PongI quite dislike nostalgia. All that looking in the rear view view with rose coloured glasses bothers me. The good old days …. weren’t.

So I was surprised by a wave of nostalgia that washed over me a few days ago. Nostalgia for a video game. For Pong.

I blame Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. It’s a highly recommended survey of the key people responsible for the digital age. It also has a short section on Atari and, of course, Pong.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes Pong:

… a two-dimensional sports game that simulates table tennis. The player controls an in-game paddle by moving it vertically across the left side of the screen, and can compete against either a computer-controlled opponent or another player controlling a second paddle on the opposing side. Players use the paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The aim is for each player to reach eleven points before the opponent; points are earned when one fails to return the ball to the other.

Hi-tech it ain’t. No MMORPG or MMOG here. And so why did I play it for hours and hours. Why did I drop a small fortune (for a teenager) into this arcade machine. Simple answer:


At the time I was dating my future spouse. We had no money and lots of time. We played Pong. At the mall. Endlessly.

I’m starting to feel all warm and fuzzy again.

If you want to try out Pong yourself (or simply wallow in nostalgia like me) try the web simulation. Fun.

Now back to our regularly scheduled posts about information technology, higher education, and other such serious stuff.


Posted in AboutMike, Digital Culture | 2 Comments


In real estate the mantra is “Location. Location. Location.” In computing the mantra is “Real Estate. Real Estate. Real Estate.” Screen real estate that is.

At MPOW my desk had three active screens: a laptop and 2 large external monitors. At a glance I could monitor various programs and processes. Sure, they covered my entire desk but my real desk was the screen anyway. I loved it.

Now, not so much.

Recently I removed the external monitors and now exclusively use just the laptop screen. While I can easily flip from application to application, there is really only one active, visible thing on the screen at any one time.

I’ve traded scope and breadth for focus and attention.

All the moving parts, images, alerts, and announcements were becoming less about information and more about irritation. What was once about being informed was now about being interrupted. I’m actually fairly good at multitasking (or what it really is … multiplexing) but there was clearly a diminishing return.

I dumped the screens and now have a better view of my work.

Another bonus? I can see the top of my desk. Which means I can cover it with more alphabet blocks and wooden type. Focus, Mike, focus.


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Open Shelf is a Failure

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Samuel BeckettThis is one of my favourite observations and encouragements from the always sunny and positive Samuel Beckett (its from Worstward Ho, 1983). I’m a big fan of screwing up. Quite good at it really.

Of course the proof of this is in the pudding … the spoiled pudding I suppose.

A project I’ve been working on for some time has recently been released. It’s an ongoing thing; it started in one place and is moving into other, as yet unknown, place.

The project is Open Shelf, the new e-magazine of the Ontario Library Association. We launched with our initial content in early September and we plan on releasing new content every two weeks. I’m the Editor-in Chief.

So, what am I saying? Is Open Shelf a failure?

Yes, no, perhaps, of course.

I am ever thankful to Shelagh Paterson (Executive Director of OLA) and the OLA Board of Directors for their willingness to take a risk on this project. Moving from a print quarterly  with a revenue base (Access, which OLA published for 20 years) to an open access online something-or-other with no income took intestinal fortitude.

Working with a number of wonderful people we started inventing Open Shelf nearly two years ago. We had to learn almost everything about digital publishing from the ground up; the epitome of neophytes.

Open Shelf

Open Shelf

And so it was released, warts and all. Yup we had (have) some challenges. Site performance …. well it sucked. The RSS feed seemed wonky. Some readers found it visually confusing. Articles didn’t render well on certain browser or on some devices. The table of contents (which I thought was very cool) mystified people. I could go on. And on.

Other readers, bless them, really liked it … and had some suggestions for making it better.

We published some excellent articles and we have some brilliant columnists. I like the bold visual style and I think the format is going to be flexible. There are lots of wonderful contributions in the editorial stages. It has, I think, my most important criteria for success: readability.

We’re going to move forward, perhaps stumble forward. The editors, writers, and readers are all together on this journey. I know we will make improvements as well as entirely new screw ups.

