Dec 052018

I am attending the Digital Humanities Downunder Summer School at the University of Sydney this week.

I have been playing with R in the afternoons and using Python to play with some distant reading techniques in the mornings. No, I did not really know R or Python before this.

This morning I have read in the entire text of 10 different classic English novels from Project Gutenberg, cleaned out the junk text at the start and end of the files, tokenised the novels so that the words are countable…then had a play…

I counted the occurrence of the word “kindness” in each novel, then plotted whereabouts the word occurs in the novel,  using the Python Natural Language Toolkit. Fun!

I discovered very unscientifically, that 1) the female authors use the word far, far more often, 2) when used, there was a very clear pattern of it occurring just at the start and just at the end of the novel. There are two interesting future research projects right there. Compared to what was possible (and in which timeframe and by whom) twenty years ago, what we can do at our desktops right now is quite amazing.

Here is what I found out about Pride and Prejudice.

If you get a chance to attend this next year, go for it. The organisers have worked tirelessly to keep things running smoothly and presenters have been very clear, patient and able.  They deliberately kept the cost for the week’s registration very low (AUD150 for the week for early-bird registration). Throw in a couple of interesting night-time symposia, starting and ending keynotes by international experts and a tour of the Rare Books collection in Fisher Library and I am not sure where a librarian-who-likes-to-get-hands-dirty could find better value.

I will just leave this image of rather scary mermaids, from one of the rare books of creatures existing and mythical, here without further comment.


Sep 032018

I am writing, writing, writing, reading, researching, writing about kindness and libraries as I finish my candidacy for my PhD.

(and procrastinating by blogging…)

I owe Fiona Bradley a few posts documenting my PhD admin, organising and coping process. She has been so generous documenting what she is doing, and I did say that I would share if she would… but if you want to see that kind of thing, do pop over to her site as she has some smart and useful ideas.

You may also want to check out the last couple of posts from the generous Rowena McGregor , who blogs as metta librarian. (Metta is the Buddhist concept of “loving kindness”, but also present in Hinduism and Jainism). She very nicely recounted there some of the ideas about kindness that she shared when we met in Brisbane at the start of the month, What is Kindness ?

One of my previous procrastination attempts involved creating this image, which is a riff of many similar ones on the web… I registered a domain name and set up a site, but am not 100% sure how public I will make it.

My current idea about kindness is that there are several elements, all of which need to be present for something to be considered “kindness”. Often when people discuss kindness they jump quickly to just one aspect and forget the others, resulting in a discussion of a strawman that is not kindness but a related concept. For example, if one does not know whether one’s action will ACTUALLY benefit the other person does it matter ? Is this still kindness, or merely charity? Is charity a subset of kindness or merely a cousin? And altruism? Compassion? Empathy? Philanthropy? Generousity? And …

Pre-empting any findings, before reading further, my current working definition  is that kindness must involve all of the following elements. Dear Reader – am I missing anything?

  1. There is an identified actor (and beneficiary [at least a class of beneficiary])
  2. The actor intends benefit to the beneficiary
  3. Benefit to the actor may happen, but intention to benefit the other must be a larger consideration
  4. There is a power-relationship between the actor and beneficiary. At the time of action the actor has more power than the beneficiary. In an act of kindness, even the poorest person inviting the richest person to dine would, at the time of eating, be in control of the food resources.
  5. An act within the actor’s power is involved – either actively doing or withholding something
  6. The extent tends to be localised, small and personal.
  7. (How much does the actor need to know about whether the act will be effective? and how much does it ACTUALLY have to be effective?)

Like many PhD students, I discovered, when I looked closer, that what I thought was simple and straightfoward (a definition of kindness) is slippery, complex and seems almost unknowable. My original aim, to look at whether librarians and library students are motivated by kindness, has morphed a bit. I have backed up and will now look a little more at useful concepts, definitions, measurements that we can use in libraries when we discuss kindness. I *think* I am not the only one who finds kindness fuzzy but important, so my aim is to create a pathway to more kindness by removing a little of the fuzziness…

I am knee-deep in Zotero, Scrivener, SnagIt and my university library website. I have been reserving, downloading, searching, and requesting new works via document delivery and, very amused to request titles like Quantum Theory of Advertising and A discourse concerning kindness: Being a sermon preach’d in Boaston, on the Lord’s-Day, Febr. 28th. 1719,20. And now published, with some enlargement, at the impunity of many that heard it. And very, very grateful to work somewhere that has an entire unit of people devoted to making sure people like me can access the arcane and useful.

