Saturday, November 23, 2013

Home and School and Library and City

You probably don’t know that I hold the illustrious position of President of the King Edward Home and School Association. Since September I've been chairing our monthly meetings as well as the occasional special meeting like the one when we as a group all sat around my dining room table and discussed what we wanted to fund raise for this year.

The best way to understand our budget prioritizations is to think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If we end up reaching our ambitious fundraising goal we are going to purchase 10 iPads for the school (yes, yes, I know that iPads are problematic as educational technology but when the Principal, the teacher's rep and the majority of your volunteers all want to work towards buying iPads, you commit to iPads). But before we spend any money on tablets, we’re going to make sure that we make good on our commitment to support field trips, school clubs, referees, replace broken music and sports equipment, and help pay for the festivities to send off the graduating class of grade eights.

But our primary budgetary goal that comes first is to continue to support the our snack and breakfast programs that we run in the school. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday a small group of committed Home and School volunteers meet in the school’s staff room and clean, cut and distribute fruits and vegetables into baskets for each class so that come first ‘nutrition break’ everyone who is hungry can have something to eat. Our school also holds a ‘Breakfast Club’ so that kids can start the day with food in their stomachs as long as they arrive at school earlier enough to take advantage of the program.  And that’s a key point - it’s not so much that there are many families in this neighbourhood who can’t afford breakfast (although they most certainly exist) but it’s more that there are many families who are supported by adults who have so many demands on their time such as part-time or shift work that on some days it takes all their available time and energy just to get their kids out of the house and to school on time.

The economic conditions of the neighbourhood where I live is changing and the make-up of our volunteers at Home and School reflects that change. Not long ago King Edward Home and School had many more active volunteers who were 'stay at home' parents and so the scale of the fundraising and social events were a degree larger than what they are now.  I don’t think it’s coincidence that our core volunteers are retirees (grandparents who are primary caregivers), work part-time or on contract, or are stay-at-home. When we lose an active volunteer it’s usually because of the good fortune that they've found full-time work.

This means that the nature of our activities as an organization has changed. We find that many parents are very happy to support our activities that support the school but they are likely to participate in our events only if they don’t have to commit to giving time. For example, many parents are happy to donate baked goods to a particular event, but can’t or won’t commit to helping out planning or putting on that event.

My experiences with Home and School has quietly shifted some of my thinking about the services that we provide as a librarian at a university. I know this because when I took the bus to work this week and watched all the students come on board, I couldn't help but wonder if they were starting the day with a good breakfast in them. And as I tried to see the library from their perspective, I realized that it probably means little to them that the library is the heart of campus learning (in so that we pump out text for reading that turns into writing that turns into publishing that returns to the library, the heart of the campus, and our arteries that pump out the text again and this allows the body of knowledge to move and grow and I probably should have stopped this metaphor before it even started) .  The most important service we might be providing is to simply being a warm, dry place to sit down before and between classes.

I'm comfortable going a good deal further than merely arguing that the presence of well-loved and well-used public spaces in a city is a collective good. I conflate that presence more or less directly with civilization itself. My reasons for thinking so are all pretty basic, even obvious, but I find that it sometimes helps to spell these things out explicitly. Consider:
Civilization means providing for everyone’s basic biological needs, among which are shade and some degree of shelter from the elements; clean potable water; and a safe place to use the toilet, and otherwise conduct the rudiments of bodily hygiene. These provisions need to be widely distributed and available throughout the community, situated in a way that allows them to be utilized without undue surveillance (and certainly without shame), and this can only happen under the conditions of relatively uncontrolled access that public space affords. 
The most vulnerable among us have the greatest need for such facilities, of course. They ought to be able to avail themselves of same for pragmatic reasons of public health, but also because being able to clean oneself up helps immeasurably with “presentability” when applying for assistance, or a job, or otherwise moving uncomplicatedly through the bourgeois world. (Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard to gather up the courage to walk into a clinic, a classroom or an office when you know perfectly well that you smell, and that the smell is offensive to the people around you.)

The above is an except from Adam Greenfield’s Public space, civilization and the self (long)

The reason why I brought the larger context of public space and ultimately why I've been reflecting on the matters of time constraints and civic participation is that I'm less than 40 days away from a year long sabbatical.  Unstructured time to pursue one’s own interests is perhaps one of the finest luxuries in the world and I am well aware of what a privilege it is.  I titled my sabbatical application as ‘Library as city, city as library’ and here is an excerpt of what I proposed to work on way back in September 2012:

In November of 2011, MIT Press published a set of twenty-four essays in a work entitled from “From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen: Urban Informatics, Social Media, Ubiquitous Computing, and Mobile Technology to Support Citizen Engagement.” The work explores the possibilities that mobile devices, mapping, gaming, augmented reality and other technologies may have on citizen engagement. Notably, there is no mention of libraries working within this context. Mobile devices allow for information to be geographically situated in a specific locations. How can the library distribute its collections on a map or in a space outside of itself in the places where they are immediately needed or brought to mind? This question has not been fully explored within the profession.

