Painted theater floor

Layers

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.

Painted theater floor

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.

Director of Strategic Initiatives

TL;DR – Starting July 1, I will be joining the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) as their new Director of Strategic Initiatives. I am super excited about this.

I am very pleased to announce that starting July 1, I will be joining the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) as their Director of Strategic Initiatives. As anyone who follows me online knows, I’ve been looking around for the right next-step position for myself. I don’t regret my last 5 years running my own company, and it’s given me some of the most meaningful interactions and opportunities of my life. I have, however, realized that while I have loved the work I’ve done over the last 5 years….I hate just about every other aspect of being in business for myself. I’m a builder, a maker, a researcher, a writer, and more, but I’m not someone who enjoys business qua business. I didn’t like that most of my energy had to be devoted to selling myself, to searching for the next gig, or to advertising what I could do.

In my new position, I’ll be both managing a few existing projects for NISO and be in charge of finding, developing, and incubating projects in areas where it looks like NISO could be a force for positive action. I will still be focusing on libraries and library values, but will be taking those beliefs out into a broader stage to publishers and technology companies . I will also still have the opportunity to research, write, and speak about new technologies as they begin to impact the information ecosystem, just as I have for the last decade plus. This combination of project-based work, technology, and working on new initiatives is super exciting to me, and I’m really looking forward to digging in.

I’ll also be working primarily from home here in Tennessee. There will be travel, of course, both to NISO headquarters in Baltimore and to the various conferences and meetings that will need my attention. So don’t think y’all will be getting rid of me in ALA and the like…I will still be active and working to be a part of the community. I will still be writing and publishing and speaking about technology and libraries at every opportunity.

I’m so excited to get started on this next stage of my career. I spoke with a lot of different companies and non-profits in my job search, and the description I kept using was that I was looking for a bigger lever to move the world with. I can only do so much by myself, but with a good team and some effort, it’s possible to move much larger things. I’m very grateful to NISO and especially Todd Carpenter for being willing to give me that bigger lever.

Let’s see what we can move.

Using TagTeam

When starting the design work on the Blockchain & Decentralization course, I knew that I would have many many more resources that students might find useful than I could possibly assign to them. I wanted to find a way to make those resources easily findable by the students that wanted to dive deeper on any particular piece of the admittedly very complex subject.

Enter TagTeam.

A tool designed originally for the Harvard Open Access Project, and written and supported by a superb group of developers, TagTeam is a librarian’s dream of a web resource collection tool. It allows for, as the documentation so pithily says “folksonomy in, ontology out.” With the ability to add a website to the Hub, allow folksonomy-style tagging when adding…but then, on the backend of the tool, to turn those arbitrary tags into a controlled vocabulary. You can even set up automatic replacements for unwanted tags.

One of my favorite built-in functions is the ability to craft URLs that will drill down to any level of the set of resources you might want: tagger, tag, both, set of tags, in any combination. You can subscribe to RSS feeds that will automatically feed your Hub, and TagTeam also provides the ability to extract resources via RSS or JSON, and to remix feeds while doing so.

There are a few things I’d love to see added to TagTeam. The biggest would be that it would be fantastic to be able to integrate the tagging of a resource with the ability to cache it in some way. The ability to combine TagTeam with a tool like Amber or ArchiveBox would be a fantastic way to ensure the continued availability of webpages, especially for educational use. It would also make TagTeam an amazing curricular tool for Academic Libraries to offer for their campuses (hint, hint).

Overall, I’ve been thrilled with using TagTeam in my course, and can see so many uses for academic libraries to provide an instance for their campuses. If you haven’t seen TagTeam, explore some of the public hubs, and see if it fits in your (or your library’s) toolchain. And if you want to see what sort of resource can be put together using it, take a look at the Hub for the Blockchain course.

Blockchain & Decentralization for the Information Industries

Announcing the launch of the first Massive Open Online Course on Blockchain & Decentralization specifically focused around libraries, museums, archives, publishers, and the rest of the information ecosystem! Registration is now open and the course itself begins March 11th and runs for 6 weeks. Did I mention that the course is free?

I am the course designer and instructor for this MOOC, which is my first time designing a learning experience like this. Myself along with 4 very talented San Jose State University i.School students who will be acting as TAs for the course, will be monitoring the course and participating in the discussion boards to make sure that everyone progresses through the following outcomes.

