8 Deadly Words

There is a phrase that I have heard over the last few years, and every time I hear it my brow furrows, and my mouth gapes.  I stand there dumbstruck and incredulous, not believing that someone in my field, who I respect, would say such a thing.

It goes like this:

What does this have to do with libraries?

My God, I think to myself.  Do you really have so little imagination that you can’t envision how this could benefit our customers?  Do you not see where we are going as a profession that this is something that we should be exploring?

What this phrase says to me, every time I hear it, is that this individual has a preconceived notion about what libraries should and should not do.  Where she has drawn that line means that anything that crosses that line needs to be justified within the context of her preconceived notion.

This is the same sort of argument that people use when “working to rule.”  The parameters have been set to a low standard, and only that standard is required.  There is no need or desire to move beyond it, for to do so means you are doing more work then you need to do.  You meet your requirements and you go home.  The service is solely “at par,” nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe I’m just an overachiever by nature, but this smacks me too hard.  When I hear the 8 deadly words I know that someone’s mind has closed off.  That the ability to convince that person of this vision of the future is an uphill struggle.  That the person is living in a vision of the institution that is in the past, and only getting further and further behind.

As part of the information profession we have a duty to stay on top of how innovation is changing the way people interact with information.  How they access it is only a fraction of that.  The bigger piece of the pie is how this change, changes us all.  How does this shift change social structures.  How does it change culture, and how can we adapt to this new environment.

The future isn’t about eBooks.  It’s about how eBooks are created, distributed, and consumed.  It’s about how this will change the entire paradigm of publishing, and what that in turn will mean for Mega Corporations who own everything we read.  What would happen if the big six (now five, I guess, with Random Penguins) were to just crumble and a thousand little online distributors took their place?  How would we cope with that?  How is having access to 3D printers going to change the way we interact with mass produced goods?  How is localized print on demand books going to affect book stores?  How are albums that are being funded through Kickstarter and Indiegogo going to affect standard music distribution channels? What happens when cable companies dissolve and internet only services take off?  What happens when smart phones and tablets are so cheap that everyone can have one for next to nothing?  What about all of these contributions to free online resources like Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and the countless Open Source Software projects that people are working on every day.

This is a global paradigm shift we are living in.

It is touching every facet of our lives, and all of these things have implications not only in how libraries will operate, but what we will actually be in the 21st century.  If you’re not thinking about how to work through these issues, and how that’s going to change our culture, you’re not going to stay ahead of the game.  When your idea of the library is solely as a place where people read books, then you’ve already been left behind.

What we require going forward is a tremendous force of innovation, to overcome the inertia of “the way we’ve always done this.”  I would highly recommend reading Brian Mathews article “Facing the Future” about how libraries can think more like start-ups.  This isn’t just change for the sake of change. This adaptation for the sake of survival.

How Do You Research a Meme?

Fabulous CatThose of us in Library Land know how to track down quotes and texts and books and even images to a certain degree.  But when it comes to memes, it’s substantially more challenging.

In some cases other people have already done the work for you, like the awesome people at “Know Your Meme.”  But sometimes there isn’t a catchy moniker for your meme yet, or if there is, it be one that you don’t know yet.

But you start to see these images, and they just keep coming out.  So, lots of people have seen grumpy cat springing up lately.  He’s been telling people No, Bah Humbugging the holidays, refusing to take part in creation, and today someone put a towel on his head to make him look like a certain sci-fi emperor.  As you can see from the link there, we have a full identity and ownership of who has the grumpy cat and takes these pictures of him.

But grumpy cat isn’t my favorite.

My favorite internet cat is this little guy over there on the right.  So far, I don’t think he has an identity or internet history.  I’ve looked through “know your meme” and poked through places where I found this picture, but no dice.  I’m basically just calling him “Fabulous Cat” because this particular two part picture series was the first instance in which I saw him.

Fabulous cat has very distinctive eyes, jowls, and fur coloration on his head.  I can’t even figure out what breed this must be, but god help me he’s just too amazingly cute for me to contain myself.  Especially when he puts on those Jackie O sunglasses.

There are two more two panel memes of this cat that I must share to round out the evidence.