I briefly toyed with the idea of setting up a new, separate blog just to reflect this new focus of placing library work in a larger context that explores the notion of the smart city, spatial thinking, local knowledge among other important ideas related to geography…

(recently over lunch I inadvertently made my friends laugh with my proclamation that I needed to re-find my inner geographer “So you’re a lost geographer?”  Ha. Ha.)

... but I am a seasoned enough blogger to know that the title of a blog really doesn't matter much to the reader. And I know enough of my own site analytics that most of my traffic comes from real-time referrals from Twitter and Facebook. If a piece of writing resonates enough for someone who wants to share it, then it doesn't really matter where it comes from.

This particular insight probably requires a whole article to unpack and I'm looking forward for having the time and space to do so in 2014.

Friday, August 09, 2013

User Experience vs. the World

This post includes the slides and some of things I said during a brief presentation I made to the LIS 9706 User Experience Research class at FIMS, Western University on August 8, 2013. Thank you Lu Xiao for inviting me!

If you are going to do user experience work in a library setting you will frequently find yourself designing against certain constraints. For myself, there are seven constraints I find myself facing again and again.

For this presentation I have, mostly for my own amusement, decided to represent each of these constraints as one of the seven characters of the League of Evil Exes from the graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim.

Our first constraint: The Institution!

The front page of the library where I work currently looks like this:

But the look of the front page will change this month because our parent organization, The University of Windsor, has recently changed the theme of its website and we've expected to change ours accordingly.

The official policy at the University of Windsor is that web pages are first and foremost geared towards prospective students and alumni. Web-based student services are delivered through a variety of intranets.

But the library's services are geared towards current students and faculty and our website reflects this. This difference in intended audience inevitably results in differences in what we believe should be presented on our site.

The specific details may be different, but almost all university websites reflect a similar conflict of purpose.

Sometimes it's best to resign yourself to the fact that the Home page is beyond your control.

Constraint 2 are the dreaded "People Who Do Not Read"

I deliberately chose to mention in this section dedicated to people who do not read that The 'Home page is beyond your control' is a comforting lesson that I learned from Steve Krug's book 'Don't Make Me Think.' It is my only reading recommendation for you in this presentation - other than the Scott Pilgrim series.

Krug's book reminds us that good websites present clear and understandable actions that match the user's intentions. If the reader has to think about where they need to click next or read three pages of text to find the link they need, then the design of that page is failing them.

When someone complains that 'people don't read', it's a good sign that the design in question can and should be improved by adding design cues and removing everything that doesn't lend itself to helping the reader make the one choice that matters in that context.

Because we don't read websites...

... we use websites.  A website is for use.

Just as library staff use library space differently than its readers, library staff tend to use the library's website differently as well.

For example, library staff already know the terminology of their institution and so they will likely want to be able to access something from the library webpage by name. For example, they will want to find the 'In process form' on a site map. Readers, on the other hand, only want to see a form at the time and point of need. Following our first example, readers should find the In process form while they are in the library catalogue when the book that they want in currently in process.

But it's much more complicated than that. And that's because we cannot unsee what we have seen before...

One way to break out of this cycle is to work toward iterative improvements to our websites that are guided by evidence of user behaviour.

While this particular webcomic nicely illustrates the difference between designing for wants vs responding to needs via focus groups, the web team that I chair gathers most of its evidence through Google Analytics and other data collection programs such as CrazyEgg.

The one thing that surprised me when I made the transition from science librarian to UX librarian, was the realization of how much work user experience work demands continual education of best practices to one's peers. It is only recently that have realized that I have not done enough of it.

Recently I presented a form to my peers - a form, mind you, that had been modelled closely to one that I knew was already successful (that being, well used) at another similar institution (it's not copying... it's heuristics!) When the form was presented to my department, some of my colleagues recommended to cut down the form in length considerably and to change of all the drop-down menus to something more horizontal because 'students don't like to scroll.'

Students don't like to scroll? Have my colleagues not heard of Pinterest or used Facebook lately?  Have they not realized that the one of the hallmarks of 2013 web style is something called infinite scroll?

By the way, I think it's important to pay some attention to the most popular websites that your audience already uses and to make note how these sites both look and behave. If you can design your website to look and act similarly, then your users will have an easier time using your site because they will have already figured out how it works and you already know they like it.

I have two examples of how I have tried to employ this type of designing. In the screenshot below, you might be able to recognize elements of both Twitter (the icons) and Google style (the title in the bold, followed by the url and then a brief one line excerpt that describes the resource) that was incorporated into what was once a long bullet list of text.

And one similarly made design decision that I regret and our web team is reconsidering is the promotional 'carousel' that is currently featured on the front page of our homepage.  While the stats indicate that databases featured on the carousel do experience a small increase of use from being showcased, it's difficult to justify why it should be largest element on the screen.

But - in my defense, I can say we were just copying the zeitgeist of the web design at the time. But times have changed and now that the evidence is in that they aren't being used by readers, it's probably worth asking Should I Use a Carousel?

