May 17th, 2013
This weekend marks the graduation of another cohort of information students from the iSchool and I always love our convocation ceremony that we hold in the afternoon, before the main UT event. We try to make it a celebratory experience for graduates and their families, with appropriate reminders of the importance of education and the value of the the graduates’ achievements. This year, it will be particularly noteworthy as we are delighted to have as our guest speaker, Ambassador Sichan Siv. His is no ordinary story and my words cannot do justice to the man. You can find out more in the video below.
Interview with Ambassador Sichan Siv: From The Killing Fields to the White House and United Nations from Morgan Freeman on Vimeo.
Congratulations to all our graduates. You earned your degree by not taking the easy options. I salute you all and wish you the very best in the years ahead.
May 10th, 2013
Library Journal ran a column on the value of the MLS degree to budding librarians which seems to have caused a bit of a reaction among readers, some of which really makes you wonder about the type of education certain ALA-accredited programs are offering. Descriptors such as ‘dull’ ‘unnecessary’, ‘poor value’ are thrown about regularly and there is a strong sense that many graduates received little real education and merely acquired debt and the required membership card for some jobs.
The broad issue at stake here is just how well accreditation works and just what some programs are seeing fit to provide their students. When two major online programs are churning out close to half the accredited students that more than 50 schools graduated in total 10 years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking the job market was booming. Think again. I don’t know where most of these folks go but I am fairly sure some of them are among the posters at that LJ site.
At Texas, we graduate around 100 masters students a year. Less than half go to work in libraries and archives, the traditional collection agencies of employment, but those that do are well equipped to contribute. The others go into a mix of roles that is not simply reduced to a few job titles, most are singletons, serving as some type of information specialist in a management, design, organization, or service function. It is not clear that these folks need an ALA-accredited degree but they certainly benefited from our education. And we do offer an education, not job training. And that’s just the problem: does accreditation really assess or evaluate the important qualities of a program or just the appearance of a process?
April 30th, 2013
It’s been awhile since the last ROI argument about public libraries which showed a 7:1 return on every dollar invested in a state’s public library system so it’s timely that a new study is just out looking at the recent situation in Texas. Here’s the official release — am no economist but it’s good to see the authors realistically talking about the difficulties of quantifying returns here while showing that what we can measure indicates real positive impact.
“The Texas State Library The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has released a study showing that in 2011 the economic benefit from Texas public libraries totaled an astounding $2.407 billion, while collectively the libraries cost less than $0.545 billion. The return on investment was thus $4.42 for each dollar invested. The study was prepared for TSLAC by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas at Austin and is available at www.tsl.state.tx.us/roi for immediate review and dissemination.”
April 11th, 2013
Having lived under the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s, I find the eulogizing somewhat at odds with the reality I experienced. Still, the campaign to whitewash political ideologies over time is hardly unique to Thatcherism or Reaganism. Kudos though to Glenda Jackson for speaking out (despite efforts to shut her up but current members of parliament) as portrayed in this Guardian video
Pretty much how I remember it too. Need work? “On yer bike” then and move. “There is no such thing as society’….Ah yes, all sharp knees and elbows as Glenda puts it. She has not lost her theatrical flourishes through age and let’s be thankful. If only politicians here were as engaging (‘home-perm cautionary tale’ Rand Paul aside, thank you Stephen Colbert for that one). Let Thatcher have her goodbyes, she certainly was committed and hard working, but let’s not forget some of the warts.
April 4th, 2013
On Monday evening we hosted an event celebrating Gary Hoover’s appointment here as Entrepreneur in Residence (are we the first? Probably….Have we the best? Certainly). I anticipated a gathering but was not quite prepared for the almost 200 members of the Austin entrepreneurial community who came to discover the wonders of our school. Superb support from our staff and students enabled us to dazzle folks with demos of the IX Lab, the Digital Archaeology Lab, touchscreen document management systems and more. If ever a group of people seemed to spontaneously celebrate information, innovation and enterprise, this was it. Check the pics here.
