ACRL-Ohio Conference Report

I attended the annual meeting of the Academic Library Association of Ohio on Friday, which included a keynote on censorship in America by Mad Magazine writer Joe Raiola, as well as more traditional academic library fare such as programs on accreditation, information commons design and assessment, emerging models for human resources management, and integration of library resources into online learning environments and campus portals.

Raiola’s keynote is likely to have people talking in Ohio for some time, as it was (true to its content) wholly uncensored and veered into areas both obscene and profane. Raiola made some excellent points about censorship, including that there is no form of censorship as effective as self-censorship, and his discussion of the place of Mad Magazine founder Bill Gaines in the early debates over comic books during the 1950s was interesting, but no few audience members were offended by his use of language defined by the FCC as obscene and his targeting the political and religious right as the objects of most of his humor. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I anticipate a local renewal over the issue of the appropriate place of political commentary at library conferences.

I also attended an excellent introduction to blogging in academic libraries by Ohiolink’s Candi Clevenger, author of the LibTalk blog, who described blogs as an opportunity to “tell your library’s story with a human touch.” I didn’t agree with all of her assertions about best practice for library blogging, but it was a good talk that raised some important issues and generated good discussion. You can find find her handouts here.

There were lots of other good presentations and I’ll invite our Ohio readers to include comments about their favorites.

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.