New Site & COWLZ:
A Lost Opportunity?
Cites & Insights now resides at http://citesandinsights.info/ (no hyphen!). Technically, it resides at http://cical.info/; the longer, more meaningful name resolves to the same directory. citesandinsights.info is a LISHost site.
All issues of Cites & Insights are available at the new URL. Links to old issues and essays (prior to August 2006) at cites.boisestate.edu will work for a while, but should be changed. If there are still links to the original site (cical.home.att.net), they’ve long since ceased to work.
Those are the facts but not the story. Knowing how much I care about preservation and long-term stability, you must wonder why I moved—particularly since that move orphans a site that had high page rank and visibility.
There are two versions of the story: One short, one long. The short story is simple. Questions were raised at Boise State University Libraries about the C&I home page, specifically “sponsored by YBP Library Services.” Why was a vendor name appearing on a Boise State site when Boise State wasn’t receiving any revenue?
The questions were preliminary. I didn’t get a call saying, “Get rid of the sponsor or move the ejournal now!” But the questions reminded me of something else. Sooner or later, I do plan to produce some print-on-demand books based largely on material in Cites & Insights. The obvious place to promote those books is on the C&I home page—but that’s not appropriate as long as the home page is at Boise State. A simple sponsorship notice, maybe; direct promotion of products for sale, no.
I’m grateful to Dan Lester for making cites.boisestate.edu possible in the first place and for helping me with it in the years C&I has been there. I’m grateful to Boise State University for the free hosting. I didn’t want to cause difficulty for anyone.
So I registered two domains (remember when a domain cost more than a glass of wine?), checked with Blake Carver, and he established the new directory on my LISHost account. Fifteen minutes at 1and1.com to register domains; fifteen minutes to let Blake know what was happening; less than a day for 1and1 to make it happen; less than an hour to upload all the contents to the new site.
All links within the site are relative (issue links within the overall table of contents are in the form “civMiN.pdf,” not the full URL) so I didn’t have to touch them. The links at the start and end of each HTML separate are absolute. Replacing those took another hour or two (thanks, WordPad!).
That’s the short version. It includes the when (early July), the “immediate why,” and the how.
But why was C&I at Boise State in the first place (I’ve never been to Boise) and does this move have deeper implications? Answering that requires the much longer version.
I could say it began with Marylaine Block’s “Who’s going to preserve zine content?” (ExLibris 135, March 22-29, 2002)—but it goes back to the December 2001 American Libraries and the last article in my “The E-Files” trilogy: “E-newsletters and E-zines: From Current Cites to NewBreed Librarian.”
In that article, I discussed library-related e-zines and e-newsletters using five examples: the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues (established February 1989), Current Cites (August 1990), Library Juice (1998), ExLibris (March 1999), and NewBreed Librarian (February 2001). The author bio mentioned Cites & Insights, but I didn’t discuss it in the article proper. Here’s how I concluded that article:
People and groups start e-newsletters and e-zines because they have things to say that other people want to read. That may mean collaborative filtering to select the most noteworthy articles in a field and annotate them; it may mean rounding up news in a particular area to provide continuity and focus; it may mean hearing the unheard or providing perspective within a field. Internet distribution, archiving, and other tools can extend a publication.
Current Cites maintains a searchable database to create on-demand custom bibliographies and indexes the full text of all cited articles that are freely available online. NewBreed Librarian includes a Weblog along with feature articles. The Library Juice archive builds an ongoing presence on the Web—and NSPI’s online archive provides a valuable historical resource.
None of these publications will put American Libraries or Library Journal or Information Technology and Libraries out of business; that’s not their purpose. They use new tools to bring new stories to the community, helping to assure diverse perspective and informed awareness.
Marylaine Block raised a good question, noted above. More excerpts from marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib135.html:
Whenever I send out ExLibris to subscribers, I always include the "permanent" URL for that particular issue. But what, exactly, do we who create e-zines mean when we say "permanent"? Just how much of a promise is that?
