The Chronicle of Higher Education published this succinct editorial by Robert Darnton, noted defender of the book and of libraries, titled, 5 Myths About the “Information Age.” Nicely, this is freely available on the web, not just for people whose institutions have access to the Chronicle. You might know Robert Darnton for his The Case for Books, which was based on a series of essays he did for the New York Review of Books (correct me if my memory is misleading me). This editorial in the Chronicle encapsulates some important points.
From Litwin Books, LLC
As an academic publisher, we understand our role in the information ecology, and respect the roles of academics and librarians in the same ecological system. To clarify our understanding of our place in that system, we offer the following pledge to the library community:
1. We recognize the free speech rights of librarians, and respect the fact that criticizing a publisher is sometimes part of a librarian’s professional duty. We will not sue librarians for criticizing us.
2. We will attempt to make money by selling books, not by charging authors fees to publish.
3. We will price our titles reasonably, so that individuals as well as institutions can afford to buy them.
4. We will always use acid-free, sustainably-sourced paper.
5. Our books will include bibliographic references and indexes where appropriate.
6. Contributors of chapters in edited volumes will maintain all their rights (the rights we license from them will be non-exclusive).
7. We pledge to balance timeliness, quality, and “timelessness” in our choice of book projects and our processes for bringing them to publication.
8. We pledge to make our full backlist available as DRM-free PDF files to personal and institutional members of Library Juice.
9. We will explore e-book publishing models with a creative approach and an effort to respond to the new logics of changing media, with the interests of scholars and librarians in mind.
Litwin Books is an independent academic publisher of books about media, communication and the cultural record. We are interdisciplinary in scope and intention, and gather together works from a range of disciplines, including media studies, communication studies, cultural studies, information studies, philosophy of technology, archival studies, communications history, history of archives and libraries, and related fields. Our independence from larger institutions gives us the freedom to offer critical perspectives that cut against the grain, as well as occasionally to give a scholar free rein with a work that is outside his or her usual publishing stream.
With our Library Juice Press imprint we follow the same philosophy, publishing books that examine theoretical and practical issues in librarianship from a critical perspective, for an audience of professional librarians and students of library science.
Auslander & Fox is our new imprint for general readers, featuring books characterized by originality, wit, and perspective.
I have just interviewed Ray Schwartz. Ray is a systems librarian at the William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. He frequently presents on topics relating to the use of many forms of electronic transactional data and datamining. He is teaching a course for Library Juice Academy next month called, “Collecting and Evaluating Electronic Transactions from Library Services.” He agreed to do an interview here to give people a better idea about what will be covered in the class and where he is coming from.
I have just interviewed Marcus Banks, who is the Director of Library/Academic & Instructional Innovation at Samuel Merritt University. He has a strong interest in new and alternative methods of quantitatively assessing scholarly work, and that is roughly the subject area of the class he is teaching for Library Juice Academy next month: Digital Scholarship: New Metrics, New Modes. Marcus agreed to be interviewed here, to give people a better sense of what his class is about and what they will learn from it.
Dale Askey, a librarian at McMaster University in Canada, is the one who has been sued by Mellen Press for giving them a bad review. Here are two statements supporting him, one from the Association of Research Libraries and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and the other from the British Columbia Library Association…
ARL-CARL Joint Statement in Support of Dale Askey and McMaster University
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) share a commitment to freedom of opinion and expression of ideas and are strongly opposed to any effort to intimidate individuals in order to suppress information or censor ideas. We further share the belief that a librarian must be able to offer his or her assessment of a publisher’s products or practices free from such intimidation.
Consequently, we are highly supportive of Dale Askey and of McMaster University as they confront the lawsuit brought against them by Edwin Mellen Press. We strongly disapprove of the aggressive use of the Canadian court system to threaten Mr. Askey with millions of dollars in liability over the contents of a blog post. We urge Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw this suit and use more constructive means to address its reputation.
“No academic librarian, research library, or university should face a multi-million dollar lawsuit because of a candid discussion of the publications or practices of an academic publisher,” said Brent Roe, Executive Director of CARL. “The exaggerated action of Edwin Mellen Press could only impose a chill on academic and research librarians’ expression of frank professional judgments.”
“Unfortunately, this is just the latest publisher that has chosen to pursue costly and wasteful litigation against universities and librarians,” said Elliott Shore, Executive Director of ARL. “These hostile tactics highlight the need for people who share the core values of research libraries to embrace models of publishing that foster—rather than hinder—research, teaching, and learning.”
