Archive for the 'librarianship' category

The Donald Trump War on Science: Save Net Neutrality!

Net Neutrality is under attack by the Donald Trump administration. It's important to learn what's going on and for Net Neutrality supporters to mobilise. But what's the fuss all about? And what's Net Neutrality to begin with, you ask? The Wikipedia definition is pretty good.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.[1] For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

In other words, the telecommunications infrastructure that makes up the Internet treats everybody and every kind of information the same. No favourite classes of data or penalised classes either. Video is treated the same as text is treated the same as voice is treated the same way as static images.

Why is this important?

1. free and open internet enables equitable access to information.
2. free and open internet helps prevent unfair and discriminatory pricing practices.
3. free and open internet protects freedom of speech.
4. free and open internet promotes innovation.

Without an open internet, big corporations would have tight control over how we access information. Please do your part to keep the internet a cornerstone of freedom and opportunity. Get involved by supporting local municipal networks and fighting for net neutrality and Internet Freedom.

What would happen if we lost Net Neutrality?

What would happen if we lost Net Neutrality?

The internet without Net Neutrality isn’t really the internet. Unlike the open internet that has paved the way for so much innovation and given a platform to people who have historically been shut out, it would become a closed-down network where cable and phone companies call the shots and decide which websites, content or applications succeed.

This would have an enormous impact. Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would be able to decide who is heard and who isn’t. They’d be able to block websites or content they don’t like or applications that compete with their own offerings.

The consequences would be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.

Without Net Neutrality, how would activists be able to fight oppression? What would happen to social movements like the Movement for Black Lives? How would the next disruptive technology, business or company emerge if internet service providers only let incumbents succeed?

Why is Net Neutrality crucial for communities of color?

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites.

The mainstream media have long misrepresented, ignored and harmed people of color. And thanks to systemic racism, economic inequality and runaway media consolidation, people of color own just a handful of broadcast stations. The lack of diverse ownership is a primary reason why the media have gotten away with criminalizing and otherwise stereotyping communities of color.

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

And without Net Neutrality, millions of small businesses owned by people of color wouldn’t be able to compete against larger corporations online, which would deepen economic disparities.

Why is Net Neutrality important for businesses?

Net Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs, who rely on the open internet to launch their businesses, create markets, advertise their products and services, and reach customers. We need the open internet to foster job growth, competition and innovation.

Net Neutrality lowers the barriers of entry by preserving the internet’s fair and level playing field. It’s because of Net Neutrality that small businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive online.

No company should be allowed to interfere with this open marketplace. ISPs are the internet’s gatekeepers, and without Net Neutrality, they would seize every possible opportunity to profit from that gatekeeper position.

Without Net Neutrality, the next Google or Facebook would never get off the ground.

 

A few general resources

 
And the story of what's going on right now in the US, with the FCC promising to end Net Neutrality. The list below has lots of resources and opinions and arguments, all of which are well worth at least taking a look at. If I've missed something important, let me know.

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Around the Web: A quick list of readings on "predatory" open access journals

As a kind of quick follow up to my long ago post on Some perspective on “predatory” open access journals (presentation version, more or less, here and very short video version here) and in partial response to the recent What I learned from predatory publishers, I thought I would gather a bunch of worthwhile items here today.

Want to prepare yourself to counter panic around predatory open access journals? Here's some great places to start.

I'm sure I've missed a bunch of important articles. Please let me know in the comments!

2017.06.14 Update: Added Beyond Beall’s List: Better understanding predatory publishers to the list.
2017.06.14 Update #2: Added two more to the list.

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Canadian Library Association National Forum: Readings for Digital Strategy and the Government of Canada

May 30 2016 Published by under Canada, librarianship, Politics, Uncategorized

I'll be attending upcoming Canadian Library Association National Forum, a kind of sunset conference as CLA reimagines and recreates itself. The idea is to take the pulse of Canadian librarians on the important issues in the library-related landscape. I'll be curating the session on Canada's National Digital Strategy, including presentations by me and two others, Emily Landriault and Bobby Glushko.