A word of warning. Some of my colleagues have been resistant to the idea of evidence-based web design. It's possible that some of yours might be too.

That being said, some of this resistance might come from a more fundamental difference of philosophy behind the web design.

In my experience I have found that recommending the best practices found in a book called 'Don't Make Me Think' doesn't always go over well when you work in an institution that is dedicated to getting students to slow down, reflect and well, to think about their research process.

For example, John Kupesmith's 'Library Terms That Users Understand' has been around for ten years now. This means that the evidence that library readers misunderstand the term 'library catalogue' has been around for ten years and yet it was only since last year that my library's website changed the label Library Catalogue to Search Catalogue for Books, Videos.

The resistance to replace the words Library Catalogue with Find Books existed largely because of this line of thinking : students should know and be expected to know that you use a library catalogue to find books. Some even said that replacing language like Library Catalogue with Find Books is dumbing down our work.

Likewise, some librarians chose not to consider and respond to the evidence that suggests that Advanced Search is rarely used and when it is being used, it is likely used incorrectly. Librarians are experts at searching and if students can't search then it just proves that we need to teach them how to search. All of them.

Our complicated search interfaces prove that we are better than Google.

Also, the idea of defaulting to basic search makes you a terrible person for even suggesting it. And you are a control freak. Who do you think you are?

Well, I do know this. I am not the user, and myself and my colleagues, we are not our patrons.

Let's compound the problem. Let's buy and license products that matches  librarian needs and expectations of how searching and researching should be rather than the needs of our readers based on how they search.

Is research supposed to be hard?

Well, I know writing can be hard and critical thinking and close reading can be hard. But I don't think that means that making the texts readily and easily available for us to read and learn from should be hard. And I'm not alone.

Last constraint!

This is not a common design constraint but it is one that might sneak up on you in future.

Let me be clear - games are wonderful and libraries are wonderful and games and libraries can be wonderful. I'm just suggesting a note of caution when you are approached by someone who wants to reduce rich meaningful experiences into points alone.  Points can be useful but the goal of a game is not to accumulate points. Games are for fun.

The world is a strange, complicated and wonderful place and we should be cautious of reducing those complexities to Pavlovian mechanics.

This applies to game design, web site design, and to education as a whole. 

Libraries need to be places where people can see where they can make a difference. We should not be indifferent to the hopes and aspirations of our readers.

Thank you and good luck in your pursuit of achieving your hopes and aspirations.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Library as Copy Machine: Part Two: Libraries Are for Use

I was at a THATCamp workshop led by Jon Voss when he casually mentioned that he had found a particular map from 'crate-digging' in a library. 

Crate-digging is a term that DJs use to describe looking through old records for samples that they can mix and remix into new work.

But it's not just music where everything is a remix. Literature has been in a plundered, fragmentary state for a long time.

And the state of copying and its influence in the arts is only going to increase. I agree with Cory Doctorow when he says that "contemporary art that's not designed to be copied is not contemporary."

As such, libraries, by and large, are no longer contemporary institutions.

First Law: Books are for Use. And Use Costs The Reader 

Libraries provide access to words, sounds, maps, software, data, film, videos, etc. But, due to copyright and other instruments of intellectual property protection, only a relatively small percentage of what we offer can actually be used in a commercial work like an app or be re-mixed or re-interpreted for an artistic piece - at least not without getting permission from a publisher or paying a fee first. 

By and large, libraries don't go out of their way to tell our their users what they have that  in the public domain or creative commons and available to artists and entrepreneurs looking for inspiration or plunder. 

If the reader is lucky, each item from the library will be described with clear rights information. And ideally - a digital collection would have such rights information available as a facet so one would have the ability to only see what works can be re-used without having to ask permission first.  Barring that, it would be wonderful if our library catalogues and digital repositories had this metadata machine-readable for tools such as Open Attribute.

But more often than not, the right to use is traded away by libraries for a discount in access from entities that are not forthcoming about when and how much they will charge for use of the materials they make available.

And this is problematic for so many reasons. Restictions on data and software prevent our scientists from replicating experiements which is, you know, doing science. And it prevents our (digital) humanists from being able to make things with the very materials that we license for them on their behalf. 

Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader.  Unless it makes the publisher uncomfortable.

Here's another example. Supposed you are a professor of a course with 80 students in your class that's starting in a week. You decided that will have two assigned readings for each of the 12 weeks in the course, with some being journal articles and some being book chapters. You already have all the works as PDFs and because you want to make sure your students do the readings, you plan to upload them into the course management system to give them no excuse for coming unprepared to class. And then you are told that you can't because the library had signed a license agreement that gave that right away and thus, you are required to instead add "durable links with a proxy prefix" (whatever that means - you're a pretty savvy Internet user and you've never heard of that before) for some of the articles (and how were we supposed to know that?) And now you have to trust that each of your 80 students will find, use, and download or print those articles from these links. Once you re-find those links again.

After how many minutes do you expect our hypothetical professor to struggle with finding out how to make a durable link to the chapter she wants her class to read (see above) before that professor decides to toss it and to discretely give the 80 students a link to her Dropbox account?