And that’s the message. It’s easy to talk about encouraging failure and allowing people to make mistakes. The real value is in actually doing it …. and seeing (demonstrating) that it really does work. We are failing better. Good on us.



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Returning to the Ranks

In January I “returned to the ranks” (I stepped down as an administrator and became a non-management librarian again). At least I think I did this. There might be some doubt.

Some context.

Having served as Chief Librarian and CIO at the University of Guelph for many years, I decided to stop being an administrator and go back to professional practice. I took a sabbatical and now am a librarian at Guelph who teaches in our First Year Seminar Program.

The prospect of returning to the ranks got me thinking about how faculty do this (relatively often) but librarians not so much. In fact most Chief Librarians/Library Deans/University Librarians either retire from the job or go on to other administrative jobs.

So I decided to interview a few people and see what was happening around this issue. I presented the results in a paper at the inaugural annual conference of the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians. This lead to a paper that has just been published in Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research.

Here’s the key point of all this: I was talking to a colleague about the paper (he had read it) and he said: “Do you think you’ve actually returned to the ranks?”

Say what?

Apparently while I may think I’m a “librarian” again, others may not be so sure. Once an administrator, always an administrator.

And perhaps that’s why the whole issue of stepping down from an administrative role and staying in the profession needs some attention.  A more holistic career path for librarians would see administrative appointments as part of a natural and cyclical progression: as a stage, not a destination. If you are interested in more about this, see “Returning to the Ranks: Towards an Holistic Career Path in Academic Librarianship.”


Posted in AboutMike, Librarianship | 2 Comments

Open Shelf: Towards the Launch (the logo)

Open Shelf

Open Shelf

I’m the Editor-in-Chief of Open Shelf, the magazine of the Ontario Library Association. Well, to be accurate, the as-yet-to-be-launched magazine of OLA. We’ve been in development mode for months. Can I tell you how hard it is to do this? Rewarding. But.

Open Shelf is the online successor to Access, the print quarterly that published by OLA from 1994-2014. With the re-imagined digital magazine we will be able to publish more frequently and engage with readers more effectively. The formal launch is still TBD. More on that later. Today, it’s all about the logo.

The title, Open Shelf, was meant to evoke both traditional and emerging aspects of library and information management. The concept of “open” is important in two ways: we are an open access magazine but we are also open in the sense of encouraging all views and diverse contributions. The “shelf” word echoes the library stacks and the heritage it symbolizes. A shelf is also a platform for things, a place to put things, and place to discover things.

Creating an Open Shelf logo to reflect this was a challenge. I wanted something distinctive and memorable. Most magazine logos are dull and boring. I’m delighted with the result.

[Full disclosure: the logo designer is my wife, Lynn Ridley.]

The logo reflects how we want Open Shelf to evolve: a place for useful things, a challenge to conventional thinking, and a colourful perspective on the opportunities before us.

Open Shelf is fueled by the interests of OLA members but as an open access magazine the audience is all those interested in libraries and information management. We all have stories to tell and insights to share. What’s your story? What insight would you like to share? Let me know. The shelf is always open.



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Beyond Literacy: A Class, An Event, A Conversation

Logo_SquareEvery time I teach the Beyond Literacy course (a First Year Seminar at Guelph) I am wonderfully delighted by the students. Frankly very few of them ever buy the premise of the course (“Reading and writing are doomed. Literacy as we know it is over. Welcome to the post-literate future.”) but it doesn’t matter. Like any good learning experience, it’s all about the journey. And it’s always quite the journey.

The students in the course are required to work on a single, final class project. They can do almost anything as long as 1) it explores and amplifies the course content, 2) they work together, and 3) the result is public in some way.

The last criteria is perhaps the most important to me. The public component sharpens their critical capacity and it puts some accountability into their work.

In previous years students have created podcasts, written an e-book or a magazine article, created videos on YouTube, and hosted a debate.

This year the class decided they wanted to host a book burning.

As it turns out (surprise!) that’s not so easy to do … anywhere, for any reason.

So they decided to host a book shredding instead.

That was no problem. So they did it in the Library.

They formed four teams: event planning, video interviewing, video editing team, and overall project management group.

