Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Admissions to iSchools

One issue that we often discuss in information programs is the level of and kind technology skills students need, before they are admitted and after they graduate. [We don't often discuss what level of and kind of, say, philosophical training they need to be admitted and have after they graduate -- but that's a debate for another day.] At my school we say something vague about the level of "computer literacy" (sic!) for admission -- but I suppose, what we ought to say, is simply, something like "applicants need to be comfortable with the sort of digital tools that we are using in today's society"; I mean, it is tremendously difficulty, if not impossible, to actually describe the level of and type of computer/information literacy needed to be successful in this field and more importantly, things are moving so fast that what is important today is different tomorrow. Think about the young kids... my son, who is seven, will say things like "just google that and we will find it" and "no, don't just one word to google, let's try and use two words" - I mean, what will they teach him in information searching classes 15 years from now; certainly not what they are teaching in those classes today (or yesterday). And it is not just my kid -- it is everyone entering iSchools tomorrow... the teachers get it. Do we?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shirky meets Colbert

Not particular informative -- but rather entertaining.

See for yourself.... here.

Friday, April 4, 2008


'Abortion' is back as a search term; the whole thing was a mistake... The dean has restored 'abortion' as a search term and launched a inquiry...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

When ‘Abortion’ becomes 'Fertility Control, Postconception'

Is has often been observed that if one wants to change the world, you change the categories of the world first – the American government has been pretty good at this tactics in recent years. A student in my class brought forward a recent example, which I think is quite telling – there is ravaging discussion [here, here, here, here] about POPLINE’s recent decision to make “Abortion” a stopword. Yes, a stopword, like: a, an, and the. POPLINE, an American service, is on their website described as “(POPulation information onLINE), the world's largest database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues.” -- and they have “recently made all abortion terms stop words.” The reason is that: “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now. In addition to the terms you're already using, you could try using 'Fertility Control, Postconception'. This is the broader term to our 'Abortion' terms and most records have both in the keyword fields. Also, adding 'unwanted w2 pregnancy' in place of aborti*. We have a keyword Pregnancy, Unwanted and there are 2517 records with aborti* & unwanted w2 pregnancy.” Now, of course, there is a significant difference between “Abortion” and “Pregnancy, Unwanted” as POPLINE’s scope notes indicates (yes, correct, these are technically not *scope notes*, but *definitions* – but let’s take that fight with them another day…)

So this begs the question… when do we include some concept in a controlled vocabulary; we have usually talked about “warranty” (user, literary, structural, domain, etc.) – however, this example highlight a more important principle – the ethical dimension of KO. Regardless of whether one agrees with the politics behind removing the abortion category and thereby eliminating the concept from the vocabulary; one needs to ask what is wrong and what is right in this regard – and more importantly, one needs to ask, who or what determines what is wrong and right. I’d assume that POPLINE has decided that Bush and the American government is the ethical authority and that their doctrine decides what is wrong and right. Regardless of that fact that I think it is nuts to remove the term; I actually applaud POPLINE for taking a stand and suffer the consequences for this stand. I can think of many, many controlled vocabularies (Dewey, LCSH, for instance…) which are equal offensive, but are less open about their politics. POPLINE will, apparently, make a statement re this in a few days – it is going to be interesting to see if they actually are going to say something of substance and make ethical commitments.

Classifications are political instruments… all classifications make epistemological, ethical, and political statements; there is nothing new to this. The library blogshere seems to argue that POPLINE’s move is unprecedented and unacceptable… get a grip; what is the ethical assumption behind Dewey’s religion section? I don’t see any ethical justification in the introduction to LCSH…