What you can tell from these images is that this is all the same cat. It has the same eyes, jowls, and head coloration with that white stripe down in between the two ginger patches, where the ginger over the right eye goes farther down the face than it does on the left.  There is a unique fade pattern over the left eye as well.

But what we don’t know is where these images are coming from.  The problem with meme research is that everyone and their brother posts these pictures and so tracing the origin point is like trying to trace your way back to the root of a fractal.

A lot of cat pictures have origins on forums like Reddit or 4Chan.  Once the original pictures find their way online the memes just start rolling out from random creators.

This leads to the second problem with researching memes.  These pictures are edited to add macro text.  And in doing so they lose all of the EXIF data.  Whenever you take a digital photo that photo also has a ton of data encoded with it.  So when you upload it to the internet, a lot of that data trail (like the type of camera used, date, time and if available geospatial location where it was taken) just follows the picture into the internet.  And if the picture were in that raw state we could theoretically open it up and take a look at that data.  However, because these photos are edited, and repackaged, all of that important researchable, backtrackable data is wiped out.

So, I don’t really have an answer as to how to do this yet.  I’m going to poke around for a while, try and find more pictures and data on Mr. Fabulous Cat and let you know what happens.  If you have any additional macros of Fabulous Cat, please share them.  Or if you have a lead on where Fabulous Cat may have come from, do let me know.  Because I want to know.  Primarily because I want to see more pictures of Fabulous Cat.
Update: Within one minute of posting this piece, on my Facebook I got a link from a friend who immediately sent me this link to Catsparella, identifying the cat as Snoopy.  So, I guess the answer to finding data about memes is through lazywebs.  Social searching to the rescue.  Thanks John.

What You Say Online – Minors Edition

Dude, why did you say that?

Over at my LJ I spent some time recounting this story of post-election bursts of racism, and talking about my own experiences growing up in one of these similar types of towns where it’s 99.999% white people and racism continues to rear its ugly head.  The quick version: Barack Obama wins the national election.  A bunch of racist people take to the internet to voice their racist opinions.  Some of these people saying these racist things were teens.

And that’s where things got interesting.

The folks over at Jezebel recognized that a bunch of these tweets were coming from teenagers, who posted a ton of their personal information online.  Their full legal name.  Their school.  Pictures of themselves in their school uniforms, or team uniforms. Details about potential recruiting for colleges, etc.  So, they started calling up the schools, and pointing out that these students were in pretty much every case violating the code of behavior for their student body, and not serving as a positive role model or representative of the school.  And then they wrote an article about it.  They named their names, their schools, and more.

Today, Read Write Web called out Jezebel for violating journalistic ethics by engaging in public harassment of minors. The argument from RWW is that traditional journalism respects that minors who commit criminal actions or who engage in inappropriate behavior would not normally be named in an article or on a news broadcast.  Juvenile court records can be sealed, and often are, to allow for the mistakes of a young person to not tarnish the potential for a normal adult life.  The salient component from the RWW article:

When a minor commits a crime in the real world, the cops know who the kid is, as do the neighbors and everyone in the community. The journalist covering the crime knows the kid’s name, and if anyone wanted to, they could find out the minor’s name just by pulling up the public police report.

And this is where the internet is different, and it’s a point that I addressed in my personal blog.  Writing something on the internet doesn’t stay in your little town.  It is something that is PUBLISHED.  By putting your name, your location, and your words out there for anyone in the public to see, you are inviting the criticism of the world, and engaging in the very same game that publishers and journalists have been playing in for years.  The internet pierces the bubble of the local domain and expands your influence to the entire world.

This is why a viral video can spark an embassy attack.

What you do online means something, and it has consequences.  Some people are being visited by the Secret Service because they made threats against the President on Twitter.  It’s gravely serious.

So, the question is, should this news outlet publicly state the names of these teens who posted racist tweets?  I am standing by Jezebel on this one.  These teens already put themselves out there.  They may not have realized what they were doing would have such a profound impact, or even be picked up as national news.  And that is a failure of educating kids about how the internet works.  These kids probably thought that nobody read their stuff, and that they were just writing for their friends.  When in reality, what they are saying, however inane it might be, is viewable by anyone.  And that is the wake up call that they all just received.

