brain activity in dead salmon and wine in a blender: or, what i learned at AAAS 2013

In mid-February I attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. The theme of the five-day meeting was The Beauty and Benefits of Science. This theme supports the movement from STEM education to STEAM, adding Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Many of the panels focused on the use of visualizations and creative practices in the lab. Some of the panels I attended were very engaging to visual and performing artists. Here are some brief notes from those speakers.

Artful Science (3 of 5 lectures)
The Herbarium as Muse: Plant Specimens as Inspiration
Maura Flannery (Biology, St. John’s University, NY) provided a visual history of herbariums. While she differentiated on the more scientific views of botanists to those of artists and curiosity collectors, Flannery also emphasized that the field would not have been able to move forward without  artists’ illustrations of specimens. She also commented on contemporary artists inspired by plants including John Sarra, Amy Youngs, and Michele Oka Doner.

Dimension of Time in Strange Attractors
Robert Krawczyk (College of Architecture, IIT) created software to generate algorithms. His artwork is an outcome of these equations.  The images embody movement and dimensionality, suggesting new ways to consider space.

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Bends Through I by Krawczyk

Sand Dollars, Echinodermata, and Radiolaria: Sculptural Forms from Hyperbolic Tessellations
George Hart uses mathematical applications to create sculpture and video. Many of his sculptures are made of small, simple shapes that can be connected into large, complex forms. Hart is now exploring 3D printing to make models of his pieces and to create more fragile tessellations.

Echinodermania (detail) by Hart
Echinodermania (detail) by Hart

Evidence from Music, Fiction, and the Visual Arts: Transfer of Learning from the Arts? (3 of 5 lectures)
This was an interesting set of presentations about the transferability of art skills to other (specifically science and math) domains. What surprised me was the intense focus of the research, selecting one tangible skill (ie drawing) and seeing if it directly applies to one specific field (ie geometry). While I am certain that technical training in the arts can enhance learning and understanding in other disciplines, I was hoping to see a panel of psychologists consider the cognitive aspect of art appreciation. These three lectures touched on this aspect.

What Does it Mean to be Musical? On the Genetics of Music Ability
Daniel J. Levitin (psychology, McGill University) uses music as a model for understanding “gene by environment” interactions. Music is multi-modal because the components of discipline can be seen as variations in expertise; and, components of expertise may not be directly related to music (physicality, memory, attention). Though his research is still inconclusive, Levitin’s work shows the depth of the arts as comprised of both field-specific skill sets and broad elements of nature/nurture.

Visual Art as Non-Artificial – and thus Transferable? – Domain of Expertise
Aaron Kozbelt (psychology, CUNY) studies drawing as a flexible skill set that may transfer to other domains that also require that skill set. He has done extensive research on artists and concludes that the arts is a domain that is robust and easily adaptable. Because artists see the world differently, studying the arts may transfer skills of perception, contrast sensitivity, and object recognition, among others.

Effects of Literature
Keith Oatley (psychology, University of Toronto) considered the cognitive benefits of reading fiction and other forms of creative writing. His research has demonstrated that people who read fiction “engage in social simulations and get better at understanding selves” while those who read non-fiction “get better at the subject matter” of what they are reading. Reading fiction not only increases an understanding of self but also increases empathy and teaches skill sets applicable to social interaction.

Benefits Beyond Beauty: Integration of Art and Design into STEM Education and Research
Instead of individual presentations, these panelist elected to briefly introduce themselves and then break the session attendees into groups for conversation. The panelists were Gunalan Nadarajan (Dean of School of Art & Design, University of Michigan), Brian K. Smith (RISD), J.D. Talasek (National Academy of Sciences), and Marina McDougall (Exploratorium, San Francisco). All of these panelists’ work focus on bridging art and science in education at their respective institutions. The outcome of the session demonstrated that, while the two disciplines are beginning an important conversation, there are questions, uncertainties, misconceptions, and above all, fear.

