Dec 28

Follow-up: Transliteracy, Theory, and Scholarly Language

I was bit surprised at the response to my post about Libraries and Transliteracy.

As long as I’m spouting off opinions on topics that have little substance other than opinion, I may as well go whole-hog and respond to some of the reponses.

Marcus Banks writes:

“…David goes too far in his highly conservative defense of the English language…this idea that we need to keep a tight lid on the language, or even that this is possible, is foolhardy.”

I’m not attempting to defend the English language.  A beast as powerful as the English language doesn’t need me to defend it. Besides, I happily torture the language when it suits me. I use silly semi-words like ‘geekery’ and ‘libraryfolk.’Though you’ll note not a single person has ever asked what either of those words mean.

This comment from Marcus, though, underlines a problem I saw in the post shortly after I published it.

It isn’t the word, it’s the way the word is used

I didn’t intend to say that the word “transliteracy” has no place in the worldIt might, it might not. As it is pure theory with no apparent practical implications, I can’t bring myself to care enough to read more than the four articles on the the topic I’ve read., just that I have yet to see libraryfolk using it in a way that adds something previously missing from discussions in librarianship and LISI’m willing to buy that the former is a profession and the latter is an academic field. Thus far, it seems to me that the (admittedly cool-sounding) term is thrown around by libraryfolk who (1)admit that they can’t define it, (2)define it so vaguely and variously that it fails to have any coherent meaning, or (3)define it in a way that makes it redundant to a wide assortment of existing terms.

What I find baffling is that librarians would use words they cannot define. I had thought (perhaps mistakenly) that librarians tended to be lovably pedantic and semantic nitpickers.

I’d like to see some clear indication that libraryfolk are talking about this word for any reason other than novelty or self-promotion. I have nothing against self-promotion per se, but some of the libraryfolk advocates of this term are telling us there’s a revolution going on. I don’t see a revolution, just an evolution. If they’re going to cry ‘wolf’, I want to see some fur and teeth. Or at least, for pity’s sake, some wolf footprints. So far, though? Nothing.

Marcus goes on to explain what he sees as the problem with ‘information literacy.’

“I’d argue that our conceptual notion of information literacy remains stuck in time. Sometimes we come dangerously close to suggesting that people blow the 1/2 inch of dust off the top of the Britannica and then read it, because this, dear students, is an ‘authoritative resource.’

Yes, I jest. And yes, I exaggerate. But not by as much as I’d like. We still lionize peer reviewed articles despite their manifold flaws, and keep an arms length view of Wikipedia and communally developed resources in general. Of course I support sharp and incisive critique of Wikipedia entries. But I don’t support the idea that Wikipedia is something other, alien or foreign.”

I agree that some libraryfolk are not adapting as fast as we might hope. That demonstrates a problem with some libraryfolk, not that ‘information literacy’ has ceased to be a useful term. As information changes (it always has, always does, and always will), information professionals need to adapt to keep their skills up-to-date and maintain their information literacy (and their value…and their jobs). Again, where’s the need for a new word?

Marcus continues:

“In that light, it seems to me that transliteracy, as a concept, is an attempt to label what we are already doing–linking up traditional notions of authority with the realities of how people obtain information today. This is valuable, and much less overblown than the Library 2.0 hooha back in the day.”

Right! “…an attempt to label what we are already doing.” As we already have labels for this, why slap on a new one?

Diane Cordell writes:

“Medical librarian David Rothman questions whether this concept is any more than a new buzzword for the same type of information literacy with which librarians have always been concerned.”

No. What I said was that the definition of information literacy is easily flexible enough to continue to serve nicely as technology changes. I did not say that changes in technology don’t matter. I’m pretty well on record stating my belief that little should matter more to libraryfolk than the changes technology is making in our world.I’m sort of put off by Diane’s clumsy straw man, though- so I thought I’d to mention here the excellent example she povides of irrational enthusiasm for technology. She has a QR code for the link to her Flickr stream on the sidebar of her blog. Let’s assume that someone visiting her blog WANTS to see her Flickr stream. Which is more likely to be convenient for the visitor? To whip out his/her smartphone, turn on the scan/photo function and take a snap…or to CLICK A LINK? What purpose does the QR code serve here? None. Its presence suggests that Diane is the sort who embraces a new technology even if it offers the user nothing useful. I am, however, amused by Diane’s repeated implications that I am somehow change-resistant or that I threaten the future of libraries because of my rejection of this buzzword. Remind anyone else of the “Library 2.0” hysteria?

So you just don’t like buzzwords?

I have to admit that I feel similarly (though less strongly) about EBLIP and ‘Blended Librarianship’.

Here’s a definition for EBLIP that I think summarizes well how most people think of it:

Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) seeks to improve library andinformation services and practice by bringing together the best available evidence and insights derived from working experience, moderated by user needs and preferences. EBLIP involves asking answerable questions, finding, critically appraising and then utilising research evidence from relevant disciplines in daily practice. It thus attempts to integrate user-reported, practitioner-observed and research-derived evidence as an explicit basis for decision-making.

That’s great. Libraries SHOULD apply the best available evidence in making decisions about the practice of their profession- but don’t good libraries already do this? Is the purpose of the term just to underline the importance of these activities? Collecting usage data, tracking reference encounters, doing needs analyses, keeping up with the literature of librarianship…these things were all a part of good practice long before “EBLIP” was talked about, weren’t they?See also: Marcus Banks’ remarks on evidence based librarianship

As for Blended Librarianship, I love the idea of communities of learning and I agree that technology skills and instructional design are essential (especially for instruction librarians). But learning communities (online or offline) aren’t new ideas and incorporating technology skills and instructional design into one’s work is what any good instruction librarian should be doing. Unless it is just for the purpose of naming an online community (which is perfectly sensible), why make up a new term for what good instruction librarians should obviously be doing?

