Hardest stage of research

While populating our library Pinterest board with good Android apps for college students, this description caught my eye in this Lifehack list:easybib


“Probably” eh? Alas, no, according to various bits of info from (near and dear to my heart), citations tend to be way down the list.  Starting research, choosing keywords to search… that’s where students tend to really get stuck. Citations, on the other hand, are the things they some of them do as an afterthought when they don’t really care anymore and also I need a source that says what I already said in my paper. Did I cite correctly?

And in any event, as I tell students, the most challenging part of writing citations aren’t the parts a citation creation tool can really help with: IDing exactly what kind of source you’re looking at and then locating all the information required. Databases: not just collections of great sources… they’re easy to cite, too!


Tattoos & IPR

I just stumbled across a recent article for The Straight Dope answering the question, “Can I legally get myself tattooed with a pro sports team’s logo?” This was actually something I had wondered about recently, so it was a helpful read (though not, of course, anything like a legal opinion or case law).

The final conclusion?

Assuming you were acting purely as a deranged fan and stood no chance of personal gain, a lawsuit for trademark infringement, which presumes misappropriation of an image for commercial purposes, would be tough to sustain.

Copyright violation is an easier case to make. (Some contend a fan tattoo would constitute fair use, but I have my doubts.) The main thing is, what team or league would bother?

Of course, certain copyright holders have proven themselves very eager “to bother” about perceived infringements, even when the, ahem, culprit’s pockets weren’t deep and they’d look like bullies doing it. (Perhaps, though, the major league sports organizations in questions are much more concerned with maintaining a family-friendly kindly image than, say, record labels are.)

Adams’ point that “it’s not like a judge is going to order you to have the tattoo lasered off” marks an interesting distinction between “I uploaded this picture of yours to my site without permission and now you’re issuing me a C&D” and “I permanently etched this picture of yours to my skin and…what, now?” Okay, so it’s pretty obviously copyright infringement… and what’re you going to do about it, hmm? It pretty quickly becomes a situation of where it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission (though arguably, if one is willing to play fast and loose with liability, pretty much any small-scale infringement on the personal level squares to that situation).There’s also the ease with which one can get away with it: unless you’re, say, a big name NBA star, your tattoo is unlikely to be noticed by whomever the copyright holder is. Not that that makes it legal at all, but then again, a law that can’t be enforced isn’t much of a law.

The tattoo artist would be in a different situation than the, uh… tattoo-ee, it seems, as they’re the ones doing the direct infringement and, for what it’s worth, making money off it. They also face the other end of the tattoo-copyright question, which is whether the tattoos they create carry copyright protections (if original, yes). [This article was an interesting little summary prepared by Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.] It’s the same as buying a piece of artwork to hang in your home, but I wonder how many people think of the artwork on their bodies as actually belonging to someone else?

Amusingly, as I was looking around for articles on this topic (and maybe an example of someone being sued for having a copyrighted image tattooed), I discovered the satirical short story “The Background” by H. H. Munro, a.k.a. Saki about a man with a tattoo artist’s last great masterpiece tattooed on his back. He’s unable to buy it off the artist’s widow, who “donates” the work to the city of Bergamo.

DRM webcast

Listened to Jason Puckett’s webcast on DRM today thanks to Philip’s and my video entry for the ACRL contest way back when. How timely it wound up being, what with the Harper-Collins kerfuffle and all. Pretty much agreed with all his points and got a bit of a laugh when the presentation included an image breaking down the difficulty of navigating DRM-protected content that I had just shared with a friend last night while we discussed the issue.

Possibly only nitpick I had was that I know audio CDs haven’t been 100% free and open forever. I suppose technically, yes, because if I recall from the time of Sony rootkits and all that technically such restricted CDs shouldn’t have had the official logo on them since they did not conform with standards, but… I most certainly experienced an issue with a CD I got for my dad that had the fake table of contents track on it to prevent it from being played on computers but not stereos. Absolutely lame but also real and a corruption, if you will, of the medium.


