Column Editor: Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Editor and Conference Blogger)
Against the Grain V34#2
Column Editor’s Note: The full text of all my conference notes are available online on the Charleston Hub at https://www.charleston-hub.com. — DTH
The Computers in Libraries Connect 2022 conference was held virtually on March 29-31. Click Here to read Don’s article about it.
The virtual 2022 NISO Plus Conference, organized by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), convened on February 15-17 and attracted about 650 attendees. In his opening remarks, Todd Carpenter, NISO Executive Director, said that the goals of the conference were to generate ideas and practical solutions to problems. He noted that this approach has been successful; three projects were launched based on suggestions from last year’s conference. This article contains full descriptions of the plenary presentations and brief summaries of the other sessions.
Opening Keynote: Welcome to the Metaverse
In his opening keynote address entitled “Welcome to the Metaverse: The Profound Consequences of a Science-Fiction Vision,” Dr. Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, and author of The Googlization of Everything (University of California Press, 2011), noted that when Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, recently announced a change of the company’s name to Meta, he did not describe his vision of a metaverse. Vaidhyanathan characterizes a metaverse as “the operating system of our lives.” A knowledge of the the operating system of a computer used to be crucial because it is its “central nervous system.” Now, however, many of the companies of Silicon Valley are striving to manage, monitor, and monetize everything in our lives, which will be a driving force to growth and is imperative to many companies — even more than profit. The metaverse is implicit in the ideology of our lives: see Neal Stephenson’s novel, Snow Crash (Bantam Books, 1992).
Virtual reality (VR) seems to be where most of the action is today. It has many potential applications in education, medicine, training, engineering, and other fields. According to a consulting study, sales of VR headsets are increasing, as this graph shows.
Virtual Reality (VR) Headset Unit Sales Worldwide from 2019 to 2024 (In million units)
“Metaverse” is probably more than just really good VR. Augmented reality (AR) with VR is a very powerful combination; AR requires a lens (such as a smartphone) on which information can be overlaid; it is already being applied to displays in automobiles. We are tagging and monitoring the human body and seem to be enthusiastic about allowing the monitors into our lives. Tracking and wearables are becoming increasingly popular. For example, smart clothing that can monitor bodily functions has begun to be used by athletes practicing for a sporting event. We are not only monitoring the performance of the human body but also environments in which the body exists, such as our homes to monitor the performance of our appliances, alarm systems, etc.
Cryptocurrencies are becoming a big part of our vision of the metaverse because economies to facilitate exchanges are developing, and they need a currency that is easily managed globally.
We are considering all types of human interaction and data flows. In the 1990s, we had the concept of logging on to a distant place such as a chat room or a server, interacting, and then moving away. Such activities were a different part of our daily activities, but since 2007, we have been carrying devices that are always on so VR activities seem outmoded because they are separate spaces. Therefore, there is no longer a distinction between “online” and “offline,” and we have had to make a new start, get beyond the VR picture of metaverse, and look at a fully connected collection of human bodies. Over the next few years, Vaidhyanathan will be investigating the implications of efforts to enhance, embed, and fuse VR, AR, haptics, wearable technology, self-tracking, “smart” devices and appliances and applications, automobiles, “smart” cities, and cryptographic assets. For people with limited abilities, many of these applications will be tremendous enhancements to the quality of their lives.
We are no longer talking about data and documents because they are not of interest to investors who are more interested in people: managing and monetizing bodies and minds, which is what Facebook, an interactive ecosystem, is all about. We have let companies build their systems to their own specifications to fulfil their own needs and have learned the hard way that there are huge prices to pay. Zuckerberg has done us a favor by letting us ask the basic questions again. We have more awareness now and can ask harder questions with better information to guide the next major technological decisions over the next few decades.
EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Keynote
The EMEA keynote address by Dr. Dariusz Jemielniak, Professor of Management, Kozminski University, Poland and Faculty Associate, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University was entitled “Collaborative Society Needs Institutional Support.” His research uses a big data approach and combines data science with ethnography. For many years, the information society was more popular on the Internet than the sharing economy, but now everyone is talking about the sharing economy, and it will be the next big thing.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has predicted that by 2025, it will comprise half of the economy. For example, Airbnb allows sharing space in one’s house, and Uber is a ride sharing service. We are wired to collaborate which is how the human species has survived. Capitalism makes collaboration a little less natural.