The other lectures I attended made me acutely aware of this disconnect between science and art. Many of the scientists seemed unfamiliar with contemporary art and appeared uncomfortable with works in mediums other than traditional painting or drawing. Most of the scientists did not explore art beyond the visuals necessary for their own work.

One scientist did, however. Tom Kirchhausen of Harvard Medical exclusively studies clathrin coats which are how cells eat (and spit). Working at the molecular level, Kirchhausen realized he needed strong visuals to demonstrate his work and teach cellular structure to his students. Clathrin coats take about a minute to form and then go away. Because there is the element of time in clathrin lifecycles, Kirchhausen has selected video over still images. More importantly, he sets music to these videos. I asked him about his choice in adding sound. He said that he felt the music provided a narrative to that lifecycle that was easy for his students (and others) to miss otherwise. Kirchhausen’s work was one of the few lectures I attended where a scientist used art and technology to not only complement but enhance his research.

from Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine cookbook. He gave a Plenary Lecture at AAAS 2013.
from Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine cookbook. He gave a Plenary Lecture at AAAS 2013. Photo credit Ryan Matthew Smith/Modernist Cuisine, LLC

At the AAAS science librarians session, Denison’s Natural Sciences Librarian Moriana Garcia and I presented The Library as Bridge Between Science and Art. We introduced the history of the disciplines in relationship to Snow’s The Two Cultures and the latest news about the STEAM initiative. We also discussed contemporary studies on creativity in the research process. From here we demonstrated examples of interdisciplinarity at Dension’s library, mentioning collection development and exhibitions. We finished by framing the trend for makerspaces in libraries as part of the STEAM campaign, teaching creativity and inviting serendipitous discovery in the library. Learn more on our Science and Art guide.

Attending the AAAS meeting as an artist and as a librarian was an excellent opportunity for me to gain an understanding of how other disciplines view the arts. The arts are often marginalized in education and while STEAM intends to change that, exploring new pedagogy without artists’ insight could be damaging. Likewise, as I move forward with my research in creativity, talking with those in the STEM disciplines will provide me with a richer understanding of how the library as service and space can support innovation in STEM.

sorry diigo, i’m leaving you

I never thought I’d do this, but I’m leaving Diigo. I haven’t deactivated my account just yet, but I’ve weaned myself from this 20th century social bookmarking site because I’ve discovered a 21st century one – Scoop.It!. Dr. Steve Matthews’ post Personalized Professional Development? Scoop.It! led me to explore the service.

I have been using Diigo as an art librarian in two ways: to bookmark resources of interest to my professional research (creativity in information science) and to bookmark resources of interest to the faculty and students in the visual and performing arts. It’s this second use that made me unhappy with Diigo.

Now that I am using LibGuides, I wanted a more visual and engaging list of web links for my subject guides. Diigo lets you create a linkroll to embed into your guide, but it’s just words and very static on the page.

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With Scoop.It!, I have a window of images with resource summations plus activity – the Scoop.It! linkroll shifts to a new link every 5 seconds. I hope these new visuals and movement on the page will be more engaging to the users of my guides.

Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 4.38.58 PM

What makes Scoop.It! the 21st century bookmarking site is it’s seamless integration with social media. I have two Scoop.It! accounts – one for work to bookmark for the arts and one for personal/professional to bookmark for arts librarianship. Though I have yet to transfer all my resources from Diigo to my new Scoop.It! accounts, I’m already finding like-minded folks and can follow their bookmarks – and they are following mine. I can easily share my discoveries with other artists and librarians, creating a community and having a conversation.

my favorite bookmarking site is now even better

Perhaps this is digital hoarding, but when I’m online and discover an interesting article, image, or video I have to save it, tag it, and put it in a list. Diigo feeds my craving for web organizing. An abbreviation for Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff, Diigo is a free curation tool that provides digital annotation options and shared learning spaces. The site has won numerous awards including Best Websites for Teaching and Learning.

