Today is going to be dominated by digital affairs. First, I plan to attend the University of North Dakota CIO (Chief Information Officers) Core Technology Research Forum. The plan, from what I understand, is to focus on the future of research technology here on campus.
That's probably the least interesting meeting of the day. Immediately after that meeting, I'll scurry off to the first major panel of the UND Writers Conference. The theme of this years conference is "Mind the Gap: Print, New Media, Art" and here's the exciting schedule. At noon in the lecture bowl, the first panel will discuss "Are Books Obsolete?" and feature graphic artist, Art Spiegelman, e-literature author (and Teaching Thursday contributor!) Deena Larsen, filmmaker Cecelia Condit. This is not the first panel to consider this topic in recent years and the slightly negative tone to the question (as opposed to the more optimistic "What is the future of the book"? The fear with a panel focused on a question like this is that the answer could be a simple "no" and that doesn't leave us anywhere really to go.
One of my little pet projects has been to encourage a Twitter back channel for the Writers Conference using the hashtag #UNDWC. Let's just say that North Dakota is not quite ready for Twitter hashtags yet and it's been a bit of an uphill battle. In any event, the Writers Conference does have an official Twitter Feed, which awkwardly has two followers. So, anyone attending, thinking about, or curious about the Writers Conference, follow their feed. Or, better still, contribute to the conversation by using the #UNDWC. Then follow the chat (or just me tweeting merrily away) here.
Then, at 2 pm, I'm off to my History 240 Class to talk about research using the library. As per usual this involves introducing them to digital tools - namely the library catalogue, J-Stor, World Cat, Google Scholar, and Zotero -- as well as old fashioned analog ones. One of the greatest challenges that I have each year is explaining to students exactly what a monograph is or how to distinguish between an academic and popular work. It's always surprising how little the students understand about the relationship between form and authority in publishing. In other words, a book that has all of the basic attributes of an academically authoritative text (footnotes, bibliography, index, acknowledgements, thesis, academic publisher) is more likely to be the basis for further research than a book lacking this attributes. Students simply do not come to University with the skills needed to discern academic authority. The thing that worries me more, is that these basic skills are very difficult to communicate and instill in students. In other words, students will continue to ask me -- sometimes for semesters after the class is over -- whether a book is a monograph or not. I am not trying to suggest that students only read monographs or anything like that, but it strikes me as odd how hard it is for them to distinguish between an academic book and a non-academic book. And, to return to the theme of this post, it worries me that in a digital environment it is even more confusing to them. At least academic publishing adheres to some basic standards whereas the signs of authority on the web are far more obscure.
Finally, on a digital day, I am slightly embarrassed to announce that I (well, actually my wife) ordered my iPad over the weekend. While I have, like any good academic, scurried off to find negative reviews of it (just to keep myself from being disappointed), I am pretty excited to have a flexible, flawed, and nicely designed ebook reader. I expect it to substantially improve my life.