Friday, October 30, 2015

Libraries are for use. And by use, I mean copying.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure to speak to the good people of ILEAD USA. The words below are the notes that I brought to the stage with me. If you want to hear what I actually said during my talk you can watch it on YouTube.

My name is Mita Williams but because it's October I've changed my name on Twitter to something Hallowe'en related. But you can still find me there and in many other online places as copystar.

I am going to start with a statement of disclosure. I use copystar as my IRC nick and Twitter handle because years ago I learned there was a Japanese photocopier company called mita copystar. And so, even though today I am going to be talking about copying and the library, I am not a financial benefactor of the photocopier industry.

And I'm not going to be talking about the legalities of photocopying in the library. Instead I'm going to be exploring this particular idea: the use of copying as a means of collection development.

Now I think it's safe to say that as librarians, we don’t tend to think about collection development in this way --  we buy materials or subscribe to them -- which I think is interesting because arguably the most famous library in the world was built from copies. And piracy. Literally piracy.

The Great Library of Alexandria became great because it was meant to be great and it was funded enough to be so. Copies of scrolls from far and wide were acquired by purchase but were also procured using more dubious practices. Of note, ships entering the harbour of Alexandria would be searched for scrolls and these would be seized, brought to the Great Library where a copy would be made, and the Great Library of Alexandria would keep the original.

I would like to ask you why, in this world in which we can hit Control A, Control C and Control V (otherwise known as Select text, Copy text, and Paste text) and copy a book in just three keystrokes, why don't we have a Great Library of Alexandria of ebooks now? Why do we still look backward in time, instead of forward, when we think of a collection of the all the most important written works that the world has ever seen?

Depending on your level of fluency when it comes to the legal framework of ebooks, you may or may not know these are the bad guys that are standing in the way of digital preservation and our future library of Alexandria : DRM and DMCA

In order to better express what I believe might be happening in our day and age, I made this flow chart. On this slide I'm trying to describe the circle of life of print books: an author writes, a publisher prints and sells, a library buys and shares, a reader reads, a reader writes...  it is a thing of beauty (the process, not my chart).

Now, as I'm Canadian, I'm not as familiar with US law as my own. For example, we make use of Fair Dealing whereas you guys speak of Fair Use.  So I have to rely on sources such as the good people of ALA to let me know that the reason why libraries are allowed to lend print books in the first place is because of something known as the First Sale Doctrine. The gist of which is this: if you buy a print book, you can re-sell, rent, or lend the book to someone else without having to acquire permission from the copyright holder. 

But as librarians we all know that the rules around ebooks are fundamentally different. The parameters of what you can do with an ebook are not governed by the First Sale Doctrine and are instead set by a license agreement between the you and the publisher.  Again, this text is from the ALA's "Libraries Transforms" site:

The usual e-book license with a publisher or distributor often constrains or altogether prohibits libraries from archiving and preserving content, making accommodations for people with disabilities, ensuring patron privacy, receiving donations of e-books, or selling e-books that libraries do not wish to retain.

So as I mentioned before, in Canada, we have something that called Fair Dealing which has established that you can copy and use some of an ebook for the purposes of research, private study and teaching.

This is great if you are an instructor at a university and you would like to provide your students with a copy of an essay from an anthology.  It's great, that is, unless your library has signed a license that trumps Fair Dealing and instead establishes that the contents of the ebook in question cannot be copied and shared as such and can only be linked to in a course reserve system or learning management system.

And copying a link from an ebook platform is somehow, perhaps coincidentally, absurdly difficult to do. Now the library is the position that it needs to communicate to faculty how to find a permanent link to books at a chapter level and how to add an ezproxy prefix to said link if that link is to be added to the Learning Management System and ... and at this point, no one can even.

The most egregious example that I know of this is the Harvard Business Review who, a couple years ago, took the top 500 articles from the magazine and said that if you want to do anything else than read the article - including the ability to directly link to said articles - colleges and universities would have to pay an additional fee - which has been said to be in the five figures for at least one institution.

Many institutions have refused to pay the ransom for these 500 articles and have to opted to keep their print subscriptions to keep these rights. Clearly, we need more than read-only access to library materials, but it's unclear where that line gets drawn from library to library. How much should the ability to print an item cost? How much is the right to save a personal copy? Why are these questions even acceptable?

