CLIRing Things Up

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has a new report out on Acquiring Copyright Permissions to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books. Among the findings: orphan works are a problem. Locating and dealing with publishers is daunting. If a book includes materials for which the publisher had to acquire rights (say, to quote a poem) they don’t feel they have the right to include the book in an open access project. And now that “out of print” doesn’t mean what it used to mean, publishers can hang onto rights for as long as they can print on demand – so even if the copyright holder is willing, the publisher may not be. Ever.

This reminds me that during the e-book boom around 2000 I asked a representative from NetLibrary what the biggest challenge was. He said it was winning over publishers – it took far more time and effort than anything else. That boom, of course, went bust largely because everyone in the industry was trying to figure out how to make money by cutting someone else out of the picture. In an article I wrote about it I quoted a New York Times book critic who asked a key question: “What’s in it for the reader?”

I think the industry needs to ask that question again if they want to be in business.

Google, copyright and Gorman

In case you missed this recent Wall Street Journal article on Google print, several librarians are quoted including ALA President Michael Gorman.

Gorman continues to channel librarians of 80-100 years ago who believed not only that people ought to read, but that people ought to read the right things in the right way, and librarians were to show them how. Gorman says, “They are reducing scholarly texts to paragraphs. The point of a scholarly text is they are written to be read sequentially from beginning to end, making an argument and engaging you in dialogue.” Huh? Besides lumping scholarly texts from many disciplines into one category, who knows what the point of a scholarly text is? Maybe the point of a scholarly text is to get the author tenure. Maybe the author’s point is to get the ideas out there and build reputation. Furthermore, if I read the whole thing from beginning to end, how am I in dialogue? It’s more like a monologue. Ok suppose you are supposed to read the whole text from beginning to end. What if giving someone a little taste makes them want to go for the whole meal? And what if I’ve already read the whole work a while ago and forgot most of it and want to go back and search for a particular part that’s relevant to my work now? There’s no end to the different ways people use texts, and librarians shouldn’t be telling them that they must use them or read them in a certain way. At least the article noted Gorman wasn’t speaking on behalf of ALA.

Andrew Herkovic, director of communications at Stanford University Libraries “declined to comment” on whether Stanford provided copyrighted material to Google. Google is not always forthcoming, but at least Google admits they’re scanning copyrighted texts. If Stanford did provide copyrighted material, could they be named in the lawsuit? Would this be against ALA’s code of ethics, which says librarians should respect copyright? I guess there’s always a chance Herkovic/Stanford doesn’t know if they’ve given copyrighted material or not, but shouldn’t they make it their business to know?

Duelling PR

According to CNET News, Random House and Amazon are now planning to allow customers to pay per page or get electronic access to books they buy in print. What I find interesting is how much Amazon claims can be “searched inside” (one out of every two books sold) and how postive the impact on sales (8% lift for those that are searchable). You’d think that would make Google’s project all the more attractive, but worries about DRM and Google’s ultimate plans for their digital texts seem to be giving publishers (and a few authors) the willies.

One correction to the record, though: Amazon doesn’t work with copyright holders, only publishers. Authors who hold copyright were not asked if they wanted their books “searched inside.” I’ve asked a number of authors if they were consulted when their books were entered in the Search Inside program. Hardly any of them even knew their books were included, and none were asked. Presumably, publishers are submitting books to which they have publication rights, and that’s being conflated with asking the copyright holder. Whatever – only I find it disingenuous for Amazon to keep talking about honoring the rights of copyright holders when copyright holders are not given any choice (except hey – to opt out. Does that sound familiar?) Oh, and by the way – if Google’s privacy policies worry you, Amazon’s should too. A benefit of participating is letting publishers know what bits of books are searched, and you have to hand over your credit card information to search inside the book. Now, that should give librarians the willies!

I hope the Open Content Alliance isn’t lost in these competing PR releases. Though operating without deep pockets it has principles I can respect. On the other hand, it’s time we sorted out how to reinterpret “copy” in a digital age and Google’s chutzpah (and their lawyers’ fees) are putting it on the table.

Plan Now To Join ACRL’s Virtual Conference

As a regular participant in and proponent of virtual conferencing I was excited to see the announcement from ACRL about its “first-ever” Virtual Conference offered jointly with the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) and EDUCAUSE. Being that 2006 is an off year for ACRL National Conferences this affords a great opportunity to join in an academic library conference without leaving your library. The conference theme, “Innovate and Motivate: Next Generation Libraries,” will explore how revolutions in technology impact academic librarianship and higher education. That seems quite appropriate for a conference in a virtual space.

The conference will take place April 20-21, 2006 in a LearningTimes Online Conference Community. If you have participated in any of ACRL’s online workshops or the virtual conference sessions that ran simultaneously with the 2005 Minneapolis conference then you are already familiar with the LearningTimes online environment. If you are curious about participating in a virtual workshop or conference in the LearningTimes virtual setting, you have an opportunity on November 10 to give it a try. On that date, at 3:00 pm EST, the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community is hosting a webcast on “Powerful Powerpoint” that will feature Kris Wiemer, instructional designer, providing ideas and tips on creative ways to improve PowerPoint presentations for better teaching.

Here’s a tip for participating in a virtual conference. Treat it like a real conference. Don’t expect to be at the library getting your regular work done while you jump in and out of virtual programs. You’ll be distracted and it will detract from the quality of the experience. Instead immerse yourself in the conference. There will be plenty of ways to join in an interactive experience. Another tip – equip yourself with a good headset. I’ve participated in dozens of virtual session and I always wonder why librarians come to participate without one. With it you can talk to the rest of the participants and presenters and be more engaged in the program. A good headset is under $30.

You can find the complete text of the Call for Participation, including track descriptions and the online submission form at: Submissions will be accepted through January 6, 2006.

I’ll be posting more about this conference between now and April 2006.

I Should Have Sent My Opac And Database Suppliers A Card

Did you know that today is the first World Usability Day? It was established by the Usability Professionals’ Association to promote “user-centered design and every user’s responsibility to ask for things that work better.” I discovered this from an article about World Usability Day in USA Today. The focus of this special day is to draw attention to the need to make electronic gadgets more user friendly. You shouldn’t need a manual, goes the logic, to figure out how to program frequently called numbers into your cell phone or to use any of the many features on your digital camera that you’ll never get to work. World Usability Day resonates with me because we have our own little usability challenge in academic libraryland.

Our OPACs and aggregator databases offer some great features. I always enjoy showing students how they can format a citation in ProQuest databases or create a personalized booklist in our library catalog. Students can quickly realize the value of these features, and they are important in helping us to differentiate our resources from those offered freely on the Internet. The challenge is in helping our users to discover these added-value tools because, like the too complicated cell phone or digital camera, the usability needs improvement. I’ve gone on the record in the past claiming that our OPACs and databases are not overly complex – and I still maintain that. Students come to our institutions to learn, and learning to use these resources is a part of the process. Having discovered these features a student is ususally able to figure it out the next time. But I would like to see library products that make it easier for the end user to discover the useful features embedded in the product without needing a librarian to divulge its availability. Perhaps the products need to be designed more like website homepages that clearly layout the features and navigation. But whatever we do let’s not just dumb everything down so there are fewer options all together. I think we can do better than that.

Well, today is only the first World Usability Day. The world’s environmental problems were not solved on the first Earth Day. But if it gets us to start thinking more seriously about our responsibility, as a profession, to “ask for things that work better” that’s a start.