April 28, 2013

On Timeliness and Timelessness in Book Publishing

I’m working on a “Publisher’s Pledge to the Library Community” that we will release soon. I’ve put out some feelers regarding what people want to see in this pledge, and one concern came up that I feel is too complex in its implications to respond to in a bullet point on the pledge, and that is “timeliness of publication.” It turned out that this question was coming from an author’s perspective, which is fairly valid for the purposes of a pledge to the library community, since most book authors in the professional literature are librarians and many librarians have publishing expectations as a part of their job responsibilities. The question of timeliness is also relevant to collection development and acquisitions librarians, both in terms of the timeliness of the content of a book in the context of its use and in terms of organizing the process of buying books based on publishers’ advertised publication dates. In terms of advertised publication dates, I will readily admit that Litwin Books and Library Juice Press have not always published our books by the advertised publication dates, and can say in our defense only that it is difficult to work on that kind of a schedule when much of the work is subject to factors we can’t control. Among these factors may be other responsibilities of contractors to whom we send production work, permissions issues, and the ability of editors of collections to submit their manuscripts on time (given that they too have issues beyond their control that can affect their schedules, especially for work that is not their primary responsibility in life). So there are factors that are difficult or impossible to control that can affect how long it takes to bring a work to publication once we have announced it and set an expected publication date. As a result I have begun to build in a longer period of time for the expected publication date, for the sake of truth in advertising.

There is always the possibility of cutting corners to make the work go faster, and we avoid doing this, because quality has a different balance point with timeliness in book publishing than it does with faster forms of publishing in the information ecology. Often, I feel that an expectation of “timeliness” of topics is a little misplaced with regard to books. The long form and permanent nature of the book format gives room for the long view as an intellectual approach. I think the perspective of time is one of the contributions that book publishing has made culturally, and not only because we have a lot of old books around. The format encourages work that takes a long time to write, work that is the product of reflection over greater spans of time. Not all forms of book publishing are like this or should be like this. Software manuals, for example, become useless quickly. In academic subjects, the intellectual duration of long-form works can vary by discipline and sub-discipline. My feeling as a book publisher, though, is that if people are less interested in books than they used to be and read fewer of them (which may or may not be true, if you want to be inclusive of e-books, and we are), then the importance of long-form publishing for creating a space for intellectual culture has only increased. Compromises with faster forms of publishing represent compromises with the long view. Timeleness isn’t exactly irrelevant, but I want it to be in balance with quality, and with something that with some exaggeration I will call “timelessness,” by which I mean that I want to publish books that will be of interest to people in ten or twenty years and not just next year, and a few books that will be of interest for much longer than that.

So that is what I bring with me to conversations with impatient authors or contributors to edited volumes. Often, their impatience is based in part on a lack of understanding of all that is involved in the publication process. We had a problem with a book recently that was held up for a long period because the editors had personal issues to deal with, but because they didn’t communicate about this with contributors, we as a publishing house took the heat (and it had to do with people’s tenure portfolios, among other things). So I have experience with authors who have had serious issues regarding timeliness of publication. But because it is not always possible to make people happy regarding their expectations of timeliness, I don’t feel it’s possible to make “timeliness of publication” a promise in our pledge to the library community.

What about the option of saying that we will “make every effort to ensure timeliness of publication,” as was suggested to me by the person who brought this up? That would allow us to avoid promising what ends up being impossible. The problem I have with that option, though, is that it places too much stress on the value of timeliness in a form of publishing that is less about timeliness than other forms. So I have arrived at this:

“We pledge to balance timeliness, quality, and ‘timelessness’ in our choice of book projects and our processes for bringing them to publication.”

I’m interested in readers’ feedback on this.

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April 24, 2013

International Librarians’ Hosts Directory

Letter from the CILIP International Library and Information Group:

Dear Colleagues,

In the interest of international cooperation and experience-sharing, I would like to invite you to join the Hosts Directory and help make it a global resource.

So what is it?

The Hosts Directory is exactly that – a list of international librarians who are willing to host, for a day or two, a fellow library and information worker who is visiting their city or region. Hosts are located across the world – please see the Map of hosts at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsMaps . All information is anonymous and you will not be put in contact with a guest without agreeing beforehand – the idea is that you will be able to stay with a professional colleague when attending a conference, event or just travelling abroad rather than in a hotel.

All you need is a spare bed or room and the desire to meet colleagues from other countries, to share experiences and to contribute, in a small way, to building bridges to international understanding and co-operation within the library and information profession. Guidance for potential Hosts is also available online at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsGuide.

Please help us expand the directory by registering online at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsRegistration.

For the visitor – the guest – it is a chance to get to know, at first hand, something of the life of a fellow professional in a foreign country as well as the opportunity to stay with a colleague for free or at limited cost.

