Having never been to Charleston Conference, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Honestly, it was a mixed bag.
Some of the highlights:
- The inspiring opening keynote from the benevolent mad genius Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, whose talk served as kind of a dispatch from the front lines of the war on truth. After the 2016 election, Kahle committed the Internet Archive to improving the verifiability of source citations on Wikipedia, which are often quickly lost due to webpage changes or deletions. Kahle announced that the Internet Archive is now auto-archiving any web source linked from Wikipedia, and since starting, the Wayback Machine has fixed more than 10 million broken citation links. Similarly, the IA is improving book citations in Wikipedia by linking directly to the IA’s massive collection of digitized books–right down to the correct page number–and users can instantly borrow the digital copy of the book through Controlled Digital Lending, the digital analog to “own one, loan one” print lending. If that wasn’t enough, Kahle wants the IA to ramp up their book digitization efforts to fulfill a “wish list” of about 4 million high-demand titles, and so Kahle has funded a new non-profit, Better World Libraries, that now owns Better World Books, providing the IA with a steady stream of books for its digitization efforts. See? Benevolent mad genius. The keynote is very much worth watching.
- A fantastic panel from developers and users of the collaborative open publishing platform PubPub. A theme of the conference was the disintegration of traditional formats and scholarship practices, and this panel was a good example of how librarians, publishers, and scholars are working together to make the process of scholarship more open, collaborative, and accessible. This panel focused on publishing, but much of what the panelists were saying, especially how Liz Milewicz from Duke spoke about Duke Libraries’ support for “expansive” digital scholarship projects, really resonated with how I’m personally trying to shift the conversation around open and digital pedagogy here at WFU: process over product, iterative development over time, non-conformity to traditional modalities, multiplicity of contributors, and values centered on making labor visible and investing in community-managed resources.
- Given that publishers had a strong showing, it was no surprise that there was a good deal of OER content. I was happy to participate on a panel on faculty experiences with discovery and adoption of OER, where I talked about the concept of open pedagogy and how, when we work with students to shift from an information consumption model to an information production model in the classroom, we stand to benefit from student-produced OER that can be built upon and re-integrated into the curriculum indefinitely.
That said, there was so much about this conference that bothered me. It definitely stems from this being a vendor-friendly industry conference rather than an academic conference. I was approaching it from a teaching perspective that I don’t believe is traditionally that well represented at this conference, so perhaps my judgment is too harsh, but allow me to explain.
Many of the sessions, including a provocatively-titled standing-room-only panel, focused on the hot-button issues of privacy and learning analytics and how these issues are often in conflict with traditional library values. I’m by no means an expert on these topics, but I do try to keep up with them. I’m skeptical of anyone who approaches student privacy with a paternalistic, “we know what’s best” attitude, especially those who go so far as to suggest that because they participate so willingly in social media platforms, that maybe students don’t care about their privacy. Unfortunately, that’s what I felt was being served up in most of the conversations I heard, and this is frustrating–and even negligent–for a number of reasons:
- Students do care about their privacy; they just don’t have a traditional understanding of it and generally lack any awareness of what data their institutions collect about them. The Data Doubles Project, a big-ol’ high-profile multi-year IMLS-funded research study is looking specifically at this issue from a library perspective. One early finding suggests that when they’re asked explicitly about issues related to data collection and their trust in libraries, and given explanations, students present quite a nuanced take that is far more sophisticated than most give them credit for. In the conversations I heard, the only mention of this research was from Adam Beauchamp from Florida State University during the Q&A portion, and his question was mostly dismissed by the panel. A shame.
- One panelist suggested that perhaps our insistence on a traditional, conservative stance on privacy issues in libraries is problematic because it is a value that is rooted in the same white, privileged, westernized perspective as the profession of librarianship as a whole. While I can’t argue with that, and do appreciate the panelist’s willingness to be introspective, it felt to me like the panelist was waving a “wokeness” wand as an attempt to suggest that libraries are out of touch with the rest of the world, and that maybe we should just admit that there’s no expectation of privacy anymore. It also completely ignores the rapidly growing body of work from researchers–perhaps most notably women of color–who are now articulating the ways that algorithms and predictive analytics are further reinforcing white supremacy and further marginalizing already marginalized communities. See Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression and Ruha Benjamin’s Race After Technology, among a bunch of others.
