November 30, 2011

Occupying the First Amendment

The recent assaults by the police on various Occupy movement encampments highlight the tenuousness of our right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Certainly, there is good reason for municipal ordinances against permanently occupying public spaces. Under many circumstances, this would amount to appropriating public spaces for private use, but the Occupy encampments do not fit these circumstances. The Occupy encampments are of a kind with the recent and ongoing occupations of Tahrir Square in Cairo, the 1989 occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and the occupation of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in 1980. All of them are or were peaceful efforts to confront a nation’s political power structure and to rally fellow citizens to oppose corruption, abuse, and undemocratic institutions. President Obama has condemned state violence against Egyptian protesters, but it is no surprise that he and his administration remain silent when the right to assemble for political expression is denied in U.S. cities. The impulse to silence dissent (or to allow dissidents to be silenced) is strong among those in power.

Apologists for police repression in the U.S. point out that the crackdowns in Egypt, China, and Poland were far more brutal and of a greater scale than what is happening in our cities; however, the violation of our first amendment rights is no less a violation simply because less violent tactics are employed against smaller demonstrations. The ostensible reason for destroying the encampments is to protect public health, but it would be quite easy to work with the protesters to address any issues related to sanitation and public health, while respecting the right to assemble and petition the government for redress.

Beyond the right of the people to peaceably assemble, the freedoms of speech and of the press are also under attack. This has been made evident by the reported arrests of and assaults on journalists and the restrictions placed on them by police at encampments. It also has been dramatized recently by the confiscation and destruction of the People’s Library during an attack on the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park. The People’s Library contained over 6,000 volumes. Its destruction by the police illustrates the disregard that the New York Police Department and Mayor Bloomberg have for political expression. City officials are more concerned with fostering a certain image of the city and protecting Wall Street than they are with our constitutional rights. They are using City ordinances to crush political dissent.

Some might attempt to excuse the destruction of the People’s Library on the grounds that much of the collection was not unique and that it might have appeared to the police to be an ad hoc, ephemeral assortment of books and not a “real” library. It might have been seen as one of many things to be cleared from the park. However, American Library Association President Molly Raphael correctly observed that “the very existence of the People’s Library demonstrates that libraries are an organic part of all communities. Libraries serve the needs of community members and preserve the record of community history. In the case of the People’s Library, this included irreplaceable records and material related to the occupation movement and the temporary community that it represented.” She went on to express support for the librarians and volunteers working to reestablish the People’s Library. Roughly discarding tents and sleeping bags is one thing, but destroying the media of public discourse is a direct assault on democracy.

It is clear that the real intent of these police actions is simply to suppress political dissent. This serves no good purpose. Indeed, allowing the protest to continue would be of great benefit to everyone – both those who are sympathetic to the protest and to those who are not. It would allow the public and politicians to understand the depth of support for the Occupy movement. Without police interference, the size and longevity of the protest would be proportional to the indignation felt by the protesters and the popularity of their cause. If the grievances are trivial, the protest would soon evaporate. If they are serious, the growth and staying power of the encampments would make this known to everyone. Destroying the encampments merely obscures the issue, while it makes a mockery of our most prized civil liberties. It has, however, demonstrated the narrow boundaries of acceptable political dissent in the U.S. We owe great thanks to the occupiers for the sacrifices they are making to push back those boundaries and enlarge our freedom.

November 28, 2011

New Address for Library Juice Press and Litwin Books

New address for us:

Library Juice Press (or Litwin Books)
PO Box 25322
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Mail sent to our PO Box in Duluth, Minnesota will still reach us, but there will be a delay.

Local Indie Bookstores

We’re intimately familiar with the pressures on public libraries, and worried about closures and reductions of service. Independent bookstores have it worse, for a number of reasons. Indie bookstores’ fortunes decline as online retailers thrive, and as people move from print books to e-readers and non-literary, screen-based reading in general, while public libraries are able to adapt to these changes to an extent, by providing electronic services. There is a romantic attachment to indie bookstores just as there is to libraries, perhaps even moreso because they are more threatened. I have some comments to make about this, prompted by a brief article appearing on today, titled, “Support your local indie bookstore!

First, if something like indie bookstores, a traditional form or cultural touchstone, needs an appeal for support based on what it represents, then it may be a sign that it isn’t needed the way its supporters wish; otherwise the need for it in itself would lend the support. The article in Salon claims that most people simply don’t realize the role that indie bookstores play in shaping reading tastes, in bringing the good books to the market, but no evidence is supplied to support this claim, and I don’t really believe it. If a high proportion of book sales were through independent bookstores, then this claim would make some sense, although it would still be necessary to sort out whether booksellers market the books that they do based primarily on their own judgment or based on reviews and publicity (and I suspect that reviews and publicity have a more important role).

Is it a sad thing that independent bookstores are dying? Yes, of course. But as a niche publisher, I have a role in killing them, alongside Amazon and e-readers, because I am not able to be profitable and support indie bookstores at the same time. Independent bookstores, and larger brick-and-mortar bookstores for that matter, are based on a business model that is at odds with the growing sector of the publishing industry which is composed of smaller publishers who are focused on topical or geographic niches. In trade publishing, that is, the bigger part of the publishing industry that is based on books for general readers that are sold in bookstores, certain market structures prevail that allow bookstores to be profitable. Among these are a discount rate of 40 to 45 percent off the retail price and the expectation that bookstores will return a high proportion of copies to the publisher for a full refund. Additionally, bookstores and publishers depend on distributors, who generally take an additional 15% off the cover price. Publishers are able to be profitable under these conditions only through high sales volumes. That means that niche publishers, who by nature are going to have very low sales volumes by comparison, cannot afford the prevailing 60% discount or the high rates of returns, at least not without setting retail prices that readers are unlikely to pay. On the other hand, niche publishers are able to sell on Amazon and other online book retailers and give a discount to the retailer of as little as 20%, and can refuse to accept returns altogether as well. Those conditions allow niche publishers to be profitable. And in fact, at present it is niche publishing that is the profitable part of the trade market.