Together, ARL and CARL represent 136 research libraries in the United States and Canada.
Press Release from the British Columbia Library Association
The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) is extremely concerned about the unwarranted and frivolous lawsuits that Edwin Mellen Press has filed against Associate University Librarian Dale Askey and against McMaster University.
Edwin Mellen Press alleges that that comments made by Mr. Askey on his personal blog regarding the quality of their publications were defamatory, and are seeking a total of $4.5 million dollars in damages to compensate for injury to their reputation.
As a professional librarian engaged in collection development, Mr. Askey is both qualified and obliged to make decisions about published materials. Central to this issue is Mr. Askey’s academic freedom which should ensure that he, as well as fellow academic librarians, has the ability to freely speak, write, review and evaluate as professionals without fear of reprisal, litigation, or control by vendors, employers or other external bodies.
As a citizen in a democratic society Mr. Askey is free to have and share his opinions with his community, society and country. Sharing and debating perspectives without fear of recrimination is the hallmark of a healthy democratic society peopled by engaged citizens.
Librarians and information workers uphold the rights of all community members to express a critical view about the value of a book or other information materials. This includes a librarian’s own right to do the same. Every citizen should be able to express an opinion without fear of litigation should they offend an author or publisher. By filing lawsuits against Mr. Askey and McMaster University Edwin Mellen Press is attempting to create a climate of fear among librarians, information workers, and all libraries that may critique their product.
BCLA condemns the misuse of the court process to intimidate libraries, librarians and information workers from discharging their professional obligations and from demonstrating one of the library’s core responsibilities to uphold the right of freedom of thought and expression.
BCLA urges Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw its lawsuits and instead engage in a debate, a conversation or a discussion with the library community in order to build a healthy society that reflects a myriad of opinions held by diverse community members.
For information contact:
BCLA Executive Director
I was going to call this post, “Gripes of a Vendor,” but then I checked on the author, Rick Anderson, and found that he is not a member of the publishing community but a member of the library community. His post is in The Scholarly Kitchen, the blog of the Society of Scholarly Publishing, and it is titled, “Six Mistakes the Library Staff Are Making” (in dealing with vendor sales reps). The six mistakes? Rudeness, wasting the rep’s time, knee-jerk adversarialism, failure to prepare for meetings, failure to prepare the ground for product consideration (when you get a free trial), and, lastly, “putting political library concerns above patron needs.”
Just a couple of words about Anderson’s last complaint. He explains that he thinks that focusing on the way the system is structured is a distraction from the library’s mission and from service, that it is about long-term reform rather than short term satisfaction of patron demand. I think that for most librarians who are concerned about economic aspects of the information ecology where it impacts libraries, it is directly about the mission of the library and the ability to serve patrons, in the short term as well as the long term. Anderson’s perspective as a library dean may be a little bit different from that of front line staff, in two important ways. First, he lacks the front line staff members understanding of the nature of patron needs, and second, front line staff lack a full understanding of the relationship between libraries and vendors, and the economic side of the library’s functioning. I think that a lot can be gained from better communication among people who occupy different roles in library organizations, and I would say that scolding library staff for taking an approach that arises directly from their experience serving the public is not a very constructive way to go about it. Anderson says that he plans to write something on his point about “putting politics before patrons” in an upcoming post, which I look forward to seeing.
Phil Davis writes in The Scholarly Kitchen about “The Secret Life of Retracted Articles.” Scientific papers are frequently retracted, officially, by the journal’s publishers and editors if it is found that data was faked or for other reasons that invalidate the article’s conclusions. The problem is that the articles stay around, in libraries, on websites, and in other places, with no indication that they have been retracted.
I was just reading a bit of Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and came across a section that I think applies to the bibliometric obsessions with impact factors, h- and g-indexes, and other quantitative measures of the value of a scholar’s work. The following is from pages 119 and 120 of the translation by Swenson and Lowrie (1968 edition):
…Ethics and the ethical have to raise against this entire order of things. For in our age it is not merely an individual scholar or thinker here or there who concerns himself with universal history; the whole age loudly demands it. Nevertheless, Ethics and the ethical, as constituting the essential anchorage for all individual existence, have an indefeasible claim upon every existing individual; so indefeasible a claim, that whatever a man may accomplish in the world, even to the most astonishing of achievements, it is nonetheless quite dubious in significance, unless the individual has been ethically clear when he made his choice, has ethically clarified his choice to himself. The ethical quality is jealous for its own integrity, and is quite unimpressed by the most astounding quantity.
