Several people asked if I was going to record the speech from my previous post. It had crossed my mind, but I wasn’t sure, and so over the last week I tried a few different takes, and finally got an edit that I think came out ok.
On February 12, 2020, I received an email from Gary Marchionini, the Dean of the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science (UNC SILS), asking if I would be the Commencement Speaker for graduation this year. I have rarely been so emotional about a speaking engagement, and about the honor of being asked. SILS changed the course of my life and career, and the idea of being in a place in both that was sufficient for them to ask me to speak is one of the most humbling and wonderful outcomes of my work.
If the world were different, last week would have been spent in Chapel Hill, seeing friends and visiting old favorite places. My Masters Paper advisor is retiring, and I would have been able to see him, thank him, and take him out to celebrate. Then March happened. Things begin falling apart at a pace, and among the myriad of swirling chaos (quarantine, canceled vacations, emergency preparation) one of the things that stopped was Commencement at UNC SILS. And so this, too, went away.
By the time it was clear there wasn’t going to be a commencement, wasn’t going to be a gathering of any kind for these students, for the community, I had already sketched out what I wanted to say. It was informed by the times, as it was already apparent that things were on a path to get much worse…but even then, just a few weeks ago, it wasn’t obvious how bad and how quickly.
Here’s some of what I would have said, in another timeline, standing in the Dean Dome on the stage in front of a few hundred students and family members. I hope that all of you who would have been there are safe, and that the uncertainty of the future is kind to you and yours.
The World We Dream About
The One We Live In Now
What a wonderful Spring day here in Chapel Hill! Thank you to Dean Marchionini and everyone involved in making me a part of your day. I’m honored to be here, as I have been where you are, wearing my UNC gown and hood and accepting my MLS (although in my day we didn’t need the Dean Dome as a venue). When I was asked to give this talk, I thought a lot about what a commencement speech should be. Dean Marchionini gave me the advice to “inform and inspire our current graduates”, and while I took that to heart, I decided that ultimately what I wanted to do was give you the advice that I wish I had heard earlier in my career. I gave this talk a title, since I needed something to ground it as I was writing, and as a result I give you “The World We Dream About, and the One We Live in Now.”
The title is from Hadestown, the Broadway musical by Anais Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin, about the story of Orpheus, Eurydice, Persephone and Hades. In the play, the line in question is found in a toast given by Orpheus on a day much like today, in honor of Persephone’s return to Earth and the subsequent growth and plenty that comes with her. The line is delivered with the recognition that the world of momentary plenty is transient, that we know there are hard times ahead in the world, even if right now is comfortable. Winter, as they say, is coming. The play itself is a meditation on telling stories, about love, and most of all it is a song about hope. I saw it last year, and have rarely stopped thinking about it since. I wanted to take just a few minutes with you here today to talk both about the World We Dream About, as well as the challenges of the One We Live In Now.
The One We Live In Now
The world that you are moving into, the one we live in now, is unlike that of any generation before. The promise of worldwide instantaneous communication and publication that was nascent during my time here in 2004 has been transformed into a panopticon for selling people better versions of themselves. The revolution of a supercomputer in every pocket enables social movements like the Arab Spring, but also allows for the data necessary to hypertarget political opinions and manipulate the population and elections. The removal of gatekeepers for publication didn’t result in a thousand flowers blooming, but instead an advertising-clickbait economic model that centralizes and destroys agreement about what is true in the world.
The pressure of gathering eyeballs has pushed partisanship to a never-before-seen level, where the arguments aren’t about policy or perspective, but about the nature of facts and recorded history. Blatant and direct lies are being told, repeated, reinforced, and supported by powerful platforms that are unwilling to take responsibility for the slow-motion destruction they are causing. Foreign powers are manipulating information to their own ends, and our own country has neither response nor reply. Epistemology is at war with ideology.
And so, I ask you: What can we do, in the face of this?
The World We Dream About.
