Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Isaac Asimov on Creativity

A new essay published many years after being written by Isaac Asimov, in this month's MIT Technology Review. Asimov had been invited to participate as part of a government funded effort to imagine the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile system (it was 1959). He eventually left the project, but contributed this essay as his only formal input to the effort. His friend, Arthur Obermayer, who had nominated Asimov to participate in the missile project, ran across the essay recently, and contributed it to the journal, with the approval of Asimov's estate. . Entertainingly, and very characteristically, it seems, Asimov's recommendation sounds a lot like taking a small group of scientists out for an evening of drinks and wide-ranging conversation. He suggests a sort of moderator, and avoiding either anybody who might dampen everybody's comfort in brainstorming, or who might overwhelm the group with a forceful personality. Sounds like a very pleasant time, indeed. Interestingly enough, Asimov cautions that scientists will feel very anxious that they might be wasting government funding, or that they might be considered to be doing so. Thus, he recommends giving them reports to write during the day, to ease everybody's conscience.

Considering that the essay was written in 1959, you can only say, that we are continuing to do the same old same old. Asimov was clearly aware that politicians would periodically "make hay" by conducting investigations into how government grants are allocated and then spent. Well, it's all in the news again (or maybe, just still). The Chronicle of Higher Education has a depressing article about a continuing effort by House Republicans who have been scouring NSF grants for suspicious projects, like anything about climate change or anthropology, or anything with a name that sounds funny or odd. (or see in print, p. A4, Oct. 24,2014, by Paul Basken). In this article, Congressman Lamarr Smith of Texas, chair of the House science committee, is sending aides to sift the grants. But when I searched the Internet for the issue, trying to locate the article at first, I located lots of other instances, like Congressman Sensenbrenner and others in similar efforts. (of course all of that is focused on climate change scientists - what a terrible specialty to be in right now! It's so politicized.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

FDA pressuring ICANN over Internet Drug Websites

Oh, my! I don't know what to say. Wall Street Journal reports in depth about the U. S. Food and Drug Administration snarling and grumping (and more foreign regulatory snapping, too), about ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) refusing to clamp down harder on websites that are selling prescription drugs without prescriptions, or knock-off prescription drugs, or prescription drugs that are not pure.

The author, Jeff Elder, reports that this is boiling up at an awkward moment for ICANN. It has been overseen by the United States Commerce Department. But in March, 2014, the Commerce Department declared that it is giving up overseeing ICANN. There has been growing interest in making Internet governance a more international affair. And the author Elder reminds us that the Obama administration has declared that they intend to hand ICANN over to an undetermined international body (see this Washington Post article from March, 2013, tying the decision to international backlash over revelations that the NSA was spying, even on our own allies). Actually, see The Economist report in 2009 on the agreement giving oversight of ICANN in four specific areas to panels staffed from various nations. More recently, in Brazil, NetMundial, achieved some joint agreements.

ICANN would like to remain independent and operate without oversight. Here is a short, accessible essay that may help explain why the FDA and other law enforcement agencies are thinking the wrong way about ICANN. There is no central control for the Internet. It was designed that way. There is no boss of the Internet, with any authority to enforce rules.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Massachusetts is struggling with a problem that keeps popping up in the news. And people keep being stunned and amazed.

Women in this state make 70 cents for every dollar that men make.

And that is in this bastion of education, liberalism, and progressivism. Massachusetts had the first law in the country about equal pay, in 1945, according to several of these articles and posts. Here is a little blurb about the activity that may well have led to that law - concern about the women who stepped into industrial jobs for the WWII effort. At that time, (and still in many minds), jobs were classified as male and female. Some employers cut the pay for welding or other "male" jobs when women took those jobs during the war. The AFL-CIO was concerned that returning veterans would find their pay remained cut after they took back their pre-war positions. When vets came back from the war, Massachusetts passed what has become known as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act (MEPA), M.G.L. Chapter 149, §105A.

