You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

I’m not a big fan of current copyright laws. They do nothing except bully fans and reduce any type of innovation. But really, charging people to play covers of music to a coffeshop audience of 40 is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

I come from a family of musicians. Nearly all my friends in high school and college were musicians. Believe me, I’ve heard a lot of covers. But how, how I ask you, can covering a song in anyway affect sales of music? If anything, it should increase sales because it is increasing exposure. *sigh*


My new favorite graduate student is really digging Open Access now. They sent me this post from SlashDot about University of California OA initiative. Well, at least there’s some excitement.

Other news from the depths of limnology. I’ve been tinkering with Joomla and a nice extension called DocMan in an effort to solve our absurd digital reprints problem. In case I haven’t mentioned it, our current system uses EndNote as a catalog and requires one to be on the LAN to access any prints. Come on people, why hasn’t this been changed by now.

To be fair though, the solution was much more difficult than expected. This is especially true when there is limited tech support and a budget of nothing.

Robert Darnton has written an interesting article about the Google Book project in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. It goes through the usual list of pros and cons (access is good, copyright extension is bad, commercial control of the digitized version of books is scary) and, overall, is pretty much a repetition of the conventional wisdom surrounding the Google Book project.

However, as afraid as I ,and most everyone else is, of a single enterprise having control of this project, I believe he is overall too skeptical. In addition to the added access to works outside of a collection (which he mentions) and the ability to use books in ways through text searching (which he doesn’t mention), there are many other minor advantages that the mere existence of this project is allowing.

  1. First, the University of Wisconsin, where I attend, is a participating member of the Google books project. We send them books to digitize, but in addition, we receive a digital copy of our own which we deposit in a repository called Hathi Trust . This copy is outside Google’s control. Granted, not all libraries are involved in this program, so it follows that not all books in the projects will be in the trust, but it is some and even if the Google project ends (which it conceivably will someday) the digitized copies will remain in use.
  2. Secondly, this project will, potentially, reduce Interlibrary loan costs. And this is not just because people will be able to see the full work online. Patrons can preview books that, maybe, they saw referred to in a bibliography. Maybe the will realize it doesn’t at all fit their needs and not place a request. I, when first told this by a librarian, was skeptical. But it has happened to me personally twice. And I’ve seen it happen to a patron at the reference desk where I work at least once. Those costs deferred, though minimal, can be used elsewhere.
  3. Finally, a possible advantage. . .As the availability of full digital works becomes even more integrated into academia, there’s potential for spillover of interest into other digital initiatives. There can be increased interest in Open Access journals or Institutional Repositories (if these are ever integrated into the OPAC or library system in a useful way). Who knows where the spillover may go? It could alert faculty to how their copyright privileges are being abused. It could spark an interest in self-archiving or steer money into digital initiatives. There’s potential.

We in academia are always skeptical of commercial interests. And there is certainly a history to help justify this feeling (i.e. journal prices). But the potential in this seems to necessitate the risks. An operation of this takes money, money that libraries do not have. So if they need to make some money to justify the costs, that’s something I can understand.

We librarian’s don’t ask for much. But when a graduate student approaches, unsolicited, and says “hey did you know that we can self archive our publications on the web? How can I do that?” I cannot help but feel a little happy. Especially when they are equally baffled at their lack of rights as an author.

I’ve been spending the last week puzzling over a problem at my library, the Center For Limnology. We have a large collection of reprints but it has being held together in a very inconvenient and very unsustainable way. Right now, our database is EndNote and the files can only be accessed from the local network. So if one was away (which ecologists often are) they would have a very difficult time accessing any information.

Easy, I thought. I’ll fix that with my fancy young man’s knowledge of the web. No go. Much more difficult than expected. Plus, and this is going to surprise everyone, my budget is nothing and support is fairly limited. So far I’ve been considering either a full on digital library software (Greenstone) or a hacked out content management system like Drupal, but both have quite a few difficulties. And it just bugs me because I know a solution is out there. But damn, it’s hard to find sometimes.

The do it yourself mentality is increasing according to the New York Times.

Notice this correlates to increase library use in

  1. Boston
  2. Seattle
  3. My home Madison
  4. And, of course, The United States of America

Sure, correlation does not equal causation. . .but, damn it’s nice to see that people are wanting to use information again. Too bad funding doesn’t appear to correlate to increased library use.