The concept of sharing underutilized goods is overrated. Uber and Airbnb do provide added value in their businesses, and they undermine the culture of sharing. Some things have become commoditized, such as water which has become something that we have put a value on. For example, in Europe, it is difficult to get free water in a restaurant. Uber has commoditized rides, and Airbnb has commoditized a place to sleep.
Emerging technologies have made direct collaboration possible because they have collaboration-enabling features and allow us to engage bigger and broader populations. A collaborative society is an increasingly recurring phenomenon of emergent and enduring cooperative groups whose members have developed particular patterns of relationships through technology-mediated cooperation. A collaborative society can work when:
• Work can be easily compartmentalized,
• Governance can be reduced to ad-hoc structures,
• People can easily join or quit without consequences or long-term commitments,
• Personal trust can be replaced with trust in procedures, and
• Commitment is voluntary and non-monetary (i.e., a gift, not a transaction)
Wikipedia is the largest social network on earth, with 43 million accounts and tens of thousands of people editing every month. There are 6 million articles in the English Wikipedia and over 58 million pages total in addition to content pages. It has been shown to be better than the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is now out of business, and many studies have shown that Wikipedia is very accurate. Most of its pages are discussions or thought pages. The lesson to learn is that there is a self-organizing budding social life that is creating this website. To create a successful community, it must be given an agency to create rules and decide how it will be organized. All decisions are participatory; anyone can propose changes and demand answers, and decisions are based on consensus, not simply by voting. Wikipedia cares about verifiability and sources, not truth. (If it cared about truth, we would have to determine what truth is.) In a collaborative society, communities that ignore rules can thrive.
We know when a collaborative society can work, but what are the conditions where it will not work? The COVID pandemic has shown us the limits of the collaborative society. In the beginning, people were spontaneously trying to do things such as using 3D printers to make face masks, and there were initiatives to produce them. Other initiatives for the community to organize itself to deliver food, etc. were a typical collaborative society approach. How will we be able to decide which projects were good? The collaborative society is good at organizing people around ideas, but it is not so good at making sure that something is certified. And if something does get certified, what are the logistics of how will it be distributed and what are the legal issues to be considered? These are missing aspects of the collaborative system.
Another example is copyright which has been nearly stable for the last 70 years despite the way media are used and shared has changed significantly. The law and the ecosystem are lagging. Who will pay for certification if it is needed, and who will pay the lawyers? There is an enormous potential in a collaborative society to solve problems. We need to be thinking how to make this happen in the future so that the burdens of logistics, legalities, and certification are removed from the people who are organized in the community to produce results. We need to think about how collaborative society initiatives can be supported financially in the areas in which they are not well qualitied.
Closing Keynote: Research Infrastructure for the Pluriverse
Dr. Katharina Ruckstuhl, Associate Dean and Sr. Research Fellow, Otago Business School, Dunedin, New Zealand does a significant amount of work with the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maoris. (The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud.) She began her keynote address entitled “Research Infrastructure for the Pluriverse” with a Maori greeting: “Mihi Whakatau” and continued with a Maori story of creation from darkness to a new day which is really a journey of knowledge, moving from what we don’t know to what we do know:
Names have a cultural significance and create a relationship, especially as applied to new lands. Organization is the continuance of right relationships. In a recent book, Elaine Svenonius, The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization (MIT Press, 2020) said that “A system’s effectiveness in organizing information is in part a function of an ideology that states the ambitions of its creators and what they hope to achieve.” An ideology is defined as a manner or the content of thinking that is characteristic of an individual, group, or culture or a systematic body of concepts, especially about human life or culture. The organization adopted by the Maoris is “Whakapapa” which means placing in layers or stacking flat, and it has led to a number of genealogies or biological relationships. The organizing principles are the maintenance of right relationships with the natural world.