The details are below.

 

Digital Strategy and the Government of Canada

Presentation speakers

Date: Wednesday June 1st
Time: 3:30PM to 5:00 PM
Room: Joliet

Description:

An Introduction to Canada’s National Digital Strategy

Government digital strategy encompasses a wide range of topics, from fostering digital innovation, to open government data, to privacy and security legislation, to telecommunications policy, to cyberbullying prevention, and Canadian content regulations. Over the last few years of their mandate, the previous Conservative government put policies in place in many of those areas, with their high level strategy outlined in the Digital Canada 150 document.

  • Where will the new Liberal government take us?
  • Are there any hints as to what their digital strategy might be?
  • What previous initiatives will be discontinued and what new initiatives will be created?

Come to this interactive session where expert panelists will touch on a few of the most important areas of Canada’s digital strategy as well as engaging participants in a conversation about how the library community could both move forward on some initiatives of our own as well as influence the government’s direction.

The format of the session with be three 15 minute presentations by the speakers, a short Q&A (10 minutes), followed by individual group discussions at the tables (20 minutes) and finally, the groups reporting back to the room (15 minutes).

Some questions to spark the group discussions:

  • What are the most important digital strategy issues and priorities affecting libraries?
  • Where are our priorities diverging from the government's?
  • How should libraries, librarians and library associations advocate for change?
  • What opportunities can we seize or create?
  • What should we advocate for?
  • What outcomes are we looking for?

I'll also note what is out of scope in my session: topics that will be covered by other sessions at the National Forum: Copyright, Digitization and other issues related to Library and Archives Canada.

I've written a bit about the Digital Canada 150 policy document here and here. Also relevant and useful are the Ministerial Mandate Letters for the ministers of Heritage, Innovation and Science, all of which are available here.

Digital Canada 150 from 2014 is the closest we have to an active National Digital Strategy, so I'm using the structure of that document to frame my own thoughts and research. Below I have some of the readings I've done to prepare for the session.

I hope to see you there! The hashtag is #CLAOtt16. I'll post my slides once the conference is over.

 

The Five Pillars of Digital Canada 150

 

1. Connecting Canadians (CRTC/Cable TV/Broadband/Wireless Policy)

 

2. Protecting Canadians (Cyberbullying/Security/Privacy/Anti-Spam) (Mostly Bobby speaking to this)

 

3. Economic Opportunities (Innovation/Productivity/Big Data/Intellectual Property Laws, Canada Research Excellence Fund/NRC Transformation/CFI/CANARIE Digital Accelerator/MITACS)

 

4. Digital Government (Open Government/Open Data/Open Access/Access to Information) (Emily speaking to this and provide some of the readings)

 

5. Canadian Content (Digitization/LAC & Historica & Canadiana.org/NFB Digitization/CRTC/Canadian Content Rules)

 

As usual, if I've missed anything important, please let me know in the comments.

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Librarians, institutions, soldiers, revolutionaries

One of the central tensions of modern librarianship is how to allocate limited resources to both make the whole world a better place and to serve our local communities by providing them with the services and collections they need to support their teaching, learning and research.

The particular way we try and change the world that I'm talking about here is working to create a fairer and more equitable scholarly communications ecosystem. We do this by both advocating for increased openness in the publishing system and working to actually create that fairer system via our own local open access publishing and support activities. (There are also other ways we work towards making the world a better place, for example, through our instruction activities. Not mention that there is an aspect of making the whole world a better place via serving local needs.)

Rick Anderson's recent piece A quiet culture war in research libraries – and what it means for librarians, researchers and publishers has certainly reignited this conversation in the online librarian world in the last couple of weeks, sparking a lot of commentary and discussion in blogs and on Twitter.