This is core information literacy stuff right here.  Developing an online reputation, managing your personal information, exercising care and caution in what you say and how you say it to people.  All of these things are important, and kids don’t get it.  And with caching, and archiving, they will be subjected to the words they put out when they were at their most vulnerable.

I recall reading an article about a high school that developed an internal social network for their students.  The purpose of this social network was to give the students a kind of internet training-wheels so that they could experiment in a controlled environment before they went and swam in the deep end of the pool (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)  The student would spend the year in that environment, play around in it, get comfortable with it, and then slowly they would start to slip up, and then have a consultation with one of the faculty members or the principal.  The purpose of this exercise was to develop an understanding of what you say online, and how this can negatively affect you.  This absolutely needs to be incorporated into early education, and I’m talking like children 10 years old or less.  This is not intended to scare the kids, but to teach the kids about the lasting impact they will leave on the world, and the trail of information that may be used against them, even from when they are very, very young.

At the library we see kids on the internet pretty much all day long.  Some of these very young kids are on facebook and they are sharing pictures with each other. I will guarantee you that probably not a single one of them understands the privacy settings.  Hell, most adults don’t understand them.  And beyond that, they’re not thinking about what these pictures may say 10, 20, 30 years down the road.  And they absolutely need to learn that.  Being online isn’t a game.  It’s real.  And the consequences can haunt you forever.

Your Words Speak For Themselves

Today a friend of mine posted the link from Lifehacker about the new Wolfram-Alpha Facebook Analytics app.  Being a huge fan of Wolfram-Alpha, Facebook, and introspective self-analysis, I thought this was a brilliant idea.  And it was!  I learned a lot about myself and my friends’ perceptions of me.  My most liked picture was of me drinking a bottle of wine in Paris, and my most commented picture was a copy of “A Dance with Dragons” with the elated “AAAAHHH!  ITS OUT!”

But what I want to focus on right now is something I found much more revealing.  The most frequently used words from my Facebook posts.

My Most frequently used words on Facebook.

When looking at this list I am struck by the fact that the word “Love” is among them.  It’s literally in the top ten things I say out of all the words in the English language.  There is also a sense of immediacy here, as “Day,” “Today,” “Now,” and “Time” can attest.  But Facebook status updates are often about the now, and less about the past.  Though “Going” implies the future, and where I’m headed.  “Think” and “Know” illustrate that I am bound up in my mind, and my sense of understanding (true or not).  “People” comes first, and after that “One.”  Perhaps that’s my communal nature showing itself; E Pluribus Unum.

Facebook is the pulse of where I am now.  It’s where I spend a lot of my time online, and where I communicate with people that I care about in a very real and tangible way.  It’s rare for me to friend someone who I’ve never met in person, or someone who is only tangentially connected to me.  So there is truly a sense of love in the now there.  Strange that I would feel that way about connecting to people through a website.

But this got me thinking.  I’ve only been on Facebook since March of 2008.  I’ve been on Livejournal for nearly a decade!  I joined LJ in August of 2003, and for the most part I used LJ in a very similar way of connecting with friends, sharing silly status updates, writing blog posts and doing memes.  So, let’s look at my LJ Tags.

My LiveJournal Tags ranked by Frequency of Use

True to LiveJournal’s roots in the deep old beginnings of Web 2.0, there was no good way for me to extract my tag data.  So I went to my tag page, copied it out and ported it to Excel.  Maybe I’m being too harsh.  I honestly didn’t bother to go looking for an app or a tool to export my LJ tag data, but surely one must exist.

Anyhow, I love the top ten list, because they are a perfect picture of who I used to be.  That’s right, I feel like in a lot of ways this data is really me five years ago.

Faeries refers to the Radical Faeries, a kind of anarcho-communist radical queer spiritual movement.  I used to live and breathe Radical Faeries.  But not so much any more.  Our local circle has broken apart like a dandelion and blown to the four winds, and I haven’t been to a gathering proper in about 4 years or so.  Though the Philly Gatherette two years ago did rekindle something in my soul, I still don’t feel as connected to Faeries as I used to.  Silliness, Books, and Music however are still very high on my priority list.  And though the JOB has changed, it still ranks high as well.

