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Rack Unit

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There's also nothing in the TOSes that says you can't let a dog play baseball in the server room!
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3552 days ago
3555 days ago
For my beekeeper friends.
3557 days ago
Alt text: "There's also nothing in the TOSes that says you can't let a dog play baseball in the server room!"
Yonkers, NY

RF: Faith in Digital

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YouTube Is Calling Out ISP's That Are Throttling Traffic

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Recently, Netflix royally pissed off Verizon by calling out the ISP for slow streaming video. The two companies went back and forth for a while, with Verizon demanding that Netflix cut it out, and Netflix essentially saying "Ok, fine. But we might bring them back. You should serve your customers better." Now Google is offering an even more granular service called the "Video Quality Report," which will allow users to check out their YouTube streaming quality and compare to other providers in the area.


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Why you should Get your Shit Together Before you Make it Big

Think Deeply about the true recipe for a good life

Think Deeply about the true recipe for a good life

Tales of squandered success. Both Mr. Money Mustache’s mailbox, and the world at large are filled with them.

Every day another pile of $250,000 earners collapses from stress or goes insane, because they have managed to slip into an awful life of debt and time scarcity, despite the fact that they are living within a neverending nuclear explosion of cash. And every day another corporate bigwig directs his legions to take the evil path in search of more money, because he calculates that a lot of extra money is worth a small amount of evil.

In my view, there’s nothing wrong with kicking ass every day and reaching the top. In fact, for many of us, this is the most enjoyable use of our time.

I love my job. I never want to retire, therefore I can safely ignore the advice of Mr. Money Mustache”, goes the common refrain.

But the Path of Successful Ass-Kicking is a narrow one, which runs between two perilous chasms:

  • The Pit of Pointless Materialism and Monetary Dependence
  • The Moral Void of Placing Profits Above All Else

How Good People Fall into the Pit:

You start off young, bright, and hardworking. This means you run with a crowd of similar people. For you, jobs have never been hard to come by – the real challenge is just making sure you select the best job. Big incomes come naturally to everyone you know, and this leads to a pleasant ongoing party of a life.

Sally and Joe get a mountain house so everyone can go skiing. You get the summer cottage and a boat for fishing in the summers. Bill impresses everyone with his new Audi Q7, and the rest of you reciprocate with BMWs and Acuras. Fine scotch is poured. Everybody has kids, and the best strollers, car seats, Gap clothing, lessons and private schools are naturally part of the program. Everyone is contributing to their 401(k) and 529 plans, so nobody has anything to worry about. Right?

The only problem is that everyone has already partied themselves straight off the cliff and into the Pit without realizing it. By locking in an incredibly expensive lifestyle, people who fall into this trap have become dependent on their high incomes to just to stay afloat. The slightest nudge to the unstable house of cards – unemployment, divorce, illness, or even a stock or housing market crash, can leave them broke and desperate.

And the overly-scheduled days that come with this lifestyle often leave out the slack that humans require for creativity, growth, and renewal. This leads to “I don’t do anything besides being great at my job” syndrome, which is a recipe for long-term unemployment as soon as the next great economic upheaval leaves your particular industry obsolete.

How Others Fall into the Profit Seeking Void

Some manage to avoid the Pit, by earning so much that they manage to handle all of the bills and still have plenty left over. But they end up lodged into a company with others to answer to who are not so lucky. A public company with shareholders, or an occupation with a boss who runs the show. Void-dwellers may even be CEOs themselves, but unfortunate ones who have come to equate “Profit” with “The Only Point of Corporate Existence*.”

People in the Void usually end up worn, stressed, physically unfit and unfulfilled. Despite leading such “successful” lives, they wonder why life does not feel like a complete success. So they keep seeking more profit in hopes of filling the void.

Neither option sounds great. But either chasm presents ample opportunities for recovery. The key is to figure out if you’ve fallen into one of them, or if you are just starting out, to get your shit together before you make it big. 

Step 1: Figure out if you’ve made it big already.

