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


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 6: Spring 2006


The Library Stuff

You may begin to see stuff other than annotated citations in The Library Stuff. While I believe everything in Cites & Insights relates to libraries and librarians, I wouldn’t mind including more commentary that’s directly relevant—including comments on how libraries use new web-related tools  to improve service.

I “snuck in” a few blog posts and LISNews stories along with the formal articles noted here in earlier issues. At this point, I don’t see a useful distinction. A 3,600-word analysis by Lorcan Dempsey that appears as a blog post certainly deserves citation and comment as much as a 700-word column in American Libraries, at least if the content inspires me to cite it. There may still be a bright line between refereed literature and everything else, but I can no longer see any good reason to draw boundaries within the “informal” literature. If it’s good, it’s good.

Open J-Gate

Luke Rosenberger at lbr alerted me to this new e-journal portal, www.openj-gate.com, mentioned in passing in C&I 6:5. Open J-Gate comes from Informatics India Ltd. and proclaims itself the “portal with the largest number of e-journals.” It’s an offshoot of J-Gate, which is not a free service; J-Gate claims to index more than 14,000 journals including free access to more than 4,000. At this writing, Open J-Gate still says “3000+ Open Access Journals”—more than 1,500 of them peer-reviewed scholarly journals.

Given that the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org) currently includes 2,140 journals (all of them “quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals”), with 582 searchable at article level, Open J-Gate represents an interesting complementary resource. The new player has looser standards for inclusion: thus, C&I is indexed in Open J-Gate but would not qualify for DOAJ. Open J-Gate also appears to include articles from trade publications that post some but not all of their contents on the web.

As far as I can tell, Open J-Gate does not provide full-text searching. It’s fielded searching based on metadata. Keywords used appear to be those actually provided in metadata (it’s hard to be sure; I used to add keywords for some of this e-journal’s HTML pieces, but mostly don’t any more). It’s not a panacea, but an interesting addition.

Citations: Articles and Blog Posts

Angel, “Generational conflict? Says who? Oh, them…” The gypsy librarian, March 17, 2006, and Lindner, Mark, “More on generations and library literature,” …the thoughts are broken…, March 7, 2006.

In a recent Walt at random post, I grumped about “gen-gen”: Generational generalizations, in this case propounded by a Pew speaker. Angel does it much better, in a post that “started out as a comment and got too long” (2,580 words—yep, that is on the long side for a comment). He’s partially commenting on Mark Lindner’s “More on generations and library literature” (March 7, 2006, …the thoughts are broken…), which in turn is commenting on a C&RL News article about “bridging differences” across generational lines.

Here’s the paragraph in the C&RL News piece that set Lindner off:

Traditionalists are loyal employees, committed to the institutions for which they work. Baby Boomers are competitive and idealistic, a generation that has been able to focus on themselves. Generations Xers, by contrast, are skeptical and self-reliant. They have seen their parents divorce and institutions fail. Finally, Millenials are technologically savvy, diverse, and have been raised with a global media perspective.

Lindner’s immediate response: “This is some of the most ridiculous pap that I have ever seen in print!” Followed shortly by this paragraph, which I find necessary to quote in full:

…pretty much every librarian that I know of any age is committed to the institution for which they work. I, a Boomer, have lost almost all of my competitiveness thankfully. Yes, I am idealistic. Probably more so than ever in my life. But then many of my fellow students, from the ages of 23 to closer to 60, are also idealistic. By this point in our nation's history and economy most of the Boomers I know are pretty darn skeptical too. I have a degree in philosophy for cripe's sake; and that is not what made me skeptical. More the other way around. And guess what, I too saw my parents divorce. Mom twice. And I have seen my share of institutions fail. Was I supposedly sleeping while my children grew, or does this stuff just not affect those who have been labeled as being in a different “generation?” I, too, and many my age along with a large quantity of Gen Xers are technologically savvy. I am more diverse than I have ever been in my life thanks to all of the things I have been through, and I am actively working on becoming more diverse. Which when I think about it is a stupid way to state the supposed trait, but I am only responding to what was written. My children are no more diverse than I am. What a ridiculous concept. And for the global media perspective. Please, just give me a break! If we're talking about Americans here then please show me this vaunted global media perspective. Are you really claiming with any seriousness that our current media has a more global perspective than it did when I was raised? Hah! Get out a bit more. Like to another country on a different continent. Consume some of their media and then come back and tell me American media provides a “global perspective.” Been there. Done that. We fail.

