Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 9: September 2008


Pointing with Pride, Part 5

Two of these issues were “anniversary” issues, so there’s a little less novel material than usual. I misnumbered three issues in 2002 (in each case with the whole number one lower than it should have been), correcting the problem in the Silver Edition. Such is life.

April 2001: Number 5

“Go away!” That’s what I urged people to do in the lead Perspective—and, by the way, did you take a vacation this summer? A real vacation—one that involves ignoring email (and blogs and…) and probably leaving town? I got a little snarky about those who don’t do vacations:

A message to those of you who really are too busy busy busy to take this seriously. Don’t just skip the rest of this essay. Do yourself a favor: stop reading Cites & Insights altogether. If you’re that important, I’m too far below your level to be worth reading. I don’t understand how deadly serious life is and the importance of every waking moment to the furtherance of your career. I haven’t even been willing to reformat Cites & Insights as a single-column text so that you can zip through it on the screen or, better yet, in plain HTML so you can dump it onto your PDA. I just don’t get it, and it’s not likely that I’ll start. You’re reading the wrong publication. Sorry. I would say I’ll miss you, but since I don’t know who reads this (other than the 200+ on the CI:CAL Alert list), I won’t know you’re gone. My loss, I know. Goodbye. I hope your seriousness and intensity don’t cause an early heart attack (although the odds aren’t good).

I do provide HTML versions of most essays now. I’m still not entirely convinced it’s a good idea. (There were more than 400 on the Alert list—before Topica made it impossible for me to post to it.) The essay also suggested shorter breaks and contemplation. I still suspect that spending half an hour a week on pure contemplation is “the toughest step of all.” How am I doing? The walks to and from lunch—no music, no nothing—take at least half an hour a day, but I’m not sure those count as contemplation.

The Convergence Chronicles focused on another one of those great “percentage growth” stories, one that seemed to show that video-on-demand would be more important than “home video” (mostly rentals back then, heavily sales now)—because it was projected to grow 25% a year from 2001 through 2005 while “home video” growth would slow to a mere 5% a year. Translated into actual numbers, however, the projection meant that video on demand (and pay per view and direct-broadcast satellite) would, if the projections were right, have amounted to something like 8% of home video revenues in 2005. But that’s not nearly as interesting. (I have no idea what actually happened. I can guess that Netflix and the rise in “sell-through” for DVDs—the fact that they’re heavily purchased rather than rented—combined to mess up those neat projections quite a bit. Video on demand as a major segment of the video marketplace? Not so much.)

Then there was a piece on copyright and ethics, related to a Web4Lib discussion and one of Tennant’s Tenets, when he declared “Copyright is dead” in a Computers in Libraries speech. I offered a dozen scenarios. Here they are for your consideration:

I thought I’d set out a handful of scenarios involving intellectual property. I leave it to you to consider the ethics of each situation. For the first few, let’s take one of Roy Tennant’s columns in Library Journal—since, as he notes, those columns are posted on LJ’s Web site for anyone to read or download.

Ø  I find one of the columns so magnificent that I extol its virtues on my own Web site and provide a link to it.

Ø  As part of my new Libraries 2.0 commercial Web site, I link to the column—but bring it up within my own frame, so that it appears to be material prepared for Libraries 2.0.

Ø  Rather than linking to it, I download it and include it—in full, including Roy’s byline—in the next Cites & Insights.

Ø  I think it’s a wonderful article, so I mention it in “Press Watch 1” with a brief description, a pointer, and some commentary.

Ø  I realize that I really wish I had said it first—so I download it, strip off the byline, and include it in Cites & Insights—or, better yet, send it off to another publication under my own name.

Ø  For an article in Libraries 2.0, I use each of the facts and interpretations in Roy’s article, but I revise the sentences so that it’s not a word-for-word copy. I run it under my own byline.

Which of those cases raises ethical issues? Which raise legal issues?

Consider a few other examples

Ø  I buy a DVD and take it home to play on my Linux PC. Oops: there’s no DVD software for Linux. So I download DeCSS, which indirectly makes it possible for me to enjoy the DVD.