Store is the tag that cuts the most.  It’s a latent reminder that I had a dream of running a metaphysical shop.  I even did for a while with a good friend of mine.  But the economy was shit and Pagans barely want to pay for classes, much less books and supplies.  So, we closed it.  It is firmly a part of my past, and seeing it there in the top ten reminds me how old this list is to my life.

Bitchery is the one I’m least proud of.  It is the tag I use for venting about things that annoy me, regardless of their severity.  From something problematic at work to the cold blooded depths of conservative rhetoric.  That’s what’s stored in the bitchery tag.  Though I feel that “commentary” and “introspection” lean me back into the more reflective state that I prefer to share with the world now.

I am somewhat relieved to see that “queer” comes before “memes” but the frequency of the memes tag says a lot about the age of this page.  Remember that article I wrote about how much I hate memes.  Yeah.  Well, we all grow up, right?  uh, right?  Well, maybe “Comics,” “TV” and “Anime” say something about the state of my grown-up-ness.  But even there I feel I’ve changed a lot.  My reading tastes have floated back to non-fiction and novels, and graphic novels have become much less frequent in my life.  Though I still love them.  And anime is nearly non-existent to me now.  Sad.

My WordPress Tag cloud

But if Livejournal is the snapshot of what my life used to be (even though I still use it from time to time to talk about other stuff), then this WordPress account is the snapshot of where my brain is now.  I’ve had this account since Feb 2011, so about a year and a half now.

I went into this WordPress project with a lot of focus.  This was going to be my professional site, and I was going to use this venue to sort out the content for my work related commentary, and push the content that was more focused on gender, queer stuff, and spirituality to my Livejournal.  And I think that focus really shows.  “Libraries,” “Google,” “Books,” and “Ebooks,” are the four largest elements here.  That’s definitely intentional.  This blog really looks at how these new technologies change and shape our experiences with library culture, and I spend a lot of time thinking about where these things can lead us.

I will also say that the volume of content on this blog is substantially smaller than in both Facebook and Livejournal, which have a rich background of years of data to analyze.  The relative newness and the focus of this blog means that only a few things will rise to the top, because there isn’t as much to draw from.  Also, this page is not the same kind of social experiment that LJ or Facebook is.  This is a content sharing system, but the level of social interaction through a WordPress page is (at least in my experience) substantially lower.  Not everyone is going to WordPress to catch up with their friends.  Rather it’s a place where people share articles like this.

In looking at all of this data about myself, I see my own personal growth.  It’s a story of a maturing adult, still playful, living in the new, but always exploring new things.

There’s a burgeoning field of literary and historical analysis called “culturomics” where people use the vast, scanned body of literature in Google’s ebook database to mine through for instances of words being used throughout the whole of published literature.  It’s incredibly fascinating.  And I believe that this exercise tonight is something that may be applied in the future when we study the lives and works of individuals.  Looking at their tag clouds, or analyzing the density or frequency of word use can tell you something very different than the meaning embedded in their sentences.  Breaking words from their context shows you an individual’s preoccupations.  Putting those two things side-by-side tells you what they said as well as reveals their focus.

Maybe it’s narcissistic to want to be the subject of future historian’s data analysis projects, but damn if I don’t want to be there!

Patenting a Rectangle

Let’s all move to Octagons.

This week in bizarro patent law drama, a jury found that Samsung violated patents held by Apple corporation which included among them a patent on the rectangular shape of the phone.  The jury awarded damages in the amount of $1 billion to Apple, which amazingly was around a third of what Apple asked for in damages based on market share.

This is obviously a horrible abuse of patent law, and just continues to underscore the very deep need for reform in the American patent system.  There should be no way possible to patent something so basic and obvious as a shape.

So, now Samsung has to either a) pay to license the fucking shape of a phone, or b) come up with something new.

I say that something new is already out there.

In the megahit sci-fi reboot of Battlestar Galactica there was a pervasive use of octagonal paper.

When life tells you rectangles are patented,  you make octagons.