Here's another question. Will budget-starved libraries continue to sell away every type of use of a document just as long as they can have access?

Second Law: Every person his or her book.  Even if they want to make money off of that book

I'm on the board of directors of one of the more recently created hackerspaces in Canada. and I'm proud of the group for many reasons - but one reaon is the group's interest and work in Open Data. Hackforge volunteers have already contributed to an Open Data CodeJam and just a couple weeks ago, we had our first meeting of an Open Data Special Interest Group. After the formal meeting, we had our-post meeting meetup, during which a local software developer complained that he wanted to make an app using some government produced geographic data that was tantalizingly readily available but was stricted to non-commerical purposes by its license.

Even thought I agreed with him, I took the role of the apologist. I tried to explain that many people who come from the non-profit sectors of government, social services, and academia (wait, we're still non-profit, right?) have an bias against commericalization and  think they are working through their good intentions when they make their works available but for non-commerical use (unfortunately without realizing that this will turn their contributions into orphan works).

I got an eye-roll in response, and I unfortunately can't remember the exact wording of the scathing retort but it was along the lines of 'oh so they want people to use their works unless it actually becomes valuable.'

I've found that software developers are more aware than librarians what the ramifications of licensing can bring about and pretty much all of them have a strong opinion on what's better, GPL or BSD.  Furthermore, there's a growing understanding that the success of apps that require local information may only be sustainable if they can replicated across communities, which means that having common licenses are increasingly important. Luckily, there is movement to adopt such licences among the governments in Canada.

But what about libraries?  Well, I'm not the only one who wonders if libraries can really be effective advocates of Open Data. 

This is one of those questions that I ponder ever now and again, because I wonder how effective libraries really can be as open data advocates when our current practice demonstrates that we don’t fully believe in the concept.  Well, I should qualify that – we have no problem believing that other people have a moral obligation to make their research and data open to the world using the most permissive (CC0) licenses available, but we have an extremely difficult time doing the same.

Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism. But the Internet is much much bigger and grows much much faster

There's is much derision around the phrase of Web 2.0 but I don't think we should be completely dismissive of its promises. Personally, the Web 2.0 We Lost bit that I miss the most was this :

BitTorrent thus demonstrates a key Web 2.0 principle: the service automatically gets better the more people use it

In Publishing 2.0, Tim O'Reilly provides other examples that can fit in a Library 2.0 context. Here's a brief summary of that talk from 2008:

  • Google. With Google, every time a user makes a link to another site, Google uses that hyperlink to better inform its search algorithm.

  • Amazon. Borders and Barnes & Noble have the same stock of books, but Amazon integrates user reviews and commentary to add more value to their literary collection. With each review, the site gets more valuable.

It's almost been 10 years since the first Web 2.0 conference. And at this point I was going to write again about the current state of library software but I can't even.  Not anymore.

Instead, I recommend you read this intriguing post on Headless libraries (h/t Lisa Hinchliffe).

Third Law: ????

When I think of the future of education, I don't think of MOOCs.

Instead, I think of the person who decides to learn something and works at it by doing it for the better part of a year, documents the process for themselves and others, and at the end of the self-imposed challenge, that person is able to show off a remarkable transformation:

Libraries aren't always part of a formal educational system but it is generally understood that learning is part of our collective mission. Now combine that with the growing understanding that making and learning are deeply-intertwined.

Libraries need to become places where people learn by doing and we need to start sharing our ideas and our spaces in order to support this mission. This doesn't mean we have to give up work providing literature; I'm suggesting we supplement this work with author readings, book clubs, NaNoWriMo support groups, and help with self-publishing. Likewise with film, audio and video.

Our public needs need work that they can use in their learning.

Profit!!! or

What do libraries that are built for re-use look like?

There are exceptional libraries that have been established and maintained specially for the re-use of work by artists including  Prelinger Library and Reanimation Library.

I also highly recommend following the work of The Library As Incubator Project that highlights specific projects and exhibits that libraries big and small have developed in collaboration with artists:

On our website, we:
  • Feature artists, writers, performers and libraries who exemplify the “library as incubator” idea.
  • Highlight physical and digital collections and resources that may be of particular use to artists and writers.
  • Provide ideas for art education opportunities in libraries with our program kit collection and practical how-to’s for artists and librarians.

Richard Veevers in a comment to the first part of this post, kindly recommended watching a particular talk by Eli Neiburger's 2012 talk and after watching it, I whole-heartedly second that recommendation.

It's called Access, schmaccess.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Library as Copy Machine: Part I : Pirates of the Alexandrian

Librarians, publishers, and authors are all struggling with the burden of copyright, that being the exclusive right to copy in a digital world. Copyright has become a burden because copying is an inherent property of digital transmission:

As computers retrieve images from the web or displays from a server, they make temporary, internal copies of those works. Every action you invoke on your computer requires a copy of something to be made. Many methods have been employed to try to stop the indiscriminate spread of copies, including copy-protection schemes, hardware-crippling devices, education programs, and statutes, but all have proved ineffectual. The remedies are rejected by consumers and ignored by pirates.