I hope that we build the World We Dream About, of course. A world of equity and inclusion, of facts and truth. Bringing this world into being will be neither easy nor free, and it isn’t fair that this burden falls partially to you. Building this world is a fight against willful ignorance, a fight against anti-intellectualism and the denigration of expertise that is rampant today. This is not a fight that can be won by the Campbellian Hero, riding forth upon a white horse to vanquish foes. This work, this necessary effort, is a different kind of thing than that. It takes the type of work that maintains, that builds, that gathers people together towards a vision. It takes the work of different people, all wanting to make the world fair and equitable for all people. It is often quiet work that goes unrecognized. It takes people who are willing to stand up for the truth of reality, that insist on rationally understanding the world through expertise and evidence.
You all leave here today as proud graduates of UNC, members of a tradition and curriculum dedicated to the equity of access to both information and knowledge. The former is a pathway to the latter, and the work that is done by graduates of this program is wide-ranging and important. I graduated from SILS in 2004, and my fellow graduates went on to far-flung corners of the world, working in start-ups, libraries, government, and corporations. In the time since then, they have moved across the US and around the world and have accepted increasingly more responsible positions. You, too, will go out into the world, find your communities, and work to make them better than they were when you arrived.
My first piece of advice to you is: look around yourself right now, at your fellow graduates. As big as the world of libraries and information is, you will see and probably work with some of these people again. Libraries and information are everywhere, but librarians and the information professions are a small and tightly knit bunch. The people you see around you now will be the people you hear about in the next decade making their names and changing the world. Don’t lose them.
Keep your community with you, and grow it as you move along, because absolutely no one succeeds without the support of others. There really is no such thing as succeeding by yourself. Everything is contingent on the community you are in, the people you surround yourself with, and the world that you help to build for others. As you gather your communities around you, be aware of the connections between you and them, of the support necessary for society to thrive. The myth of the “self-made” person is just that…a myth. Don’t fall prey to it, and find the people, places, and connections that make you the best you can be.
Finally, here are a few last pieces of advice, the ones that I wish I had learned a bit earlier in my life.
- Learn from history.
As Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Learn from the history of place, the history of people, the history of struggle and the history of pain and sadness that make up the world. I never thought that I would live in a time when I had to explain to adults why Nazis were bad, and yet here we are.
- Build your community through radical inclusion. Treat others as agents and actors in the world, and believe them when they show you who they are, both good and bad.
- Make good choices.
Not necessarily best choices, just make good ones, in the moral sense. When you have an important choice to make, ask yourself: Will this make me better, and will this make my community better? It’s ok if the answer is Yes to only one of the two sometimes…but if you find yourself in a situation where it’s always the same one, you should rethink your moral position.
- Do not condone or allow evil in your community.
This is more challenging than it should be, but it is easier if we all do it together.
You are all now information professionals. Information is the gift we give to the future, so choose carefully the gifts you leave behind for the generations that follow you.
And with that, to you all I raise a glass: To The World We Dream About, and The One We Live In Now.
Today at 6pm starts The Big Payback (https://www.thebigpayback.org), and while there are dozens of non-profits that need our help right now, I’m starting with the one that began our family’s path into community theater. Millennium Repertory Company was the first to put Eliza on stage, casting her in their production of The Wizard of Oz. Since then she’s performed on over a half-dozen stages around Middle TN, and Betsy and I have donated time and energy into helping these theaters put on amazing shows for our community.
I’m a member of the Board of Directors at Millennium Rep, and have been proud to be a part of their work. But especially now, with theaters dark and shows closed, local theater needs money to keep things running.
Starting at 6pm tonight, and running through 6pm Thursday, there are a number of contests, matches, and other incentives that increase the power of your gift. Please, to all my friends around the world, if you have anything you can donate, even $5, it will help keep the Arts vibrant in Middle TN.