Even material that's in the public domain can be effectively be taken out of it as soon as its been placed in a wrapper of what's known as Digital Rights Management or DRM.  In this somewhat well-known example, Adobe once suggested that one could not read aloud its ebook version of Alice in Wonderland.

And so the population who could arguably benefit the most from the ascendance of ebooks - the visually impaired - are by and large restricted from using text to voice software lest that ability should cannibalize on the publisher's market of audiobooks.

And there are other shortcomings with DRM. For one, many DRM systems require some form of authentication with a server online. If this server is down, you may not be able to get access to the game, movie, or ebook that you have already locally downloaded.  People who have tried to do the right thing and "bought" music from an online retailer such as MSN Music, Yahoo Music Store, or Puretracks (like me) can no longer access their licensed music because the servers that handled the DRM authentication have long been taken down.

One way to think of DRM is as a lock. But as digital locks go, DRM isn't actually particularly difficult to break. But it's particularly illegal to break DRM because of the DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act which states that it is illegal to even try to bypass DRM.

The terms of the agreement that are enshrined in DRM are ideally formed from a negotiated  agreement that balances the needs and desires of the publisher and the reader. However, as we have seen with the example of Harvard Business Review, publishers are largely in the position of power because they can always opt to cut libraries completely out of ebook circulation.

This webpage I found captures almost everything wrong with the state of ebooks and libraries today. And we are at this point - as I think we all know - because libraries have largely outsourced the management of ebooks to Overdrive...

... and the management of the DRM which is largely performed by Adobe, who does not have the same commitment to reader privacy as libraries.

It should give us pause that DRM is so effective at locking out third parties from a producer's relationship with their customer, that companies such as John Deere are telling farmers that's now illegal for them to repair their own farm equipment because the electronics of the tractor are now encased in the DRM and legally safeguarded by DMCA.

So now what? Are we screwed?

I know of librarians who refuse to buy ebooks with DRM for their own use but I only know of two libraries that have made the same pledge (one is the library where Barbara Fister works).

That being said, I know of many librarians who know how to bypass DRM but will not suggest that they can do to the public because of the illegality of it all. If you are interested in exploring a "what if" scenario of librarians transgressing DRM, you might be interested in this talk by Justin Unrau.

Now I'm sorry to starting this talk off on such a dark note but my purpose was to get the bad news out of the way. I also wanted to talk about DRM and the DMCA because I have a feeling that many of us in the profession aren't aware that the capacity to make exceptions to the DMCA and break DRM is - in theory - in our wheelhouse.  Every three years, the Librarian of Congress is able to make exception to the DMCA. It is one of these exceptions that has made it possible to unlock a phone that is provided by a carrier.

This means that the possibility for libraries to unlock DRM for the purposes of accessibility and preservation *is* possible.

But this doesn't mean libraries get to wait until that day that happens. Libraries are already embarking on a variety of strategies to thrive in a world where text is no longer a scarce resource

Now I suspect you are at ILEAD are here to discover and share your own strategies which just might include...

... lending out objects that aren't easily copyable such as musical instruments, scientific equipment, or household tools

... building environments where objects can be made...

... exchanging co-working space for community mentoring or teaching...

... hosting pop-ups or running events such as How to Festivals in your community...

... or just being there for community when your community needs you most.

But despite DRM and DMCA, still want you, my dear colleagues - to consider the role of copying in collection development.

And I want you to consider this because culture itself, depends on copying...


All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .

—John Donne

The same might be said of all art. I realized this forcefully when one day I went looking for the John Donne passage quoted above. I know the lines, I confess, not from a college course but from the movie version of 84, Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. I checked out 84, Charing Cross Road from the library in the hope of finding the Donne passage, but it wasn’t in the book. It’s alluded to in the play that was adapted from the book, but it isn’t reprinted. So I rented the movie again, and there was the passage, read in voice-over by Anthony Hopkins but without attribution. Unfortunately, the line was also abridged so that, when I finally turned to the Web, I found myself searching for the line “all mankind is of one volume” instead of “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume.”