If you would like to use the Hosts Directory as a guest, please first check the Map of hosts at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsMaps to see there are Hosts in the area you are visiting and email the Hosts Directory Administrator at ciliphostsdirectory@gmail.com with details of who you are, where you want to and how long they want to stay.

Please feel free to pass this information onto colleagues who may also be interested.

Kind Regards

Doug Knock
ILIG Chair
Web: http://www.cilip.org.uk/ilig/
Twitter: @CILIP_ILIG
Facebook: International Library and Information Group
ILIG YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/CILIPILIG

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April 13, 2013

LISdocstudents email discussion list

LISdocstudents is an unmoderated email discussion list for doctoral students in Library and Information Studies, working at any institution. The purpose is to communicate with other doctoral students about shared issues, be they intellectual questions in the field, problems facing emerging academics on the path through graduate school and into academic careers, issues having to do with trends in higher ed and LIS as a discipline, or other topics that seem appropriate. Announcements are good too. Doctoral students in LIS are the main constituency of the list, but masters students, graduate students in other fields, and professors are invited to participate.

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April 11, 2013

Library Juice Academy Certificate in XML and RDF-Based Systems

In this 6-course certificate program, you will gain competency as a coder in XML and RDF-based systems that create, transform, manage, and disseminate content and metadata. Typically, these are the structures at the heart of content management systems, repositories, and digital libraries. Topics covered include XML fundamentals, XPath, DTDs and Schemas, standard markup languages, XSLT and Xquery, the semantic web, RDFa and RDFa Lite, RSS, ontologies and linked data, and the SPARQL semantic query language and protocol.

Courses in the series:

1. Introduction to XML

2. Transforming and Querying XML: An introduction to the XSLT and Xquery

3. Introduction to the Semantic Web

4. RDFa1.1 (RDFa and RDFa Lite) and RSS

5. Ontologies and Linked Data

6. The SPARQL semantic query language and protocol – the Semantic Web in action

These courses are four-weeks in duration and taught asynchronously.

These courses work best if taken in sequence, as the sequence builds on knowledge gained, but we have no formal prerequisites in place. If you need to take them out of sequence, feel free to contact us about your situation.

The cost for each course is $175, but you can register for all six courses in the program at once and receive a 10% discount.

More Information

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April 10, 2013

Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission

The constitutional rights of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system are always an issue, but this is a little bit different, because the activities that got Daniel McGowan in trouble with the law were political activities in the first place. I recommend this article in the Village Voice to the ALA IF community: Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission. In short, McGowan was serving the end of a prison term in a sort of halfway house (on an eco-terrorism charge), when he was detained and imprisoned again in an experimental new facility called a “Communications Management Unit,” after publishing an article critical of the authorities he has been dealing with. A Freedom of Information Act request uncovered memos that show he was indeed incarcerated to silence him, and he is pursuing a lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of these CMUs. I think this is worthy of attention from the Freedom to Read Foundation, don’t you?

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April 3, 2013

Comments in response to Lead Pipe editorial, “DIY Library Culture and the Academy”

In the Library with the Lead Pipe published an interesting editorial this morning titled, “DIY Library Culture and the Academy,” though editorial may not be exactly the right word for it, because mostly it is a call for discussion of the ideas it presents. Library Juice Press is mentioned as an example of a DIY project, and so as you might guess I have some comments.

Lead Pipe editors Emily Ford and Micah Vandergrift both refer to the history of DIY, Emily stating that it is (in a way) what academic librarians have been doing all along, and Micah calling on the specific meaning of DIY in punk culture as a standard we should be keeping in mind. I would like to talk about it in terms of something that happened in the 60s and 70s that was called the “new careers movement,” and what sociologists of the professions at the time were calling “the revolt of the client,” because it was an important DIY moment that relates to this one. I am drawing these comments largely from a couple of papers written by sociologist Marie Haug: her 1969 paper with Marvin Sussman titled, “Professional Autonomy and the Revolt of the Client,” in Social Problems 17.2, and her 1975 paper titled, “The Deprofessionalization of Everyone?,” in Sociological Focus 8.3, which was a response to an influential paper by Harold Wilensky in 1964 titled, “The Professionalization of Everyone?”

