Tag Archives: information

On D-Day, Exploring the Context of “As We May Think”

As We May Think (Cover)

During National Poetry Month (April), I thought it would be interesting to quote one of the poems published in the same issue of The Atlantic Monthly as the incredible essay, “As We May Think,” by Vannevar Bush.

“As We May Think” was required reading when I was in grad school, and it still it. This is a work that was truly seminal in shaping the origins of the Internet, hypertext, the Web, more. Provocative, inspirational, decades before its time. It’s online, easy to find, and it’s even open and free to the world. When I went looking for poems from the issue, though, that was not easy to find, much less free. I ended up having to request the print copy. Print. Really? You must be kidding me, but no, it’s true. It took me a month to believe I wasn’t going to find it online, and another few weeks for me to place the request for the print and find time to actually look at it.

You know what happens with print? You go looking for one thing, and find something else. You turn a page, and a picture catches your eye. You start to skim one article, but a beautiful word or phrase on the facing page distracts you. Before you know it, you are turning pages whether or not they have anything to do with your original question.

Let me tell you something about the issue of The Atlantic for July 1945. It was published less than a year after D-Day. It was published only a few months after the official end to the war. It was published when people first began to see, to believe, that World War II really was going to end, and stay done. It was the beginning of moving through the shock and trauma of the war, beginning to tell stories that couldn’t be born, that no one wants to remember.

When I first read “As We May Think” it seemed all shiny and glossy, this vision of what might someday become computers, personal assistants, ready flexible access to information. The dream that was so much bigger than people realized at the time, bigger than I realized when I read it in grad school. I had no idea that this was one essay of a larger series that The Atlantic was publishing on science and the war, no real idea of the world in which it was written. Sure, we studied WWII in school, read about the concentration camps, the war bonds, the atom bomb, the refugees, the destruction of historical treasures across Europe, the bombing of London, the evacuations, the debates in America about whether or not to enter the war, the American resistors who joined the war efforts in Europe early and were shunned as unpatriotic for the rest of their lives.

It never really came alive for me, though, in the way that it did when my computers broke this week and I went through the journal issue that contained Vannevar Bush’s essay. Some of what I found there:
– “paper bombs” as tools to influence thought
– Ad: advertisements on new technologies created for the war that had drastic impacts on food and home lives of civilians (from ice cream to oranges to vitamins)
– serious examinations of media reporters, “their reliability, their prejudices, and their mistakes”
– the role of propaganda on both sides of the conflict as obvious and visible even at the time
– first person reports of Buchenwald, shocking ghastly stories neglected from modern reports of the camps
– bitter heart-wrenching poems of soldiers from the fronts
– sweet stories of life back home, still edged with fatigue and loss and an undertone of the global anxieties, and stories of life with what we now call PTSD or depression or anxiety or others
– “Should Jews Return to Germany?”
– Ad: the misunderstood science that led to putting iodine in gasoline
– “Prithee, Little Book, Who Made Thee?”
– Ad: “Coal? Yes, indeed, it’s a big item in the drugstore!”
– Ad: “For the first time in history, a world without poverty and without war is technically possible. Whether we achieve it depends on how well we understand the ‘Economies Of Peace’.”
– book reviews of and advertisements for works by Henry James, Upton Sinclair, Thomas Mann, John Crowe Ransom, W. H. Auden, and other familiar names.

Somehow, “As We May Think” takes on a different flavor in the context of essays, and poems like this snippet from Sasserath, which resonate so very differently now than when they were written, that echo with limits and struggles that repeat now in some places and yet have become fictions in others.

“We who must live on substitutes for life,
The powdered egg, the dehydrated spud, …
Or learn the art of love with plastic limbs …”
“On Anodynes, by Simpson Sasserath, RT2/c

Reading and seeing “As We May Think” in the context of the series of which it was a part, similarly lends a depth that makes it seem even more extraordinary. The series was called, “A Scientist Looks at Tomorrow,” beginning in 1945 ad stretching to at least 1947. It included titles such as these:

– The Social Animal / Caryl P. Haskins
– Stars, Proteins, and Nations / Philippe Le Corbeiller
– A Design for Fighting / Harlow Shapley
– Penicillin, Plasma Fractionation, and the Physician / Dr. John F. Fulton
– A Physicist Returns from the War / I. I. Rabi
– Psychiatry and the Way / Big. Gen. William G. Menninger
– DDT and the Balance of Nature / V. B. Wigglesworth

I’m now curious to find them all, as a fascinating window into what was considered the cutting edge of emerging technologies in the mid-1940s. But the few sentences that resonated with me most closely came from a few months after the Bush essay, towards the end of the year, in an essay called, “The Return to Love,” by Rollo Walter Brown.