I grew up skeptical (my parents helped). I’ve never been competitive enough for my own good, but am pretty self-reliant. I make my living through technology. That makes me…a traditionalist, since I was born in 1945. Or it makes gen-gen a crock.

Angel’s comment on the C&RL News article: “The overall impression I got from the article is that an unknowing reader would think the generations are just fighting each other with hatchets and axes.” He goes on to dissect the overgeneralizations based on his own experience and personal background. Angel provides considerably more detail; go read it yourself. He’s skeptical, loyal when it’s deserved, idealistic, technologically savvy, and “diverse” as all get out. He’s chronologically a GenXer.

There’s more to both posts, particularly Angel’s article-length commentary. He went to school with Millenials, Boomer,s and other GenXers. “What I found is that they all bring different experiences and ideas to the table. They will all be happy to offer such ideas and share their expertise; they will even lead if given the opportunity or if they find such an opportunity. What they will not do is tolerate closemindedness and lack of insight.”

I’ll close with this comment, with which I agree: “The generations conflict more often than not is just a lure to confrontation. We don’t need confrontation and we don’t need half-baked generalizations…”

Blyberg, John, “From tech to tome: spanning the gulf,” blyberg.net, March 8, 2006.

There have been librarians who became excellent programmers for at least three decades, probably four—and there have been programmers who learned to understand libraries for at least as long. MLS or no MLS, I’m more of a library person than I am (was) a programmer/analyst, although I’ve mostly earned my living as a programmer/analyst. I believe it’s still true that most of RLG’s programmer/analysts and nearly all of our systems designers have library degrees. So Blyberg’s claimed “culture gap” between “IT” and librarians bothers me, as does the seeming suggestion that “veteran, tenured staff” are really on the other side of a gulf.

Never mind; despite my qualms, this is a favorable commentary. There are always misunderstandings and gaps in experience and background. Blyberg notes some things to keep in mind in approaching people you need to work with who are on “the other side” of a real (or imagined?) culture gap. I don’t think he aimed for a Top Ten, and the paragraphs aren’t numbered, but there are ten paragraphs. Here are the topic sentences:

Get the dialogue started. Acknowledge the dichotomy. Make a peace offering. Make the other party comfortable. Show them you are interested. Ask them how you can help. Show them how they can help. Invite them to learn and play. Cross-train. Make plans together. Meet regularly.

It’s a good discussion, definitely worth reading. I’d add this to “Acknowledge the dichotomy”: Accept the likelihood that, if you perceive the “other side” as not understanding where you’re coming from, you aren’t fully up to speed on their concerns. Chances are, you have learning as well as teaching to do.

Dempsey, Lorcan, “Libraries, logistics and the long tail,” Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog, February 15, 2006.

Ya gotta love a blog post that starts out “[Warning: long, long, long].” So it is: 3,600 words. An article disguised as a blog post. It’s distinctly worth reading and thinking about, which is not the same as saying you should automatically accept all of Dempsey’s arguments.

Dempsey notes the discussion that libraries in aggregate contain deep and rich collections—but I’d go further: Many good libraries by themselves represent deep and rich collections (the “long tail,” if you must), which can be augmented by broader collections when needed. His issue is whether supply and demand are handled well within a network environment, and he sees problems.

Dempsey’s troubled by the relatively low use of ILL: 1.7% of overall circulation in libraries as a whole, 4.7% in academic libraries. “What this suggests is that we are not doing a very good job of aggregating supply (making it easy to find and obtain materials of interest wherever they are).” Alternatively, it means that libraries do a good job of meeting most demands, including relatively obscure items still held locally—that many libraries have collections that relate well to their communities. (There’s a third possibility: ILL is obscure in most public libraries and some academic libraries impose barriers to its use, making it less used than it might otherwise be. I suspect all three possibilities are partly right.)

Another figure: In two research libraries across several years, roughly 20% of English-language books accounted for about 90% of circulation. That strikes me as being both predictable and natural, with few implications—but I may be wrong here as well.