It is for this reason that Ethics looks upon all world-historical knowledge with a degree of suspicion, because it may so easily become a snare, a demoralizing aesthetic diversion for the knowing subject, in so far as the distinction between what does or does not have historical significance obeys a quantitative dialectic. As a consequence of this fact, the absolute ethical distinction between good and evil tends for the historical survey to be neutralized in the aesthetic-metaphysical determination of the great and significant, to which category the bad has equal admittance with the good. In the case of what has world-historic significance, another set of factors plays an essential role, factors which do not obey an ethical dialectic: accidents, circumstances, the play of forces entering into the historic totality that modifyingly incorporates the deed of the individual so as to transform it into something that does not directly belong to him. Neither by willing the good with all his strength, nor by satanic obduracy in willing what is evil, can a human being be assured of historical significance. Even in the case of misfortune the misfortune may obtain world-historical significance. How then does an individual acquire historical significance? By means of what from the ethical point of view is accidental. But Ethics regards as unethical the transition by which an individual renounces the ethical quality in order to try his fortune, longingly, wishingly, and so forth, in the quantitative and non ethical…
I spent the better part of Wednesday at VuStuff II, a small regional gathering hosted by Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library, which focused on the intersection of technology and scholarly communication in libraries. The attendees were an interesting mix of people from academic and special libraries, and included library directors, archivists, systems librarians, special collections librarians, reference librarians, technical services librarians, and more. In the group discussion session, some of us regretted the lack of representation from public libraries. It sounded like it is now on the agenda to do outreach to that sector next year.
I’ve been impressed with what’s going on at Villanova for awhile now. Not only are they doing some of the most interesting, cutting-edge work that I’ve seen in terms of presenting digital content from their special collections, but the culture of their library work environment is very different (and I might judge it as “better”) than what I know of in other libraries and work settings. This is an outsider’s view, based on perceptions gleaned from what people who work there have told me and things that I’ve read. The following are some of the things I find particularly intriguing and feel might serve as a good model for other places to consider: 1) Falvey library staff are given time to explore special projects based on their own interests. By doing this, the library is taking a risk – some work hours may indeed be “wasted,” but new products and new services may be born. A lot of workplaces harp on the need for employees to be “creative,” “collaborative,” and “innovative,” but very few actually provide the time and space to support their staff in doing this. 2) Falvey funds technology. Money for digital projects and technology-based services is written into the budget. Many workplaces expect staff to “make do” with no financial support or else fund projects on an ad hoc basis. Falvey models the fact that superior technology-based projects require dedicated, on-going funding. 3) Falvey diversifies the responsibility for technology. There is no one staff position that is responsible for technology initiatives; rather, various aspects of technology are integrated into the job descriptions of numerous library staff members. This means that if a library staff position is cut or a staff member leaves, technology initiatives don’t evaporate along with that change. 4) Falvey supports open access. The VuFind product they’ve developed for use as a flexible library resource portal is available for free through a GPL open source license. The digital library content they present is available freely to anyone (with a few exceptions for some materials with outside restrictions). Instead of partnering with commercial interests to market a product, Falvey keeps to the ideal of libraries providing information and resources free-of-charge.
I think that Joe Lucia, Villanova’s university librarian and the director of Falvey Memorial Library, deserves a lot of credit for his leadership in these areas. I missed his opening remarks at the conference, but found his questions and comments throughout the sessions to be interesting and thought-provoking. He seems to be looking further forward than many library directors, asking questions like “What does it mean for libraries if the ILS as we know it is dead in the next five to eight years?” “What does it mean if 80% of the content of our book collections is available electronically?” A word to the wise is that the two books he specifically mentioned were Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything and R. David Lankes’ The Atlas of New Librarianship.
The presentations at the conference were informative and sometimes inspiring. Amy Baker of the University of Pittsburgh described the preservation of archival mining maps project that her institution has been involved in, spurred by a mining accident in western Pennsylvania. Working in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection, this project is a good example of a university/government partnership that provides publicly available information in order to help protect people and property. It reminded me that while librarians and archivists rarely see our work as possibly having life-or-death consequences – sometimes it does.