For me, all it really signifies is that as long as I want to pay the monthly fee to maintain marylaine.com as a showcase for my writing, I'll maintain the complete archive here. But when I no longer have much to say about libraries and the internet…I'll probably let the web site lapse, in which case, all the articles I've posted here will vanish.
Perhaps that's no great loss… Maybe all that will be lost is the historical value: what were people saying about the internet and libraries at a particular moment in time.
But my zine is just one of many…[mentioning some of the above and LLRX, D-Lib Magazine and First Monday]. It could easily be argued that in this age of instant electronic access, these journals are at least as influential as the older established print publications, and yet the survival of their archives is entirely dependent on their creators' continuing interest and ability to support the server costs and contribute their own time… [S]houldn't the full-text database providers serving libraries, like Wilson, or OCLC, or Ebsco, negotiate with [the editors] to archive the content of our zines and index it right along with the other librarians' publications they offer full-text? Wouldn't this make their databases more complete, reflecting the full range of librarians' discussions of current issues? Wouldn't this serve their mission of preserving valuable content and keeping it from disappearing forever?
Block laid down a challenge. What follows came out of that challenge. It doesn’t add up to much.
I didn’t have a blog back then, but I did have several hundred readers and access to several thousand possible readers via mailing lists. I featured this essay as the lead article in C&I 2:7, reprinted here almost in full, and stored it as a separate item on my home site for broader circulation:
Long-Term Access to Library Zines
Marylaine Block said it in Ex Libris 135 (March 22-29 2002): “Who’s going to preserve zine content?” She focused on library-related zines, defining the field broadly enough to include this experiment as well as Library Juice, and raised two issues: Who would assure long-term access and who would provide the indexing that these publications deserve?
Should Library Literature index Cites & Insights, NewBreed Librarian, the FOS Newsletter and Ex Libris alongside American Libraries and Online? I’m not sure, and I’m not the person to make that call.
Do these and other library-related online zines and newsletters matter—enough so that they should be preserved for long-term access by scholars and librarians even after their founders lose interest or run out of money? Yes, I believe they do, even if that sounds self-interested.
There’s a ferment in the field, with a variety of thoughtful people providing news and analysis in ways that would not have been possible a decade ago or practical five years ago. My “E-files” trilogy in American Libraries toward the end of 2001 covered a piece of this ferment. In the process, I’ve become acquainted with dozens, possibly hundreds of library people who I might never have met otherwise, and who in their turn might have dismissed me as a boring old middle-of-the-road (even “establishment”) jackass unworthy of notice.
But this is about Web-based library-related zines, not me. I can’t get Marylaine’s column out of my mind. I think she’s on to something, and I feel the need to push it a couple of steps further.
Thus, this essay, which will also appear as a link from a mailing to a few lists and a number of zine/newsletter editor/publishers. While I have no particular desire to take on a new leadership role, I do believe that some coordination needs to be done. With luck, some younger, more energetic person will step up to the role. Otherwise, I’ll keep on with this for a little while. This being:
COWLZ: A Call for Participation
COWLZ: the [Caucus/Coalition/Consortium/Cluster] of Online and Web-based Library-related Zines/Newsletters. I see the logo already, five letters in a suitable typeface imposed on public-domain clip art of a cowl (which shouldn’t be hard to find). Maybe I’ve been reading too much stuff from UK libraries, with their remarkable penchant for clever acronyms. Sorry.
I’ve built a COWLZ folder in my Notes Mail space. With a little encouragement, I’d set up a COWLZ Topica list, even with the growing ad overhead of Topica—unless someone offers a no-ad list environment to help semi-organize COWLZ.
This is a call to proprietors of online and Web-based library-related zines and newsletters to do one of two things: Respond with indications of interest and the extent to which you’re willing to be involved—or respond with a clear message that this is a stupid idea and you want nothing to do with it. For now, send email to me… Include “COWLZ” beginning the subject line.
I think COWLZ could do three things as a virtual, informal, no-fee non-organization:
• Lobby for and locate an archival location, where current or “dark” archives of Web-based library-related zines and newsletters could reside, establishing long-term access. That location might also be a new home for some zines.