Theoretically Speaking

John Jackson writes:

“Great post, David! But I was sorry to see that you concluded by writing off theory in lieu of practical concerns for libraries. I know this doesn’t apply for all libraries, but for academic librarians, having a concise definition and theoretical framework is necessary not only for the work they do on a daily basis, but in the scholarly activities that they try to pursue both through publishing and through on-campus research… not to mention it can serve as a legitimizing factor when working with faculty.”

Sure, academic librarians may need to understand theoretical frameworks of particular topics if they support programs that rely heavily on critical theory.Though my impression from the academics I know is that critical theory began its domination of the humanities in the 60s, peaked in the 80s, and is now (thankfully) in decline. After all, I can’t imagine a Women’s Studies department that doesn’t rely heavily on critical theory and the subject specialist that serves that program’s needs should understand that body of theory and be able to speak in the terms that are familiar to scholars of that discipline.

To paraphrase a librarian friend, theories from other academic fields can be (and are) applied to information services…and librarianship/LIS can be said to have a set of values/ethics/principles that is different from other professions, but there’s no unified/unifying theoretical framework for library practice that I can see.

I agree with Neil Postman that “social sciences” (including Postman’s own field of Media Ecology) are not sciences.From the same 1988 article: “…[T]he purpose of media ecology is to tell stories about the consequences of technology; to tell how media environments create contexts that may change the way we think or organize our social life, or make us better or worse, or smarter or dumber, or freer or more enslaved. I feel sure the reader will pardon a touch of bias when I say that the stories media ecologists have to tell are rather more important than those of other academic story tellers—because the power of communication technology to give shape to people’s lives is not a matter that comes easily to the forefront of people’s consciousness, though we live in an age when our lives—whether we like it or not—have been submitted to the demanding sovereignty of new media. And so we are obliged, in the interest of a humane survival, to tell tales about what sort of paradise may be gained, and what sort lost. We will not have been the first to tell such tales. But unless our stories ring true, we may be the last.” Talk about there being nothing new under the sun.

“To put it plainly, all of the so-called social sciences are merely subdivisions of moral theology. It is true, of course, that social researchers rarely base their claims to knowledge on the indisputability of sacred texts, and even less so on revelation. But you must not be dazzled or deluded by differences in method between preachers and scholars.”

I can only guess how maddening scholars find this statement, but even just guessing makes me smile.

Insufficiently Academic

Maybe I’m insufficiently educated and don’t properly understand the academic world of LIS, but I think that theories outside of the hard sciences are, at best, interesting ideas with which to think. I think that Very Smart People are most valuable (and most valued) when they solve problems, not when they wax intellectually about them.

Changes in technology create all kinds of new and interesting challenges for libraries. All comers who have something coherent to say about how to go about tackling these challenges should be welcomed- but while matters of epistemology (like learning theory, neuroscience, or media ecology) should be important to libraryfolk, let’s not pretend to be scholars of those disciplinesUnless the individual librarian actually *is* a scholar of one of these disciplines…in which case I suggest getting out of librarianship and back in a profession with a few more potential rewards..

‘Scholarly’ Language

Kudos and full credit to Lane Wilkinson for blowing off his previous “academic” style of writing and writing a post describing his perspective in English, but I think Stephen Francoeur nails exactly what is lacking about it:.

“I’m with you on the need to be more expansive in what we teach and how we teach in our information literacy efforts, but I’m not sure this merits a new term for the effort. It seems like transliteracy so narrowly focused in your blog post that it can be defined simply as ‘doing information literacy instruction really well.’There are many reasons I like Stephen Francoeur. This is only the most recent. Meredith Farkas, by the way, reaches the very same conclusion: “I figure what you describe is just good engaging information literacy instruction incorporating (possibly) instructional tech and active learning.”

Wilkinson admits that this is a fair summary for his definition of ‘transliteracy’ but defends the use of the term as a ‘placeholder’.

Why use a ‘placeholder’ when we could say ‘do information literacy instruction really well’?

Check out this response post from John Jackson in which he takes seven paragraphs (625 words!) to say pretty much what I said in my first two paragraphs (60 words) – albeit in a much more ‘scholarly’ manner.

I’ve often wondered why so many self-described academics use language seemingly intended to make the ideas harder to access through an obtuse vocabulary or tortured phrasing. I was kvetching about this once to a friend who offered a theory. “Perhaps,” said my friend, “the value that academics offer in a market economy is the value of their ideas…and by making it harder to access their ideas, the market value of what they’re selling is driven up.”

That’s as good an explanation as any I’ve ever seen.

I encourage people (especially information professionals) to avoid this sort of writing at all times. It doesn’t matter if academics in other disciplines embrace the practice. *Our* profession is about removing obstacles between the user and the information that user seeks. I’m going to repeat that in a larger font now. Feel free to imagine me yelling this:

Our profession is about removing obstacles between the user and the information that user seeks.

This includes obstacles like obtuse, redundant, or vague language.

No arguments

Among all the response posts is not a whiff of an actual response.

Bobbi Newman writes:

“Transliteracy is a new concept in general and we are working to apply it and I’m ok with it being a work in progress (the blog is less than a year old). I understand that many people aren’t. They want clear rules, definitions guidelines, and measures and pie charts, but I’m not sure I am able to help them at this point. I’m ok with that too. Not in a mean way but in a I-can’t-do-everything-at-once sort of way.”

Here’s how I read that:

Transliteracy is a newish scholarly buzzword and we are working on milking it for publication purposes in the LIS world (we’ve been working on it for a year so far). I understand that many people want to know what the word means. They think that librarians should probably avoid using words they can’t define. I can’t help them there because I’m too busy. I did have time to create a blog based on the concept, but I don’t have time to define it.

Really, Bobbi. That’s how it reads to me.

The nonsense continues

I have no illusions that my comments will stop anyone from using terms foolishly, but I can hope that it may spare a few individuals from the anxieties associated with fears that they’re not on top of this ‘new thing.’

