Whether stored electronically or written on calf skin, knowledge has never been more threatened


<Richard Ovenden, University of Oxford

Information is constantly under attack. The current debate around the longstanding use of vellum (a parchment made using calf skin) for printing key legislative documents highlights the continued concern over this. Some are advocating a switch from vellum to archive paper, which costs much less and can last up to 500 years.

Recorded information is certainly vulnerable: paper and parchment, and the inks and pigments that are written, drawn or painted on their surfaces, can decay and disappear if not stored in controlled environmental conditions.

And digital information is even more susceptible to degradation than that recorded on vellum. Operating systems and information environments change and develop rapidly, and as a result information created and stored on older systems easily can become unusable. It’s by no means certain that the digital information created by our parliament today will still be secure and reliably accessible in 200 years.

Books and manuscripts have been the targets of thieves for millennia. Whole libraries have been destroyed by invading armies and fanatical idealists. Even nature occasionally has played its part – the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD caused the contents of the Roman library at Herculaneum to become illegible. Libraries and archives have been dealing with these threats for centuries.

But the growth of digital networks as a means of storing and sharing information has created new hazards. Cybersecurity is increasingly a critical concern for modern organisations. All face the potential of hostile attacks on their digital information from cyber-criminals. And as age-old protectors of information, it’s up to libraries and archives to safeguard this knowledge from such assaults.

The Bodleian Library.
Paul Cowan/Shutterstock.com

Guarding knowledge

Libraries and archives have tackled the threats to knowledge with great ingenuity for thousands of years. The archives of Merton College, Oxford, for example, were stored from the 14th century in a building purposefully made of stone, with flooring made from tiles rather than wood to eliminate the threat of fire. And the founders of Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 1602 required all readers to swear an oath that they would not bring the library into harm, for example by pledging not to “kindle therein any fire nor flame”.

Libraries and archives have also been at the forefront of preserving digital information. Groups such as the Digital Preservation Coalition work together to develop the skills and techniques we need as a society to help manage and preserve the vast amounts of information created in digital formats. They have developed disaster recovery routines, back-up strategies, policies and a host of other collaborative arrangements.

Scholarly information is being protected through physical networks of connected computers, such as LOCKSS – an agency built on the proposition that “lots of copies keeps stuff safe”. And non-profit organisations funded by the library and archive communities, such as Portico, have developed large-scale capabilities for preserving books and journals in digital form, with backups in multiple locations.

Texts are harder to archive than letters.
AstroStar/Shutterstock.com

Personal information is also of great importance to society. Drafts of poems and novels, and the correspondence of politicians and scientists can help shine light on critical areas of history and science. Libraries and archives have always kept files of the letters of philosophers, such as Isaiah Berlin, or the drafts of speeches of Winston Churchill. But the intellectuals and political big-hitters of today are working in digital form, drafting their speeches using word-processing software, and exchanging emails and text messages with each other.

The preservation of this kind of information is much harder than the analogue equivalents. Librarians and archivists have therefore deployed techniques borrowed from fields such as digital forensics to ensure that these records are safeguarded for future generations to learn from.

Crucial role

But in the challenging fiscal environments of the early 21st century – a period hailed by many as the era of information – society runs the risk of endangering its future by neglecting the role of libraries, archives and museums). The global network of libraries and archives has been, and will remain, fundamental to the preservation and propagation of knowledge.

Society ignores the role of libraries and archives at its peril. Last year saw the 800th anniversary of that “great charter of liberties”, Magna Carta. It survives not in one copy but in multiple originals, distributed around the kingdom, as well as numerous later affirmations. Its survival as a potent set of legal and political concepts was in no small measure thanks to the role of libraries and archives in preserving the original documents.

William Blackstone, one of the most important legal theorists ever, was able to look at original engrossments of Magna Carta while writing his influential legal treatises, for example. His books went on to be read by Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of the American constitution.

A cello player in Sarajevo’s destroyed National Library, 1992.
Mikhail Evstafiev, CC BY-SA

In more recent times, we need only look at the actions of the army of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They deliberately destroyed the national library in Sarajevo as a means of erasing the uncomfortable truths of history – a perverse validation of the democratic significance of libraries.

The costs of maintaining such a system of libraries and archives are trivial compared to the costs of other state initiatives or the revenues of the giant tech companies. But across the globe, the funding of many of these institutions is under severe pressure. In an age of “information overload”, we are in real danger of failing to ensure that succeeding societies have access to the wisdom, and error, of their predecessors.