The evidence is in. Copyright hurts readers as well.

So let’s the change the context. Let's stop thinking of copying in terms of the exclusive domain of publishers. Let us remember that the history of the library pre-dates the history of the publisher.

Let us remember how the greatest library in the world was built from copies. And piracy. Literally piracy.

During the reign of Ptolemy Eurgertes, the Library borrowed Athens’ official versions of the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, giving Athens an enormous amount of money; the modern equivalent of millions of dollars, as surety for their return. The scribes of the Library made fine copies of these books on the highest quality of parchment. The originals were kept for the Great Library and the copies were returned to Athens, causing the Alexandrians to forfeit their bond. Other ethically dubious means for procuring materials were also employed. It is said that during a famine in Athens, ambassadors from the Great Library forced the sale of valuable original manuscripts owned by that city in exchange for food. A more conventional technique employed by the Ptolemies was to send people out to buy books, looking especially for rare texts and libraries which might be bought en masse. In addition to buying books, the Ptolemies acquired books through plunder. It is widely reported that upon entering the Alexandrian harbor, ships were inspected, and any books they were carrying were seized. A copy was made and given to the original owner, but the original was kept for the Great Library. It was through such means that the Great Library amassed its large collection.

Let us remember that Google’s search engine is not built from the Internet. It is continually built from a copy of the indexable Internet. One library was built from scribes. Another one built was by spiders.

And when the printing press replaced the use of scribes, the act of creating copies occurred outside of the library and the collecting continued. Many of the world's national libraries have been built through the establishment of a legal deposit program that requires publishers to give their national library a copy (or several) of each work they publish.

By law, a copy of every UK print publication must be given to the British Library by its publishers, and to five other major libraries that request it. This system is called legal deposit and has been a part of English law since 1662.
From 6 April 2013, legal deposit also covers material published digitally and online, so that the Legal Deposit Libraries can provide a national archive of the UK’s non-print published material, such as websites, blogs, e-journals and CD-ROMs.

And while academic libraries have not framed their work this way, the mandates passed by University Senates which requires authors and creators to deposit copies of their works into the local institutional repository sounds a lot like legal deposit to me. Except it's not so much as "legal deposit" than 'deposit when legal' because a university is not a nation and so its mandate cannot trump the contract agreements between publishers and authors. If it could, can you just imagine what a powerful force it could be? Well, Elsevier did and those crafty publishing devils specifically state that in their Article Posting Policy that it's okay if authors deposit a copy of their paper in an institutional repository - as long as is it is voluntary. 

I'm going to suggest that all libraries - public, special, and academic - should think of local copying as a means of collection development. While, as I have shown, that it is not a new way of developing library collections, it will be new to most non-national libraries who have enjoyed a long, comfortable existence as a middleman between commercial publishers and a local reading public.

I think this project - Winnipeg Public Library's Local Music History Digitization Days - is a wonderful example that highlights what such a re-imagining of libraries and archives can achieve. The project itself was billed as a two day event and it was held this past April:

Past Forward ( ) is WPL's ongoing Public History project, where people can discuss, share, research and contribute to our past. Since one of the fantastic things about Winnipeg is our local music scenes, we thought preserving this part of our city's past would be a great contribution to the project.

So, if you were involved with music in Winnipeg, this is your chance to get all that stuff out from under your bed and online! Get your show posters, venue photographs, & handbills digitized, and contribute to our public history collection.

Register for a space to get high quality digital scans of your memorabilia...

I love that everyone benefits from this project. Those from the public who participate get digital copies of their memorabilia perhaps with equipment they don't have access to and with the guidance of an expert that they might have needed. And not only does the library gets a copy for their public history collection, they have a showcase of work that they can add to, in similar event the following year, if they choose to do so. Furthermore, they could also use this model repeatedly and applied to completely different interest group each time as a form of community outreach. Collecting from one community at a time.

It should be noted that even here the burden of copyright has not been departed or gone:

Also, out of respect to bands and artists, we are asking people to only bring materials that they helped produce, so that there are no copyright issues!

Right. Like we could get our rock and roll stars to make their promotional work freely available to their fans. Like... The Clash!

Mick Jones of The Clash: transformed his own archive of nearly 10,000 artefacts into one unique 5-week "guerrilla-library." Users were able to scan (courtesy of the U.K distributor of the Book2net Kiosk) certain objects and via memory stick carry them away.

And now, I'd like to depart on a tangent that the quote above affords me. I want to focus on the technologies - like the Book2net Kiosk - that not make our scanning possible but they make entirely new libraries possible.

(Indeed, it only takes a photocopier to build a library.)

Both the Windsor Public Library and the University of Windsor have an Espresso Book Machine, a print-on-demand contraption that both prints and binds softcover books within minutes. I've printed my own book with the machine and I can say from experience that it is a delight to make beautiful papery things to share. But what intrigued me about the machines is how the self-published and public domain titles produced by an Espresso can be added to EspressNet - “a network of content, enabling EBMs to order and print books by retrieving, encrypting, and transmitting files from a multitude of content sources.” Every year, the collection of EspressNet grows along with the use of their printers.