So, with much sadness, I say to indie bookstores that I am sorry to see them go, but I cannot sell to them on their current terms and have a viable publishing operation, and so far I have not found that I need their marketing in order to sell books.

Thoughts on this? I really do wish I could afford to sell to indie bookstores, but I can’t.

November 26, 2011

Google Books American English Corpus

I want to share a fascinating resource I found: the Google Books corpus of American English, 155 billion words in size. Obviously too big to download, so for analysis purposes you’re limited to what you can do via the website at Brigham Young University. The easy thing to do is type in a word or phrase and see its frequency by decade, going back to the 1810s. Want to know when the phrase “Think Outside the Box” first appeared in a book? You can get a pretty good idea through this resource. Would you have guessed that the word “originary” goes back to the 1820s, if not farther? I wouldn’t have. The interface allows you to look for collocates (words that go with other words), view charts showing relative word frequency in the corpus by decade, handles parts of speech, and gives you various limits and display options. Other kinds of analysis that might be done with text corpora can’t be done through the interface. Their Corpus of Contemporary American English allows more sophisticated querying. BYU has several other language corpora available online in this format. Fun with words!!

November 18, 2011

Library Juice Press/Litwin Books Gift Certificates


Library Juice Press / Litwin Books gift certificates are great as personal gifts or as library-related awards. You can pay for a gift certificate in an amount of your choosing with funds in your PayPal account or with a credit card.

November 12, 2011

Books Don’t Take You Anywhere

Great Onion article lampooning those among us who lack imagination:

Books Don’t Take You Anywhere

WASHINGTON, DC—A study released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that, contrary to the longtime claims of librarians and teachers, books do not take you anywhere.

“For years, countless educators have asserted that books give readers a chance to journey to exotic, far-off lands and meet strange, exciting new people,” Education Secretary Richard Riley told reporters. “We have found this is simply not the case.” …

November 10, 2011

Podcast: Archives and Activism: The Contemporary Turn

Podcast on “Archives and Activism: The Contemporary Turn,” from a panel discussion moderated by Emily Drabinski and featuring some others you may know.

From the site:

Over the past two decades, the archive has emerged as a central site of feminist knowledge production and activism. Feminist archives and special collections have been able to document activist movements and make previously obscured forms of knowledge visible. This panel brings together a group of feminist librarians, archivists, scholars, and activists to explore this “archival turn” in contemporary feminism. Panelists include Jenna Freedman (Barnard College), Alana Kumbier (Wellesley College) and Kate Eichhorn (The New School). This discussion, moderated by Emily Drabinski (Long Island University), took place on the first day of Activism and the Academy: Celebrating 40 Years of Feminist Scholarship and Action, a two-day conference held September 23-24, 2011 in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

The talk is part of an event on “Activism and the Academy.” The talks are all available in podcast form (available from the page for this talk, linked above).

November 9, 2011

Alison Lewis Honored at National Distance Education Week

Just a tip of the hat to our friend and fellow Library Juice blogger Alison Lewis, who was honored at the National Distance Learning Week Awards Ceremony as an outstanding online instructor. Alison is the author of Literary Research and British Modernism, from Scarecrow Press, and the editor of Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian, from Library Juice Press.

November 8, 2011

Call for Chapters: Piracy: Leakages from Modernity

Call for Chapters

Piracy: Leakages From Modernity

Edited by Martin Fredriksson (Linköping University) and James Arvanitakis (University of Western Sydney)

Published by Litwin Books

We are inviting proposals for chapters for an anthology on Piracy planned to be published by the end of 2012.

‘Piracy’ is a concept that seems everywhere in the contemporary world. From the big screen with the dashing ‘Jack Sparrow’, to the dangers off the coast of Somalia; from the claims by the Motion Picture Association of America that piracy funds terrorism, to the political impact of pirate parties in countries like Sweden and Germany. While the spread of piracy provokes responses from the shipping and copyright industries, the reverse is also true: for every new development in capitalist technologies, some sort of ‘piracy’ moment emerges.

This is maybe most obvious in the current ideologisation of Internet piracy where the rapid spread of so called Pirate Parties is developing into a kind of global political movement. While the pirates of Somalia seem a long way removed from Internet pirates illegally downloading the latest music hit or, it is our assertion that such developments indicate a complex interplay between capital flows and relations, late modernity, property rights and spaces of contestation. That is, piracy seems to emerge at specific nodes in capitalist relations that create both blockages and leaks between different social actors.

These various aspects of piracy form the focus for this book, preliminary entitled Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. It is meant to be a collection of texts that takes a broad perspective on piracy and attempts to capture the multidimensional impacts of piracy on capitalist society today. The book is edited by James Arvanitakis at the University of Western Sydney and Martin Fredriksson at Linköping University, Sweden, and published by Litwin Books, USA. It is open for recently unpublished articles from all academic disciplines and we particularly welcome contributions by young and emerging scholars.

If you want to contribute to this book please send an abstract of no more than 1000 words to Martin Fredriksson (martin.fredriksson [at] or James Arvanitakis (j.arvanitakis [at] Deadline for abstracts is December 1, 2011.

Martin Fredriksson
Linköping University

James Arvanitakis
University of Western Sydney