The core of the piece is those two tensions. Being soldiers and taking care of our communities versus being revolutionaries and trying to change the system. Anderson mostly attempts to play it right down the middle and not really fall on either side of the issue. And he certainly acknowledges that it's unlikely that any person or institution will fall completely on one side or the other, that a mix of both roles is natural and desirable. But in the end he seems to favour the role of soldier over revolutionary.

Take the final paragraph for example,

This fact has serious implications for the ultimate outcome of the culture war that I believe is currently brewing in the research library community. We are now working in an information environment that makes it possible for each library to exert a global influence in unprecedented ways. The desire to do so is both praiseworthy and solidly in keeping with many of what most of us would consider core values of librarianship. However, even as we experience varying levels of agreement amongst ourselves as to the proper distribution of our time and resources in pursuit of these two different orientations, virtually all of us continue to be supported entirely by funds that come from institutions that expect us to use those funds to support local needs and an institutionally defined mission. As long as it remains impossible to spend the same dollar twice, we will have no way to avoid choosing between programs that support local needs and those that support global ones and, as long as we depend on local resources to do so, we will have an ultimate obligation to act more like soldiers than like revolutionaries. Libraries that fail to do so will inevitably lose their institutional support – and with good reason. (Bold is mine -- JD)

Where do I fall?

First of all, at the institutional level academic libraries (and librarians) have no choice but to take care of local needs. Our patrons and communities need the collections we purchase and licence and we must take great care to spend our institutions' funds wisely.

At the same time, we would also be betraying our profession and failing our patrons if we did not also keep our eyes on the long-term needs of our patrons and communities. That long term need being to play a role in building a system that just works better, that spends their money more wisely and more equitably on making their scholarship more rather than less accessible to the rest of the world. On making the scholarship they need to access from the rest of the world more rather than less accessible to them.

Hogwash, you say, there's no way I can justify this. My job is support the mission of my institution and nothing else. Resources are limited. It's clear how I have to allocate them.

The mission of my institution.

A lot of the discussions seem to revolve around those words.

So I looked up the mission statement of my institution. York University.

The mission of York University is the pursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. We promise excellence in research and teaching in pure, applied and professional fields. We test the boundaries and structures of knowledge. We cultivate the critical intellect.

York University is part of Toronto: we are dynamic, metropolitan and multi-cultural. York University is part of Canada: we encourage bilingual study, we value diversity. York University is open to the world: we explore global concerns.

A community of faculty, students, staff, alumni and volunteers committed to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education, and collegial self-governance, York University makes innovation its tradition.

Tentanda Via: The way must be tried. (Bolding is me again. )

[P]ursuit, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. Check. That's what building a fairer scholarly communications ecosystem is all about.

We cultivate the critical intellect. Check. It's part of our mission to think deeply and critically about the world. Which can lead to thinking of ways that it could be better.

[C]ommitted to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education. Check and bingo! My institution's mission actually includes working to make the world a better place.

The way must be tried. Check and mate. Just do it.

Of course, I work at York, one of the leftyest, most progressive universities out there. So the kind of language that we in the library (as a whole and as individual librarians) can use to justify building and advocating for a better world is all over the place.

But I invite everyone else who might be tempted to take a pass on devoting time, energy and other resources to making the world a better place to take a look at their own institution's mission statement. I've looked at a few around academia recently and from what I've seen most places have something in there about giving back to the community or making the world a better place.

Take a look for yourself. I hope your institution has something in its mission statement that you can work with (though I recognize it might not). And think about joining the revolution.

(This is about balance in resource allocation, of course. Every place and every situation will be different and local administrators will need to make different calculations about resource allocation. This isn't a call for librarians and libraries to shoot themselves in the foot. What I hope is to maybe expand a little bit how we look at our mission in relation to our institution's mission when we make those decisions.)

======

As is my wont I've gathered together some of the recent commentary sparked by the original Rick Anderson article. There are lots of different takes on the soldiers vs. revolutionaries issue and several of the items I'm pointing to make similar points to my own but perhaps a bit more eloquently.