February 20th, 2013
Though I knew it was coming, it was still a very sad moment to hear that Glynn Harmon died on Sunday night. I’ve known the man for the last dozen years and he was a very unique person, warm of heart, gentle of spirit, and completely independent in his thinking. Others felt the same as you can read at a blog set up for remembrances. I met him first when I interviewed at Texas and and I liked him immediately. Over the next dozen years I had many conversations with Glynn where he shared with me memories of the early tensions between library and information science, the history of our school, and the prospects for a field of information. He rarely gets the credit he deserves for being one of the earliest advocates for a true information discipline and I suspect many junior faculty do not know how engaged he was in shaping the discourse in the 1970s and 1980s that helped create the grounds for the iSchool movement decades later.
Glynn bequeathed me his complete set of ARIST, all 45 volumes of this review series which like Glynn, is sadly no more. As I look at the stacked volumes on my shelf I am reminded of Glynn, the passing of time, and the interwoven history of people, ideas, and themes that make up our intellectual world. Glynn always believed the published literature of scholarly research contained hidden insights to be discovered and that our discipline should be at the forefront of enabling this process. I hope that in due course, the gems of his own ideas are similarly discovered by those who were never fortunate enough to know the man when he lived. Be at peace Glynn, as yet you live.
February 7th, 2013
Yesterday I was the speaker at UT Business School’s Leadership Lecture series at the AT&T Center. It’s an interesting audience but very hard to know the level at which to pitch ideas. I kept it miles high to make the essential points about big data being naturally constrained by human information processing limits. Lots of interesting questions and a good opportunity to showcase the school of information to folks who otherwise might not know about us. The Daily Texan ran an article today on the talk. My thanks to the Business School team led by Gayle Hight for a well-organized process and invitation.
January 29th, 2013
The tools and technologies of war may change but the tactics of terror are timeless. Whatever one thinks of the ongoing saga in Mali, it is heartbreaking to think of that nation’s cultural treasures being willfully destroyed by retreating fundamentalist forces. Today’s news from the Guardian is a sombre reminder that war is about territories of the land, the heart, and the history of peoples. One suspects the truth here is not easy to determine but early reports of brutal occupation by forces hiding under a ‘God is Great’ flag are discouraging. That these reports are now being used to urge a mass killing of all rebels by the Mayor of Timbuktu tells us all how quickly war descends to the lowest level of human engagement if unchecked but above all, the removal from our planet of those rare records of thought, knowledge and beliefs of our forebears is a loss that now amount of technological advance can replace.
December 12th, 2012
I attended the Council of Scientific Society Presidents meeting this past weekend in DC and it proved fascinating. A slate of top speakers covered advances and challenges across the spectrum of scientific enquiry, and both the stories and numbers are thought provoking. How about unique and groundbreaking drug therapeutics research that cannot get published as reviewers don’t think it’s interesting enough? Or imagine looking for one data point in trillions to test a theory in physics? The information angles here alone are challenging.
Lori Garver of NASA delivered a myth busting talk about how they work and what they do. The organization, with 18000 employees and 40000 contractors has a $17bn annual budget, is still committed to human space exploration, And spends half its budget on just this. She also confirmed that no dinosaurs were found on Mars! Meanwhile, the man from Monsanto (aside from noting that a scarily high proportion of the US population believes its food is made in grocery stores!) referenced studies showing that the most noticeable shift in behavior that comes from increased prosperity is a shift in diet from grains to meat, which has major implications for our planet.
CSSP is a great group for ideas and its clear that many professional societies share the same problems with dwindling memberships and threatened publication shifts. It seems many members no longer value the publications that once one joined a society just to obtain. The bundling process, aggressive publisher pricing, and general worry over control runs across disciplines and there was a lively discussion in one of my groups about CSSP serving as a leader in new consortial efforts to retain control of scholarly publishing at the professional society level. More on this for sure.
All told, a great group and a stimulating event that rivaled (and beat) most academic conferences I’ve attended over the last decade. And this from a group of people who are mostly strangers to each other, personally and professionally. Proof indeed that ideas matter more than identity.
December 5th, 2012
UT did a nice PR piece on my being elected to lead ASIST – perhaps the first time we’ve ever had ASIST mentioned on the university news feed — onward! Meanwhile, the name change results are due this week, looks like most people are in favor of our becoming the Association for Information Science & Technology.