OK ScholComm – time for some game theory

I have approximate knowledge of when I was first introduced to game theory. It was the late 1980s and I was in a classroom and we were shown a documentary featured The Prisoner’s Dilemma (which is best understood through Nicky Case’s The Evolution of Trust).

Some idle googling on my part makes me think that the documentary might have been ‘Nice Guys Finish First’ by not-so-nice guy Richard Dawkins but I am more inclined to think it was a PBS documentary.

What I can say with much more confidence is that whatever documentary I happened to have watched combined with my subscription to The Whole Earth Review and primed me for a future interest in population biology that I pursued at university until I switched from a degree in biology to one in Geography and Environmental Science.

I have much more specific knowledge of when I first became interested in the theory of games.

Years ago I bought off the newsstand the September 2003 issue of Games Magazine despite the fact that the magazine was clearly more about puzzles than games. From that issue I discovered that the puzzles contained were all way above my ability but there was this one article that caught my attention: Metagaming 101 by W, Eric Martin. The article begins:

Games without change, like War and Chutes & Ladders, are games without choices; they incorporate change only in the smallest, most random ways. Other than choosing to play or quit, players of these games can do nothing more than follow fate’s fickle finger until a winner emerges. Only children have patience for such games; more experienced players yearn for a higher level of change and the choices that accompany it.

At the other end of the change continuum lies chaos, a swirling mass of rules and playing pieces that survive only on whim. The perfect example: Calvinball. Again, only children can tolerate such games; other players require a structured set of rules for change that they can refer to as needed.

But there are game designers who encourage rule-breaking via the concept of *meta-rules* — that is, rules with a game that change the rules of the game itself. With meta-rules, players can explore any point they wish on a change continuum simply by altering the rules of a game.

from Metagaming 101

Game theory is not the same as the theory of games. Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” This means that you can choose to employ a variety of different types of game theory in certain games.

Since September 2003, I have read several books of the theory of games including A Theory of Fun for Game Design, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, How to Do Things with Videogames, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games, and Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College.

Now, the reading of books does not make one an expert and I don’t consider myself an expert on the theory of games. I have approximate knowledge of the theory of games.

 

 

I sometimes joke that the true purpose of metrics within scholarly communication is to avoid reading.

This is an allusion to the common practice of many tenure and promotion committees whose members don’t read the research of the scholar who they are assessing. Instead, they tally up the number of prominent journals that the scholar has published in. The perceived quality of the journal is transmuted into the perceived quality of the work that the scholar has produced.

And so, as the smallest gesture against this state of affairs, I have decided to celebrate the reading of scholarship. Well, I’m going to try to read more of it.

Last week I read Calvinball: User’s Rights, Public Choice Theory and Rules Mutable Games by Bob Tarantino in The Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice. Its abstract:

This article proposes the “rules mutable game” as a metaphor for understanding the operation of copyright reform. Using the game of Calvinball (created by artist  Bill Watterson in his long-running comic strip Calvin & Hobbes) as an illustrative device, and drawing on public choice theory’s account of how political change is effected by privileged interests, the article explores how the notion of a game in which players can modify the rules of the game while it is being played accounts for how users are often disadvantaged in copyright reform processes. The game metaphor also introduces a normative metric of fairness into the heart of the assessment of the copyright reform process from the standpoint of the user. The notion of a rules mutable game tells us something important about the kinds of stories we should be telling about copyright and copyright reform. The narrative power of the “fair play” norm embedded in the concept of the game can facilitate rhetoric which does not just doom users to dwell on their political losses, but empowers them to strategize for future victories.

I enjoyed the article but I would like to spend a little time on Tarantino’s assertion that a “game metaphor contains an inherent ethical vision.” While I take his point that most of us assume that all games are fair, I don’t think Calvinball is the game metaphor that one should first reach for, especially as law itself is already a rules-mutable system.

I would suggest instead to consider the concept of the infinite game.

Here’s the blurb from Finite and Infinite Games

Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning, but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the participants may change—as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end.

From Kevin Kelly:

The goal of the infinite game is to keep playing — to explore every way to play the game, to include all games, all possible players, to widen what is meant by playing, to spend all, to hoard nothing, to seed the universe with improbable plays, and if possible to surpass everything that has come before.

Games rules, incidentally, are uncopyrightable and this holds true for video games rules as well.

 

From Metagaming 101:

THE KING OF CHANGE

Nearly every game discussed thus far, no matter how successful on its own, owes a debt to Nomic, a rule-changing game that has spawned hundreds of variations over the past two decades.

Nomic was created in 1982 by Peter Suber, a professor of philosophy at Earlham College, as an appendix to his book The Paradox of Self-Amendment. This book explored the possible complications of a government system (such as that of the U.S.) in which a constitution includes rules for self-amendment. As Suber wrote, “While self-amendment appears to be an esoteric feature of law, capturing it in a game creates a remarkably complete microcosm of a functional legal system.

As created, Nomic consists of a two-tiered system of 16 “immutable” and 13 “mutable” rules. Players take turns proposing rule changes and new amendments, and earn points by voting and throwing a die. The first player to achive 100 points wins.

As dry as this sounds, games of Nomic can quickly explode in unimaginable directions. Perhaps the winner must now achieve 1,000 points — make that 1,000 points and the title “Supreme Overlord.” How does a player become titled? Propose a rule. On second thought, forget points; let’s give every rule a color and now someone wins by passing proposals that are colored green, red, and brown. “The ability of Nomic to change itself is a wonderful thing,” says Kevan Davis. “If the game ever starts to become boring, it change to whatever people think is less boring. If it’s going to fast, it can be slowed down; if it’s going to slowly, it can be speeded up. If people think it could use fewer dice and more rubber-band firing, then it gets fewer dice and more rubber-band firing.”

Is it coincidence that the King of Change is the same Peter Suber who helped define and promote Open Access in academia?

 

 

Here’s a book that I haven’t read: The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse. I am going to trust Wikipedia that the description of the book is accurate:

The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book’s narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, which was reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum. Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys, and to cultivate and play the Glass Bead Game, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to—they are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. The game is essentially an abstract synthesis of all arts and sciences. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics… The plot chronicles Knecht’s education as a youth, his decision to join the order, his mastery of the Game, and his advancement in the order’s hierarchy to eventually become Magister Ludi, the executive officer of the Castalian Order’s game administrators.

This is not the only time I have witnessed academia being understood as a game.

I read Scott Nicholson’s delightful Quest for Tenue: A Chose-Your-Own Adventure when I visited the Rare Books Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. Scott was one of many contributors to a book written in a single night called 100 ways to make history.

And earlier this week I learned from this video about the concept of chmess which was coined by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in the article, Higher-order truths about chmess [pdf]

What is chmess you might ask?

Chess is a deep and important human artifact, about which much of value has been written. But some philosophical research projects are more like working out the truths of chmess. Chmess is just like chess except that the king can move two squares in any direction, not one. I just invented it—though no doubt others have explored it in depth to see if it is worth playing. Probably it isn’t. It probably has other names. I didn’t bother investigating these questions because although they have true answers, they just aren’t worth my time and energy to discover. Or so I think. There are just as many a priori truths of chmess as there are of chess (an infinity), and they are just as hard to discover. And that means that if people actually did get involved in investigating the truths of chmess, they would make mistakes, which would need to be corrected, and this opens up a whole new field of a priori investigation, the higher-order truths of chmess, such as the following:
1. Jones’ (1989) proof that p is a truth of chmess is
flawed: he overlooks the following possibility …
2. Smith’s (2002) claim that Jones’ (1989) proof is
flawed presupposes the truth of Brown’s lemma
(1975), which has recently been challenged by
Garfinkle (2002)

Dennett holds the playing of chmess is much more of a concern of philosophy than of other disciplines because:

Philosophy is an a priori discipline, like mathematics, or at least it has an a priori methodology at its core, and this fact cuts two ways. On the one hand, it excuses philosophers from spending tedious hours in the lab or the field, and from learning data-gathering techniques, statistical methods, geography, history, foreign languages …, empirical science, so they have plenty of time for honing their philosophical skills. On the other hand, as is often noted, you can make philosophy out of just about anything, and this is not always a blessing.

Knowing this, is it surprising that philosophy journals have some of the lowest acceptance rates in all of scholarship? (ht Ryan Reiger).

There is another written work that really got me thinking about the University not necessarily as a game but as an institution of productive leisure but I cannot cite it or quote from it.

The reasons for this might have something to do with citation counts.

 

 

Please allow me to make a sweeping generalization: reputation is the coin of the realm of academia. Not citation counts.

And yet there are many software platforms that are currently being sold that presents the number of citations as some sort of scoring system.

Who has the high score at your institution? Just check Google Scholar.

I think we should be more mindful of the types of behaviours we are implicitly and explicitly encouraging by choosing to rank scholars, research labs, and institutions by number of citations, alone.