I see this as the wave of the future.  The workaround for all future generations is to create a general public license on octagons, that forbids anyone from claiming direct ownership of the form.  And all future generations will live in the BSG world of our dreams.

My First Computer

The Commodore 128d.

Gizmodo has a great little article on remembering your first time using a computer.  My first go round was a Commodore 64 when I was in middle school in the 80′s.  My parents bought one as well, and we used to play some early games on it.  Later on the school got Apples, and at home we upgraded to the Commodore 128d.  I was a whiz with that thing.  I was programming music melodies into it, and almost got my folks to commit to a modem, but they weren’t buying it.  :(  War Games must have just turned them off to what I could have done online.   God help me, I could have been a terror.
But all of this nostalgia makes me realize that this is all part of a moment, and one that we’ll not experience again.  The children who come to my library are exposed to computers before they can read on their own, while their brains are still forming.  Remember the iPad baby?  She will always live in a world where the iPad is a method of reading things online.  Sure, iPads may be a fad, and may fall out of fashion, but there’s really no turning back the clock for working with computers, reading documents online, playing games, socializing with friends through the internet, and on and on and on.

Every year Beloit college does the incoming freshman mindset list.  Theoretically this is supposed to give the professors perspective on what their students are like, by placing their life experiences within context of popular culture and technological advancement.  No child born today will be able to remember his or her first computer, because they will have used a computer before they can develop long term memories.

I don’t necessarily see a problem with this, but I feel this kind of nostalgic question has to be contextualized.   Sure they may be able to remember outdated models of computers that their families had at home, but that’s about it.  We’ve seen the last generation who can actually answer this question.

Pirates in the House

I think someone in the House needs to have a Crucial Conversation with the IT department.

Today I learned via BoingBoing that Torrent Freak had done some research into what the good folks over at the U.S. House of Representatives have been downloading on BitTorrent.  Yes, that’s right.  While drafting legislation to prevent piracy on the internet, some folks who work there were downloading books, movies, and porn.  Yes, porn.

But I’m not going to talk about the porn.  Much as I would love to get into that.  I want to focus instead on the books again.

The first one that TorrentFreak posted was Crucial Conversations. For those unfamiliar this is a popular business/management book that teaches people how to hold conversations when the stakes are high and they probably need to explain why something is happening that people don’t like.  You could imagine why people in Congress would need this book.

As I mentioned the other day, there are numerous publishers who are backing SOPA.  One of those publishers is McGraw-Hill, the publisher of Crucial Conversations.

Similarly, Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World’s Best Kept Secrets and the How Things Work Encyclopedia were downloaded in the House.  Both of these titles are published by DK Press, a division of Penguin.  Penguin, is also backing SOPA.

Now, I’m not going to spend time going combing through the all the IP addresses of the House of Representatives on YouHaveDownloaded.com, but if anyone else does, and they find more pirated books please let me know.  Especially if those books are from publishing companies that are supporting SOPA.

Who’s Supporting SOPA? Publishers.

Loads of people have published the list of organizations and businesses who are supporting SOPA.  But not everyone knows what these companies are or what they do.  And looking at that four page list is kind of overwhelming to say the least.  So I’ve put together a little pie chart to help you wrap your brain around where this is coming from.  Take a look.

This chart shows the raw number of supporters per industry type who are listed on the House Judiciary Committee list supporting SOPA*.  I’ve removed all the law firms because damn near every one of them bailed for being misrepresented as supporting the bill.  There were 19 of them in this list. I’ve also removed the Graphic Artists Guild who also dropped the bill.  But everyone else I’ve left in here.

It’s no surprise really that Music is the largest industry represented here.  Music was the first battleground in internet change in the early 2000′s (see Napster).  Similarly the Movies and Television categories are no surprise either.  Of course Law Enforcement advocacy groups are in favor, because increases in enforcement mean expanding budgets.  And it’s definitely a sign of the times that the second largest group in favor right now are publishing companies.  Further down the chain you start to get into some quirky political action committees and luxury brands who are probably looking to crack down on counterfeiting.

But as I’m a librarian, I’m going to focus on the publishers for now.  Here’s the list as I see it.