Click here to donate: https://www.thebigpayback.org/griffey
This site has undergone quite a change over the last couple of weeks, and for the purposes of me remembering and for the 2 people in the world who might be interested, here’s a quick summary of what I’ve done.
As part of moving servers, it became obvious that I needed to simplify my online structures fairly aggressively. Over the last decade or so, my personal web presence had expanded to include a personal homepage, a business page for my LLC, multiple project websites, a site for my daughter Eliza, and a handful of one-off landing pages for various short-lived things. 5 or so of these things lived in a WordPress Multiuser install, while another 2-3 were individual flat HTML sites. Moving that entire mess to a new server didn’t seem necessary nor wise, so I gave some thought to how best to move things without breaking old things.
What absolutely needed to be maintained was my main URL (jasongriffey.net) and the various subdirectories under it that had become meaningful over the years…primarily my main blog which has lived at jasongriffey.net/wp/ for well over a decade now. The question then was, what to do with the other sites and posts that I’ve been maintaining for years? I briefly considered spinning up separate WordPress installs for each, and separating them out, but dismissed that for upkeep reasons. Too much work to keep it all secure. Moving everything over as a Multisite was a possibility, but that brought with it all the same complexity I wanted to try and get a bit away from, as well as being technically limiting on a few fronts because of the way I had routed the DNS for each site.
After some contemplation, I decided to export all of the posts from the variety of other blogs, and import them into my main blog, Pattern Recognition. I can import each blog with a different Author attached, and then use that to assign tags and categories that make it easy to create a link that filters to just that blog’s old entries, like so. This means there’s just the one “blog” and database structure behind it, and moving forward I can post just here…but the history of what I’ve written over the last 15 years or so is all saved and accessible.
While I’m certain there’s some things that are still broken (document links, etc) most everything seems to now be working ok. I’m solving problems under the hood with a combination of “put directories where old links expect them to be” and “abuse the hell out of .htaccess re-writing” so that hopefully lots of old links are terribly broken.
For a couple of the sites that really didn’t _need_ to be WordPress sites any longer, I just did a static export from WP and then uploaded them as flat HTML sites. Seems to be working. 🙂
So this is my new home online! I am going to do my best to do a bit more writing here…I find myself wanting more of my effort to go to things I control, and not things I don’t like the broader social web.
For those of you who made it this far, here’s a fantastic performance by David Byrne. Thanks!
After a wonderful decade or more happily paying Blake Carver to host my sites at LISHost, he decided last year to pull the plug on that service. I certainly took long enough, but I’ve finally moved things over to Linode and have everything seemingly running. There’s still tons of broken images, and I’m double checking a few things here and there, but mostly things are all back up and running. Not everything is exactly the same as before, and for my own memory I’ll probably write up a post about exactly what I did so I don’t look back in a year and think “What the hell was that guy thinking?”
But until I get that post up, at least the thing is still humming. Not bad for a site I started in 2003.
I’m also hoping to do a bit more active writing here, in these our times of quarantine and COVID-19. Let’s see if I can manage that.
Since July 1, I’ve been working steadily as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the National Information Standards Organization, and while there’s a ton of work that I can’t talk about just yet, there is one thing that I’m ready to share. On February 23-25th, 2020, a new conference will emerge into the information landscape: NISO Plus.
This conference is being put together in a very different way than some other information conferences. We’re hoping to get vendors, publishers, librarians, archivists, and anyone else involved in the information ecosystem together to tackle common issues and opportunities. The conference is being organized around the idea of conversations…we’ve identified vital topics, and we’re building in time not only for experts and ideas to be presented. I’ve helped put together a schedule that builds in time after each session for conversation and discussion…attendees will have the opportunity to dig in and share common problems and solutions with each other.
All of that, plus Ask the Experts Afternoon, Lightning Talks, Standards updates, popular sessions being repeated to make scheduling easier, a few Introduction to NISO sessions for those that aren’t familiar with the standards work behind so much of modern information, two amazing keynotes, the continuation of the Miles Conrad award from the NFAIS annual conference, a practical Artificial Intelligence preconference…this is going to be a new and different sort of thing.