I love talking to the rising stars of Silicon Valley. With the current economic boom, they are all riding high on a raging river of business exuberance, shooting each other with Optimism Guns. “I’ve jumped over to a new startup. Salary’s a little better and the vibe is great. But the real story is we have a good chance of being bought. Then I’ll be ready to start getting ahead!”

News Flash: If you’re under 40 and making over $75,000, you’ve already made it big. Use this opportunity to start using the cash surplus to build your independence now, rather than spending everything like your coworkers do and hoping for an even bigger payout later. 10 years of slightly-less-ridiculous-than-average living will buy you financial independence for life. Meanwhile, your friends will still be waiting for their first big buyout 10 years from now, waiting to make it big while you have secretly been making it big all along.

Step 2: Pit-Dwellers need to learn The Power of No

The problem with the modern high-income lifestyle is the dizzying surplus of options you have available to you. You can have a luxury sedan or an SUV, a big house with a commute or a bigger house with a longer commute, a beach house or a ski house, private schools or private lessons, fine scotch or happy hour microbrews, and on and on forever. Most people just gleefully start checking off the boxes when presented with this menu. Doubled your salary? Great! Now you can check twice as many boxes!

The only problem is that you had already maximized your happiness from a material standpoint long before you even got the menu.

If you have food, friends, and a comfortable place to live, you are all set to live an incredible life. Everything you buy, and every experience and commitment you add to the plate beyond this point is a tradeoff: a guaranteed reduction in cash and free time, in exchange for a possible increase in thrills delivered by fun or novelty.

As your life approaches full booking, the tradeoff tilts so that the costs become higher. A busy family might be down to one day per week of free time, and adding a pleasant weekly trip to the ski resort might cut this to zero. Suddenly the activities you forgot to schedule like walking in the park or sleeping in no longer happen, and life becomes an unstoppable treadmill. Add in monetary stress and you’re really screwed.

The Power of No means saying “No” to even fun-sounding activities, when you realize your life is already full enough of good things.

In recent years, I’ve had the incredible good fortune of being invited on free trips to China, Switzerland, New Zealand, and other neat places. And the chance to go speak at various schools and conferences and even show up in the odd TV show. It was my absolute pleasure to thank each of these generous people, and then say “No thanks!”, because there’s already no shortage of things to do in my existing busy life. Adding even more will just take away from the things I already enjoy, like spending sunny days with my boy and getting a good night’s sleep. Life is not a contest to see who can accomplish the most. It’s simply a series of days where your goal is to wake up, have a great time, and go to bed even happier than when you woke up. You can still make the most of your life, but running on permanent overdrive is generally counterproductive.

Step 3: Rising Above Profit makes you the Richest One of All

It is a cliche for me to bring up old Warren Buffett yet again, but I’m often struck by the incredible contrast between the way he views profits, and the way most smaller CEOs do things. To paraphrase (and exaggerate) his approach, “Why would I give a shit about what the quarterly results are over some trivial time period like the next 20 years? We’re trying to run a BUSINESS here!”

Nobody questions his approach, because he runs the damned show. And he continues to run the show, because he is never subject to the fearful whims and hesitations of those stuck in the mentality of seeking short-term profit.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to become the richest person in the world to learn from this example. You just need to get your financial affairs in order so that your livelihood no longer depends on the demands of irrational people.

Don’t like working for fickle shareholders? Run your own company and retain the voting rights for yourself. Prefer working in a large organization? Go for it, but with the knowledge that you can stick up for your principles with no regard for what it will do to your paycheck. You may find that you get fired, but more likely, you will become the boss, because you freed yourself from the position of being bossed around.

Financial independence of any degree means just as much for people of all occupations. The free musician can delight when people share her music around the world, while the money-dependent one has to stand by and wince while her record company sues teenagers for downloading MP3s. The free lawyer can help people in need or fight for social justice while the money-dependent one might end up cobbling together questionable cases against a blogger, because that’s what the paying client demands.

So if you’re just starting out, heed the comical troubles of your elders and do not repeat them. You can avoid both pitfalls and walk straight through to the public park on other side, where the rest of us are just setting things up on the Picnic Table of Badassity. See you here!



