“Are copyright owners their own worst enemy?”

From ABC Australia:

Nowadays, copyright barely resembles what it was originally designed for i.e. to protect both parties: inventors and content creators on the one side and the public on the other. Corporate America and government compliance have written out public interests in many instances. The case of Mickey Mouse is illustrative.

Nonetheless, there’s an air of inevitability about it all. Historically, how often have incumbent, monopolistic industries shrugged their shoulders and written off their entire business model to embark on a journey along a crowded new highway, with rules set by customers, that leads who-knows-where?

On a personal note, I suspect that once the world’s internet infrastructure comes up to speed, we’ll all be using on-demand subscription models and the notion of buying content to keep will feel archaic. Even so, more needs to be done to protect the public from ham-fisted copyright industries demanding payment for everything.

It’s an interesting article and well worth the read. I think that sometimes when companies try to set up revenue streams they end up trying to dam up the whole river. From our own experiences with such construction, it’s safe to say that it can have a detrimental effect on the people downriver as well as the area surrounding the dam. If content shares the same evasive quality as water, it will find a way around any obstacle given enough time.

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

Occupy Scholarly Communications

For the library outrage industry this week, business is booming.

From my academic librarian peers, there’s a bit of a hubbub about the proposed increases for scholarly journals (in particular ones from the American Chemical Society and SAGE.) I have a feeling that this is going to only grow bigger in the next couple of weeks.

Try this on for sticker shock in this pull quote from Barbara Fister.

Here’s my version of an Occupy Wall Street cardboard sign. At my library, we’ve been seeing big price increases in two big journal packages that we really need. Again. This is what we’re paying for American Chemical Society journals

  • 2010 – $29,705
  • 2011 – $34,337
  • 2012 – $41,741

This is what we’re paying for SAGE journals

  • 2010 – $39,105
  • 2011 – $41,442
  • 2012 – $52,500

Steve Lawson describes a 7.4% and 9% yearly increase respectively at his institution. From other casual online conversations I’ve seen, it’s not something isolated to their respective institutions. I have a feeling that if more people start comparing numbers (on sites like LISVendor.info or in the comments of this blog or the other two blogs or other social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter), there will be a greater picture emerging as how library vendors approach their clients and the pricing schemes they attach to them. Not only for academic institutions, but for every kind of library that is out there.

Occupy Scholarly Communications (#OccupyScholComm) is an idea that originated from John Dupuis. It’s an idea of shifting scholarly discourse from traditional journals to online platforms like blogs. To me it presents an interesting thought: that the scholarly process can take advantage of current platforms to move research further, faster, and be more dynamic in responses to changes in the real world than any current academic journal can move at. While I concede that there is value in research refereeing and peer review, scholarly communication is overdue for a revolution. This is not a new idea by a long shot, but it is something that librarians can seek to nurture and/or lead.

Since we are at it, is there anything else we should be looking to “occupy” as librarians?

Amazon, Overdrive, and Other Reasons to Be Pissed

Amazon and Overdrive are back in the online librarian conversation (again), this time lead off by a video rant by Sarah Houghton along with posts by David Lee King and the Annoyed Librarian. (There was a post by Bobbi Newman on the topic about a month ago when it first came out as well as my own take.) It’s being described by such terms like screwing, sucking, and other terms to make some conservative filtering software blush.

I still don’t understand the outrage completely. Databases for years have diverted users to outside sites where they would have to purchase the article. Where is the outrage for that practice? How is a book talk or a book club or even a story time not a basic endorsement for a particular book? Or an author talk where we invite authors in and allow them to sell their book on the premises? While I will concede the former does not have an overt endorsement to purchase, it’s still a viable option for the patron and something passively encouraged by the latter. In general, presenters are allowed to pass out advertisements or even sell their wares at programs, even some that we are paying for them to do. While we’d like to pretend it is a neutral arrangement, there is no denying that librarians engage in commercial endorsement even if they don’t mean it.

Why are some arrangements considered to be good and others are considered bad?

