Monthly Archives: August 2006

Did You Say 3,000 a Day!

While we’ve seen lots of coverage of the Google Book Search project and the related activities, there’s been a dearth of inside information about the arrangements between Google and the participating libraries. Today the Chronicle of Higher Education offers an article (by Scott Carlson) that will give academic librarians a bit more insight into that relationship by providing a link to the actual contract between Google and the University of California Library System. The contract was obtained in response to an open-records request from The Chronicle.

According to Carlson’s report:

the university will provide at least 2.5 million volumes to Google for scanning, starting with 600 books a day and ratcheting up over time to 3,000 volumes a day. Materials pulled for scanning will be back on the shelves of their libraries within 15 days.

By anyone’s standards that is a heck of a lot of books being digitized each day. If only Google would stop by my library next month – at that rate our whole collection would be digitized in six weeks.

The article includes some commentary from the Association of American University Presses and the Open Content Alliance, neither of whom are entirely at ease with the Book Search project. I suspect that new and surprising tidbits of information about the breadth and depth of this project will continue to make their way into the public domain, yielding yet greater awareness about the true scope of Google’s digitization efforts.

Collaboration, copyright, and reclusive math geniuses

In a recent post, Barbara pulled out this quote from Paul Courant’s article “Scholarship and Academic Libraries (and their kin) in the World of Google,”

Collaboration, across time and space, is the fundamental method of scholarship, and without it we can do nothing of value.

Hmm, what about the solitary researcher who works tirelessly but alone on some arcane, intractable problem? Take for example the mathematician Grigory Perelman, who spent 8 years not publishing but who recently won a Fields Medal (and did not accept it).

Apparently, the lone researcher method is not uncommon in mathematics:

Dr. Perelman’s personal story has parallels to that of Dr. Wiles, who, without confiding in his colleagues, worked alone in his attic on Fermat’s Last Theorem. Though his early work has earned him a reputation as a brilliant mathematician, Dr. Perelman spent the last eight years sequestered in Russia, not publishing. From The New York Times

Now Courant seems to have a very wide notion of collaboration, in which publication in a peer-reviewed venue counts as collaboration. But Courant also says,

Collaboration takes wildly different forms in different disciplines, and how it is done and can be done is affected in different ways by the new information technologies. But a positive (and disruptive) element of the new IT is that almost everywhere it makes collaboration easier, provided we can get at the material.

Here the Perelman story illustrates this point well, as none of the papers he won the Fields for where published in traditional peer-reviewed journals, but rather in arXiv, an open access repository. Perelman did not feel the need or obligation to participate in the traditional peer-review process, believing instead that anyone who wanted to look at his work could do so. For whatever reason, Perelman has decided to opt out of most of the social rituals of his profession, yet open access publishing has enabled him to at least share his work with the world.

Collaboration is a buzzword of the moment and has become a kind of sacred cow in academe. But let’s not define it so broadly that everything becomes collaboration, and let’s not forget that there is much of value in academia done by individuals sitting alone and thinking. That’s why our libraries have quiet nooks as well as group study rooms.

As for new models of publishing, there are few simple generalizations to be made. With Perelman, the highest quality work done in a field has been done in a non-traditional venue, an open access repository. If your ideas are important enough and you get them out, people will pay attention to them, whether you publish in a high prestige peer-reviewed journal or not.

The Thrill Of Victory…The Agony Of Defeat

Well, those of us who submitted proposals for papers and panel sessions for the ACRL 13th National Conference in Baltimore (Mar. 31, 2007 – April 1, 2007) learned the fate of our proposals last Friday. I had previously reported on the number of proposals submitted for the number of slots available – and the odds of getting accepted were as slim as ever. So while there were a number of elated academic librarians who received the good news on Friday, there were far more feeling rejected and puzzled as to why their proposals didn’t make the cut. I would encourage those whose proposals were rejected to avoid dwelling on it too much. Instead, take some solace in knowing that you gave it your best effort. As the rejection e-mail said, it isn’t a reflection of the quality of your proposal but one of the sheer number of proposals received.

