has always been a social activity, at least since it escaped the Sumerian bureaucracy. “Speed reading” has been championed for years, and many people watch YouTube videos at 1.5 speed, which is really the same thing. So I'm not really endorsing Rainbow's worldview here, but I do recommend a read of the article, because it's a good prompt to think about your own relationship to recreational reading.

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

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The Coming Enshittification of Public Libraries

Karawynn Long on the likely (very bad) implications of investment vulture firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts buying ebook platform provider Overdrive.

I Would Rather See My Books Get Pirated Than This

Continuing the ebooks theme, author Jane Friedman has written a pretty comprehensive post about her experience with Amazon's ebook store not only selling books that appear to be created with generative SALAMI with her name on the cover, but they have also allowed them to be linked to her GoodReads author profile, signaling that she is indeed the author. When she complained, Amazon insisted she provide proof she has a trademark on her name – an absurd request.

Who Answers It Better? An In-Depth Analysis of ChatGPT and Stack Overflow Answers to Software Engineering Questions

This preprint from Perdue researchers suggests ChatGPT – which many people believe is particularly reliable and useful for coding questions – provided incorrect answers more than half the time. The interesting thing here, however, is that human participants in this study preferred the incorrect answers over correct ones due to the style they were written in and their length, which seemed to indicate accuracy and helpfulness.

This is a particularly important study in the context of the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) recent decision to add an “AI helper” to its developer documentation site. MDN has long been considered the gold standard for reliability and accuracy in web development documentation – providing generated answers that are more likely to be wrong than not, where the audience is inexperienced developers, seems like a very bad idea.

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

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OpenAI quietly shuts down its detection tool that never worked

OpenAI admitted from the beginning that its “AI Classifier” didn't really work, with more false-positives than true positives in many situations. That didn't stop many people in higher education clamoring to believe that they could detect student use of ChatGPT, because ...they really wanted to be able to do that.

Now it appears they have quietly removed it from public view as if it never existed. How responsible.

Standards Australia releases incredibly limited free access to Australian Standards

In what feels like a fairly transparent attempt to head off any moves to force them to just provide free and open access to the Standards that govern the lives and work of millions of people, Standards Australia recently launched a pilot to provide access to a limited number of standards (how they decide which ones is opaque), in an incredibly limited way.

Users must register and then can view up to three Standards, one single time per Standard, for personal, non-profit use. This is obviously useless for almost every possible use case, but might be enough to keep law reform away for a few more years.

Secondary publishing rights can improve public access to academic research

A piece in The Conversation from two Canadian Scholarly Services librarians about a push from CFLA for Canada to amend their Copyright Act to enable (and enforce) academics to deposit open access copies of research publications in institutional repositories regardless of any contracts signed with scholarly data mining companies (sorry, I mean “Academic Publishers”). This is an interesting idea and has also received some air time in Australia for similar reasons.

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

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Ethical acquisitions in academic libraries: a simple idea without a simple solution

Peter Barr thinks out loud in this article about the inherent tensions of managing academic library collection budgets. Libraries have some power to redirect where funds go in academic publishing, but as Barr rightly says, this is a structural problem that requires collective action and a unity of purpose that is missing in the commercialised universities of our age.

Note: the site seems to be down at time of publication.

An invitation to a secret society

I greatly enjoy Adam Mastroianni's newsletter Experimental History, and the worldview he presents in it. In this piece, Mastroianni encourages readers to “do science” – run experiments and publish the results (somewhere, anywhere, probably not in an academic journal) regardless of whether they consider themselves or are considered by others to be a scientist, academic, or “Researcher”. In my place of work this would be highly controversial, which is part of the reason I love it. He's right – quite a bit of “real” published research is wrong, fraudulent, or just pointless. Broadening the range of people and places that can “do” and “publish” science makes the universe more knowable. If you've been using where something is published as a proxy for whether it's rigorous – well, that's not a problem with the science.

The store is for people, but the storefront is for robots

A really interesting look at the practical effects of both the rise of Google's monopoly web search, and the coming of LLM-powered generative SALAMI:

The internet looks the way it does largely to feed an ever-changing, opaque Google Search algorithm. Now, as the company itself builds AI search bots, the business as it stands is poised to eat itself.

If you find this intriguing, I'll take the opportunity to recommend one of the most illuminating books I've ever read: Finn Brunton's Spam: A shadow history of the internet

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

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LLLotW 2023.24

The Collection Management System Collection

An amazing spreadsheet from Ashley Blewer outlining the various capabilities of different collection management software systems. Save yourself some time next time you're looking for a new system.

Stanford president resigns over manipulated research, will retract at least three papers

The President of Stanford University has resigned and reluctantly agreed to retract multiple papers for which he was the lead author, due to data manipulation. Cynics might suggest the real surprise here is that there were consequences.

Voyant Tools

Something I learned about at VALA Tech Camp.

Voyant Tools is a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts.

Voyant accepts uploaded documents or copy-pasted text and will analyse word frequency, patterns and so on.

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

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New research: The lived experience of open educational resources (OER) creator-practitioners

Something you can join on Tuesday:

This presentation will outline new research on the lived experience of creator-practitioners of open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP) in United States (U.S.) higher education institutions.

Why Are UK Libraries Signing a Springer-Nature Deal They Don’t Seem to Like?

Despite being an article on Scholarly Kitchen this is actually quite good and provides a solid overview of the challenges academic libraries face as the filling in the scholarly publishing sandwich. Worth a read, especially if you don't understand why libraries won't just stop paying such extortionate fees to data miners uh I mean “scholarly publishers”.

“Low-Resource” Text Classification: A Parameter-Free Classification Method with Compressors

I admit I don't understand a lot of this paper but the gist seems to be that it's possible to do some basic processing with gzip and achieve pretty similar results to NLP tools that usually require enormous amounts of compute power:

Our method achieves an accuracy comparable to non-pretrained neural network classifiers on in-distribution datasets and outperforms both pretrained and non-retrained models on out-of distribution datasets. We also find that our method has greater advantages under few-shot settings.

Essentially, it's a smart hack to massively reduce the resources required to do large language model processing, especially with data sets that aren't well labelled (i.e. untrained). This has a lot of potential for smaller and niche pattern-matching tasks – which describes a lot of the potential applications of NLP/“AI” tools in GLAM.

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

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Universities given two years to overhaul teaching degrees after education ministers' meeting

Big news for universities that train teachers:

A major review of teaching courses led by Education Department Secretary and Sydney University vice-chancellor Mark Scott has recommended sweeping changes to the way future teachers are trained.

Disrupting the Digital Status Quo: Why and How to Staff for Privacy in Academic Libraries

In this time of austerity in higher education, prioritizing privacy may sometimes seem like a vague aspiration that library leaders cannot afford (Cooper, 2021). But we are here to argue the opposite: that staffing and strategizing for meaningful researcher privacy are in fact essential to the flourishing of academic libraries. Leaders who ignore these values will do harm to individual scholars and students

VALA Tech Camp 2023 Diversity Scholarship

This year VALA is offering a Tech Camp diversity scholarship to Melburnians – but you need to get in quick!

For this scholarship, the registration cost to attend VALA Tech Camp 2023 ONLY will be provided. In other words – Free tickets. No other costs will be covered.

The VALA Tech Camp 2023 Diversity Scholarships is open to: • Any Australian person of Indigenous heritage; and/or • Any Australian person who resides in or around Melbourne and are able to attend VALA Tech Camp 2023 in Melbourne (travel and accommodation etc at own cost).

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

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