April 23, 2004
UThink in the news
Well, we're into week three of the UThink project and things are going pretty smoothly. Again, thanks to the quiet release of the project, we were able to learn about a bug with the Trackback feature of our installation of Movable Type and fix it before things get too crazy. The quiet nature of our release hasn't stopped some news being generated about UThink, though. I've already told you about the broadcast journalism student that interviewed me, and I'm expecting an article in the Minnesota Daily any day now. Also, University Relations contacted me a couple of days ago and said they would be featuring UThink on the U of M home page next week in a "spotlight." That's pretty cool. And now today, the Library Journal Academic Wire published a little piece about the project. I realize that Library Journal may not be exciting to most of you, but for me, a librarian, it is very flattering. Anyway, here is the piece:
AS PART OF ITS MISSION, U. OF MINNESOTA LIBRARY OFFERS FREE BLOGS
When University of Minnesota (UM) librarian Shane Nackenrud first showed the libraries' new blog system to a faculty member in the philosophy department, he got his first indication that the program might be popular. "He was so impressed," Nackenrud recalled. "He said, 'You're going to have 100,000 users!'" With the April launch of UThink, a program under the library's auspices to offer free blogs to the university community, UM has made the library the center for blogging. Blogging on campuses is not unusual. At Harvard, for example, blogs are sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, part of the law school. UM, however, is among the first to assert that blogging is key to the library's mission, from collecting "campus history" to facilitating academic discourse. "We are not unique in using blogs in an academic environment but we are unique in that we saw that the university libraries could lead the effort," said Nackenrud.
Already, Nackenrud said, professors have said they'll use the blogs for specific classes to encourage discussion and debate. "We also are excited about the potential blogs hold to create communities of interest on campus," he added. "We can tie blogs together based on department, college, major, research interest, or specific classes and bring people together that maybe would have never met if not for the system." For users, copyright and all other related rights to blog content will be owned by the author. Blog authors can even license their content through a Creative Commons license. Other details are still developing, such as how much library support the program will require. Currently, the system is supported by Nackenrud and a programmer, but others might help if demand increases. As for free speech issues, Nackenrud said the library was careful not to create any new policies, even for those blogs with views that may offend. "There is no policy on campus that trumps the First Amendment as far as I know," he said. For Nackenrud and UM officials, the blogs are a vibrant new commons emerging within the UM academic community. "The beauty of all of this," he observed, "is that the library will be the center for all of this activity."
First of all, it is nice to know that variations on the spelling of my last name have not been exhausted yet. This is the first time I have ever been called "Nackenrud." Not the worst butchering of my last name I've ever seen, that is for sure. That honor still goes to "MacFrud." But it is still perplexing to me that he would misspell my last name since I answered this reporter's questions in an email message. Secondly, and more importantly, the author of this piece really nailed the essence of the project. I'm excited for the opportunities this will bring to the U of M to create new types of user communities on campus, and I am really excited about the whole "freedom of expression" aspect of it. So often academic libraries back away from this issue and rely on public libraries and the ALA to bear the torch of intellectual freedom. I'm also excited that the libraries are at the center of this initiative. I feel strongly that in this age of the Internet libraries in general need to reinvent themselves and strive to remain relevant to our users. This is especially true in an academic setting where undergrads prefer the ease of Google and Amazon to the complexity of our catalogs and databases. How do we remain relevant? Certainly not by abandoning what makes us libraries in the first place, but by recognizing when our mission can be supported by new ideas and technology. Blogs are my idea to accomplish this. I can't guarantee the project will be successful, but it has certainly created a buzz about the libraries and that has been gratifying.
Posted by snackeru at April 23, 2004 8:00 AM | UThink
Shane, it is amazing how our last name gets butchered! I still go into hysterics every time I recall MacFrud!!! But, seriously, congratulations again on your great achievement--to be nationally recognized by the Library Journal in such a nice article, is wonderful! I guess you'll be famous in no time!
Posted by: mom at April 23, 2004 9:02 AM
I'll add my congrats as well Shane. Always great to hear that this is going as well if not better than you hoped given how much work you put into it.
Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at April 23, 2004 12:12 PM