While that question simmers in the back of your mind, I think there is a better question to be asking about the Overdrive-Amazon arrangement. According to Sarah’s video, Amazon sends people an email reminder three days before a book is due to be returned and the due date. In order to send this notice, they would need to know what library material the person is borrowing (the Kindle book), that the person is a library patron at a library which has purchased material (authentication through Overdrive), and the due date of the library material in question. To me, this raises a significant question:

Could the information that Amazon possesses about a library patron who borrows books on their Kindle from the library through Overdrive meet the legal definition of a library record?

In New Jersey, Title 18A:73-43 defines and provides for the confidentiality of library records. (Your state may have different definitions and statutes regarding this topic. I’m not a lawyer so treat my interpretations as a layman.)

18A:73-43.1. "Library," "library record" defined 
    For the purposes of this act:
   a.   "Library" means a library maintained by any State or local governmental agency, school, college, or industrial, commercial or other special group, association or agency, whether public or private.
   b.   "Library record" means any document or record, however maintained, the primary purpose of which is to provide for control of the circulation or other public use of library materials.
   L. 1985, c. 172, s. 1, eff. May 31, 1985.

18A:73-43.2. Confidentiality; exceptions 
    Library records which contain the names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and shall not be disclosed except in the following circumstances:
   a.   The records are necessary for the proper operation of the library;
   b.   Disclosure is requested by the user; or
   c.   Disclosure is required pursuant to a subpoena issued by a court or court order.
   L. 1985, c. 172, s. 2, eff. May 31, 1985.

(Emphasis mine)

At first glance, I think there is a good argument that the information that Amazon has is in fact a library record and therefore subject to statutory confidentiality requirements (at least within the state of New Jersey). It is a record maintained for the control of circulation of library materials; in this case, the license of an eBook for use on the Kindle. While the counterargument is that invokes the first exception regarding disclosing a record as necessary for the proper operation of the library (that there needs to be authentication that a patron is a member of a library that has purchased eBook licenses for Kindle books from Overdrive), I would answer that the proper operation of a library does not include an overt offer to allow a patron to purchase library materials upon the approach and arrival of their due dates. That the very commercial nature of the solicitation (in the disguise of a library notice, no less) represents a misuse of library records and the personally identifying details contained within. I’m not sure of the extent that this would remedy to current practices, but I’d say it would knock off the “would you like to buy the book?” announcements in short order.

There is a better counterargument is that the eBook license does not allow for the establishment of the material in question to be library material in any form; basically, it is and never will be library material. I’m not familiar with the terms of the eBook licensing to guess at the strength of this argument, only to guess that it exists. If that is the case, then what are libraries buying anyway? This position only reinforces the impermanence of eBooks as part of the collection and further erodes the future collection and cultivation value of eBook materials. And as I have said before, if you really don’t like the deal, don’t buy it. (Kindle books through Overdrive, eBooks in general, or whatever it is that doesn’t look like a good deal.)

Personally, I think this is a question that should be subject to further examination by those law talking folks known as lawyers. Your next move shouldn’t be to call Overdrive or Amazon to express your outrage; it should be to your State Librarian or State Library to have your state Attorney Generals check into the possibility of library records being breached. While we can only warn people about the ramifications of their actions when it comes to privacy and let them make their own choices, we can maintain our end of the bargain when it comes to their library records.

I certainly hope someone looks into this.

Retire the Phrase “Doing More With Less”

I know there have been other previous takedowns of the oft repeated phrase “doing more with less” within library circles, but I think I’ve finally hit my own limit. The tipping point came while I was reading this wonderful little blog post “The Hidden Suffering of ‘Good Librarian Syndrome’” when I actually started thinking about the phrase. It’s been a mantra that has been mindlessly and mistakenly uttered in talking about library and budget cuts, but I don’t think anyone has considered the actual implications of what it actually means.