* Which is of course part of the charter of public companies: to maximize value to shareholders. This usually leads to short-term thinking and other counterproductive Void-style diseases. I’ve seen one cool proposal to avoid this, which involves changing the charter to say something more like “maximize the value of the company over the next 30 years.” Then shareholders lose their leverage to push for meaningless goals like a short-term bump in the share price.



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3762 days ago
In what state I'm in, there to be content.
3766 days ago
I read this and then marked it unread so I have to read it again.

Come hear me talk assessment at a free C&RL online event

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I was pleased to see that the latest Ithaka S+R U.S. Library Survey looked at how libraries are conducting assessment and how useful their results have been. Even better, they found that “those respondents whose libraries have taken on evidence gathering and other forms of assessment are more likely to be confident in their strategy for serving user needs.” How nice to get validation that looking into a crystal ball and just making decisions based on what librarians think is not a strategy that inspires confidence in library directors and deans. There is increasing recognition from many quarters that assessment is as central to a well-functioning library as staffing the reference desk and purchasing materials. How do we know what we should be doing (or not doing) if we don’t ask???

Last year my brilliant co-investigators, Lisa Hinchliffe (of UIUC) and Amy Harris Houk (of UNC Greensboro), and I surveyed 4-year and above academic libraries in the U.S. to learn more about what it takes to build an assessment culture and what holds libraries back from it. We emailed Library Directors with a unique survey link in an effort to get a single response from the person in the library most qualified to answer the questions (sometimes the Director, often not, and they could pass the email on to the right person). We got a crazy 42% response rate, and it was exciting to see how, after the first few days of collecting responses, the % who answered yes/no to questions barely moved. We have a really strong sample that represents BA, MA and PhD-granting libraries in the U.S., and discovered some interesting things about what it takes to build a culture of assessment and what keeps libraries from getting there.

Our article on the survey,“Bridges and Barriers: Factors Influencing a Culture of Assessment in Academic Libraries,” has just been made available in College & Research Libraries as a pre-print, so you can see our results and analysis. Two things that I found most surprising from our study: 1) how much your regional accrediting agency impacts whether or not your library will have a culture of assessment (lucky you SACS and Middle States libraries) and 2) how little  tenure and/or faculty status matters with regards to the likelihood of building an assessment culture.

Want to hear more about what we did, what we learned, and why it matters? C&RL is hosting a live online forum with Lisa, Amy, and myself on Thursday, April 10th from noon-1pm Central. It’s free to attend and will be moderated by the amazing assessment guru, Megan Oakleaf.

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3779 days ago

Getting into the gray areas with the draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education

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This semester, I’m teaching I new course I developed for San Jose State’s MLIS program entitled “Embedded Librarians/Embedded Libraries: Embedding the Library into the Fabric of Higher Education.” It’s been a pleasure so far because the students are so ridiculously smart, insightful, and engaged that I can’t help but be excited about the future of our profession. One of my students, who interviewed a disciplinary faculty member and subject librarian for a project, wrote about how students in a certain science discipline had difficulty getting used to research and information literacy since in the first few years their coursework is so “procedural.” That really resonated with me.

I see students all the time asking us to basically make research like procedural coursework and more black-and-white than it is. And sometimes we indulge them. We show them how to click to limit to peer-reviewed journals, doing them no favors, because the world doesn’t have a button you can click to filter out the not-so-good. We sometimes focus too much on finding sources and not enough on what value sources actually provide (or should provide) in research. We provide students with rules for judging sources, when sometimes, the sources that get judged as poor using something like the C.R.A.P. Test are the exact ones they should be using. We (well, maybe instructors more than librarians) focus on scaring the crap out of students about plagiarism and, as a result, students don’t understand why they should provide attribution other than to not get thrown out of school.