On a different note, what the heck Google? I never have Firefox bug me about updates while it wasn’t running.

There was also a revealingly interesting suggestion on a Google search I ran the other day:

No, I believe I meant the correct spelling/usage that I typed. Do that many people skip it when they search and/or when they discuss loosely-keyword-related issues? Good grief.

#hcod, or: And people think I’m strange for not embracing ebooks

My Twitter account continues to earn its keep, as that’s how I’ve learned of the Harper-Collins – OverDrive outrage currently going on:

Next week, OverDrive will communicate a licensing change from a publisher that, while still operating under the one-copy/one-user model, will include a checkout limit for each eBook licensed. Under this publisher’s requirement, for every new eBook licensed, the library (and the OverDrive platform) will make the eBook available to one customer at a time until the total number of permitted checkouts is reached.

-via Atzblog, who also sums up the myriad problems thusly:

To be clear, this model eliminates almost all the major advantages of the item’s being digital, without restoring the permanence, durability, vendor-independence, technology-neutrality, portability, transferability, and ownership associated with the physical version.

I have some sympathy for Harper-Collins’ position (at least their point that ebooks don’t need to be replaced as physical books periodically do; and as someone on Twitter pointed out, at least they allow ebooks at all (1), but then again…not really. It’s up to them to develop a profit model for digital technologies without trying to artificially enforce the same rules of analog media. This is the music industry all over again. And the TV/movie industry. It was bad enough when the rule was 1 ebook = 1 physical book for circulation(2)!

Worse yet, 26 is the magic number for circulation, which

… was arrived at after considering a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies.

-via Library Journal

A couple weeks ago I was hanging out in the WW2 section of Bird Library to pick up some books from my wish list. While I was perusing the shelves, I pulled out a book that had actually been published in the early 1940s. Instead of a copyright insert near the front of the book, there was a notice that the book had been produced in accordance with wartime regulations (smaller overall size, thinner pages). In the very front of the book was the old-school circulation data…as in, due dates stamped on the little card in the paper pocket affixed to the book. It was neat to try imagining the people who checked out this book (many times) in 1945 before the war ended, and then all the check-outs right after the war, and in the decade after that.

My point with that story is: how the hell did HC actually come up with 26 as an appropriate circulation number, because if a 66-year-old book, deliberately printed on thin paper, can still be in tip-top shape on my library’s shelves…. hooboy. Again from LJ,

If a lending period is two weeks, the 26 circulation limit is likely to equal roughly one year of use for a popular title. For a three-week lending period, that stretches to a year and a half.

How many physical books have to be replaced on a yearly basis? Serious question. I’m sure some do, but generally speaking? Is that a common lifespan for a library book?
1. I’m not really sure whether that’s better or worse than this hurlyburly.
2. Which was bad enough, let’s be honest. Another Twitter commenter pointed out acceptance of that practice as libraries not exactly having a good track record for defending patron use rights. But what options have libraries, generally, had? Like publishers, libraries have a/n (potentially) uncertain role in an increasingly digital world and each industry does what it can to keep up/preserve its place. For libraries–not exactly rolling in cash and influence– that may mean some compromise in usability and access to provide content in a relevant medium to their patrons. (And on the other hand, this is an example of libraries trying to adapt to stay relevant, whereas HC’s actions are a desperation act to keep increasingly obsolete/irrelevant practices.)

Tech savvy, books, and systems

This post is taken from a visual journal entry for IST 400/600: Information Design.

“Medieval Helpdesk”:

This is an old video from 2001 that I recently remembered. It parodies the modern tech support scenario–the waiting, the lingering confusion–with the twist being that the “new system” to get used to is the book as it replaces the scroll. When I first saw this, I was still in high school and hadn’t yet had any classes on books as a technology or information design or information-specific anything.