I have discovered that there is no print or online access for the university community to the full Oxford English Dictionary, and that I can instead get to this through the National Library of Australia’s e-Resources with my membership card. And that someone ( I suspect us as librarians) should be sent to a special circle of the Inferno because we accept and provide discovery layers where book reviews create so much noise that one cannot easily find a known item, even when searching on the exact title and author. (Something illustrated when I ploughed through review after review of the OED because I did not believe that it was not there, and became more and more frustrated at what seemed to be my rotten libraraining. How would a regular student have felt ?).

Dooming others to eternal damnation (maybe in the form of constantly being given a 10 minute deadline to locate a known work in a discovery layer full of book reviews, where the work is actually not stocked) is not a very kind wish, though :).

Anyhow, I only popped in here because I wanted to share this little 2 minute movie from the (rather enigmatic, “become a RAKtivist!”) Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. The rhetoric is rather close to something selling Snake Oil. But this is increasingly well-documented and explored Snake Oil … The Science of Kindness .

Jul 302018

I bought an Ipad Pro last year because I wanted to hand-annotate the many, many .PDFs of journal articles that I am reading this year. I think better when I write on things. With handwriting. But I did not want the waste of time and resources to print out copies – and then need to store and track them.

I have found, however, that I am using the iPad for many, many things more. To the extent that it has totally replaced my 2011 MacBook Air that was my main home computer on the three or four days during the week when I leave my laptop at work.

I use three different apps to take handwritten notes, which feels a little excessive.

I did try Nebo, where you handwrite and it converts notes into typed text, because I thought I would use it all the time for first drafts. Nope. I think faster than I can write when I am making sure I am neat enough for the text-conversion.

When I start interviews for a project in a couple of years, I will probably use SoundNote. This records audio and syncs it to the spot in my handwritten notes, if I tap that part when reviewing. It also has a desktop version, so it would be possible to take typed notes/record audio there and use the files on my iPad later. Again, I thought I would use this quite a bit in meetings/seminars, but it really is the act of handwriting that creates the connections in my brain and lets me fit new knowledge into what I already know, so reviewing to audio afterward for most tasks seems superfluous.

So, below are the three apps I seem to have settled on for regular use…

1.Writing on existing documents

For annotating academic papers and PDFs, I use LiquidText. This was designed by academics, for academics who are reading journal articles. It is definitely the most expensive app I have ever bought. And worth every cent.

You can excerpt text very easily, add concept maps and handwrite on the page. You can even put one finger at the top of the document and then use your thumb to concertina the rest of the document up like you are scrunching up a page – great for jumping quickly to see a result, or follow up a reference, without losing your place where you have read to.

I also use this for things like marking up the list of students and marks before a Board of Examiners Meeting, to note those to follow up in the meeting. Or to open an Excel spreadsheet of a class list with blank cells and use it to handwrite marking notes and tick off students once marked. And to handwrite study plans for students when I am mapping units completed on to the blank list of units in order – far quicker than trying to type in year/semester next to each one… and then I can just flick the student the .PDF via email.

2. Notetaking at live events

I take notes in seminars and meetings using Penultimate . This is an Evernote App made for handwriting notes. The big advantage is that these notes are added to Evernote like any other note, then my handwritten text is indexed and searchable like typed text – if I write neatly enough.

It also allows me to add images, either directly from the camera or my camera roll. If I receive handouts in a session and want to keep them, I take an image of each page and add it to the note set. I can then scribble on the image as though it was a sheet of paper. Unfortunately I cannot copy and paste text into the document, so if I want to grab a URL, I navigate to the page, grab the entire screenshot, including the URL. This actually makes my notes far more interesting.

Here are a couple of examples from the day long Linked Open Data seminar at the HIVE at Curtin on Friday 27 July 2018. They are from Bill Pascoe’s session on the Colonial Massacres Map ,  Katrina Grant’s session about mapping the landscape from art history and Tim Sherratt’s session about LOD books. All the images were of things I trotted off to the web to grab during the talk – sort of playing along from home with the slides. They will output as a .PDF, but I lose the resolution, which makes it harder to read the URLs. I uploaded a .PDF of my notes, plus the questions raised from today’s session in my last post, for those who asked for them.