Eric Lease Morgan of the University of Notre Dame demonstrated the Catholic Research Resources Alliance website (the “Catholic Portal”) and explained how it uses the VuFind product to draw together metadata from various formats and sources into one seamless product. I was particularly interested in its ability to perform full text searches and construct KWIC word concordances. I’m not sure how well known or well utilized this site is, but I think it holds a great deal of potential for researchers in literature, history, religious studies, and other fields to mine text data for a variety of purposes.
Eric Zino of the LYRASIS library network explained the Mass Digitization Collaborative, undertaken to help libraries digitize selected resources in a cost effective way. Unique items of historical value have been the major focus, although participating libraries are free to choose any materials they wish to include (provided copyright restrictions are met). Digitized materials are made publicly available via the Internet Archive, and can also be hosted locally. This project underscored the benefits of libraries working together to cut costs, minimize staff time spent on projects, produce consistent products, and share content more broadly.
I missed the final presentation of the conference, which was Rob Behary of Duquesne University speaking on his library’s project to digitize the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper. His presentation highlighted some of the benefits of moving from microfilm to digital content. Most librarians will agree that efforts like this, to preserve smaller regional publications with a unique focus or viewpoint, are an important service that libraries should be involved in.
All in all, this was an interesting day with plenty of time for networking built in. I enjoyed reconnecting with former colleagues and students, and meeting some new people as well. It was particularly rewarding to be with a group of people who were interested in moving library services forward into the 21st century, while still retaining the traditional library value of open access to information. I suspect that organizers may be seeking larger quarters for future VuStuff gatherings as its reputation continues to grow.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is coming to the defense of biologist Charles Monnett, who is being hounded by the Interior Department because of a 2006 publication that communicated alarming news about the effects of global warming on a polar bear population. Since the publication was in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and the investigators have not raised any specific questions about its scientific validity it seems to be an effort to suppress a finding for political reasons. Read more on the website of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Thanks to Fred Stoss for sharing this information.
I was in Cambridge, MA last weekend for MiT7: unstable platforms: the promise and peril of transition. This conference is put on every two years jointly by MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program and the MIT Communication Forum.
The conference is concerned with new media and new communication technologies and their broad implications. Presenters came to the conference with a multitude of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, but most are working in communications, media studies, or digital humanities. There were a number of librarians and archivists present (and presenting), but not everyone who spoke about libraries or archives had a library or archival studies background, which was refreshing and interesting.
The first of four plenary sessions in an auditorium started the conference, and it featured Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard; Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Pomona College (with a book coming out soon on scholarly communication); Mark Leccese, a former journalist now teaching at Emerson College; and Klaus Peter Muller, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. These four addressed questions on the fate of narrative and the shape of the public sphere in the new media environment, and were asked to give visions for the future. The introduction of the subject of narrative at the start of the conference was very interesting; at all of the sessions I attended, people drew ties between what was being discussed and questions of narrative and narrativity. I guess it must be common to talk about narrative among scholars who regularly attend MLA, but I think it is really great to introduce or invoke ideas about narrative in a setting that has a lot of social scientists as well. To me it seems that there is a lot still to be gained from studying narrative (or narrative theory or narratology) and its role outside of the usual literary contexts where it is talked about (film, literature, etc.).
Regarding narrative, the discussion seemed to show that the public at large is more aware of narrative structures in the media they consume than they possibly were in the past, as a result of the participatory online culture, fan culture, etcetera. Joshua Benton noted that “ancillary objects” surrounding news stories (i.e. links and commentary) affect the narrative by providing additional perspectives (alternate narratives) and additional entry and exit points. This makes it seem possible (to me) that people could be growing sharper about how narratives are used to manipulate them and might be becoming empowered by an enhanced ability to see through manipulative narratives (political, commercial, etc.). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for this that I can see though, considering how the masses (forgive me for using the term straightforwardly) continue to be moved by narratives that arise out of the facts but don’t do them justice. As refreshing as it was to me to find questions of narrative addressed throughout the conference, I would have been happier to see connections drawn between narratives and narrativity and social influence and control. That these connections weren’t drawn probably has to do with the fact that narrative is mostly a topic of discussion in the humanities rather than in the social sciences. (Please comment if you have something to suggest in this connection.)
