Friday, May 15, 2015

Info Tech Goes to Church (and Something Changes)

Churches have had a long history of adopting new media to communicate their message whether it was plays, the printing press, or contemporary film.  New technology offers resources that impact preaching by integrating multimedia in worship, expanding outreach through streaming services and podcasts, and providing live feedback through tools such as Twitter/chat.  The life of religious communities is also impacted by new communication technologies that blur the boundaries of local and remote participation and challenge traditional ideas of koinonia (fellowship).

This year's annual conference at the Center for the Study of Information and Religion at Kent State University (June 5, 2015) will explore the impact of new tech on religious organizations.  I will be speaking about the potential legal, ethical, and theological implications of the tech we bring into the church.  Join our conversation; this is a whole new world to explore!


Friday, May 8, 2015

Roaming bands of Librarians invade Moncton...

Doesn't strike terror in the heart does it? There really was a band but it was a ukulele jam.  For five days the Canadian Association of Law Librarians met in warm and sunny (!!!) Moncton, NB for their annual conference.  You can get a flavour of the conference by following the tweet stream from the conference. Great to see old friends and make new ones, and we will all remember the closing reception at Parlee beach when the power went out!

I wanted to share a few of my favourite moments from the conference:

Fred Headon, Chair of the CBA’s Legal Futures Initiative, was our first keynote and raised questions about the direction of the legal profession.  He drew on his experience as In-House Counsel with Air Canada (we learned lots about pilots and airline processes, and a few things about dentists) to ask how the profession can innovate to place the client at the centre of service delivery.  Relevant question for librarians as I often feel our innovations still have us at the centre. Favourite Quotes (via @conniecrosby): "Law today looks a lot like his grandfather's law practice in Moosejaw - unlike other industries that have changed", (via @smireau) "There is not much sacred about how we do our jobs."

Jen Adams and Jon Shapiro (and Mark Lewis in spirit) deserve mention for their presentation on using online student engagement platforms in the classrooms to transform mundane content to an interactive experience.  They demonstrated that the tech use was rooted in their pedagogy and more than a cool trend.  The use of technologies like this in their flipped classroom experiment is cutting edge and it is important we share these innovations. Favourite quote: "Just ask my students, I'm like this all the time."

Annette Demers breakout session on "Beyond Bureaucracy: Building a User Centred Library from the Ground Up" was inspired by her own frustrating library experiences.  Indignation is usually the root of revolution.  She spoke about transforming services from top down bureaucracies to client centred where we ask "how can we make this happen?" I loved her enthusiasm and passion! Favourite quotes: "we are soft-shelled organisms on a ball of burning rock hurtling through space. Change is likely," "My job as a leader is to resource you," and "bureaucracy, patriarchy and micromanagement stifle employee engagement and initiative."

Surprisingly, Law Prof. Wayne MacKay's presentation "Effectively Responding to Cyberbullying: There's No App for That" struck a nerve for me.  I say surprisingly, as Wayne and I work in the same faculty and I have heard his presentation before.  He questions how it is that someone could bully another in this way so cruelly "just for fun."  I think we have created digital "Lords of the Flies" islands where immature people are left to govern themselves and then we are surprised by the results.  There were lots of solutions suggested like restricting access to the Internet and better parental tech training, but it struck me that with the speed technology changes we will never be ahead of the curve.  I wondered if we need to be teaching ethics rather than tech to parents, teachers, and students.  Here is where my personal beliefs are reflected: in our increasingly ego-centric and self-gratifying world, we all need to be reminded that we are each made in the image of God, by virtue of that, each of infinite value, and how we treat those around us will have eternal consequences for good and for evil.

Lots more sessions, and I can't describe them all. It was a good conference, I learned a lot, and they fed me well (far, far too well).

Photo Credit: JoshJRobbins, P1010511 cc licence.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oh to be the library's Alvin Toffler!

What is the future of library reference services? 

