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


Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 9: July/August 2005


The Library Stuff

Bell, Steven, “Don’t surrender library values,” Library Journal, May 15, 2005.

Bell objects to “Google-style librarianship, characterized by acquiescence to the popularity of Google’s search system.” I think it’s foolish not to recognize Google’s popularity and consider how it affects libraries, but Bell makes the point that librarians should not be too fast to “abdicate long-held library values.” His “top five new platitudes” to be resisted can be categorized as opposing user education, believing that “good enough” results are good enough, that “find, not search” is a meaningful formulation, “avoid complexity” even when it means giving up sophistication, and abandoning existing methods to serve the “Millennial generation.” He argues that librarians need to create wise information consumers and that it’s wrong to give up that attempt.

There’s lots to argue with in this brief opinion piece—but dismissing it as old-fashioned is wrong, I believe. If Google truly is all that anyone ever needs or will use to do every sort of research, then we may as well all just close up shop; libraries and librarianship need a broader range of choices and complexity.

If you have access to Against the Grain, you might want to read “Group therapy: More on Google” in the April 2005 issue (pp. 82-83), which begins with the question “Why are librarians so upset about Google?” and includes four commentaries—none of which “waves the white flag” of total surrender to Google or sees it as the solution to all library problems.

Carson, J.D., “Legally speaking—the top ten intellectual property cases of the past 25 years,” Against the Grain 17:2 (April 2005): 58-67.

Carson selects ten cases that established precedents. “Each case stood for something greater than which party won or lost, and each one has affected the fabric of our society in one fashion or another.”

There’s a lot of text in this article, and I won’t attempt to summarize; instead, here’s the list itself, with the quickest summary of the principle involved:

Ř    1. 2 Live Crew, Larry Flynt, and The Wind Done Gone: Parody is protected under the First Amendment.

Ř    2. Feist: Facts can’t be copyrighted; there must be something original to obtain protection.

Ř    3. Tasini: Free-lance authors must be paid for their work if it is included in databases.

Ř    4. Texaco, Kinko’s, and Michigan Document Services: Commercial users must pay royalties.

Ř    5. Eldred v. Ashcroft: Congress has the power to extend copyright duration.

Ř    6. Dastar: You can’t use trademark laws to get around an expired copyright.

Ř    7. Salinger and Wright: Fair Use for unpublished materials.

Ř    8. Can John Fogerty plagiarize himself?

Ř    9. Time-shifting and the Betamax case.

Ř    10. Diamond v. Chakrabarty: The Patent Law covers genetic engineering.

Well worth reading.

Dames, K. Matthew, “Social software in the library,” LLRX, July 26, 2004 (www.llrx.com/features/socialsoftware.htm)

I continue to find social software befuddling and I’ve been slow with “library stuff” of late. This seven-page article offers a good overview of “key social software applications”—maybe not all of them, certainly not up to date, but with a light hand that makes it easier to understand what “social” means. I’m still not sure why blogs and RSS are social software applications more than lists and e-newsletters, particularly when they’re one-way “secure” blogs, but I do see that IM and chat have “social” aspects. A good read, ignoring meet-and-greet programs in favor of tools that have clear value for libraries.

Favreau, Karen, and Helen Snow, “Bobby socks and building projects,” American Libraries 36:5 (May 2005): 44-6.

Public libraries should be cultural centers of their communities, at least to some extent—and many good public libraries are or should be centers for local history as well. That history may include the history of the library itself, as discussed in this fascinating article. Greensboro Public Library (NC), where these two librarians work, hired its first librarian in 1901—and published The Greensboro Public Library: The first 100 years in 2003. “Capturing the colorful history of a 100-year-old library system is no easy task,” but this article certainly makes it sound like a feasible and worthwhile project. (This book was traditionally published in a run of 2,000 copies, financed through the Friends of the Library; with PoD, the initial outlay might be much smaller.)

Liebler, Raizel, “Are libraries places to learn or engage in illegality?” LLRX, October 24, 2004 (www.llrx.com/features/roleoflibraries.htm), and “Institutions of learning or havens for illegal activities: How the Supreme Court views libraries,” Northern Illinois University Law Review 25 (www.librarylaw.com/Liebler.htm),

I haven’t read the longer law-review version (51 pages in manuscript form, including 350 endnotes). The 19-page LLRX article considers a view of libraries that had never occurred to me: “Places of illicitness” or “hotbeds of illegality.” Liebler considers three major Supreme Court cases “addressing the appropriate role of libraries and the activities allowed within library premises” and the Justice Department’s interest in libraries over the decades.

The view of libraries as locations for criminal activities and librarians as dupes run through the Library Awareness Program, a Federal Bureau of Investigation means of preventing “recruitment” of librarians and library patrons by unwanted foreign influences, and the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act, which authorizes the Justice Department to dig into library circulation, Internet-use, and other records.

The oldest of three cases considered is Brown v. Louisiana, a 1966 consideration of “whether a library could be used for a silent protest.” Some libraries in the South were still segregated as recently as 1966, including “color coded” bookmobiles; five African-American men went into a branch library in 1964 to protest “what they considered the denial of their constitutional rights in a public facility.” They made a book request, then sat down. They were arrested and convicted of violating a statute making it a criminal offense to congregate in a public building with “intent to provoke a breach of the peace.” The majority found that the protesters “were neither loud, boisterous, obstreperous, indecorous nor impolite”—but a four-person minority argued that entering and sitting quietly was enough to “disturb the normal functioning of the library.” Credit Hugo Black for asserting that black men sitting silently in a white library automatically breaches the peace!