Ø  I think CDs cost too much, so I find the songs I want using Gnutella or other peer-to-peer technology. I’m deaf enough to think that 128K MP3 is high fidelity, so I’m happy.

Ø  I burn those Gnutella-acquired MP3s onto CDs and give them to my friends.

Ø  I encode my own favorite songs, from CDs that I’ve purchased, in high-rate MP3 (256K), then create my own custom CDs to use with my portable MP3/CD player.

Ø  I copy my own favorite songs in .WAV form (essentially audio CD format) and burn them onto audio CDs for my own use.

Ø  My mix of songs is so great that friends offer to buy copies, which I sell to them for a reasonable price—say, $6 for an 80-minute mix CD.

That’s an even dozen scenarios. In at least two cases, I believe that the legal situation and ethical situation are at odds. In a future edition, I’ll offer my own opinion as to the ethical issues. Since I’m not a lawyer, I won’t attempt to assess the legalities (although there are only one or two questionable cases).

Discuss among yourselves. I’ll reprint my own opinion next time around, along with cases where I’ve changed my mind.

January 2002: Number 15

I tried holding a “semiannual Cites & Insights gathering” during Midwinter. It was not, shall we say, a howling success. A quadrennial version may be more plausible (the session in San Antonio more recently was fun)… That issue also had a diatribe about “self-promoting library internet thought leaders”—but it wasn’t about any of the usual suspects. (Oh, go read Bibs & Blather.)

Remember iPublish? I didn’t think so. It was an initiative from Time Warner “not only [to] sell original ebooks but to discover talent and introduce new authors via ebooks to the reading community.” The operation ran clever ads and had an interesting concept: Manuscripts would all be read (an “open-door policy” for manuscripts), the best ones would become ebooks, and good-selling ebooks would be published in print. In practice, it didn’t work. The division burned through $13 million over two years, peaked at 29 employees, and during the six months of its open-door policy only managed to find nine authors deemed worth publishing in ebook and print-on-demand form. Turns out it cost much more to find new books through the open-door policy than through traditional agents. Time Warner shut it down.

I covered that in an Ebook Watch that was sadder than some, at least for me. MightyWords had a wonderful idea for its time: provide edistribution for “midrange” nonfiction (shorter than a book, longer than an article), charge authors $1 a month for storage and let authors set prices for downloads and keep half the proceeds. The wide-open approach foundered and MightyWords focused on business-to-business documents. But it never really grew and was shut down. In this case, to be sure, later developments make the whole thing moot: Lulu provides “edistribution” (that is, an online store) for no dollars a month and takes 20% (not 50%) of the author-set prices for PDF downloads. I’d been contemplating MightyWords for a paid version of Cites & Insights. I’m glad that didn’t happen—among other things, I’m not sure I could justify paying $107 a month (growing by $1 a month) just to keep back issues of C&I available!

There was the Franklin eBookman, which was being advertised but (as I noted) with ads always showing PDA-like menus on the screens, never ebooklike text. It didn’t do terribly well: In the second quarter of 2001, Franklin paid out more for returned devices than it took in for newly-sold ones. Shutdown was a year away at that point.

Aha! “It” finally emerged—and, of course, I greeted It with a Huey Lewis title: “So this is It?” The hype for what turned out to be the Segway Human Transporter was wildly overblown; the reality underwhelming. I noted how easy it was to go 12 miles an hour on a $300 bicycle that never needs charging (as opposed to what I assumed was a $3,000 price for the Segway) and wouldn’t be limited to 11 miles travel between charges (the original figure for the Segway, now 15-25 miles). Others noted that the Segway seemed designed to discourage walking at a time when we could use a lot more calorie-burning exercise. The company expected to sell 50,000 to 100,000 units in the first 13 months (by January 2003). Actual sales: 6,000 in 2003 and a total of 23,500 through September 2006.

Getting it wrong: Reporting on a premature projection of LCD monitors affecting CRT sales, I said this in January 2002:

I believe traditional CRTs will eventually fade to niche status in the display market (although it’s not clear that LCDs will be the eventual winner)—but that’s still going to take a while. Larger monitors are gaining favor (20% of CRT sales were 18"-viewable), and larger LCDs are still brutally expensive.