Can modern research infrastructures be effective, not just efficient, in organizing information to reflect the ideology of “right” relationships? What is a right or wrong relationship with the world of indigenous people?
Terra Nullius thinking comes from instructions given to Captain Cook: “If you find an uninhabited country, take possession of it for His Majesty.” Lands and other things are alienated by this thinking: one’s physical environment, food sources, traditional labor and economies, personal belongings, and ultimately alienation from yourself as a tribal person. Nevertheless, despite this alienation, communal knowledge has persisted in documents, archives, records, photos, sound recordings, and museums. The impact of Terra Nullius was to transfer knowledge from lands to other people into structures where it could be sorted and analyzed for the purposes of the owner of the infrastructure, such as records published by learned societies.
Universality is the idea that knowledge can freely move for the common good. Whose good is served by the “common good”? A pluriverse world is one where worlds external to one another, such as indigenous people and others, can coexist together without one subsuming the others. FAIR principles can overcome some of the complexity in favor of a more standardized approach. The principles of Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility, and Ethics (the CARE principles) coexist with the FAIR principles. Here is how to implement CARE:
• Power and equity are related. Who has the power to implement things?
• Policy includes data for governance and giving tribal people the ability to make decisions.
• People in institutions work in partnership with the research community.
• Process. Communities manage their intellectual and cultural property.
Internet functionality requires land-based infrastructures; it is erroneous to think of cyberspace as landless. Users can receive input from the community, which is a pluriversal relationship that can be made to work on both sides. We need to recognize connections between people and data. Knowledge allows us to understand different things.
Preprint Review: Addressing Cultural Barriers on the Path for a More Positive and Inclusive Review Ecosystem
The growth in the use of preprints has awakened an interest in review initiatives and has opened new ways to review and comment on research works. Preprints are becoming the norm. Many journal publishers use preprint servers to find articles to publish and find suitable reviewers. Reviewers, especially early career researchers, need to be trained. Standards to guide reviewers are needed.
Alternative Forms of Research Assessment and Impact
Examples of alternative forms of research assessment:
1. Tenure guidelines.
2. Practitioner impact for academic librarians.
3. Evaluating journals through DEI values.
Open data can help us determine how we practice research. We need to change the ways that we think about OA. The research evaluation process is almost certainly lagging behind the available data; we are not using the data and computational processes to their best advantage.
Wikidata and Knowledge Graphs in Practice
Libraries provide content and education that expands the access and visibility of data and research. The people who run the library, the services they provide, and the resources they obtain are not well understood by search engines and indexing software.
The concept of “inside-out” resources refers to those that travel outside the library. Knowledge graphs are central to inside-out models. Using Semantic SEO, a library’s website can consist of a graph of pages: about, find, people, requests, resources, services, spaces, with links to Wikidata. Analytics and Benchmarking uses raw data from Bing and Google search queries obtained by web scraping of search engine result pages: Google Analytics provides a look at what users are doing and what the library is acquiring.
Archiving and Digital Preservation
The discipline of digital preservation (DP) and risk assessment encompasses all format types. We will never be done with DP. The National Archives and Research Administration (NARA) published its first DP strategy to guide its operations, and it is available on the NARA website. Access is built into NARA’s mission. Standards, data integrity, and information security are major issues in DP. After 2022, NARA will no longer accept physical materials and will concentrate on electronic ones.
DP is not just a technology issue; it is a commitment to users of resources and a set of decisions now and in the future that the content will continue to be accessible and usable. Metadata is important in these considerations, and libraries have a role to play.
The Community-Led Open Public Infrastructure for Monographs (COPIM) project is an international partnership of readers, universities, and established OA publishers for preserving OA books. COPIM is dedicated to investigating the difficulties that impede the progress of small publishers interfacing with large-scale organizations and processes.
Archiving and Preservation of Unusual Born-Digital Objects
Software is a unique object to preserve. Since different information is added and provided by different programs, it is very important to have access to the original software to ensure that nothing that is presented to the user has changed. Sometimes there is no software that can open a file, so access is lost. For example, there is no software available now that can open Microsoft Chart.
• Finding legacy software is hard.