Association of American Publishers (AAP)
Cengage Learning
Disney Publishing Worldwide, Inc.
Elsevier
Hachette Book Group
HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide
Hyperion
Macmillan
Marvel Entertainment
McGraw-Hill Education
MPA – The Association of Magazine Media
News Corporation
Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
Random House
Scholastic, Inc.
The Perseus Books Groups
W.W. Norton & Company
Wolters Kluewer Health

A couple of things jump out at me looking at this list.

Academic Publishing

The first being the academic publishing powerhouses that are Elsevier, Gale (via Cengage), W.W. Norton and Wolters Kluewer.  Elsevier owns nearly every academic journal that is published in the world, and they charge a bloody fortune for access to those journals.  Gale/Cengage provide a number of research databases, as does Wolters Kluewer.  And Norton is a publisher of many things, but primarily academic textbooks, as is McGraw Hill.

Publishers with eBook Axes to Grind

Harper Collins was noted earlier this year for changing their eBook access privileges to library eBook vendor Overdrive, where their eBooks will self destruct after 26 checkouts.  Penguin also got into some drama with Overdrive access privileges this November, when, during a dispute with Amazon.com, they chose to pull all of their eBooks from Overdrive.  Access was restored fairly swiftly as negotiations resumed, but that spectre of loss is still kind of looming. Similarly, Hachette Book Group pulled all of its titles from all of the eBook distribution channels in 2009 and even up to August of this year was still trying to sort out what to do with library access.

Hot Properties

Marvel and Disney (though Disney owns Marvel) own a lot of tradmarked characters, and they enforce the shit out of those trademarks.  I remember going to the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at New York Comic Con a few years ago.  There was a panel discussion on fan fiction and they had folks from Dark Horse, Marvel and Nickelodeon.  I remember vividly that the folks from Dark Horse were all about fan fiction, and that they mine sites like Deviant Art to scout new talent.  Similarly the guy who produces Avatar: the Last Airbender was really supportive of fan fiction as a way of encouraging children to be creative and tell new stories.  The guy from Marvel, sue the shit out of those fan fiction people (paraphrasing).  The look of aghast horror on the faces of the other panel members was priceless.  But it definitely made the point, and its the point that comic book companies and the Disney corporation have been making for decades.  These properties belong to us, and you can not use them for any reason.  As for Scholastic, I’m sure you’ve heard of Harry Potter.

Now, all of the groups that I’ve listed here are pretty strictly print/ebook publishers or advocacy groups that focus on publishing rights.  There are plenty of other crossover companies like Time Warner, which I classed as a television company, but also produces books and films.  So if you want to quibble with my numbers you can find them here.  Sorry that this is kind of sucky looking, but Scribd kind of breaks the formatting a LOT.


* In my original analysis I had tagged Pearson Education as a publisher, and its identified as such in the Scribd document, but looking closer into them they are more of a web education portal developer, kind of like Blackboard. I’ve removed them from the table on this article, but the number is still in the pie chart. So the pie chart number of publishers should be reduced to 17. Which is still the second largest industry involved in this piece of legislation.

Signal to Noise

Far From Home by user Robert82 on sxc.hu

One of these days, we'll figure out where we're going.

I’m just going to free associate on some ideas that have been bumping around in my head lately.

I had a conversation with my husband the other day about the increasing irrelevance of the Recording Industry to the lives of artists*.  It used to be that the big labels were the ones who had access to the incredibly expensive recording equipment that made the manufacture of albums, then casettes, then CDs.  Studio time was expensive and the labels could afford to front the costs for studios to lay down hours and hours of tracks to produce an album.

However, over time, that recording equipment became less expensive and professionals and hobbyists alike would be able to acquire multi-channel mixers and multi-track recording equipment.  My dad had a four-track tape recording system in the barn where his band practiced. It was one of the most awesome things I had seen with four tapes rolling in sync with each other.  Nowadays, with a few thousand dollars you could have a studio rig to rival the semi-professional studio spaces you can find in droves in every major city.

Pressing records is another thing that has also turned into a boutique niche for record companies.  In 2008 digital downloads surpassed record sales, and it never turned back.  And I’m using “record” here loosely to mean a physical object that you put into a listening device.  More people download their music through iTunes or AmazonMP3 than go to record stores.