“A while” is vague, but I’m guessing I thought it would take six years or more—in which case, I was wrong. Prices for large LCDs came down fairly rapidly; their other advantages remained strong and improved. I’m not sure at what point CRTs finally did start fading to niche status, but it was probably no later than 2006.

Silver Edition (Mid-August 2002): Number 25

Oddly enough, the Silver Edition was not an excuse to reuse old material. Instead, it was a convenient hook for an extra issue catching up on original essays and long-term perspectives. At the time, I said I planned to do similar things at other 25-issue marks—and that was probably a good idea, given the “success” of the 75th issue (see below).

On the other hand, I had no idea in August 2002 whether C&I would even reach the half-century mark. I was “more-or-less committed” to 41 issues, the number needed to make an even hundred when combined with “Trailing Edge Notes” and “Crawford’s Corner.”

What’s in this issue, other than a commentary on the first 24 issues?

       Thinking about the Major Themes—a summary of where I stood on filtering (censorware), imbalanced copyright and ebooks/etext. (Yes, the themes have changed over time.)

       Who’s out there—a readership profile based on CICAL Alert, the now-defunct mailing list.

       A historical perspective on the first seven years of DVD. Not that DVD had been around seven years (it hadn’t), but proposals for 12cm “video CDs” started in 1995 or earlier. DVD  showed up for real in 1997, mattered in 1998, and became a mass medium in 1999. At that point, “forecasters no longer spoke of VHS being swept away by DVD”—but it happened, if later than originally anticipated.

       Finding the ways that work: My thoughts on what I’d now call pragmatic opportunities.

       Hits and misses in the early days of Cites & Insights.

       And an updated version of my credo, my core set of beliefs about libraries. That nine-part credo’s worth reprinting here, and I’ll stand by it six years later:

Good public and academic libraries are both physical institutions and sets of services. They serve a variety of purposes within real communities and colleges, and some of those purposes can only be served effectively through physical libraries.

We will continue to see revolutionary predictions based on oversimplification, bad economics, infatuation with technology and failure to appreciate people. Librarians who fall prey to such predictions will suffer, as will their users. Librarians and library supporters must be ready to challenge unlikely projections, analyze faulty economics and assert the need for choice and the importance of history and the present.

Technology and media will continue to interact in unexpected ways, but ways that will lead to more rather than fewer media. Different media serve different kinds of stories well, and new media should enable new kinds of stories—but the kinds of stories that books serve continue to be critically important for libraries.

Print books will survive, and will continue to be at the core of all good public libraries and the humanities and social science portions of good academic libraries.

All libraries and librarians need to deal with increasing complexity, not as “transitional” issues but as the reality of today and tomorrow.

Libraries must serve users—all users, not just today’s primary users. There’s a difference between being user-oriented and pandering, and it’s a difference librarians should understand.

Libraries matter and librarians should build from strength. There are many fine public libraries and many more that do remarkable work with inadequate resources. The goal should be to improve and diversify from what libraries do well, not to abandon existing services and collections in search of some monolithic futures, whether all-digital or otherwise.

Libraries will change, just as they have been changing for decades. Good libraries will maintain live mission statements—and the missions won’t change rapidly.

Effective libraries build communities, and the need and desire for real communities will continue to grow. Libraries that work with their communities should prosper; those that ignore their communities will shrivel.

May 2003: Number 35

I recalled going to Alaska Library Association and Washington Library Association a month apart—and pondered what ALA Annual would look like if ALA got anything like AkLA’s turnout (90% of AkLA members were at the conference). The AkLA conference included four plenary sessions, 41 other programs, 20+ roundtables and business meetings, six preconferences, three receptions and a banquet, 70 presenters…all for a group of 225 librarians.

I couldn’t help poking fun at ALA’s website, offering a sample “new URL” for the issue of Cites & Insights: Cowlz.BoiseState.Edu/COWLZ/Con­sortium_of_Web-based_Library_Zines_and_Newsletters/Content/Navigation_frame/Navigation/Members/Founding_Mem­bers/CICAL/Cites_&_Insights/Cites_&_Insights:_Crawford_at_Large/Home/Issues/Issues_List/Chronological/Volume_3/Issue_6/Cites_and_insights_Volume_3_Issue_6/civ3i6.pdf

Was I overstating the problem? Maybe. I wasn’t the only one a bit unhappy about the ALA redesign. Another redesign is on the way. This time for sure?