• Encourage firms that index library-related periodicals to include key zines/newsletters.
• Define the field (that is, potential COWLZ members) loosely enough to encourage ferment in the field and tightly enough so that hosting facilities aren’t used entirely frivolously.
Pieces of the definitions of this group appear in the name. Let me spell it out a bit more, with the caveat that some real leader or council could say that I’m wrong, which would be fine with me:
• Online and Web-based: Available on the Web, either directly (HTML/XML) or indirectly (PDF etc.), with no required fee. This does not rule out publications with voluntary subscriptions, paid print subscriptions, or PayPal-type arrangements, but does eliminate publications that require paid subscriptions.
• Library-related: Loose enough to include FOS Newsletter; largely defined by the membership.
• Zines and newsletters: Things that appear as periodicals, even if irregular in frequency, with some expectation of continued appearance. This leaves out Weblogs (which need their own archiving strategy) and Usenet/Google Groups, but also omits independent articles and occasional papers. There are probably two levels of COWLZ “members”—true startups and those that have lasted for at least a year and four issues. Dead zines—ones still available but no longer published—are particularly interesting, as they will disappear unless archived.
Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it’s stupid. Or tell me you’re interested. I’ll be sending a pointer to this piece to as many proprietor/editors as I can locate. I have no interest in controlling this process and would be delighted to turn it over to someone else.
Some of you out there could also tell me something else: That you have a home for COWLZ, that your firm is ready to index COWLZ members based on some criteria, that you’re ready to host a face-to-face meeting of some COWLZ participants, or whatever. Ten bucks worth of hard disk space (five gigabytes) and a few hundred megabytes a month of Internet traffic would go a long ways toward archiving known library-related zines/newsletters, if connected to the right hosting environment.
Let me know…. Based on responses by May 15, there will be a follow-up in the next Cites & Insights—but responses are welcome later as well, with more coverage in later issues.
Free Online Scholarship had joined the discussion. While not technically a library publication, it was (and, under a different name, is) an e-newsletter of considerable importance to libraries and librarians, and its editor was interested in COWLZ.
Enough happened to justify a followup in C&I 2:8 (June 2002), excerpted here:
In my foolishness, I half-expected that a few people would say “what a dumb idea this is!” while one or two would express mild interest and everyone else would ignore it altogether. That would yield a compact follow-up: “Very little energy and less than two pages of Cites & Insights were wasted on this dumb idea.” A somewhat less likely outcome would be an outpouring of focused enthusiasm leading to some real progress by this point. I’d report on responses and where things might go from here.
The truth is stranger and more complex than expectations…. [Long discussion of traditional zines follows]
I see no reason that Web-based publications should be treated more seriously than “minor” print publications—but maybe some of them should be treated as seriously. Cites & Insights reaches more readers than many print library journals; Library Juice reaches a lot more people than I do. Do they deserve long-term retention? Damned if I know….
What’s happened? Most editors I contacted responded positively. A few others also responded positively—offering appropriate disk space (at a university, backed up regularly, with high-speed Internet connections), leadership with experience in the North American Serials Interest Group, leading experience in handling electronic journals, and other ideas. I won’t name names for the same reason I won’t describe next steps: I’m not in charge (and don’t wish to be), and the group seems to believe—appropriately—that it should define a future somewhat before issuing progress reports.
Progress seems likely and it’s a little hard to predict the shape of the eventual project. Participants represent deep expertise and awareness, but these are also busy people. Nothing will happen overnight. I’m encouraged; stay tuned.
“A university” was Boise State. I started a Topica list of 14 people who had expressed interest—Dan Lester, editor/publishers, Eric Lease Morgan offering software assistance, and Steve Oberg, a former president of NASIG, the North American Serials Interest Group. During the summer, we discussed possibilities.
Excerpts from the lead essay in C&I 2:13. “Who’s Going to Preserve E-Zine Content?”:
That’s the title on a “Backtalk” piece by Marylaine Block in the August 2002 Library Journal. I’ve seen it cited in the places that cite Cites & Insights—and a lengthy citation was the lead item in the August 29, 2002, ShelfLife (a weekly “executive news summary for information professionals” sponsored by RLG).