• Copyright culture and DRM associated with software distributed on installation media.
• Lack of comprehensive metadata describing software and its requirements and capabilities.
• High variability in computing platforms and software requirements.
Tools to capture the necessary knowledge over time are being developed; one of these is EaaSI which provides technology and services for software emulation.
The Internet Archive (IA) is no longer the only actor in archiving; web archiving is done in national libraries and community-based initiatives that are continually growing, for example, Archive Team, International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), Documenting the Now, and Common Crawl. National libraries maintain the majority of national web archives.
In the UK, the British Library has 3 main databases, which overlap partially with each other, as shown here
Two main UK institutions that do archiving are the British Library (BL) and The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
A Conversation About Semantic Censorship
Word control can lead to censorship. How do we as stewards of information and the concepts represented ensure access to the full range of topical ideas while being sensitive to political climates? Many have reviewed what others should read or watch, such as the Motion Picture Code, when deciding what to include in a library’s collection, or what to publish in a journal. Screening is becoming more critical, and we need to be vigilant about controversial topics and terms that require additional human approval. We need to make a connection between archived content and modern terminology.
The Role of the Information Community in Ensuring that Information is Authoritative
Authoritative information has been a challenge since the earliest scholarly publications. Rapid sharing of results during the research process and multiple copies of them on the internet has not made it easy to ascertain what information is authoritative. Peer review, long regarded as the best way to identify authoritative information, is under pressure because of the sheer speed and volume of research. Zooniverse is the world’s largest platform for online crowdsourced research and provides a space for researchers to build and run projects.
Dimensions of quality are fidelity (the digital representation of an object), completeness, and accuracy. Open science adoption is a culture change for research. New models of open science in scholarly publication promote rigor.
Approval at the first stage of peer review ensures that authoritative results will be obtained and that publication will be more likely. Trustworthiness of an article is defined by the availability of the data or methods used, peer review information, connection to the journal subjects, and clear retraction notes.
Open Science: Catch Phrase or a Better Way of Doing Research?
All players in the science ecosystem should work to ensure that relevant scientific evidence is processed, shared, used ethically and is available, preserved, documented, and fairly credited. We need to work collaboratively and know that we can all trust each other. If a research project is not planned and started openly, sharing it can be limited. Researcher awareness of open practices is important.
Centering Interoperability in the Future of Library-Based Publishing
The Next Generation Library Project (NGLP) at the Educopia Institute is a collaborative project to improve pathways and services for authors, editors, and readers, and develop service models to empower next generation library publishing. A major expressed need is a unified web delivery platform that includes a journal submission and review module and an institutional repository. Can we build interoperable tools that build on what already works while keeping the door open for innovation?
The State of Discovery
Tips for Content Providers — There are 2 types of content providers: one close to the creation of knowledge and the other that selects content from different sources and aggregates it into a single digital space. Digital publishing is a big enterprise, and players must also describe a user journey which tells the providers the path the user takes. The journey is formed both by the providers’ actions and the customers’ choices. Discovery requires that platforms be interconnected with the rest of the user’s ecosystem. Metadata plays a critical role in discovery. Everything that content providers do depends on the available metadata.
The needs of users are still evolving today. Personalization is a key part of providing any online service. Mobile is king because it gives users the ability to log on from anywhere. A hybrid model of access is needed in corporate and educational settings; more universities are providing remote services globally. Federated authentication is growing, and there are real opportunities to be found.
Trekking Into the Semantic Frontier — New technologies will help promote semantic search. Knowledge graphs can help with search and discovery problems and can be thought of as a crosswalk with a many-to-many relationship. A main concern with information literacy is knowing where we are going and being able to explain that journey to others. Transparency is paramount. When we are teaching literacy, we need to understand the process that created the responses. How can we introduce semantic search into our libraries? We should not have to translate terms for every database, area, or subject because that is something that a knowledge graph can do. EBSCO has an Enhanced Subject Precision feature that expands the user’s search into natural language areas but also points to other subjects that mean the same thing. A “concept map” shows these relationships visually.
NISO Plus 2023 will take place on February 14-16.
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website. He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.