I was astonished by one industry observer who called multiformat DVD burners “a cop out” and “tough luck for the consumer”—because these burners, which could (and can) write to DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW would “curb the healthy and essential forces that work to rationalize products in the marketplace.” Huh? Yep. If people buy products that make a format war meaningless (because they can’t get hurt either way), they make it less likely that the war will have a winner—instead, it ceases to matter. Whereas all of you who purchased HD DVD players can be happy in the knowledge that you didn’t cop out on the format war and buy something for which you can still buy new movies, like a universal player.

Midwinter 2004: Issue 45

Best. Issue. Ever. Not the biggest. Not the most widely read. Just the best.

A is for AAC: A Discursive Glossary.

Twenty pages. Seventeen items I thought deserved highlighting and 85 (I think) other items. A mix of factual definition and personal commentary. I thought I’d do it again—but so far I haven’t. Hmm. 2009 would be five years later. Maybe?

Good stuff, most of it still applicable. Go read the issue:

October 2004: Issue 55

The best essays in this issue are two Perspectives: Wikipedia and Worth and IICA: Inducing to Infringe. I’ve repeated most of the first one recently enough. The second—in addition to a lengthy Copyright Currents section—discussed Orrin Hatch’s nasty little proposal that would have made it illegal even to counsel someone who might be doing something that infringes copyright. That’s right: It would amend copyright so that anyone who “induces” infringement is also guilty of infringement—and “induces” was defined as “intentionally aids, abets, counsels, or procures.” Heck, even a journalist who posted information on where infringement tools could be found might be guilty of copyright infringement. In introducing the act, Hatch managed to use “children” seven times in one paragraph—even though the revised act said nothing about children.

July/August 2005: Issue 65

The lead essay was on MGM v. Grokster—and, to my considerable surprise, it was a case where the Supremes (a) reached a unanimous decision and (b) managed to strike a pretty fair balance among content-owner interests, technology issues and citizen rights. I won’t attempt to summarize a seven-page essay, but key was the finding that actively promoting the use of a device for copyright infringement leads to liability—without weakening the Sony/Betamax doctrine (that the maker of a device is not liable simply because the device is used for infringement). Susan Crawford’s reaction: “I was afraid that Sony would be undermined—and it wasn’t. The content guys were afraid they wouldn’t be able to go after bad guys—and they’ve been given ammunition. What we’ve got is an opinion that is balanced and middle-of-the-road.” In times when it seems there’s little hope for balance, it’s nice to be able to look back at an outcome like this.

I was justifiably grumpy about another Pew Internet report—or how it was reported. PC Magazine headlined “Podcasting hits the mainstream” over a May 24, 2005 item with the key statement that 29% of the 22 million Americans (at the time) who own iPods or MP3 players have downloaded podcasts—in other words, more than six million Americans. The basis for that? You needed a magnifying glass: The qualifying info was in either five-point or four-point type. The claim was based on 2,201 interviews including 208 player owners. In other words, Pew interviewed sixty people who had downloaded podcasts. From sixty to six million: Quite a leap!

The second-longest essay was Predicting the Future of Academic Libraries. The piece was partly about the perils of futurism, partly about my odd speaking “career,” and a bunch of other stuff. But I did offer four bland paragraphs on “desirable and probable” futures for academic libraries:

Every good academic library serving the humanities and social sciences will still have a substantial and growing print collection, even as the balance of digital and print, particularly in science, technology, and medicine, seems likely to keep shifting toward digital.

Every good college and university will have libraries that serve as places—perhaps not in the vital “third place” role of public libraries, but certainly serving place-related functions. Simultaneously, and with no conflict, every good academic library will continue to offer place-independent services, probably more than they now do.

Academic librarians and the vendors and others that support them will develop different tools for different users, more differentiated in the future than in the past and present. “One size fits all” never really worked very well. When the “one size” is AltaGoogleYahooMSN, which may be appropriate for undergrads and survey courses, it becomes particularly important to provide richer tools for those with more sophisticated needs and abilities.

