The introductory story about how the author of a textbook about Virginia incorporated false information she found on the web is incredibly disturbing to me, especially as a librarian. Looking at a superficial level, we can see that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans have a website ending in “org” so someone may be more inclined to trust the information. However, I work with students to consider the motivation and possible biases in information sources. During class and research consultations, I ask students what they think the “purpose” of the website is and what they think the author or group is trying to accomplish. I can’t help but think if the textbook author Masoff had asked herself these questions she would never have included this misinformation. Like Wineburg points out, his early research paper required a trip to the library and a training or entry into the research process. While it is wonderful that we now have such easy access to so much information, I think we have lost some of this training by bypassing the “information keepers” so to speak.
The selection of readings of Module 8 confirmed that the I really want to attend the Museums and the Web conference. It also reinforced that I should have attended the 2003 conference in Charlotte when I was in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Lessons learned!
The presentation “Beyond the Screen: Creating interactives that are location, time, preference, and skill responsive” by Baer, Fry, and Davis brought up an interesting point that reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and his argument that Google is changing the way are brains work. The 2014 presentation points out that the average attention span at the time was estimated to be five seconds, a significant drop from twelve seconds tens years earlier. Cultural institutions like museums, universities, and libraries are trying to adapt to this change to change and maintain people’s attention as long as possible. Carr contends that the overwhelming information provided by Google and easy access to this information had negatively affected how we write and read. Nicholas Carr goes into detail on how he struggles to stay on topic. He explains how he feels that he is always dragging his attention back to the text. Carr blames the internet for his lack of focus.
The article “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era” by Mark Tebeau reminds me of a conversion with a library colleague last year. She mentioned a study that showed that most college students were doing the bulk of their work on their smart phones. This included more casual reasons like social media and shopping, but it also included research (e.g. reading books online to searching library databases to find articles). This transition has changed how academic libraries market and deliver their resources. While e-books are still bought for content and how it benefits academic departments, the online platform is an important consideration because students are reading them on their phones and not just laptops/desktops. This change has also affected cultural organizations like museums, archives, and historical societies. While creating websites and web-based tools for smart phones opens up this information to a much broader audience and even helps with the economic disparity gap, it also creates a new set of challenges. Tebeau points out that oral histories no longer have the safe distance created by transcriptions or interpretations. Oral histories are easier to edit, but they now have a raw quality.
Reading the articles for this module, reinforces that I need to include strong, attention-grabbing visuals to catch people’s attention. However, the question then becomes keeping their attention for as along as possible. I need to make sure that the text is clean and readable and that there are enough interactive components to involved to engage viewers.
Reading about the Occupational Folklore Project from the American Folklore Center at the Library of Congress seemed like appropriate timing given a recent conversation with an established architect who has been practicing in Charlotte, NC, for the last 40 years. While in the process of discussing a potential donation to the library, he remarked that history has shifted to tell the stories of “everyday” people and that he thought we were better for this shift. To paraphrase slightly, he said that the stories of those riding the bus were being told and not just the stories of those driving the bus.
Granted, this project is tied to the earlier work of the Library’s American Life Histories from 1936 to 1940 through the Federal Writers’ Project for the U.S. Works Progress/Projects Administration (WPA). This connection is also fascinating because we can see how the “pre-digital” history of the Library has led to this new project following current technology trends.
The details of the project address many of the issues that results from community-based projects (e.g. inconsistencies, extensive processing, complicated technology, daunting or off-putting policies). The idea of creating an easy-to-use but regulated interface creates amazing potential for similar large-scale projects, especially considering the increasing lack of funding resources (and seeing that this was funded by the IMLS made it all the more disheartening since this resource is being de-funded). Years ago, I remember looking through LOC photographs on Flickr and having problems reading the images because of the abundance of social tags that appeared when hovering the mouse over the image. As a result, I found it interested that they used the term “social cataloging” here instead and base this vocabulary on the LOC subject headings. This addresses the inconsistency often seen in user-submitted and unregulated tagging projects. Adapting technology to allow for this control has hopefully helped the project avoid problems like StoryCorp (as discussed in our earlier reading) which requires extensive processing to make the files accessible. Even considerations like only accepting one audio type and requiring that contributors use their file naming conventions helps.
Looking at the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer in comparison provides an interesting contrast. The article “OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free” addresses two topical issues right now: open source and access. Its user-focused approach also made ease of use an important goal. They wanted a tool that was simple to use and simple to implement. By focusing on how the tool can be used by those outside their institution, they are also trying to move away from the many silos that have been created in this technology-focused environment.