But now we have people who through the use of their home recording studios and the ubiquity of digital download services are increasing the volume of music that’s being produced and the volume of music that end user sees just increases and increases.

So, the one valuable thing that the Recording Industry has a hold of is the Filter that says “This is hot. This is not.”  But even that is changing.  Spotify this week announced that they were opening their API to allow for app development.  Now, some people, like myself, said “an app for your app?”  But think about this for a moment.  By opening their API to outside development, individual users, like you and I, could create our own filter for the music that we appreciate and like and want to share with our friends, and the world.

And that’s a valuable development, that kind of mirrors where the internet is taking society, moving content curation out of the hands of “experts” and people who have a financial interest in the product, and putting it in the hands of users who enjoy that content.

But what does this mean for the library?

As an institution we have always been a place that has had a certain level of cache that we have maintained for centuries: the place to find what you’re looking for.  While the library has never been a place that has been able to hold the entire spectrum of human knowledge, it has always been a place that one could expect a level of expertise in selecting works that would be of value to a community.  Whether that be a community of scholars or a village of farmers.  Out of all of the mass of human literature, the library has selected, cataloged and made available a particular collection.  Every library is unique, and their collection policies help develop that vision of each unique place.

So, as we move into a digital future, where printed books become luxury items (like vinyl is for music afficionados today), and eBooks explode into stratospheric proportions (which we’re already seeing via Amazon and Barnes & Noble circumventing traditional publishing models), the question of what becomes of the library still stands.  And I believe that content curation is going to remain extremely valuable.  However, as we see with Spotify, user driven filters to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio will also start to arise.

Then the primary concern becomes one of access to resources.  If the eBook market still prices works at an inaccessible rate for the average consumer, and especially the poor consumer, then providing access to users via a shared system, such as the library is the only way to make that happen.

Among the people on the Digital Public Library of America initiative there has been a lot of back and forth about being able to acquire current works and make them available via DPLA.  In our current state of publishing, this is extremely challenging.  Publishers barely want to provide access to their works to libraries at all.  Many of the major publishers have been pulling out of consortium vendors like Overdrive, even though there are very rigid DRM practices in place.  However, if through a service like DPLA, libraries would be able to provide access to a very broad body of freely available contemporary works, or at least eBook editions of works that are available via their physical collections, then we’re talking about a future for digital libraries.  By participating in a national level consortium effort for eBooks libraries could reap an extremely high benefit. The library then becomes an API, enhancing user experiences in navigating the world’s aggregated content.  The Library as a space becomes useful in other ways, as a collaboration zone, content creation space, a place to explore new technologies in a hands-on way, and a place to read when you don’t have access to read on your own, or get a physical copy on demand if you need one.

I guess the road that I’ve been walking down here is one that we cover as librarians all the time, i.e. what is the difference between a collection and an aggregation.  If you think about The Internet, all of it, it’s incomprehensible to imagine that anyone would ever be able to cull out of its vastness an island of reliable sources and valuable sites.  But search engines have developed massive algorithms to analyze this major body of work and help items float to the top.  The Internet is an aggregation of content.  The top 10 hits you get from a search engine (provided you phrased your query well) are the collection that the algorithm has selected for you.  Out of all of the body of literature in the world, the aggregate body of human works, a Library makes a careful selection based on a number of factors, to craft a collection.  The recording industry is in the business of boosting the signal against the noise, promoting those artists who they believed to be a cut above the rest to give them national or global exposure.  The Library is also in the business of boosting signal against the noise, promoting those books that they believe to be more relevant to a community than others.  As we think about the future of the library we’re going to have to ask bigger questions about content curation, participation across cities, states and national boundaries, and about what libraries as physical spaces mean to local communities in the context of these much bigger endeavors.

Edited to Add:

I’m just going to go ahead and update this as I woke up thinking about it.  Nearly the entirety of the piece above ignores the entire lesson learned from the Recording Industry.  That innovations that respect the consumers and the creators will continue to flatten out the hierarchical systems that we’ve built over time.  If we’ve learned anything from Wikipedia it’s that with a few simple rules everyone in the world can create an up-to-date, encyclopedia.  Though experts participate, this product is one that is curated by everyone collectively.  Different people, with different bodies of knowledge contribute collectively and it all gets sorted out by everyone together.