If we want to develop better scoring systems, I think we could learn from game designers:

 

 

The following is an excerpt from my contribution to “Librarian Origin Story” in Schroeder, R., Deitering, AM, Stoddart, R., The Self as Subject: Autoethnographic Research into Identity, Culture, and Academic Librarianship, Association of College and Research Libraries, 2017.

In 2010, Jane McGonigal had a public conversation with Stewart Brand as part of an event Called The Long Conversation that was put on by The Long Now Foundation. Jane McGonigal started the conversation by bringing up Stewart Brand’s past experience with game design as part of the “New Games Movement” in the late 1970s. McGonigal asked Brand if the New Games movement was designed to “change the world” and Brand said yes, and told her of his game-design origin story

During the late 70s, he and friends were talking about how the Cold War was being played out by “rules” that would only result in bad endings for everyone and as such, the rules of the Cold War needed to change. And Brand thought about when he was a kid, when he and his friends changed the rules all the time. For example, kids would change the rules of the game of stickball  that they were playing to accommodate any new kids who arrived to play. And so he and his friends started creating New Games for adults to explore and play in a world that they would rather live in.

Also in 2010, I was invited to be participant in the Evoke Summit held at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC where I had the chance to meet and thank Jane McGonigal in person. The summit was a reward for the winners of the game who had come up with their winning proposals for social entrepreneurial projects and the two days were filled with activities geared to making those proposals a reality.  One of the activities was to work on a short memorable tagline for one’s work that would distill the essence of who you are and what you want to achieve. Eventually I came up with this phrase for myself that I still feature on my professional portfolio: Changing the rules so more can win.

Bret Victor’s Bookshelf

A couple of posts ago, I wrote a somewhat unorthodox introduction to the work of Bret Victor. In it, I brought the reader’s attention to a recent article from The Atlantic called The Scientific Paper is Obsolete.

 

I know that this article had already made the rounds among some library people because I saw the piece being recommended and retweeted online. Chris Bourg, Director of Libraries at MIT chose not to read this article.

Not to be presumptuous, but I like to think that I understand her reasons and her reaction. I say this because whenever I read a list – especially a list that promises some form of universal canon (oh, say for a manual for civilization) and there are few to no women or non-white people (or non-white women), more often than not that list registers to me as deficient.

You cannot be well-read until you read the work of women.

So what are we to make of the gender balance of the works on Bret Victor’s esteemed bookshelf?

Are Bret’s reading choices any of our business? Maybe not.

Although…. they might be if they are the same books that are being used to form the canon of DynamicLand.

 

Enough with my moral reproach, scolding and lecturing! Let me tell you about DynamicLand! Because gender representation of its bookshelf notwithstanding, I think it’s an absolutely remarkable endeavour.

Seriously, go to the Dynamicland website, take it in, and consider it. Scroll through the videos on their twitter stream. And then, when you can, go deeper and watch Bret Victor’s videos, The Humane Representation of Thought and Seeing Spaces.

Speaking of seeing spaces

If I could offer one additional book for the shelves of Bret Victor and Dynamicland, it would be The science studies reader only because I know it contains Donna Haraway’s Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.

I have found the idea of situated knowledge very useful as both a feminist and someone who has a degree in science . This work has helped me reconcile these two selves. I also have found the concept useful in some of my own thinking in librarianship (see post: The Observer or Seeing What You Mean)

I like this definition of Situated Knowledge from The Oxford Dictionary of Human Geography:

The idea that all forms of knowledge reflect the particular conditions in which they are produced, and at some level reflect the social identities and social locations of knowledge producers. The term was coined by historian of science Donna Haraway in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature (1991) to question what she regarded as two dangerous myths in Western societies. The first was that it is possible to be epistemologically objective, to somehow be a neutral mouthpiece for the world’s truths if one adopts the ‘right’ method of inquiry. The second myth was that science and scientists are uniquely and exclusively equipped to be objective. Haraway was not advocating relativism. Instead, she was calling for all knowledge producers to take full responsibility for their epistemic claims rather than pretending that ‘reality’ has definitively grounded these claims.

We can and should take full responsibility for what we see and to recognize that what we see is what we choose to see.

To not read the works of people who are unlike ourselves is a choice. We can do better. I know I can do better. I’ve made first steps, but I know I c=could do more. I am considering following the lead of Ed Yong who actively pursued a better gender balance in his reporting:

We can’t see if we don’t even try to look.

Chasing Shadows

Last Monday when Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani opened his keynote at the 2018 Open Education Summit, one of the first things he did was place his work in the context of bell hooks and Jesse Strommel. And after hearing this my internal voice said to itself, “O.K. now I know where he’s coming from.”

It’s an admitted generalization but let me suggest that when academics compose a scholarly article they tend to introduce their work with a positioning statement that expresses the tradition of thought that their work extends. This might be done explicitly like Dr. Jhangiani did in his keynote or quietly through the careful choice of whose definitions were used to set the table for the work.

The adjective ‘scientific’ is not attributed to isolated texts that are able to oppose the opinion of the multitude by virtue of some mysterious faculty. A document becomes scientific when its claims stop being isolated and when the number of people engaged in publishing it are many and explicitly indicated in the text. When reading it, it is on the contrary the reader who becomes isolated. The careful marking of the allies’ presence is the first sign that the controversy is now heated enough to generate technical documents.

Latour B. Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 2005. p. 33.

If scholarly communication is a conversation, then we can think of journals as parlors, where you can expect certain conversations are taking place. If your work becomes a frequent touchpoint of these conversations you get… a high H-index?

As someone who is only five months into my position of Scholarly Communications Librarian, I’ve been particularly mindful of how people talk about scholarship and the various measures and analytics we use to describe scholarly work.

I try to keep in mind that metrics are just a shadow of an object. You can make a shadow larger by trying to angle yourself in various ways towards the sun but you shouldn’t forget that when you make your shadow larger this way, the object casting the shadow does not change.

I was approached recently by a peer who had a faculty member tell them that they are hesitant to add their work in the university’s repository because they are afraid that it would take away from the linking to their work on SSRN and thus would diminish their Google Scholar ranking.

What should be the response to these concerns? One thing we could do is reassure them that we are doing all we can [ethically] do to maximize the SEO of our IR.

But I believe that it would be better to express our work not in terms of links and citation counts but rather in terms of potential readership.

We could try to reframe the conversation so it didn’t seem so much of a zero-sum game. There are a set of readers who will discover work as a pre-print in SSRN and there will be another set of readers who will be interested in the work that they discover in an institutional repository. These interested readers could include a potential graduate student who is looking for an advisor to work for. It could be someone who has discovered the work in the IR because we allow other subject specific sites to index our institutional repository. It could be the local press. And, if the fears of SSRN link-cannibalization are still strong, we can always offer to place the work in the IR under a short-term embargo.

When we only think of metrics, we end up chasing shadows.

When faculty member assesses the quality of a peer’s work, they take the publication source as a measure of quality of that work. The unsaid rule is that each scholar, if they could, will always publish in the highest ranked journal in their field and any choice to publish anywhere else must be only because the work in question was not good enough. Any article published in a higher ranked journal is better than any article in a lower ranked journal.

And yet it’s easy to forget that the ranking behind ‘highly ranked journals’ are calculated using formulas that process the collected sum and speed of citation. In the end, journal ranking can also be re-considered as a measure of readership

Instead of positioning our work as ‘how to increase your h-index’, we should not forget that each citation is an author who we can also consider (perhaps charitably) a reader.

When I was the lead of Open Data Windsor Essex, we hosted a wonderful talk from Detroiter Alex Hill called Giving Data Empathy.  What he reminded us in his talk was that behind each data point in his work was a person and that it was essential to remember how diminished that person is when they are reduced to a ‘count’.

Let’s remember this as well.

Every data point, a reader.

Bret Victor, Bruno Latour, the citations that bring them together, and the networks that keep them apart

Occasionally I have the opportunity to give high school students an introduction to research in a university context. During this introduction I show them an example of a ‘scholarly paper’ so they can take in the visual cues that might help them recognize other scholarly papers in their future.

 

After I point out the important features, I take the time to point out this piece of dynamic text on the page:

I know these citation counts come from CrossRef because I have an old screen capture that shows that the citation count section used to looks like this:

I tell the students that this article has a unique identifier number called a DOI and that there is a system called CrossRef that tracks how many bibliographies where this number appears.

And then I scan the faces of the room and if I don’t see sufficient awe, I inform the class that a paper’s ability to express its own impact outside of itself is forking amazing.

The ability to make use of the CrossRef API is reserved for CrossRef members with paid memberships or those who pay for access.

This means that individual researchers cannot make use of the CrossRef API and embed their own citation counts without paying CrossRef.

Not even Bret Victor:

 

The image above is from the end of Bret Victor’s CV.

The image below is from the the top: of Bret Victor’s CV which describes himself through the words of two notable others:

 

I like to think that the library is a humane medium that helps thinkers see, understand, and create systems. As such, I think librarians have much to learn from Bret Victor.