The Conversation

Richard Ovenden, Director of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Whether stored electronically or written on calf skin, knowledge has never been more threatened


Richard Ovenden, University of Oxford

Information is constantly under attack. The current debate around the longstanding use of vellum (a parchment made using calf skin) for printing key legislative documents highlights the continued concern over this. Some are advocating a switch from vellum to archive paper, which costs much less and can last up to 500 years.

Recorded information is certainly vulnerable: paper and parchment, and the inks and pigments that are written, drawn or painted on their surfaces, can decay and disappear if not stored in controlled environmental conditions.

And digital information is even more susceptible to degradation than that recorded on vellum. Operating systems and information environments change and develop rapidly, and as a result information created and stored on older systems easily can become unusable. It’s by no means certain that the digital information created by our parliament today will still be secure and reliably accessible in 200 years.

Books and manuscripts have been the targets of thieves for millennia. Whole libraries have been destroyed by invading armies and fanatical idealists. Even nature occasionally has played its part – the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD caused the contents of the Roman library at Herculaneum to become illegible. Libraries and archives have been dealing with these threats for centuries.

But the growth of digital networks as a means of storing and sharing information has created new hazards. Cybersecurity is increasingly a critical concern for modern organisations. All face the potential of hostile attacks on their digital information from cyber-criminals. And as age-old protectors of information, it’s up to libraries and archives to safeguard this knowledge from such assaults.

The Bodleian Library.
Paul Cowan/Shutterstock.com

Guarding knowledge

Libraries and archives have tackled the threats to knowledge with great ingenuity for thousands of years. The archives of Merton College, Oxford, for example, were stored from the 14th century in a building purposefully made of stone, with flooring made from tiles rather than wood to eliminate the threat of fire. And the founders of Oxford’s Bodleian Library in 1602 required all readers to swear an oath that they would not bring the library into harm, for example by pledging not to “kindle therein any fire nor flame”.

Libraries and archives have also been at the forefront of preserving digital information. Groups such as the Digital Preservation Coalition work together to develop the skills and techniques we need as a society to help manage and preserve the vast amounts of information created in digital formats. They have developed disaster recovery routines, back-up strategies, policies and a host of other collaborative arrangements.

Scholarly information is being protected through physical networks of connected computers, such as LOCKSS – an agency built on the proposition that “lots of copies keeps stuff safe”. And non-profit organisations funded by the library and archive communities, such as Portico, have developed large-scale capabilities for preserving books and journals in digital form, with backups in multiple locations.

Texts are harder to archive than letters.
AstroStar/Shutterstock.com

Personal information is also of great importance to society. Drafts of poems and novels, and the correspondence of politicians and scientists can help shine light on critical areas of history and science. Libraries and archives have always kept files of the letters of philosophers, such as Isaiah Berlin, or the drafts of speeches of Winston Churchill. But the intellectuals and political big-hitters of today are working in digital form, drafting their speeches using word-processing software, and exchanging emails and text messages with each other.

The preservation of this kind of information is much harder than the analogue equivalents. Librarians and archivists have therefore deployed techniques borrowed from fields such as digital forensics to ensure that these records are safeguarded for future generations to learn from.

Crucial role

But in the challenging fiscal environments of the early 21st century – a period hailed by many as the era of information – society runs the risk of endangering its future by neglecting the role of libraries, archives and museums). The global network of libraries and archives has been, and will remain, fundamental to the preservation and propagation of knowledge.

Society ignores the role of libraries and archives at its peril. Last year saw the 800th anniversary of that “great charter of liberties”, Magna Carta. It survives not in one copy but in multiple originals, distributed around the kingdom, as well as numerous later affirmations. Its survival as a potent set of legal and political concepts was in no small measure thanks to the role of libraries and archives in preserving the original documents.

William Blackstone, one of the most important legal theorists ever, was able to look at original engrossments of Magna Carta while writing his influential legal treatises, for example. His books went on to be read by Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of the American constitution.

A cello player in Sarajevo’s destroyed National Library, 1992.
Mikhail Evstafiev, CC BY-SA

In more recent times, we need only look at the actions of the army of Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They deliberately destroyed the national library in Sarajevo as a means of erasing the uncomfortable truths of history – a perverse validation of the democratic significance of libraries.

The costs of maintaining such a system of libraries and archives are trivial compared to the costs of other state initiatives or the revenues of the giant tech companies. But across the globe, the funding of many of these institutions is under severe pressure. In an age of “information overload”, we are in real danger of failing to ensure that succeeding societies have access to the wisdom, and error, of their predecessors.