The Diigo toolbar installs on your browser. You can highlight and add “Sticky Note” comments right on the web page. The bookmark features allow you to save the web page as private or to be read later (very helpful for research reading that piles up). You can then can add a description of the online resource and add tags. Resources may also be added to user-generated lists or shared with a group to which the user subscribes. The toolbar also provide sharing through email, RSS feeds, or social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

So how did this awesome social bookmarking site become the awesomest ever? As Richard Bryne reports you can now take screenshots and save them, annotated, to your Diigo account. Once you select the area of the screen to capture, Diigo lets you save it as a stand-alone bookmark or attached to the webpage link.

Diigo's new screenshot option
Diigo’s new screenshot option

It also recognizes images. For example, as I’m browsing Boing Boing and see the still images of the giant squid (omg, people, omg), I get the little blue b in the right hand corner asking if I’d like to save the image. I can still save it as a stand-alone item or it will automatically upload to Diigo with the URL.

Diigo's new image capture
Diigo’s new image capture

Check out my personal Diigo at librarianshannon and the one I’ve created as the Fine Arts Liaison Librarian, DensionFineArts. Thanks Diigo!

information overload. again.

The Spring 2012 issue of The Hedgehog Review has an enlightening article by Chad Wellmon. Why Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid…or Smart is a reference to Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic article Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr admits that the internet “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” Multiple tabs open for email, RSS feeds, and browsing distract him from focused critical reading of lengthy articles or books. “The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration,” Carr acknowledges.

Wellmon refers to this as information overload, the new catch-phrase of our time. While Carr considers stupidity a result of overload  (too much to process means we stop processing entirely), Wellmon suggests this argument is too simplistic and rather naive. He reminds us that “these technologies do not exist independently of the human persons who design and use them.” Furthermore, we’ve been through overload before – when we invented the printing press.

Wellmon cites Ann Blair’s 2010 article in The Boston Globe, Information Overload: The Early Years. When Gutenberg invented printing in the 15th century, “suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight.” Wellmon refers to German readers in the late 18th century claiming “to have been infested by a plague of books.” Christian Thomasius, the philosopher, referred to this overload of printed material as a “kind of Epidemic disease.”

how to simultaneously read many books
how to simultaneously read many books; Ramelli’s 1588 bookwheel

What came of this information headache? Blair tells us “a raft of innovative methods for dealing with the accumulation of information” emerged. Public lending libraries, bibliographies and indexes, reference manuals and encyclopedias all developed to assist readers in determining what needed to be read and where to find those important pages. Note-taking was well-advised. Cutting and pasting (the literal kind) maintained a clean selection of the best reading materials. Soon these sheets of pasted print were used as a reference system themselves; this is the foundation of the library card catalog which in turn influenced the organization of the Internet.

“All of these technologies” Wellmon concludes, “facilitated a consultative reading that allowed a text to be accessed in parts instead of reading a text straight through from beginning to end.” The original infoglut crisis was averted with a variety of coping mechanisms we still use today.

QR codes in libraries

The other week I listened in on the Georgia Library Association and the Georgia Public Library Association joint Carterette Series Webinar QR Connections: QR Codes in Libraries. Krista Godfrey (aka the wee librarian) highlighted libraries that are currently using QR codes. She the demonstrated ways all libraries can implement them and get the most out of them. Krista’s many presentations on QR codes are available on her slideshare page.

an example of QR codes in libraries from the Seeley G. Mudd Library at Lawrence University
an example of QR codes in libraries from the Seeley G. Mudd Library at Lawrence University

Krista informed us that QR coding was developed by the Japanese company Denso Wave. Fortunately, Denso made the code open source. To read a QR code, you need a smart phone and a QR code reader application such as QuickMark, Paperlinks, BeeTagg or NeoReader. These software readers also generate QR codes, enabling the user to read and create with one application. Bitly was highly recommended as a way to shorten your URLs before turing them into QR codes.