3. Thoughts, brainstorming and doodling

Of COURSE, I have to use yet another app for handwritten notes for casual and informal thinking where I am not trying to save it for later. I like to use Noteshelf .

This can actually be used for both of the functions of the other two, to mark up .PDFs and record handwritten notes. But it does not have the overkill bells and whistles like LiquidText, nor the indexing and retrieval features of Penultimate.

It does, however, have the best writing experience. The pressure of my pen, the output on the page, both seem far more natural and more like I am … me, expressing myself. Hard to explain, but having a different zone and tool for this kind of thinking is a bit like the difference between reading a novel at the beach compared to a scholarly monograph in an office chair. Different modalities needing different settings.

Jul 282018

Today I attended the LAMLOD Oz seminar   at the HIVE at work. You can see full details of the presenters and their expertise in the link, but it is described by Eric Champion, who convened the meeting as having three main aims:

  • To help Digital Humanities projects to find and develop and share tools and tutorials in Linked Open Data for Australian data.
  • To learn best practice from current and developing Linked Open Data projects in Australia, especially those that cater towards non-conventional humanities data such as landscapes, cultural and historical assets such as 3D models and indigenous mapping ontologies.
  • We hope to help share the news and wisdom learnt of these projects and to collaborate on ways these tools can be adapted to Australia’s unique cultural heritage and current needs. We aim to provide guidelines via a white paper published via UNESCO.

I took notes. (Using Penultimate . I started describing how, but have turned it into another post, scheduled for publishing on Monday, about Handwriting with Apple Pencil on iPad Pro for academic work.)

For those who asked me to share, here they are as a 42MB .PDF  LAMLODGreenhillNotes2018. For some reason the last part of the day was not saved, but I did take notes of it. The resolution in this output is not really good enough to read the URLs on the webpages, which is really the reason why I inserted their images in my notes. The pages all look a bit like this (fromBill Pascoe’s session on the Colonial Massacres Map):

I came up with 15 or so questions throughout the day, marked throughout my notes. They are further thoughts or things I should follow up – some are questions from the speakers, some are my own questions. They may make sense to you as well, but their context is found in the notes above.

  1. Why are we not building the requirement to share data as LOD if it is produced in ARC grants / by local govt funding ?
    1. 1B. Why are we not checking for standards / LOD sets before we start projects and making this a requirement of any brief?
  2. Colonial massacre maps needed to “de-identify” the geo-coordinates of sites mapped. Some are sacred sites, some would attract people who are not well-meaning. Is there a time when NOT being accurate is an aim of a mapping exercise ? (Or are geo-coordinates less “accurate” in this case than the storytelling that can be told if information is fuzzier?
  3. Could an art object itself be considered to be metadata about a location?
  4. When looking at the accuracy of a map, does one need to ask “accurate for what”? (After Katrina Grant showed part of the Italian coast mapped for salience rather than truth. Sailors had to take a lot of extra care around this part, so coast was shown as more convoluted than it is really)
  5. What can be mapped? (Can we place layers of stories over landscape, and at what point do they peel away so talking about location becomes meaningless (e.g. dreaming stories …)
    1. 5A What if the only things *worth* mapping were those that cannot be easily mapped?
  6. Can we create a model of data-sharing using LOD that Jane-in-the-street (or Jane-working-in-the-public-library) will use ?
  7. Can’t someone make a Slurpy App that will do the hard yards if someone has geo-data in a project – harvest and link all geo-points, or in other projects analyse the entity-classes and their data and try to match what is possible to a LOD item elsewhere?
  8. CIDOC CRM is worth following up. And look at SKOS too while I am there.
  9. If we could expose the research and data behind academic writing (that becomes a narrative) through LOD, then could we argue impact to our academic institutions – or at least share with the scholarly community in a meaningful way?
  10. A URI is essential to create a LOD element BUT… they are fixed, static, bound. What if a concept is fuzzy, sitting between two concepts with URIs? People understand this idea very well, but computers do not..
  11. Given that knowledge representation is an act of interpretation (very often in Western, European, Anglo-Saxon perspective), can we use RDF to link to varied stories and alternative truths?
  12. Local government is crazy for standards when issuing building permits, why can they not be with their knowledge gathering? (LOD for all data generated)
  13. Can I use GATE for something I would like to play with ? (A corpus of documents mined and automatically matched to an ontology )
  14. Does the act of knowing that someone else is viewing the same Augmented Reality scene simultaneously in the same space (and corresponding awareness of their probable emotions/mental state if viewing something likely to elicit emotions) constitute enough of an impact from environment that this would have to be considered Mixed Reality?
  15. Check out URIs released today here: 
Jul 092018

I’m beginning to play with visual tools for text analysis. Here’s some useful resources and explanation why.