The first line of the ShelfLife summary: “Walt Crawford of RLG has been spearheading the Coalition of Web-based Library-Related Zines/Newsletter (COWLZ)…” That’s almost a direct quote from the antepenultimate paragraph of Block’s piece…: “The archiving situation can be solved by way of the web. Walt Crawford is spearheading the…”
What’s that spearhead I feel in my back? Is it being wielded by Marylaine Block, aggressively “following” as a COWLZ participant?... [H]ere’s what I think is happening and what I intended my role to be….
[Noting the May essay]: Consider two key sentences in that essay: “I have no interest in controlling this process and would be delighted to turn it over to someone else” and “Some of you out there could also tell me…That you have a home for COWLZ, that your firm is ready to index COWLZ members based on some criteria, that you’re ready to host a face-to-face meeting of some COWLZ participants, or whatever.” Now let’s see what’s transpired:
Almost all of the editor/publishers I contacted responded favorably and signed up for the COWLZ list, although some of them quite sensibly wanted their own publication to be part of a “dark archive” until (unless) they stopped doing it… If they stopped doing it, or failed to respond to an annual tickler, then the dark archive would become publicly accessible, providing long-term access to the ceased publication. A couple simply didn’t respond; in one “peer-reviewed” case, that may be just as well.
A few other interested parties joined in—people who don’t currently produce Web zines/newsletters but who thought this was a worthwhile effort and wanted to help. They include a former president of NASIG (the North American Serials Interest Group) who may provide the neutral and thoughtful leadership that we need; a librarian willing and able to commit enough well-backed-up, highly-connected Web space to handle anything COWLZ is likely to be in the near future; and a mover-and-shaker who has created his own solutions to various library problems and is showing how some of those solutions could handle COWLZ.
There was a flurry of activity on the list near the end of the academic year. No real action was taken, including failure to act on the offer of Web space; with the summer, postings dwindled—until a signal event at the beginning of August. More on that later.
I tried to nudge things along by asking some questions and tossing out some possibilities, but also tried very hard to avoid “spearheading” or otherwise maintaining a leadership position. There are several reasons for that, but perhaps clear conflict issues will suffice. After all, Cites & Insights is a Web-based zine, but one with some tricky issues for indexing and access (given its PDF nature) and one where I’d prefer to move the whole operation to a COWLZ archive operation, since the methods I’m using to run it on my ISP’s Web site are a little peculiar. There’s also the simple “been there, done that” issue—I’ve been LITA president and on the LITA board for six years, and don’t have an urge to be The Leader—and the likelihood that, as apparent leader, my own ideas would receive less critical assessment and improvement than if I’m just a participant.
Then NewBreed Librarian posted its final issue. The Website’s still there, but both the Weblog and the bimonthly issue archive are static, and there’s a clear threat that the Website could go away. Suddenly, we had a current case of a no-longer-current publication. The COWLZ list started to pick up, albeit fitfully—and our resident problem-solver put together a trial application to enter COWLZ zine/newsletter information and, later, to harvest sites.
But COWLZ still had (and has, as of this writing) no real structure, no clear definition of who we are, no leadership, no agreed home. After a week or two, one glance at the database convinced me that people were casting a net that I considered far too broad. I raised that issue and suggested that someone should really be working on proposing some structure and definitions. Marylaine and a couple of others expressed interest in commenting on the bylaws after I propose them…
That, I believe, is where things stand. I’ve suggested that any COWLZ participant could go through the Topica COWLZ archives…and garner enough suggestions to create a draft set of bylaws—and that I was too old, tired, busy, and conflicted to wish to do that. Perhaps someone else is busily drafting those bylaws and definitions. Perhaps spear-carriers are assuming I’ll respond to prodding by doing it myself.
I offered the informal suggestion that, if there wasn’t a fairly clear picture by the end of Calendar 2002, it might be reasonable to suppose that COWLZ wasn’t going to happen. We all have our own ways of nudging.
