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Above the Fold

A weekly newsletter for the changing world of libraries, archives and museums

January 14, 2011
Vol. 4, No. 2
ISSN: 1943-1457

In this issue:


The Internet Changes Nothing  (External site)

History News Network   •  November 29, 2010

Bah humbug. Communications scholar Marshall Poe pokes a hole in the irrationally exuberant bubble of Internet overhype. Despite pundits' proclamations of Internet as transformative force, Poe says that much of what the Internet does is simply make our routine activities easier: "The basic institutions of modern society in the developed world—representative democracy, regulated capitalism, the welfare net, cultural liberalism—have not changed much since the introduction of the Internet."

It's a good rant. I found myself declaiming some of it aloud. He manages to assert that Marshall MacLuhan was just plain wrong, that all mass media are about buying things and that we've refined a creation myth about the Internet that doesn't bear examination. My reactions in order are: Huh?, Maybe and Were you there? ( Michalko)


Scholars Recruit Public for Project  (External site)

The New York Times   •  December 27, 2010

Crowd-scribing. Scholars at University College London's Bentham Project are soliciting volunteers to help transcribe documents in the school's historic collection. The enthusiastic response demonstrates the potential of crowdsourcing for sparking public interest in even fairly arcane subject areas.

The results here are not nearly as impressive as the National Library of Australia's crowd-sourced correcting of newspapers that have been scanned. In that effort more than 9,000 citizens have corrected over 12.5 million lines of text. Rose Holley, the manager of the project, wrote a useful article about the mobilization of users to help with this huge task called " Crowdsourcing: How and Why Should Libraries Do It?". That said fixing up bad OCR isn't anywhere near as challenging as interpreting Jeremy Bentham's antique hand. ( Michalko)


2010 Summary: Libraries Are Still Screwed  (External site)

Go to Hellman   •  December 31, 2010

Gloom and doom? Eric Hellman says libraries are nearing the tipping point of irrelevance as publishers continue to ignore libraries' role in their digital business models. Hellman includes links to a number of relevant articles published over the last year—worth checking out.

I'm embarrassed to report that until just now I actually hadn't watched the Eli Neiburger presentation, How eBooks Impact Libraries , which became widely known as the "Libraries are Screwed" talk. Maybe some of you haven't either. Take the time. There's not much to argue with from my perspective. ( Michalko)


Predictions for 2011 from Smashwords Founder  (External site)

Media Bistro   •  December 28, 2010

Bypass operation. Smashwords Founder Mark Coker predicts independent ebook authors will go mainstream this year, marginalizing the role of traditional publishers. This is the season of predictions—Coker's Big Ten list is worth perusing.

Most of this sounds right. Whether enough professional authors will switch to self-publishing that a tipping point is reached and the author-publisher relationship is redefined still seems a bit further off to me. ( Michalko)


The Truth Wears Off  (External site)

The New Yorker   •  December 13, 2010

Conundrum. Jonah Lehrer explores a troubling trend in scientific exploration—the fallibility of replicable results. In study after study, what look like solid findings become increasingly difficult to reproduce. Some causes—such as a publication bias toward positive rather than negative results—seem obvious, but there are other factors we just don't understand yet. "Such anomalies demonstrate the slipperiness of empiricism. Although many scientific ideas generate conflicting results and suffer from falling effect sizes, they continue to get cited in the textbooks and drive standard medical practice. Why? Because these ideas seem true. Because they make sense. Because we can't bear to let them go. And this is why the decline effect is so troubling." Lehrer's observations are important to remember any time scientific research is cited as the basis for action.

A complicated phenomenon that this New Yorker article manages to make intriguing at the same time that it makes it understandable. Our human tendency to see what we hope and expect to see seeps through unacknowledged holes in the most "objective" circumstances. In a much less serious vein it recalled to mind another New Yorker article by the always amusing Calvin Trillin titled, " The Red and the White: Is it possible that wine connoisseurs can't tell them apart?". ( Michalko)


Visual Curiosities and Mathematical Paradoxes  (External site)

+ Plus Magazine   •  November 17, 2010

Seeing is believing (not). M.C. Escher fans and puzzle buffs will enjoy this fascinating history of optical illusions and paradoxes, including explanations on why the Parthenon's columns lean toward the center at the top and how to turn nine bills into ten.

Okay, We've all seen that image they call a space fork. They also assert that its alternate name is a blivet. I was only familiar with the military and technology use of that word until now. ( Michalko)


Above the Fold Quiz:

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, how many institutions are now participating in the HathiTrust?

Click here to find the answer.


News and Views

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