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues unabated. Check out Buffy Hamilton’s presentation “Participatory Librarianship: Creating Possibilities Through Transliteracy, Learning, and Linchpins”

Here’s the text of slide #51- try reading it aloud.

“transliteracy provides us a way of theorizing how these literacies transact with each other for meaning making”

Here’s the text of slide #52. Again, try reading it aloud.

“transliteracy is the conceptualization of how we use these literacies than the tools or containers although certainly the ways we access information, share, and create it have taken on new forms”

Text of slide #54 (you know what to do).

“as sponsors of transliteracy, libraries can close the participation gap.”

Try to get past the syntactical problems with these statements and tell me what they mean. Tell me that ‘transliteracy’ is used here in a meaningful way. I’d enjoy being proven wrong.

Dec 19

Commensurable Nonsense (Transliteracy)

It is entirely possible that I’m just dense, but everything I’ve read recently about libraries and “transliteracy” seems like nonsense to me. Here’s how I’ve been thinking about it.


Very briefly, the term literacyDictionary entries: Oxford, American Heritage / Webster’s New World College, Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, Encarta refers to either:

1. The ability to read and write


2. Knowledge of, skill in, or competence in an specific area or subject.

The former is a very real concern if the university professors and academic librarians I know are to be believed.It appears that one can be admitted to many American colleges despite being barely able to string together a coherent written sentence and that a lot of resources are spent on remedial English education, both formal and informal (like vast amounts of time spent by teaching assistants), for freshmen. (While we’re on the topic, the innumeracy I see in the world every day may actually alarm me more.)

Still, I think we’re mostly concerned with the latter.

Sorts of Literacies:

My wife and I frequently talk about our aspirations for the cultural literacy of our children. We think that they need to hear stories from Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, Aesop’s Fables, and (to the surprise of some who know us) both the Hebrew and Christian bibles. We’re atheists, but we know that stories from the bible(s) are frequently referenced in literature and in life- and that knowledge of these stories will enhance their understanding of the world around them.

Plenty of people tell me that they need help with something because they are not computer literate. I don’t know that I much like this term (I think that lack of confidence is a more frequent problem than actual incapability), but the popularity of its use can’t be denied. People know that to be “computer illiterate” is to be unskilled in the use of computers.

Then there’s the literacy that librarians, of course, care a whole lot about, Information literacyI just remembered that the topic of ‘information literacy’ has been important enough for me to be a category on this blog.

Information Literacy

I like the 1989 ALA definition:

“To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”

I also like this one from the Association of College and Research Libraries:

“Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.”

These are simple, clear definitions that are broad enough to incorporate any tools. Some years ago, information literacy included the ability to thumb through an index of periodicals- I remember doing this in elementary school. Today, the elementary school student might search a database of indices. Regardless of the changes in technology, the above definitions of information literacy continue to be good and useful.

Technologies change and tools change, but the definition of information literacy doesn’t need to.

Here’s where I start to get a bit confused. What’s the point of terms like “digital literacy“?

The Wikipedia definition of digital literacy is as follows:

“Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology. It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology, and an understanding of how it can be used. Digitally literate people can communicate and work more efficiently, especially with those who possess the same knowledge and skills.”

So…it’s information literacy with computers. In our world, don’t you have to be “digitally literate” (and “computer literate”) if you’re going to claim information literacy? If so, “digital literacy” is just an aspect (a huge and important aspect) of information literacy.

Isn’t health literacy just a specialized kind of information literacy? How hard is it to take the above definitions of information literacy and make a couple of small edits to make them good for health literacy?

Information Health literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use Health information.

To be information health literate, a person must be able to recognize when health information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed health information.

So, not hard.

Now we’ll remove the “health” from a definition of health literacy from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and make it about information literacy generally.

HealthInformation literacy includes the ability to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, appointment slips, medical education brochures, doctor’s directions and consent forms, and the ability to negotiate complex health care systems. HealthInformation literacy is not simply the ability to read. It requires a complex group of reading, listening, analytical, and decision-making skills, and the ability to apply these skills to health important situations.”

You could do the same thing with “media literacy,” or “financial literacy.” Sure, they’re specialized subsets, but it’s all information literacy. Are terms like electracy really useful in any way? I don’t think so.If you DO think that this term has some usefulness, please explain it to me?

Okay. So what’s “transliteracy”?

Wikipedia uses a definition from PART (Production and Research in Transliteracy):

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

Of course, PART’s own site calls this a “working definition.” So…the group providing the definition notes that it isn’t really thoroughly defined yet.

Has there been another time that a bunch of librarians were excited about another buzzword that was, at best, vaguely defined? I keep thinking back to T. Scott’s take on “Library 2.0”:

“My problem with the term is the same as ever — it is simply incoherent. People who use the term refer continually to the “Library 2.0 concept” but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that “concept” is. Everyone who uses it has their own intention for it, and one knows that it has something to do with social networking software and with making libraries better, but is there really any more to it than that? It’s a very sloppy use of language, and I’m a firm believer in the concept that a sloppy use of language betrays sloppy thinking.”

Anyone else see the parallel?

Libraries and Transliteracy

In my seeking to understand what transliteracy is and why it should matter to libraries, I came across a number of references to this presentation by Bobbi Newman.

Bolded lines below are the text from her slides.

Slide #12: Soon people will need to be transliterate in order to be involved in and contribute to society.
Slide #13: It is already happening.

People who aren’t transliterate can’t participate in society? That sounds important. Where are they being prevented by the absence of their transliteracy from being a part of society?

Slide #14: Facebook privacy settings are complex and change frequently.

I don’t think a thorough understanding of Facebook privacy settings (or Facebook generally) is required to be involved in and to contribute to society, do you? Even if they were, knowing how to use social networks and other online tools could just as easily be defined as digital literacy or information literacy. Where’s the need for the new term “transliteracy”?

Slide #15: It is not just on the fun sites.

But you’re limiting the discussion here to computers and Web sites.