My Internet search was initially no more successful than my library search. I had thought that summoning books from the vasty deep was a matter of a few keystrokes, but when I visited the website of the Yale library, I found that most of its books don’t yet exist as computer text. As a last-ditch effort I searched the seemingly more obscure phrase “every chapter must be so translated.” The passage I wanted finally came to me, as it turns out, not as part of a scholarly library collection but simply because someone who loves Donne had posted it on his homepage. The lines I sought were from Meditation 17 in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which happens to be the most famous thing Donne ever wrote, containing as it does the line “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” My search had led me from a movie to a book to a play to a website and back to a book. Then again, those words may be as famous as they are only because Hemingway lifted them for his book title.

Literature has been in a plundered, fragmentary state for a long time.

If you have the chance, I would highly recommend you read the rest of Letham's The Ecstasy of Influence and if you do, you have to read to all the way to the end -- I'm not going to spoil it for you!

And it’s not only literature that has been in a plundered state for some time. One can argue that one learns the art of many a particular creative field by the act of copying, transforming, and combining elements.

The wallpaper from the previous slide is from The EveryThing Is a Remix Project which makes the case that much of culture contain copied elements of works of the past, that are transformed and recombined and remixed. The first part is dedicated to music, the second on movies, the third on invention, the fourth on system failures of intellectual property

So please let me be clear. I am personally not anti-copyright, I do think of the artists who struggle to make a living while pursing a creative career, and I'm certainly not giving any personal license to plagiarize. But as this graphic from Steal Like An Artist suggests, it should not diminish art or artists to recognize that creative work does not come from thin air.

Anyways, if this topic interests you at all, I recommend these reads - although - I ain't gonna lie - my favorite is Reality Hunger, which changed the way that I look at the novel.

When the personal copying of intellectual property is outlawed, only outlaws and artists can copy. For example, I'm pretty sure that Mick Jones of the Clash does not own the copyright of most of the 10,000 items in his collection and therefore, isn't in a legal position to invite and allow users to make and take home scanned copies of the items in his collection for themselves. While Jones has named his collection "The Rock and Roll Public Library" it's really more like a moving curated art exhibition.

Some years ago, C Magazine, which is a Canadian magazine dedicated to the visual arts, dedicated an entire issue on libraries. A former colleague of mine Adam Lauder, wrote an article within it called Performing the Library.

And that's where about I heard of Jeff Khonsary's The Copy Room. The project involved a room in Vancouver where there were photocopiers for people off the street could use for free on the condition that they leave a copy in the room. The copies build a reading room of material that reflected the community that use the copiers. It is sort of like the harbour of Alexandria, without the coercion.

So, let's take a scroll from the Copy Room and the Library of Alexandria Playbook and consider how we could also build collections using copies despite DRM and DMCA

Let's consider copying through the act of publishing. Or in other words, in digitization.

There are other libraries that have done this, but the first library that I have heard using this strategy is the Winnipeg Public Library who encouraged local bands to bring in their own music memorabilia such as posters for their gigs and gigs past and the library would scan the work, keep a copy and give the work and the high-end scan back to the user.

The Edmonton Public provides a similar collection and has recently offered to host 100 albums from local bands music for distribution to the library-card holding public. 

My own public library, the Windsor Public Library as one of the most successful self-publishing programs that I know of, with over 10,000 books published in 3 years using the Espresso Book Machine. One could only imagine if the library also ran a book distribution service for the books it published just as other self-publishers do such as Amazon and Lulu publishing.

That's admittedly a large ask, when, as we know, most libraries don't even host the ebooks that they already have. But there are exceptions - like the Evoke system of the Douglas County Libraries of Colorado who, as they say in their manifesto, they hope will become an ebook service without unnecessary constraints on access by the public.

I also think we should remember that are contexts in which we can only make copies before an item is published.

And that context is the University -- where we should not forget that copying plays and has played a role in the scholarship since the middle ages.  In times of old, there were scribes that would make copies for students and faculty and I think we all of know of that little copy shop that's not quite on campus, but really close and don't blink an eye when someone comes in with a textbook.

 But the scenario I want to bring to mind is the present day. I've been in Academic Librarianship for over sixteen years and that's a long to be in the midst of ever present Serial Crisis. And this crisis persists because faculty give their copyright away to the most prestigious journals who resell the scholarship back to libraries with obscene profit margins.


One of the strategies employed by institutions is to create a safe harbour for scholarship called an institutional repository, where faculty of an institution are encouraged - either compelled by good will or mandate to place a copy of their scholarship. In some ways, its not dissimilar to the idea of legal deposit that some National Libraries require of publishers in their country.

