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.

1 comment:

David Bigwood said...

You're right, why can't our patrons search for materials they can use and reuse? Our catalogs should have a facet in search to only return Copyright/DRM-free items. Flickr does it. It would meet the FRBR user task "‘Select’ involves meeting a user’s requirements with respect to content, physical format, etc. or to reject an entity that doesn’t meet the user’s needs."