The Conversation

Richard Ovenden, Director of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

African libraries that adapt can take the continent’s knowledge to the world


Lara Skelly, Cape Peninsula University of Technology

South African librarians were shocked in 2013 when one of the top researchers at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology claimed that he no longer needed the library to do his research.

Professor Johannes Cronje’s paper echoed an increasingly common way of thinking. Why, after all, do we need libraries when the Internet does such a good job of providing us with information?

But libraries are not just collection points for information. The best ones also help create it – and those which embrace this role will flourish in a completely changed world. This is particularly true for African libraries: there is more of an opportunity than ever before to bring the continent’s knowledge to the world.

A dual role

Libraries collect information and make it available to a particular community or communities. Some, like church libraries, specialise in collecting certain kinds of information.

The Internet can do exactly the same thing. Anyone can create a collection of information online and make it available to users. And who needs librarians when search engines like Google are on hand to help track down information?

Such technological advances mean that the traditional library is losing customers who just want to find information.

Libraries fulfil another crucial role, though. They help to create information. Modern libraries offer many services that help their users to put information online. Most academic libraries, for instance, have repository services that collate a university’s research output and make it publicly available.

They are extending this service to research data, which will save future researchers from collecting the same data and taxpayers from paying for it again.

These services are becoming common in public libraries as well, through an innovation called makerspaces. Here, users can make items of information. They can create music, produce items using 3D printers or engineer complex designs.

In makerspaces, librarians aren’t helping users to find information from the world. They are helping users to find information in themselves. Libraries should continue to develop services that help people create information.

Eli Neiburger from the Ann Arbor District Library talks about what libraries can do to survive.

In a way, these “new” developments really aren’t that different from what libraries have always done. Libraries curate and disseminate information. In the past, librarians curated information from foreign creators and disseminated it to a local community. Modern librarians curate local information and disseminate it to a foreign community. The flow of information has flipped.

Opportunities for African libraries

African libraries have been slow to embrace this evolution. There are twice as many repositories in Asia as there are in Africa, and ten times as many in Europe. But the continent is slowly gaining ground.

The University of Cape Town is the first in Africa to offer a Masters of Philosophy in Digital Curation. Early in 2015, the University of Pretoria opened up a makerspace, the first educational one on the continent.

The altered role of libraries is a great opportunity to showcase African knowledge. Getting information into the world is easier and cheaper than ever. African libraries need to take up the responsibility of being partners in information creation.

This means that policies must be altered – and, of course, that budgets must be increased. University leaders, decision makers, governments and library users need to understand and support the changes that are reshaping libraries.

Librarians, too, must embrace these changes. They will require new skills to support the creation of information. Many library schools are already responding to these new needs by offering advanced degrees in digital curation.

It will be also be important to reconsider the very physical space of a library. Paper-and-glue book collections are shrinking and, in some libraries, disappearing. These collections have long been the symbol of quiet thinking. Will libraries still be silent spaces of learning without them? How will libraries retain their users’ trust if they are turned into cool cybercafés?

These are some of the tough questions that librarians must answer if they expect their funding to continue and to rise – and if they want to remain relevant well into the future.

The Conversation

Lara Skelly is Librarian: Research Support at Cape Peninsula University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Vanity and predatory academic publishers are corrupting the pursuit of knowledge


Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

Radio National’s Background Briefing recently presented a grim academic tale of identity theft, shambolic conferences, exploitation, sham peer review and pseudoscience.

Presenter Hagar Cohen provided an eye-opening introduction to predatory academic publishing and conferences, with a particular focus on the publisher OMICS Group. It was also a very human story, including researchers travelling across the globe only to find they’re attending an imitation of an academic conference.

Why do predatory and vanity academic publishers and conferences exist? Why are they flourishing now? And what can they tell us about the failings of academia?

Publish

“Publish or perish” is a simplification of academic life, but contains an element of truth. There’s little point undertaking research if you don’t tell anybody about it, and this has been true for centuries. Four centuries ago, astronomers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler discussed their observations, calculations and methods in books.

Publishing has long been a part of academic life.
Houghton Library, Harvard University

Understandably, academic publications, citations of publications and conference presentations have become metrics for academic performance. One can (and should) argue about the legitimacy of such metrics, but they are a fact of modern academic life.

Peer review of manuscripts by academics is also critical to academic publishing. Does the manuscript add to the body of knowledge? Does the manuscript accurately discuss previous work? Are there significant errors in the manuscript? Does the manuscript clearly communicate relevant methods, results and arguments? Are the conclusions of the manuscript justified?