They promoted the event on Facebook and other places, and on Wednesday March 26th at 12:30 in the main entrance of the McLaughlin Library, they invited people to step, rip a page out of a book, and put it through a shredder.

Let the wild rumpus begin.

As you might expect, people were confused, upset, intrigued and outraged. Some were disturbingly enthusiastic. One faculty member called it “pornography” and another said days later that he was still troubled by what he saw.

But the event did what the students wanted; it allowed them to engage in conversation about what we think about reading, writing, alphabetic literacy, and the future of all those things. It opened up a dialogue and it was a powerful learning experience.

As part of the assignment the students interviewed a number of people and recorded the book shredding event.

Here’s the final video:

And here are two reactions from James McGarry, a colleague at Guelph:


Posted in Beyond Literacy, Literacy, Teaching & Learning, UofGuelph | Leave a comment

CRKN IDSE Preliminary Report

The CRKN Integrated Digital Scholarship Ecosystem (IDSE) project has released its preliminary report. You can read a Summary as well as the Full Report in PDF or HTML.

Full Disclosure: I’m the Project Manager.

While this is a status report, updating those interested on our progress to date, it also highlights a number of issues or themes that have emerged over the initial months of discussions, deliberations, and interviews.

It is not implied that these issues are comprehensive or even the focus of recommendations contemplated for the final report. However, they are an indication of what those in the ecosystem are talking and thinking about.

The upcoming priorities for Sabina Pagotta (IDSE Project Analyst) and I are to analyze the Library Director’s survey, issue and analyze the survey of collections staff, follow up on innovative services and resources identified through the surveys and interviews, continue interviewing stakeholders in the ecosystem, and continue reviewing key research studies. We will endeavour to collect many of these studies on the IDSE website.

One recent study of particular interest is “Canadian Researchers’ Publishing Attitudes and Behaviours“, a report commission by Canadian Science Publishing.

There is lots to consider from this important report but two findings seemed especially relevant to the IDSE investigation:

Value of OAThis finding suggests that the business models for OA are still problematic or misunderstood. Scholarly communications cost. Who pays and how they pay continues to disrupt the ecosystem.

Reasons for OAThis finding is quite promising (from an OA advocacy perspective). It suggests that for a substantial number of researcher (25%) their reason for publishing in OA journals was based not on ideological reasons (supporting the principles of OA) but because the journal was good and one of the best places for them to publish their work.

Money and quality. Some things never change.

As the IDSE project continues we encourage you to contact us: via the Forum on our website, email (mridley@uoguelph.ca) or (spagotto@crkn.ca) or by using the #CdnIDSE hashtag.

We are on track to present the final report to the CRKN Board of Directors on June 22nd. It is anticipated that the Board will release the report widely and encourage feedback. Throughout the summer and at the CRKN AGM in October, the recommendations of the report endorsed by the Board will be discussed and prioritized by CRKN members.

The desired outcomes are opportunities for CRKN and its member libraries to improve and enhance the shared ecosystem we all support and rely upon.


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Podcasts from The Social Life of Information Course

Information-Graphic-Cropped-SmallThis semester (along with MJ D’Elia, Amanda Etches, and Doug Horne) I taught a First Year Seminar course entitled The Social Life of Information. With acknowledgement to John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid for the inspiration and guidance, the course explored how information in its many forms shapes the way we think and our society operates.

Mostly it was a course that helped students engage in informed dialogue.

One of the more interesting aspects of the course was that students created podcasts based on the group presentations they lead in class. None of the students had done this before. Kelly Jones, independent radio producer extraordinaire, provided a series of background and skill development workshops. She then helped them put together the podcasts in the CFRU studios (the community radio located on the University campus).

Social Media and Jobs: will social media use impact future employment?

Privacy, Social Media, and Sports: how are athletes constrained in their use of social media?

Jingles and Music: how do advertising and brand jingles impact our behavour?

Cursive Writing: should cursive writing be taught in schools?

The students did a wonderful job and it was a great learning experience for us all. The pedagogical value of radio continues to impress me.