In a bit of an “aha!” moment last week, I realised that a problem with my research into kindness and libraries may be solved by grabbing large datasets produced by a bibliographic search, and then playing with visualisation.

“Kindness” is a single term that represents a multi-faceted concept, used differently according to which discipline is describing it. I have been trying to find a way to validly come up with a top ten or so of possible meanings that may be useful when discussing it in libraries. It did not feel right to just sit at my desk, hunting and pecking through databases for much-cited works and saying (as one often does in a literature review),  “I am smart and thorough, so what I found is representative of what is there”.

I LOVE that the best tools in the area are free and open source. How knowledge should be 🙂

In a session run by ALIA Academic and Research Libraries Group here in Perth last week, Samantha Blake ran though the two text visualisation tools below.

VOSViewer – created at Leiden University in the Netherlands for visualising bibliometric analysis. Can ingest data produced from a number of bibliographic sources like Scopus or Web of Science and visualise interrelationships like do-authorships or subject clustering. Here it is mapping the topic clusters for 40 records from Web of Science retrieved from a search for “kindness”.


Voyant Tools Workbench- created by two Canadian academics, this has a number of different ways of conceptualising bibliographic data. Here is a file of over 1000 Web of Science records with a search on “kindness”, with just “WOS” and “journal” manually added as stop words. The lower left window appears be a topic modelling analysis, which means that a separate pass with something like the MAchine Learning to LanguagE Toolkit (MALLET) may not be necessary.


Other tools I have been fiddling with are:

Open Knowledge Maps , a “visual interface to the world’s scientific knowledge”. It doesn’t play with your data, but retrieves clusters of papers from their dataset of OA works, around the same themes.


Google Books Ngram Viewer – plots frequency of term in Google’s scanned books project – sadly only until 2008. For me, this is very annoying, as there was a definite trend upward in the term “kindness” (blue line below) in the last 10 years of the data, and I would like to know if it continued.


Some unexplored but similar visual text analysis tools:

  • Scimat – University of Granda, Spain
  • BibExcel – created by Olle Persson, who is wonderfully described in German as a Informationswissenschaftler
  • Pajek – from the University of University of Ljubljana,  Slovenia
  • CiteSpace – Chaomei Chen at Drexel
  • Doing it all from scratch in R . R for Social Scientists at data carpentry is a good starting point.
  • (Tableau . Commercial. Corporate. Not OSS. Not my kind of tool at all – which is why I should check it out before rejecting it )

Directories of many, many more tools:

  • TAPor 3 – The Text analysis Portal for Research. Canadian-based directory of over 900 tools useful for text analysis
  • DIRT directory. Directory of digital research tools. Support from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation with initial support of US universities

And some jumping-off points where other tools and techniques can be explored:


Jun 152018

I would put the peak of Libraryland blogging (liblogging, biblioblogging) at around June 2007 to June 2008.

(Well, extremely white, educated, academic, US-centric, liberal blogging about libraries anyhow…and that is a very different thing. It was not representative of most.)

This is based on:

  • being in the thick of it (this blog was part of the international network of reading and commenting)
  • being part of the team running an Australian-wide library blogging platform ( )
  • Michael Stephens’ Phd dissertation on Modeling the role of blogging in librarianship was submitted in August 2007.

Wanna see now? Obviously the rather high hit rate on the site was noted when we let the domain registration drop and it is a very odd kind of link-bait site now…

A few years ago now I outlined a bit about my history and gifts received from library blogging (What has blogging done for me ? ) and why blogging to me is not just posting, but is hard work and involves a lot of time and being part of a conversation ( blogging and being a node in the conversation )

Meredith (We are atomized. We are monetized. We are ephemera. Do we deserve more online ) and Fiona (What’s so amazing about really deep thoughts ?)  posted in the last week, remembering the impact of this on them personally and (more importantly) on their effectiveness and growth as library professionals. Morgan reflected similar themes when he restarted his (now 16 year old blog) in April this year after a five year hiatus (Restart ).