Here are a series of articles and blog posts through the years, starting with the most recent, where the press alert the public to this startling piece of news and call for action:

Wage Gap For Women Persists Despite Some Progress (Boston Globe 9/28/14)

Massachusetts Women and the Wage Gap (Fact sheet 4/2013 from National Partnership for Women and Families)

Mind the Gap (Boston Magazine 2/2013)

The Importance of Fair Pay for Massachusetts Women (Fact Sheet 4/2012 from National Women's Law Center)

It's striking that the 2012 fact sheet mentions the gap as 81 cents to the dollar. The 2013 fact sheet says 77 cents to the dollar. And the 2014 article says 70 cents to the dollar. Women seem to be losing ground, even as these articles, fact sheets and conferences are flailing away at the problem! Just in 2 years, we've dropped from 81 cents to 70 cents, or lost 11 cents to the average man's dollar! Hmmph.

There are a number of federal and state laws in place that are supposed to prevent discrimination or unequal pay on the basis of sex (or race, for that matter). A handy, publicly available pamphlet from the law firm Foley Hoag is one of the links on this state web page about Massachusetts Laws About Wages. (scroll down on the page to "Other Web Sources" to find "Massachusetts Wage and Hour Laws: What Every Employer Needs to Know, Foley Hoag.") According to the pamphlet, employers can justify differences in wages based on

* a merit system
* a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production
* a seniority system
* differences in training, education, experience
* any factor other than gender or race

It all sounds so benign. And yet it works like this. A woman may take time off when she has a baby. She may even stay out of the workforce a few years, while her children are little. During those years, the cadre of men or childless women who entered her profession at the same time she did, move along, gaining experience, and moving up the professional ladder. This can work just the same for a woman who takes time off to care for aging parents or in-laws, too, of course. The individual who dropped out to take care of child or parents is falling behind their cohort.

The mother, later, comes back to the workforce, as if she had been in stasis, professionally. She may not have been able to keep up with new developments, and new technology. The mother has been quite busy doing other things that are very important, not just to her and her family, actually, but also to society as a whole. We should value and recognize the importance of parenting and care-taking, no matter which gender is taking time to focus on this task. Perhaps as more men become stay-at-home fathers, this might start to change.

But the return to work, unless the individual can buff up skills with some courses, is tough at best. The worker has fallen behind on developments and skill sets. Even if she/he can make up through training courses, those years of wage growth and professional networking, ladder-climbing have been missed. While the entry cohort has advanced 5 years, the mother has remained at the professional level where she stepped out of the workforce to parent. One more way in which women, on average, fall behind in pay levels.

There are lots of others ways. Just a week ago, the CEO of Microsoft explained how women should allow karma to help them get pay raises, rather than being so bitchy as to actually ask!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can you be a librarian without a library?

So, I have been teaching and nothing else for a while, and working on identity issues.

Am I still a librarian?

Hell, yeah.

Always and forever, baby.

I can't stop. I can't drop it.

My students are my patrons now, I guess.

Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying very much being able to focus on my teaching. I am also liking the lower stress -- I don't have to worry about budget or cutting materials that I love, or telling a faculty member NO, or disciplinary matters, or problem patrons....

Plus there are the perks of being a faculty member. What's not to like?

Well, how do I fit my librarian suit under my law professor uniform? Can I still wear a bun in class?

Maybe I need to get a librarian tattoo.

The image decorating this blog post is the cover of an intriguing-sounding book, from the SLA, You Don't Look Like a Librarian.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

FCC says Conference Centers & Hotels May Not Block Visitors' Wi-Fi Hotspots

The FCC has reached an agreement with Marriott to pay a $60,000 penalty to resolve their investigation into a complaint that employees of a Marriott-managed conference center were sending de-authentication packets to prevent exhibitors and attendees from using their personal Wi-Fi hotspots. Marriott was then charging them $250 - $1,000 per device to connect to the conference center's Internet!

