Bryan Alexander

Bryan Alexander

The fourth speaker in the Davies Forum Series was Bryan Alexander, Director of Research for NITLE.

What I liked most about Bryan's talk was his discussion of Wikis in an academic context. Basically, he laid out the following formula.

According to most academics:
wiki = BAD
collaborative writing = GOOD

The part of the equation hidden to most academics?
wiki = collaborative writing
(which, for those who have lost track, means that BAD = GOOD, which we all know to be a logical fallacy)

Does it make any sense? No! And that's the whole point.

This part of the talk rang true for me because I actually had a professor who, on the first day of the semester, made a point of telling us that wikipedia should never be used as a reference in any of our academic writing. Period. There was no discussion about telling a good wikipedia entry from a bad one, nor about how wikipedia can be used to find sources on certain subjects (just see what the author of the entry cited), nor about (as Bryan mentioned) looking at the discussion page to see the debate about the content of the article. Just the emphatic and all-too-typical, "Don't use it!"

I also have a habit of writing interesting quotes verbatim in the margins of my notebooks. Here are the entries for Bryan:
"...piece-of-cake pedagogy" (I don't remember what in reference to, but it has a nice ring)

"Moose don't chew on it - which is good." (on his method of obtaining an internet connection in the Vermont mountains)

Brewster Kahle: The Aftermath

Brewster Kahle

The other Davies scholars have definitely said a lot about Brewster's passion for knowledge, and I encourage all of you to check out their responses to his talk.

My contribution to the hive-mind is that I agree 100% with Brewster's goal to create a library of data that is free, open to anybody, and (best of all) digital. Furthermore, I think his choice of using existing libraries as the model is an interesting one (Zeph always equates libraries to "steamboat technology", and even Librarian in Black noted that librarians are behind-the-times), but it seems to work. His goal of digitizing and archiving all forms of media is made easier by working within a system that is already governmentally funded and already has been granted certain access to works still covered by copyright.

But you could have learned all that from googling Brewster.

What I like most about Brewster's talk, and indeed about all of the speakers thus far in the forum, is that the audience gets an insight into the human qualities of the speakers. And if I had to think of one word to describe Brewster it would be passionate.

He proved to all of us in the room, in less than half an hour, that it is entirely possible, and even probable, to archive all forms of media, including, but not limited to, every book ever written. He spoke passionately about his desire to achieve "universal access to all knowledge," to scan every book in the Library of Congress (and some that aren't), and to make sure that Google's digital rights management doesn't limit public access to any media content. And I wanted to conquer the world with him.

During the Q&A portion of the talk, I asked Brewster to talk about the public domain and how it has been affected by Disney. He immediately launched into a heated account of how the public domain has diminished considerably since the 1970s, about how copyright killed the programmer community at MIT (and then spawned the OS community), and about how Disney and other companies lobbied congress to restrict the public domain even further with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And I wanted to march on Washington with him.

I followed up by asking Brewster how the changes in the public domain have affected the Internet Archive. It was at this point that this man, who had previously been so vociferous, became very quiet. In a low tone, almost a whisper, he said, "They will burn us too, and it will be with the stroke of a pen, or in the middle of the night." And I wanted to cry. Because it is only a matter of time until Brewster's Alexandria falls, and heaven help us all when that day comes.

Sunday Fluff

I am still working on my post-talk entry for Brewster, but given the preponderance of librarian speakers we have had I think this is relevant...

Humorous Pictures

Pre-Talk Post Re:Brewster Kahle

Tonight the Davie's Forum is hosting digital librarian and Internet pioneer Brewster Kahle. In preparation for the talk the students in the class read a few articles about Brewster, as well as the Open Content Alliance. Here are from of my favorite quotes from an interview with him (from an article in

"Revolutions aren't started by majorities. They come from leaders who see things that need to be done."

That is just awesome, and I hope that Brewster's work inspires many people to do the things that just need to be done. That reminds me, I have a social bibliography site to look into...

"I hope the book industry doesn't feel it needs to have centralized copy protection schemes. It's a trap."
I LOLed at this (cue Adm. Ackbar), but he is totally correct, once again. The RIA (which Brewster mentions in the interview) is in a total quagmire over DRM of music, to the point where having digital copies of music you legally own is now potentially illegal. Get over it, people! Well, that should actually read, "Get over it, corporations!"

"So we asked: How can libraries get these works on our digital bookshelves? Well, the way you ask a question like that in the United States is you sue the government."
Sad, but true. Suing, or threatening to sue, often makes things happen in the US. I wish it didn't always have to come to that, but it does. (Also another point where I LOLed)

All in all I am very excited about tonight's talk, and I definitely have some questions brewing (heh) for Brewster.

Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes

I was such a busy student last night!

I also managed to make it over to the video screening and panel discussion for the documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes (available for viewing here). The documentary delves into the topic of masculinity (some might say hyper-masculinity) in hip-hop, as well as how that masculinity manifests itself through misogyny and homophobia.

