New Berkman Center executive director Urs Gasser and I are working on several ongoing research projects. We’re hoping that one or two students might like to work with us, ideally over the next few years (yes, that’s a big ask!), perhaps as a Student Fellowship. More info here.
It is our great good fortune at the Berkman Center that Urs Gasser has returned, on a full-time basis, to be our new executive director. I can’t think of anyone better positioned to move us forward in our second decade. Urs has been a longtime fellow of the Center, but most recently has been living back home in Switzerland, where he has been a professor at the University of St. Gallen, one of our key research partners. Urs is committed to the highest standards in scholarship; the expansion of our collective minds through serious, collective inquiry; and to having fun in the process. In addition to his leadership and teaching skills, Urs is a wildly productive legal scholar in his own right, and no doubt will continue to contribute directly to what we know about the law as it relates to information and networks around the world. He has been a terrific co-author to work with on projects such as Born Digital, the book we wrote together over the past few years.
One of the great things about Urs taking this job is that he is focused on international collaboration and on interdisciplinary scholarship. These are important goals for the Center in its second decade. Urs has a particularly strong skill set in both of these regards and a commitment to proving that scholarship can be stronger when we work together across geographic and disciplinary boundaries.
And personally, it’s just a joy to have him back with us full-time.
We seem, at the Berkman Center, always to be looking for more great people to join our team. A new opening: a clinical fellow in cyberlaw. The posting is here. The job would be great for an entrepreneurial lawyer who would like to teach law students applied cyberlaw in innovative ways through our clinic. The students are extraordinary. A major added benefit is the chance to work with Prof. Phil Malone, the director of the clinic, and Dena Sacco, a wonderful lawyer and former AUSA who is also co-directing our Internet Safety Technical Task Force.
There’s enormous promise in the Open Library project, which we’re hearing about today at Berkman’s lunch event from Aaron Swartz. The idea is wonderfully simple: to create a single web page per book. That web page can aggregate lots of data and metadata about each book. In turn, the database can be structured to indicate very interesting relationships between books, ideas, and people. The public presentation of the information is via a structured wiki.
I’m most interested in hearing what Open Library thinks it needs in the way of help. They have a cool demo here. It seems to me that one way to succeed in this project is to combine what start-ups call “business development” with what scholars do for a living with what non-profits think of as crowd-sourcing or encouraging user generated content or whatever. There’s a lot that could be done if the publishers and libraries contributed the core data (should be in everyone’s interest, long-term anyway); scholars need to opt in an do their part in an open way; Open Library needs to get the data structured and rendered right (curious as to whether OPML or other syndicated data structures are in play, or could be in play, here); and human beings need to contribute, contribute, contribute as they have to Wikipedia and other web 2.0 megasites.
A note from a participant: “libraries resist user-generated cataloguing.” This seems to me a cultural issue that is worth exploring. We do need to balance the authority of librarians in with what the crowds have to offer. But I’m pretty sure it’s not an either-or choice, as David Weinberger makes clear through his work.
One thing that makes a lot of sense is their plan for supporting the site over time. The combination of philanthropy (at least as start-up funds, if not for special projects over time) plus revenue generated through affiliate links over time makes a lot of sense as a sustainable business plan.
One could also see linkages between Open Library and 1) our H2O Playlists initiative (hat-tip to JZ) to allow people to share their reading lists as well as 2) what Gene Koo and John Mayer at CALI are doing with the eLangdell project.
It’s not a surprise that the truly wonderful David Weinberger — I can see him blogging this in front of me — brought Aaron here today to talk about this.
Where I’m left, at the end of lunch, is with a sense of wonder about what we (broadly, collectively) can accomplish with these technologies, a bit of leadership, a bit of capital, good communications strategies, and some good luck in the public interest over time. It’s awe-inspiring.