Bret Victor designs interfaces and his thinking has been very influential to many. How can  I express the extent of his influence to you?

Bret Victor chooses not to publish in academic journals but rather opts to publish his essays on his website worrydream.com. The videos of some of his talks are available on Vimeo.

Here are the citation counts to these works, according to Google Scholar:

 

 

It is an accepted notion that the normative view of science expounded by Merton, provided a sociological interpretation of citation analysis in the late 1960s and 70s. According to his theory, a recognition of the previous work of scientists and of the originality of their work is an institutional form of awarding rewards for efforts. Citations are a means of providing such recognition and reward.

The above is the opening paragraph of, “Why hasn’t Latour’s Theory of Citations Been Ignored By the Bibliometric Community? Discussion of Sociological Interpretation of Citation Analysis” by Terttu Luukkonen.

Latour’s views of citations are part of his research on the social construction of scientific facts and laboratories, science in the making as contrasted with ready made science, that is beliefs which are treated as scientific facts and are not questioned… In this phase, according to Latour, references in articles are among the resources that are under author’s command in their efforts at trying to “make their point firm” and to lend support to their knowledge claims. Other “allies” or resources are, for example, the editors of the journals which publish the articles, the referees of the journals, and the research funds which finance the pieces of research…

Latour’s theory has an advantage over that of Merton’s in that it can explain many of the findings made in the so-called citation content and context studies mentioned. These findings relate to the contents of citations, which are vastly different and vary from one situation to another; also the fact that the surrounding textual contexts in which they are used differ greatly. Such differences include whether citations are positive or negational, essential to the references text or perfunctory, whether they concern concepts or techniques or neither, whether they provide background reading, alert readers to new work, provide leads, etc.

The above passage is from page 29 of the article.

On page 31, you can find this passage:

The Latourian views have been largely ignored by the bibliographic community if their discussions about citations. The reasons why this is so are intriguing. An important conceptual reason is presumably the fact that in Latourian theory, the major of references is to support the knowledge claims of the citing author. This explanation does not legitimate major uses of citation indexing, its use as a performance measure – as in the use of citation counts which presupposes that references indicate a positive assessment of the cited document — or as an indication of the development of specialties – as in co-citation analysis.

You may have heard of Bret Victor just earlier this week. His work is described of in an article from The Atlantic called The Scientific Paper is Obsolete. Here’s What’s Next.

 

The article contains this passage:

What would you get if you designed the scientific paper from scratch today? A little while ago I spoke to Bret Victor, a researcher who worked at Apple on early user-interface prototypes for the iPad and now runs his own lab in Oakland, California, that studies the future of computing. Victor has long been convinced that scientists haven’t yet taken full advantage of the computer. “It’s not that different than looking at the printing press, and the evolution of the book,” he said. After Gutenberg, the printing press was mostly used to mimic the calligraphy in bibles. It took nearly 100 years of technical and conceptual improvements to invent the modern book. “There was this entire period where they had the new technology of printing, but they were just using it to emulate the old media.”

Victor gestured at what might be possible when he redesigned a journal article by Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz, “Collective dynamics of ‘small-world’ networks.” He chose it both because it’s one of the most highly cited papers in all of science and because it’s a model of clear exposition. (Strogatz is best known for writing the beloved “Elements of Math” column for The New York Times.)

The Watts-Strogatz paper described its key findings the way most papers do, with text, pictures, and mathematical symbols. And like most papers, these findings were still hard to swallow, despite the lucid prose. The hardest parts were the ones that described procedures or algorithms, because these required the reader to “play computer” in their head, as Victor put it, that is, to strain to maintain a fragile mental picture of what was happening with each step of the algorithm.

Victor’s redesign interleaved the explanatory text with little interactive diagrams that illustrated each step. In his version, you could see the algorithm at work on an example. You could even control it yourself.

The article goes on to present two software driven alternatives to the PDF paper-mimicking practices of academia : notebooks from private company Mathematica and open source Jupyter Notebooks.

Perhaps it was for length or other editorial reasons but the article doesn’t go into Bret Victor’s own work on reactive documents that are best introduced by his self-published essay called ‘Explorable Explanations‘.  There is a website dedicated to collecting dynamic works inspired by Bret’s essay from Nicky Case, who has created some remarkable examples including Parable of the Polygons and The Evolution of Trust.

Or maybe it’s not odd that his work wasn’t mentioned.  From T. Luukkonen’s Latour’s Theory of Citations:

The more people believe in a statement and use it as an unquestioned fact, as a black box, the more it undergoes transformations. It may even undergo a process which Latour calls stylisation or erosion, but which Garfield called obliteration by information, that is, a scientist’s work becomes so generic tot he field, so integrated into its body of knowledge that people neglect to cite it explicitly.

At the end of 2013, Bret Victor published a page of things that ‘Bret fell in love with this year’. The first item on his list was the paper Visualization and Cognition: Drawing Things Together [pdf] from French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist, Bruno Latour.

On page five of this paper is this passage, which I came across across again and again during my sabbatical when I was doing a lot of reading about maps:

One example will illustrate what I mean. La Pérouse travels through the Pacific for Louis XVI with the explicit mission of bringing back a better map. One day, landing on what he calls Sakhalin he meets with Chinese and tries to learn from them whether Sakhalin is an island or a peninsula. To his great surprise the Chinese understand geography quite well. An older man stands up and draws a map of his island on the sand with the scale and the details needed by La Pérouse. Another, who is younger, sees that the rising tide will soon erase the map and picks up one of La Pérouse’s notebooks to draw the map again with a pencil . . .

What are the differences between the savage geography and the civilized one? There is no need to bring a prescientific mind into the picture, nor any distinction between the close and open predicaments (Horton, 1977), nor primary and secondary theories (Horton, 1982), nor divisions between implicit and explicit, or concrete and abstract geography. The Chinese are quite able to think in terms of a map but also to talk about navigation on an equal footing with La Pérouse. Strictly speaking, the ability to draw and to visualize does not really make a difference either, since they all draw maps more or less based on the same principle of projection, first on sand, then on paper. So perhaps there is no difference after all and, geographies being equal, relativism is right. This, however, cannot be, because La Pérouse does something that is going to create an enormous difference between the Chinese and the European. What is, for the former, a drawing of no importance that the tide may erase, is for the latter the single object of his mission. What should be brought into the picture is how the picture is brought back. The Chinese does not have to keep track, since he can generate many maps at will, being born on this island and fated to die on it. La Pérouse is not going to stay for more than a night; he is not born here and will die far away. What is he doing, then? He is passing through all these places, in order to take something back to Versailles where many people expect his map to determine who was right and wrong about whether Sakhalin was an island, who will own this and that part of the world, and along which routes the next ships should sail.

Science requires a paper to be brought back from our endeavours.

I thought of Latour when I read this particular passage from The Atlantic article:

Pérez told me stories of scientists who sacrificed their academic careers to build software, because building software counted for so little in their field: The creator of matplotlib, probably the most widely used tool for generating plots in scientific papers, was a postdoc in neuroscience but had to leave academia for industry. The same thing happened to the creator of NumPy, a now-ubiquitous tool for numerical computing. Pérez himself said, “I did get straight-out blunt comments from many, many colleagues, and from senior people and mentors who said: Stop doing this, you’re wasting your career, you’re wasting your talent.” Unabashedly, he said, they’d tell him to “go back to physics and mathematics and writing papers.”

What else is software but writing on sand?

I wanted to highlight Bret Victor’s to my fellow library workers for what I thought were several reasons. But the more I thought about it, the more reasons came to mind. But I don’t want to try your patience any longer so consider this a potential beginning of a short series of blog posts.

I’ll end this section with why wrote about Bret Victor, Bruno Latour, and citations. It has to do with this website, Northwestern University’s Faculty Directory powered by Pure:

 

More and more of our academic institutions are making use of Pure and other similar CRISes that create profiles of people that are generated from the texts we write and the citations we make.

Despite Latour, we are still using citations as a performative measurement.

 

I think we need a more humane medium that helps thinkers see and understand the systems we work in.

The Tom Longboat Awards as Wikidata

This year I helped out and participated in two Wikipedia ‘editathons.’ In March I assisted in the Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon hosted at Hackforge and in November I was at the Editathon on Elite Aboriginal Athletes in Canada held on the University of Windsor campus in conjunction with the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport Conference.

It’s only now that I am following up with an exploration of the potential of linked data through Wikidata that was first planted in my head by the incomparable Dan Scott from his presentation Wicked data with Wikidata from waaaay back in February of this year. Dan Scott did not steer me wrong. The potential power of Wikidata is very impressive.