As usual, if this issue continues to have legs, I'll probably update this list. If I've missed something, please let me know either in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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Reading Diary: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age by Astra Taylor

I am not trying to deny the transformative nature of the Internet, but rather that we've lived with it long enough to ask tough questions.
...
I've tried to avoid the Manichean view of technology, which assumes either that the Internet will save us or that it is leading us astray, that it is making us stupid or making us smart, that things are black or white. The truth is subtler: technology alone cannot deliver the cultural transformation we have been waiting for; instead, we need to first understand and then address the underlying social and economic forces that shape it. Only then can we make good on the unprecedented opportunity the Internet offers and begin to make the ideal of a more inclusive and equitable culture a reality. If we want the Internet to truly be a people's platform, we will have to work to make it so. (p. 8, 10)

Astra Taylor's The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age is easily one of the best Web culture books I have ever read, if not the best. It takes the onrushing revolution in art and culture and journalism head on. Of the books I've read recently it compares and contrasts very nicely with Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow. Like Doctorow's very fine book it's about what may be the central artistic/commercial tension in the Internet age: consumers of information (art, scholarship, journalism, etc.) want it to be free but the creators and distributors of that information (artists, scholars, publishers, writers, etc.) want the information to be expensive.

As the original quote from Stuart Brand goes, "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other" with Brand's follow up, "Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. ...That tension will not go away."

And what's interesting of course, is just how ingrained this tension is. While looking for a link to the publisher's page I started typing into my search window "astra taylor the people's..." and what should the type ahead show me? Yep, you guessed it: "astra taylor the people's platform pdf." It's ironic that a book that makes the case for financially supporting creating expression in the Internet age is, well, a book that a lot people on the web don't seem to want to pay for.

Paying for culture is a hard case to make sometimes, in a world where it seems more normal to pay for the gadgets that deliver the culture and rely on the creators of that culture to trade their work for "exposure." The commonly accepted devil's bargain is that at some point in the hopefully not-too-far-distant-future they will be able to trade that exposure for something that will pay the bills.

Which is all a bit odd for me, given my current vantage point. I'm writing this in Paris. Where there's a book store on every block and a record store on every other block. And this is only a very slight exaggeration for effect. The French are very protective of their culture, to an extent that seems a bit unhinged to we ruthless count-every-penny North Americans. Amazon and it's ilk discounting books is actually a controversy in France. Bande dessinées are expensive. Print books are expensive, CDs and records are expensive. Yet the shops are crowded and people seem to be willing to trade some cash for knowing that the arts are taken care of. If Silicon Valley disruptors are storming the cultural Bastille, the French are having nothing of it. Even Uber has to play by the rules, no race to the bottom here. Or at least a much slower race.

Astra Taylor might find her ideas have more resonance in Europe than in the land of disruption and discounting and dog eat dog.

[W]e should strive to cultivate the cultural commons as a vibrant and sustainable sphere, on ethat exists for its own sake, not to be eploited by old-media oligarchs, new media moguls, insatiable shareholders, for-profit pirates, or data-miners and advertisers. (p. 176)

This book makes the case -- that a truly democratic culture is worth directly supporting in the online world in the exact same way as the offline world. And it is worth supporting culture both by the everyday choices of the average cultural consumer as well as through the levers of various government agencies. In other words, a sustainable model for cultural support. Culture is a commons, one that needs to be supported. The new "tragedy of the commons" is not one of enclosure but of under-investment. A commons shouldn't be built on exploiting free labour on social media sites where the users are actually the "product" for advertisers or laying waste to the environment to mine precious metals to manufacture gadgets. We have to build in equity. We need free culture in the sense of a public library, not corporatized "free culture" like YouTube videos or Google Books or Facebook or Twitter.

(Fear not, Taylor does mention her support of a sustainable, open scientific commons.)