Come help us inaugurate the NISO Plus conference. February 23-25th in Baltimore, Maryland. All the information you could need can be found at https://niso.plus. If you have any questions, just ask…and if you want to be involved as a speaker, or see an area that you know someone could just knock out of the park, let me know.
When Eliza decided 4 years ago that she wanted to spend her life on stage, I had no idea that what would end up happening is I would come to love theater as well. While she’s performed onstage in productions of Lion King, Seussical, Oliver, Annie, Sweeney Todd and even Cabaret, I’ve been busy off-stage designing and running sound for a number of those same shows, building props, running lights, and generally being an overly-involved theater dad.
One of our local theaters, the Murfreesboro Little Theater, was just condemned by the City of Murfreesboro. The original core of the building was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939 as a log cabin for local Boy Scouts. While it’s been added on over the years, you could still see the original hand-hewn logs in the main room of the theater.
This is the theater where Eliza performed as Little Alison in the musical Fun Home earlier in the year. I don’t think I can adequately explain how important the role was to her, and how much she grew as an actor by being in it. I loved every single second of seeing her in it, wondering at how strong and capable she was, playing a part that was so emotionally and physically difficult. I think I saw it a half-dozen times, and I cried every single night.
Because of Eliza, I’ve learned a lot that I never knew about theatre the art, and theater the buildings necessary for doing the art. One of my favorite things about theaters is the transformation, the ability of a place to become somewhere else time and time and time again. To achieve this takes work, and skill, and artistry.
Today as I walked across the floor of the MLT for what was likely the very last time, I looked down, and saw this.
This is the floor of the theater, but it’s so much more than that. The floor of most theaters is painted for every show, years and years and years of places and people and performances layering themselves under foot. The above image shows what’s likely to be the last two shows ever performed on this particular stage, the green patterned formality of Little Foxes, over the blood-rich red from Fun Home. Under Fun Home are more layers and layers, The Pillowman and Cabaret and Sylvia, just this season. Dozens and dozens of stories hiding underfoot, hidden except for the memories of the people that were there.
I’m thrilled that Eliza was able to be a part of one of the layers. I know that she (and I) will carry the memory of the place with us long after it is gone.
Now available is a publication I’m particularly proud of, “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Libraries” from ALA Techsource. I edited the volume, as well as authoring two of the chapters. The real stars are the three other librarians who contributed: Bohyun Kim, Andromeda Yelton, and Craig Boman. Bohyun wrote up her experience at the University of Rhode Island in setting up the first library-based multidisciplinary Artificial Intelligence lab, Andromeda talked about the development and possible future of AI-based library search as illustrated by her fantastic service HAMLET, and finally Craig talked about his experience in attempting AI-driven subject assignment to materials.
I wrote the Introduction, where I try to give a summary of the current state of AI and Machine Learning systems, and show some examples of how they work and are structured in practice. I also am particularly proud of drawing a line from Mary Shelley to the Google Assistant…you’ll have to read it to get the full effect, but here’s a different section to whet your appetite for more AI talk:
What changes in our world when these nonhuman intelligences are no longer unique, or special, or even particularly rare? …. AI and machine learning are becoming so much a part of modern technological experience that often people don’t realize what they are experiencing is a machine learning system. Everyone who owns a smartphone, which in 2018 is 77 percent of the US population, has an AI system in their pocket, because both Google and Apple use AI and machine learning extensively in their mobile devices. AI is used in everything from giving driving directions to identifying objects and scenery in photographs, not to mention the systems behind each company’s artificial agent systems (Google Assistant and Siri, respectively). While we are admittedly still far from strong AI, the ubiquity of weak AI, machine learning, and other new human-like decision-making systems is both deeply concerning and wonderful.