The timeline above is a live query to Wikidata using this code. I could have added other search parameters, such as who are the wrestlers who have won the Tom Longboat Award or which women but that really doesn’t express the power of searching Wikidata. Wikidata – if the data is available – allows you to find painters who were the sons of painters and who are current women mayors of cities over a million residents and which authors wrote their first published work after the age of 45. It’s a fundamentally different type of searching that allows for language normalization and data reuse at scale.

Necessary care must be given when working with indigenous people and subject matter and I hope that my contributions to the Tom Longboat Award on Wikipedia and Wikidata pass muster. Stacy Allison Cassin, current W.P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship at York University, is working on a project entitled Advancing Reconciliation and Social Justice in Libraries through Research Library and Community Collaboration in Wikimedia Projects that I’m following with interest.

It’s not often that I recommend watching a three hour video, but I am going to recommend watching this three hour video: A Gentle Introduction to Wikidata for Absolute Beginners [including non-techies!]. Presenter Asaf Bartov does an exceptional job of slowly building understanding and bringing the viewer with him at a pace that doesn’t feel rushed but, like a good three hour walk, leaves you amazed at what ground you have managed to cover when you are finished.

For those of you who are reluctant to watch a three hour video before you know that you can apply it to your library work, please consider getting to the 2018 OLA Superconference to see Dan Scott, Stacy Allison-Cassin, Monica Fazekas, and Carolyn Doi present on Wikimedia Edit-A-Thon: Get Your Library on Wikidata, Wikipedia, and Wikimedia Commons. Like me, you might not see the immediate reason to incorporate Wikidata into your work. But give it time.

The Pattern Language of the Library

I am an olds.

When I first started working at the University of Windsor in July of 1999, the first floor of the Leddy Library was largely taken up by stacks of reference books. The largest collection of the library’s private and semi-private study carrels were on the second floor.

Keeping in mind that ideally reference materials are close at hand when one is writing why would our library actively separate reading and writing activities through in its architecture?

I think there must have been a variety of reasons behind why it was decided to place the study carrels on the second floor with the most obvious being that the library was designed to keep activities requiring concentration away from the distraction of people walking into the library and through its space.

But there’s another reason why such a separation existed which is suggested by the fact you can find an electrical outlet in every single study carrel on the second floor at even though the building came to be decades before laptops were available.

The answer is typewriters. Noisy, clattering typewriters.

I didn’t make this connection myself. That insight came from this Twitter conversation from 2014.

While there is a rich conversation to be had about how some of the information literacy practices that separate research and writing as separate processes may have resulted from vestigial practice based on avoiding typewriter noise, I’m more interested in exploring what the affordance of laptops might mean to the shape of the spaces of and within the library today.

The book did not kill the building.

The laptop will change our chairs.

Our print reference collection is now in the basement of the West Building of the Leddy Library. Much of the space on the first floor of the Main Building is filled with banks of computer workstations that we used to call our Learning Commons.

But the perceived need for banks of workstations was waned in libraries. You don’t see as many seas of desktops in newly constructed library buildings. Now the entire library is perceived as a Learning Commons.

The image above that references the Learning Common concept is from Steelcase who design furniture for offices and other spaces such as libraries like GVSU’s Mary Idema Pew Library:

I was recently looking through the Steelcase product catalogue and I was taken by the way that the company makes very clear how the form of their furniture is tightly associated with function.

(If you are a subscriber to my newsletter: in the above video there’s a reference to that theory that I wrote about which suggests that the most comfortable seating is one when you feel protected from the back.)

When I read about their turnstone Campfire suite of products it reminded me of a book I read sometime ago called make space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration. I found the book on our shelves, took it down and leafed through the book and found this:

 

While make space makes no specific allusion to A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al. I feel it’s almost impossible not to conclude that it must have provided some inspiration.

An except from A Pattern Language: 251 Different Chairs

From A Pattern Language:

People are different sizes; they sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all the chairs alike.

From Twitter:

From A Pattern Language

Of course, this tendency to make all chairs alike is fueled by the demands of prefabrication and the supposed economies of scale. Designers have for years been creating “perfect chairs” — chairs that can be manufactured cheaply on mass. These chairs are made to be comfortable for the average person. And the institutions that buy chairs have been persuaded that buying these chairs in bulk meets all their needs.

I particularly like this excerpt from A Pattern Language because I know an example of this very tension. In 2014 I sat in on the 2014 Library Interior Design Award Winners presentation at ALA Annual. There the interior designer being celebrated publicly lamented the fact that the NCSU Library opted for a wide variety of chairs including many that did not match the larger aesthetic of the space. Then the librarian spoke and told us that said chairs were so loved by students that some of them made a Tumblr of them in their honor.

I think we fundamentally underestimate how much a difference a variety of chairs can make in the experience of a place.

For example: this is a science classroom.

Kids come early to get the best seats.

Here’s another example. This picture is of a community bench that the neighbour of Dave Meslin made available for others.

My neighbours cut ten feet off their shrub, and replaced it with a community bench! ❤️

A post shared by dave meslin (@davemeslin) on

A community bench is what I would consider an example of tactical urbanism – a phrase that I like to think I first heard from People from Public Spaces. I am looking forward to reading Karen Munro’s Tactical Urbanism for Librarians: Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Make Big Changes.

I should also say that I’m not the first librarian to try to bring in Pattern Language thinking to how we design our spaces. In 2009 William Denton and Stacey Allison-Cassin explained their “vision of the One Big Library and how Christopher Alexander’s pattern language idea will help us build it.”

In reviewing their talk for this blog post I re-read from their slides this quotation from A Pattern Language:

This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.

I had forgotten that I read that particular phrase – repair the world – in that text.

About three months ago I started a special interest group at Hackforge called Repair the World which is “a monthly meet-up of those who want to learn more about the technologies and policies we can employ in Windsor-Essex to lead us towards a carbon-neutral future and to help our community cope with the effects of global warming”.

For our first meeting, I didn’t do much other than set a time and place, give one suggested reading for potential discussion, and help set up the chairs in the space in a circle for our discussion.

In The Chairs Are Where the People Go, Sheila Heti transcribed and edited this advice from Misha Glouberman:

There’s a thoughtlessness in how people consider their audience that’s reflected in how they set up chairs. You can see that thoughtlessness immediately…

… At a conference, if you want to create a discussion group, you can set up the chairs in a circle, and you don’t need a table…

… Setting up chairs takes a lot of time, but anyone can do it. If you’re running a project and you want to get people involved, ask them to set up chairs. People like to set up chairs, and it’s easy work to delegate. It’s even easier to get people to put chairs away.

Everyone should know these things.

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Learning Objects: Teach Me Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge

Last week, a tweet pointing to this article “A Stanford researcher’s 15-minute study hack lifts B+ students into the As” caught my attention.

The article describes how Stanford researcher Patricia Chen improved her class’ performance in a test by sending out a 15 minute pre-survey designed to get them thinking about how they were going to prepare. Chen was applying a metacognition intervention in her teaching practice.

According to the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), which performs studies to try and close achievement gaps, metacognition is one of two of the most effective educational interventions it has tested. (Feedback is the other.) Students involved in programs designed to improve how they think about thinking accelerated their learning by an average of eight months’ worth of academic progress. The effect was greatest for low-achieving and older pupils.

This article reminded me that I had unfinished work to do.

Some months ago I quietly launched a project that I designed as a librarian’s “intervention” to help students think about their thinking. It is a box of objects and zines that was made available at the Leddy Library’s Course Reserves Desk called ‘Learning Objects’.

The west building of the Leddy Library features a cornerstone that bears the motto of the University of Windsor: TEACH ME GOODNESS DISCIPLINE AND KNOWLEDGE.

Learning Objects is a box of objects that you can borrow from the Leddy Library. Each object is  accompanied by a booklet that let you know how these things can teach you GOODNESS, DISCIPLINE, and KNOWLEDGE.

And yet I had not yet properly explained the thinking behind my thinking behind this project. I had meant to write up my work but I found I kept putting it off. This is particularly ironic because one of the objects in the box was specifically chosen by me to help students deal with procrastination.

Panic Monster and Box

So let me turn the dial of my tomato timer and do the work.

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide.

The text of "The Pomodoro Technique" zine can be found here.

If I had to define what was the starting point of my Learning Objects project, I think it would have to be this tweet from McMaster University’s Andrew Colgoni:

In response, I tweeted back:

 

There are passages in Clive Thompson’s Smarter than you think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better that still sit with me since I read the book in 2013.

For example, his work was the first instance that I’ve ever come across that suggested that it is the writer’s desire for a ‘speed of recall’ that is as close as possible to one’s speed of thought which is the core driver behind the reader’s need for convenience – a drive that always puts library resources (whether in print but across campus or online but behind a tiresome authentication process) at a permanent disadvantage to any other text that was closer to hand even when the reader states that they appreciate the experience of browsing items on library shelves.