Other self-publishing and print-on-demand services such as and have created similar collections of works for sale. The distribution system of the written work is baked right into the publishing process, although sometimes it requires an additional cost. Publish with Lulu and you can distribute your print books with Amazon and Ingram (myilibrary) and your ebooks with Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble nook store. Of note, Ingram has its own business unit that does combined on-demand book printing and distribution at the publisher level through Lightning Source.

Libraries should also consider how we too can bind publishing and distribution together and so that both services similarly re-enforce each other.

Two of my favourite examples of such consideration are PUMA and BibApp.  PUMA is a system “where the upload of a publication results automatically in an update of both the personal and institutional homepage, the creation of an entry in BibSonomy, an entry in the academic reporting system of the university, and its publication in the institutional repository.”  BibApp is similar. It "matches researchers on your campus with their publication data and mines that data to see collaborations and to find experts in research areas. With BibApp, it’s easy to see what publications can be placed on the Web for greater access and impact. BibApp can push those publications directly into an institutional or other repository." 

And it's not too late for us to get into self-publishing end of ebook publishing. You can't tell me it isn't possible because it's already being done:
“I realized we needed to do something,” LaRue says. “The vendors were screwing us.” In December 2010, with all of these ingredients mixing in his mind, he had a moment of clarity. As with the music industry before it, a common analogy in these conversations, he decided that the publishing industry’s future didn’t rest with the legacy conglomerates that had dominated it in the past. Its strength resided in the independent presses and self-publishing writers who had seized the opportunity that e-books offered: the democratization of publishing. Libraries, he reasoned, needed to harness that creative outburst. He devised a plan to do it.
It was remarkable in its simplicity: LaRue decided to build a digital warehouse and contracting system, which would allow his libraries to purchase directly from smaller publishers and authors, cutting out the Big Six and OverDrive, which would mean lower prices. In January 2011, Douglas County Libraries purchased Adobe software that for $10,000 would serve as the backbone of the new system, safely transferring files from the provider to the library to the reader. LaRue wrote “Dear Publishing Partner” letters, setting simple yet firm expectations for how the content would be handled and eliminating the restrictions that accompanied the major publishers’ products. The whole enterprise cost $200,000, but LaRue says the libraries have already saved that much in a year because the prices they’re paying for the independent and self-published materials are much lower, up to 45 percent below retail.
The system went live in February 2012, and LaRue went to work finding partners. They soon flooded Douglas County’s digital shelves. The libraries have so far purchased e-books from more than 900 smaller publishers and hundreds of individual authors. They make up 21,000 of the 35,000 titles in his virtual catalog. The rest come from the major publishers, sold through intermediaries at much higher prices. Those mainstream titles are still more popular with readers, making up 65 percent of the county’s loans, but it’s clear that the appetite for the independent and self-published content is growing...

Copy that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Heritage Heritage Minute and The Digital Library of Canada We Lost

It's time for me to write about Heritage - the ten year digitization project that is being undertaken by the non-profit charity with 50,000 reels of microfilmed historical material from Canada's national library, Library and Archives Canada - which has been partly funded by most of the university libraries of Canada through CRKN, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, which raised $1.74 million dollars toward the deal signed on June 14th.

CRKN is a licensing agency that negotiates deals with publishers and then brings those deals to its members to sign onto. Normally, for those librarians - like myself - who are not privy to the conversations of library directors or not among the small set of subscribers to the restricted CRKN listserv, it is not unusual to hear about the proposed deals only after they have been signed and committed to by their leadership.

But that didn't happen this time. What happened?  To explain, let's have a Heritage Minute.

Part One: The Heritage Heritage Minute

We don't know when Canadiana first approached CRKN but on May 1st a proposal from Canadiana went to the library directors that make up the membership of CRKN with a signing deadline of May 31st and with a statement that the deal was under an non-disclosure agreement until June 14th when the project was slated to go to public.

Someone who had seen the proposal was concerned enough by its contents to provide a copy of the document(s) to Myron Groover a librarian / archivist who has been following writing and commenting on the decline of affairs of Canada's national library for some time now. Myron first raised the matter of the proposal on June 6th on his blog, Bibliocracy and then followed up by posting a transcript of the summary of the plan on June 10th.

Concerns from librarians, archivists, researchers, and citizens over the proposed deal were shared casually online on Twitter and Facebook but things really heated up when NDP MP Andrew Cash brought his concerns with the proposal to the attention of James Moore, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages in the House of Commons on June 11th.

Confusing matters, later that same day the CBC reported that the deal in question was to be delayed til the fall based on the Moore's comment that the digitization project would resume once a new Head of Libraries and Archives would be appointed. No one really knows if this was a simple misunderstanding during the confusion of Question Period or if this was the result of of James Moore being unaware of the Heritage deal at this point in time.

On the next day, June 12th, the Ottawa Citizen covered this story around the leaked proposal in an article with the headline, Library and Archives Canada private deal would take millions of documents out of public domain.