We can take our choice. If we do not believe that the awakening, the generosity, the loyalty, the warmth, expressed in love can transform the world into something more livable than what we now have, then we can take the alternative and believe that husbands and wives who cannot endure each other, neighbors who cannot endure each other, races who cannot endure each other, people who scoff at anyone who would make an improvement, can somehow, added together, constitute one world living in amity. We can wait among our raucous hatreds until somebody somewhere decides to enforce his special hatred with some super-super atomic bomb. That is something definite and “realistic.” But might we not have a more interesting world if we tried love?

Since Katrina, Part Two: How Has Information Access Changed?

Sign: Closed Due to Hurricane Katrina

I mentioned yesterday that Hurricane Katrina changed my life in many ways. Well, my last name might be Swedish, but I’ve never really self-identified as Swedish. My cultural identity has come more from my mother’s side of the family, the Cajun side.

So when Katrina hit, I was riveted; when New Orleans was so damaged I was bereft. I couldn’t find out how the relatives were from the area (they were fine, but I didn’t know). I watched the newscasts almost constantly, for days, until I would shake while watching, couldn’t take it any longer, and felt ashamed that I couldn’t bear to watch. I did what I could from here. I donated money. I helped advertise and promote other Katrina response and recovery fundraising events. That was how I first became part of the A2B3 group which has been so influential in my keeping current about tech trends and tips around the local community and which has informed so many blogposts here. While I’ve been supporting persons with disabilities for most of my career, somehow I hadn’t completely mentally translated that over to the problems they face as individuals and communities in disaster and crisis response, so this (and 9/11) triggered a richer engagement in disaster and crisis preparation and planning, which is also heavily reflected in this blog. And that led to my interest in the SMEM and SMEMchat communities (SMEM = Social Media Emergency Management).

There was one story in particular which I remember vividly from those days which turned into a personal mission. The way I remember it is a little different from how it really happened, but both make good stories. First, the way I tell the story. Even though this isn’t the way it really happened, it could have been.

There was a library school student who was volunteering in the hurricane shelters. I always imagined this being something that happened in the Superdome. Among the evacuees who were not allowed to leave the shelters was a doctor. He was trying to help the other evacuees, but his phone (with his core clinical references) had died, battery had run out of power, and there was no way to recharge it. There were so many people he could help better if he just had a few key resources, but with the libraries under water, loss of power, and being in the shelter, he was dependent on what he remembered. Now, you have to keep in mind, this was two years before the Kindle e-book readers were available, the phones couldn’t hold much, and the batteries were even worse than they are now. What he needed was print, and how on earth was that going to happen?

The student was smart (after all, she WAS a library school student!), and had initiative, so she went and tracked down a listserv for medical librarians, and sent the doctor’s plea for books out to the list. Medical librarians all over the country grabbed books from their weeding piles, and hopped on Amazon to place special rush orders, and had them shipped to … the Dome, of course, right? Mail was delayed (duh). The books finally arrived the day the Superdome was evacuated, and never made it to the doctor. No one knows what actually happened to all those books.

Heartbreaking. Criminal! There has to be a BETTER WAY!! I’ve spent a lot, and I mean A LOT of time brainstorming better ways. I have a vision, a plan in mind, but that’s an entirely different post.

OK, now, what REALLY happened (yeah, I have a vivid imagination). [PS – I’ve been trying to verify this story for a decade, unsuccessfully, and JUST TODAY found the original email to prove it happened.]

Adelaide M. Fletcher: I am an LSU-SLIS student volunteering at a Red Cross Shelter and today I asked one of the Docs there if he needed any reference books. His face lit up and he told me he could really use the Merck Manual and any of the Washington Manuals for Medicine, Pediatrics or Surgery.