As with Drexel, Dewey, and Otlet before him, [Vannevar] Bush argued that speed of recall was key. Without it, one’s external store of facts would be useless. When he called his invention “an enlarged intimate supplement” to memory, the crucial word wasn’t so much “enlarged” or “supplement”; books had long enlarged and supplemented our minds. No, it was “intimate”—the idea that the memex would be physically and cognitively proximal, in a nearly sensual fashion. That was a key to its power. Indeed, Bush suspected the comparative difficulties of using libraries is what had prevented them from being of widespread use to the public. “Even the modern great library,” he wrote, “is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few.” To truly harness our external knowledge, we needed to bring it closer to our minds.

But the passages that came to mind from that were prompted by Andrew’s tweet, was the the book’s introduction to the science behind the learning technique of “spaced repetition” which is based on the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting:

Machines can also remind us of facts precisely when we need reminding. If you’ll recall the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting from the second chapter, Ebbinghaus found that we forget things in a predictable pattern: More than half our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent. Ebbinghaus and his followers theorized that this process could work in reverse. If you reviewed a fact one day after you first encountered it, you’d fight the curve of loss. This process is called “spaced repetition,” and experiments and anecdotes suggest it can work. It explains why students who cram for a test never retain much; the material dissolves because they never repeat it. But though spaced repetition is clever and effective, it has never caught on widely, because ironically, the technique relies on our frail human memories. How would you remember to review something the next day? Then a few days later, a week, and three months?

Machines, however, are superb at following these rote schedules. In the last decade, software programmers began selling tools intended to let you feed in facts, which the computer then reminds you to review on a reverse Ebbinghaus curve. Use of this software has remained a subculture, mostly by people seeking to learn a foreign language, though devout adherents use it to retain everything from recipes to poetry…

screenshot of kindle daily review

As librarians, we don’t concern ourselves with the memory work of our readers. Our focus is on the research process of scholarship and not on the learning and recall of said scholarship. And yet arguably more student time is spent studying in the library than researching within it.

For many of our students much of their time is spent in the learning of material. And despite the fact that some of our most prestigious students need to memorize content (there is a good chance that your doctor, as a medical student, used flash cards or memory palaces to learn the biomedical foundation of their care) educators and librarians frequently choose to focus their teaching on ‘higher level learning’ instead.

Appealing though it might be to offload the responsibility for teaching our students basic knowledge to their elementary school teachers or to Google, the research of cognitive psychologists who study learning and the basic study habits of most students suggest that we cannot do this. One of our first and most important tasks as teachers is to help students develop a rich body of knowledge in our content areas– without doing so, we handicap considerably their ability to engage in cognitive activities like thinking and evaluating and creating. As cognitive psychologist Daniel Willlingham argued, you can’t think creatively about information unless you have information in your head that you can think about. “Research from cognitive science has shown,” he explained, “that the sorts of skills that teachers want for their students — such as the ability to analyze and think critically — require extensive factual knowledge” (Willingham 2009, p. 25). We have to know things, in other words, to think critically about them. Without any information readily available to us in our brains, we tend to see new facts (from our Google searches) in isolated, noncontextual ways that lead to shallow thinking. Facts are related to other facts, and the more of those relationships we can see, the more we will prove capable of critical analysis and creative thinking. Students who don’t bother to memorize anything will never get much beyond skating the surface of a topic.

The above passage comes from James M. Lang, the author of Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, which I found an extraordinarily helpful book. I included a passage from his “Small Teaching” in the “Teach me knowledge: Why study the facts” zine that I included in the Learning Objects box.

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide. 

The text of the "Why study the facts" zine can be found here.

I also included a separate zine dedicated specifically to the topic of spaced repetition. To accompany the zine, I included a small box of index cards in which the cards explained how to create a ‘Leitner Flashcard Game’ for one’s own learning goal.

Leitner Flashcard Game

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide. 

The text of the "Spaced Repetition" zine can be found here.

(Did you know that I’m into index cards? I’m really into index cards.)


It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past. ~Mark Epstein

The zines that accompany the Rubber Duck in the Learning Objects box are really for my past self.

rubber duck and zines

Do you study by reading and re-reading your notes to yourself silently? Stop! I know it feels good, in a monkish, masochistic, pain equals progress sort of way to beat your brains against a book hour after hour, but it’s also a terribly inefficient way to review. Instead, lecture to an imaginary class, out-loud, about the main topics, without reading off your notes. If you can state an idea once, in complete sentences, out-loud, it will stick. You don’t need to re-read it a dozen times. If you can’t capture it out-loud then you don’t understand it yet. Go back. Review. Then try again.

That except is from Cal Newport’s Monday Master Class: 5 Bad Study Habits You Should Resolve to Avoid in 2008. It can also be found in the zine, “Teach Me Knowledge: Rubber Duck: Reciting”:

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide.

The text of the "Rubber Duck: Reciting" zine can be found here.

I’m particularly pleased that I found and was able to share an example of why you might want to use a rubber duck to improve both one’s computer debugging…

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide. 

The text of the "Rubber Duck Debugging" zine can be found here.

… as well as I why you might want to talk to a rubber duck to improve one’s engineering practice.

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide.

The text of the "Rubber Duck: Problem Solving: Engineering Design" zine can be found here.

tarot card: 3 of wands

If you were asked to fill a box of objects to give to a student to help them in their journey, what would you give to inspire DISCIPLINE, KNOWLEDGE, and GOODNESS?

It’s a bit of a cop-out but I chose two books for the objects by which I wanted to carry goodness. Well, two books and a deck of cards.

In the box of Learning Objects you can find a deck of Rider Waite tarot cards and Jessa Crispin’s The Creative Tarot

book cover: the creative tarot

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide.

The text of the "Jessa Crispin's The Creative Tarot" zine can be found here.

… and Ursula Le Guin’s Tau Te Ching.

book cover Tao Te ching

You can re-create this zine by using my production template [.docx] and following this helpful zine making guide.

The text of the "Ursua K. Le Guin's Tau Te Ching" zine can be found here.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to get the students to borrow the box 🙂

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Working to Code

My cataloging professor once quipped in class, “There are two kinds of people: the people who know where things are and the people who know where things should be.”

I used that line on my daughter this morning as she looked for her dress shoes because it was picture day at school. She loves her dress shoes and will wear them sometimes when she plays in her bedroom or in the living room or the TV room and so one can never quite be sure where her dress shoes are at a given time.

After I told her my professor’s passed down wisdom, I gave her my addendum: “Whenever you share a space with other people you need to have places where everyone knows where particular things belong because when there are other people involved you can never be sure there things are.” I then walked with her to the space under the stairs where I try to keep all our shoes and we indeed found her prized possession.

I have been thinking about the necessity of communicating ‘where things should be’ in shared space ever since I read Peter Rukavina’s post on the Sachs-Neistat approach to labeling and then watched the video that inspired his post, Ten Bullets by sculptor Tom Sachs. Ten Bullets is part of series of movies designed for mandatory viewing by members of the Tom Sachs studio team called “Working to Code.” Like Peter, this video has also inspired me.

I am on the Board of Directors of a small, community-focused hackerspace called Hackforge. We have occasional ‘organize the space’ days in which the people who know what things are and where they should be are present and able to guide the other members who don’t have this shared understanding.

It is difficult to clean up a work space if you don’t recognize what an object *is* especially as many vernacular organizational systems group things together by function when they don’t group things together by type (just like the grocery store where baking supplies are clustered together in one aisle whereas in another you can find a collection of dried beans).

This is why one of our members designed an inventory system for our space that associates a wiki entry with an ID which is in turn associated with a QR code on a sticker that can be applied to a tool or bag of parts. So, if you are unsure what an object is, you can scan the QR code to read its wiki entry which, ideally, would also tell you where it belongs in the space. Unfortunately the whole system is still in an ‘idealized’ state as we haven’t done the work to inventory and describe most of the objects in our space.

But now I know thanks to Tom’s video that if I don’t where an object should go, I should A. B. K. – always be knolling.

My own place of work is another shared space of sorts. But as I am no Tom Sachs I am unable to unilaterally decide how we should label our materials within the Leddy Library. So I’ve decided to make small changes under my liaison responsibilities to see if they can make any noticeable differences that I can then share with my peers.

I work in an academic library and in my place of work we do not have a practice of labeling our bookshelf collections beyond providing call number ranges.

sign of call number ranges

I think it’s safe to say that very few people beyond library staff know that call numbers encode the book’s subject and authorship.

The only indication that the Leddy Library is organized by subject are the Find it with LC posters that you can find throughout the library.

One thing I did some time ago was try to provide a better label to myself on my staff profile page to give some idea of how I might be of use.

profile page

I have library liaison responsibilities for Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Computer Science.  And on these subject pages I am now adding a small section that lets reader know where the books of interest are:

I’m still not sure whether this work provides more signal than noise at this point and only with user testing will I be sure.

But one thing I am sure of – we cannot expect others to know the code of a shared space if we never share the code with them.

