Archive for: February, 2012

Around the Web: The great age of librarians, Nobody cares about the library and more

Feb 28 2012 Published by under around the web

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Around the Web: eBooks: Why Bother; A better way to teach science and more

Feb 25 2012 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: Five Leadership Mistakes Of The Galactic Empire

Feb 24 2012 Published by under academia, friday fun, librarianship

The actual content of the post I'm highlighting isn't really all that amusing. It's actually quite pertinent in a real-world context.

But I really love how they've taken actually useful information that might be a bit dry and businessy and using a Star Wars / pop-cultural reference made it into something a little easier to wade through. A spoonful of sugar and all that.

Anyways, here's one of the five from: Five Leadership Mistakes Of The Galactic Empire:

Mistake #1: Building an organization around particular people, rather than institutions.

Perhaps the biggest mistake of the Galactic Empire made is its singular focus on the preservation of power for the Emperor and a few of his chosen lackeys. There is a constant through line we see starting with A New Hope and running through to the end of the Return of the Jedi of the Emperor consolidating more and more power into his own hands and that of his right-hand man, Darth Vader. In A New Hope, the Galactic Senate is disbanded in favor of regional governors hand-selected by the Emperor. By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, the Emperor's only advisor is Darth Vader, and his distrust in his organization is so complete that his only plan for succession is a desperate attempt to poach Luke Skywalker from the Rebel Alliance and get him to join his organization. Anytime your future plans depend on getting a rising star from a rival organization to join your team, you know that you have some serious institutional issues.

As the events of the movie make clear, the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader pretty much eliminated any opportunity for succession. A galaxy-wide organization was defeated simply by taking out two key individuals. Despite his decades of scheming, Palpatine's organization barely lasted a day after he was gone.

Key Takeaway: Your organization needs to be structured so that talent is being developed on all levels of the organization, in order to ensure smooth functioning and ensure that it's easy for people to rise in the organization in the event that key individuals leave. Responsibility should be distributed on several fronts, so that chaos doesn't ensue if one person can't be reached. Realistic succession plans are vital to developing an enduring organization.


The Bottom Line: Ultimately, the Galactic Empire failed as an enduring organization because of incredibly flawed leadership at the very top. By building an organizational culture based on fear, lack of independence, and an unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances, the Emperor set the stage for his own inevitable failure.

It's all good, so go on over and read the whole thing.

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Around the Web: Even more academically adrift, The case for publically owned Internet service and more

Feb 23 2012 Published by under around the web

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Elsevier boycott: Time for librarians to rise up!

A little while back the Cost of Knowledge site started up a boycott pledge list in response to mathematician Timothy Gowers' pledge to stop contributing to Elsevier's operations by ceasing writing, reviewing and editing for them.

Here is the call to action:

Academics have protested against Elsevier's business practices for years with little effect. These are some of their objections:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.
  2. In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large "bundles", which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

The key to all these issues is the right of authors to achieve easily-accessible distribution of their work. If you would like to declare publicly that you will not support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate, then you can do so by filling in your details on this page.

More information:

It then asks signatories to sign the pledge with their name, affiliation and discipline and pledge not to publish, referee or do editorial work for Elsevier.

I have done so. In fact, I've recently declined an opportunity to publish in an Elsevier professional newsletter in the library field and cited the Research Works Act in my refusal.

I would ask all the librarians and library/information science people reading this to consider adding their names to the boycott as well.

I've hesitated to ask this so directly before since there was no way for librarians and other library people to sign the pledge explicitly stating their affiliation with libraries and information science as a subject. We either had to put "Other" or chose perhaps the discipline from our non-library degrees.

Fortunately, the organizers of The Cost of Knowledge have recently added Library and Information Sciences to the list of subjects. They've also set it up so that if you signed up previously, you can update your subject just by re-signing with the same email address.

Librarians and other library/information science people can now directly support the boycott as it pertains to our own professional literature. By our participation, we can also clearly state that we support faculty, researcher and other scholars in their quest to make their professional and scholarly literature less the subject of excessive commercial avarice.

Most importantly, we can send a message that we are united, that we stand together.

I could make this a much longer post, explaining my rationale for singling out Elsevier, explaining the goals of the boycott and various other points.

For that, I'll point you to:

And some of my own thoughts along similar lines:

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Friday Fun: 8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

Feb 17 2012 Published by under ebooks, friday fun

Given all the fuss and bother going on in the library world these last few days about ebooks, I thought this one would be a pretty fine choice to highlight today.

I just love me some Cracked!

8 Unexpected Downsides of the Switch to E-books

  1. You Can't Hide a Gun in a Kindle
  2. You Need Physical Books for Physical Tasks
  3. No More Flipbooks and Mustaches in Textbooks
  4. It May Change the Perception of the Necronomicon and Other Mystical Books
  5. Book Burnings Will Have Less Visual Impact
  6. How Will People Open Secret Passageways?