I also wrote the Conclusion and suggested some further reading if people are really interested in diving deeper into the world of AI and ML. In the conclusion, I try to talk about some of the likely near-future aspects of AI, and the impact it is likely to have on the information professions, from individualized AI assistants to intelligent search. From the conclusion:
As with much of the modern world, automating the interaction between humans is often the most difficult challenge, while the interactions between humans and systems are less difficult and are the first to be automated away. In areas where human judgment is needed, we will instead be moving into a world where machine learning systems will abstract human judgment from a training set of many such judgments and learn how to apply a generalized rubric across any new decision point. This change will not require new systems short term, but in the longer term a move to entirely new types of search and discovery that have yet to be invented is very likely.
I hope this work is useful for librarians, libraries, library students, and any other information professional who is trying to wrap their heads around the possibilities and potential for Artificial Intelligence and the world of information creation, consumption, organization, and use.
If your organization would like to talk to me about AI or Machine Learning and how it might make a difference to your business or operations, please get in touch. I’d love to work with you.
TL;DR – I am on the job market and actively looking for a full time remote position where I can make a broad difference in democratizing information access.
I am officially on the market for a more traditional job. I enjoy the work I have done for the last few years in consulting and elsewhere, and am incredibly appreciative of the learning and growth that have come with it. Over the last year, I have come to realize that teams are a force multiplier for effort, and I think the most effective place for me right now would be as a part of an organization where I can take advantage of that multiplier to make a difference in the world.
I have a rich background in technology and libraries, and could be successful in a number of roles: product management for technology work, managing a technology team, directing a research unit, acting as an evangelist for technology, and writing/reporting in a more journalistic way. I have managed technology teams both in organizations and independently, have international experience in both academic and public library operations, am regularly invited to consult on emerging technology strategy and planning around the world, and am a respected author and researcher. I created two different open source software/hardware projects, both of which have an active international audience and user base. My CV is available online, and there are examples of my research, thinking, speaking, software projects, and writing available all over the web. If it involves understanding, communicating about, explaining, creating, or forecasting technology and/or libraries, I’m your person.
So what am I looking for? I would love to be library-focused or library-adjacent, mostly because it’s an area where I have extensive existing connections and knowledge, and can have the most impact to the world. I’m also super interested in socially-responsible technology work, where I can work towards providing increased access to information and have a net-positive effect on society.
I am geographically limited, and am looking for remote work that allows me to work primarily from middle Tennessee. I’m happy to travel occasionally (that’s my situation now), and traveling for work would be great.
If you have a position that you think might be a good fit, or if you just want to reach out to see if there’s anything that might work out to get me on your team, drop me an email or fill out the form below. I’d love to talk.
I am beyond thrilled to announce I’ll be working with the outstanding group of scholars and artists at Harvard’s MetaLab this upcoming academic year as an affiliate, working mainly on their Library Test Kitchen project. I’m joining a team with some of my favorite makers and doers, people like Matthew Battles, Sarah Newman, and Jessica Yurkofsky, and many more that I am looking forward to meeting. I’ll still be in TN, working with them remotely and joining the team in Cambridge whenever possible.
I’ve been inspired by their work for years now, especially projects like Electric Campfire, which are right in my sweet spot of making with a goal of increased social connectivity. If you’ve not taken a look at the stuff that LTK has done, browse through and see what might inspire you.
Personally, I’m super excited to stretch my own knowledge of design and making through working with MetaLab. I’ve been consciously paying more attention to the design and making side of my brain recently, and while my instincts are not always to the artistic (I tend toward the more functional) I do have some aesthetic opinions that I like to embed in the work I do. I’m looking forward to expanding this bit of my brain.
Thank you to the gang for inviting me onboard. I’m excited to see what we can do together!
And lastly: MetaLab and Library Test Kitchen will be making an appearance at the 2018 LITA Forum in Minneapolis in November, so watch for more information about that very soon!