Why Libraries Should Maintain the Open Data of Their Communities

Today I’m preparing for my participation in a seminar on Open Cities that will be held Monday in Toronto as part of the Monday Night Seminar series by The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology.

As part of my preparation, I thought I would take and publish an edited version of a draft of a paper that I wrote about Why Libraries Should Maintain the Open Data of Their Communities that I wrote in 2014 but never ended up publishing.

The text that follows is loooong. For a shorter take, you can opt to check out my slides on the same topic from a presentation I gave at the Ontario Library Association Superconference in January of this year.


Introduction

Before we can have Linked Open Data, we need Open Data, and that process of education and data publishing with open licenses has been slow going (Voss 2012).

It is curious that for all the professional and scholarly conversations within librarianship about Linked Open Data there is scant attention being paid to the much simpler technology of Open Data. What literature on Open Data that is found is largely situated within the larger conversation on the preservation and management of experimental data that are now required of researchers to deposit due to changes in national-level funding mandates. Not to take away from the work being applied to both Linked Open Data and Research Data Management as these are both important developments in the work of libraries, this text will put forward that libraries are not taking advantage of an opportunity to collect and manage Open Data more widely from and for their communities. By ignoring Open Data libraries are missing an opportunity to become a platform by which new works by and about their community can be built. Indeed, there are those outside of the profession who have expressed that libraries would do well to address this need.

The Context: Open Data in Canada

It is necessary to define what is meant by the term Open Data before continuing. In this text I am going to use a stricter definition of Open Data than what is generally used in the research data management community. The Canadian’s federal research granting agencies in their consultation report “The Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada” (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council et al. 2014) use the same definition of Open Data as The Royal Society in its “Science as an Open Enterprise” report:

“Open data is data that meets the criteria of intelligent openness. Data must be accessible, usable, assessable and intelligible”(Royal Society (Great Britain) 2012).

But for the purposes that I will be making a case for in this text, it is necessary to extend the definition of Open Data to more than merely making one’s data available online which has be construed as open-washing (Villum 2014). When using the term Open Data I will be using its definition as expressed by the Open Knowledge Foundation:

“Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness)”(Open Knowledge Foundation 2014).

It is important to understand the consequences of using the definition of Open Data as set by the OKFN. A dataset that is made available online using the licence CC-BY-NC, or Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial, for example, would not be considered Open Data by the OKFN since it restricts the domain of data use to only non-commercial endeavors.

On the other hand, this text will accept any data – even unstructured data in a proprietary format – that is made available freely online as long as the license has been designated as Open. This is consistent with the definition of Open Data as considered by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web and the initiator of Linked Data. Berners-Lee holds that Open Data is a quality that can be assigned of one of five possible stars for openness (Berners-Lee 2006).

5 stars of open data

Data that is available online that has been granted an open license has a quality level of one star. Openly licensed data available in a structured form such as a table is worth two stars and data that is structured using a non-proprietary format such as within a comma delimited file earns three stars. Four star open data is open licensed data that has been assigned a URI, or uniform resource identifier, so that the data can be linked to with less likelihood of breaking. And according to Berners-Lee, data with semantic metadata or Open Linked Data would be ideal and thus earns five stars. In the course of this text it will be discussed why the work involved of adding additional metadata, structure, and programmatic access to Open Data might be a new service that librarians might want to consider providing to their communities as part of our portfolio of services.

I will also be writing about the Canadian context of Open Data. This context is significant because government produced data in Canada falls under Crown Copyright which is an arrangement that allows for perpetual copyright held by the Crown. This arrangement is unlike that of the United States where government work

“prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person’s official duties… is not subject to copyright” and is, as such, free to copy by citizens of the United States (U.S. General Services Administration 2014).

Reproduction and other uses of Canadian government produced information, by default, requires permission and the generally involves the payment of licensing fees that have been set for the purposes of cost-recovery. That was the case until 2010, when the federal government gave notice that it was establishing a license that gave permission for non-commercial uses without the need for permission (Geist 2013). But in 2013, this notice was removed from the Public Works and Government Services site and the announcement was made that,

“as of November 18, 2013 Publishing and Depository Services no longer administers Crown Copyright and Licensing on behalf of Government of Canada departments and agencies. Should you be seeking copyright clearance for Government of Canada information, please contact the department or agency that created the information” (P. W. and G. S. C. Government of Canada 2007).

It is still unclear whether there is a consistent approach across the departments of the federal government in regards to whether prior permission is necessary for non-commercial uses of online data of the federal government.

Canadian Libraries Opening Data

Due to its cost-recovery mandate, access and use of many of the datasets produced by Canadian federal department of Statistics Canada require a licensing fee. These fees that are considered minimal by Statistics Canada have not only inhibited student use of its research data but it is thought to have limited the entire filed of quantitative social science research in Canada (Boyko and Watkins 2014). To alleviate this condition, Statistics Canada in 1996 established the Data Liberation Initiative (DLI) with Canadian post-secondary institutions to improve data access for students, staff and faculty.

“Over the years the focus of the DLI Program has evolved from purchasing access to major Canadian datasets collected by Statistics Canada to providing training services and the continuous support required for the proper understanding and usage of an ever expanding research data collection” (S. C. Government of Canada 1996).

It has been said that the fear of lost revenue inhibited efforts in the 1990s to make government-produced data from Statistics Canada more readily available to Canadian academic researchers through the Data Liberation Initiative (Boyko and Watkins 2014) despite the fact that revenue recovered from such efforts have been suggested to been limited (McMahon 2014). In order to prevent “leakage” of data from the academic sphere to the public/commercial sphere through the DLI, Statistics Canada developed and requires a license agreement to be signed by the institution’s University Librarian and designated DLI contact that makes explicit that that the data distributed by the institution are for

“exclusive purposes of teaching, academic research and publishing, and/or planning of educational services within my educational institution, and may not be used for any other purposes without the explicit prior written approval of Statistics Canada” (Boyko and Watkins 2014).

As Boyko and Watkins notes,

“This license has been remarkably effective. The penalty for a breach of the license would be the loss of data access to the offending institution. As a result DLI contacts are extremely diligent in applying the conditions and have a number of tools at their disposal to help in this regard.”

While libraries have been responsible for upholding obligations of signed license agreements for digital products for decades now, I think it’s important to take a moment to reflect on this behaviour that has been normalized. If libraries during the age of only print had decided to restrict the use of its collections to non-commercial sphere and would regularly interrogate our users of their intentions of how they planned to make use of the information that they found in the library before they were able to access those works, the practice would be dismissed immediately out of a respect for personal privacy.  The fact that this practice has been established with no known complaint is likely for several reasons. For one, the transaction of data from Statistics Canada to the user (through the proxy of the academic library) is framed as an exchange in which the promise of non-commercialization of the data and no re-distribution of the set is given in return for data without a financial cost, as opposed to an imposed restriction on one’s rights on one’s own data.

While the Data Liberation Initiative has had success in making government data more readily available for the academic researchers of Canada, it does not help bring government data to the wider public. In response, local governments, non-profit organizations and public libraries such as the Calgary Public Library, Toronto Public Library, and Regina Public Library have independently joined the Community Data Program (CDP) as established by the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), to collectively acquire Statistics Canada data. It should be noted that this data is not intended to be shared with the public; rather the data is used for internal planning and decision making (Canadian Council on Social Development 2014).

At one time libraries did belong to a program that made Canadian government information freely available to the Canadian public called the Federal Depository Services Program.

“The original mandate of the DSP was to provide a central and comprehensive distribution source from which published Government of Canada (GC) information would be sent to academic, college, legislative and public libraries, as well as to federal parliamentarians and departmental libraries” (Government of Canada Publications 2014).

The program began in 1927 and ended in 1994 when the program developed into the “E-Collection” in 1995. The distribution of print publications to libraries eventually ceased as access to their PDF equivalents were made available online. While the DSP E-Collection Program is one that distributes publications and not datasets, I believe that the program is worth mentioning in this context because it was one reason given why my own place of employment (and presumably other Canadian academic libraries) have always maintain a bank of computers that are freely available to the public. Since our library was designated a Full Depository Library in the DSP program it was held that our library had an obligation to provide unfettered and free public access to our the DSP collection beyond our campus to the wider community. I would consider this a historical precedent to possible hosting of government open data in the future.

One could argue that the most significant program to make Canadian government data readily available to all of its citizens without a direct cost now comes from the government itself. It is difficult to set a precise date when it and other governments began the shift towards Open Data. It has been said that “The Open Data Movement” began in the United States in December of 2007 (Chignard 2013) when thirty prominent writers, scholars, business leaders and activists came together to form an Open Government Working Group (Malamud 2007). In May of 2009, the City of Vancouver “endorsed the principles of making its data open and accessible to everyone where possible, adopting open standards for that data and considering open source software when replacing existing applications”(CBC News 2009). By June of 2013, Canada signed on to the Open Data Charter at the G8 Summit held in Lough Erne Summit in Northern Ireland and in doing so, committed itself to the following principles:

  1. Open Data by Default – foster expectations that government data be published openly;
  2. Quantity and Quality – release quality, timely and well described Open Data;
  3. Usable by All – release as much data in as many open formats as possible;
  4. Releasing Data for Improved Governance – share expertise and be transparent about data collection, standards and publishing processes; and
  5. Releasing Data for Innovation – consult with users and empower future generations of innovators (data.gc.ca 2014).