Based on my own experience of getting rejected more than a few times, here are just a few suggestions for losing those ACRL conference rejection blues:

  • Re-tool the proposal for another conference. You’ve put a good amount of thought into it so why let it go to waste. State library conferences offer a good second chance opportunity for either a paper or panel proposal. Twice now, I’ve had rejected ACRL proposals accepted at EDUCAUSE conferences, an especially good place for proposals that might be too techy or ahead of their time for ACRL.
  • Turn your proposal into an article for publication. You’ve thought your idea through and perhaps some of the research is already completed. It will take more effort, but seeing your article in print will more than erase any memory of getting turned down for the conference.
  • There are still opportunities for poster sessions and roundtables. Both present great ways to get your message out there, share your ideas, and meet others with similar challenges and interests. I never thought I was a poster person until I tried it for an ALA conference and found that it was actually a really good experience(see page 5). I’ve also done roundtables at least three times now, and it’s always rewarding.
  • Hang on to it. Perhaps the proposal was ahead of its time or just not quite right for the conference theme. If it’s a good idea, it will hold up well over time. With some tweaking it might work better for the next ACRL conference. Persistence may pay off.
  • Yes, it will be hard when the conference brochure comes out, and one is left wondering why certain proposals were accepted while your own was rejected. It makes the proposal decision process seem all that more mysterious. But bear in mind that you’ve got plenty of company. Just do what I do. Start planning now for 2009. If you can come up with a few good ideas it increases your chance of getting one of them accepted. You are bound to have quite a few between now and then.

    Finally, no matter how you are feeling this week, don’t write off going to the conference. Presentation or not, your presence there does count. There are going to be great keynoters, an unbeatable social event at the Baltimore Aquarium, and – if you are really looking for something to do at the conference – ACRLog will be looking for conference bloggers. Get in touch if you’d like to be a part of our conference coverage team. I hope to see you there.

    Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

    Now That You’re Finally Retiring

    When it’s time for me to retire, in, oh, 20 years or so, I hope some young whippersnapper librarian will ask me what the meaning of librarianship is. Well, if it evers happens I hope I can come up with some good advice like David Bishop did for this brief article. Bishop is the University Librarian at Northwestern University and he’ll be retiring soon after 40 years in the field. So what sort of advice does Bishop have for those of us who won’t be retiring anytime soon. Among his pieces of advice:

  • Be prepared to be flexible…the biggest job librarians will be facing is changing the expectations of libraries…My concern is that many libraries have to change and change quickly in order for provosts and the general public to see the relevance of libraries in the age of Gooogle.
  • How does Bishop think we can maintain that relevance? He recommends accelerating the acquisition of electronic content, providing community space in the library, be an integral part of teaching and help faculty and students to learn the new ways of working. Gems of wisdom? You be the judge. But I think this is good basic advice for developing and sustaining a position of relevance. Academic libraries are not immune, says Bishop, to going out of business. Well, not if I can help it – at least not for another 20 years.

    It’s Time For Serious Games

    There are certainly divided opinions about the value of electronic gaming for learning and their role in academic settings. How one feels about this issue could depend on the kind of games that could be used in educational settings. To advance higher education’s understanding of gaming a new effort called the Serious Games Initiative has just started becoming more widely known. The goal of the site is to focus on games that explore management and leadership challenges facing the public sector. Part of the mission of the site is to bring together the gaming industry with education, training, health and public policy for greater productivity. The site seems more like a series of blogs (that haven’t been updated since June) than background information or analysis about the use of games for serious applications. I plan to keep an eye on the site. I suspect that the influence of gaming for education is only going to grow.

    Down With Engines, Up With Portals

    Must be the time of year for search engine usage studies. I just came across another one contained in the Annual E-Business Report produced by the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. This one’s main finding is the U.S. residents are less satisfied with traditional search engines, but happier with portals like AOL. The findings on user preferences for different engines with respect to customer satsifaction is of mild interest, but what I really wanted to know – and what this news item didn’t discuss – is what is it about the portals (AOL is mentioned specifically) that makes customers more satisfied. I’m about to launch a portal for our business school students and faculty, and it would be helpful to know what features of portals are most appreciated by users. My portal attempts to gather all our relevant business databases, links to Internet resources, special resources pages (e.g., SWOT research, company research, etc.), and course-specific research guides into a single home page. We will be testing another portal as well, hoping that it will satisfy our users by saving them time and making it easier to choose from among research options, and if these prove successful we’ll create additional portals for our other programs. I hope to learn more about portal development and what makes them work well for users.

