Monday, February 28, 2011

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

The following post is from Sarah Houghton-Jan, who blogs over at Librarian in Black. I whole-heartedly endorse the following.

Meanwhile, there's spirited debate concerning a boycott of HarperCollins. Because librarians and libraries are about customer service, it’s not something I can completely sanction, but I understand. HarperCollins’ decision is what started this, but at least they make e-books available for a loan, or 26. Simon & Schuster, on the other hand, does not. If a boycott is what gets libraries to the table when decisions like these are made, then ultimately I’m for it. But to me the real enemy is DRM, and what’s below in the bill of rights is much more about DRM than it is about individual publishers.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights is a statement of the basic freedoms that should be granted to all eBook users.

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours. Now it is your turn to take a stand. To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others. Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Putting DRM on Blast: HarperCollins and Libraries

On Friday, February 25th, the library-centric part of the internet caught fire. Why? Because HarperCollins decided that after one of their e-books is checked out more than 26 times, it will self-destruct. Meaning that a library that has purchased that e-book will have to buy it again, and again, and again. All of this in an era in which library budgets are being cut to the bone.

Why 26 times?

the 26 circulation limit was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

I work in a library without a lot of e-books, or books that circulate, which is a long story, best saved for later, but we’ve got books, real, paper books, that are checked out more than 26 times. For me, this aggression will not stand, man, so here’s what I’m going to do about it.

The software that allows HarperCollins to “turn off” an e-book is called Digital Rights Management, or DRM. Not every library is in position to do what I’m about to propose, and I understand that, but as an academic librarian in charge of purchasing, I’m done with DRM. I will not purchase anything with DRM restrictions for my place of work, effective immediately.

Many public libraries won’t be able to do this. They have much tougher competition, like other public libraries nearby,, Barnes and Noble, or Borders if the local one has been spared, or mom n’ pop or alternative bookstores if you live in a city or hip college town. But public libraries can still do something.*

But I work in an academic library; my audience is more captive than that of a public library, and our user population is on its way to becoming more educated. My refusal to buy DRM is now part of that education. I don’t want patrons involved in the librarians’ dilemma of access vs. ownership; it’s unseemly, and access usually wins. But not this time.

Side note: while HarperCollins was doing the above, I had lunch at a conference with some music librarians who complained that the only existing recordings of some audio/visual materials were in iTunes, trapped behind Apple’s DRM instead of being “in a library.” I pointed out that by any modern definition, iTunes is a library. There are different kinds of libraries that serve different groups. One of the scoffers was an academic music librarian. It costs approximately $35,000 in out-of-state tuition to access the library where he works, while anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and a credit card can gain entry to the iTunes library. Which model is closer to the Carnegian ideal type? Food for thought.

*Sorry, folks, but it’s back to advocacy. Always back to advocacy.

Let HarperCollins know what you think of their shortsighted decision.

Let American Library Association President Roberta Stevens know what you think of HarperCollins shortsighted decision.

Let the authors who write under HarperCollins know as well.

Educate your patrons. They can be allies in this fight.

Want more? Go here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not Another MLIS Post

Spurred on by a comment to a previous post, numerous posts elsewhere in the last few weeks (see below), and at least three undergraduates asking me if they should go to library school, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d tell prospective students, beyond the xtranormal video, which manages to out-cynic me, no small feat.

We all have our reasons for wanting to be librarians. I grew up in a household of academics; I saw that lifestyle and I wanted it… right up until I defended a prospectus in a political science PhD program, at which point a doctorate and I mutually decided to part ways. But let’s back up. I worked at an academic library over the summers and between semesters of my undergraduate studies, and my first three jobs, four if you count the six weeks I worked for a vendor, after graduating were at academic libraries in paraprofessional positions. I continued to work at a library during my PhD program as well, and maintained an ALA membership for part of that time, so I was well-equipped with a back up plan. As a librarian I could stay in academia. I could participate. I could, hypothetically, publish. I should publish. In 2007, I executed that plan; I’ve been at this small, academic library since then, first as a paraprofessional, then as a librarian, a title I obtained before my MLIS. And let’s be clear about why I went back for yet another degree: it’s because I knew I couldn’t advance in my career, not in my current workplace, not hypothetically elsewhere, without an MLIS. For me, it was, and is, a union card, one that needs stamping. The prospect of a better job was not the sole reason I got an MLIS, but it was pretty close. Having worked the circ desk, the stacks, cataloging, and preservation before library school left me a bit jaded. And lo, upon receiving that degree, I got a raise and a promotion. But, and this is important, I already had a job, I already worked in a library and had years of library experience, and of graduate school. I didn’t have to deal with a brutal job market. Kids, if you can get your library school degree this way, I highly recommend it.