(As an aside, the media coverage of this story seems to implicitly frame the controversy as a battle between archivists vs. librarians. Myron is referred to as an archivist (and not a archivist / librarian) and other archivists were interviewed to give the 'against' side of the story. This framing may have come about unintentionally because no librarians involved were allowed to speak on the matter and as none one of the professional bodies that represent Canada's archives community were involved in the negotiations around the Heritage Project, so they were free to speak their displeasure).

Also around this time CAUT - the labour organization that represents university faculty and librarians started a campaign to stop the Heritage proposal from going forward.

It's worth noting that during this particularly frantic week, there was not a single official statement made publicly by CRKN on the matter.  Their Twitter feeds points to clarifying statements by Canadiana (No paywall, no privatization) and a short radio interview from a director general at LAC (Library and Archives responds to concerns about a new digital service). Meanwhile, an employee of Canadiana felt comfortable to speak out on the matter on his own personal blog (Good news Canadiana & LAC project spun into bad news?)

It appears that CKRN did sent out an email to the members of the CRKN listserv to clarify matters (which was then posted on Bibliocracy) but from what I can tell, they did not make public notice of the same information.

The most important difference between the original leaked proposal and the 'clarification' from CRKN is that the language that described the digitized content as 'open access for Canadians' (which as Heather Morrison aptly put, there is no such thing) was changed to being 'under a Creative Commons licence for non commercial use'. As an outsider, I have no way of knowing whether these changes were the result of negotiations that occurred before May 31st or afterwards once the proposal was leaked and the objections raised, but conjecture suggests the latter.

CRKN also retweeted a particular telling document on June 13th, the day before the deadline, a letter from CARL entitled "CARL urges Minister Moore to go forward with Héritage Project". For me, this suggests that perhaps the deal was in some jeopardy, either due to the fact that it had now become controversial or perhaps less palatable since the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages had gone on record stating that Canadians should not have to pay to access our achives.

A similar letter of support for this project was produced by the Ontario Council of University Libraries. These letters are not surprising since almost all of members of these organizations were the same ones who signed on to the CRKN deal. There may have been other letters of support for the deal sent to the Minister but the only other one that I know of was from the Canadian Urban Libraries Council [pdf].

On the afternoon of June 14th, there was a message sent out to the institutions of CRKN that the deal had been signed and this announcement - CRKN Participates in Innovative Project to Increase Access to Canadian Documentary Heritage - was posted on their website. What's curious about this public document is that license for the digital material of Heritage is described vaguely as under a 'Creative Commons' license instead of explicitly as a CC-NC as they had done earlier that week in their internal communication.

Which brings us to today. I've been writing this over the weekend of June 22nd and 23rd. Earlier this week, the Heritage site quietly launched. And there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the licensing of the work involved.  The next part of this post will explain why I think these unanswered questions are still very important.

Part Two: The Digital Library of Canada We Lost

Now, before I go further, please understand that I am empathic with many of the proponents of this deal who were were confused, frustrated, and even hostile to the fact that there was a group of librarians and archivists who were asking critical questions about this deal while they watched helplessly as these concerns were being raised in Parliament and in the press and remained unaddressed from their leadership.

I know several librarians whose professional judgement I trust who have stated that they believe that the Heritage deal is good for the partners involved and good for Canadian history. Some of them asked, libraries sign similar deals with commercial vendors all the time - what's the fuss here? What's the difference between this deal and the deal that presumably led to the creation of the digital product of Early Canadiana Online

So I'll try my best to tell explain my concerns.

First off, what I think is particularly damning is that - with all of the media coverage and the fact that the matter was worthy enough to be brought up in the House of Commons - the questions that critics like myself have been raising - still have not been answered by the parties involved.

Many of these questions raised by those concerned have been best captured and expressed by Kevin Read in his post, Concerning the deal between LAC and Canadiana: We ask for transparency:

But there are two questions that I would like to add to his list:
1) When, if ever, does the material in Heritage turn from CC-NC (Creative Commons Non-Commercial) to CC-0 (Public Domain) licence?

1) Why isn't the material being put immediately into the public domain (CC-0)?

2) Where and how will the Linked Open Data that was explicitly promised as part of the original proposal from Canadiana that was signed by CRKN going to be made available?
If the documents and metadata in Heritage never make a transition to explicitly being open and unrestricted for commercial use (such as to be published in a book that is subsequently made for sale), then CRKN has indeed paid for a commercial product that Canadians will 'have to pay for twice' to use and as feared, millions of documents will be taken out of the public domain.

We have heard nothing that contradicts these fears.

By allowing Canadiana to maintain a CC-NC licence for the materials involved, does Canadiana essentially becomes a licensing agency for the use of scholarly materials just like Access Copyright?  And does Canadiana even have the right to apply CC-NC in the mass digitization of microfilm? One librarian well versed in copyright measures isn't so sure.

In short, the Heritage deal may prove a good deal financially for the organizations involved, but it fails the public in some profound ways.

