Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The News Is In: New Tech Demands Greater Engagement

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The News Is In: New Tech Demands Greater Engagement

Article excerpt

The Russian influence scandal that occurred during the 2016 U.S. presidential election has received major attention, and technology's role figures prominently in the story. The New York Times' columnist Farhad Manjoo invoked the scandal as a means of questioning whether five giant American companies (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft) have too much control over what we learn about online. In November, Manjoo wrote, "The insatiable appetite of digital technology to alter everything in its path is among the most powerful forces shaping the world today. Given all of the ways that tech can go wrong-as we are seeing in the Russian influence scandal- is it better that we can blame, and demand fixes from, a handful of American executives when things do go wrong?"

My interest in this quote lies not in its political theory-that big or American executives may in fact be good or, at least, more directly influenced by public outcries. Instead, it lies in Manjoo's stark characterization of the disruptive power of technology. The Russian influence scandal symbolizes what can go wrong when social media technologies drive political life. But for information professionals, the disruption extends to all areas of our practice. Because of this, we are being called to greater diligence and engagement. This pertains to our everyday work as well as to our level of involvement in politics and society.

With this in mind, I will focus on strategies, both large and small, to extend our reputations and sharpen our proactive stances. In doing so, I have an opportunity to update a poor review I gave to online repositories in September's issue, revisit data and its opportunities, and take a compelling look at how fact-checking in the fake-news era has gained new traction and impact.

Small Changes Add Up

When our digital collections clearly demonstrate excellence, we advance the profession in the eyes of our users. As I previously stated, I gave a less-than-stellar review to an unnamed online repository in September, and I'm glad to say that the platform has been revised and relaunched. I did not name names, as I didn't think fault could be laid at any single player's feet. But recent events call both for naming and for kudos.

The University of California's eScholarship Repository ( has undergone a sweeping rebuild and is now live. It was this system that I used as an unnamed example of outmoded code and policy. The new platform addresses every single concern I laid out in September 2017. Among the upgrades is the ability to strengthen local branding, at the campus level as well as at the research center level-a crucial media and outreach function for academics and their departments. Searching and usability have also improved. Perhaps best of all, the codebase resides on GitHub and is open source, in keeping with the university's strong endorsement of open computing.

You might say this is just a routine upgrade, but I see another level of strategic focus at work. Throughout the University of California-Berkeley (UCBerkeley) system, digital librarians are engaging the faculty in new, assertive ways, promoting the principles of open scholarship. So even as eScholarship brands the research centers that publish papers, the act of outreach by digital librarians has the greater impact in rebranding the library as the go-to site for open source know-how.

Dig a little deeper and you can find further evidence of new thinking on how to engage the faculty and administration. Library leaders have pragmatically decided to forego another fruitless round of space wars over linear feet of shelving-which is a smart move given the growing consensus on the need for new modes of study space and smart classrooms. This strategy has paid off.

At UC-Berkeley, newly appointed chancellor Carol T. Christ endorsed the complete renovation of the Moffitt Undergraduate Library ( into a lively space. …

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