What’s going to happen? I have no idea. Will I cave in and prepare draft bylaws? See previous answer.
Let’s say that a writer publishes a 700-word essay on copyright in American Libraries and two 1200-word essays in EContent. Those commentaries will be indexed and abstracted in a fairly sizable handful of databases, with subject headings in some cases. Now let’s say the same writer publishes 3,000 to 4,000 words every two or three months in a Webzine, with far more detailed discussions and lots of pointers to other materials. Those discussions won’t be indexed and abstracted anywhere. Similarly, people looking for Marylaine Block’s stuff in most a&I databases will see the LJ piece but not the Ex Libris piece with the same title that preceded it by several months and laid the groundwork for it.
Does that make sense?
Damned if I know.
Do you? More important…, do you have a way of doing something about it?
I included a first name and last initial in that final paragraph, as I’d already been in touch with a person who could potentially add some of these titles to one of the major library indexes. Otherwise, I’ll note that the “willing and able” librarian is Dan Lester and the “mover and shaker” is Eric Lease Morgan. Those two put more real effort into COWLZ than anyone else, I believe (certainly including me) and deserve thanks…and regrets.
What happened next? We established the COWLZ site at boisestate.edu. I moved Cites & Insights to that site from its convenience home at my dialup account’s free web space, cical.home.att.net. As I noted in the first issue at the new site, January 2003 (3:1), “The move means that Cites & Insights is part of a regular backup system and participates in an archiving system with some potential. I hope that it also brings more visibility to COWLZ.” At that point, I also put “Founding member of COWLZ” on the C&I home page.
From there, it’s a long year to…
That was the 41st issue of C&I and, thus, the 100th issue of “this stuff” (including 59 issues of Trailing Edge Notes and Crawford’s Corner). I celebrated with “41 at 58,” a set of 41 mini-perspectives, because I turned 58 right around the time the issue was published. Here’s #10, in its entirety:
COWLZ and the Dangerfield Effect
Wonder what happened to COWLZ? So do I—and I’m part of it. Well, OK, Cites & Insights is now hosted on the COWLZ site at Boise State. Otherwise…it’s been a slow road in terms of anything publicly apparent. I don’t know that this is likely to change any time soon. I know I don’t have a lot of energy to provide to the effort and suspect that’s true of others.
In a way, that’s a shame. The Dangerfield Effect? Getting no respect. To put it another way, not being on the traditional radar screens. I think that’s true of most alternative and informal library publications, no matter what their inherent worth.
I’ve seen pathetic attempts at ejournals that failed after two issues—and are included in abstracting services, so the handful of articles that are published will show up where searching is done. The key is that they were defined as proper Journals, with referees and all. It’s tougher to index and abstract zines and newsletters, although partial indexing (of major articles) might be plausible. Will it happen? Would it make a difference?
Right now, I’m doubtful on either one—and I’m not ready to mount that particular horse and ride off toward that particular windmill once again.
In the next issue, I published feedback from Don Hawkins of Information Science Abstracts, who picked up on the next-to-last paragraph here. His letter and some of my response:
“I guess I’m the guilty party on this one, with things like Transforming Traditional Libraries. It happens because, of course, when you find out about the e-journal, you don’t know it won’t survive past two issues. I also think that having the bibliographic record that papers were published is important.
“Regarding newsletters, I do try to include major articles but not pure announcements and the like. Zines and other nontraditional forms are much harder because they’re more ephemeral, at least by definition, and as you point out, they’re not refereed. I guess it’s just the nature of the beast?”
My comment in response: I believe this may be a somewhat insoluble problem. I note that virtually everything I publish in non-refereed magazines is widely indexed… whereas the more substantive (also non-refereed) pieces in Cites & Insights aren’t indexed anywhere, as far as I know.
I don’t know. What constitutes ephemeral? ExLibris? Cites & Insights? Does something become less ephemeral when it costs money? (Is Library Futures Quarterly indexed? I don’t know.)
…Personally, I have no real complaint. Cites & Insights almost certainly reaches more actual readers than Library Hi Tech News. I believe it will have minor long-term significance as part of the informal history of librarianship, but I certainly don’t write For The Ages.