These are smart, clear thinkers whose ideas heavily influenced my ideas of myself as a professional.  All three modelled how to be a little less hotheaded, a little more measured, a bit more logical and how to edit, edit, edit to blow away writerly chaff. I would love again to read their posts weekly and engage in the comments on their blogs like before.

There were others from around the same time. Several. I am not naming names because I would miss someone out.

My recollection is a group of very passionate, tech-savvy professionals who found each other online and expressed very strong opinions in ways that tried to show respect for each other. A lot of our energy went into smoothing off our rough edges, and I am so grateful for those early experiences that forced me to find a philosophy of charitable reading, that I now find incredibly rewarding and that I try to apply to “reading” people’s actions as well as words.  I am sure it would have taken several years to develop this otherwise.

I am not sure we privately showed a lot of respect for those who had gone before in the profession and seemed to us to have limited tech skills, or were not engaging in the same way or seemed to not realise the implications of All These Things.

And the toys!!!! This was a time where several newer technologies, and ideas about how to use them, had converged to stimulate those who could code, think and hope to create all sorts of free online tools. Last semester I went looking for a Soundcloud replacement for assessment in my units, and there really was no free, likely to stick around platform where students could record and save audio straight from their webbrowser. I felt like some kind of pioneering gold miner who was looking at the now empty and industrialised gold fields in Kalgoorlie saying “I remember when gold lined the streets”.

Hands up all those who remember Google’s attempt at a Virtual World, Lively??? Where I could meet up with colleagues in Canada and stream in movies from YouTube?

Lively with YouTube Streaming
We learned about making movies and using our webcams because there were countless free platforms where we could all connect without too much regard to our personal data being harvested, the storage space it would take up on the hosts’ servers, or it costing us more than our time. A new tool would be announced and whomp! a mob of us would jump on to it all together and give it a test drive. When some of the tools stuck like Meebo chat rooms, blogging gave way more to synchronous, but unarchived, chat and even to many of us travelling to other countries to meet in person those with whom we had previously had just blog-relationships. You can see the start of this in my account of the Library Society of the World in September 2008. I think this move away from our self-hosted blogging platforms, as much as us all moving on to other responsibilities and interests, eroded that daily “I will post in my blog or comment on three others this morning because if I do then this great conversation and growth of knowledge and ideas will keep going”.

I do think now I will dust off my Feedly Reader and try to rely more on RSS for my daily reading. I haven’t really used Facebook for about 9 years, and it can get lonely out here with my extra time for thinking, lack of FOMO, and less-tagged facial image, so it would be grand if others migrated a bit outside the walls to blog a bit more.

I am not sure, to riff on Fiona’s post, that we can go back to using the Internet like it’s still 2007 … but I think I liked LINT better when it was an Australian Library blog to which ANYONE could contribute, and had posts about Library and Information Week and Library Bloggers’ meetups, than about linkbait, even with lions…


Apr 172018

This was me. Does it sound like you ?

  • Too many tabs open in my browser …I think 64 was my record. In just one window. I am also a great “that is too messy, so I will open a nice, clean window” (but not close the other open ones) kind of woman.
  • But….I can’t close the open tabs because some must be useful, this is DAYS worth of tab-opening right here.
  • Can’t find what I want, so…I’ll just open that tab again, rather than locate the right tab.
  • My laptop is slowing down because displaying the fiddly bits on the open pages is hogging memory.
  • I know I will use these nine web pages each workday, and am sick of opening them each morning.
  • Oh damn!! I didn’t mean to close that tab, and now I can’t remember how exactly I got to it
  • What do you MEAN Chrome on iOs does not have a “close all tabs” function??? Well, OK, I will just keep opening them ad infinitum.
  • I have six or so webpages that I am working on for this temporary job, and having to locate them all again over and over each day is annoying..

I solved all these by tweaking some settings and installing one extension … read on …

I am using Chrome, but you can do all this for Firefox too

Tab Tip 1: Default tabs to open on startup

I use the same set of tabs during my workday. Use “preferences” to add a set of tabs that will open when you start your browser:

Voila! My email, calendar, staff login, Blackboard, to do list and WordPress installation open when I open the browser.