Let’s consider for a moment an hypothetical example of ‘doing more with less’. Imagine you had a pizza (an excellent food choice stand-in for money and budgets) that was cut into eight equal slices in order to feed eight people. Now, because belt tightening, four of those slices were taken away. So, what are your options? You could feed four of the eight people (“doing less with less”); cut those four slices in half so as to feed all eight (“doing the same with less”); or you could cut those remaining pieces twice into twelve sliver pieces so as to feed eight plus another four people (“doing more with less”). In my mind, that last option is the simplest example I can think of in which the end result adheres with the conditions contained within the phrase “doing more with less”. In that situation, it really begs the question as to what those remaining slices look like and if anyone eating them actually feels like they are getting a proper meal.

At one glance, it sounds like our own feeding the multitude moment where librarians are able to provide more (more what? more of everything!) with the resources that we have been allotted. It’s like being MacGyver, except instead of turning a tent into a hang glider we say we can make it into a jet. Budgets are down, but programs and services (and whatever you can think of) are up! All because the community needs us and, as our respective deities/the universe as our witness, we are going to be there to provide.

Provide what? More! With what? Less. Makes sense, right?

From this arises a series of questions that is generates: if you can do more with less, how much less do you need to maintain what you have now? And what were you doing with the “more” you had before? What would a budget restoration mean under this “doing more with less” concept?

Unless someone can unequivocally demonstrate how “doing more with less” is a good thing (which I doubt highly), I think librarians should drop the phrase from their lexicon forever. It does nothing but cover up the real hurt of what budget cuts mean for our communities; because less is less and spinning it into some kind of positive helps no one.

Let’s not kid ourselves anymore on this one.

(h/t: Laura Botts for sharing the blog post on FriendFeed)

Creativity Killed the Library Star

I listened to Dr. David Lankes’ “Killing Librarianship” keynote last week and I keep thinking about one particular aspect of the presentation. Namely, that slide early on saying that what is killing the profession is not Google, eBooks, or Amazon, but a lack of imagination. I agree with this statement but the thing that hitches in my mind is this question:

Is imagination an attribute that the profession values?

It’s a question that has stymied me because I’ve gone back and forth on an answer. The nearest thing to an answer I can come up with is “Yes, but so long as it doesn’t interfere with workflow”. We have many creative individuals in the profession, but recruitment (whether into the profession or a position) on the basis of that attribute is rare to the point of being virtually nonexistent. I don’t believe our graduate programs encourage or nurture such a quality nor is it something that is sought to be rewarded within our associations. As it related to the current prominent figures of our profession, I don’t see the terms “imagination” or “creativity” springing forth as an attribute related to their prominence. (Let me rebut arguments for specific people right here: they represent a minority of that overall group.) I would say that our professional literature isn’t completely bereft of imagination but that it is heavily niched into the arenas of design and technology. Even then, the overarching emphasis is placed on the ease of use, the time saved, and/or the plug-n-play nature of the device, website, tool, or service. Yes, librarians place a value on imagination but with some potentially fatal caveats.

In essence, creativity and its output is treated in a way akin to how a small child regards pet ownership; we just want the kitten, but not all the work that goes into feeding, caring for, and cleaning up after the animal. We aren’t interested in the process; we just want the final product and without the potential burden of the fuss and mess. I don’t know if that is a product of laziness, ignorance, or apathy, but I think it is an condition that is without question fatal to the profession if it continues to persist. It operates under the irrational notion of guaranteed success without margins or methods for coping with failure. This is not an environment that creates innovation, but squashes it in all but the most insulated and/or isolated cases.

While there are those who utilize imagination and creativity as its own reward (and I would consider myself in that camp), there is no other reward, bonus, or boon offered to encourage imagination as a desirable professional trait. I will be honest and say that I don’t have a remedy to this particular issue; frankly, it might just be a condition of the professional culture that will take generations of librarianships to alter. Even then, it will be a vastly different information landscape that the profession will be facing; this change is not simply over the next twenty years, but the next five. If librarianship does value imagination, it has a long ways to go to encourage, nurture, and otherwise support it.

What do you think? Is imagination a value of the profession?

Can You Ever Use the Phrase “I Don’t Know”?