Peer review is imperfect, but prevents many dubious manuscripts from being published. It effectively excludes authors who are unwilling or unable to meet the standards of mainstream academic publishing.

Vanity and predators

Both vanity and predatory academic publishers exploit opportunities created by legitimate peer review and academic performance metrics. In particular, they allow authors to publish articles that would never survive legitimate peer review.

Vanity academic journals have existed for decades, and these imitations of legitimate journals often promote particular (discredited) ideas or have strong ideological biases. For example, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons may sound respectable, but publishes pseudoscience including HIV-AIDS denial, climate contrarianism and anti-vaccination scaremongering.

Evidence for alien life or vanity publishing?
University of Sheffield

More recently, there has been an explosion of predatory journals, which seek to make large profits by publishing (for a fee) virtually anything that comes their way. While predatory publishers claim to peer-review articles, this is often a sham.

For example, on Background Briefing I discussed “Discovering the Total Contents of the Universe”, which was published in an OMICS journal. This article was supposedly peer-reviewed, but isn’t based on observations nor a scientific methodology. Instead, it makes claims about aliens based on “ancient Indian scriptures” and “a mathematical language, which has long been forgotten by mankind”. To be blunt, it is nonsense.

While most academics ignore dubious journals, such publications have an impact beyond academia. The vanity Journal of Cosmology often publishes bogus claims of alien life, which sections of the media credulously repeat.

I’ve also seen activists reference studies from predatory journals in an attempt to bolster their arguments.

Exploitation

Predatory publishers often exploit the goodwill of legitimate academics. Being invited to present at a conference or edit a journal is usually evidence of being held in high esteem by your peers. It can be an opportunity too good to miss, but with predatory publishers there’s a sting in the tail.

Predatory publishers often invite academics to join editorial boards, giving journals an air of legitimacy. However, they often ignore academics’ feedback on manuscripts or even use academics’ names without permission.

Similarly, predatory outfits will invite academics to present at conferences, for a hefty fee, but those conferences may be pale imitations of real conferences. Background Briefing attended a shambolic conference in Brisbane with fewer than 30 attendees. Many of the speakers listed on the program did not attend. One has to wonder if the missing speakers even knew they were on the conference program.

Online explosion

University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall maintains a list of hundreds of potentially predatory publishers, which produce thousands of dodgy journals. Most of these publishers have appeared in the past decade.

This proliferation is an unfortunate side effect of online open access publishing. Online publications do not have the overheads of printed journals, as they require only a website and correctly formatted PDF documents. Conference venues across the globe can be booked online with a credit card. Since this requires only a computer, many predatory publishers operate from modest offices or suburban houses.

Zia World Press operates from a Melbourne suburban house.
Screen shot/Michael J. I. Brown

Traditionally journals have been available via subscription only, often at considerable expense to institutions. Open access publications are available to everyone instantly, which potentially unlocks academic knowledge, but requires fees from the authors (or funding agencies) to remain viable. This opens the door for predatory publishers seeking to prise money from authors, resulting in thousands of new suspect journals.

Lessons

Can the vanity and predatory publishers provide lessons for academia? Clearly, no sector of the community (including academia) is free from shonky online operators.

Why does Elsevier publish homeopathy?

While it would be cute to assume there are just good and bad publishers, sometimes the practices of the dodgy operators can be found elsewhere. Springer and IEEE have published gibberish produced by a computer program. Elsevier publishes Homeopathy, despite homeopathy having no scientific basis. Academics must strive to maintain and improve academic standards, including at major publishers.

It would also be wrong to assume that functioning peer review is a simple arbiter of right and wrong. There is a spectrum of peer review, with quality varying from journal to journal. Peer review is only a quality-control process that can sometimes fail, even at the best journals.

That said, those who knowingly avoid peer review by submitting to vanity and predatory publishers are effectively avoiding scrutiny and rigour. They are deliberately avoiding what is needed to advance knowledge and understanding.

The Conversation

Michael J. I. Brown is Associate professor at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Books: Are We Getting Dumber?


Does Anyone Read Books Anymore?

The link below is to an article that asks, ‘who reads books these days?’ It’s an interesting question. I have long thought that humanity is becoming dumber, overall. Certainly our overall wealth of knowledge is growing, however, I would argue that the majority of people are getting dumber. Is that a fair statement? I guess it’s a matter of opinion.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/85938