“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?