QR codes have shown up everywhere. Check out the Flickr group QR Codes in the Wild and WTF QR Codes for the most bizarre places and uses – perhaps you’ll be inspired too. Some unusual ones from WTF are on bananas, as stickers to keep your child safe (by revealing everything about her when scanned), and on the expressway.

And, of course, QR codes make great tattoos. If you can’t decide what image to get, get a code the generates a new picture every time!

QR codes link to digital versions of journals at George Fox University's library
QR codes link to digital versions of journals at George Fox University’s library

But is any of this new technology useful, particularly in libraries? Some uses of QR codes in libraries are listed on the Library Success: Best Practices Wiki and include linking print journals to their digital versions and accessing materials like subject guides, copier instructions, and tours of the library.

Sounds good doesn’t it? An easy add-on for outreach and resource promotion. However, is it worth the time if no one scans? And we know no one is scanning, particularly college-age folks. Youth marketing group Archrival found the following in their study:

  • 81% of students owned a smartphone
  • 80% of students had previously seen a QR code
  • 21% of students successfully scanned our QR code example.
  • 75% of students said they are “Not Likely” to scan a QR code in the future.

Whoops. Krista sited a number of issues with QR code technology: accessibility; needing actual (and good) context to link to; linking to sites that are not mobile-ready; digital divide/tech know-how; expense (data plans on smart phones); and security.

San Diego State University is using them in their library catalog
San Diego State University is using them in their library catalog

I like the technology and hope to eventually implement it in libraries. As we become more of a virtual destination than a physical one, QR codes are a handy tool to redirect users. But I don’t think there is enough public understanding and use of QR codes to make it my summer project. Maybe next year…

ucontent: new book on user-generated content

UContent: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content by Nick Tomaiuolo

Experienced reference and instruction librarian Nick Tomaiuolo’s (aka the Web 2.0 Librarian) new book is a must-have for all librarians involved in digital content. UContent clearly describes various user-generated content (UGC) tools and how librarians can implement these in their library work and personal development.

UContent is targeted toward the beginner in UGC but tricks and tips will be welcomed by more advanced users. UContent isn’t pretty. It’s a bare-bones how-to do-it-yourself approach, but it works.

Since the content of the book can easily become outdated, Tomaiuolo has created an excellent website to accompany the book. The most important chapters are on blogs, audio and video services,  social bookmarking, and Flickr.

Tomaiuolo provides an overview of the service as well as interviews with expert users or developers. Most importantly, he demonstrates how these services have been implemented by other librarians. This provides real-life demonstrations of the possibilities of UGC and acts as a jumping-off point for developing your own content. And, like any good librarian, he has a terrific bibliography for each chapter. UContent is sure to become a handy reference book for librarians as the enter the Web 2.0 world of UGC.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

as we may think (and controlled vocabulary)

Reading Dr. Bush’s article from 1945 is an interesting way to reflect on the development of technology and how it assists people. His description of a “memex” allows us to truly consider how much online catalogs, databases, and the Internet do for us (6). Gladly, in his attention on the future of mechanization, he differentiates between “creative thought and essentially repetitive thought” and focuses on aids that will eliminate the latter (3). But can we separate the two processes? Are they intrinsically linked, working simultaneously? If we mechanize the one, what happens to the other?

the memex
the memex

It seems often there is a fine line between rote and deep understanding. Bush is quick to note “that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record (1).” In essence, this has not changed. As Mann points out, we, in our research, often barely skim the surface of what is available on a particular subject matter. Bush is concerned with technological ways to access this material, in an effort to eliminate restrictions (“associative indexing (7)”), while Mann expresses the need for us to re-learn information seeking in more appropriate ways. Mann wants us to realize the full potential of the traditional library science model; to discover the successful foundations of the classification system, catalog, and published bibliographies and indexes.