As of October, 2014, five of our of nation’s provincial governments host an open data portal as do over fifty municipalities (Lauriault 2014).

In the next section of this text, it will be argued that there is a growing expectation that the library develops into a platform for the information needs of its community and that hosting Open Data may be one such development towards this vision.

The Library As Platform

There have been a number of prominent individuals outside of the librarian profession who have advocated that libraries must go beyond merely providing traditional collections if they are to remain a relevant and vibrant institution in the future. In May of 2011 writer Seth Godwin declared that “The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books” and instead suggested a new vision of the library: “there are one thousand things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value” (Godin 2011). In October of 2013, MG Siegler, who is a general partner at Google Ventures, declared “The End of the Library” in a post on TechCrunch stating, “The internet has replaced the importance of libraries as a repository for knowledge. And digital distribution has replaced the role of a library as a central hub for obtaining the containers of such knowledge: books” (Siegler 2013).

Librarians have generally not been receptive to these interjections. One of the strongest rebuttals to the MG Siegler article addresses the comfortable privilege of Siegler and other writers in the “End of the Library trope” (Berg 2013). While these writers might not need libraries personally, Berg argues, it is a mistake for them to insist that this means that everyone else in the community is in the same situation and to ignore the less fortunate. Indeed, there is still a considerably large population who need and use libraries regularly for access to reading materials or to access digital sources of information (Zickuhr, Purcell, and Rainie 2014).

While acknowledging this particular weakness and their other shortcomings I would like to suggest that within many of these “Death of the Library” pieces is also evidence that there is a segment of our population who are no longer not well served by primarily collection-based libraries of items that can be readily acquired through commercial channels. Before I extend this argument, I would like to locate this observation in the context of the Collections Grid model developed by Lorcan Dempsey and Eric Childress that takes in account the changes in library collection development that have come about in an increased networked environment (Dempsey, Malpas, and Lavoie 2014).

Unlike the writers of many of the ‘Death of the library’ pieces, I am not suggesting that hosting and managing Open Data should or will replace traditional collection building. Instead my suggestion is that libraries consider adding this responsibility as part of our collection development work. The benefit of situating Open Data work within the Collections Grid model is that it opens a conversation about where the library is currently investing its collections resources and allows us to discuss the possibility of shifting some of our resources in response. The model

 organizes resources according to two values: uniqueness and stewardship/scarcity. Resources that are unique, or rare, tend to be in one collection only. Resources that are not unique or rare tend to be in many collections. At the nonunique end of this spectrum are commodity materials, which are widely published or available through many channels. Resources that are highly stewarded are things that attract library attention, have resources and time spent on them, have systems infrastructure devoted to them, and so on. Stewardship and scarcity tend to go together: we have developed stewardship models for materials that are relatively scarce. This gives us four quadrants.

collections-grid

In an academic context, support for Open Data from and about the library and of its parent institution would likely be positioned in this model’s bottom right quadrant, indicating high uniqueness and low stewardship. This quadrant has been given a heading of Research & Learning Materials as this section includes “Institutional records, ePrints/tech reports, Learning objects, Courseware, E-portfolios, and Research” data. Writing about this type of collections work in an academic context, Dempsey et al. states, “This quadrant is increasingly important. We can identify various strands of activity, especially since there is increasing interest in curating and disclosing additional materials from the process of scholarly inquiry, as universities become more aware of the range of digital assets they produce and the management requirements they raise, and as making such assets more discoverable is seen as contributing to university reputation.”

One of the most succinct expressions of this growing expectation that a library should be more than traditionally collection-based comes from within librarianship. R. David Lankes, professor and Dean’s Scholar for the New Librarianship at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies wrote in 2013, “Bad Libraries build collections. Good libraries build services (of which a collection is only one). Great libraries build Communities” (Lankes 2014). This statement fits comfortably within Lankes’ larger Mission for Librarians which framed his Atlas of New Librarianship: “The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” (Lankes 2011).

There is evidence that those from outside of librarianship are starting to understand the potential of libraries in this particular context. During the month of September 2014 the Knight Foundation began a Knight News Challenge as a means to distribute a share of $2.5 million in funding. The challenge issued was “How might we leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities?” (Bracken 2014). Of the 680 public entries that were submitted, 13 of the Knight Foundation Challenge entries mentioned Open Data explicitly. One such the entry was entitled “From open data to open knowledge: Using libraries to turn civic data into a valuable resource for citizens, researchers, and City Hall alike.” It, like many of these challenge responses, identify a need for librarians to improve the context of existing open data and “to help ensure that our data becomes part of the valuable collection of information they make available to their users” (Franklin-Hodge 2014).

Why Open Data

Some of the key motivations for open data initiatives are to promote transparency of decision-making, create accountability for elected and appointed officials, and spur greater citizen engagement. In addition, however, it is increasingly clear that open data can also enable the creation of economic value beyond the walls of the governments and institutions that share their data. This data can not only be used to help increase the productivity of existing companies and institutions, it also can spur the creation of entrepreneurial businesses and improve the welfare of individual consumers and citizens (Chui, Farrell, and Van Kuiken 2013).

As stated previously in the discussion of the Data Liberation Initiative of Statistics Canada, the argument that Canadian government data is best served on a cost-recovery basis has been challenged.

The little research that has been done into this subject has suggested that charging for government data almost never yields much money, and often actually serves as a loss creating mechanism. Indeed a 2001 KPMG study of Canadian geospatial data found government almost never made money from data sales if purchases by other levels of government were not included (Eaves 2013).

Proponents of Open Data argue that Open Data will release more social and economic value than cost recovery and as such, are more in line with what we understand a government should do for its citizens. Some advocates of Open Data state this conviction even more strongly:

The open data movement has propagated a shifting notion of who the users of data are. In the long history of data, citizens were always considered to be end-users who provided their data to the collector and then interfaced with the end-products of data-driven government innovations. In this new vision, government concedes that citizens can best define and resolve the problems that plague their own communities—implying that communities should take the data provided and use it to address their needs (Deahl 2014).

Alex Carruthers of the Edmonton Public Library has stated that the benefits of Open Data as given generally to governments, can also be extended to libraries:

Were a library to collect and analyze its internal data and integrate it with publicly available data, it could improve the efficiency of workflows and provide evidence-based support for program development. Sharing library data such as in-branch technology, usage, anonymized circulation statistics, and catalogue metadata improves the organization’s transparency and can provide citizens with insight into the value of the library (Carruthers 2014).

Librarians could have additional reasons why libraries should collect and might make use of Open Data to facilitate knowledge creation in their communities and this will be explored in the next section of this text.

Libraries should improve Data Literacy as a means to distribute the benefits of Open Data more equitably

At the 2014 Access Conference, there were two lightning talks that shared the experiences and lessons learned from two respective library-hosted open data hackathons, with one being from the University of Ottawa and the other hosted at the Edmonton Public Library. In her talk “#HackUOBiblio – libraries, hacking, and open data”, Catherine McGoveran told the audience that the focus of their hackathon was Open Data,

“We wanted people to understand what it is and what they could do with it all within the broader context of fostering data literacy in our community”(#HackUOBiblio – Libraries, Hacking, and Open Data 2014).

Elsewhere, she and the organizers of HackUOBiblio have stated that such hackathons are useful in as a means to teach data literacy skills (Weatherall 2014).

In their presentation “Hacking the city: Libraries and the open data movement”, Alex Carruthers of the Edmonton Public Library and Lydia Zvyagintseva, MLIS/MA Candidate of the University of Alberta and founder of HackYEG, continued the theme of the Open Data, libraries and the need for greater data literacy (Hacking the City: Libraries and the Open Data Movement 2014).

Despite the very compelling rhetoric of government transparency and civic engagement, studies suggest that in practice open data access appears to benefit government and the entrepreneurial class more than the public at large who find data difficult to interpret. The general public relies on applications developed by the entrepreneurial class to make sense of data. We believe libraries are well positioned to play a strategic role in developing skills required for citizens to navigate the expanding data landscape.

Further on in their talk, Carruthers and Zvyagintse cite the work of Prado and Marzel, “Determining Data Information Literacy Needs: A Study of Students and Research Faculty” in their conclusion that the increasing importance of data in our civic lives “require public, school and academic libraries to contribute to both data and information literacy, as part of their larger mission to further knowledge and innovation in their respective fields of action” (Calzada and Marzal 2013).