I feel like the current Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were an attempt to simplify and proceduralize something that is so much more complex (and I don’t blame anyone for that — it’s in our nature to try to make things simpler and more concrete). Start at A and get to Z, and you’re good to go, friend! But there’s so much secret sauce of information literacy success that simply isn’t a part of the current Standards. How much of being good at research is about being persistent? Tolerating frustration? Asking for help? Being curious? Looking at things with a critical eye? And then there are the things that are so hard to learn, but once you’ve internalized them, they seem the most obvious things in the world and improve your approach to research immeasurably. The idea that scholarship is a conversation and when you write a research paper, you are engaging in a conversation with those scholars who came before you. That the idea of “good” and “bad” sources is totally contextual, and what is good for answering one research question may not be good for answering another. Or the idea that information can be misrepresented in any format (from the blog post to the peer-reviewed journal article) and we need to be critical consumers of everything we read/see/hear. Or, even more disturbing, that what we know as true is constantly changing as it is held up to scrutiny and experimentation.

But teaching these things? So much more difficult, more time consuming and less satisfying for the student in the short-term. On the other hand, without getting over the hump of a threshold concept, can we say someone is truly information literate? And once they get over the hump, their perspective is irrevocably changed for the better. It’s like when I internalized the notion that assessment was about learning and not accountability. My cynicism around assessment melted away and I was able to design assessment tools that meaningfully informed my teaching. The shift in my thinking and awareness was incredible.

I got very excited reading the partial draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, because it embraced so much of what I and many librarians I know have been thinking about around instruction. They are built for the increasingly complex information environment we live in:

Greater need for sense-making and metacognition in a fragmented, complex information environment requires the ability to understand and navigate this environment holistically, focusing upon intersections. These intersections may be between disciplines, between academic major and employment, between sets of projects, or between academic pursuits and community engagement, to name just a few. All of these intersections are underpinned by the need to engage with information and the communication of information. To do so effectively, students must understand the intricate connections between knowledge, abilities, and critical dispositions that will allow them to thrive.

This makes it so clear that our current standards are woefully inaccurate as a model for informing information literacy instruction and for defining the information literate individual (as if that person could even be defined). Here is the proposed definition for information literacy in the new framework:

Information literacy combines a repertoire of abilities, practices, and dispositions focused on expanding one’s understanding of the information ecosystem, with the proficiencies of finding, using and analyzing information, scholarship, and data to answer questions, develop new ones, and create new knowledge, through ethical participation in communities of learning and scholarship.

While it is a bit less approachable in the way it’s written, I do appreciate the recognition in the proposed new definition that we’re talking about more than just skills. I also really like how it talks about using and analyzing information to answer questions (like “where should I go to college?” or “what cell phone should I buy?” or “who should I vote for?”) and that sometimes this happens through participating in communities (and learning from human sources of information in our social networks). That dovetails nicely with the idea of connectivism, which is a theory I’ve really embraced since I read about it in 2005-2006. The recognition of collaboration, participation, creation, and more than just contributing to research papers is very welcome.

I have the great fortune of working within shouting distance of two people whose work had a huge impact on the new draft. Amy Hofer’s fingerprints (along with Lori Townsend and Kori Brunetti) are all over the standards. Their research on threshold concepts in information literacy has made an indelible mark on the profession and our thinking about teaching information literacy (see “Troublesome concepts and information literacy: investigating threshold concepts for IL instruction” and “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy”). Bob Schroeder has written, with Elyssa Stern Cahoy, on affective learning outcomes in information literacy, getting us all thinking about how information literacy is not just about skills, but about dispositions and feelings (“Valuing Information Literacy: Affective Learning and the ACRL Standards” and “Embedding Affective Learning Outcomes in Library Instruction”). Bob turned me on to the AASL standards, which included a lot of those great dispositions that now are part of the draft framework. Both Amy and Bob have had such an impact on my thinking about instruction and it’s nice to see that their ideas are also impacting thinking about information literacy nationally!

