Zachary Lizee who is a Graduate Research Intern in the program on information science, reflects on his investigations into information standards, and suggests how libraries can reach beyond local instruction on digital literacy to scaleable education on to catalyze information citizenship.
21st century Libraries, Standards Education and Socially Responsible Information Seeking Behavior
Standards and standards development frame, guide, and normalize almost all areas of our lives. Standards in IT govern interoperability between a variety of devices and platforms, standardized production of various machine parts allows uniform repair and reproduction, and standardization in fields like accounting, health care, or agriculture promotes best industry practices that emphasize safety and quality control. Informational standards like OpenDocument allows storage and processing of digital information to be accessible by most types of software ensuring that the data is recoverable in the future. Standards reflect the shared values, aspirations, and responsibilities we as a society project upon each other and our world.
Engineering and other innovative entrepreneurial fields need to have awareness aboutinformation standards and standards development to ensure that the results of research, design, and development in these areas have the most positive net outcome for our world at large, as illustrated by the analysis of healthcare information standards by HIMSS, a professional organization that works to affect informational standards in the healthcare IT field:
In healthcare, standards provide a common language and set of expectations that enable interoperability between systems and/or devices. Ideally, data exchange schema and standards should permit data to be shared between clinician, lab, hospital, pharmacy, and patient regardless of application or application vendor in order to improve healthcare delivery. 
As critical issues regarding information privacy quickly increase, standard development organizations and interested stakeholders take an active interest in creating and maintaining standards to regulate how personal data is stored, transferred, and used, which has both public interests and regulation by legal frameworks in mind.
Libraries have traditionally been centers of expertise/access of information collection, curation, dissemination, and instruction. And the standards around how digital information is produced, used, governed, and transmitted are rapidly evolving with new technologies. Libraries are participating in the processes of generating information standards to ensure that patrons can freely and safely access information. For instance, the National Information Standards Organization is developing informational standards to address patron privacy issues in library data management systems:
The NISO Privacy Principles, available at http://www.niso.org/topics/tl/patron_ privacy/, set forth a core set of guidelines by which libraries, systems providers and publishers can foster respect for patron privacy throughout their operations. The Preamble of the Principles notes that, ‘Certain personal data are often required in order for digital systems to deliver information, particularly subscribed content.’ Additionally, user activity data can provide useful insights on how to improve collections and services. However, the gathering, storage, and use of these data must respect the trust users place in libraries and their partners. There are ways to address these operational needs while also respecting the user’s rights and expectations of privacy.
This effort by NISO (which has librarians on the steering committee) illustrates how libraries engage in outreach and advocacy that is also in concert with the ALA’s Code of Ethics, which states that libraries have the duty to protect patron’s rights to privacy and confidentiality regarding information seeking behavior. Libraries and librarians have a long tradition of engaging in social responsibility for their patrons and community at large.
Although libraries are sometimes involved, most information standards are created by engineers working in corporate settings, or are considerably influenced by the development of products that become the model. Most students leave the university without understanding what standards are, how they are developed, and what potential social and political ramifications advancements in the engineering field can have on our world.
There is a trend in the academic and professional communities to foster greater understanding about what standards are, why they are important, and how they relate to influencing and shaping our world. Understanding the relevance of standards will be an asset that employers in the engineering fields will value and look for. Keeping informed about the most current standards can drive innovation and increase the market value of an engineer’s research and design efforts.
As informational hubs, libraries have a unique opportunity to participate in developing information literacy regarding standards and standards development. By infusing philosophies regarding socially responsible research and innovation, using standards instruction as a vehicle, librarians can emphasize the net positive effect of standards and ethics awareness for the individual student and the world at large.
The emergence of MOOCs creates an opportunity for librarians to reach a large audience to instruct patrons in information literacy in a variety of subjects. MOOCs can have a number of advantages when it comes to being able to inform and instruct a large number of people from a variety of geographic locations and across a range of subject areas.
For example, a subject specific librarian for an engineering department at a university could participate with engineering faculty in developing a MOOC that outlines the relative issues, facts, and procedures surrounding standards and standards development to aid the engineering faculty in instructing standards education. Together, librarians and subject experts could develop education on the roles that standards and socially responsible behavior factor into the field of engineering.
Students that learn early in their career why standards are an integral element in engineering and related fields have the potential to produce influential ideas, products, and programs that undoubtedly could have positive and constructive effects for society. Engineering endeavors to design products, methodologies, and other technologies that can have a positive impact on our world. Standards education in engineering fields can produce students who have a keen understanding of social awareness about human dignity, human justice, overall human welfare, and a sense of global responsibility.