There were two sessions following the opening plenary session on the first day. In the first I heard papers on the media and the Space Race of the 1960s, the 19th century telegraph system as a new communications medium, 19th century fan fic, and late 19th century American literature evidencing responses to media shift. In the second I heard papers on a discourse analysis of internet RFC’s to look for the history of information policies (Sandra Braman); Bill Gates’ “Open Letter to Hobbyists”; and the influence of the Interop conferences on the development of the internet. These two sessions were not the only ones where the point was made that “it was ever thus” or “this is not the first time” that we have been anxious and excited about the impact of new media technologies. I particularly like the insights that can be derived from historical studies such as these, and I began speaking with a couple of presenters about a possible series for Litwin Books in this area.
The conference went on to have three more plenary sessions and five more call sessions, in which I attended panels called Reading and Writing; Legal and Social Links; Classrooms and Libraries in Transition; Capital, Time and Media Bias; and Publishing in Transition. Highlights were talks by librarian Margaret Heller and her collaborator Nell Taylor, Paul van den Hoven, Bob Hanke, Paulina Mickiewicz, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and Karen Hellekson.
Margaret Heller and Nell Taylor talked about an interesting, informal community-based library project that is building a collection of locally-published materials representing the diverse communities of Chicago and putting the catalog online in a social-media-rich way. It seems to be a very successful project, which, frankly, is unusual for things that are that innovative.
Paul van den Hoven does media studies of the legal system in Holland, and talked about the way the expanding, democratized media environment has outstripped the judicial system’s ability to handle the proliferation of narratives surrounding cases that have a public nature. His discussion helped me focus my own thinking about the current trend toward democratization of media and the de-authorization of institutions, in the sense that in the context of the law it is clear, to me anyway, how top-down institutions can protect people from the consequences of an irrational, narrative-driven public. Sandra Braman could certainly explain to me why my sense of security in feeling protected by the judicial system is a false one; nevertheless, there is still more to be said than we usually hear, it seems to me, about the dangers of de-authorizing institutions and empowering the masses (again, apologies for using the term in a straightforward manner).
Bob Hanke read a difficult paper (that he was kind enough to send me so that I could study it) addressing the technologization of the university and the changes that have emerged through the process. His paper was political, and addressed “media effects” (a term he avoided) of technology from a Canadian, media-studies point of view, but incorporating a political-economic structural viewpoint as well. Now having read his paper I am afraid to say I still find it difficult to understand in parts; but perhaps I just need to read some of the people he is citing.
Paulina Mickiewicz read a very interesting paper (with slides) about a major work of public architecture and its connection to the media environment: the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec. Mickiewicz’s background is in media studies, and her reading has so far not included much from the library literature. Her focus is on the architect’s thinking in designing the building, and how architectural decisions in building this and other innovative libraries define, or at least aim to define, the meaning of the library as an information place for the community. I will be interested to see her work as it progresses.
Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Karen Hellekson both gave papers in the Publishing in Transition session, and both were fascinating and informative, on the subjects of trade book publishing and scholarly journal publishing respectively.
It was a very good conference. In addition to the people mentioned above, I felt fortunate to hear papers and comments by William Uricchio, Kelley Kreitz, Heidi Gautschi, Andrew Feldstein, Julia Noordegraaf, and Goran Bolin.
Finally, I want to give a shout-out to a couple of librarians from MIT libraries who were present: Patsy Baudoin and Marlene Manoff. I look forward to seeing them again in 2013 if not sooner.
MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:
Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.
Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.
I am not personally diving into the discussion of Judge Chin’s decision on the Google Settlement, because I am too war-weary of fighting it out with other librarians on issues where I feel like a lone dissenter, but I will go as far as to say that I like this post on the topic by David Crotty: The Google Books Settlement: Where Things Stand, and Some Suggestions for What’s Next….
I just read and enjoyed this paper by MaryBeth Meszaros, “Who’s In Charge Here? Authority, Authoritativeness, and the Undergraduate Researcher,” in Communications in Information Literacy, vol 4, no. 1 (2010). It paints a more pessimistic picture of GenY students than we usually see. I wonder how GenY optimists would respond to her argument. I tend to agree with her and think she has pointed out a real problem, although I don’t know the extent to which it is truly pervasive. I think a geniune GenY optimist should respond by pointing out that her observations can be looked at from the perspective of the “new epistemology,” where intellectual authority is just something we don’t need to worry about, part of the old paradigm. Fine. But how many who hold that view are ready to deal with all of its implications?