Tab Tip 2: Re-open a tab you closed accidentally

Just use <CTRL> T . Tab restored!

UPDATE 19 April 2018 – NO, that opens a new tab … I meant <CTRL> <SHIFT> T – THAT will do the trick

Tab Tip 3: Close all those tabs – and have them ready to open again with one click – One Tab

The browser extension, One Tab allows you to go from a browser with way too many tabs open:

To a neat list of links in a single page – taking up far less memory – at the click of an icon:

I also use this to quickly create a list of links for an email. Open the tabs you want to share in your browser, turn them into a list of labelled links with OneTab, then copy and paste the links into the document.

If you want to get to the pages again from the OneTab page, you can either click on the individual link, or use the “Restore All” option to re-open them all together:

Tab Tip 4: Lock a group of tabs and have them ready for regular re-use

For 14 weeks of Semester I have eight Blackboard Discussion Boards to check daily. Every semester they are different sites, so have a different URL.

So, each semester, I slurp them all up into OneTab , rename them to something sensible and then use the  “lock” function to keep them there so they will always be around.



Tab Tip 5: Add webpages to the startup screen of your iOs device

I check the news headlines and the weather on my iPad every morning. I use Chrome as my browser on iOs, but discovered (with snail and Peter helping me by double-checking) that there is no way to instantly close all the open tabs. You can on Android. Not on the iPad or iPhone. No really good explanation why.

As an alternative, I use the feature in Safari that allows me to add webpages to the startup screen, then group them into a folder.

So, if every morning (for reasons unexplained) I wanted to check the comments on the “people test drive the Licki brush on their cats” video:

Then I could just click on the “Share” option, and then choose “Add to Home Screen”:

Instead of leaving the icons all over the startup screen, you can then slide one icon on to the other, to create a neat folder for all your frequently used webpages.

Feb 142018

Do Australian academic libraries evaluate their learning projects often, in different ways and then act on it?

Today, 14 February 2018, I am presenting at a paper on the topic that I co-wrote with Karen Miller in Melbourne,  at the VALA2018 Libraries, Technology and the Future conference.

If you can’t be in the session, then you may like to watch the movie I made during one of the run-throughs with my slides: Incremental and iterative evaluation of student learning projects in academic libraries

You can find the peer-reviewed paper here:  Iterative and incremental evaluation works for software development, but can it be good for student learning initiatives in Australian academic libraries?

VALA is also making movies of each live presentation, which are being posted to the conference site quite quickly each day. Please have a look at the other presentations there. They’re quite yummy.

Jul 242017

Do you know a nice, stable, likely long-lived service that allows people to record audio online and then embed a player into another website?

HINT: Soundcloud may be the wrong answer. I want ANOTHER one…

“Nightmare” uploaded to Flickr by clement127 25 October 2014

Every tech lecturer’s nightmare.

That easy-to-use tech that helps students who may be a little unsure to make multimedia, that just requires mic input and the ability to press a big red button on a web interface, that reliable and well-funded tech, key tool for an assessment in your unit…

….you hear rumours that it laid off 40% of its staff (173 people) last week, that it can only guarantee funding for the next 50 days.  Of course, the founder of the service issues a denial of sorts (well, it actually only claims that it has funding for the next quarter…)…

Meanwhile, your unit outline, the contract with your students, needs to be published at midnight tonight.

I have looked for as stable, as large, as easy-to-use services as Soundcloud and really only come up with and , which I had not really heard of, do not seem to be used very widely and I am not sure are likely to be any more stable than Soundcloud.

I am settling on adding another step. A sensible step that students should be doing anyhow. Soundcloud allows users to download the audio file of something they create using the web interface rather than by file upload. I am just asking that they download their file when they create their piece and then (in the unlikely event of Soundcloud folding before marking has been returned) they upload a backup to the Internet Archive and add the URL to the place they submit on Blackboard …

All students should be well and truly able to do this, of course. BUT… part of what I try to do in my unit is offer the “lowest hanging fruit” where students who may be tech-nervous get to experience very easy interfaces to achieve things that they did not believe initially they were capable of. So, if they have to create multimedia in their job (which they probably will) they are confident that they will be able to work out any tool presented to them.