It was superficially funny but also made me think about books as books, and what it would be like to try using one if one had never been seen before. How taken for granted, perhaps, are the affordances and mapping of the physical book: that it opens in the direction that accommodates the direction language is read, that the pages are meant for turning back and forth. (The confusion over whether the text would stay on the page was more silly than thought-inducing, though, I thought, as scrolls would be rolled up in a similarly text-obscuring manner. Then again, the text on scrolls were all part of one continuous document, not discrete pages, so perhaps I am still being presumptuous.)

This ties further into our discussion of systems, particularly the idea of having “an appropriate level of system awareness,” which I am going to twist to the end-user perspective. The book requires a level of tech savvy that the scribe/monk/whatever-he-is hasn’t mastered. Even once he masters page-turning, as indeed we all have today, at what point is he tech savvy to the book? Are we? We can use them, just as we can interact with GUIs, but could we build a high-quality book? Does “tech savvy” require being able to stitch the binding (or write the application)? I know many who would say so, but the idea of an appropriate level of awareness (if you can do what you need to get to get done) is tempering my own opinion on the matter.

“I aten’t dead”*

* [sic], per Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books

I just read an editorial from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Brian T. Sullivan, an instructional librarian at Alfred University, declaring the death of the academic library. He briefly addresses one of my reactions near the end, briefly stating:

At the same time, the death of the academic library is being hailed by many as progress and the logical next step in the evolution of information.

I wish he had explored that idea a little further, because I am not convinced by his enumerated arguments. Admittedly,  my skepticism was heightened by the very first point on digital books making book collections obsolete. Never mind that not every book yet digitized, nor will they all ever be, nor that the library would have to expensively digitally replicate its physical collection. It also smacks of the old and pervasive attitude that a library = books, and the quality of a library can be determined by how many volumes are sitting on the shelf. As if a library digitizing collections means it no longer has a collection at all. Amusingly, at the end he chastises librarians for committing professional suicide by clinging to long to the mantra “There will always be books and libraries” and other outmoded notions.

He further claims that “[i]nformation literacy was fully integrated into the curriculum,”  “[l]ibrary instruction was no longer necessary,” and “[r]eference services disappeared.” I think he’s grossly overestimating the ability (and inclination) of the typical student (or faculty member) to fully utilize a database or even a Google search. My group in IST 605 did an hour-long presentation focused on the information literacy of incoming freshmen at colleges. Spoiler alert: no, kids these days don’t know everything about successfully locating information. [The very existence of Let me Google that for you is a nice demonstration of that lack.] An early assignment for that same class also had us filling in a chart for different databases showing their different vocabularies and boolean markups and so forth. No, databases are still not user-friendly!

He also is critical of the practice of having untrained persons field basic questions instead of librarians. This practice was being implemented at the SUNY Upstate Medical University Health Science Library and was a topic in my project plan for them. [See VSD Project Plan.] They wanted to be able to better triage questions (and have triage happen on their end rather than have users have to figure it out for themselves), which included getting student workers answering easy questions (possibly developing/utilizing an FAQ-type wiki to supplement). Not to belittle the task of librarians, but to free them up to work on their other projects instead of needing to personally field easy ready-reference questions or inquiries about library hours and what-have-you.

Actually, all his points are adaptations libraries have made to accommodate new information technologies and information-seeking behaviors. The “traditional” academic library may be dead, and, as I quoted above, these little “deaths” mark a change to, as I see it, staying relevant, not dying. Perhaps someday the library of the future will be nothing more than set of websites, a means of accessing fully digital collections with the ability to chat with staff exclusively through computer.

Either way, the full impact of this transition is a long time off. Not all books are digitized. Digital book distribution has been established conclusively. Librarians are information-finders, not mere book slingers. Not all universities have the budget to essentially redo their library structure. I do not know anything about Brian Sullivan or his university’s library. I do know that for the past four semesters, I have not been taught his–I believe rather limited– worldview of academic librarianship.