I mentioned COWLZ in A is for AAC: A Discursive Glossary (C&I 4:2, Midwinter 2004) and there were two tiny mentions elsewhere, one noting the five thematic issues I’d done up through June 2004 and saying four of them “are excellent arguments for the COWLZ assertion that gray literature matters.”
Followed by the only appropriate comment, a two-word paragraph:
One brief mention in the Midwinter issue (5:2), as part of a retrospective on C&I. I quoted part of that first essay, noted that COWLZ had resulted in C&I being at cites.boisestate.edu and that there was a dark archive of sorts, then concluded:
Other than that…well, I think the publishers involved are still looking for a few other folks to take leadership roles. If you think the COWLZ cause makes sense, that is.
And that’s it. I’ve had no reason to mention COWLZ in 2006…until now.
Along the way, NASIG was approached with the idea of taking on COWLZ as a cause. The organization declined. That may have been the death knell for the group, given that most of its members were too busy turning out their own publications (and in most cases working day jobs) to take on a possibly-thankless leadership role.
We’d already received a basic response regarding indexing; it was not positive. No matter how well established, the publications in COWLZ were “more ephemeral, at least by definition,” and thus not worth indexing. I don’t believe anyone contacted EBSCO, but the situation with LISTA is pretty clearly the same.
I shut down the Topica list some time back (it never had much traffic), but still had a personal COWLZ list. I sent email to people on that list and to a couple of e-zine/e-newsletter editors not on that list, asking for any comments about the situation.
Chris Zammarelli may have said it for everyone:
I think the problem with me was just that while I thought COWLZ was an interesting and worthy project, it ended up diverging from the type of work I was doing at the time.
Marylaine Block put it this way:
It might be it failed because most of us didn't care all that much. My own feeling was that preservation of library literature was a responsibility of the profession, and I kind of hoped the material would be preserved by either a library school's library, or by a library literature vendor like Wilson.
Peter Suber, publisher of Free Online Scholarship Newsletter, which has turned into the SPARC Open Access Newsletter and continues to be the nexus of OA reporting, offered this comment:
I’m not surprised to see COWLZ fold; I hadn’t heard anything from it for years. But I am sorry to hear the news. COWLZ was a good idea and I still wish I had some kind of assured longevity for my backfiles.
I’m not without options and one day (“real soon now”) will probably deposit the files in one of the LIS-oriented OA repositories. But COWLZ was an early, easy, elegant solution.
Steve Oberg, past president of NASIG and proprietor of Family Man Librarian, offered an eloquent response, which appears here in its entirety:
I first read about COWLZ in an issue of Cites & Insights: Crawford-At-Large. In that issue Walt drew attention to a call to action first issued by Marylaine Block as to library ‘zines and the need for access to them to be preserved. I thought, Hey, this is something I can readily identify with (I am a serialist, after all) and it is something about which I share concern. Why not volunteer to get involved? Specifically, I thought I could be of some help to the effort by contacting persons I knew who would bring subject and technical expertise to the table, and asking them to get involved. I also thought that my primary professional organization, NASIG, might be willing to provide assistance to the effort.
I was able to make a small contribution on the former point but not the latter. One of the people I called was Eric Lease Morgan. I told him about the project, and asked if he’d be interested in helping out. He was interested, and he did help out, a lot, even to the extent of developing a prototype system for organizing and maintaining the library ‘zines identified as in need of long term access and preservation. One of the students who worked for me at the time also lent his assistance in a small way to the project by tweaking some of what Eric began with and extending it or making it fit into the site infrastructure at Boise State (Dan Lester had volunteered space on a Boise State server to house the service and attendant files).
Unfortunately, after a rush of activity and discussion, and a lot of basic progress such as the framework Eric supplied, the project gradually petered out. This, in spite of the need that existed then and still exists today. This, also in spite of the fact that the group who gathered ‘round the effort was a good group of people. I can’t think of a better group, frankly, to have worked on this.
