2009 Keynote Comments

The room was full. The room was huge. As you walk in, the first thing you see are two gigantic screens with an animation show titled “We Think” by Charles Leadbeater. A variety of images scroll across the screens with statements and questions: —- How do we know what’s private? — How do we protect what’s private? — Everyone is talking — The web is mass conversations — Because new ideas come from conversation — In the past you were owned, now it what you share — It’s like a bird’s nest where everyone leaves their little piece…. and many more think sentences and questions.  After some information, thank you’s and an introduction of the keynote speaker  by President James Duggan, Jonathan Zittrain took the stage.

Jonathan expressed hope that his presentation would mash together the future of the internet and the future of the library. He said that when he thinks of the noun “library” he imagines this fortress protecting the crown jewels (books) against the forces which would want to steal the jewels. Inside the fortress were the custodians of knowledge where only special qualified people could manage and protect the jewels. He asked if anyone knew the percentage of materials in this fortress would actually be used, and someone responded 5 percent. Jonathan then said that he imagines these materials as boxes upon boxes of soda crackers stored up in a fallout shelter, and that an anology of a Potemkin village may be pretty accurate.

So the cost of housing these materials is expensive to keep, especially since such a huge percentage is seldom, if ever used, and that we are losing control of what we own and what we are purchasing. When he thinks of the word library as a verb, he conjures up the image of “Jeeves” on the webiste Ask Jeeves”– and he mentioned there is this weird tension between the librarian and the means by which users search electronically. He new corporate strategies which are farming out ways to harvest information in all kinds of methods, whereby they no longer need to deal with, say, a research and development division. The companies cast nets to people they don’t even know and pay them money to give them ideas they use. He mentioned LiveOps, Wikinomics, and WeThink. In this cast and pay model, you can “terminate” people instantly who aren’t performing.

When thinking of a library as an adjective, we might think of it as something that makes something more or less a value. He showed some “Core Statements” of various institutions and noted the confusion within and between them, some of them not even making sense, and the audience laughed several times at some of the core statements. He said he looked at AALL’s website for it’s mission statement and broke it down into a few words: society, central to, fair, educate, equitable and authentic, and said these are really good words for librarians.
He moved on to the topic of ethics, privacy and group policing; where we have information coursing around the internet, that we don’t always know the people implicated by a piece of data. The goal is not to regulate data on the internet, but to allow a kind of responsibility of the herd concept. Jonathan queried the audience by asking for those present to hum their approval for a few scenerios he had posed; one of them regarding if anyone in audience would forward on a piece of data which could harm the person who is named or having a photo of the person in a negative or damaging way, and the audience was silent. Then he asked the audience to hum if they would forward Dick Cheney’s memo about the CIA and torture, and the audience hummed so loud that it sounded like a single note chorus. His point was that he sees self-controlled values of the populous as being the agent that ensures authentication and dissemination spreading. He sees the possibility of the collective action of the good. Jonathan belongs to a project called “Verdicts of the Herd” and he sees patterns of good action in that project.

The way Wikipedia works is like a house on fire but there are no paid full-time firefighters, but everyone in the neighborhood sees the smoke almost instantly and rushes in seconds to come and help put it out. He mentioned Wikipedia’s administrators problems pages, and noted that Wikipedia is just 45 minutes away from destruction at any given moment, but that in seconds the Wikipedia counter-vandalism unit kicks in.

Another example about rules and values he sited was a Dutch traffic engineer decided to take away the signage at a busy intersection to see what would happen. To his delight, the statistics, over time showed fewer accident rates. Jonathan speculated that this may well be due to a human trait where when you allow freedom from rules, that people make more decisions about responsibilities for their own actions.

He sees other concept opportunities that can just “happen” if someone just goes ahead and puts it on the web, like open course sharing, where students collect syllabi and offer course notes from students who’ve taken a class. He mentioned Waybackmachine, the inventor of this saw the need and importance of it, and then JUST DID IT. We can just DO THINGS. The internet is the biggest copyright infringement ever. Anyone can instantly opt out of their commitment. Other examples Jonathan brought up is LII (Legal Information Institute), and Project Gutenberg, and OpenLibrary, where someone just started it. Google books just started “scanning books” in spite of copyright problems. Pacer movement petition to offer it services to libraries for free. We can change the dynamtic whenever we want by just doing it!

He spoke about a citation system open source schema as an idea, and that if we don’t do it, some .com will take it and hold it, and charge money for it. He brought up an idea for a concept to change casbooks; where they don’t need to produced by a single author or two; and that anyone or any group can just produce one. We can easily install collaboration mechanisms for various legal education elements if we want.

We can do menospanies (consumers come up with concepts that would force vendors to open up their holds on data access). Library digital copies as a counterbalance for libraries. The most important thing that impressed Jonathan about his experience in libraries is the face-to-face relationship with a professional librarian, where we have an actual human impact with our patrons.

It boils down to the sense of stewarding things for the future. We need to makes things encyclopedic. Release early—release often is important. Some questions to ponder: There are other cultures who have various values, how does this work with group policing? Can we produce/create a kind of value-neutral model?—where we offer the various values to the finder and they get to pick what value entity they want. He concluded his remarks by saying “see you on facebook.” More information on Mr. Zittrain’s book “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop it.”

Blog Post submitted by: Brian Striman/Professor of Law Library/Head of Technical Services/Schmid Law Library/University of Nebraska


1 Response to “2009 Keynote Comments”

  1. 1 Harvey Morrell July 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Folks interested in the “open source” casebook idea might want to look at CALI’s eLangdell project.

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