Academic libraries will continue to benefit from and, I hope, support cataloging and professional indexing and abstracting. Whatever the power of folksonomy and full-text retrieval, there’s still a place for professional organization and taxonomy.

April 2006: Issue 75

The Diamond Anniversary issue, composed entirely of Seventyfive Facets. That is, 75 brief essays, most new to the issue, none from previous C&I issues.

The issue seemed to have been neglected, although overall numbers aren’t terrible. I reused the 40 new pieces in “Cites on a Plane,” the non-issue you can only get by buying the trade paperback version of Cites & Insights 6:2007.

January 2007: Issue 85

Remember the Google Librarian Newsletter? It didn’t last long—and I commented on some of its few issues as part of an Open Content Alliance/Google Book Search update. It’s a little sad looking back at a time when Microsoft was making good on its plans to do a lot of scanning and make it available in a quality interface. The interface is gone, but the scanned material lives on, presumably at OCA.

Finding a Balance: Patrons and the Library appeared as an unannounced (at the time) preview of part of Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change. I was skeptical about claims that discs were dying; I still am. One piece of journalism was particularly silly in its assertion that “In a few years, you’ll buy every episode of The West Wing on a drive the size of a deck of cards rather than on 45 DVDs in a box the size of your microwave oven.” The idea that hard drives would replace pressed discs as a mass distribution medium struck me then (and does now) as unusually bizarre—and, of course, those 45 DVDs could fit nicely in a 6x5x5” box, or, on Blu-ray discs, become no more than nine DVDs fitting in a tiny little package. My conclusions about the “celestial jukebox” and the death of discs:

My own take on the “celestial jukebox” includes the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” It’s typically the case that downloaded media don’t offer the same quality as physical media (although you can buy some downloadable music in lossless-compression formats). It’s almost always the case that downloaded media eliminate most fair use and first sale rights through digital restrictions (or “rights”) management; is just about the only exception I’m aware of. It’s certain that, if pay-per-use (the fundamental “jukebox” model) becomes dominant, Big Media will make sure you wind up paying more for those uses than you did to buy media. If you believe Big Media’s going to lower overall prices when it totally controls each usage, you haven’t been paying attention.

Saying prices will come down because downloading is cheaper than physical distribution ignores the recent history of Big Media. CDs cost almost nothing to produce—but CD prices only came down after antitrust litigation, and even then Tower retained artificially high prices. As for DVDs, the real cost of the medium (I’ve heard $0.06 for single-layer DVDs) can be suggested by the number of advertising DVDs and dollar-store DVDs. If you can make money selling 12 DVDs with 50 movies for $15, then the DVD itself is not a major factor in the price of DVDs. You can count on the universal jukebox being more expensive for most people, for lower quality, than physical media.

Fortunately, physical media aren’t going away any time soon, and that’s a very good thing.

October 2007: Issue 95

I thought of the issue as a series of “incidents and sideshows”—a copyright incident and three sideshows. PRISM, the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine, was (is?) distinctly a sideshow, “another clumsy attempt by publishers to keep pounding on the old discredited arguments against open access in full knowledge that too many people will believe those arguments.” The site’s still there, it’s still nonsense—and it’s so significant that it’s not even one of the choices on Wikipedia’s Prism disambiguation page.

The incident? DMCA takedown notices from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent to Scribd, instructing it to take down files that either weren’t infringing or were the work of authors who hadn’t authorized such action on their behalf. Possibly because Cory Doctorow is a science fiction writer but also an A-list blogger heavily involved with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this screwup got a lot of attention—maybe more than it deserved. It’s an interesting story “where no one can claim the white hat,” better read in my original telling.

The final sideshow was the continuing HD DVD vs. Blu-ray battle, and my conclusions were too cautious: I thought the war would continue in 2008 with no clear winner, even though “I’d still bet on Blu-ray for fairly obvious reasons.” Right bet, wrong timing.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 9, Whole Issue 106, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

Opinions herein may not represent those of PALINET or YBP Library Services.

Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2008 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.