You know that this idea is a powerful one because until recently, the publishing behemoth Elsevier decreed that the only way it was going to allow its authors to deposit in their home institution's repository if there was no mandate in place [image]. 

Speaking of legal deposit...

... the British Library has extended its traditional requirements of books to be placed in its collection and have extended its mandate to collect web sites of the nation.

Academic libraries are also beginning to start investigating and pursuing similar web archiving. But I don't think mine is at the moment, (at least not that I know of) and that makes me worry a bit. I am reminded by experiences of the University of Virginia Libraries who had already some experience with web archiving when one of the largest crises to hit their campussuddenly erupted and they were there and ready to capture the history as it unfolded.

There are options if you think it’s important to preserve a website for the future even if your library doesn't have the infrastructure in place. One option is the Save Page Now option that's provided by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

It's important to be aware that there is a very simple defense mechanism that can be used to prevent websites from being added to the Internet Archive and that's a simple request is what is known as the robots.txt file - a file that designates whether the owner doesn't want their page indexed in search engines.

Unfortunately, there are terrible side effects from such a simple mechanism. A site might be archived and accessible by the Internet Archive's Wayback machine, but if the domain ever expires and is then bought out by someone else who then adds a robot text file, then the archive of same address will be lost forever.

Which all goes say this: relying on a single copy is a dangerous way to preserve our culture. That's why there's the strategy called LOCKSS - lots of copies keep stuff safe.

Social media has its own challenges in terms of archiving.

If you want to collect, for example, all the tweets related to the police shooting of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, you have to use Twitter's API in order to maximize what you can capture and Twitter's API only goes back the last nine days, so you need to act in the moment.

Alternatively, you can pay Twitter for the tweets after the fact. The present is free but the past has a cost.

Of course the conditions of how much you can access Twitter's archives or the conditions of Twitter's API is subject to change at their discretion. Recently, Twitter shut down the access of 31 accounts that captured the deleted tweets of politicians from around the world.

That's not to say that the mass collection of tweets and other social media sites is without issues related to personal privacy and the right to be forgotten.

And for my last consideration of copying as collection development, I would like to suggest that libraries provide things for their readers to copy

The Prelinger Library and The Reanimation Library are both examples of carefully selected of books and ephemera from variety of sources, including weeded collections of discarded published material from libraries, to create a collection of visually interesting material for the inspiration for artists and writers.

While libraries have done a very good job experimenting with makerspaces and I think these libraries would be remiss not to also read these two books and to consider how their library can also be thought of as inspiration and raw material for the various creative arts.

This is an example from the blog Handmade Librarian from which the previous book, Bibliocraft came from. This activity shown involves making fancy bookmarks featuring ornamental stitching

That stitching was based on the braid alphabet found from the Etching and Engraving Picture file, a collection that the San Francisco library clearly marks as copyright-free images. Creating similar such collections is an endeavour is something I wish all libraries would undertake.

Penultimate section!

Please don't be disappointed if a participant in your library's National Novel Writing Group decides to write Fan Fiction.  Remember how people learn to be creative.

I like to think that there's a growing understanding for those who create of 'transformative works' and a better appreciation for these writers who are both writing out of love and writing within a community of readers who can provide support and guidance.

When we can, we should consider placing work in the creative commons so others may transform and adapt our work for their own use. Creative Commons Licenses are incredibly important and powerful tools. Everything on my blog that's my own work is designated as CC-BY.

But let's not forgot the larger picture.

Copying is an act of love. Copying is how we as readers and writers demonstrate such love. As Cory Doctorow and many others have also noted, the greatest threat to artists is not piracy but obscurity.

Last set of slides!

Remember way back when I showed you this circle of life of printed material?

( BTW, as these slides are my own work they are available for you to reuse and remix as you see fit.)

Then DRM came along ...

But now we know that this is not the whole picture. Libraries can bring their communities to the world by facilitating works that are in the creative commons and/or open access.

The title of my talk, as you probably have figured out, was a riff on probably the only thing from our collective library education that we can collectively all remember. The first of Rangathan's laws is that books are for use.

A couple of years ago, librarian and author, Barbara Fister re-wrote the 5 laws in the most the cynical language of our days.

But then she re-wrote the same laws this way. I can't possibly improve on how we she captured many of the ideas that I was hoping to share with you today and so with that I would like to say...

Thank you.