  • Describe and explain the early uses of distributed ledger technology and the design of current blockchain systems.
  • Recognize the differences and similarities among various decentralized systems, and determine the most appropriate blockchain applications.
  • Compare and evaluate the advantages/disadvantages of using blockchain or other types of technologies for different applications.
  • Identify the ways blockchain can be applied in the information industries.

This course is the penultimate outcome of an IMLS grant given to San Jose State for the Blockchain National Forum, which was held in 2018. The final outcome will be a book which will be published this year, with chapters written by attendees and experts, summarizing and expanding on the lessons from the Forum (full disclosure: I wrote one of the chapters for the book as well).

The course is designed without any expectation that participants know anything about blockchain or decentralized technologies before beginning the course. It will walk you through details and introductions to the technology, all the way through existing services and systems and finally to what a decentralized future might look like. The full course breakdown looks like this:

  • Week 1 – March 11-17
    • Overview and History of Blockchain
  • Week 2 – March 18-24
    • Issues, Considerations, Problems
  • Week 3 – March 25-31
    • Decentralization
  • Week 4 – April 1-7
    • Systems & Services
  • Week 5 – April 8-14
    • Use Cases – Public Libraries, Academic Libraries, Museums, Archives
  • Week 6 – April 15-21
    • Future Directions & Next Steps

The course is a combination of mini-lectures that set up each week’s content, a selection of content relating to the topic (including readings, video, and audio), and then a discussion board where people can ask questions and talk about each week’s topic. At the end of each week there is a short quiz, and successful complete of the quiz will earn badges for each week, as well as a cumulative course badge and certificate at the end.

Please share this announcement widely! I’d like everyone who is even remotely interested in learning about Blockchain and decentralized tech to sign up and work through the course.

I’ll see you March 11th in the course!

Cover image of Library Technology Report

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Libraries

Cover image of Library Technology Report

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.

Future Direction

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.


Contact Me

Joining MetaLAB

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!

Blockchain & Libraries from Carnegie Mellon – Qatar

This past month I traveled to a place I wasn’t sure I’d ever visit…Doha, Qatar. I was brought to Doha for an awesome reason, to deliver the Gloriana St. Clair Distinguished Lecture in 21st Century Librarianship. The topic that I was asked to prepare remarks on was Blockchain (which I chose to broadly construe as decentralized technologies) and how it (they) might matter to the information professions in the near future. The actual title of my talk was Decentralization & Blockchain: Possibilities & Problematizations for Libraries, and the goal was to explain the technology, but also to bring to light potentials and risks that surround blockchain and decentralization technologies as they relate to libraries and information systems. There is a huge amount of potential in this technology, beyond the fintech hype and insanity of the moment. There is also risk, especially for organizations that are centered around the very notion of centralization of resources.

Here’s my lecture, along with the accompanying slides below it. If your consortium or company is interested in possibilities for blockchain in the information space and are looking for a consultant to help you understand it, I’m available.

Video

Slides

Hi! I'm Jason Griffey! I would like to ask for your Vote.

Vote Griffey!

After well over a decade of being a part of ALA and LITA, and working at (almost) every level of the division, I was asked and accepted the nomination to run for the position of Vice President/President-Elect for the Library & Information Technology Association. I’ve served as an organizer of an Interest Group, been the chair of multiple committees, served as a Director-as-Large, and spent two years as Parliamentarian for the Division. I’m excited that I have the opportunity to stand for election, and I hope that members find it worthwhile to vote for me. If you’re reading this, I hope I can count on your vote, and ask you to let your friends in LITA know that I would appreciate their vote as well.

What does this mean? If elected, it means I would spend the next three years following an arch of leadership in LITA (as Vice President, then President, and then finally Past President) at a time of what could be great change. The recently released Working Document – Exploration of Integration and Realignment Opportunities for ALCTS, LITA, and LLAMA is the beginning of a long discussion among members of the respective divisions. The TL;DR of the document is that all three divisions recognize that their individual challenges may be mitigated in part by joining forces…not an easy nor straightforward goal, but one that has the potential to strengthen the opportunities for and service to all members.