Appropriately, the conclusion of Taylor's book is subtitled "In Defense of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sustainable Culture."

And the first paragraph of that chapter reads,

It may seem counterintuitive at a time of information overload, viral media, aggregation, and instant commenting to worry about our cultural supply. But we are at the risk of starving in the midst of plenty. A decade ago few would have thought a book like In Defense of Food was necessary. Food, after all, had never been cheaper or more abundant; what could be wrong with the picture? A similar shift of perception needs to happen in the cultural realm. Culture, even if it is immaterial, has material conditions, and free culture, like cheap food, incurs hidden costs. (p. 214)

Techno Uber Optimists beware. Taylor isn't afraid of saying bad things about the Internet (or good things, for that matter). She doesn't treat is like some sort of anthropomorphized overly sensitive person who can't deal with any even mild criticism. She treats gurus and pundits of all stripes with the same critical respect. She asks the tough questions and reasons carefully to work towards some answers, or at least ideas that might lead to some answers.

This is a great book, read it, argue with it, agree with it violently and disagree with it just as violently but give it's arguments a fair hearing. Recommended for all libraries and anyone interested in the future of culture.

Our communications system is at a crossroads, one way leading to an increasingly corporatized and commercialized world where we are treated as targeted customers, the other to a true cultural commons where we are nurtured as citizens and creators. To create a media environment where democracy can thrive, we need to devise progressive policy that takes into account the entire context in which art, journalism, and information are created, distributed and, preserved, online and off. We need strategies and policies for an age of abundance, not scarcity, and to invent new ways of sustaining and managing the Internet to put people before profit. Only then will a revolution worth cheering be upon us. (p. 232)

Taylor, Astra. The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014. 288pp. ISBN-13: 978-1250062598

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Reading Diary: Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman

What is digital governance in the first place?
Digital governance is a discipline that focuses on establishing clear accountability for digital strategy, policy, and standards. A digital governance framework, when effectively designed and implemented, helps to streamline digital development and dampen debates around digital channel “ownership.”
-- From the Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design website.

Universities
Intellectual autonomy and stubbornness of staff
-- From the index, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design, p. 229

Time to take a little medicine! All those digital projects, all those digital projects teams, all those digital projects strategies. Libraries, academic libraries, we know them well, don't we.

Chaos is a good word. Lots of stakeholders, limited resources, competing priorities. Governance is a good word too, for libraries, as it tends to imply less a top-down, less hierarchical, more collegial way of making decisions. And when it comes to deciding how an organization should make decisions about their digital presence, finding a way to makes those decisions more effectively is very important.

Which is exactly what Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design by Lisa Welchman is about -- how to set up internal structures that will help organizations make decisions about digital strategies, policies and standards. Note that the book isn't about what decisions to make or even really how to organize the decision-making process. It's about what structures can facilitate and inform and govern a decision-making process that results in strategies, policies and standards.

It's that twice-removed aspect that is both the book's greatest strength and the source of some frustrations as well.

It's a strength because it provides a level of abstraction between the content of the decisions and the process of deciding that can take a bit of heat out of the whole thing. Frustrating because the occasional lack of grounding in reality of all the talk of policies and whatnot make it hard to see how it all ties back to reality. The endless talk of process this and committee that is sometimes like grasping at smoke. There are fairly detailed case studies at the end, but perhaps some of that content should have been distributed a little better up front -- or at least some more real world examples.

Building a governance structure where none existed before or overlaying one on an existing chaotic situation are challenging tasks to say the least. Basically it requires defining the appropriate structures and then figuring out how to overlay those bureaucratic structures on an organization that needs it but may not realize or recognize it needs it.

And Welchman does a terrific job of going through how to define those processes and even how to talk about implementing them. She's very deliberate and patient, setting everything out in words and charts, step by step, how to figure out who defines, who has input, who has final authority. And the things we're talking about deciding about (see how circular and vague and smokey this gets...)?