I think Threshold Concepts will force conversations with disciplinary faculty because no threshold concept can be taught in a one-shot. It requires re-emphasis, practice, and reflection. This has to happen in a partnership, much more so than when the focus is on teaching something that feels like our sole domain. (As an aside, I think the boundedness of threshold concepts as they were originally conceived of doesn’t really work in information literacy as it is inherently interdisciplinary.) Of course the problem is that those faculty who are still asking us to “teach JSTOR” or “teach APA” or “teach Boolean operators” will probably not be open to a switch to focusing on “research as inquiry” and “format as process.” However, there are plenty of faculty — those with whom have strong relationships, who trust us and see us as partners — who will be willing to go down the rabbit hole of threshold concepts with us. However, I do question this statement:

A vital benefit in using threshold concepts as one of the underpinnings for the new Framework is the potential for collaboration among disciplinary faculty, librarians, teaching and learning center staff, and others. Creating a community of conversations about this enlarged understanding should create conditions for more collaboration, more innovative course designs, more action research focused on information literacy, and a more inclusive consideration of learning within and beyond the classroom.

Do I think the new framework will have an impact on disciplinary faculty? No. Just as the current Standards didn’t at most institutions. The librarians who read and believed in the Standards did that, but it wasn’t the Standards. I don’t think the new framework will create more collaboration unless librarians work towards greater collaboration and disciplinary faculty are game for it. I feel like we’re as likely to have good collaboration with disciplinary faculty with the new framework and standards as with the old, unless they inspire us (librarians) to pursue deeper partnerships. The framework simply frames and guides the conversation on our side of things.

But I do really love that this framework emphasizes the fact that information literacy instruction is not (and cannot be) the sole domain of librarians. I have always resisted the notion that we are the only people who can and do teach this, and I think in embracing this idea and focusing more of our energies in supporting disciplinary faculty teaching these skills, dispositions, etc. is vital in the current environment.

When I think about assessing these things, yikes! It’s easy to see whether or not a student correctly provided attribution or used quality sources. How do you measure metacognition? How do you know when a student has made it over the hill of a threshold concept? Even looking at authentic student work — their research papers and other products of research — may not tell you this. A student can do a beautiful job on a paper by mimicking good papers s/he has seen before without ever actually internalizing any of the larger lessons. I do like that this draft framework provides ideas for self-assessment and assignments, but I feel like those are actually activities for teaching /learning the threshold concepts. If a student can successfully “conduct an investigation of a particular topic from its treatment in the popular media, and then trace its origin in conversations among scholars and researchers” does that really mean that they understand that scholarship is a conversation? They might, and they might not. But it’s a great tool to try and teach that particular threshold concept.

A small gripe I have with the Framework: I have never been a big fan of transliteracy or metaliteracy because I believe that all of the things covered under those tents fits into information literacy already. I’ve never understood why information literacy itself doesn’t include “new roles and responsibilities brought about by emerging technologies and collaborative communities” or how information literacy doesn’t empower “learners to participate in interactive information environments, equipped with the ability to continuously reflect, change, and contribute as critical thinkers.” In fact, I think the latter statement is exactly the goal of information literacy; to empower people to create, make decisions, etc. If information literacy isn’t about helping people to see themselves as producers of knowledge, then I don’t know why we do what we do. A lot of the stuff listed under metaliteracy learning objectives in the draft, such as “demonstrate the ability to think critically in context” and “compare the unique attributes of different information formats… and have the ability to use effectively and to cite information for the development of original content” seem like they were already part of information literacy in the first place. I agree with Donna Witek that “metaliteracy should [not] be elevated by name to the extent that it is in the new draft ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” Threshold concepts — totally new and different way of looking at infolit. Dispositions — totally new to ACRL at least. Metaliteracy — kinda what we’ve already been doing.

I think the framework on the whole is a major change, and while a welcome change, it may be a lot for people to swallow. Plenty of librarians have never even heard of threshold concepts. But I love that we, as a profession, are learning and growing and improving our own teaching skills and approaches and ways of thinking. Looking at the line from the sort of “BI model” to what we see here — from a focus on tools to skills to dispositions and sense-making — it’s a beautiful thing. And, like Troy Swanson, I hope it’s never seen as completed, but is constantly improved (annually? don’t hate me people on the committee!) based on feedback and new research. Our information environment is changing rapidly. Our understanding of our user’s needs is changing. Our thinking about learning is changing. Maybe incremental changes would make more sense than such jarring alterations every 14 years.

Image credit: 北京颐和园的高梁桥。 Gaoliang Bridge of The Summer Palace. by Hennessy

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