Then why did this project go nowhere? From my perspective the answer lies mostly in the fact that the early volunteers such as myself, simply did not have the necessary energy and time to truly get the project airborne. Another problem was that when I approached NASIG with the idea of somehow promoting and/or financially supporting the COWLZ effort, this idea was met with skepticism and went nowhere. Without external, organizational support like NASIG could have offered, a good will effort such as COWLZ cannot be sustained for long.
I think this is the key point to the whole situation: the lack of organizational or other formal backing. Good intentions and volunteerism could only take it so far. I hope that someday COWLZ will be resurrected and receive the attention it deserves. Technologically, it shouldn’t be difficult. As I already stated, the need was and still is there.
I’ve chalked up my limited involvement in COWLZ to yet another lesson learned regarding my tendency to say Yes too often. I need to be careful about what I can commit to something. I need to be realistic. Even though it felt like I fell flat on my face with my involvment in COWLZ, I thoroughly enjoyed the ideas, the debate, and the brainstorming it engendered. Plus it established a connection with nice, thoughtful people such as Walt that endures to this day. In that sense, for me, COWLZ was a meaningful if short blip on the radar of library activism.
There you have it. Dan Lester and Eric Lease Morgan provided more help than could reasonably have been expected and as much as they could under the circumstances. Steve Oberg gave it his best shot, with no results. The rest of us were busily generating the newsletters and zines; we needed a form of outside leadership or institutional support that never materialized. If I had been willing to push as a leader I probably could have kept the effort going a while longer, but at the time I was producing three columns and C&I; I was still in some demand as a speaker; and there was simply no energy to spare.
That left Boise State as the home of C&I—with no broader context. Without context, the site really didn’t make sense. I don’t know whether the dark archive is still spinning along automatically, but in every other respect COWLZ was a “short blip on the radar of library activism,” now departed.
What’s happened with the e-newsletters and e-zines that were around when COWLZ began?
• NewBreed Librarian lasted only 18 months—but the ten issues and two years of news updates have been archived by the University of Oregon, albeit in PDF rather than HTML form. You’ll find it at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/dspace/handle/1794/1071.
• Rory Litwin shut down Library Juice in August 2005; it had declined in frequency during its eighth and final volume. The archives remain at http://libr.org/juice/. The name lives on as Rory Litwin’s blog, at http://libraryjuicepress. com/blog/.
• The Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues shut down in early 2001, after 255 issues. Its archive remains at the University of North Carolina, http://www.lib.unc.edu/prices/.
• Peter Suber’s Free Online Scholarship Newsletter ran from March 28, 2001 through September 15, 2002. It resumed as the SPARC Open Access Newsletter on July 4, 2003, continuing the numbering of FOSN, and has continued as a regular monthly publication, celebrating its hundredth issue on August 2, 2006. All issues are currently available at http://www.earlham. edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/archive.htm.
• LLRX, Sabrina I. Pacifici’s ejournal (which she founded and edits but which has many contributors), began in 1996 and continues to this day. New groups of articles appear monthly. This impressive publication continues at http://www.llrx.com.
• Current Cites continues as a regular monthly publication, now in its 17th year. You’ll find all issues at http://lists.webjunction.org/currentcites/.
• Ex Libris doesn’t appear every week, but Marylaine Block keeps it going with a wide range of first-rate brief essays. The August 18, 2006 issue is #284; the current issue and all archives are at http://marylaine.com/exlibris/index.html.
• I never included Gary Price’s ResourceShelf among the list of e-zines and e-newsletters because it’s daily, although there’s a weekly newsletter emailed as text to a large subscription list. Price and his team have maintained this admirable resource for many years; the August 10 weekly newsletter was issue 272. You’ll find the daily resource (in blog form, using WordPress) and subscription note for the newsletter at http://www.resourceshelf.com/.
• D-Lib Magazine continues as an almost-monthly (11 issues a year), now in volume 12; its future funding and publication appear to be in question. D-Lib has an official home that takes it out of the realm of gray literature—and, sure enough, unlike everything else on this list, D-Lib is indexed in at least one major library literature database.