There was a conversation at my workplace the other day that I want to pose as a question to my readership: should a librarian ever use the phrase “I don’t know” when trying to help a library member? My position is that the phrase can be used only with a qualifier; as in, that there is a solution, advice, or suggestion as to know to find out. (For example, “I don’t know but I know someone to ask” or “I don’t know but there might be a database that has an answer”.) Only rarely that the phrase be used without additional content and only in a situation where you don’t know and you don’t even know where to begin to search. Considering the existence of impossible reference questions (insert your own experience being asked one here), I think it is a very human admission and puts you in a sympathetic position with the questioner.

The other position in the conversation was that the phrase should never be uttered, period. Any other phrase that segues into searching should be used (“Let me check on that”, etc.) but never an admission of a lack of knowledge. The idea (as I saw it) is to focus the library member on that fact that you are working to find out the answer rather than a lack of personal knowledge. (I’m probably not explaining this as well, but since it’s not my side of the argument, I’m not terribly obligated to do so.)

What do you think? Can you ever use the phrase “I don’t know”?  Have you ever said it?

[Addendum: I asked my friends on the Library Society of the World Friendfeed this question earlier. You can see their responses here.]

Digital Underclass Podcast

Last week, after the Amazon announcements, I spoke with ZDNet Senior Technology Editor (and fellow New Jerseyite) Jason Perlow about ebooks, Amazon, and what’s changed in a year since he wrote his original digital underclass piece. You can hear the resulting podcast here; we hit a range of subjects in and around libraries and ebooks in general (including the HarperCollins limited checkout system). Jason is a fun person to talk with, not simply because he is a library supporter, but also that he understands the technology component and limitations that libraries are dealing with at the moment. Take a listen to the podcast when you get a chance.

As I reflect on the current state of eBooks (on the day of that LJ/SLJ eBook Summit, no less), my current inclination is that libraries are waiting for publishers to get their shit together. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean this in a wholly derogatory sense. I mean “get their shit together” in that family vacation sort of sense when the rest of the family has their luggage in the car and are waiting for that last family member to locate and pack their things for the trip. They haven’t completely figured out this eBook thing and they are damn well not ready to go anywhere till they figure it out. The fear of over-packing (or worse, leaving something behind) is effectively leading to decision paralysis; they don’t want to give away too many rights (since those could be potential revenue streams) yet they want to grab an effective market share before their competitors. So, until they figure out what they are taking, we are stuck in the driveway.

Is this an apt metaphor? Or are we waiting for someone else to start this proverbial trip?

Defend the Freedom to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job

“Defend the Right to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job” THE VIDEO

“Defend the Right to Read: It’s Everybody’s Job” is an awareness campaign I’ve been working on with the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) for the past couple of months. It was born out of learning about the dismal estimate that only one in four book challenges or removals are reported to the OIF. One in four! I knew I wanted to do something about it so I pitched this idea to the OIF. It’s been a long process, but I’m proud to see this campaign finally come to fruition. It was inspired by the World War II “we can do this together!” posters and the New York Transit System “If you see something, say something” campaign. This is, as the tagline above plainly puts it, everybody’s job and it needs your help.

In collaborating for this awareness campaign, I am hoping that it will encourage people to come forward and report book challenges or removals. I believe there are a number of excellent benefits to better reporting of book challenges/removals.

First and foremost, better data means better analysis. This means the ability to look at these events and spot trends and patterns. If there is a school book that is being routinely moved up from a younger grade to an older one, there is value in the ability to alert school librarians to that situation. It might also warrant a re-evaluation of the material to ensure that it is in the proper location or grade. If there is an individual or group challenging a book in a particular part of a state or region, there is value in advising libraries in the immediate area to such activity. This allows for librarians not to be taken by surprise and to prepare for the possibility. If a book appears to be targeted because it is by a particular author or appears on a list, there is value in making that connection and informing the membership. While it may not be local to one area of the country or another, such a discovery won’t happen without the challenges being reported. Or, to put it in the immortal words of Lester Freamon in The Wire, “All the pieces matter.”

Second, reporting can be done anonymously and the challenge files are held in confidence. This is not a campaign to draft people into this battle, but to gather intelligence. With these kinds of safeguards, people can still take action while minimizing their exposure to repercussions. Simply put, it’s doing something rather than doing nothing and that can make all the difference.