Digital strategies, digital policies, digital standards. And not in any concrete way, of course, but as those higher-level abstractions that will be different for every industry or sector and which will be different for each organization within those industries.

And yes, higher education is one of the sectors that get a case study at the end. The example is a university's central web team in charge of managing and integrating the school's web presence across all the various units. (The case studies are anonymized versions of experiences in her own consulting practice.)

Governance can be a good word for higher education, of course. But the challenge in the modern higher education landscape is distinguishing between governance and "governance" or governance-washing. Setting up a digital governance strategy for institutions that are as decentralized and multi-faceted as universities is doubly challenging. What's being governed in digital strategy anyways? Just marketing and communication? Data and scholarship resources? MOOCs and online education? Faculty and departmental web-presences? To what degree is the marketing and communications tail wagging the educational and research mission dog? Someone has to keep an eye on what universities are really for -- teaching and research. And not marketing. We don't have universities so we can market them -- as the tail sometimes seems to think.

Welchman trods this fine line not always successfully in the higher ed case study. Too much emphasis on top down from the senior admin and provost and not enough grassroots bottom up from faculty, staff and -- yes -- students. For governance to be legitimate in a higher education environment, the decision-making needs to flow upward, not downward, as inconvenient and frustrating as that can seem sometimes on the inside. The digital part of the university serves the teaching and research mission of the university, not the other way around. Autonomy and stubbornness are virtues, not inconveniences to getting input on long, tortuous processes.

Overall, this is a very good book, if a little dry and disruption business web hallelujah jargony at times. The digital/web teams are perhaps too often portrayed as the misunderstood heroes of the various tales rather than part of complex organizational ecosystems where heroes and villains don't really exist. References to "disruption" and "digital natives" and "digital campus" don't necessarily inspire complete confidence, but there is also an incredible amount of wisdom here when it comes to creating collegial governance. Your mileage may vary, but it's hard to imagine that anyone involved in digital projects at any level won't find something here to help them navigate creating better processes at their institutions.

This book belongs in any library/information science, technology or business library collection in academia. Probably only quite large public library systems would find an audience for this book, but branches in technology hub neighbourhoods should probably put a copy in their window display. Also, buy a copy for everyone on your digital team, up and down the hierarchy all the way to the CIO.

Welchman, Lisa. Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, 2015. 248pp. ISBN-13: 978-1933820880

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Reading Diary: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

While I was reading Cory Doctorow's Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, I was reminded of a quote of his that I blogged about a few years ago:

The people in Makers experience a world in which technology giveth and taketh away. They live through the fallacy of the record and movie industries: the idea that technology will go just far enough to help them and then stop. That’s totally not what happens. technology joes that far and them keeps on going. It’s a cycle of booms and busts. There are some lovely things about when you’re riding the wave and some scary things.

The Information Revolution is not bloodless. There’s plenty to like about the pre-Information era and a lot of that will go away. We can mourn it in the same way we mourn the knife sharpener who walked down the road with his wheel, the same way we mourn the passing of the lace tatter and all the other jobs that were made obsolete by one kind of technology or another. But we can mourn it without apologizing for the future that disrupted it.

(Doctorow, C. (2009, November). Cory Doctorow: Riding the wave. Locus, 63(5), 7, 60-61.)

Which is basically what IDWTBF is about -- how to make the bloody information revolution a bit less painful for creative artists trying to make a living is a radically different economic and social environment. But Doctorow isn't making suggestions is a "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss," Animal Farmish "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." kind of way. He's no fan of the big record companies or mega-publishers that want to figure out how to redirect new forms of revenue streams to old-fashioned intermediaries. Doctorow is trying to figure out how creative artists can succeed on their own terms, even if those terms end up requiring the support of those very intermediaries. He doesn't hate the "dinosaurs," he just wants to put the decision-making power where it belongs, with the creators.

