Outline Assignment

November 28, 2007

Reflection Paper Outline


Interactive Democracy of Information Giving More Information to the Public: A Case Study using Public Records (will make title more succinct)


I. Explain the function of the files and how this relates to democratic information

a. providing and opening access to records

b. extracting data from paper records while preserving the original format

c. providing some of this information digitally which may alleviate the need to use paper records

d. creating a service learning environment for interns and showing them that their service will make a difference to citizens who need access to this information



II. Specifics of the Coroner Project

a. discussion of intended audience and potential for impact

b. value added if potential users have computers/literacy, also discuss how this project improves access to those who may be on the other end of the digital divide.

c. enabling citizens to have knowledge of the past which is considered a benefit in a democratic society


III. Specifics of Service Learning Project

a. student interns as service learning guinea pigs

b. evaluating student motivation and reporting on student experience both graduate and undergraduate level

c. evaluating my expectations, growth, and flexibility with the experience

d. learning outcomes-did it lessen the digital divide?

IV. Theory (this will likely be peppered throughout the paper and not its own section)

a. will explore the support/detract scenario for democracy of information

b. will specifically address privacy in the digital realm comparing it with past concepts of privacy

c. specifics of democratic process and its relationship to accountability

d. equality/inequalities in other social realms should be irrelevant when providing access

e. more will come to mind when writing!



Sources so Far (not including our 4 books for this course)


MacNeil, Heather. Without Consent. The Society of American Archivists and The Scarecrow Press, Inc: Metuchen, N.J. 1992


Heather MacNeil introduces the concept of the risk-benefit model which is typically used in the area of biomedical research, and alerts us that there are really no comparable methodological predictors when assessing privacy within social science research


Allegheny County Office of the Coroner, Case file records, 1887-1973, AIS198207, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

The actual project my service learning is based on- 800 cubic feet of paper records recording coroner/autopsy results as well as personal and social information through affidavits, eyewitness accounts, police reports, suicide notes, and other means.




This wiki was created to enhance and help track the project as well as making our findings open to the public.


Randall P. Bezanson. The Right to Privacy Revisited: Privacy, News, and Social Change, 1890-1990. California Law Review, Vol. 80, No.5 (Oct., 1992)


Excellent discussion as Randall Bezanson refers extensively to the work of Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis who, in 1890, published The Right to Privacy. Bezanson traces the evolution of legal and social construct during this time period which neatly correlates to the industrial era of the records I discuss.


Sherratt, Yvonne. Continental Philosophy of Social Science: Hermeneutics, Genealogy, and Critical Theory from Greece to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006

Will draw on this book and O’Hara in the theory section. Sherratt’s book is helpful as it traces time periods and the evolution of thought.

Smith, Janna Malamud. Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life. Reading, Massachussets: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1997


May use this book as it provides a discussion of the concept of personal privacy and again establishes how ideas of privacy have changed so much over time.


Dervin, Brenda. “Information ßà Democracy: An Examination of Underlying Assumptions.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45, no. 6 (1994)


Brenda Dervin discusses and deconstructs some of the myths associated with the democratization of information and the societal view that freely available information is “good” while inaccessible or hidden information is “bad.”


Heylighen, Francis. “Introduction, Principia Cybernetica Web Project.” 1993. Accessed September 29, 2007.



Memetics, an approach that looks at the transfer of human cultural information such as ideas, mannerisms, and other individual traits to other humans. I might use this to discuss knowledge transfer-I also may decide that it makes the paper to long!

Privacy and Confidentiality Perspectives, eds. Menzi L.Behrnd-Klodt and Peter Wosh, Society of American Archivists, 2005

Excellent collection of articles by archivists who have teased out a number of the privacy issues faced within archival material. In particular for this paper I may use information from Barbara Craig’s article about protecting the confidences of health information.








Service Learning, Mind Over Matter!

November 8, 2007

Like others working on the “teaching” or “instructing” aspect of service learning I first found myself explaining what a wiki is and how we were going to use it. At the same time I encouraged students to construct more pages and enhance information by adding links, tags,etc. I have encountered distinctly different approaches from the undergraduate interns who are completing this work for course credit (150 hours) than the information sciences graduate students who receive tuition benefit in exchange for about 150 hours per week over the term. I provided, through e-mail and in-person orientation, a quick “how to use the wiki”.

I specifically selected software that would allow for simple but clearly formatted display settling on PBwiki (see www.pbwiki.com) which is dedicated to educational projects.


The undergraduates are a little more intimidated by the atmosphere at the archives and naturally are unsure of what to expect. They tend to engage immediately with the case files and are eager to write about their findings on the wiki. Each of the three undergraduates were able to log in and join the wiki and left detailed journal entries. Gradually they began adding their own links for themes (we set up a list of categories for types of deaths).


The graduate students have not responded to developing the wiki in the same manner. Again, the students were engaged by the text they were reading, but when it came to thoughtful interpretation presented on the wiki it seems that few understood how to log in to the site. I spent individual time with some of them explaining how to do this and met with more resistance than their younger counter parts.


I will include more information on my encounters in service learning with wiki usage in the next posting!

Service Learning Update

November 7, 2007

My service learning project began in early September when I received eight new students to work on the Allegheny County Coroner Case Files Project. The case files are a large set of records (about 800 cubic feet) detailing nearly 100 consecutive years of documented mortality created by the county government here in Pittsburgh. The project comes out of a grant I received to physically preserve the records which are housed at the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh. In order to intellectually engage students who are the labor force for the preservation work, and to create a unique documentation project, I started a wiki:

“This wiki is a shared effort by interns working on the Allegheny County Coroner Case File Project at the University of Pittsburgh. Interns are not only preserving these important records, but they are also gleaning social and historical information from a primarily untapped resource. This online effort will allow the interns to contribute to the overall understanding of these records and to promote further scholarship by bringing to light the personal stories, points of interest, and the unusual and suspicious deaths in Pittsburgh’s history.”


The wiki was constructed during the spring semester 2007 when ten undergraduate student interns took on part of the project-I needed a place to keep training documents and provide some sort of communication. A requirement for interns was to provide journals and reports to their departmental advisors-the wiki simplified this and we geared this work to reflect on the information read in the case files. Perusing the wiki we have created “themes”, “chronologies”, and personal blog pages. I learned a great deal about how undergraduate students reacted to the information and the technology and was fortunate that a few continued to work on the project over the summer.

A new batch of students-mostly graduate students- signed onto the project in September. This Service Learning Project will reflect on the two way learning experiences and maybe even evaluate the usefulness of the “wiki” as a sustainable source of documentation. Stay tuned! Your comments on the wiki are encouraged and welcomed!

Comments etc/Dig Nation

September 10, 2007

Somehow or other I can’t seem to connect my blog to others! Is this an example of the digital divide or an example of the time it takes to develop fluency? Either way these are the kinds of digital experiences we tend to forget-we set up blogs, gmail accounts, online banking etc. and rush ourselves past the necessary set up mode in order to get to the desired functions.

Anyway, I finished the Wilhelm Digital Nation readings and it feels surprisingly current although published nearly four years ago. The book had a lot of resonance for me in how little we actually think about connecting to the internet, purchasing computers, and relying on the transfer of information without considering the infrastructure and the various deals being brokered both on the part of social conscience and business. Even with multiple examples of improvements that have filled in the digital divide or at least improved the quality of lives, the most compelling issue to me is that we (nationally) have not been able to achieve a viable model. Again, this is an easy issue to divorce yourself from as too politically or technically complex-far simpler to concentrate on personal use and needs until aspects of the digital divide close in. Privacy issues related to the surveillance of information we produce and transfer are much more likely to give rise to cooperative action from the public. Likewise, other incentives produced by governments will need to be tied to individual gain even if ultimate achievement will evolve from networks of communities.

Wilhelm illustrates both the positive and negative progression and uses education to demonstrate both. These are some of the points that made an impression on me:

Digital Nation by Anthony Wilhelm

  • Citizens need to know that they need information and need to have the ability to locate it. p.20
  • Other countries have identified human development, literacy, and education as critical to providing citizens who are informed and flexible. p.23
  • Gates Foundation suggests that basic health and literacy must come before improved quality of life including technology. p. 28
  • Access to the internet has become a U.N. human rights issue. p. 30
  • Specific example of learning which appears to involve both the training of teachers and students involved in the UK program Not-School.net. p.33
  • The diffusion of technology will take time, it took 83 years for telephone connections to most US households. p.35
  • We are not savvy to the environmental concerns digital production poses which can be as harmful as some of the environmental savings brought by e-business. p. 39
  • Memory gives life meaning, while technology and progress changes our lives, a digital nation must be prepared to know how to interpret new information and preserve the old. p.40.
  • Great synopsis of Tip O’Neill’s genius in realizing that it is more effective to make economic arguments rather than moral ones. p. 41
  • Social Justice does not necessarily conflict with efficiency-the difference principle allows for humans sharing each others fates. p.43
  • Human-capital approach p.45
  • Mill and Marx ideals of delivering humans from the drudgery of labor through the use of technology will allow them to have more free and fulfilling lives. But have we created more work, pressure,etc? p. 57
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a digital nation. p.61
  • Texas schools and the telecommunications infrastructure regulation. p. 63
  • Voter registration in Arizona-example of pro digital concept that was at first applied incorrectly. p. 69
  • Internet divide provides unequal opportunity. p.70
  • “..the issues of technology inequality and digital literacy became relevant only as legislators realized that if they wanted to change the relationship between government and citizens, then citizens had to be prepared to engage with their government on electronic terms.” p. 72
  • Under the Bush administration funding for e-schools diminished and the federal government allowed states to reallocate funding for such schools to instead fund other educational needs. p. 81
  • US government failure to deal with broadband. p. 83
  • Charitable giving, by its nature, cannot be relied upon to build and sustain a digital nation. p. 85
  • Economic divide may cause some to choose mobile phone service rather than traditional means which may lead to missing the chance for connection to an internet service provider. p.86
  • The top down nature of investments is at odds with the bottom up community driven approaches p. 87
  • Policies have addressed infrastructures, but not training (particularly teachers). p.89
  • Wilhelm draws a good comparison between Andrew Carnegie’s investment in public libraries which were then taken up by the public, with the current challenge in implementing a digital nation. p.92-93