We often physically browse the shelves: once we find a title or subject heading in the catalog, we leave the computer terminal and head for the stacks without using the controlled vocabulary available in the catalog. We are happy with the sources found next to one another on the shelf because our expectations for our search are so elemental (42). However, the controlled vocabulary available with the record for each book is so effective that it makes “virtually every entry in the catalog a source of cross-references to other, related entries (39).” Mann notes that we have been poorly taught our research skills and this is why we stick to the stacks and literally scanning row by row for what we want. But is a lifetime of bad library skills lessons to blame for our simplicity?

Bush assures us that “the world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it (1).” Notice he doesn’t write something good is bound to come of it. Just something. And so, I wonder often about that question, perhaps unanswerable: how much information is too much information? Are we able to digest all the resources available to us? Would knowing all that has been written on a subject encourage us to find the best sources among that grouping or cause us to shut down with the worries about lack of time and intellectual inabilities? Will we take pride in our efforts or be mentally drained and perhaps even confused? Knowing that the specific answer to your specific question is out “there” is great news. To find it, we likely need to rely on Bush’s “new profession of trail blazers” which means there will be work for all of us new librarians, right (8)? But I tend to believe that most wisdom is received when you are lost on your way to somewhere important.

Dr. Bush makes reference to two types of selection: simple selection, where one looks at the larger picture and then refocuses given a set of characteristics that he/she defines, and one more complex, like dialing a certain telephone number to reach a certain person. I truly see the value in the ability, aided by technology, to find “just one of a million possible stations (5).” I suppose I worry that its ease and quickness will encourage us to look for ways to eliminate simple selection, those processes of berry picking and browsing. The library has a difficult task: it should make suitable resource location and selection simple enough for the average user (with as few steps as possible) while allowing for the non-linear creative practices that can occur when a subject keyword search brings up unrelated results. Perhaps the fact that most of the dictionary was written by a madman should suggest we cannot always rely on the rationale of words to move forward.

Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. Atlantic Monthly, 176, 101-108.

Mann, T. (1993). Library Research Models: A Guide to Classification, Cataloging, and Computers (pp.25-56). New York: Oxford University Press.


swtxpca: where pedagogy, science fiction, and cross-dressing come together

Last week I was at the Southwest Texas Popular and American Culture Associations‘ (SWTXPCA) annual conference in Albuquerque. I learned so much while there and flew home with my head full of ideas and intended research. To give an idea of the diversity of conversation and innovative scholarship happening around the world, here is my Must Read & Learn list from the conference.

the ADDIE model as a learning theory

watch Alton Brown how-to cooking videos

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter

The Art Museum from Boullee to Bilbao by Andrew McClellan

explore The Brownie’s Book and its history (from January 1920; from the Library of Congress, this takes a while to load)

Creating a Personal Research Agenda by Brad Neuberg

Creating a Research Agenda by Justin Reedy and Madhavi Murty

the Library Bar and Grill in Albuquerque
the Library Bar and Grill in Albuquerque

Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Ted Nelson

Critically Queer by Judith Butler

Cultural Theory and Popular Culture by John Storey

Culture Wars by James Davison Hunter

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

the articles and books posted on EverdayLiteracies by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel as well as following their blog by the same title

The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym

Institute for the Future of the Book

the Kahn Academy model of teaching

Korean Shamanism 


Mapping Out a Research Agenda slideshow by Barbara G. Ryder

Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H. J. Jackson

Narrative as Virtual Reality by Marie-Laure Ryan

Our Lady of...UFOs? graffiti in Albuquerque
Our Lady of…UFOs? graffiti in Albuquerque

Neuromancer by William Gibson

The New Media Reader by editors Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Monfort

Of Other Spaces by Michel Foucault

Planned Obsolescence by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Possiplex by Ted Nelson (after trudging though Computer Lib/Dream Machines and maybe I’ll finally understand Project Xanadu)


The Production of Space by Henri Lefebvre

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real and Imagined Places by Edward Soja

Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety by Marjorie Garber

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson