Against Regulation

The ALA has joined with the American Council on Education and other organizations in filing suit against FCC regulations that could cost college billions of dollars to make eavesdropping slightly more convenient. The plaintiffs argue that the changes are not necessary and that law enforcement needs can be served (when warrants are properly served) without these expensive changes. There’s more coverage of this story in The New York Times, the Chroncle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

I happened to be reading about this news at the same time an Australian friend send me an article about a speech given by Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee (author of Waiting for the Barbarians among other novels) at the National Library of Australia. His reminder that terrorism as a threat was used to argue in favor of apartheid has caused some controversy as the Australian PM pushes legislation to expand police powers in the name of national security.

Seems ironic that an FBI that can’t get their own computer systems to work wants us to fine tune ours at great cost for their benefit. I guess “Kafkaesque” is a good word for it. Or is “Coetzeean” a word?

How Do I Subscribe To ACRLog

We have received a number of requests from ACRL members who would like to subscribe to ACRLog. Unlike an e-mail newsletter or a discussion list, this weblog has no “subscribe” option. To follow the ACRLog regularly, use a news aggregator to capture new posts as they are added to ACRLog. I would recommend that those new to the process of using a news aggregator to capture the RSS feed of a blog take a look at my RSS tutorial page – and I include links to a number of other popular RSS tutorials. It explains how the process works and how to use Bloglines, a popular, free, web-based news aggregator. Bloglines is not the only news aggregator, but it comes well recommended. Here is a preview of using Bloglines to subscribe to ACRLog.

Begin by going to the Bloglines site (you can enlarge the images below by clicking on them) and clicking on the “sign up now” link to acquire a free account.

Within minutes you will receive an e-mail that requires you to confirm your new account. After that you are ready to subscribe to ACRLog. When you first log in to Bloglines you may see a few default blogs in your “feed” list – which shows the blogs to which you are subscribed. You can use the “edit” option to delete those later. Next, click on the “add” link shown below:

adding a subscription on bloglines

Next, as illustrated in the screenshot below, type in the URL for ACRLog ( into the “subscribe” box:

bloglines subscribe box

Next, click the “subscribe” button to the right of the box where you just typed in the ACRLog URL.

From the next screen, shown below, choose to subscribe by putting a check in the box – if you are presented with more than one feed to subscribe to – choose the one that has “atom” at the end of the URL – as shown below:

Next, scroll down to the “options” area and as shown below, click on the “subscribe” button to complete the process:

As you become more comfortable with Bloglines and add more feeds, consider creating folders to organize them. When you are done, you should now see ACRLog as one of your feeds. The left frame show the subscribed blogs, and the right frame shows the posts available to read. Here is what it will look like:

A common question is “What happens to the posts after I read them?” After you log out, or if you click to view another one of your feeds, all of the posts you just read are automatically deleted from the viewing area. However, if you need to retrieve previously read posts, there is an option to retrieve them again – up to a month ago.

Another frequent question is “How will I know when I receive a new post from ACRLog?” While most folks get quickly accustomed to checking their aggregator everyday, especially as they add more RSS feeds, if you do want to be reminded, Bloglines offer the “Bloglines Notifier”. It is an easily installed add-on that sits in your task bar and reminds you to check Bloglines as new posts are received:

To find the link to the “Notifier” scroll down the left panel that contains all the feeds until you come to the “Extra” section. Click on “tips” and then scroll through the tips until you come to the one about the Notifier.

I hope this will introduce our readers who are new to the world of RSS and news aggregators to a tool that will make it easier to “keep up” with ACRLog – and many other blogs and news sources as well.

Risk or Reward in Google Print?

First, authors sued Google over their library project. Now it’s publishers’ turn, according to an article by Scott Carlson in the Chronicle – “5 Big Publishing Houses Sue Google.”

When Google first announced their library project I figured this was an interesting way to call the question: what does fair use really mean in a digital age? Google believes not only that this project would be good for the publishing industry, but that it’s within fair use. Jonathan Band agrees in an ARL report – but clearly the old concept of “copy” needs tweaking in a digital era. These will be precedent-setting cases to watch.

Academic librarians tend to frame our understanding of – and conflicts about – intellectual property around issues of scholarly communication. But as Nancy Ramsey points out in a New York Times article, “The Hidden Cost of Documentaries,” the implications for culture are far wider and more complex. We need to be aware of copyright issues beyond scholarly communication. Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and Siva Viadhyanathan’s Anarchist in the Library are interesting approaches to the big picture.

Incidentally, Lessig’s book is free online from his site; Vaidhyanathan’s is full-text searchable through Google Print and Amazon. So far, civilization as we know it hasn’t fallen as a result. And it didn’t stop me from buying both in print.

I can’t help wondering – if lending libraries were invented today, would publishers lobby to delete the “first sale” doctrine from copyright law, arguing it enables a harmful form of organized piracy?