- Involving third parties in these privacy decisions is so entirely inappropriate that I don’t even know where to begin. One of the panels was on the “vendor perspectives” of the “ethical use of library analytics.” I will fully admit that there are things we can do right now with student data that will more closely align our services with student expectations of modern service providers. Providing a list of their borrowing history, or recommending related books, for example. There are also things we can do with student data that will more easily allow us to convey library impact on student success: reference transactions leading to better grades, or database usage leading to higher-quality work, for example. And certainly, if our vendors had access to these data, they can more closely align their products with our students’ needs. But there’s the rub: we would be trading our student’s data exhaust for better products, which translates directly into profit for our vendors. I have a big problem with student data being monetized, which, as far as third parties are concerned, is exactly the point of learning analytics. With more and more companies hoovering up our data in the name of “service improvements,” why on earth would libraries forfeit their status as one of the most trusted institutions by acquiescing to a future in which surveillance is the cost of doing business?
It wasn’t all bad, though. Charleston itself was lovely. I had never been before! I had what were probably the #3 and #5 best meals of my entire life there, so there’s that. I took a picture of my dinner exactly once, but it was afterward, and it was a skeleton of a fish, so I won’t post it here. You’re welcome.
11 Comments on ‘Kyle at Charleston Conference 2019’
Kyle, thanks for this thoughtful post. Your points of frustration with the privacy and learning analytics panel really resonated with me and gave me much to think about! I really appreciate you taking the time to think about these issues and break them down in this post.
Fantastic report, Kyle. Thanks for your candor about the panels and the conference overall. I have serious issues with the patronizing approach to student data privacy as well, and I’m disheartened to hear that this was allowed to fly at such a well-attended panel. Thanks also for the term “wokeness wand.” I’ll be borrowing that 🙂
The Controlled Digital Lending project is super genius/cool. Thanks for linking to the Student Perspectives on Privacy and Library Participation in Learning Analytics – adding it to the reading list – I’m so glad to hear IMLS is funding that kind of work.
Thanks Kyle, for this thought-provoking post!
That data privacy panel was fascinating to me as well and it’s been the thing I keep ruminating over. I struggle with the sheer vastness of the job of getting GenZ/Millennials and even many of us GenXers to understand privacy in a way that means when they are the generations in power (which is coming soon) giving away privacy because they don’t understand it will be the rule. We can help our populations here, but it just seems like an insurmountable obstacle (similar in size and scope to teaching about mis/disinformation) and it makes me tired. The student analytics issue troubles me, and assuming that universities would use the data we could give them about student behavior on our platforms for the overall good of the students also makes me skeptical…..but so much food for thought!
This is a welcome perspective. When I feel like we should just throw up our hands and give them what they want, (the “them” being the students and faculty who want their historic ILL and circulation data because they can’t remember what they checked out last year, as well as the vendors who want to “hoover up” data) it is really important to remember why we have the stance we have. You’ve reinvigorated me!
Kyle, your criticisms of the Charleston Conference are spot on, in that it often skews vendor-friendly. That said, I appreciate that we get to hear from vendors in a non-sales pitch manner to get a better understanding of their approaches–even when we disagree. As we chatted about post-privacy panel, there’s a lot of think about and address around patron privacy, especially in helping students understand privacy better, and since all five ZSR folks were at that panel, I hope we can build on that with local convos. CDL also came up on the last day, with encouraging legal theories to why it might just work!
Kyle, thanks for this insight on the privacy panel. I was fascinated and challenged by the ideas presented. I had several meetings with vendors that were not sales pitch, more product/platform development; I appreciate that opportunity. The emphasis on CDL is exhilarating. Let’s do that (and consider adding nonprint formats)!!
Hear, hear, re privacy concerns! I do wish there were more opportunities for the youths of today to learn about privacy protections and reasons to safeguard; in the meantime I will teach them what I can, including how to use Ctrl+F. Brewster Kahle is a divisive figure among archivists at times, but glad you enjoyed the keynote!
I just thought I’d throw this in to the mix regarding privacy — the recently updated interpretation to the American Library Assocation’s Library Bill of Rights includes this text: “Additionally, users should have the choice to opt-in to any data collection that is not essential to library operations and the opportunity to opt-out again at any future time. All nonessential data collection should be turned off by default. In all areas of librarianship, best practice leaves users in control of as many choices as possible regarding their privacy. This includes decisions about the selection of, access to, and use of information. Information about options available to users should be prominently displayed, accessible, and understandable for a general audience. ” Interpretation located at http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy.
I have never attended the Charleston Conference, but, from what I’ve heard about it, I share your discomfort that it is very biased toward the vendor perspective. Additionally, it is a privately-owned, for-profit conference, which makes me uncomfortable. Re: Molly’s point that she appreciates being able to interact with vendors in a non-sales pitch manner, I would recommend the NASIG Conference for that. The registration is way cheaper and it’s run by a non-profit member organization which includes vendor members. (Sorry, I’ve gotta make my NASIG pitch)