Slide #16: Government agencies are no longer issuing print forms.

Aside from the fact that this statement is patently untrue…or maybe just badly written. Maybe she meant to say that some agencies no longer provide paper copies of some forms., it seems again to point to the use of internet tools.

Slide #17: Banks are sending alerts and account balance information via text messages.

For those who want them, yes. Is texting now required to be a part of society?

Slide #18: Your health insurance plan has a website and you have an account.
Slide #19: The price of computers is dropping allowing more people to own one.
Slide #20: Free WiFi access points are increasing, allowing more people internet access.

More and more people are using computers and the internet, yes. What does this have to do with “transliteracy”?

Slide #21: For many people these are new experiences.
Slide #22: Experiences they can have with no training, no supervision and no support.

(How DARE people have new experiences without supervison!)

Yes, they CAN have them that way if they want. They can also check Consumer Reports or do other research to help them decide what computer to buy. They can ask at the library/McDonald’s/coffee shop how to connect to their WiFi. They can call the insurance company and be walked through how to use the Web site.

Again, what does this have to do with “transliteracy”?

Slide #22: If we only focus on literacy we are failing our patrons.

If libraries only supported readin’ and writin’ on slips of thin, dead tree, they WOULD be failing their patrons- but that’s not the case. Libraries have been working hard for years at providing computers, connectivity, and instruction. Libraries care quite a lot about information literacy and expend a great deal of effort helping patrons build information literacy skills.

So, given that libraries are NOT just focusing on words that are printed on dead-tree paper and given that they ARE providing instruction in information literacy…what here is new and different, meriting a new term?

Slide #23: In order to best serve our patrons we need to move from literacy to transliteracy.

It seems from these slides that Bobbi is saying she thinks “transliteracy” means “inclusion of online stuff and other newish technologies.” If that’s the case, libraries have already made this transition.

Slide #24: How do we shift our focus to transliteracy?
Slide #25: Talk with your coworkers and colleagues about it.
Slide #26: Talk with your patrons about it.
Slide #27: Add it to your strategic plan, mission statement and goals.

So, what would these conversations sound like?

Librarian 1: Hey, I read that we should be talking about transliteracy.
Librarian 2: Okay. What’s transliteracy?
Librarian 1: I don’t know, but if we don’t mention it in our strategic plan, we’ll seem unhip. If we suggest it to our director, though, she might think we’re really on top of new trends.
Librarian 2: I’m game. What part of the strategic plan should this transliteracy stuff be added to?


Librarian 1: Um…Do a find-and-replace for “library 2.0?”

Librarian 2: Nice.

That’s not the end of the unappealing similarities between the libraries-and-transliteracy-stuff and the library-2.0-stuff.

One of the worst things about “Library 2.0” was the way its advocates (who now don’t talk about it at all) seemed to talk mostly only to each other in language which (usually unintentionally) excluded and alienated others from participating in the conversation. Still, I never saw a post about Library 2.0 that was as bad in this regard as Transliteracy and Incommensurability, posted by Lane Wilkinson at Libraries and Transliteracy.A screen capture of the post is also saved here.

At first, I was convinced this post was pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook. After several aborted attempts, I finally read it in the right frame of mind and discovered that it made a few good points. These points have repeatedly been made much more clearly elsewhere, but Wilkinson is definitely not a charlatan. It’s not gobbledygook.

My complaint is that his dense use of jargon and needlessly specialized language makes his post almost totally inaccessible.

What would happen if people discussed his post the same way he wrote it?


Rothman, what’s your problem? Why are you picking on those nice transliteracy people?

I’m not. I’m picking on their ideas and their writing. Their writing because it is awful and their ideas because…well…I think they have no new ideas.

The world changes as technology changes. Education and libraries adapt (well or poorly, but they adapt). There’s nothing new here. There’s no need for a new movement, a new term, or so much discussion about nothing.

Look at this post by Tom Ipri:

“One thing which excites me about Transliteracy is, because of its newness, the skills involved are not well-defined.”

I’d like to ask Tom: Aside from the term, what exactly is new about transliteracy? Like “Library 2.0,” the term is being used without really being defined. That makes it awfully convenient to write about, because it can mean anything you want it to.

“Of course, Transliteracy involves a whole swath of cognitive skills that transcend navigating new technology.”

Skills which, of course, Tom doesn’t describe.

“To a certain extent, trust is a teachable skill and librarians invest a great deal of effort in instilling notions of trust. How do we trust that a web site is reliable? But beyond that, individuals need to learn how and when other individuals are trustworthy.”

Oooookay. I’ll agree that the ability to identify who is trustworthy is a good ability to have. What is your point in bringing up this bit of common sense? What is new here? Where is the need for the term “transliteracy” and why should libraryfolk care?

I don’t think critical theory is as important to libraries right now as practical matters. That said, critical theory has things to offer libraries and librarians- but this isn’t critical theory. This is nonsense. Further, it is a kind of nonsense we’ve seen before in the “library 2.0” silliness- so it really is Commensurable Nonsense.

May 26

MLA 2008: Plenary Session IV Slides

David Rothman

Amanda Etches-Johnson

Melissa Rethlefsen

Bart Ragon

Jan 10

The Beauty of the Dialectical Process

Well, I was pretty hard on Dean Giustini’s BMJ Editorial.

I have believed in the value of the dialectical process since long before I knew there was a term for it and have always believed that honest criticism serves the criticized, the critic, and those witnessing the process.

So I LOVE that Dean decided to specifically address one of my criticisms.

I questioned Dean’s assertion that “Google’s search results are emblematic of an approaching crisis with information overload”.

Dean writes:

Google most certainly is emblematic (a visible symbol) of information overload, and in fact is the information specialist’s laboratory for it.

I see honest disagreement here.