SO – If you know another service, or have a smarter way to solve the problem, less confronting for a tech novice, I would love to hear from you.


Jul 172017

Watching from afar this week the VALA Tech Boot Camp in Melbourne and the Radical Librarians Collective meeting in Glasgow, it was interesting to see sessions at both about data privacy and security. Have a look at the Twitter feeds for the hashtags #valatechcamp  and RadLib17 to see participants’ live tweeting.

I try to teach students about data security in my tech unit, but it is very difficult to know how in-depth the material should be.

On one hand, some of this is quite technical and many of my students will go on to become managers, rather than hands-on tech practitioners.

On the other hand, we deal in information. For others. With an ethic to protect, preserve and maintain access to records and archives.

I am not going to pretend that decision of WHAT to protect and preserve is totally apolitical. I do think that knowing that “unfortunate” and “uncomfortable” documents will be preserved and accessible to citizens decreases authoritarianism; and gives future generations opportunity to not repeat mistakes of previous ones.

To carry out the day-to-day activities of protection and preservation, librarians, records managers and archivists need to be aware of, and vocal about, information policy.  They need to understand digital security to do this.

For example, we need sufficient technical understanding to know why Teresa May’s recently-expressed desire to weaken cryptography of private messages on third party sites to allow access for law enforcement agencies  is an idea likely to ultimately decrease freedoms and cause greater opportunity for illegal activity. And why the rest of the world is laughing at our Australian Prime Minister today.

One of the points coming from the Radical Librarians meeting is that anyone who claims that they have “nothing to hide, thus nothing to fear” from measures that erode digital privacy, is probably occupying a privileged position. People in minority groups tend to be affected more by surveillance. This is one of the reasons I have my students answer a question about whether there are some groups of people who would particularly benefit from being shown how to use the TOR browser in a public library.

(Check out the extraordinary responses to Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s post on her personal Facebook page “lamenting war in general, on a day predetermined to be about lamenting specific wars”  (very nicely encapsulated in the linked article). If I had posted the same as Yassmin, probably if Malcolm Turnbull had posted the same, I do not think my or his digital footprint would be scrutinised in quite the same way, and certainly the real-life personal repercussions would not be the same ).

So … what are some of the basics that information professionals should know about? I do not cover all of these in my classes ( I do many). Some of these points were compiled from watching the tweetstreams of the two events earlier in the week.

1. Search engines.

2. Web-browsers.

  • Also track your usage, and pass this on to third parties. Use TOR browser instead and have this installed on machines available for public access.
  • At the very least, unless you have a good reason for your search history to be stored in your browser, use the Private mode for all web activity. (This does not stop the browser from sending information about who you are about other sites, or network administrators from knowing you are going there, but does stop the desktop software from creating a readable log that you have been there).

3. https:

  • Make sure that all your organisation’s websites, and products that your users access through third-party vendors, are using using transport layer security (They will have  https , instead of “http:” at the start of the URL).
  • I get students to look at Firesheep and advise what a library could do about to protect the privacy of users on their public wifi network if another user on the network is using something like this (A: Not much. Educate your users about going to http: sites on public networks)

4. Share knowledge with your community.

  • Consider hosting a Cryptoparty to help your community understand how to stay secure online. If you don’t know enough know to do this, learn.

5. Passwords.

  • If your product allows you to view passwords, unencrypted, in a field in your database, ask your vendors to alter this.
  • If your vendor’s response to a “lost password” request is to email the plain text password to a user (hello Springshare), instead of sending a reset link to a verified email address, ask them to change this.

6. Passwords 2.

  • Know how to create a secure password. Password management software (e.g. KeePassX ) can generate secure passwords and store passwords so you do not have to have “easy to remember” passwords, and can, crucially, have different passwords for each system you use.

7. Know system vulnerabilities and demand change.

8. Think first .

  • Don’t do dumb things that compromise your own or your users’ data security. Chris Cormack made this point wonderfully in his VALATechCamp presentation. Have a look at his slides about Securing your Library Management System from his VALATechCamp session, especially the last one.

You may also be interested in following up the Library Privacy Toolkit at the Library Freedom Project ….

… and keep an eye on what is coming out of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Australian-based Electronic Frontiers Australia .