Barbara Fister

I'm a librarian who works at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and and a writer of blog posts, articles, grocery lists, columns, twitter posts, and mysteries


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The content of the Library Babel Fish blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. I'm grateful to Inside Higher Ed for being so open-minded and progressive about these things. Feel free to share, reuse, and remix. Attribution would be appreciated.

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Most Recent Articles

March 29, 2012
Last week I was so inspired by John Duffy’s essay, “Virtuous Arguments,” that I sent it to the director of our first term seminar program, thinking it would be worth discussion among the faculty who teach this course. I try not to do this too often; the poor man is busy, and I could easily fill his inbox regularly with advice he doesn’t need. But I was particularly taken with Duffy’s notion that what we really are teaching when we teach first semester writers is how to make an ethical argument. This idea resonated with me because I think the most important thing students can learn by using a library is how to go about making up their minds - or changing the minds of other people - in an ethical manner.  And yet, I’m not sure how well we actually convey that when we help students learn research skills.
March 19, 2012
When I listened to Mike Daisey’s monologue on This American Life about the Foxconn factory where Apple iPads are made, I thought about assigning the podcast to students in a research class I’m teaching. It struck me that it would be a good way to consider the environmental and social issues that we tend to ignore when we think about the technology tools we use every day, tools that are essential for research. As it turned out, I didn’t assign it – and was relieved I hadn’t when Twitter lit up with the news that This American Life was retracting the story
March 13, 2012
It was a good day in class. We’ve reached the end of the “here’s how things get published and how libraries deal with all those publications” section of the course (a semester long workshop on how information works) by tying off a couple of loose ends. We visited the college archives to get a sense of how archivist organize things and what researchers might get out of using archival materials. Then we took a quick cruise through the reference section, with a special focus on specialized encyclopedias.
March 8, 2012
I keep thinking about a couple of blog posts Miriam Posner wrote on gender and digital humanities, particularly on the male privilege that invisibly influences the value surrounding learning to code and the cultural exchanges that will determine who feels comfortable in geek culture.My field, librarianship, is a shot through with contradictions, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it has long been perceived as a women’s profession.
March 1, 2012
Some random observations on the economics of digital information
February 24, 2012
In my circles, the answer to this question is fairly obvious. But as I was trying to explain to undergraduates how messed up scholarly publishing is, I realized it's hard to grasp unless you already have been bruised by current practices. When you're just learning how information works and have only gotten as far as "you ought to use scholarly sources," it's very puzzling indeed. So I thought I'd try to break it down.
February 16, 2012
Somehow, like an unusual alignment of planets, SOPA, PIPA, RWA, and Penguin’s decision to withdraw the ebooks and audiobooks they publish from public libraries have all contributed to an unusual tidal swell. People are beginning to notice that big publishers are not really all that interested in authors or readers; they are interested in consolidating control of distribution channels so that the only participants in culture are creators who work for little or nothing and consumers who can only play if they can pay.
February 10, 2012
Too Big to Know is a surprisingly small book (around 200 pages - you can sample an excerpt at The Atlantic) that covers a lot of ground, touching on issues of interest to anyone who wonders where knowledge is headed and what shape it is taking in this unstable era. The subtitle, written in the elevator pitch style that is so popular with publishers these days, provides a hint of what's inside: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room.
February 1, 2012
We increasingly depend on companies whose business is collecting information about us – what we read, what we say, what we watch, what we buy, where we go, and who we know. It’s scary how much the tools that we use every day capture and use personal information - and how little we care. But perhaps that will soon change. Both Facebook and Google will be revealing some of the astounding amount of information they’ve gathered about us, and it may make people uncomfortable enough to stir things up. 
January 22, 2012
It's a sign of the times. Long before my copy of the New York Times arrived Sunday morning I had read tweets and blog posts responding to an article in their occasional Education Life section. Though it somewhat defeats the purpose of having a newspaper delivered to your door, on Saturday I found myself looking for the online incarnation of the article that sparked responses, Matt Richtel's "Delete Term Paper, Enter Blogging: To Raves and Rants, the Digital Medium Muscles in on a Tradition" or, as it's slugged online, "Blogs vs. Term Papers."

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