I think Google is emblematic of the way that the clever application of technology overcomes “information overload.” The Web is huge, filled with an insane amount of information that is varyingly good, bad, ugly or [fill in your favorite adjective here]. But if one uses Google to search for Google Scholar Dean, the first four results are about Dean Giustini, the author of the UBC Google Scholar Blog. It took typing three words and I found EXACTLY what I was looking for in about 0.51 seconds. To me, this doesn’t paint an image of Google as a symbol of information overload.

Dean continues:

“It’s well-documented throughout the blogosphere that web 2.0 has resulted in too many RSS feeds, too much data and information from disparate sources with little connection to each other.”

First, there are many popular positions (technical, political, philosophical…) expressed in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) that I believe to be wrong-headed, foolish, unwise or silly. I also believe that decisions based on evidence and direct experience tend to get better results than those built on blogosphere buzz and hearsay.

Second, I’m sincerely flabbergasted to hear a librarian (or any information professional) complain that there is “too much data” or “too many RSS feeds”.

“Web 2.0” doesn’t cause an information glut. What causes an information glut is being an information glutton, taking on more than anyone can reasonably manage. There aren’t too many RSS feeds. Rather, there are users who subscribe to too many RSS feeds. The solution isn’t for less data to exist, the solution is smarter, more selective use of the data. The tools that help us filter and manage the information that we care most about are continuing to improve in power and sophistication.

The feeds I subscribe to are so carefully chosen and filtered that I started to worry about missing out on serendipitous discovery of information I didn’t know I needed. I remedied this by using feeds from the social bookmarking of medical librarians (and other beloved medical/technology information nerds) to keep an eye on what they find interesting. In this way, the tools that Dean sees as contributing to the “information glut” open me up to new ideas, thoughts, and resources that I would otherwise not have found. With the smart use of my aggregator, I can browse these quickly and easily, discarding what doesn’t suit my interests.

Dean also writes:

“99% of the information that we are finding in Google is irrelevant to medicine.”

Sure, but I’ve never heard a single physician claim Google is irrelevant to Medicine. On the contrary, many talk about how frequently they use it. Meanwhile, 99.99% of what’s findable via PubMed is irrelevant to a particular healthcare information need. So what?

Meanwhile, turnabout is absolutely fair play, and Dean reciprocates by sharing some criticism of my own writing. Because I’m really enjoying the direct discussion and believe in the dialectical process, I’m going to address each of his criticisms.

Dean writes:

“If you have some different ideas on where the web is, why don’t you write your own piece?”

I will absolutely be pleased to write an Op-Ed on the Web and health information at the invitation of the first prestigious medical journal which invites me to do so.

I’d might use the opportunity to demystify buzzwords, clear up popular misconceptions and/or call for a new sort of rigor in the way that writers in medicine and libraries use technology buzzwords in order to better empower each other and those whose needs they serve.

I could alternately suggest practical ways in which existing technologies could be leveraged to expand or improve information services for clinical patrons.

Dean writes:

“One thing about David’s blogging is that he doesn’t explore the social or cultural context for all the tools he introduces.”

That’s usually true. After all, I’m neither a sociologist nor a cultural anthropologist.

I usually talk about how Web tools might be applied in the setting of a medical library. That’s sort of what this blog is for- and I’ve said that from the very first post.

I run a hospital library and I solve problems that hospital-based users experience while using technology. I write about the things that interest me and that I think will interest others who do similar work and face similar problems. That’s what defines the general scope of this blog- and I’m happy with it.

Dean writes:

“It’s much harder to place information technologies in some context than it is to merely announce that you’ve found a new tool worth exploring.”

Although I really do think it is important and useful just to share the existence of tools that I think may be of interest or use to other medical libraryfolk, I often provide context. Some examples:

Both Dean and Dr. Ves Dimov (at Clinical Cases and Images) seem to think that I want to replace “Web 2.0” with some other term.

Dr. Dimov writes:

David seems to suggest the alternative term “Web Geekery” which does not sound much better than “Web 2.0.”

I have at no time suggested that my complaints with the (mis)use of “Web 2.0” would be solved by replacing it with ANY other term. “Web Geekery” is just the phrase I use to describe the stuff that interests me.I also refer to the words of smartasses as “smartassery” and refer to the deeds of dumb clucks as “dumbcluckery.” I don’t know why.

I will point out, though, that not a single person has ever needed me to explain what I mean by “Web geekery.”

For the record, Ves- I don’t think there was anything wrong with your description of “Web 2.0 and Medicine” in 2005. You were talking about applying the trends O’Reilly described with “Web 2.0” to the needs of medicine. Still, I dearly hope that many of the current uses of “2.0”, “3.0” and (yes, really!) “Web 4.0” will go away. The metaphor threatens to outgrow and eat what it was supposed to represent.

Jan 08

Disliking “Web 2.0” and Hating “Web 3.0”

I was asked recently in an interview:

“You’ve written quite a bit about Web 2.0 tools and medical librarianship […snip…] Are there ways in which you see health sciences librarianship 2.0 as differing from Library 2.0?”

I answered that I’m actually not all that fond of the the “2.0” suffix, whether it is applied to “Web,” “Library,” “Medicine” or “Health.”

This answer was lame and incomplete, something I’m not proud of. Even though I’m not entirely happy with it, maybe this one will be better.

The term “Web 2.0” is a metaphor representing the idea that the Web is in it’s “second version”. It is not, in my view, a particularly good metaphor.

Some trends commonly associated with “Web 2.0” are tools for collaboration (and other “social” activities), applications that live online and in your Web browser, rounded corners (and other aesthetic choices), and the blurring of the line between content consumer and content creator. The term “Web 2.0” can be a useful shorthand with which to describe these tends and in aggregate and I’m not opposed to the idea that these trends are, taken together, significant enough to collectively merit a term referring to them. My impression is that this term is most especially useful when marketing Silicon Valley investment opportunities to potential investors.

Some other critics of the term have asserted that “Web 2.0” as a term is meaningless. I disagree. This piece by Tim O’Reilly does a great job of explaining what he means when he says “Web 2.0.”


