deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
In "Descartes Letter Found, Therefore It Is", I learned that a long-lost stolen letter of Descartes' has turned up in my alma mater's archives:

If old-fashioned larceny was responsible for the document’s loss, advanced digital technology can be credited for its rediscovery. Erik-Jan Bos, a philosophy scholar at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who is helping to edit a new edition of Descartes’s correspondence, said that during a late-night session browsing the Internet he noticed a reference to Descartes in a description of the manuscript collection at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He contacted John Anderies, the head of special collections at Haverford, who sent him a scan of the letter.
Scholars have known of the letter’s existence for more than 300 years, but not its contents. Apparently the only person who had really studied it was a Haverford undergraduate who spent a semester writing a paper about the letter in 1979. (Mr. Bos called the paper “a truly fine piece of work.”)

Guys, this is awesome. This is why I do what I do! Putting collection guides online is a royal pain (ASK ME HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE EAD STANDARD), but this is the kind of story that makes it all worthwhile. Archival collections are full of hidden treasures the archivists themselves don't know about. It takes a dedicated scholar to find these lost and hidden (and rarely digitized) gems, and digital collection guides, followed up by e-reference, followed up by spot digitization, solved the puzzle.

Viva la Ford!

On a more somber note, from "Why diversity matters (the meritocracy business)":

Now, whenever I screen resumes, I ask the recruiter to black out any demographic information from the resume itself: name, age, gender, country of origin. The first time I did this experiment, I felt a strange feeling of vertigo while reading the resume. “Who is this guy?” I had a hard time forming a visual image, which made it harder to try and compare each candidate to the successful people I’d worked with in the past. It was an uncomfortable feeling, which instantly revealed just how much I’d been relying on surface qualities when screening resumes before – even when I thought I was being 100% meritocratic. And, much to my surprise (and embarrassment), the kinds of people I started phone-screening changed immediately.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I am naïve enough to be shocked by all the people who are angry at Macmillan instead of Amazon in the Amazon versus Macmillan cage match. Even leaving aside Amazon's bullying (Making it impossible to buy all Macmillan books? Really? You thought that was a good idea?), and their misuse of the word "monopoly" in what passed for their public statement (Yes, Macmillan has a monopoly on Macmillan books just like Kellogg's has a monopoly on Pop tarts-- not quite like van Gogh has a monopoly on paintings by Van Gogh, which is Fast Company's analogy, but still, close enough. WTFBBQ?), I'm not sure why the public believes that it has some kind of moral right to e-books on the day of publication for $10 or less.

Before e-books, there was a simple way the market worked: you could pay the hardcover price on the day of publication, you could get it for free a couple of months later if you used the library, or you could wait a year and pay paperback prices. All the people who are insisting that Macmillan is being evil by saying that if you want to charge $10 for an e-book you have to wait a few months have forgotten that that's the way publishing always worked.

Meanwhile, what exactly do they think editors and editorial assistants and authors and book designers are eating? JK Rowling aside, none of these are rich people. It's not like the publishers are raking in the dough -- publishing has one of the lowest consistent profit margins in the industry. Publishing is barely scraping by as it is. Macmillan's actions over the weekend were self-serving -- in that they were intended to prevent a non-sustainable business model which will put brick-and-mortar stores and independent stores out of business, while creating a consumer consensus that something that was priced unsustainably underwater was the standard price. And those self-serving actions are good for the entire industry.

Amazon was losing massive sums on these e-books, because they were using their overwhelming clout to price them underwater. Do consumers actually believe Amazon was doing that out of sheer love of distributing books to the poor? (And by "poor", here, I clearly mean people who can afford a $259 Kindle but whose children would starve if they had to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book, or wait a few months to get a $9.99 e-book.) Predatory pricing is not an admirable practice.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
The kerfluffle about Google books, which has resurfaced since the surprising University of California decision to contract with Google as well as with the Open Content Alliance, seems to be missing the point. So much of the crosstalk I have seen seems to be about the same old questions of publishers rights, open access, serving users, and the like. But the very fact that the University of California is contracting with both Google and the Open Content Alliance ought to be raising very serious questions about long-term licensing agreements and giving away our publicly accessible holdings to for-profit companies.

At a recent Boston library consortium meeting somebody came up with a great phrase which a really wish I could remember, but essentially it was how in the past we've been much too prone to giving away our rights in return for having somebody else do the work. And the important thing to remember as librarians is that it's not our rights were giving away, it's the public's rights to view the information.

In the most recent Chronicle article about the University of California and the Google project, they explore some of the contract negotiations which have been made public.

Both the university and Google will get digital copies of the scanned works, but there are some restrictions on how the university can use its copies. The university can offer the digital copy, whole or in parts, "as part of services offered to the university library patrons." But the university must prevent users from downloading portions of the digital copies and stop automated scanning of the copies by, for example, other search engines.

Entire works not covered under copyright can be distributed to scholars and students for research purposes, but there are limitations on in-copyright material.

What I'm hung up on here is "entire works not covered under copyright can be distributed to scholars and students for research purposes". If the materials aren't covered under copyright, why is there a limitation on the situations under which the entire work can be distributed? These are public domain materials, correct? (And it's not clear to me whether or not the University of California has the right under their contract to offer the same books to the Open Content Alliance, or if by having Google scan them, they have locked up that digitized book in Google for ever.)

Once upon a time, it seemed perfectly reasonable to be giving away rights like this because if the private companies didn't do the scanning, the materials would never be made available at all. But the University of California is already involved in projects with the Open Content Alliance. Every day they're proving the point to a non-profit organizations committed to openness can also do this work. The University of California defends its decision to work with Google as well on the grounds that the Open Content Alliance Scans as many books in a month as Google scans in a day, to which I can only respond "is there a gun to your head? Is the need to scan 3000 books a day so urgent?"

As a disclaimer, I don't know the answer to that question I just asked. Maybe their need is that urgent, maybe their contract with Google, which has not as far as I know been fully disclosed, is airtight in favor of the university and the public interest. But I do think this arrangement should be prompting people to ask more of these questions. Once you enter into a licensing agreement for something like this are often stuck, and I think I might be time to take a step back and think about pace, and rights, and why we are doing this. It may be that what the University of California is doing is exactly right, but it is still prompting us, in my always so humble opinion, to be asking these questions.
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