• And here’s Cites & Insights. Middling in frequency, start date, and regularity within this group, it continues. I removed the “experiment” label in January 2005.
Have there been other similar publications? If so, I’m not aware of them. Maybe that’s because of blogs, which are so much easier to start and abandon.
Indexing improves visibility, even in this age of YahoogleMsnask. Taking LISTA as an example (if only because it’s freely available), quite a few newsletters, magazines and trade journals are indexed in full—even Ariadne and D-Lib, two non-refereed e-journals (both from associations). For some reason, Library Hi Tech News shows up as a “scholarly journal.”
The list above, other than D-Lib? Not one. I find this peculiar—but not surprising. Should it be this way? If COWLZ had become a real organization, it might have tested this issue. It seems like an issue NASIG might wish to address.
From me, it looks like special pleading. Maybe so. I don’t lack for visibility within the major library databases, or Google Scholar or web search engines. Last time I checked, I had 406 items in Library Literature and 205 in LISTA (and 360+ in Google Scholar). But consider my first seven items in LISTA using the default sort (as of August 19, 2006): three one-page EContent columns, three three-page Online columns—and a letter in American Libraries taking up one-sixth of a page.
Compare that list to these seven items from Cites & Insights: “Looking at liblogs: The great middle” (30 pp.); “Finding a balance: Libraries and librarians” (18 pp.); “©3 Perspective: copyright: finding a balance” (2 parts, 16 pp. total); “Library 2.0 and ‘Library 2.0’” (32 pp. and over 17,000 readers to date); “OCA and GLP” (2 parts, 16 pp. total); “Library futures, media futures” (15 pp.); and “Catching up with copyright,” (20 pp.).
I find it hard to believe that my letter in American Libraries is more important to the library field than any of these C&I pieces (not to mention the CIPA Special and earlier major articles). For that matter, proud as I am of my columns in EContent and Online, I’m inclined to believe that some C&I pieces have more medium-term and long-term significance than some EContent columns.
It’s not lack of reach. Typical C&I readership is in the mid-thousands, spiking to much higher levels for some articles. Several e-zines and e-newsletters discussed here have more readers than 90% of the publications indexed in LISTA and Library Literature. I don’t think it’s a question of longevity. It’s not even formality: Several of these publications have ISSNs and are as regular as most commercial periodicals.
It’s gray literature. It is inherently more ephemeral, no matter how long the publication lasts or how significant its contents are. Lacking association backing—and, frankly, lacking a price—gray literature doesn’t get indexed.
Archival access is a different question. It’s an issue for all publications and more of an issue for digital publications. LOCKSS helps; so do any number of institutional repositories.
Will gray literature make its way to these repositories? That depends on who’s doing it and how a publication ceases. I’ve seen discussion of the need to archive blogs as part of the library record, and I think that’s an interesting discussion. It would be ironic if blogs were archived more readily than, say, ExLibris.
A lot’s happening in this field. I believe things will work out in a lot of cases. The presumed archival home for C&I didn’t—because it didn’t make sense on a one-off basis. There are other possibilities. When C&I has an archival home, you’ll read about it on Walt at Random and at the C&I home page.
The best things in life may be free, but I suspect there’s a natural tendency for libraries to worry and care more about things that are expensive. If Cites & Insights carried a $150/year price tag and came in print form (but you could get a digital-only subscription for a mere $120/year!), I’m guessing it would have at most one-tenth the readership it currently has.
On the other hand, I’m guessing most libraries that paid $150/year for it would have it in their catalogs and some of them would bind each volume. I’d like to think a significant number of library schools would have it as part of their professional collections.
We’re dealing with human nature and organizational nature here. It’s natural for librarians to spend more energy taking care of expensive resources than those that cost them nothing—and that don’t even “come in the door” because they’re electronic.
Does that increase the chances that free but valuable resources will disappear? Probably. Are those resources valuable? I believe so—and I believe that includes the more formal gray literature, not just refereed open access journals.
COWLZ was an interesting attempt to improve the visibility and long-term survival of an unusual group of library-related publications. It failed. That’s the very long story.
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Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.
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