There’s a lot to think about here; I’ve just touched the surface. Dempsey elaborates on possible problems, how some web resources appear to solve them, considerations for libraries, and more. I don’t see as much consideration of the uniquely local nature of good libraries as I’d like, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. I’d love to know more about actual use of my own public library’s convenient aggregation methods (a substantial regional multitype union catalog that’s directly suggested on catalog searches and offers fast, convenient retrieval): Does it significantly increase usage of materials from other libraries—and is there a substantial potential demand for such materials? Dempsey talks about “the massive expense of maintaining redundant collections,” but “redundant” is a tricky word to use in a nation with thousands of independent libraries serving diverse communities (both public and academic).

“Editors’ interview with Victoria Reich, director, LOCKSS program,” RLG DigiNews 10:1, February 15, 2006.

Want to keep up with LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keep Stuff Safe)? (If you care about long-term access to digital journal collections, you should want to maintain awareness of LOCKSS.) Then go read this seven-page interview—and, frankly, if you’re interested in digital preservation, you should be reading RLG DigiNews on a regular basis anyway. (No full disclosure required: I work for RLG, but have no connection with RLG DigiNews, which is written by staff at Cornell University Library in any case.) It’s free, it’s online, it’s concise, and it has great stuff.

This particular great stuff updates the concepts behind LOCKSS, the state of the LOCKSS alliance (launched in 2005), and the new CLOCKSS initiative (“C” for Controlled), “designed to test the feasibility of a large, community-managed dark archive.”

I won’t attempt to summarize. There’s a lot of information here, tersely presented: the bases for LOCKSS policies and procedures, relationships with publishers, how the LOCKSS polling process works, how much redundancy is needed and desired, the costs of an institutional “LOCKSS box” (one that’s being evaluated is a $3,500 unit with two terabytes of storage—“far less powerful” than a typical desktop or laptop PC, but with loads of storage space and enough computational power to handle LOCKSS requirements), and more. Seriously good stuff.

Etches-Johnson, Amanda, “Shiny new toys @ your library,” blog without a library, February 20, 2006.

I’ve seen a few recent posts that warm my heart, as they question the extent to which people admire shiny new toys for their newness, solutions that must be adopted whether or not a problem has been identified. This is an excellent example. Etches-Johnson plays off an ACRLog post and the notion that “perhaps we’re implementing Web 2.0 technologies (like blogs, rss, wikis, etc.) for the sake of the technologies themselves and because they’re new, cool, and we mistakenly believe that our users want them.”

Etches-Johnson calls this the “really crucial question to ask themselves”: “What need is this going to fulfill or what problem will this fix?” I’d suggest reversing the order. The first question should be “What problems do we have?” (that is, this particular library, not libraries as a whole) followed by “Does [whatever] have the potential to solve one/some of them without creating larger problems?”

She offers two examples at her library: Implementing a blog a couple years back and implementing IM reference last year. In the first case, there were “really specific needs”:

Ø    “We needed a better way to archive our news stories

Ø    “we needed to provide more people with an easy way to add news content (without having to know html)

Ø    “we needed an easy way to repurpose news content on the rest of our site

“So, yeah, not hard to guess that a blog would fulfill those needs.”

As for IM reference, the librarians knew “a large number of our users worked virtually…and that most of them were on MSN,” so IM reference made sense.

“There certainly is a cool-factor associated with these ‘shiny new toys,’ but implementing them for the sake of their ‘shininess’ makes no sense.” She doesn’t think the blog and accompanying RSS did much for her library’s coolness; IM reference, though, sent it “through the roof.”

Good stuff. My comments are almost as long as the post; consider this a proxy for several thoughtful posts on several blogs about using new technology sensibly. The shiny new toys are just tools. Some make sense in some libraries and not others. None makes sense except in relation to real needs and uses for the real users. All make sense if they solve real problems within a given library.

Farkas, Meredith, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Information wants to be free, February 12, 2006.

If Farkas’ book (next item) is as good as some of her two-page posts, I’ll have to buy a copy (not something I do very often with the library literature!). Here she considers helping patrons, marketing library services, making libraries better—and the complications of real life. She agrees with Steven Bell that there isn’t a librarian out there who doesn’t want to make libraries better—and adds, “Librarians sometimes make pretty bad mistakes in the name of improving our libraries.” But who’s to say what’s a mistake and what does improve libraries?