My path isn’t everyone else’s path. Again, we all have our reasons. And we can rage against the machine that is library school, but it’s not going to do you any good. By and large, if you want to be a librarian, you’ll need that degree. What else can you get out of it?

Elsewhere you’ll read that library schools teach critical thinking, but that certainly wasn’t the case where I went. You should have learned critical thinking skills by the time you graduated from college anyway. High school, even, if you lucked out with teachers. There’s a reason so many of these MLIS programs are easy to get into, and easy to get out of, and don’t think that lack of selectivity doesn’t play a reason in why this profession isn’t as respected as it could be (and if you’ve got a Masters degree in teaching or another education-related field and you’re reading this, I know you’re nodding your head for the same reasons). Rigor is not in the MLIS vocabulary. Certainly not research methodologies, either. In fact, most of what you’ll need to know to be a good librarian you’ll learn on the job, whether it’s a cataloging shortcut or the best way to manage student workers or volunteers.

Despite the above, and excluding the union card, here is what an MLIS is good for.

  • Socialization into the discipline. Librarians are a motley bunch, but we have our standards, or so I’d like to believe. At a minimum, there’s a baseline level of intersubjective knowledge you’ll be taught, and a vocabulary to go with it, because jargon is what separates academic fields from one another. If you’re lucky, the school you choose will also focus on communication, in person, in writing, presentations, project management and the like. You more or less have to go to college if you want to some measure of economic success, but you choose to go to graduate school, to become a librarian. Molding you into one of us, that’s what this is about. Also, I’ve met a lot of people who work in libraries. Believe me, we can use all the socialization we can get.

  • Exploring your options (thanks to Wayne for this one), or what kind of librarian do you want to be. At many schools archivists and school media librarians are tracked separate from the general population, and if you’re one of them, more power to you. Most everyone else, however, will take a bunch of courses, some compulsory and some elective, to figure out if they want to work in academia, or a public library; spend most of their time out front at the reference desk, or in the back managing electronic resources; or work in a medical library (hint, this is where the jobs are), law library, or corporate library. Take courses, figure out what you want do to, where the holes are in librarianship (provided you can actually get depth instead of width), and how you might fill them.
Now, is that worth whatever you’re paying for library school? But now that I’ve asked it that’s not really the important question, is it? You’re already hooked. I can tell because you made it this far down a blog post. Welcome aboard.

Since you’ve already put the time in, put in some more. Read these far better posts, and their comments

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Transliteracy and Staying Positive in the Library

If pressed to choose a side in the debate over transliteracy, I think I ally myself with David Rothman, a medical librarian who’s done some very good work in pushing transliteracy proponents to define their terms. As a recovering social scientist, I recognize the need to flesh out what exactly transliteracy is, and proponents haven’t done that. I also think that the best teachers of information literacy were using some of the techniques of transliteracy, showing patrons how to search across multiple platforms and media, for example, long before this term was coined. And yet, as an information literacy practitioner, I think there is something to transliteracy. The debate over what it is and isn’t is often frustrating, but it’s also helped me accentuate the positive when I teach.

My university doesn’t have an information literacy requirement (well, one school does, but the librarians don’t teach it and we have to put out a lot of metaphorical fires caused by the faculty that do), so the best I can do is often a one-shot, one session (one hour) tutorial in which I discuss library resources and common search behaviors on Google (and how to improve those search behaviors). Over the past semester, the point at which I became aware of the transliteracy debate, I read something that resonated and I’ve taken it with me since: our students are really good at searching. Granted, they’re skilled at using Google, that’s the platform I’m talking about, but it’s something. It’s a start. And I’ve got help, because database vendors are increasingly making their interfaces and platforms look like Google, part of a broader point that Lane Wilkenson makes about “the Library” and “the Internet” blending together (for better and for worse, that’s another post for another time). This positivity is key for me in the classroom. The university draws the far majority of its students from dysfunctional schools and school systems, and the smarter students recognize structural impediments to their success long before they meet me. This makes focusing on what they already can do, what they’re already good at, very important. From there I can teach them a few Google tricks, like how to search just one website, or to search for something with limited copyright restrictions. From there I can show them Encyclopedia Britannica Online in place of Wikipedia. And from there I can show them that gathering information through the library website, databases, and other resources, isn’t that different than what they’re already good at: finding information on something they're interested in via Google.

And that’s not nothing. So beware of buzzwords, and of gurus and false prophets as well, but even then, in the discussion you might learn something useful.