I’ve been drinking my own Kool-Aid.

In continuing this exploration though I want to consider the possibility that not everyone is as web savvy as everyone else.  That children who grow up in poverty, may not be versed in the ways of the Internet.  That educators and intercessors to help people will always be necessary.  Innovations keep coming rapidly and we should be able to respond to them in the moment of need.  Adults, who are no longer in school, may need a venue to explore and learn new things from other human beings.  Exploration space, as I mentioned in the preceding article, is more than likely what we’ll need to be.  Attempting to boost signal against noise is a noble goal, but may not be our primary selling point.  Service and human interaction may be the rule of tomorrow.

 

 


* Yes, this is the kind of conversation that I have with my husband.  We didn’t get married for nothing!  Okay, it was the insurance, but excellent conversations are really high up there in the reasons.

Copy Pasters Saved My Bibliography

It’s no big secret that I’m Pagan.  I talk to people about it all the time, and there was a period in my life when I was much more actively writing articles for Pagan websites.  I kind of got out of the habit of it around 2005/2006 when I began doing some occasional work for White Crane, a Journal of Gay Men’s Spirituality.  Those occasional pieces eventually winnowed down as well and now I just write for my own blogs.

But I had taken for granted that the sites to which I’d originally submitted my work would maintain those articles.  Boy was I wrong!

In the early 2000′s I had contributed a couple of articles to The Witch’s Voice website.  This is a long running site that has been providing a platform for Pagan voices who wish to share their own discoveries within their faith traditions.  Three of the articles I had written there were linked on my web resume as part of my personal bibliography.

For whatever reason, I wanted to share the article I wrote on the ecstatic, spiritual experience in dance music with someone recently.  However, when I went to pull that link I was greeted with this page.

Sorry, we only keep your work as long as you keep chatting.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on WitchVox. They’re a great site, and they do a lot of good things.  And sure, they probably had to dump some content.  I can understand that.  Well, maybe not, given that you can just go to BestBuy and get a terabyte server or that you can pay for unlimited bandwidth for next to nothing a month.  But whatever.  They had to make a decision, and they chose to bump articles from people who didn’t have active profiles.

So, how was I going to get my articles back?  My first shot was to check the Internet Archive.  Sadly, they didn’t index the entire site, and the caches that they had for my articles only turned up one of them.  Incidentally it was my favorite article I wrote on WitchVox, about how the Passion of the Christ can be viewed through the lens of Roman ritual sacrifice.  That piece got more hits than anything I’ve ever written, mostly because it got picked up by MetaFilter and reblogged hundreds of times, with ALL kinds of back and forth about it.  I even remember getting some feedback from Fritz at WV that it was one of the most hit articles that they had ever hosted.  I was shocked and proud.  And now it lives on via the WayBack machine.  But the other two I had to go elsewhere.

Both of the articles found homes on other sites that had similar interests to mine.  My article Holy Rave: Sacred Ecstatic Dance Music was picked up four years after it had originally been published and republished on the Gay Witch Network, buried somewhere in their blog pages.  I don’t even know who reshared it.  But they faithfully copied the entire article word for word.  Similarly Rin Daemoko at OccultForum.org copied and pasted my article Secrecy as Power/Proclamation as Power within days of my having written it.  Now, I don’t remember ever giving Rin permission, but without his having copied that article over I would have lost it to the ether.

If it hadn’t been for these two people who copied and repasted my article on their forums, and the Internet Archive caching my page I would have lost these pieces of my bibliography forever.  I’ve reblogged all my articles over at my LiveJournal just to have another backup of the text.  But its original home is gone.

A lot of people I know get bent out of shape over people “stealing their content” by reblogging it somewhere else.  But let this be a cautionary tale.  If you’ve got your content in one place, you’re at risk.  There’s no guarantee that your publisher will keep your work alive.  But fans, people who love your work and want to share it with their circles of friends will want to keep it alive.  They will do what they can to keep copies of your work in the hands of the people who need it.

Consider that.