Maybe “barriers” like “no cell phones” and “no food or drink” are “non-user-centered”—or maybe not. The whole point of asking patrons not to use cell phones in libraries is so other patrons can study, read, whatever without some jerk shouting into a phone—and it’s no great fun to work at a keyboard after the previous patron spilled a drink on it. (I agree with Farkas that libraries should have spare keyboards and mice handy, although saying keyboards cost “next to nothing” is like saying replacement DVDs cost “next to nothing”—about the same next to nothing, actually. $20 a shot adds up pretty quickly. Yes, you can get cheaper keyboards, but one that’s worth using will still run $15 to $20.)

Then there are fines. Farkas makes a case for keeping fines and against the Netflix model; it’s a case worth reading and considering. “Getting rid of fines may very well annoy more patrons than it would please and we shouldn’t make the assumption that all of our patrons want to get rid of fines.” Here’s a great statement: “I worry that sometimes we are so focused on being cool that we’d risk alienating a lot of our patrons for the sake of appearing less like a ‘stereotypical librarian.’”

The key is not assuming that we know what our patrons need or want. We need to make every effort to know our patrons, rather than thinking we know them. We need to actually ask them what they want and what they think about our current services. We need to try and get patrons involved in the decision-making process at our libraries.

Farkas goes on to note that libraries need to think about all the stakeholders, “not just the youngest, the loudest, or the ones with the most money.” Indeed.

Farkas, Meredith, “Working on the book: Lessons learned so far,” Information wants to be free, February 8, 2006.

Farkas is writing a book on libraries and technology. In the process, she’s prepared an excellent set of ten “lessons learned so far.” Go read the post. I’ll just state the topic sentences, one heavily paraphrased, but it’s the paragraphs that make them live.

It’s really important to manage the project well. Structure things the way that works best for you [emphasis added]. Don’t be too hard on yourself. A book is a lot more than research and writing. It’s a good idea not to edit anything until you’ve written everything. You will need to lay out the chapters...for your proposal, but don’t be surprised if it all changes… If you’re having trouble, talk to your editor. (Have someone to bounce your fears off of.) Books are hard to write along with a full-time job—but totally worth it. Don’t underestimate yourself.

As I commented, if there’s ever another edition of First Have Something to Say, I might ask for permission to quote the whole two-page post. While it’s impossible for me not to edit as I’m writing, the kind of “editing” Farkas means—where you sit down and tear a chapter to pieces—is indeed best done after you’ve completed a draft. The sentence that follows her second point needs to be repeated as well: There is no right way to write a book.

Fenton, Eileen Gifford and Roger C. Schonfeld, “The shift away from print,” Inside Higher Ed, December 8, 2005. insidehighered.com/views/ 2005/12/08/schonfeld

This article argues that transition to all-electronic form for scholarly journals, even those in the humanities and social sciences, “seems all but inevitable”—and that the shift “may endanger the viability of certain journals and even the journal literature more broadly—while not even reducing costs…”

It’s an interesting treatment, although I wonder about the seeming inevitability of, say, journals in art and architecture going all-digital. If it’s true that it’s “become the norm” to migrate away from print even at the largest research universities, there are dangers that probably aren’t being addressed very well. And, frankly, I find it specious to suggest that a “tipping point” would mean that any continued print acquisition no longer makes sense.

The recommendations make sense, with caveats, and I’m not the one to state those caveats. Briefly, the authors recommend that all publishers develop a strategy to live with an all-digital journal environment; that libraries “and higher education more broadly” consider how they can support publishers that will find such a transition difficult (e.g., those scholarly societies that haven’t been gouging libraries); and that libraries try to manage format transition strategically. There’s another bullet, difficult to summarize. They seem to be saying some society journals just won’t survive and that “the alternative may be the replacement of many of these journals with blogs, repositories, or other less formal distribution models.”

Blogs?

What I don’t see: Suggestions that libraries themselves could take over the “publishing” duties for more open-access ejournals and that such journals could replace some struggling journals without abandoning the journal’s badge altogether. The quotation above seems to suggest abandoning quality control. What could require such an extreme alternative?

I’m taken aback by this statement, which doesn’t even limit things to the journal literature: “The widespread migration from print to electronic seems likely to eliminate library ownership of new accessions, with licensing taking the place of purchase.” Are we really at that state—where academic libraries abandon the long collection altogether?