To explain why, let's do a thought experiment. Let's imagine that CRKN responded to the Canadiana proposal with a counter proposal that would have absorbed the amount of money that was estimated as coming in from cost-recovery measures into the CRKN contribution. Let's imagine that like a true Open Access project, the costs are not passed on to the reader. Admittedly the project would indeed result in less material being described but there would be other benefits that would come from the provision that all digitized material and metadata created would be immediately placed in the public domain. Just imagine what sort of activities this new platform could support:

  • Like the British Library, libraries and archives across Canada could easily partner with organizations such as the Wikimedia Foundation to co-host events like this history-themed editathon
  • Like the Digital Public Library of America, the digital collections could be considered a platform for others to build work on. For example, once the LAC documents are geo-coded, there would be a variety of applications that could be developed that could add document discovery through geolocation.  This could allow anyone - researchers, students, entrepreneurs - to build web or mobile apps that present historical documents in an historical, gaming, or creative context without having to make arrangements to pay Canadiana ahead of time for use of the documents. 
  • Libraries could reassure the Canadian people, as well as the current Harper government, that they - unlike companies and not-for-profit charities - they exist to make information and creative works available for free to the Canadian public

I can only hope that from this controversy that our leadership has learned that our reading public now has a far greater literacy and expectations for matters regarding licensing and the public domain than ever before.

Case in point:  Aaron Swartz is on the cover of the Time Magazine this week. 

I believe that in the pursuit of brute efficiency in the manifestation of the Heritage deal, something was lost. So, in the spirit of the quiet hope that is embodied in the lament of Anil Dash's The Web We Lost, I would like to write about the the digital library of Canada that was not to be.

What could have we done instead?  Well, I like what what librarian Mike Ridley suggested over a year ago:

... we need to form a collaborative organization linking libraries, museums, and archives to operate this distributed collection and service. We need to take on the long term responsibility that this government is refusing to do. Yes I know we have no money or space or staff; we need to do it anyway.

Oh yes, he also offered this timely warning:
Shouldn’t we partner with LAC on this? OK but let’s be careful. Not being harsh here. LAC has a history of not always playing nice with others. The wonderful and visionary Alouette Canada initiative (now part of; a good model for at least part of this mission BTW) was launched with strong support from LAC; they enthusiastically offered to seek federal funding for this national, collaborative project. Money they did get and it went to LAC digital projects not those of the consortium. Lesson: Don’t get fooled again.

Well, at least this time Canadiana and LAC were upfront in regards to where all the CRKN money will go: it goes "to fund metadata creation and and to build a sustainability fund to maintain the platform"... both of which, I will remind you, belong and remain to Canadiana alone.

To imagine what else could have happened, it's useful to look at CKRN's first deal - its pilot project called CNSLP:

In January 2000, 64 universities in Canada signed a historic inter-institutional agreement that launched the Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP), a pilot project totaling Cdn$50 million over three years.

The gist of the CNSLP project was that instead of individually licensing digital products from commercial vendors, the academic libraries of Canada would band together and achieving substantial savings from the bulk licensing on a nationwide basis. In Ontario, the savings gained from CNSLP were not directed into buying more products, but were instead directed into an infrastructure fund that gave rise to OCUL's Scholars Portal.

Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP)
2000 : all OCUL libraries are participants in this Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) funded initiative ($20M from CFI and $30M in matching funds from 64 academic institutions) to enable national licensing of electronic resources to increase access and reduce costs. Ontario Innovative Trust funding ($7.6M) will enable Ontario to initiate the Ontario Information Infrastructure to ensure rapid and ongoing access to these new resources for OCUL libraries...

Scholars Portal
2002: Scholars Portal (created with Ontario Information Infrastructure (OII) funding) is a shared technology infrastructure and shared collections for all 21 universities in Ontario. Scholars Portal Journals and Racer (Rapid Access to Collections by Electronic Requesting), an online interlibrary loan request system, are the first modules to go live.

And ten years later, unlike the National Library of Canada, we - the academic libraries of Ontario - have our own Interlibrary Loan Service and and a Trusted Digital Repository, among many other cherished services provided by excellent and skilled library professionals.

And what will academic libraries get from ten years from now from the Heritage project?  We will have gained no increased infrastructure or additional expertise from the digitization of historical materials that we can share with our local communities. And ten years from now, I'm afraid to say that I believe that we will have less capacity and smaller budgets to do the work that Canadiana now does for us.

We have outsourced ourselves. Again.

But maybe this dream of an open digital library of Canada is not completely lost.

As Russel McOrmand of Canadiana reminds us in his post Why is a license required for a Canadiana project built from public domain material?

I am a system administrator at Canadiana, and not someone involved in policy relating to licensing of the parts of this project that will be covered by Canadiana copyright.
When it is a Canadiana decision, it is our Board of Directors made up of librarians and archivists, and our executive director, who ultimately are responsible for such policies.

Our library leadership sits on the board of directors of Canadiana.

What it is is up to us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Things you can do with Minecraft

What am I missing?

Please let me know in the comments and I will add them to the list!