What Does This Blockbuster Merger Mean for Academic Libraries

The biggest news in higher education yesterday, at least in the technology sector, was the merger of Blackboard and WebCT. It seems the impact on academic libraries will be far less than on our colleagues in IT who, to a greater extent, will be dealing with the cascading consequences of the merger. There is no immediate impact as all of the merged company’s products and platforms will be maintained. For academic librarians who are actively involved in their campus courseware at some level, and I hope this is the case at a growing number of institutions, particularly at the administrative and support levels, the eventual impact may be more significant especially for those at WebCT institutions. It’s a merger but it appears the new company will be called Blackboard and I would expect that the products and resouces supplied by WebCT will eventually diminish, perhaps even more so than for customers of Dynix after the creation of SirsiDynix – at least this one keeps the Dynix name intact. One common element in these mergers: all the companies say “the merged company will give customers the best features of both products, no matter which system you own now.” That sounds great but can they deliver? Or will this elimination of one more competitor allow the new company to grow more powerful, eliminate smaller competitors (as Blackboard has done in the past through outright purchases), and ultimately raise product costs? The Blackboard discussion lists (and I imagine those for WebCT folks as well) were abuzz with speculation on the meaning of and potential outcomes of the merger. One comment got me thinking though. The writer said, “These guys must really be worried about Moodle.” If you’re not familiar with it Moodle is an open source courseware system. It initially was used more heavily in K-12 settings, but in the last year more IHEs (institutions of higher education) started using it as well – primarily to save money (well there is that argument that open source has its costs too) but also to escape the bureaucracy and control of behemoth system vendors. This leads me to look at our own library automation systems industry and ask why no open source solution has evolved. There is certainly no dearth of OPAC complainers. You have Andrew Pace (OPACs suck), and Roy Tennant (You Can’t Put Lipstick on a Pig) writing and presenting about the need for change (more simplicity) in the OPAC world. I can appreciate their arguments for a simpler OPAC (not to mention the rest of the system) but other then present their arguments, neither has much in the way of suggestions nor have they sparked a movement among librarians or the automation vendors to do anything about the situation. I’m not criticizing Andrew or Roy, after all, someone needs to at least start the ball rolling. But what’s not happening is any development, coming from within our profession, on an open source library automation system. I am not sure why that is, but I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps these systems are far too complicated for someone to step up and create an open source version (you mean courseware systems are not that complicated – right!). Is it possible that because we’re not IT folks we lack the programming knowledge needed to create an open source library automation system? Perhaps to do something of this sort requires extensive organization and some financial support from IHEs (think the SAKAI project). Heck, with all of our associations and networks we’re so overly organized almost nothing happens in our world without some sort of inter-organizational collaboration. You’d think we could get organized over this issue. I suppose these are all possibilities for why we will continue to complain about our automation systems, but the vendors will continue to hold us over a barrel and give us products that too frequently do not work for us or our user communities. Perhaps the number one barrier is organizational support. Until our parent institutions truly understand the extent to which our libraries are dependent on these systems, until they truly recognize how deeply these systems impact each and every student, and until they are willing to provide the financial and human resources to create a coalition effort to develop an open source solution, I don’t think much will happen and we’ll all just continue to complain and hear compaints from folks like Andrew and Roy. I can only imagine what might be happening in the library automation arena if we did have an open source alternative emerging as profoundly as Moodle has in the courseware marketplace. And what is even more amazing about Moodle – a lesson about open source that we must follow – is that it was simple enough for K-12 schools to implement. An open source automation system that requires a team of programmers to implement and support will be of use only to ARL libraries and their peers. I am looking forward to a talk next month at PALINET’s annual user conference. A good colleague, Gregg Silvis, the systems librarian at the University of Delaware, will be presenting about an intriguing topic, “The Impending Demise of the Local OPAC.” I will be interested in what Silvis has to say, and wonder if he’s been thinking about the potential of an open source library automation system.

Podcasts, Clickers, and Wi-Fi, Oh My!

Seems there has been more attention on teaching with technology just recently. If you consider the article and colloquy from the recent Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed the Millennial Generation and a new article in this week’s U.S. News & World Report, that’s two high profile pieces on how the needs of learners are changing, and how higher education is experimenting with technology as a means of revolutionizing how students learn. If your campus is like mine, then faculty are likely divided on both issues related to learners and the impact technology has on their learning process. Many are firm advocates and do all they can to push technology to its limits. Others are more suspect and would like to see concrete evidence that technology improves learning. And of course the majority are somewhere in the middle, dabbling with technology and implementing changes to their teaching methods a small step at a time. I’m a firm believer that technology has a place in the classroom, and students are increasingly expecting to find it being used. The divide tends to occur when we debate the extent to which technology should be used, and whether or not it truly helps to enhance student learning. While it’s important to pay attention to changing demographics (e.g., Millennials) and the ways in which technology might better fit changing student expectations, one needs to be cautious about buying the argument that learning needs to change right now and dramatically so. Based on what I’ve learned in the instructional technology courses I’ve taken at my institution, there is an entire spectrum of learning methods and media that we have at our disposal in creating a memorable learning experience for students. Some involve technology and others do not (i.e., lecture and discussion still have their place). Sometimes group learning is best, and at other times individual effort is more effective. The U.S. News article reflects that segment among both faculty and students who believe that technology, when used inappropriately or simply because it is there, can hurt learning more than it may help. We’ve all heard stories on our own campuses about students who will explode if they have to sit through one more set of PowerPoint slides (and you’ve surely seem them printing out endless pages of those slides that are now embedded in course texts and courseware sites). Our role as teaching librarians (or “blended librarians” as I like to say) is to become familiar with all the teaching tools and techniques at our disposal – just as we want our user communities to be aware of all the information databases and retrieval systems at their disposal – and to work at using them wisely to help students achieve learning outcomes. We also need to help our faculty do the same when it comes to library technology. Let’s remember that in addition to podcasts, tablet PCs, discussion boards, smartboards, clickers, and all the rest, that library databases have a place in the universe of classroom learning technologies. You won’t seem them mentioned in most mainstream articles about teaching and learning technologies. It’s our job to make sure students and faculty and integrating them into what happens in the classroom.