    Seriously, if you can't pull a cleverly titled book out of a bookcase to get it to swing open, what else are you going to do? You have to put an artifact in a slot or push a really obvious wooden carving every time? Boy, that is going to get old fast.

  7. You Can't Separate Bathroom Books from Outside Books
  8. Well, I let you find out for yourself...

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Around the Web: The Great Age of Librarians, Amazon Will Destroy You, Apps vs The Open Web and more

Feb 16 2012 Published by under around the web

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Library lending of trade ebooks: How should it work?

We have here what is sometimes known as a wicked problem.

On the one side, communities would like to be able to pool the resources of their members to acquire digital content that may then be shared and consumed by everyone in that community.

On the other, content creators and publishers would like to maximize their revenue from the content they produce and distribute.

Libraries want to pay the least amount possible but still have the maximum rights to share it among their communities.

Publishers want to make sure every possible reading transaction is monetized, so as a result want to minimize the sharing rights of the people and organizations they sell their content to.

I don't know the answer to this question but I was hoping that the accumulated wisdom of the masses of my readers might have some good ideas and share them in the

What is the most fair library/publisher ebook business model or set of business models for mass market, non-academic books?

Some further reading, both posts by others that have inspired this post and some of my own previous ramblings:

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Around the Web: Why privacy matters, Reading & believing, Classroom tech and more

Feb 14 2012 Published by under around the web

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Penguin ebooks & The Research Works Act: Publishers gain, communities lose

I was really angry riding home on the bus last Friday night. Not angry because the transit system here in Toronto is royally fudged in general or that transit to York University is fudged in particular.

No, it wasn't that particular aspect of the public sphere that had me upset.

It was the growing tendency of publishers of all sorts to try and take their works out of the public cultural commons and place them exclusively behind pay walls. It's their desire to monetize every reading transaction that had me hot under the collar.

Here's what I tweeted standing on the bus, altered a bit for readability:

Penguin withdrawing ebooks from libraries & The Research Works Act are the same things.

Publishers want to monetize all reading and sharing transactions. Are publishers basically saying that they are opposed to the core values that libraries represent?

Both Penguin and the RWA are cases of legacy industries protecting rapidly crumbling business models in the face of rapid technological change.

At a certain level, the challenge is not just how to stop them but also to build a fairer system that can include diverse players.

Scholarly publishers have never been libraries' friends, but it's sad to see it happening on the trade publishing side too, though I guess just as inevitable. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

It was on the bus, standing there, crushed, hot and stuck in traffic, that the link between the two big controversies in the library work in the last few months are so explicitly linked.

On the one hand, Penguin largely withdrawing from the main library ebook distributor and on the other the recent proposed US legislation, The Research Works Act.

Both are driven by publishers wanting to block what they produce from partaking in the open cultural commons in a fair and equitable way. To be able to impose their view of reality, their "reality distortion field." That the value they add outweighs their obligation to their broader stakeholders.

I like the way Peter Brantley puts it:

But from Penguin, and large publishers generally, there has been a striking paucity of engagement with librarians about their larger obligations to our communities. Libraries are not auto parts dealers, and Penguin is not an automobile manufacturer, unhappy that a distributor is making non-OEM parts available to consumers. Not permitting libraries to lend ebooks means that some people have less opportunity in their lives than others. That requires a better explanation than being scared about the revenue impact of letting people read for free without having any data to back it up. (Emphasis mine -jd)

I like that idea: scholarly and cultural producers have an obligation to the larger communities from which they draw their revenue.

For scholarly publishers this obligation means working with the researcher, librarian and funder communities to come up with a set of business models that allow publishers to be properly compensated for the value they add while at the same time allowing open access to the public, who, after all, funded most of the research.

Trade publishers such as Penguin (and HarperCollins, we're not forgetting you!) are terrified that the frictionless lending of ebooks will damage their audience's desire and need to actually purchase books. And that is understandable.

But this larger obligation to communities means working with public libraries primarily to find a way to allow lending of ebooks without directly causing too adverse an effect on their sales revenues. What we think of as First Sale rights for purchased materials must translate into the digital world in some way.

That historic obligation allow communities to pool their resources to acquire a range of materials and share them among the entire membership of that community. Not everyone needs to buy everything they consume and certainly the idea of community means that those that can afford to contribute via their taxes support those in their community who can't.

So, ebooks in public libraries, open access to publicly funded scholarship, quality, properly funded public transit. It's all the same.

Private interests are attacking the public good. Let's stop them.

(And it's here that I'll also state my support for the Elsevier boycott. I've signed -- in fact I've already refused an opportunity to publish in an Elsevier trade publication.)

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