Of course, he's a realist too, and doesn't try and convince anybody that the new world order is universally delivering riches to everyone who embraces it. On the contrary, he's quite blunt that almost everyone who wants to make a living as a creative artist will fail to do so. Just as it has pretty well always been. It's hard work, that requires a mixture of grit, luck and drive as well as the embracing of some new skill sets.

Doctorow presents his three laws of the Internet age, for figuring out how to succeed after the revolution:

  1. Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won't give you the key, that lock isn't there for your benefit.
  2. Fame won't make you rich, but you can't get paid without it.
  3. Information doesn't want to be free, people do.

I won't go into too much detail with what the various laws entail, but basically what Doctorow is saying is that DRM ultimately works against the best interests of the creator by making it harder for the consumers of culture to own their cultural products in the way that makes the most sense for them. Why pay for something you don't really own, after all. The next challenge is recognizing that the creator's biggest challenge is overcoming obscurity, not defeating piracy. Creators shouldn't be blind to the implications of piracy but should spend more time making sure their potential audiences know who they are and what they have to offer and most of all, how consumers can support the creators financially. And finally, what do people want from the Web? They want to use it as openly and freely as possible. Getting in the way of that desire -- which ultimately can't be thwarted in any meaningful way anyways -- doesn't do anybody any good. Embrace the freedom and the only way to succeed rather than a self-fulfilling guarantee of failure.

Which is brutal, of course, because most creators will fail at making a living at their art, as it was always been. But Doctorow's advice would be to embrace his laws as a way of at least giving yourself the best show at success. Engage and delight your audience, that's the key.

This is a short book, full of sharp shocks. I would recommend it to everyone who either produces or consumes culture in the modern world. Which is just about everyone! Did I agree with everything? Not really. Doctorow is maybe a bit cavalier about what we loose in new business models. Thinking of the knife sharpener in the quote above, it's still better to get your knife sharpened than to leave them dull or just treat cheap knives as disposable. Or even to not need knives anymore because you don't ever prepare your own food. Sometimes old ways and old things are worth fighting for, as tough and useless as that fight might end up being. After all, if you don't fight back and resist you can be sure you'll lose. And I'm sure other readers will pick other bits to argue or dispute. Which is one of the pleasures of the book in a way. Doctorow is pretty confident in his opinions, and that provocation can a healthy exercise. He's thought these things through pretty thoroughly over the course of many years and many books and articles, after all, so spotting flaws is a challenge.

In the end, this is a worthwhile read, one that would benefit pretty well any library.

Doctorow, Cory. Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age. San Francisco: McSweeney's, 2014. 162pp. ISBN-13: 978-1940450285

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Around the Web: Love in the time of austerity and other stories of library apocalypse

Mar 12 2015 Published by under acad lib future, around the web, librarianship

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Around the Apocalyptic Web: The sharing economy and getting paid for your work

I find the whole idea of a "sharing economy" where people barter and exchange and free up excess capacity in their own lives and situations to make others' lives a little easier and cheaper an interesting notion. And worthwhile. After all broadly speaking the open access and open source movements do partake of this same spirit. Libraries too, in that we pool the resources of a community to acquire stuff for the benefit of all the members, so that everyone can share the wealth.

But is there a dark side to sharing?

With the advent of companies like AirBnB and it's ilk not to mention the whole idea of the "reputation economy" sucking up the "gift economy" for it's own devices, well, let's just say I'm a bit more skeptical of the big money players than the little gals and guys.

So this Around the Web explores a long set of readings about more the new, more corporatized side of sharing, some pro, most con. After all, even the open access movement has it's share of big publishers and small startups diving in.

In no particular order:

Add your own favourite example of rich people asking not-so-rich-people to kick in to their profits in the comments.

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Around the Web: Big Deals 'R Us, or, Libraries in the lobster pot

So what do I mean by Big Deals.