  • The Web hasn’t been upgraded. There’s no new version of the Web. The longer a medium is around, the more interesting things people figure out how to do with it. This isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) surprising. Tim Berners-Lee, the person generally credited as having invented the World Wide Web, saidThe entire transcript of remarks by Berners-Lee on this topic is available here.:

    “Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along…the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be as a collaborative space where people can interact.”

  • Many things that are new and cool on the Web are not “Web 2.0.” Sometimes, new and cool things are the Web are just new and cool and really don’t need a numeric versioning suffix.
  • Although some might see it as semantic nit-pick, I believe that there’s no such thing as “using Web 2.0I may not like the title of Phil Bradley’s book- but I think the book itself is quite good. (Way too expensive, but quite good.) and that Web 2.0 doesn’t have “features”.At least Berci has the excuse of not being a native speaker of English, so I don’t usually give him a hard time for such things. He’s also a really nice guy with a great blog that I subscribe to. “Web 2.0” isn’t a program, a movement or a standard. It is jargon used to describe a set of trends in the sorts of things people are doing on the Web.

There’s nothing wrong with jargon in and of itself- but the term is now so widely and varyingly used that it needlessly creates more confusion among those who most need clarity. More and more, I read things about “Web 2.0” that drive me up the wall.

And now we’ve got people talking about “Web 3.0”

There are a number of things about Dean Giustini’s recent BMJ Editorial on “Web 3.0” with which I am unhappy.I should also point out here that it is a lot easier to criticize an editorial in BMJ than to write one. I admire Dean, I admire the way he promotes librarians as agents of technology and change, and I admire that he makes himself visible in this way to the greater world of healthcare professionals.

First, to continue and enhance the confusion that now comes with every use of a versioning suffix by using “3.0” is a significant disservice. Librarians should be demystifying confusing terms and clarifying definitions. I’m disappointed that neither BMJ nor Dean decided to describe some of the the ways that evolving Web technologies may impact healthcare. Instead, the article appears impressive to people who aren’t familiar with the buzzwords (most of BMJ’s readership are not, I am guessing, professional technologists) and says almost nothing to those for whom these buzzwords are all too familiar.

Second, the entire editorial about “Web 3.0” or “The Semantic Web” lacks a definition either term. Is the assumption that perhaps these terms are familiar to the average BMJ reader?

Now, with apologies, some fisking:

Dean writes:

“Each new version of the web should be a better iteration of its predecessor, and web 3.0 should be no exception.”

Except that there has been, as Berners-Lee points out, no new version of the Web. Part of the problem with the hype surrounding “2.0” is that people who should know better forget that it is a metaphor.

Dean writes:

“In medicine, we should focus on the ability to locate trusted clinical information, while creating the means to produce new knowledge.”

What, because we don’t focus on these things now…?

Dean writes:

“Information retrieval in web 3.0 should be based less on keywords than on intelligent ontological frameworks, such as the National Library of Medicine’s Unified Medical Language System, Medline’s trusted MeSH vocabulary, or some other tool.”

I do not believe that we will live to see a time where the World Wide Web is thoroughly indexed and made searchable with a controlled vocabulary like MeSH. It is a poor analogy for what technologists mean when they speak of “the Semantic Web” and it is a disservice to lead librarians to think that searching the Web will eventually be like searching MEDLINE. It won’t.

Dean writes:

“The question of whether and—two popular social tagging sites—will be useful in web 3.0 remains doubtful.”

This statement confused the hell out of me. Allan Cho (with whom Dean collaborated in writing this article on the Semantic Web) has said one of my favorite things on this topic:

“…use of folksonomies could help overcome some of the inherent difficulties in ontology construction, thus potentially bridging Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web. By using folksonomies’ collective categorization scheme as an initial knowledge base for constructing ontologies, the ontology author could then use the tagging distribution’s most common tags as concepts, relations, or instances. Folksonomies do not a Semantic Web make — but it’s a good start.”Confession: I literally clapped my hands while sitting at my desk the first time I read this quote by Allan and wished I’d written it.

Nicely said, Allan.

Dean writes:

“In medicine, finding the best evidence has become increasingly difficult, even for librarians.”

I don’t think I can agree with this premise. I think that Web tools have made the best stuff increasingly easier to find for those with the skills to use the tools.

Dean continues:

“Despite its constant accessibility, Google’s search results are emblematic of an approaching crisis with information overload, and this is duplicated by Yahoo and other search engines.”

Huh? How are Google search results emblematic of information overload?

Dean continues:

“Consequently, medical librarians are leading doctors back to trusted sources, such as PubMed, Clinical Evidence, and the Cochrane Library, and even taking them to their library bookshelves instead.”

Okay, maybe- but how is this a “Web 2.0” trend? Haven’t librarians always struggled to get their patrons to use the best tools?

Dean continues:

“Unless better channels of information are created in web 3.0, we can expect the information glut to continue.”

Dean has previously blamed “Web 2.0” for “information overload”, now he seems to say that Google is responsible for an “information glut”. Both of these assertions are just silly.

The Web makes a whole lot of information easily available to a whole lot of people (which I see as a good, desirable thing) and many people lack the information skills to get just the stuff they want- but to assert that “Web 2.0” or Google cause information overload (with absolutely no support) is just beyond my ability to comprehend.


Because in the hands of a skilled user, Google is a powerful tool for filtering out the chaff. Because I routinely use “Web 2.0” tools (like RSS feeds from or blogs) to benefit from the readings and tags and opinions of friends and colleagues- this helps me stay focused just on the good stuff. How else would I keep on top of all the stuff this blog covers?

Okay. Enough fisking.

What about “Medicine 2.0” and “Health 2.0”?

“Medicine 2.0” bugs me perhaps even more than “Web 2.0”. It is a way of marketing tools that apply newish Web trends to the needs of health professionals. How does the term serve anyone but investors and those who have something to sell investors? Why the heck should healthcare professionals embrace and adopt this marketing schtick when they could instead demand terms that are clear and descriptive?