Worth reading, but I find the piece raises more questions than it answers. Maybe that’s because I’m naïve enough to believe that quality academic institutions aren’t universally ready to scrap their collections. The comments are an interesting mixed lot. Steven Bell argues that journals in some disciplines aren’t going to abandon print any time soon, Malcolm Compitello derides the notion of replacing scholarly journals with blogs, “dan” points out the difficulty of long-term access in a licensing environment, and Joel Bradshaw (University of Hawaii Press) offers a mild defense of “peer-reviewed blogs” as a distribution mechanism, while noting (correctly) that “unsubstantiated drivel is not limited to blog formats.”

Bradshaw makes a good point—but a “blog” consisting of refereed articles is an issue-per-article ejournal using a lightweight publishing system. A sensible publisher wouldn’t call it a blog, even if WordPress (for example) was the underlying software.

“Interview as learning tool,” digitize everything, February 3, 2006 (www.digiwik.org)

The writer reports on a full day of interviewing for a digitization librarian position at their library. They note some of the views—and comment on where they do and don’t agree. Naturally, “digitize everything” resonated with the blogger—but the blogger also saw the point of the preservationist who said “I just don’t trust digitization,” since digitization is not preservation. (There are initiatives that can combine the two—and since I work for RLG, which has spearheaded the development of guidelines for trusted digital archives, I’m acutely aware of the initiatives and some of the difficulties.) “It isn’t enough to just digitize. We should add value.” The blogger asserts that digitization itself is enough added value. The blogger also disagrees with someone saying, “Users don’t want everything to be online”—and in context (oral histories), the blogger may be right, but as a general rule I think that’s pushing the digital viewpoint too hard.

I find the last three questions (called “difficult...[with] no definitive answer”) most interesting: How should we decide what gets digitized first, how should we market digital collections, and “to outsource or not to outsource?” In context of the last, the blogger seems to remember seeing a digitization cost study “in RLG, but I haven’t gone back to look yet.” Yep, it’s there—not only studies but a worksheet to estimate costs of such projects.

“The life expectancies of books,” Making light, January 28, 2006 (nielsenhayden.com/making­light/archives/007181.htm)

“We talk about immortal literature, but the vast majority of books are as mortal as we are.” True enough—and the writer provides ample examples. John Cleveland: The most popular poet of his era. Read any Cleveland lately? Tastes change, leaving a lot of authors alongside the highway.

“Tell me again how unjust it is that your own books are out of print?” In fact, “falling out of print is a book’s natural fate.” This is a long entry (six print pages) in a blog aimed mostly at writers, I believe, and it’s probably worth reminding writers that most of what you write will fade away fairly rapidly.

“Consider, then, the duration of copyrights.” You know this story: From 28 years (renewable to 56), to 28 (renewable to 95), to life of the author plus 50 years, now to life plus 70. “You can’t exactly draw a line, but somewhere in there, copyright stops being about directly rewarding an author for his work.” It pains the writer to hear “respectable minor authors going on about how the extension of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years is a victory for the little guy. It isn’t…” It’s primarily a tool to support Big Media, with special emphasis on Disney.

The post goes into fascinating details. For example, although all the original Sherlock Holmes fiction is out of copyright, the estate was still “combative”—and there was a claim that certain images associated with Sherlock Holmes (the deerstalker cap, the calabash pipe) were under copyright, to whoever owned rights to the early Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies. That turns out to be nonsense: An early Holmes illustrator, Sidney Paget, used the cap—and William Gillette, playing Holmes onstage from 1899 to the 1930s, provided the pipe. “I don’t know which studio it was that harassed the [publishing house], but they were asserting rights they manifestly didn’t own.”

Anyway, those are big guys. Most writers aren’t. “Life of author plus 70 years does squat for your chances of being read.” What it does do is make it difficult for someone to restore your work to print if there’s a new wave of popularity—because it’s probably an orphan work. Worse, distant heirs tend to take “jackpot” views when a publisher proposes a “nice little reprint project”: “If one publisher is interested, it must mean that some other publisher would be interested as well. There could be an auction! A movie! A theme park! Woo-hoo! Pots of money!” Only, of course, there is no pot of gold; the original reprint publisher gives up and goes away.

There’s more. This is about the time that really terrific anthologies of early 20th century fantasy and science fiction should be emerging—and they’re not, because it’s too difficult to secure the rights to the stories. Near-eternal copyright works wonders for a few big companies and a handful of heirs—and effectively assures that minor story writers and other authors will stay forgotten.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 6, Whole Issue 76, 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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