Posted in FYS, Teaching & Learning, UofGuelph | Leave a comment

Open Access: Publishing *and* Reading (Status Report)

Open AccessYou might remember my plan to read only open access (OA) articles during this year.

You may be wondering, “how’s that going for you?”

Well, not too well. In fact, it has been a complete failure. And as you may recall, I’m a big fan of failure. So, in true Orwellian fashion, my project has been a raging success.

I use JournalTOCs as one tool to track new articles of interest to me (excellent service; high recommended). You can identify OA journals on JournalTOCs so it was easy for me to trim my list of tracked journals to only those.

My academic interests are mostly around libraries, librarians, information, information technology, higher education, and literacy. The fields differ with respect to OA. In turns out there are only a small number of higher education OA journals (they dried up to a trickle when I changed the setting on JournalTOCs), and a relatively modest number of IT journals focused on my particular IT interests. Unsurprisingly, journals on libraries and librarians do better.

While this allowed me to focus my reading on OA material, what I really discovered was how modestly I use traditional research journals. The vast majority of my professional and research literature comes from blogs and the grey literature (reports for example). Twitter, Feedly, and Facebook (ouch) are my most useful awareness tools and they mostly reference OA-like material.

The central reason for the failure of this project was in regard to materials for the courses I’m teaching this semester. At first when I discovered a good article for the class in a non-OA journal I looked for a pre-publication, repository version (and with some success). For those not available, I asked for one to be put in a repository (thanks to my very supportive colleague K. Jane Burpee for suggestions on how to do this effectively and employ tools like the Open Access Button). Sadly I did this only once (unsuccessfully). Instead (blush) I sent a few non-OA articles to the class without reading them myself.

At this point alarm bells went off and red flags appeared everywhere. What the hell was I doing? This was inappropriate and unacceptable.

So, the experiment is over.

It was probably over 10 minutes after my initial blog post (just as some of my more insightful colleagues suggested). But like all experiments, I learned some important things about the disciplines important to me and my own habits.

As my yearlong experiment ends almost as soon as it started, I declare victory.


Posted in AboutMike, Digital Culture, Information, Teaching & Learning | Leave a comment

Tale of Two Archives: NARA and LAC

nara-logoOn Wednesday night David Ferriero, the National Archivist of the United States, inspired us with stories about how an archive can become central to the national fabric. His I.P. Sharp Lecture at the iSchool, University of Toronto was memorable and instructive on so many levels.

After less than 5 years on the job (having been previously at NYPL, Duke, and MIT) Ferriero had a mandate to shake the place up. And did he ever.

With a renewed focus on citizen engagement, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has done stunning work with social media and citizen engagement. And the results demonstrate it. Their online catalogue got 7M views in 2013; linking up with Wikipedia to include NARA content (and do they have content!) on Wikipedia pages resulted in 1.3B (yes billion) page views during the same year. Go where the people are. What a simple yet effective strategy.

What was refreshing about Ferriero’s talk was not the great stories about famous people (Whitman, Emerson, Elvis) and the documents pertaining to them in the NARA collections (here are some of his “favourite” documents). And it was not even the sales pitch he clearly has for the value of the archives (which was quite compelling). What was truly impressive was his commitment to making NARA a resource and service for the American people. For the average citizen. It is their stuff. It’s their record. It’s their institution.

I know lots of archives have that sort of attitude and approach. But to see it professed and actually accomplished at what is a ginormous institution is very impressive. It comes as no surprise that their new strategic plan is called “Being Bold“. There is some real (and effective) attitude here! Ferriero references himself as the “Collector in Chief”, his blog is called AOTUS  (a wonderful riff on POTUS), and he is active on Twitter @dferriero.

Ferriero has set a very large and tradition-bound ship on a new course. He has proven that institutions must (and can) change dramatically.

Leadership makes a difference. Creating a mandate, and letting visionary people run with it, makes a difference. Responding to real, average citizens, makes a difference.

NARA is making a difference in the lives of Americans. I wish I could say the same about Library and Archives Canada.

The leadership vacuum continues at LAC. Average Canadians are paying the price.


Posted in Archives, Leadership, Libraries | Leave a comment