I’m sure the situation is similar for other shelters in the Baton Rouge area (there are several), and I would like to collect any of these books and distribute them if possible. If you have any (slightly out of date is okay) or know any medical librarians who would be willing to donate one, please send them to me and I will deliver them to shelters. I can’t speak for shelters outside of the Baton Rouge area, but if I get too many, I’ll try to pass them on through the Red Cross.[Source: MEDLIB-L September 2, 2005]

Adelaide gave her own personal address. People volunteered to send answers to reference questions and look things up. Concern was expressed that mail would be blocked, but then it was verified that her address was in the unscathed zone. The librarians contacted publishers and vendors suggesting they make donations. The books were presumably shipped there, and it is assumed that Adelaide distributed them across multiple shelters. No one ever mentioned the Superdome. No one verified Adelaide’s identity, they just trusted she was who she said she was. As it turns out, she got her MLIS, ended up working in medical libraries, and spent several years continuing the good work she began with this email, working on library recovery from Katrina. From there, she has done a lot of tech geekery in medical libraries, and from there working on community building projects (especially with tech). I already knew she was my kind of person. 🙂 And this sure sounds like a happy ending to that part of the story.

But, what about the information resources? Those books and resources the doc wanted and couldn’t get his hands on? What he was asking for was basically textbooks.

The Merck Manual is now online free to the public from the publisher. Even if he had no phone or battery or computer, if anyone else did, they could look things up or call someone who could.

Merck Manual: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional

The Washington Manuals are trickier. The Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics is available online and also as an app for your phone. There is a “free” version for the phone which evidently is fairly limited, and then tries to sell you the full version for a goodly chunk of change.

Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics with Unbound MEDLINE/PubMed (Free) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/washington-manual-medical/id533185430?mt=8
Top in-app purchases:
The Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics, 34th Edition ($74.99) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/washington-manual-medical/id853052080?mt=8

There is also a copy in the Internet Archive which has over 10,000 views, although I’m not entirely certain that it is a legal or legitimate copy. Indeed, I suspect it isn’t. If that link goes dead, then you’ll know it wasn’t, eh? The official legal copy is this from Lippincott Williams and Wilkins which is available in print and online combined for the same price as the app.

Washington Manual of Medical Therapeutics https://www.lww.com/Product/9781451188516

Textbooks are absolutely critical in medical response to disaster and crisis. I’m glad to see that the ones he wanted are now more accessible, even if there still are barriers to access. I’m also glad to see that there are many MORE medical textbooks available online and as apps (I just wish there were more free ones for those times we really need them). Here are a few more (iOS) examples.

The 5-Minute Clinical Consult 2016
Anatomy and Physiology Made Incredibly Easy
CDC Health Information for International Travel 2014 – The Yellow Book
Davis’ Drug Guide
Infectious Disease Compendium, A Persiflager’s Guide
Lange CURRENT Practice Guidelines in Primary Care 2014
mobilePDR (Physicians’ Drug Reference)
Mosby’s Dental Drug Reference
Mosby’s Drug Reference
Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine
Taber’s Medical Dictionary
Tarascon Primary Care

There are a lot more, too. You could easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars stuffing medical textbook apps into your phone or tablet. And the money is a barrier to having them widely available at the point of need when the need strikes. And these assume that the person reading them is a healthcare provider or student. Sometimes, in disasters, that isn’t the case. When that happens you need high quality accurate information that is right there. Ideally, it would be either something already installed or available where you can find it, or easy to get. I’ve been thinking Kindle’s have way better battery life than most phones, so when my mom died and I inherited her Kindle, I stuffed the extra one chock full of free info that I thought would be good for situations like Katrina. I also bought a solar charger and back up battery and cables. Yeah, call me paranoid, but I want info ready to hand.

But what about alternatives to textbooks, like, oh, I don’t know, journals and articles? “The percentage of open access (OA) articles published in biomedicine in 2005 was 27%,” said Matsubayashi et al in their article, Status of Open Access in the Biomedical Field in 2005. In 2012, that percentage was over half of all newly published articles, per Laakso & Björk. That was articles. The number of open access journal titles in 2005 was 1,988, according to Heather Morrison, who tracks these things and makes both her findings and her data open access as well. By 2013, there were 8,817.