Our world has a number of challenges: poverty, oppression, political and economic strife, environmental issues, and a host of many other dilemmas socially responsible engineers and innovators could address. The impact of educating engineers and innovators about standards and socially responsible behavior can affect future corporate responsibility, ethical and humanitarian behavior, altruistic technical research and development, which in turn yields a net positive result for the individual, society, and the world.
In the talk, illustrated by the slides below, Scriffignano argues that the massive collection of ‘unstructured’ data enables a wide set of potential inferences about complex changing relationships. At the same time, his talk notes that it is increasingly easy to gather sufficient information to take action — while lacking enough information to form good judgement, and further understanding of the context in which data is collected and flows is essential to developing such good judgements.
Scriffignano summarizes his talk in the following abstract:
l explore some of the ways in which the massive availability of data is changing and the types of questions we must ask in the context of making business decisions. Truth be told, nearly all organizations struggle to make sense out of the mounting data already within the enterprise. At the same time, businesses, individuals, and governments continue to try to outpace one another, often in ways that are informed by newly-available data and technology, but just as often using that data and technology in alarmingly inappropriate or incomplete ways. Multiple “solutions” exist to take data that is poorly understood, promising to derive meaning that is often transient at best. A tremendous amount of “dark” innovation continues in the space of fraud and other bad behavior (e.g. cyber crime, cyber terrorism), highlighting that there are very real risks to taking a fast-follower strategy in making sense out of the ever-increasing amount of data available. Tools and technologies can be very helpful or, as Scriffignano puts it, “they can accelerate the speed with which we hit the wall.” Drawing on unstructured, highly dynamic sources of data, fascinating inference can be derived if we ask the right questions (and maybe use a bit of different math!). This session will cover three main themes: The new normal (how the data around us continues to change), how are we reacting (bringing data science into the room), and the path ahead (creating a mindset in the organization that evolves). Ultimately, what we learn is governed as much by the data available as by the questions we ask. This talk, both relevant and occasionally irreverent, will explore some of the new ways data is being used to expose risk and opportunity and the skills we need to take advantage of a world awash in data.
This covers a broad scope, and Dr. Scriffignano expands extensively on these and other issue in his blog — which is well worth reading.
Dr. Scriffignano’s talk raised a number of interesting provocations. The talk claims, for example that:
No data is real-time — there are always latencies in measurement, transmission, or analysis.
Most data is worthless — but there remains a tremendous number of useful signals in data that we don’t understand.
Eighty-five percent of data collected today is ‘unstructured’. And unstructured’ data is really data that has structure that we do not yet understand.
On using data.
Unstructured data has the potential to support many unanticipated inferences. An example (which Scriffiganno calls a “data-bubble) is a set of photographs of crowd-sourced photos of recurring events — one can find photos that are taken at different times but which show the same location from the same perspective. Despite being convenient samples, they permit new longitudinal comparisons from which one could extract signals of fashion, attention, technology use, attitude, etc. — and big data collection has created qualitatively new opportunities for inference.
When collecting and curating data we need to pay close attention to decision-elasticity — how different would our information have to be to change our optimal action? In designing a data curation strategy, one needs to weigh the opportunity costs of obtaining data and curating data, against the potential to affect decisions.
Increasingly, big data analysis raises ethical questions. Some of these questions arise directly: what are ethical expectations on use of ‘new’ signals we discover that can be extracted from unstructured data? Others arise through the algorithms we choose — how they introduce biases– and how do we even understand what algorithms do, especially as use of artificial intelligence grows? Scriffigano’s talk gives as an example of recent AI research in which two algorithms develop their own private encryption scheme.
This is directly relevant to the future of research, and the future of research libraries. Research will increasingly rely on evidence sources of these types — and increasing need to access, discover and curate this evidence. And our society will increasingly be shaped by this information, and how we choose to engineer and govern collection and use of this information. The private sector is pushing ahead fast in this area, and will no doubt generate many innovative data collections and algorithms. Engagement from university scholars, researchers, and librarians is vital to ensure that society understands these new creations; is able to evaluate their reliability and bias; and has durable and equitable access to them to provide accountability and to support important discoveries that are not easily monetized. For those interested in this topic, — the Program on Information Science has published reports and articles on big data inference and ethics. Read more about Making Decisions in a World Awash in Data: We’re going to need a different boat: Comments on Anthony Scriffignano’s Talk