In the world of academic libraries, a Big Deal is when we subscribe to the electronic versions of all (or almost all) of a journal publisher's offerings. Usually for it to qualify as a Big Deal, the publisher in question is going to be one of the larger ones out there, like Elsevier or Springer or even a big society publisher like IEEE or the American Chemical Society. The whole idea of the Big Deal is that we should theoretically get a better price for a large volume commitment than for paying on an individual basis for just the ones we think we really want. Typically the negotiation process for these deals ends up with the library paying some hopefully fair and reasonable percentage more for the whole kit and kaboodle than we did for our previous selective holdings.

Which seems like a good idea at first blush -- and it often is a good deal for us and for our patrons who get access to lots of content that they might find useful -- but there are a few problems.

For example, we do often get stuck with the long tail of journals that are only very marginally useful to us and that end up with no or almost no usage. We're also stuck with the package as our users get used to all this wonderful access so it gets harder to negotiate good prices as the publishers begin to sense that it becomes harder and harder to walk away from these deals the longer we have them.

Though not impossible.

Which brings me to our current issue at hand -- pricing fairness and transparency.

You see, one of the issues with the Big Deals, as with many of the agreements between libraries and our vendors, is that we often sign pricing non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs. In other words, we negotiate the best deal we can and then we don't tell anybody what that is. In fact, while we're negotiating those deals, we don't know what anyone else has paid either for the same package so we really don't know how good a deal our Big Deal is. And since so many of the pricing structures of the Big Deals are based on historical spending with those publishers, the more you used to spend, the more you will spend. Effectively, the incremental amount you spend for the rest of the publisher's offerings gets you much more if you didn't used to have a lot. It's hard to tell how much resistance there has been historically by libraries to NDAs because it's all shrouded in secrecy. After all, who wants to talk about how much we've been historically shafted with people who may have been shafted less. The resistance is starting, but only just.

Which further brings us to the recent revelations by mathematician Timothy Gowers about the situation in the UK and Theodore C. Bergstrom, Paul N. Courant, R. Preston McAfee, and Michael A. Williams about the situation in the US. (Some other countries as well, see list below.)

Those faculty members, not librarians mind you, issued Freedom of Information requests to all or most university libraries in their jurisdictions asking for publisher Big Deal pricing information, the information normally protected by NDA, and published their findings.

And they are quite shocking, to say the least. I won't recap it all here because the details are available in links below, but I will say that there is a dramatic and shocking discrepancy in what different institutions pay for the same content. So yes, the NDAs seem to work. The big publishers are able to extract more from us because we have less information about the negotiations than they do.

And thus the problem is one of collective action. We are like the proverbial lobsters in a pot, the water boils, the price rises, but we don't notice the gradual rise until we're dead, and then it's kind of too late. And to extend the culinary metaphor, there's a chicken and egg thing going on here too. How and why and when and where do we jump start collective action?

But those are rants from another day.

I've gone on long enough but before I close I will note Walt Crawford's Big-Deal Serial Purchasing: Tracking the Damage for an overview of the situation. Wayne Bivens-Tatum has some commentary here as well.

Also very relevant is investment adviser Claudio Aspesi's leaked advice to the industry, Reed Elsevier: Goodbye to Berlin - The Fading Threat of Open Access (Upgrade to Market-Perform). The message is basically that the open access/scholarly communications community is currently unable to come to any sort of effective collective action, so the big journal vendors, including Elsevier, will continue to reap both substantial subscription income as well as growing author processing charges. In other, they win and we lose. At least for now. The Loon has some cogent commentary on this as well. And the experience at Oklahoma University is also instructive.
 

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And as is my wont, I'll end with a chronological account of the recent Big Deal revelations. If I've missed anything significant please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca. I've bolded the two major sources of data and information to make them easier to find.

 

I note the October Freedom of Information requests made by Stuart Lawson to various UK universities. As far as I know, no one has done this for Canadian universities, either for Elsevier or for journal publishers more generally. Who's up to it, I wonder.

Let's do this. Any takers?

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