“Health 2.0” is term for hyping the application of newish Web trends to the needs of healthcare consumers. Again, it appears to be useful in selling investment opportunities. Do the rest of of need the term? No. We can instead refer with more clarity and simplicity to Web sites and Web services for healthcare consumers.

So what about “Library 2.0”?
I think that I have come to agree with T. ScottThough I still think T. Scott was, in this instance, unfair to Casey and Savastinuk. The work is important and good, but the term is not. I urge librarians, particularly bibliobloggers, to use the term carefully (if at all). We don’t need it to describe the application of Web trends and technolgies to library work, we REALLY don’t need it in order to describe making libraries more patron-centric, and when we use it (usually failing to explain/define it) we add to the confusion and needlessly alienate potential ALLIES for improving computer literacy in libraryfolk and in patrons.

I like Wikis and blogs and RSS and APIs and mashups and portable data and rich user experiences and social networking tools and online productivity tools and social bookmarking. I’m fascinated by the new and interesting things people keep doing with the Web. I believe that librarians need to be technologists and need to know what “Web 2.0” means- but that doesn’t mean they need to add to the existing confusion. It means they need to help smooth it away.

Jargon is fine in small groups of specialists- but information professionals, I think, have a special responsibility to help others overcome and dismiss jargon when it gets in the way of sharing information. Not only to bring the benefits of these new technologies to all our colleagues, but to all our patrons.

For that reason and to keep me sane, please: No more talk of “Web 3.0.”

In case it isn’t obvious by now: I’d like to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with mine. Leave a comment, wouldja’?

Dec 17

Health Libraries and Web 2.0 Survey: Aussie Edition

Last post of 2007. Really.

A survey was undertaken in 2007 in the US by the MLA Social Networking Software Task Force investigating use of collaborative/social networking tools and services. Results from the original survey of MLA members are reported at the Task Force on Social Networking Software blog.

Libraries Using Evidence – and NSW Health, with the support of Health Libraries Australia, extended this survey to the Australian context. Staff in health libraries across Australia (hospital, academic, special etc) were invited to participate.

The Australian data will be used to generate a snapshot of the use of and attitudes towards collaborative/social networking tools and services. Results will provide librarians with evidence to assist in influencing policy and practice at their workplace. Results will be reported in the first instance on the Health LIS 2.0 and Libraries Using Evidence blogs.


Preliminary results: [PDF]


Nov 20

Video: Meredith Farkas at Academic Library 2.0

I’ve never been fortunate enough to see Meredith Farkas speak- but thanks to UC Berkeley, now I can! Below, Meredith’s talk from 11/2/2007 at the Academic Library 2.0 Conference.

(Above: Embdedded flash video. If you’re reading this in your agregator, you may need to visit the site to view the video)

(Meredith starts speaking about 13 minutes in.)

Oct 31

Recent Presentations

Presentation slides worth flipping through:

Eugene Barsky (who has recently been recognized for his work as an outreach physiotherapy librarian) posted slides from his presentation to the BC Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children and Family Development, providing a nice overview of how free Web tools are (or might be) used in healthcare.

Meredith Farkas is prepping for her keynote address at the Academic Library 2.0 conference as evidenced by this presentation being posted on Slideshare:

Oct 10

Web 2.0, library 2.0, physician learning 2.0 (Ophthamology article)

This looks like another article that I want to read but don’t have access to.

Ophthalmology. 2007 Oct;114(10):1801-3.
Web 2.0, library 2.0, physician learning 2.0.Liesegang TJ.
PMID: 17908589

(This blog would be a lot better if publishers would just give me free subscriptions- or at least send me copies of articles like this one. I know- it’d be a chilly day in Hades…)

Anyone else read it yet?

Oct 08

Medical Librarian 2.0 Book Available for Order [Updated]

[Update: As Nikki points out, it is cheaper to buy via and should be available around October 26th.]

As previously mentioned, Alexia Estabrook and I wrote the chapter on RSS. Alexia rocks.

More information and the order form are available here.

I wonder when I’ll get my copy. Haworth’s site says it is supposed to be available “Summer 2007,” but it is now Autumn.

Aug 17

Mark Wentz: The Ballad of Mayo Libraries 2.0

I’ve mentioned previously that Mayo Libraries are doing a Learning 2.0 program. One of the participants, Mark Wentz, recently wrote The Ballad of Mayo Libraries 2.0 and has kindly allowed me to post it here. Love it!

(To the melody of Paul Henning’s “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”)

Come learn about Libraries 2.0
Chock full of things a person oughta’ know
Learn about things you thought could never be
Then use ’em as you advance technologically
(Web, that is. Google. Internet.)

Next thing you know well you’re building up a blog
RSS so your time doesn’t get a clog
Sharing information for ev’ryone to see
Adding a link to a rockin’ new wiki
(Easy, it is. Collaborate. Info share!)

We’ve just started and the fun has just begun
We’ll learn much more before this project’s done
When we’re finished our tracking log we’ll send
And hope to win the techie prize they promised at the end
( Y’all IM back now, ya hear?)

Thanks, Mark!

Jul 27

T. Scott – Future of Librarians Interview

Still catching up and discovering neat stuff in my aggregator from my time off last week, including this interview with T. Scott Plutchak at


Do you see academic medical libraries being a vanguard to other libraries and their adoptions of technology?

Yes and no. Yes in that I think that there are a lot of very smart, tech-savvy people in medical libraries; some of the angst that I see reflected on library blogs, from libraries in other sectors, reflects frustration from what they see as a slowness in adopting technology. I just don’t see that in academic medical libraries…

Go read the whole thing. While you’re at it, consider subscribing to Scott’s blog. If you’re like me, you’ll not only be impressed with Scott’s knowledge and insight- you’ll also envy the elegance of his writing.