I’m excited by the opportunities a change like this represents. My time with LITA has been punctuated by efforts to make systems better for members, first as an IG chair with BIGWIG where we moved the needle on how presentations might work at the Annual conference through the Social Software Showcase, then as chair of the Programming Planning Committee where I led the team that completely revised how programming was done by moving from an entirely analog process (7 copies of your proposal plus in-person meetings at Midwinter…) to a digital one. Even now, when I’ve been tasked with re-thinking how LITA Forum works, my focus is always on what we can do to empower and reduce the friction necessary for members to be involved.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world of technology will keep marching, and I will work to maintain focus on issues that are at the heart of the future of the profession. I’ve tried to outline some of those on my Election Website, but I would LOVE to hear from members (and potential members!) about where you would like LITA to focus. If I’m elected, I’m going to need a ton of help…but I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve in this role, to work to make LITA better for members, and to hopefully chart a better course for the future of library technology.

If you have any questions for me, or just want to drop me a note about anything, I’d love to hear from you. You can @ or DM me on Twitter @griffey, or feel free to send me an email at griffey at gmail.

If you are a LITA member: I ask for your vote, and appreciate your faith in me if you do. Voting opens Monday, March 12, closes Wednesday, April 4, and you should receive details on voting in your email.

Thank you!

Beware Library Cobras…

This post is a short excerpt from my upcoming Library Technology Report on Smart Buildings. I’m just returning from attending LITA Forum 2017, and had a fantastic experience. My one disappointment was in the lack of problematization of data collection, retention, and analysis…especially as it relates to the “Internet of Things” and the coming flood of data from IoT.

This excerpt contains no solutions, only questions, concerns, and possible directions. If anyone has thoughts or would like to start a dialogue about these issues, I’d love to talk. The full Library Technology Report on Smart Libraries will be published by ALA TechSource in the next few months.


The end-game of the Internet of Things is that computing power and connectivity is so cheap that it is literally in every object manufactured. Literally everything will have the ability to be “smart”; Every chair, every table, every book, every pencil, every piece of clothing, every disposable coffee cup. Eventually the expectation will be that objects in the world know where they are and are trackable and/or addressable in some way. The way we interact with objects will likely change as a result, and our understanding of things in our spaces will become far more nuanced and details than now.

For example, once the marginal cost of sensors drops below the average cost for human-powered shelf-reading, it becomes an easy decision to sprinkle magic connectivity sensors over our books, making each of them a sensor and an agent of data collecting. Imagine, at any time, being able to query your entire collection for mis-shelved objects. Each book will be able to communicate with each book around it, with the wifi basestations in the building, with the shelves, and be able to know when they are out of place. Even more radical, maybe the entire concept of place falls away, because the book (or other object) will be able to tell the patron where it is, no matter where it happens to be shelved in the building. Ask for a book, and it will be able to not only tell you where it is, it can mesh with all the other books to lead you to it. No more “lost books” for patrons, since they will be able to look on a map and see where the book is in their house, and have it reveal itself via an augmented reality overlay for their phone.

The world of data that will be available to us in 10-20 years will be as large as we wish it to be. In fact, it may be too large for us to directly make sense of it all. My guess is that we will need to use machine learning systems to sort through the enormous mounds of data and help us understand the patterns and links between different points of data. The advantage is that if we can sort and analyze it appropriately, the data will be able to answer many, many questions about our spaces that we’ve not even dreamed of yet, hopefully allowing the designing of better, more effective and useful spaces for our patrons.

At the same time, we need to be wary of falling into measurements becoming targets. I opened the larger Report with Goodhart’s Law, credited to economist Charles Goodhart and phrased by Mary Strathern, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” We can see this over and over, not just in libraries, but in any organization. An organization will optimize around the measures that it is rewarded by, often to negative effects in other areas. This is captured in the idea of perverse incentives, where an organization rewards the achievement of an assessment, only to realize that the achievement undermines the original goal. The classic example of this is known colloquially as the “Cobra effect”, named after the probably-apocryphal story of the British colonizers in India rewarding citizens for bringing in dead cobras in an attempt to control their deadly numbers in cities. Of course, the clever people of India were then incentivized to breed cobras in secret, in order to maximize their profits….

Libraries should be wary of the data they gather, especially as we move into the next decade or two of technological development. The combination of data being toxic to the privacy of our patrons and the risks of perverse incentives affecting decisions because of measure’s becoming targets is actively dangerous to libraries. Libraries that wish to implement a data-heavy decision making or planning process need to be extraordinarily aware of these risks, both acute and chronic. I believe strongly in the power of data analysis to build a better future for libraries and our patrons. But used poorly or unthoughtfully, and the data we choose to collect could be secretly breeding own set of cobras.