Libraries and Learning Links of the Week

Web links about libraries and learning, every week.

Ending profiteering from publicly-funded research

This is a mildly interesting and somewhat confused report from the Australia Institute. It's interesting in that the absurdity of scholarly publishing is now becoming a salient public policy debating point in Australia. Unfortunately the report itself offers up a fairly standard grab-bag of “solutions” that don't address the problems it accurately identifies, and don't address the incentives and pressures on researchers that drive the current system. It's all very well to identify that RELX and friends are “greedy” (they would say “maximising shareholder value”), but “greedy publishers” isn't much of an analysis of what drives the system.

Producing more but understanding less: The risks of AI for scientific research

May contain traces of the infamous “Giant rat dick” illustration. You have been warned.

Many AI tools reawaken the myth that there can be an objective standpoint-free science in the form of the “objective” AI. But these AI tools don't come from nowhere. They're not a view from nowhere. They're a view from a very particular somewhere. And that somewhere embeds the standpoint of those who create these AI tools: a very narrow set of disciplinary expertise—computer scientists, machine learning experts. Any knowledge we ask from these tools is reinforcing that single standpoint, but it's pretending as if that standpoint doesn't exist.

Indexing the information age / The birth of our system for describing web content

Over a weekend in 1995, a small group gathered in Ohio to unleash the power of the internet by making it navigable

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

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Digital Scholarly Journals Are Poorly Preserved: A Study of 7 Million Articles

From the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. There are some limitations to this article, but on the other hand these limitations mostly serve to identify the difficulties of discovery when it comes to archiving scholarly literature: the study didn't consider institutional archives, presumably because there's no easy way to know whether any given article is stored in one. This would be the same problem should someone want to find an archived copy of something when the DOI no longer resolves. The tl;dr is right there in the title, (for which the authors should be congratulated).

Some things to consider when deciding whether to start building with “AI” in libraries and archives

Ed Summers said elsewhere that he got some pushback from colleagues for this short talk, but I'm personally very grateful that he published it, as it will probably form some of the basis for work I will be doing in the first half of this year to work out a framework for how we assess the various “AI” discovery tools that will increasingly infest librarianship and academia.

Call for Proposals for JLSC Special Issue: Open Access: Diverse Experiences and Expectations

I didn't mean to have two links related to JLSC but it just kind of happened. Anyway, proposals are due by 5 April.

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

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LEARNING LESSONS FROM THE CYBER-ATTACK; British Library cyber incident review

On Friday/Saturday the British Library released a “lessons learned” report into the October ransomware attack that severely damaged their ability to function and is still affecting operations. Whilst understandably a lot of detail is missing, the report is a useful document for anyone interested in cultural memory institutions, government services, organisational cyber security, or public policy.

I've seen a few takes on this on Mastodon, mostly along the lines of blaming the BL for poor security practices and culture. The report admits that their culture was not as security-focussed as it should have been, however I have a different view on this. I'll possibly provide my own lukewarm take in blog form at some point, but in essence I think this highlights a significant problem within all cultural institutions where there is a clash of organisational cultures and values between a short-term focussed future-looking information technology industry and a primarily long-term focussed, past-looking knowledge management profession. I'm probably betraying my bias with how I describe the two, but one doesn't have to view one side of the relationship as inherently better/smarter to understand how this difference in outlook causes problems.

Artificial Intelligence Blog Series: Introducing Our AI Metadata Generator

Wait, did somebody say “tech bros”? In hindsight we probably should be surprised that Ex Libris have taken this long to release an “AI-generated catalogue records” product. They're being cautious with this initially, pitching it as an “enhancement” tool, but I'd say it's pretty clear where they want this to go.

I think it's significant that this product is aimed at the “Alma Community Zone” (i.e. library-created records) rather than vendor-supplied records. The latter are by far the most complained-about and likely to be completely borked “at scale” as they like to say, but there's more long-term money in convincing libraries that they don't need to hire cataloguers any more.

Australia’s chief scientist takes on the journal publishers gatekeeping knowledge

Rounding out our week of depressing libraries and learning news, Chief Scientist Cathy Foley has come up with a great idea for increasing the profits of the North-Atlantic investment companies holding scientific knowledge ransom. According to the Grauniad she will “take on” the journal publishers by the cunning wheeze of offering them a big cheque to keep operating in exactly the same way but with more of the Australian public's money, paid to them directly instead of being laundered via universities. Apparently Elsevier couldn't say “yes” fast enough. Read to the end to get some good takes from people who actually understand what's at stake here and try to ignore Dr Foley's patronising comments about it being “threatening for some”. The entrenched interests here are the people whose pockets she wants to fill with your money.

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

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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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