    One Blogger’s Take on MySpace/Facebook

    If you enjoy the debates about social networking software and what stance academics should take on these new social networking communities, I think you will enjoy this blog post by Matthew Williams (I Am Matthew Williams and Your Are Not). Williams takes to task those faculty who either disregard or complain about sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Their main complaint says Williams is that faculty see social networks as distractions to learning. He claims they need to explore ways in which they can allow their students to play a more integral role in the course rather than just being passive participants. I don’t doubt there are quite a few faculty examing how they can create more opportunities for their students to participate more actively in their courses. Can a faculty member go so far as to give more of a social network feel to his or her course? I’m sure we’ll see more of them giving it a try.

    Update on OPML

    A few months ago I shared some experiments I was doing with “reading lists’ using OPML technology. At that time I offered a reading list for higher education news resources. Since then I’ve created a unique page on my web site to hold different reading lists. The newest reading list will faciliate the addition of Google News resources. If you want to keep up with Google you might find the reading list a very convenient option for adding selected Google “keep up” blogs to your news aggregator. The page also contains instructions on how to use the reading lists. Give it a try.

    A Valuable Disruption?

    Two worthwhile articles on the potential impact of digitizing books – and the challenge Google has posed to concepts of copyright and fair use – are well worth a read.

    The Washington Post presents the Google position – isn’t it a great idea to digitize all books so they can be discovered? Gee, whiz! And the publisher’s position – not unless we get a piece of the action and our rights are upheld. Part of the trouble is that nobody’s quite sure what exactly the action is or what rights are involved. Certainly, Google can generate some advertising revenue as they do now indexing the Web. But what else might they have up their sleeve? The company’s famous unwillingness to get down to details or talk about the future is a part of the problem. A fair use claim is one thing but other potential but undisclosed uses is another, and it’s clouding the issue. Right now the discovery process is under way for the pending lawsuits, which may force Google to be more forthcoming. (Google – discovery? That’s gonna be interesting.)

    In First Monday, Paul Courant, a UMich professor of economics and public policy, discusses fundamentals of libraries and scholarhip in a Google world – and the conflict between sharing information and monetizing it.

    Collaboration, across time and space, is the fundamental method of scholarship, and without it we can do nothing of value. Collaboration takes wildly different forms in different disciplines, and how it is done and can be done is affected in different ways by the new information technologies. But a positive (and disruptive) element of the new IT is that almost everywhere it makes collaboration easier, provided we can get at the material. In other words, if we focus on the purposes and mechanisms of scholarship, the new technologies are (or should be) our friends.

    So what’s the problem? Current copyright law. He says

    most copyrighted and potentially copyrighted material has no street value, while the corpus of it is of great value indeed. Somewhere between 95 and 97 percent of the copyrighted material in the University of Michigan libraries is out of print. The cost of getting permissions and finding rights holders for the vast quantity of material that is neither current nor very old can be prohibitive (Covey, 2005). And there is no gain in this for anyone.

    Some kinds of current research and publication are rendered nearly impossible by copyright. My colleague Margaret Hedstrom (2005) offers the following example: An independent filmmaker is working on a project to produce a documentary on the evolution of video and computer games and gaming culture. She wants television coverage, commentary on games, ads, clips from movies of people playing games, interviews with developers, enthusiasts, and the games themselves. She may want pictures of old games to show the evolution of the genre. To proceed, the filmmaker will need researchers to find the material and its owners, and legal counsel to clear rights and to gain permission to reproduce few seconds or minutes of everything. She will need permissions for the interviews. And more. All of this imposes costs over and above the cost of doing the research itself, plausibly a multiple of the research costs.

    The preceding is just one stylized example. The current rights environment makes it extremely difficult to use any commercially–produced material, including advertising, in scholarly work. While scholarly work should generally be considered a fair use, it is expensive and risky to make the case. As a result, otherwise feasible projects that would be of social and academic value will simply not get done, and valuable work will not get published solely because of the risk of lawsuits.

    This is a system that must be disrupted, and for reasons that I hope will become clear later in this discussion, I believe that the digitization projects that Google and others are undertaken will help in the disrupting.

    Will Google’s digitization of in-copyright books destroy publishing? Not if they only let searchers see snippets. Will it save scholarship? Not if researchers can’t get their hands on the whole book. Will it stir things up? No question about it. And I agree with Courant: it’s about time.