“Consumers who purchase cellular data plans should be able to use them without fear that their personal Internet connection will be blocked by their hotel or conference center,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hotspots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network. This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether,” he added.
(from the FCC press release dated Oct. 3, 2014.) The press release has a handy link directly to the Consent Decree, but I am including it here, in case the press release vanishes.

Remember this next time a hotel or conference center blocks your Wi-Fi hotspot. Now you know what to do.
Superman image credited to Flickr.

Networking Flops and How to Fix Them

One of my fabulous Suffolk colleagues passed along the link to this helpful Mashable post, The 5 Worst Networking Flops and How to Recover from Them. We tell our students constantly that networking is the way to find jobs now... but we don't tell them enough about HOW to network, or how to avoid networking mistakes.

Maybe that's because WE don't know, ourselves! I read this list sort of quivering inside. But not to worry, the author, Jenny Foss, who seems to know my darkest fears and secrets, also offers ways to make it all better!

Great list for any job seekers or anybody who has to n. e. t. w. o. r. k.

The image for this post is from The Littlest Pet Shop Fan Board Tip of the OOTJ hat to Prof. David Yamada for passing this Mashable link along, and for always keeping students' interests in the forefront!

Free booklet from Stephen Pinker & Chronicle on Academic Writing

The Chronicle of Higher Education had a very popular article in their Review of Sept. 26, 2014 from Stephen Pinker, "Why Academics Stink at Writing." Following on this, they put together a free pamphlet on improving academic writing, Why Academics Stink at Writing -- and How to Fix it," that can be downloaded here. I do not think you need a subscription to the Chronicle to get the pamphlet. As far as I can tell, all anybody needs to do to get a copy is enter name, title, institution, and they get a PDF download.

Thank you! The image decorating this post is a mock-up of the cover of the pamphlet from the Chronicle.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

New Ways to Think about Library Statistics

The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a really interesting post proposing that libraries begin to make their user data (in anonymized form) available to researchers. In a post titled, "A Good, Dumb Way to Learn from Libraries" (really?! geez!), David Weinberger proposes that libraries

1. Create Stackscores for their materials
These get around the current issues of

A. Privacy/Patron Security by offering an annual computation and perhaps blurring that numbers if it looks as though even that might be hackable down to individual patron.

B. Interoperability - that is making the numbers from various libraries comparable regardless of what automated systems the libraries use, or even how they calculate their stackscores.

He offers an example of what the Harvard Library Innovation Hub created as StackLife. Weinberger, who used to develop the Innovation Hub and thus (I presume) helped develop the StackLife app, explains that the darker blue a title bar appears, the more heavily used it has been. He cautions that depending too much on this can create a feedback loop where the more popular items just get more popular, and lesser known but excellent materials remain overlooked. (Librarians know all about this)

Interesting thoughts. I don't know if he really addresses all librarian issues, but it's a thought-provoking post!

The thinking cap decoration is from another thought-provoking blog page, How would we think without language? Interesting to consider how to build search engines!

Monday, September 29, 2014

I'll Just Google It

Everybody knows how to use Google to find information--right?  Wrong, according to Motoko Rich's article, "Academic Skills on Web Are Tied to Income Level," New York Times, Sept. 24, 2014, at A23.  A new study done by Donald J. Leu that appears in the current issue of Reading Research Quarterly (subscription required) showed "a general lack of online literacy among all students..."  Students may be adept at certain tasks (texting, posting photographs, using social media), but they are far less adept at tasks that require them to find and evaluate information.  This finding cuts across all income groups, but is most apparent in low-income students. 