As Liebler notes, libraries were not focal points of protests during the civil rights movement—but they were public places open to all, and some protests of unequal treatment were appropriate and necessary. Even in finding for the men, the plurality was disturbed that “the locus of these events was a public library—a place dedicated to quiet, to knowledge, and to beauty.”

Board of Education v. Pico, 1982, concerned school library censorship—a local school board removing books as “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy.” This case established that school boards could not remove books because of their ideas or to “determine the norm in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” The “quiet, knowledge, and beauty” formulation appears here also—and in later cases.

Then there’s the CIPA case, in which the court focused on Congress’ rights to control based on funding, avoiding free speech arguments. Liebler discusses the extent to which this case turns on the mission of libraries and other issues raised in the case. The CIPA discussion takes up nearly half the article.

Finally, Liebler returns to the Library Awareness program (with the suggestion that it “may indeed still be continuing”) and to Justice Department claims (related to the USA PATRIOT Act) that “Historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities that threaten our national security.”

This is an interesting article, although Liebler may overstate the extent to which the Library Awareness Program assumed that “librarians are dupes and libraries are dangerous places.” I was involved (in a small way) in one of the more public Library Awareness Program situations, at the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1970s. My impression then—and my impression of the USA PATRIOT Act’s Section 215—is not that it’s based on librarians being dupes or libraries being dangerous places per se. Rather, both situations assume that the government can benefit by spying on certain library-related activities—that knowing who took out certain books or visited certain web sites, or conversely knowing what was taken out or visited by certain users, would be beneficial. That only makes librarians “dupes” because they (properly, in my belief) resist such efforts.

The Library Awareness Program led to the adoption of circulation confidentiality protections in California and other states. At the time we were visited by the FBI, legal counsel said that past circulation records were legally public records—but that we were under no obligation to retain them. The first part of that equation has changed, at least in part—but the second part is what we tend to act on.

Quibbles aside, this is an interesting overview, well worth reading in either short or longer form.

“Lust for reading,” American Libraries 36:5 (May 2005): 32-6.

Once in a while, it’s useful to remember one key and frequently-ignored fact about libraries, and particularly libraries: they “are not just about information access, but about helping people find good books to read.” This interview with Nancy Pearl, action figure and author of Book Lust and More Book Lust (“reader’s advisory” is such a dull title by comparison!) makes that point in delightful detail. Pearl has a great first response to the question, “What is the librarian’s role in getting people to read and getting them to read the good stuff?”:

How do you define “good stuff”? I think the librarian’s role is to help people find the books they will enjoy reading, whether or not you as the readers’ advisor or librarian consider that book good literature.

That’s the beginning of a fairly long answer, one that also notes that readers’ advisory should help “broaden a person’s experience with works of literature”—so, for example, Western lovers might also be interested in a biography of Wyatt Earp or a history of the War of Texas Independence, or a “non-Western” that relates to Western themes.

Oltmans, Erik, and Nanda Kol, “A comparison between migration and emulation in terms of costs,” RLG DigiNews 9:2 (April 15, 2005) (www.rlg.org, look for “RLG DigiNews”)

This clear, evidence-based discussion asserts that digital preservation requires both migration (converting stuff into new file formats) and emulation (preserving the authentic document and providing the user with tools to render that document). In the long run, emulation appears to be less expensive than migration, but that oversimplifies a paper that’s well worth reading in full (it’s only seven pages long).

Smith, Alastair G., “Citations and links as a measure of effectiveness of online LIS journals,” IFLA Journal 31:1 (2005): 76-84.

“How important are LIS e-journals, and how can they be evaluated?” Smith (Victoria University of Wellington) considers the Web Impact Factor, suggested by P. Ingwersen as “the online equivalent of the ISI Journal Impact Factor.” WIF is based on the number of links to a website compared with the size (in pages) of the website, where ISI’s JIF is based on citation counts to a journal over a specified period compared with number of citable articles published during that period. This paper reports on an attempt to calculate WIFs for a sample of LIS ejournal websites—and to evaluate some of those links to see whether they’re comparable to conventional citations.

Smith found ten ejournals having citations within ISI databases, although one could question whether these are all legitimately refereed journals and whether they’re all within the LIS space: Ariadne, Cybermetrics, D-Lib, First Monday, Information Research, Journal of Digital Information, Journal of Electronic Publishing, Journal of Information, Law, and Technology, LIBRES, and PACS Review. I’m a bit surprised that Smith used AltaVista to do the citation study: even in March 2004, it would seem to be one of the weaker web search engines and indexes. Perhaps its robust Boolean operators made up for its shortcomings.

A short version of the results shows PACS Review as having the highest WIF, followed by First Monday, D-Lib, and Journal of Electronic Publishing—and a count of ISI citations shows D-Lib first, followed by PACS-R. Information Research, and Journal of Electronic Publishing. But there’s more to the factors than that simple recitation, and Smith’s paper goes into some of those subtler factors. Worth reading.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 9, Whole Issue 65, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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