Last but not least, librarians are the public defenders of literature and prose. As such, we do not have the luxury of choosing our clientele. In a nation which values ideas and expression, every book deserves and demands a vigorous defense. It is the right and proper thing to do even in the face of mounting adversity and focused opposition. Though some may consider this an unpopular burden upon the profession, I believe that it is our honored duty. It is who we proclaim ourselves to be: offering the greatest possible access to literature and information to all who seek it. Let us embrace this ideal and act accordingly.


The art is available via download from the ALA OIF site. There are blog banners, social media avatar, print posters, and wallpapers. Grab one for your social media stuff and show your support! We need to spread the word! You can bug OIF for the bookmark file (there was one, I believe); you can also bug them if you want to request this graphic in poster or t-shirt form.

I made a video for this campaign which I hope you will enjoy. The books and the lyrics are matched according to my quirky system; some are obvious, some are not, and I hope you enjoy figuring them out. Be sure to share it to see what other people think of it!

[The wonderful Amy Houser did the art for this project. If you are working at a library or a library system that is considering branding illustrations, I highly recommend her art skills and creative talents. Tell her Andy sent you! –A]

The Relationship of Librarians and Intellectual Freedom


Intellectual freedom is lauded as one of the core principles of the librarian profession. It is a noble ideal, a solid foundation for an information based field and partner to the underlying altruism that seeks to provide for any who ask. Yet, over time when I’ve read about it or see peers invoke it in print or online disagreements (especially when it comes to opinion pieces), I am perplexed by the conceit that intellectual freedom is a simple, binary supposition. I find intellectual freedom to be anything but simple; it is a nuanced, contextual, and complex ideal that could be (and should be) a constant inner struggle for every librarian. In grappling with it myself, I began reflecting how the ideal and the practice actually work.

From the ALA’s Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q&A, this is the definition offered of intellectual freedom:

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored.

On paper, I certainly have no qualms with this definition. It is a wonderful articulation of the ideal principle. But when it comes to implementation, the perfection portrayed above is harder than it appears.

By our very own biological makeup, human beings both censor and filter information. Consider our nervous systems, a series of neural pathways designed to conduct the signals of our senses (including the largest one, touch) to the brain. Our brains are hardwired to ignore a vast majority of input signals that are being reported all over our body. It’s why we aren’t constantly distracted by the way our clothing feels on our body, the sound or pace of our own breathing, or any number of mundane body sensations. We can bring to our conscious thoughts (if my writing about those kinds of operations didn’t do that already), but otherwise it doesn’t get past the brain stem unless it brings something urgent or new to the situation (such as a pinched finger or a cold breeze).

There’s some very good (and biologically necessary) reasoning for stopping the majority of signals and it is one that librarians should be able understand: information overload. Our brains simply can’t handle all of that information and run a body with any degree of success. We would be bombarded by a cacophony of sensations that could prove distracting to the point of being fatal; how my jeans feel on my knees is not information I need to know when changing lanes on the expressway.

Even within our conscious mind, there are censoring or filtering factors in our thoughts that manifest in ideological irrationality (the ability to rationalize or set aside facts in favor of beliefs). Under this concept, humans edit the information they receive from the world around them to match their perspective. There have been multiple studies over the year about how people can rationalize or ignore their way out of cognitive dissonance. These are not ideologues of the extreme nor fanatics blind in their devotion, but ordinary people from all walks of life. While we have the capability of changing our opinions or knowledge on the basis of new information, we have the same capability to explain it away or simply ignore it. It’s illogical, it’s irrational, but it is also perfectly normal and par for the course when it comes to being human.

On top of this selective information mess, our days are full of making selections and judgments based on our biases, experiences, and a whole host of internal and external influences contained within our lives. It is embedded in our choices of what to wear, what to buy, what to cook, who to talk to, what emails to respond to, and any number of decisions that we make on a constant basis. It drives us to buy that particular brand of peanut butter, to chose a particular color to paint our bedroom, and tells us what we are looking for in an ideal mate. At this point, human beings have a whole host of conscious and subconscious inclinations that move us to and fro in our existence.