I’m not really interested in public library professionally. However, they’ve always been important to me. And, like everyone, I have opinions on what they are doing right and wrong. Libraries, as we all know, are the last to adopt cultural movements. And a big one they’ve been missing is the movement of America away from culture as consumption.

What does that mean? Well the burst of web 2.0, really the internet as a whole, has really been an explosion in culture as participation. Lawrence Lessig, a lawyer and expert on copyright and media in the internet age, in a recent interview on Fresh Air explains how the internet has created an explosion in participation. People remix music, put videos to song, and so on. If you listen, fast forward to about minute 30 where they discuss John Philip Sousa. Sousa testified before congress at the beginning of the 20th century against recordable media. Before, people would stand on the porch and play the songs of the day or past favorites where now, he says, all you hear are records.

An irrational fear of technology? Maybe. But Sousa, Lessig explains, was a champion of the amateur and now the time of the amateur is returning. Culture is becoming less of a thing you consume and more of a creation, a process. It’s been art and media too. Make magazine and the website Instructables have been leaders of the DIY movement of the web and encourage everything from furniture building to reprogramming gameboys.

So what about the libraries? Well, the libraries have been stuck in a mode of culture as consumption. Patrons walk into the library. They check out books/CDs/DVDs/etc. they leave. They go home. Enjoy what they have. Repeat.

Compare this with academic libraries. The material is, mostly, there to be used. To be integrated, studied, compared, criticized (with the unfortunate highlighting that follows) and so on. The librarians help students (and staff and faculty) find material. They are involved actively in the use of materials. It is no surprise that the largest recent change in libraries has been the increase in instruction.

Now, think about the most popular and loved part of public libraries. What is the single program that will guarantee the continuing existence of public libraries. Of course I am talking about story hour. But the story is the only part that connects with the library as it is known to adults. At story hour what happens?

    -They read a story
    -They sing a song
    -Make a craft
    -Play a game

In other words, they participate. And the adult programs? Book discussions. Come on. A large. Large LARGE part of the library’s collection is instructional non-fiction. There are books on crafts, sports, business, travel. These will never find themselves in a book club, but we have them. Why aren’t they used to engage patrons. Why do libraries not organize knitting instruction or workshops on foreign travel. Fantasy sports would be a piece of cake to organize. At best libraries let community groups to come in and do these things. But what do we do to tap into this new desire to participate? Libraries contain information to aid people with these hobbies or chores, why not take it a step further and invite the participation inside.

Bad times for the economy, but good for the libraries. In the last week I have seen at least three articles that discuss the increase in library use. It was even the front-page article in our local newspaper. And the New York Times wrote today that for the first time in many years fiction reading has increased.

And that is great, it really is. But the problem is this survey only ask if one has read a single novel, book of short fiction or poetry, or play in the last year. And then only slightly over 50% of people answered yes. Well, this means that there is a lot to be done in the libraries. And I don’t mean that we should be getting more people to read fiction. We should be asking what can we do for the other half of people, the people who aren’t really interested in fiction. And no, that’s not a bad thing.

Our future president, according to the Times today, has spent his recent time reading the speeches of Roosevelt. He has also been reading the inauguration of all the president’s as well as the speeches of Lincoln. On the campaign trail, among other books, he read Unequal Democracy. Notice a pattern? Not very much fiction. I’m sure Obama has read a lot of fiction in his day, but that’s not the point. He’s reading these books because they have information he needs, information he wants to use. It is no different than someone picking up a quilting book or a woodworking guide.

So we should not just consider the increase in fiction reading, but how we can make the library a place where all information seeking habits are considered with equal weight. We shouldn’t emphasize (subtly or explicitly) the primacy of fiction over nonfiction. Instead we should look at what patrons need and how we can address those needs.

Librarian and fellow Kansan David Lee King wrote a great post about about the deficiencies of library websites.

It’s a great idea and one that really got me thinking. As much as we need to push beyond the idea that all important material is in book form, we need to make peace with the idea that the libraries value is moving outside its physical walls. The changes are coming, slowly. And there is always the inevitable ideological squabble, but the sooner we make peace (especially in academia) that people would rather not chug across town (or campus) to the library, the better we can begin to assess our services.

So rather than lamenting the falling gate counts. Rather than whimper at the use of phones in the library and the mounting dust on the reference collection, we should be asking why patrons use the library. What are their needs and how the library (in the abstract) can pop into their heads as the best way to meet those needs.