Jul 23


Just got back to NY and am starting the long process of catching up on email and reading. If you’ve written in the last week, please forgive the delay and know that I’ll get back to you in the next few days. There will be very light posting this week while I catch up both at work and at home.

Thank you to the wonderful Kaura Gale for keeping the lights on at while I was away! I *will* need to take some time off the blog in coming months and would welcome email from anyone who would like to take a shot at writing a guest post (or a whole bunch of them).

Posts to expect later this week after I’m caught up: Notes on my visit to Mayo Libraries (short preview: Wow!), slides from my presentation for Mayo Libraries 2.0, multiple clumsy superlatives and metaphors which will attempt to describe how awesome Mayo’s Melissa Rethlefsen is (short preview: She’s crazy awesome), some articles of potential interest and a handful of resources online that have recently come to my attention.

Jul 10

On Medical Librarianship Blogs

So I get to give a talk next week at the Mayo Clinic in (Rochester, MN) as a part of Mayo Libraries 2.0.

I’ve been working on my notes and I think I’ve got everything covered that I need to, but I’m wondering if perhaps you have any thoughts to share?


  • What do you think are the must-read blogs for a medical librarian? What do you get from reading them?
  • What are the most popular misconceptions about blogs?
  • What makes a good blog…good?
  • What’s the stuff that other presentations about biblioblogs sometimes miss?

Please leave comments or email me? Thanks!

May 03

Medical Librarian 2.0

Now available for order from Haworth Press:

Medical Librarian 2.0: Use of Web 2.0 Technologies in Reference Services
Edited by M. Sandra Wood, MLS, MBA, AHIP, FMLA

Interesting, I think, that the experts sought out to write about Web technologies are disproportionately bloggers and/or people you’ve read about online.

Alexia Estabrook and I co-authored the chapter on RSS. The chapter on mashups is written by Michelle Kraft. The chapter on Wikis is by Mary Chimato (formerly of, now making waves at Circ and Serve). The chapter on social networking is written by Five Weeks to a Social Library instructor Melissa Rethlefsen.


  • Introduction (M. Sandra Wood)
  • Library 2.0: An Overview (Elizabeth Connor)
  • Virtual Reference Services for the Academic Health Sciences Librarian 2.0 (Ana D. Cleveland and Jodi L. Philbrick)
  • Applications of RSS in Health Sciences Libraries (Alexia D. Estabrook and David L. Rothman)
  • P.O.D. Principles: Producing, Organizing, and Distributing Podcasts in Health Sciences Libraries and Education (Nadine Ellero, Ryan Looney, and Bart Ragon)
  • Streams of Consciousness: Streaming Video in Health Sciences Libraries (Nancy T. Lombardo, Sharon E. Dennis, and Derek Cowan)
  • Social Networking (Melissa L. Rethlefsen)
  • Content Management and Web 2.0 with Drupal (Chad M. Fennell)
  • It’s a Wiki Wiki World (Mary Carmen Chimato)
  • Mashing Up the Internet (Michelle A. Kraft)
  • Index
  • Reference Notes Included
Apr 17

How To: Keep up with all the posts about CIL2007 (Updated 4/19/07)

Update: Wow!ter is absolutely right- his variation is better.

Query: +(CIL2007 “CIL 2007” “computers in libraries”)
Feed for this query


Its great that so many bibliobloggers are posting about Computers in Libraries 2007, but it can be a lot to keep up with. An easy way to keep up with all the posts is to use LibWorm searches and feeds.

If you just want to catch all posts about CIL2007:

LibWorm search: +(CIL2007 “computers in libraries”)
Feed for this search

But what if you only want to see mentions of gaming at CIL2007?

LibWorm Search: +(CIL2007 “computers in libraries”) +gaming
Feed for this search
(Be sure to check out the videos)

You get the idea. Have fun!

Mar 22

Presentation: L2.0 for Health Librarians

I somehow missed this a few weeks ago:

I admit to having special fondness for slide #19. 🙂

This gets me thinking about how I’d present the ideas of Web/Library 2.0 to medical librarians. I think my structure and focus would be quite different. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll have to map it out.

Feb 27

Books I Must Have

I’m not the first to blog about these and I certainly won’t be the last, but I wanted to say a few brief “me too’s”:

I’m going to order Social Software in Libraries

…and not just because Meredith mentions LibWorm in Chapter Three, either! I’m going to order it because Meredith’s writings on technology (at both her own blog and at TechEssence) are smart, clear and practical- and they don’t leave out the human element. I expect her book will have similar qualities.

I won’t go so far as to recommend that others purchase a book that I haven’t myself yet read, but I will say that I am definitely ordering my copy the instant I can.[1]. [Other biblioblog chatter about this book]

I will also need to buy a copy of Phil Bradley’s new book, How to Use Web 2.0 in Your Library[2]:

Like Meredith’s book, Phil’s has a companion Web site, and also mentions LibWorm (curiously, also in Chapter Three). I subscribe to Phil’s blog and routinely learn new things from him, so I can’t be without this book. I just hope it gets published in the States, too- the exchange rates from Pound to Dollar and shipping from the U.K. are probably going to be painful.

Lastly, I’m going to order a copy of this book [3]:

While I don’t yet have any indication that it mentions LibWorm ( 😉 ) and I’m still not yet wholly comfortable with the term “Library 2.0”, everything I’ve read that Casey and/or Savastinuk have written on the topic has been thought-provoking, required reading. I wouldn’t miss getting my own copy for any reason. [Other biblioblog chatter about this book]

If I read German, I’d also want a copy of this book by Oliver Obst.

[1] – It goes without saying that if Meredith wants to send me a copy, I will of course devour it and write a detailed review.

[2] – Naturally, the same offer is extended to Phil.

[3] – Ditto for Michael and Laura.

I’d also be willing to write a review for a publication if it means I get to keep a copy of any of these.

(I’m subtle, huh? My subtlety is inversely proportionate to my budget for discretionary spending.)