In a blog post entitled, “Learning from Libraries: The Literacy Challenge of Open Data”, David Eaves made a similar response to the problem of a public that may lack the data literacy skills to make use of Open Data:

“We didn’t build libraries for a literate citizenry. We built libraries to help citizens become literate. Today we build open data portals not because we have public policy literate citizens, we build them so that citizens may become literate in public policy” (Eaves 2014).

Eaves goes on to compare libraries and Open Data catalogues and reminds his readers that the value of libraries did not come from books alone but its additional supportive efforts to support literacy:

When we think of libraries, we often just think of a building with books.  But 19th century [libraries] mattered not only because they had books, but because they offered literacy programs, books clubs, and other resources to help citizens become literate and thus, more engaged and productive. Open data catalogs need to learn the same lesson. While they won’t require the same centralized and costly approach as the 19th century, governments that help foster communities around open data, that encourage their school system to use it as a basis for teaching, and then support their citizens’ efforts to write and suggest their own public policy ideas will, I suspect, benefit from happier and more engaged citizens, along with better services and stronger economies.

Eaves ends his post with this challenge: “So what is your government/university/community doing to create its citizen army of open data analysts?” And in response several readers commented that libraries again are well positioned to help create citizens that are data literate.

Open Data builds towards an expectation of engagement

At the 2014 Access Conference, Carruthers and Zvyagintseva framed their Open Data hackathon work in the larger context of participatory learning:

Our main argument then is that hosting and supporting hackathons aligns with larger missions of libraries which is to foster literacies and build communities and specifically, by bringing together people and information, hackathons support digital literacy, they foster civic engagement and leverage community knowledge.  And when we talk about civic engagement, building communities, we are really talking about participatory culture which is a value that the open data movement and libraries share.

Hosting hackathons may prove daunting for many libraries because, as Carruthers and Zvyagintseva put succinctly, “Libraries need participants as much as participants need libraries to support this type of event.” It is probably too soon to make such claims, but I would like to suggest that, slowly, libraries are starting to involve public participation in the building and the understanding of their collections. The experiences of the New York Public Library Lab’s “Map Warper” project, which invites users to help align digitized paper maps so they can match modern maps, and their “What’s On The Menu” Project, which invites the public to help transcribe one of the 45,000 menus in their digitized collection, have led to a such a re-thinking of their work:

Building on the Map Warper’s success, WOTM has undoubtedly impacted the internal conversation at NYPL around digital strategy, user engagement and collections policy. It has helped shift the attention, at least in part, away from static online exhibitions, which notoriously struggle to retain users’ attention, toward participation-oriented Web sites with longer life cycles, involving the public in the grand (if painstaking) work of building the digital library. It has also jumpstarted policy discussions around user-contributed content and its relation to Library-authored metadata (Vershbow 2013).

If the process of crowdsourcing digitized collections can be described as public participation in public memory (Vershbow 2013), perhaps Open Data hackathons and library support for Open Data can be framed as participation in the creation of public understanding.

Open Data as a strategy against enclosure

Many Henk in Ecology, Economy Equity dedicates a chapter to the threat of enclosure to libraries. “Enclosure is the process of taking a previously shared resource, a grazing field, a water source, or even information, and erecting barriers to use“ (Henk 2014). Henk describes the threat of enclosure by commercial publishers in scholarly publishing:

The actualization of the digital library has taken on a particular form, one that presents considerable danger to libraries and our readers. We have allowed commercial interests to claim “ownership” of the scholarly record through digitization and publishing. In doing so we have allowed an unhealthy system to grow. This system leads to libraries that have been hollowed out, reduced to access points with librarians as skilled product trainers, while the publishers themselves profit handsomely from the labour of the very scholars we support and from the citizens whose taxes support us all.

Open Data, by its very definition of being open, is resistant to enclosure while allowing for commercial use. This is because while a license is open, copies of the data are allowed to be made which can remain under open license even if the original dataset is updated with more restrictive licensing (Munro 2014). While many municipal governments and federal and provincial government departments make Open Data available, there is no promise or obligation to maintain or perpetually host those datasets, unless those governments are otherwise directed by an internal policy. This suggests that libraries may have a role in the collection and preservation of Open Data in their community, if just to be a source of dataset redundancy in case the original datasets are removed without sufficient notice.

Conclusion

At the time of this text’s composition (2014) there is only small group of public libraries, including the Vancouver Public Library and Edmonton Public Library, that host Open Data, but at this time, the data that these libraries make available are from their own organization only. The only exception that it is known to the author is the Open Chattanooga project, “a collaborative between the City of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Public Library and the Open Chattanooga Brigade” (Open Chattanooga 2014).

But librarians, like those previously mentioned in Edmonton, Alberta and Ottawa, Ontario and others such as the Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library, have been engaged with their community’s civic hacking communities and have been helping facilitate their use of open data (Greenwalt 2014). It is hoped that the number of librarians and libraries engage in open data continue to grow so that the benefits of such collection work – increased institutional transparency, stronger community engagement, improved data literacy, and the prevention against public commons enclosure – can be open to all.

References

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The Game Believes In You

Over Thanksgiving, my sister and I met up at my parents’ house as per tradition. Whenever we’re back at home we’ve tried to continue our own tradition of sorts and take the time to play some tabletop games. On this particular holiday, my sister brought with her the card game Dominion and over the long weekend we played it several times, largely on the insistence of my kids.

I won every single game.

Before my sister hopped on the bus that would take her to the train that would return her to the big city, she downloaded the Dominion iPad app. As soon as I had spied her playing it on the sofa, I knew that if I didn’t do the same I would likely be trounced come Christmas vacation.

With that app, my sister could play many more games of Dominion against a range of players than I could with my paper cards and small circle of patient friends. Perhaps it was because I had just finished The Game Believes in You and so was primed for the insight, but it was in that moment when I realized that I really did believe in the learning potential of video games. I suddenly saw how such games act as a well of potential that one can draw upon again and again and as such, they can provide for a capacity of learning that is difficult to match.

You may be surprised to know while I have long been an advocate of the learning potential of games, I have always been somewhat hesitant at making the same claim towards video or computer games. I think this was because, until recently, there were very few educational games that I felt I could personally recommend.

I had read The Game Believes in You largely because Jane McGonigal recommended it on Twitter.

There is so much journalism that doesn’t cover games with much nuance so I take particular note when game designers point to work that they think does their craft justice. And for what it’s worth, I also recommend The Game Believes in You as well.  It’s well-told journalism that investigates the promise of video games in the pursuit of learning. In doing so, the book uncovers the potential of games while being clear that the application of play in the classroom is not at all straightforward and it is all still a work in progress.

From the book, I learned that the world of educational technology had significantly progressed since my own exposure to it as a young person. In fact, I was so taken by the book’s whimsical description of the game DragonBox, I downloaded it to try it out myself and quickly found myself happily feeding my dragon bugs, lizards and dice until I ever-so-gradually ended up doing algebra as my go-to casual game.

While the capacity of games to provide scaffolding and a safe place to work out ideas is immense, I still believe that perhaps strongest potential of computer games is their ability to bring people together to play and compete and learn from each other. I’ve seen this first-hand from my son.

Last year, my son went to a local chess championship arranged by the school board. He played well enough to qualify to play in a city championship, where he placed well enough to qualify for a provincial tournament. At the provincial tourney he achieved his personal goal for the event (to win at least one game) and ended up winning a door prize of art supplies. He also came back clearly infected with a growing fondness for the game of chess.

Of course he would. During the course of my young children’s lives, I have played many, many, many card and board games with them. What I find particularly amusing is that there was only one game I refused to play with them — and it wasn’t Monopoly.

I have a long-standing, deep reticence to the game of chess for reasons I won’t go into. And so, after the tournaments were done and my son was looking to play more chess, I gave him a subscription to chesskid.com and signed up him up for a week of chess camp. Since then, I occasionally drive him to chess meet ups at the public library or, like last Friday night, to local friendly chess tournaments.

One of the largest challenges to learning chess is to find other players who are close enough to your own level of expertise. That way, you aren’t blown out of the water by an expert or bored by a challenger who is clearly not your equal. Years ago I took my son to a chess meetup where he was trounced by all the kids there. It was his success of the school tournament that re-kindled his interest in game. This is why I think the decision to design that tournament so that players would compete in small groups that resulted in a third of the whole as ‘first place winners’ was no accident or an indulgence to fragile self-esteem.

To remedy the problem of matching players by ability level the world of chess have develop their own chess rating system where players establish their own rating number through the process of tournament play. My son earned his first chess score at the provincial tournament. He has since developed one through chesskid.com and that rating number is now slowly growing past his tournament mark.

While I have become a more confident advocate of the potential learning of video games, I still can’t bring myself to play other people on chess.com.  So, inspired by Kottke.org, I’ve decided to start slowly and start playing Mate in One, which is a collection of chess puzzles for the iPad. Chess will have to wait until I feel I’m ready for it.

In the meantime, I’m going to download Dominion.