If you’ve ever wondered what a Masters level module on information ethics might cover, well here’s a taster of some adapted slides from our module, which is part of the Masters degree in Digital Curation from Kings College London and Humboldt University. I think it’s a great way to introduce some of the themes that information professionals come across in their working lives, and students can really explore important issues.
Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the enormous, international Frankfurt book fair, as I was a panellist for Elsevier’s Hot Spot discussion on the future of library science and the data-librarian. I highly recommend the opportunity & experience, as the Elsevier staff really looked after their speakers and I got to meet not only my fellow panellists but also some of the audience who came and introduced themselves at the “hot spot cafe” immediately after our discussion.
The session itself was filmed, and there was a professional photographer there (I have permission to use these official pictures), so I’m sure you’ll find out more about it over on Elsevier’s website: watch the LibraryConnect section! Our basic panel structure was that we were asked questions by Elsevier’s Noelle Gracy, which came from the community in advance.
What did we cover?
Well, I didn’t get to take notes as well as to talk(!) so I can tell you what I had prepared to say, and what I remember, one week after the event! Here are some nutshell points:
The future of library science encompasses more than just data librarianship, of course!
Librarians may find that adding skills with data to their CV opens up more job opportunities in the future.
Librarians offer a lot to the data community, not least their professional ethics & knowledge of legal expectations, which of course is covered in the module I teach to KCL/Humboldt University’s MA Digital Curation students.
Librarians also have:
ability to describe items/create valuable metadata records
connections with all disciplines across campus (& library building is often central too)
experience of assessing quality and significance for collection management
skills in training & informing others
It’s certainly not all about technical skills: Dr Schnelling was very clear about that point, as I believe it was his question, about what skills future librarians need. But of course there are some technical skills that will help if you are working with data. Especially when considering preservation needs.
One easy way to begin familiarising yourself with data management issues, is to look at data management plans, and what they involve.
If you were there, then maybe you can share some more highlights of the talk by leaving a comment, below. I will also blog here again about some of my other top sights from the fair: after the talk, I went around many of the stalls, looking for things specifically German. Of course, it was an international fair, so I found an awful lot more. I will end here with a final photograph of the audience for our panel session. If you were there, then thanks for coming!
Perhaps I’ll write about teaching English another day, for this post is all about teaching information ethics to international students on a Masters in Digital Curation programme. This whole course looks great for students, since they get to spend a year in Berlin as well as studying at Kings College London.
I lecture on the ethics module, and my co-tutor Boris Jacob leads the seminars: we work very collaboratively in our delivery of our materials, and of course we co-ordinate the module through the virtual learning environment, Moodle. We’re planning for the next cohort of students at the moment and we’re both going to present soon at IBI’s BBK about how we teach this course, and why Berlin is a particularly suitable place to teach information ethics.
Boris and I both have experience of having worked in the field, and we bring our practical knowlege as well as theory to the course. Being from the UK, I’m very much more aware of British (CILIP) and American (ALA) theory and principles, whilst Boris is a German (BID) who has also worked in Belgium, and therefore brings a very European perspective, and the students themselves (I speak of last year’s cohort: I’ve not met this year’s yet) also come from different lands, bringing their own cultural backgrounds to the course. We introduce them to theory and then encourage them to explore ethical dilemmas, and our goal is that they are able to identify such dilemmas when they come across them, and to find and apply theories that can help. So, what kind of themes do we cover? Here is a list of some of things that we explore in our course:
Ethical principles and codes of professional organisations
Plagiarism : what it is, how we might avoid it and why it’s different to breach of copyright
Neutrality : the classic library debates about how to handle customers with equality, and how to build collections
Intellectual property & copyright : what are the principles: how does this work in the students’ own lands & in what way is German law different from the UK?
Citizen contributions: ways to handle them, including the right to remain anonymous and data protection issues
Digital divides : where we might find these and how can information professionals help to overcome them
Open Access and Digital Rights Management: what happens when we put locks on content?
Information literacy : what belongs on the curriculum and why?
The Media : how can we learn from journalists’ ethical codes?
Well, that’s just off the top of my head… there’s lots more, and of course we like to incorporate news stories as well as the opportunities that Berlin has to offer. Last year was the premier of Citizenfour (Laura Poitra’s documentary about Edward Snowden) and of course Berlin’s Transmediale festival. Not to mention all the museums and exhibitions tracking communications, computing and spying that Berlin has to offer! I’m quite envious of those students, because Berlin is a great place to study, as well as their course being truly fascinating. At least I get to teach it!
The other day, I bought a new electric toothbrush. I looked online at the various types available and found a toothbrush with a bluetooth connection to an app on a smartphone, so I could record how often and how well I brush my teeth!*
Such a networked gadget is what the Internet of Things is all about. Objects that are a part of our life, which can be connected together (networked) in order to make our lives smoother or better in some way. ‘Smart parking’ in your car, ‘smart watches’ and even the ‘smart city‘ are all a part of what we call the Internet of Things. There are some obvious ethical issues about all the personal data, and information professionals working for companies handling such data will need to be aware of those. But what about libraries themselves?
OCLC’s newsletter from February this year focused on libraries and the Internet of Things (let’s say IoT!), and it has some great perspectives. First of all, there are ways in which IoT technology can help libraries, eg with inventory control (through RFID), smart books and assistive technology. And there are opportunities for libraries to support adoption of IoT gadgets by our users. Against the benefits, we have to weigh ethical concerns, the cost of the technology and of training staff in its use.
More examples are included in the newsletter, which also reminds us that the “things” are not necessarily smart: instead, it is the platforms that are smart, eg the app that the toothbrush connects to. And when single use platforms connect with each other (eg the toothbrush app’s data goes to my health insurance company), then we have all sorts of other opportunities and concerns. Such linked data (or Linked Data with capital letters to show how it is an important concept!) could turn a whole library into a “thing”, in the Internet of Things.
Linked Data is a way of presenting data such that other systems can automatically read it and query it (yes, it uses metadata!). The example in the OCLC newsletter is that Wikipedia’s data is increasingly linked and is used as an authoritative source for the Semantic Web. Thus it seems that a good Wikipedia article describing your library could help to make it into a “thing” that search engines and other platforms can be aware of, bringing your library to people’s attention in an appropriate way, through the tools that they already use.
Libraries have a vast pool of data themselves: what if this (or some of it) were to become linked and a part of the Semantic Web? OCLC’s WorldCat Works has already provided bibliographic descriptions of resources. Metadata afficionados may like the way that Richard Wallis of Data Liberate describes the WorldCat Works data, or to look at OCLC’s developer network. I haven’t found any examples of uses of the data but perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough, or in the right places.
It seems that many librarians are waiting to see what the Internet of Things will turn out to be: how much is just hype and how much will really affect libraries. I’m pretty sure that smart gadgets are becoming more pervasive though, and that the IoT will have a profound affect on the wider information profession. It made me think: What networked “things” do I want in my life, and what data will I allow them to capture or share, about me?
*I didn’t buy that toothbrush, however: I went for a more basic, although electric model. And note that I didn’t labour over a pun relating to my (pearly white) teeth and bluetooth!