It’s not that I am saying that people cannot be objective, logical, or rational. It’s that I believe it is a lot harder than it appears to be when it comes to supporting and defending the principle of intellectual freedom. It involves setting aside a great deal of biology as well as our own psychology to reach an objective state. Nor am I suggesting that every collection decision be open to second guessing as to what the true motivations for making those choices; that would lead to a lockdown of the decision making process. No, judgments about the collection have to be made; the library must continue to grow and move with the times. It’s just a matter of examining and being mindful of the context in which those decisions are made.

Will Manley recently made a statement in a blog entry which conceals a question in the middle, In leading up to the passage I am quoting, he makes a list of books he would never want to see in the library, such Holocaust denial or bomb making. “I am sure that you can think of other types of books that contain ideas that are destructive to human beings.  I am also sure that you would not want these types of books in your library.  I know I do not want the books described above in my library.  Does that make me a censor or a selector?  It’s a fascinating debate. Basically it comes down to this:  If you’re a librarian, you’re a selector; if you’re a patron, you’re a censor.”

If there is one thing I learned from my year stint in law school, it’s that the best answer to any question like this is contained thoughtfully within the two word statement, “It depends”. I believe it has less to do with the position you are in (whether you are a librarian or not) and more as to the underlying motivations as to why a book was chosen (or not chosen) and why a book was challenged.

It’s one thing to say that a book was added to the collection because it is written by a popular author, a well followed series, or an established expert in their respective field; it’s clearly another to exclude material on the belief that the person is an blithering idiot, a partisan hack, or a certifiable quack. And if you are asking yourself how you can tell the difference (as I have asked myself while writing this), then you can see part of the conundrum that the principles of intellectual freedom present in practice. I don’t have a clue as to how it can be unraveled unless someone is quite opaque and forthcoming in their inclusion/exclusion reasoning. Unless it is stone cold obvious, such exclusions can be rationalized away or otherwise dismissed. It just becomes part of the fodder for never-ending debates on the how or why we choose collection materials.

It’s also one thing to say that a book is being challenged on the ground of maturity (in that the subject matter is advanced for the age group); it’s another to say that the book is morally corruptive, racist/homophobic, or otherwise a bad influence. These subjective charges of the latter embody the most obvious foe to intellectual freedom as they directly clash with its working definition as listed above. In their most basic form, these challenges seek to limit or squash another expression or viewpoint because it runs afoul of another moral or social sense. Only by examining the context and the underlying rationale of the challenge can selectors (or in the case of the first example in this paragraph, deselectors) be separated from the censors. This is not without its own related discussions that revolve around what is right or wrong for a library to possess and the influences (both good and bad) it may engender.

In considering current librarianship when it comes to making collection selections, I think there is a fine balance that every librarian should consider as it relates to intellectual freedom. Within the last few years, there has a notion suggesting that librarians position themselves as knowledge scholars who impart bibliographic instruction and educate people as to the best tools for information evaluation. As a profession, we can provide people with the best tools to make their own decisions about the data and information in their lives and research.

At the other end of this balancing act is the explosion of the digital content and communication that has created the greatest mass of data in the history of mankind. As members of a greater society, we demonstrate and justify our value by sifting through this information space and pulling out the best materials for our users. In applying our knowledge of popular culture, science, art, or any number of subjects, librarians can ensure that leading theories and thoughts as well as their competition or leading dissents are accessible. While not all viewpoints are included (a clear violation of intellectual freedom), librarians can make the best case for those expressions that are part of the collection.

This balancing act is the constant struggle I contend with when I think of intellectual freedom. I want to provide as many viewpoints as I can, but I don’t believe that all viewpoints hold equal weight (or in some cases, any). I want my users to be able to consider sources objectively, but I know they also want me to narrow down the choices to the best materials. In essence, I want to provide for my users in the greatest number of ways possible, but I know of all the limitations of the collection, the budget, the building, and myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I think it’s foolish not to acknowledge the deeper struggle contained within intellectual freedom.

I think it’s the right relationship for librarians and intellectual freedom to have: “It’s complicated.”