Marie Haug developed a concept of deprofessionalization in response to the idea first proposed by Daniel Bell (famous for the term “the information society”), that the rapid proliferation of knowledge and technology would give more power to professionals and would also increase the share of knowledge-work as part of the economy, as machines would gradually take over all of the less-skilled work. Haug thought about this idea in terms of something that had begun happening in the late sixties, which sociologists termed “the revolt of the client.” What this referred to was the way “the person on the street” had started to feel alienated by the authority of professionals of whom they were clients, started to see them as “The Man” and started demanding the right to take care of needs that the professions had a monopoly over fulfilling, at the street level. Simultaneous to this revolt against the authority of the professions were some other social changes that had begun to enable non-professionals to perform some of these roles. Haug focuses on the medical profession, but we can see how the same changes gave power to people working in paraprofessional or non-professional roles in various institutions or outside of institutions completely. Haug observed that the professions’ monopoly on knowledge was being eroded by the general increased level of schooling, and also by the rise of computers, since data-driven software allowed for professional knowledge to be codified for access by non-professionals (essentially what happened later with desktop publishing software). So Haug argued that contrary to the main stream of the sociology of the professions at the time, these factors would lead to a loss of autonomy for professionals, who had previously enjoyed a strong monopoly on the knowledge on which their practice was based. In medicine specifically, the “new careers movement” was the beginning of the trend of giving nurses and nurse practitioners more of the privileges of MD’s in terms of basic medical practice. There was a gender element to the new careers movement and the revolt of the client in addition to a class element. So, I think that moment is important to think about in the context of DIY, because it links what are now a couple of separate meanings that DIY may have – the punk idea that Micah Vandergrift evokes in order to talk about the political reasons behind DIY, and on the other hand the power that desktop software gives people to do a lot of things pretty well that formerly required a professional (like desktop publishing). At the time of the “new careers movement,” the social trend toward deprofessionalization that Haug saw just beginning was motivated at one level by the desire for a sort of revolution in a political sense, and was enabled at another level by mass education and computerization.

While the rise of the new careers movement and the erosion of the professions’ monopoly on knowledge might seem simply like something to celebrate, Haug was concerned that it would lead to an increase of power for the bureaucrats who worked in professional institutions, resulting in less autonomy for professionals. This does seem to have happened and seems still to be happening (and in an ironic way may be part of the impetus for DIY practice among professionals now). At the same time, she acknowledged that people did become empowered outside of the professions in meeting needs formerly in the total purview of the professions. There is a certain way, however, I think, in which changes that enable DIY and sub-institutional work can redistribute and veil professional control as much as they can undo it. The reason for this is way software that makes use of professional knowledge in a codified form has decisions embedded into it, so that what for the professional may be questions of judgment to apply in various different contexts become software limitations of which users may not be aware, not having the background of a professional who can articulate the questions that the software has already answered for the user. Software that empowers us also makes decisions for us, decisions that are by nature outside of our focus as we are using it. (This is part of the argument for open source software.)

As librarians, we occupy an ambiguous position in the space defined by these changes. We claim an area of professional expertise but do not claim a monopoly over it; in fact, our professional ideology goes against the monopoly of knowledge on which professions are traditionally based. Our self-defined role is to empower people with knowledge, yet we try to protect our status as a profession as having a unique ability to do it. We also occupy an ambiguous position as designers of systems at the same time we are users of systems in which professional knowledge is embedded that we don’t necessarily have access to (think about the opacity of function of next-generation discovery tools). This may mean, in Haug’s terms, that we function both as professionals, with authority over a knowledge domain and a need to protect our autonomy from encroachment by the bureaucracies of our institutions, and as allies of clients who want solutions outside of the professions, in pursuit of an opening-up of professional privileges (though copyright battles, through access to medical and legal knowledge that we can share, etc.). In light of this, I think DIY work can accomplish a number of goals. First, it can enable us to do things that our bureaucracies have made difficult for us to do, despite the fact that we are ostensibly the professionals in our organizations. Second, it can demonstrate for our users that we are their allies who work in the same “DIY consumer space,” meaning that we understand the limitations they confront or feel that they confront. Third, DIY tools that are sold to consumers can afford us the benefits of professional knowledge outside our own fields without the cost of high-level business-to-business deployment, which we can’t control as individuals anyway.

I think there is also a dark side to observe, as well as a danger in attempting to understand DIY entirely through a historical lens, and that is that the kind of DIY affordances we are talking about are a part of a major economic shift that has taken place over the last half-century, away from Fordist production toward more software-driven, small-scale, customizable production and the different economic relations (and subjectivities) that Post-Fordism entails. There is a lot written about these changes in the field of political economy, but I would like to mention one article that relates to DIY specifically: Yiannis Mylonas’ article in Triple C, titled, “Amateur Creation and Entrepreneurialism: A Critical Study of Artistic Production in Post-Fordist Structures.” (Full disclosure: Mylonas has a chapter in the upcoming Litwin Books title, Piracy: Leakages from Modernity, edited by Martin Fredriksson and James Arvanitakis.) Mylonas suggests that the DIY orientation is a part of the transformation of everybody into an entrepreneur, i.e. the spread of neoliberal subjectivity. So, I am careful about getting behind it as a “cause,” though I like to take part. Furthermore, I can admit to having the ambition to bridge the gap between DIY voice and institutional voice, and to cross that bridge, as entrepreneurs generally do.

Rory Litwin was an academic librarian prior to working full time as a small press academic publisher and continuing education provider with Litwin Books, Library Juice Press and Library Juice Academy.

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