On March 5, 2015 I had the privilege to speak on that topic with the students of the Nova Scotia Community College Library Technician program.  I've taught students in the Master of Library and Information Science program, but this is the first time speaking with this group.  They are a wonderful group of students, and they are keen to understand where their profession is heading.  The invitation came as a response to my request on the APLA listserv for innovative research support service examples.  I was curious what cool things were going on and so were these students.

It was surprised by how few innovations were forthcoming.  If libraries are transforming themselves why are the changes so modest and...well frankly uninspiring?

I shared three examples of significant innovations that got my attention, both high and low tech:

1. University of Melbourne Law Research Service and Legal Academic Skills Center.
The first service provides dedicated research staff to support faculty research.  The second is a confluence of services designed to build student research skills including classes, workshops, and student wellness programs.  (Yes, we do most of these things already but what we don't do is integrate them with dedicated staff at this level of commitment.)

2. Simon Fraser University, Research Commons.  Going the next step, SFU has used the idea of the research lifecycle to guide their integration of services to students and faculty.  From creating the spaces and opportunities for idea creation, fostering collaborative partnerships, developing proposals and grants, facilitating research (traditional library stuff), to the publishing role (an emerging library role.)  One place to support the whole research endeavour.

3. Hold onto your seats: The Hunt Library, University of North Carolina.  This is a showcase of technological and social experimentation for libraries.  With immersive labs, and new private, semi-private, and collaborative work spaces, this library is breathing new life into the library as third space. (Watch the video.)

Three different focuses, three innovative visions of the role of the library as the locus of research.  The students and I discussed the implications of implementing these ideas, and the small steps we had taken to implement pieces into our own practice.  In the face of gloomy prophecies of the death of libraries, there are rays of hope for the next generation of information workers.

I wish I could see into the future.  A lot of the speculative fiction out there doesn't paint a very encouraging image of the future reference librarian.  I think of the holographic librarian interface from the 2002 remake of the Time Machine.  Reference is reduced to merely an interactive AI interface to the database of knowledge.  I think there are possibilities out there for really interesting services that are more than a better digital interface.  To borrow a quote from the futurist Alvin Toffler, "Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive; they’re emotional, they’re affectional. You can’t run the society on data and computers alone." 

Thanks for the invitation, NSCC! I hope you enjoyed our time as much as I did.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why don't you read my research?

Why don't you read my research?  My blog tagline is "Informing faith so faith can inform life."  I,like most researchers, hope that my research has an impact: it informs, illuminates, and changes my communities in a positive way.  I want my research to help churches and not-for-profits impact their own communities.  Universities and governments are also interested in researchers' impact.  Institutional reputation, grant funding, and knowledge mobilization are on their minds. 

There is a lot more research out there.  Maybe too much.  There are more PhDs.  The pressure to publish, and publish is more highly ranked journals, is increasing.  There are more journals in traditional and new online formats.  How can I get my research to stand out?
I have reflected on this as an information scientist.  We know how people seek information so why can't we reverse engineer how to make it more "findable" (is that a word?)  Librarians have largely limited their new role to collecting and preserving research through digital repositories.  Although important, this is in many respects still old school collecting.  We have traded brick boxes for digital boxes.  A more exciting role is the championing of Open Access publishing.  This year we will convert our second Law school journal to an online open format.  Where else can we contribute?  As universities focus more on measuring research impact, I am reminded that information scientists like bibliometrician Blaise Cronin have been studying how research was accessed and cited for decades.  This should be familiar territory for us.  I think we need more Blaise Cronins. I think I'll give him a call. :-)

Serving on my faculty's Research Committee has impressed upon me how the question of research dissemination weighs on many minds.  What new skills do researchers have to learn?  What skills might librarians contribute?  This is worth exploring together.  In the meantime with support of my faculty colleagues I have developed a tool to support research dissemination.  What do you think? Are we on the right track?

Image Credit: Creative Commons License - "impact / impakt / n." by Nick Southall, June 28, 2011, on Flickr .

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