The panel, comprised of 6 USF students, did an excellent job discussing their love/hate relationship with hip-hop, and most of them mentioned alternatives to the mainstream artists. They also stressed that education is necessary in order for the massive hip-hop audience to transition from buying mainstream hip-hop to buying political (meaningful?) hip-hop.

The one aspect of the documentary, and indeed of society, that did not get discussed is the fact that misogynistic and homophobic messages are not limited to the hip-hop and rap genre. There is plenty of rock music that degrades women, and don't even get me started on pop princesses. However, whenever sexism is discussed in music, hip-hop/rap is the first genre brought up, and in fact is often the target of attacks on misogynistic music.

Is this a coincidence? Hell no! It is indeed tied to the racial categorization of hip-hop and rap. It is comfortable for white men (mostly white, and mostly men) in congress to point fingers at hip-hop and rap and call for censorship. It is a little harder for them to think about the music they grew up on (Led Zeppelin, anyone?) as overtly sexist. Hip-hop is touted as the most sexist of all music because it is convenient to find overly-sexualized lyrics in music connected to a racial group who are often categorized as overly sexualized.

So yes, please confront the misogyny and homophobia that exists in hip-hop music. But please also extend your critique to all worthy genres, instead of making sexism appear to be an issue only found in black music.

Librarian in Black at the SF Public Library

Last night the Davies Forum group made a trek to the main branch of the SF public library to hear a talk called Library 2.0: the Future of Libraries by Sarah Houghton-Jan, aka LibrarianInBlack.

What surprised me most about Sarah, and what has routinely surprised me thus far in the Davies Forum, is the level of tech knowledge that librarians have. Rather than a lecture about how awful it is that people aren't checking out books anymore, Sarah talked about making online card catalogs more user friendly, the necessity for libraries to fight for better Digital Rights Management policies when it comes to library materials, and the need to stop spending library money on expensive software when open source options are available.

Hearing librarians like Sarah and Ivan speak actually makes me want to use my library again, and maybe even speak to a librarian while I'm at it! Who wouldn't want to talk to a librarian who frequents Think Geek?

Link Love

All students in the Davies Forum are required to keep blogs, and we all blog about the guest speakers, other events, and thoughts that happen during the forum. Here is my "link love" for the other 6 students in the class.

Amber - Shiny Things
Blake - Lost in the Fog SF
Kelly - Stay with the Soft
Lis - lis pense
Lulu - Lulu's User-Friendly Guide to San Francisco
Steve - Digitizing Dreams and Waking Life

Davies Forum: Ivan Chew comes to USF

Last Thursday the featured Davies Forum speaker was Ivan Chew, a liblogarian from Singapore. He gave a very interesting talk on blogs, why librarians especially should get involved in blogging, and how blogs evolved in Singapore.

Ivan Chew

All of his points were interesting (there was so much information packed into his talk!), and you can find links to his slideshow here. In addition to being very substantive, Ivan's powerpoint presentation was one of the best I have seen in ages. It viewed very much like a movie, and as such was visually engaging in a way that added to, rather than distracted from, his speech. But on to the content of the talk...

The piece I liked best about Ivan's talk was his insistence that we blog because it creates a historical record. He made the point that wars might be fewer and farther between if only we could readily access the collective memory of those who lived through previous wars. He also mentioned that a major impetus to senior citizens blogging is the desire for their stories to be handed down to their grandchildren. These are all very important points, and perhaps reason enough to get most individuals involved in the blogosphere.

However, as Ivan himself mentioned, there are a growing number of individuals today who are electing to not have children. Although he didn't explore that idea very much, I think it is a rather interesting observation. If a common way to get individuals to blog is by convincing them that their children/grandchildren will want to read their stories, how do you convince child-free individuals to blog? Why should I, as a woman who has decided not to have children, continue the exercise of documenting my thoughts and activities if there will be no progeny to take joy in reading those experiences?

And that's where I think Ivan's point about collective historical memory comes back into play. Yes, it would be nice if I could have my Nonna's stories about living through WWII in print to read every day. I would love to always be able the details of how she always wore the soles out of her shoes before her rationing tickets allowed her to buy new ones, and how it was only through the luck of her homebody sister that she had extra shoe rations. I would also enjoy being able to access her experiences as a female athlete, especially how her father wouldn't let her play on the women's softball team past a certain age because it was assumed that all of the women who played ball past a certain age were lesbians. But more importantly, those experiences are of benefit to the collective American memory. It is important for all women in sports today to know the stories of the women who paved the way for them, and it is important for all individuals in society to know how a long war could potentially affect their everyday lives. Although it is important to blog for one's descendants, it is also important to blog for the descendants of all, so that individual recollections can contribute to a collective, national memory.

Thank you, Ivan, for being a great part of the Davies Forum Spring 2008 series

Davies Forum Spring 2008: Digital Literacy

I have the privilege of being a part of the Davies Forum this semester, a course which professors have to apply to teach and students have to apply to take. All of that applying business weeds out the riff-raff, and what is left is a fine group of students led by one deserving professor.

This semester's topic is Digital Literacy, and the schedule includes a line-up of ten guest speakers. Ivan Chew is the guest for tonight. Welcome to USF, Ivan! I will report back on his talk at a later date.