Here are some more resources that weren’t available ten years ago but which we have now. If you can’t afford the medical textbooks, then first aid manuals are a great idea. And when you are thinking about what info you need to respond to trauma, military medical manuals could be a great boon. And we have them now. Most of them aren’t useful for the public, but look for the ones on survival techniques and medical topics.

Internet Archive: US Military Manual Collection https://archive.org/details/military-manuals?&sort=-downloads&page=2

For the most important and useful titles, people have put them in a variety of places online. This way if one goes down, there is a backup.

Special Forces Medical Handbook (2001): http://www.nh-tems.com/documents/Manuals/SOF_Medical_Handbook.pdf

Medical Field Manual (1942): http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/FM/PDFs/FM8-5.pdf

Army First Aid Manual (2002): http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/fm4_25x11.pdf

The Army has made available free PDFs of a lot more of their medical manuals. A lot. Like over 50 other medical titles, everything from training to prevention to evacuation, with specialty manuals for dental, veterinary, radiology, and how to handle casualties, stress management. and much more.

U.S. Army: Doctrine and Training Publications, 8_Series_Collection (Medical): http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/8_Series_Collection_1.html

So, our information environment isn’t quite “there” yet, but you know, it is a lot better than it was ten years ago, and it is headed in the right direction.

Aaron, Lost, and Found Again

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

It’s been a couple years since Aaron died. Aaron who? Aaron Swartz. I’ve talked about him here a few times (Jan. 14, 2013; Jan. 15, 2013; Feb 2013; Jan 2014). Aaron was one of those bright and shining young stars, who did amazing things at early ages (helped code RSS at age 14?). reimagined ways to access information (see his fantastic Image Atlas collaboration with Taryn Simon), made very clear challenges with the status quo, and promised a future with much to contribute. That didn’t happen quite the way people hoped. In case you haven’t heard of him, there are a few links at the end of this post. Here is a quote from his dad at his memorial.

“We can’t bring Aaron back, he can no longer be the tireless worker for good… What we can do is change things for the better. We can work to change MIT so that it . . . once again becomes a place where risk and coloring outside the lines is encouraged, a space where the cruelties of the world are pushed back and our most creative flourish rather than being crushed.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

The University of Michigan is planning a really fantastic event this month looking at the circumstances of Aaron’s death, the factors that led up to it, the changes that have come after it, and how this has and is changing the information landscape and legal context in which libraries operate. Even better, you get to see the movie for FREE! Here is the event information.

Panel: Open Access Activism
Wednesday, June 17 at 4:00pm
Library Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan

Panelists:
Melissa Levine, U-M Library’s Lead Copyright Officer
Jack Bernard, U-M Associate General Counsel
Brian Knappenberger, Director, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s film chronicles the story of Aaron Swartz, information-access activist and Internet prodigy, who was targeted by the FBI in a high-profile criminal case involving JSTOR and MIT at the time of his death. Join Knappenberger, along with Lead Copyright Officer Melissa Levine, and Associate General Counsel Jack Bernard in a panel discussion about the issues of the case and how they relate to libraries and information both more generally and at the University of Michigan.

Film Screening: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00pm
Join us for this free screening with the filmmaker at Michigan Theater the evening prior to the panel.

LINKS

AaronSw (his site): http://www.aaronsw.com/

Wikipedia: Aaron Swartz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz

The inside story of MIT and Aaron Swartz: More than a year after Swartz killed himself rather than face prosecution, questions about MIT’s handling of the hacking case persist: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

Remember Aaron Swartz: http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/memories/

Naughton, John. Aaron Swartz stood up for freedom and fairness – and was hounded to his death: The internet activist who paid the ultimate price for his combination of genius and conscience. The Guardian 7 February 2015 18.00 EST. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/07/aaron-swartz-suicide-internets-own-boy

The Life of Aaron Swartz (a collection from the Internet Archive of the rich activity surrounding his loss): https://www.archive-it.org/collections/3492

BBC Four: Storyville: The Internet’s Own Boy http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b051wkry [IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3268458/ ] [Review: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/31/internets-own-boy-review-aaron-swartz-mark-kermode ]

Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/technology/aaron-swartz-internet-activist-dies-at-26.html?_r=0