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Month: June 2013

If Copyright had a reality TV show…

I can see it now. The teaser for the premier would quote TechDirt’s post: “‘Warner/Chappell is almost certainly guilty of massive copyfraud — perhaps the most massive in history — in claiming a copyright it clearly has no right to.’ And what is this this copyright they’re talking about? A copyright that’s so lucrative Warner/Chappell will go to any lengths to keep people paying for permissions and so ingrained in our culture that people will shell out permissions money right and left to be able to include the copyright work in their representations of our life? Find out on this week’s episode: The Dark Side of ‘Happy Birthday.’

bd6cf791a464fadad40f4438fe5e36e35dThat’s right. “Happy Birthday,” that famously copyrighted work that plagues script writers everywhere and that earns Warner/Chappell millions a year in licensing fees? Probably isn’t copyrighted after all. Oops.

So pop some popcorn, grab a beverage, and let’s see how this plays out!

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Things we know about how information works that our students do not (yet)

Sometimes when I teach first year students how to use a book (the table of contents and index are the “google of the book” telling you what’s inside and where to find what you want) I get shocked looks from profs. In fact, last week one prof argued gently with me that I was surely mistaken that this kind of thing was news to our first year students. Surely they know how books work, how periodicals work, or that encyclopedias are often ordered alphabetically.

Well, thank goodness for Barbara Fister who just started compiling a list of just these kinds of things, where we have a tacit understanding of how information works but our students do not. Everything on her list resonates strongly with me and my experience of first and second year students.

Go read it! Tacit Knowledge and the Student Researcher


Managing a collection is easier without all those books in the way: The Urbana Free Library’s lesson for the rest of us

It’s kind of a common joke among librarians: “Our jobs would be so much easier without the patrons.” It’s the kind of thing we say in a moment of frustration that both allows us to vent and also reminds us why we’re here in the first place. We would never lock our doors to keep the patrons out — to “protect” our collections and our time.

Apparently the library director at the Urbana Free Library, Deb Lissak, decided that her staff’s jobs would be so much easier if there weren’t any books. And rather than sigh and get on with life’s little frustrations, she actually acted on the impulse. In the space of a few hours, and without the knowledge of the librarian in charge of the collection, she had 12 new staff weed 50-70% of the adult non-fiction collection using publication date as her only criteria. Looking for a non-fiction book published before 2003? You won’t find it at the Urbana Free Library.

Of course, thoughtful weeding is a vital part of maintaining a useful collection. This, however, does not resemble thoughtful reading in the slightest. This resembles a daycare dumping basins of bathwater without checking for people’s babies first.

Somehow, of all the appalling aspects of this story, her stated reasoning is what gets me the most.

[It] has to do with RFID [tagging]. We have to touch every single piece in the collection and have to tag it… And you don’t want to be doing all that and then find you’re — six months from now — you’re weeding and taking things back out you just went to the trouble of doing this for. (Quoted here)

There you have it: proactive weeding. We might find we want to weed it later, so we’ll just weed it now instead. The ultimate in efficiency.

Meanwhile, the library is telling its patrons not to worry, that this will make browsing easier. It’s so much more efficient to browse 10 books compared to 50 books. You’ll love it!

Libraries sure can be more efficient without those pesky collections.


Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, the NSA, and the value of metadata

My nephew still likes phones.
My almost-two-year-old nephew still likes phones.


A week ago, the general public didn’t know or care about metadata. Now, thanks to the NSA, it’s all anyone talks about. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has already said that this kind of information collection without a warrant is fine because there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy attached to this type of metadata.

Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere
Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere

How much do people value information about the calls we make — the numbers we dial and the length of our calls? Quite a lot, it seems, even when they (supposedly) aren’t able or allowed to listen to the calls. You can do cool things with metadata about who contacts whom.

In libraries, we’ve know the power of metadata for a really long time. We’re in the business of creating, buying, licensing, and using metadata. And library vendors are in the business of charging us an arm and a leg for metadata, and of forbidding us from sharing their metadata. Their metadata is powerful. And above all, their metadata is theirs. Do not mess with their metadata.

Granted, cataloging and indexing produce rich, multi-facetted metadata, and the NSA is looking at “thin” metadata — nobody’s gone through the calls and classified them according to topic (we assume). This is the equivalent of author, title, and publication information. But perhaps telephone and internet companies will now be looking to library vendors for some pointers on making a tidy profit on all their metadata, especially now that we all know it’s not legally private after all.

It’s probably too much to hope that libraries will get better deals from vendors on the strength of an argument about how metadata isn’t private. The ultimate Open Access: nothing is private.

p.s. To any non-librarian readers: Libraries complete destroy your check-out records on purpose so that the government can’t ask us for it. Just FYI.

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