Despite the higher rates of academic Internet use among the more affluent students in the study, a little more than a quarter of them performed well on tasks where they were required to discern the reliability of facts on a particular web page.  Only 16 percent of the lower-income students performed well on those tasks.
Many grade and high schools are not addressing digital literacy.  Perhaps this is because digital literacy is not a subject that is tested by standardized tests.  It could also be the result of teachers mistaking students' comfort with technology for actual ability to use the Internet for educational purposes. 
I was discussing this issue with one of the reference librarians this morning.  We have noted the poor quality of results that students get when they Google, how they rely on questionable sources rather than go to reliable sites maintained by educational institutions and organizations.  Her conclusion was that the librarians don't need to teach students how to Google; we need to teach them how to think.      

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New ABA Law School Accreditation Standards

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has released their most recent modifications to the standards for accrediting law schools. Here is a link to their handy Explanations PDF. I found it easier to read and more useful for understanding the changes than their Overview document. You can get the full text of the Redline version (66 pages) which shows the original and changed text, as well as the Clean copy (42 pages), and all of these other documents and more, from this convenient page.

From the point of view of folks who have been involved in the discussions and sending in comments, the changes to the library standards are not a big surprise. Below are the revised standards affecting law school libraries.

Chapter 6, Library and Information Services
Std. 601, General Provisions There are four basic requirements for the library:
* provide support adequate to enable a law school to carry out its program of legal education,
* develop a responsive relationship with users,
* engage in planning and assessment, and
* implement technology when appropriate

and one requirement for the law school:
* provide sufficient financial resources for the library to fulfill its responsibilities

Std. 603, Library Director...
Std. 603(a) adds “providing information resources in appropriate formats to faculty and students” as one of the overall management responsibilities of the law library director.

Standard 603(c), the requirement that the law library director must have specific degrees for the position has been replaced with a requirement that the director must have “appropriate academic qualifications.” As in other provisions in the revised Standards, the Committee added the requirement that the director’s knowledge and experience must be “sufficient to support the program of legal education and to enable the law school to operate in compliance with the Standards."

Revised Interpretation 603-1 provides guidance for the Accreditation Committee by elaborating on how a law school could meet the Standard.The Standards Review Committee had recommended that the language of current Standard603(d), which states that “a law library director shall hold a law faculty appointment with security of faculty position,” be replaced in revised Standard 603(d) with the requirement that the law library director “shall hold appointment as a member of the law faculty with the rights and protections accorded to other members of the full-time faculty under Standard 405.” Based on the Council’s decision to make no change to current Standard 405,this revised change was also not approved.

Note from Betsy: Std. 405, mentioned above, is referring to the Committee's decision not to require tenure for full time teaching faculty. The Standard itself is titled Professional Environment, and includes many other details such as academic freedom, governance and due process. But in the context of the statement above, the reference is certainly to the Committee's decision about "security of position," or tenure. If the doctrinal faculty can't have a standard requiring tenure, the library directors shouldn't get a standard requiring it for them, was the decision, apparently. SIGH...

Revised Standard 604. PERSONNEL
The current Standard has been changed slightly to require a staff with expertise that will support the goals of the library and law school.

Revised Standard 605. SERVICES
No changes are recommended to the current Standard. The current Interpretation has been rewritten to better state how those services can be provided.

Revised Standard 606. COLLECTION
The revisions to current Standard 606 reflect the change from an emphasis on ownership of materials to providing reliable access to legal information. The revised Standard also links the choices of format and means of access to the needs of the institution. Revised Interpretation 606-2 elaborates on the definition of “reliable access” by providing ways to meet the Standard through ongoing access to databases or participation in a formal resource-sharing arrangement with other libraries.

The decoration for this post is rapper Lil Wayne's Law Library "Statutory Rape" which turned up when I looked for images of law libraries. Apparently Lil Wayne has spent some time in prison libraries and knows something about legal research, from a few posts I stumbled across, so the cover may be earned in more ways than one. I just wanted something other than the classic law school library, since that seems to be fading away... but I guess this is not the look most schools will be aiming for. For one thing, look at all those reporters on those shelves!