The Quiet Demise of UT’s Knowledge Gateway

Back in 2002, then-President Faulkner of the University of Texas at Austin shared a vision: to provide Texans with online access to educational and cultural materials located and generated at the university in a digital Knowledge Gateway. The Chronicle of Education wrote about this Gateway, as did other news outlets, and the project soon received funding from a variety of sources. The Knowledge Gateway promised a great deal:

Research, education and sheer appreciation alone are no longer limited by campus boundaries or travel time to Austin. The Knowledge Gateway will let you access UT’s resources from the comfort of your own computer. Browse through the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art’s extensive Latin American Collection, examine a map of Afghanistan from the Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection or bone up on aquatic trivia with the Texas Memorial Museum’s Fishes of Texas exhibit. The possibilities are virtually endless.

The Knowledge Gateway, soon renamed UTopia, was very ambitious and apparently worthwhile collection of digital materials. Things didn’t quite work out the way they were planned, as revealed in the June 28th “Coffee with the Vice Provost” notes. The Vice Provost of the University Libraries announced that UTopia will be losing support and funding in 14 months, after “an unambiguous and final decision” by President Powers and the University Budget Council. There will be an attempt to relocate some library staff to other areas… but I know this loss of funding will be a blow to the library’s digital services.

The Gateway had problems early in its existence, many of which had to do with it’s management (from an outsider’s perspective, albeit an outsider who interacted with some developers). Some of the early architectural and technological issues were hammered out, but then what? Management seemed to float between the gateway being it’s own entity, being managed by Information Technology Services, and being managed by the University (then General) Libraries. Eventually, it became housed in the Libraries, which inherited a pretty difficult set of tasks burdened by ambiguity and some odd decisions.

Here are a few other concerns that I and a few others I knew had about the project. UTopia depended on content provided by UT organizations and faculty, but apparently was to be aimed at the K-12 range. While commendable, this may have had an effect on how much faculty would be able to contribute as products of their research. Providing UTopia with content also meant that the provider agreed to keep the materials current in perpetuity. That certainly could prove difficult with limited time, money, and effort from the original providers. There were also a few strange copyright concerns (which may have just bothered me since that’s what I’m interested in). According to the FAQ, content could be used by anyone as long as the University was given attribution- but according to the faculty agreements with the UTopia group, the faculty only signed over authority for the University to use the materials, and did not give permission for other parties to do so. (The University allows faculty members to own the copyrights in educational materials they create.) The copyright problems could have been worked through, but I’m not in a position to know how other concerns could have been addressed.

I haven’t seen any official announcements- I was waiting for it and almost missed this reference- so we’re still waiting to see what happens with the existing collections/projects and the people who are currently funded by UTopia. I don’t know if this action reflects on other digital collection attempts or not, but I’ll be trying to figure out how people measure the success of digital collections…

Fans, YA Librarians: 1

I’m going to talk a little bit about anime fandom and briefly mention anime and manga in libraries. Next time I’ll look at the quiet demise of the University of Texas’s UTopia Project. Anime fans are an interesting bunch, and I’ll try to write more about fandom in the blog.

Holly and I were at HEB, a local grocery store chain. The largest version of the store carries books and DVDs, including an anime section. Holly stopped me when she noticed this last week, stopped me, and asked, “Could you have imagined that ten years ago we’d be seeing anime at HEB?”

I understood why she paused. A decade ago anime and manga were gaining in popularity, but nowhere near as ubiquitious as they are now. Back in ’94- and don’t I feel old now- some friends of mine and I started the anime club at Syracuse University. Anime was already making appearances in the U.S. and already had it’s first mainstream anime magazine (Animerica, in ’92) and was the topic of a few conventions, although a given college student might not know what the word meant. At the time, with a few American-released exceptions shows were still mainly obtained by sending tapes to fansubbers, who copied shows for people from their master copy (which still may have been a fuzzy 5th generation copy) and mailed them back for the cost of shipping. Fansubbing, in which fans subtitle the show, was a step up from the earlier method of sending tapes and obtaining scripts to read along with as the show played. There were ethical rules involved that still persist in modern fansubbing. They’re a topic for a later post, but at their heart was not to do harm to your community and industry. There were copyright discussions as the practice grew, but for the most part this became an established norm, and I believe helped to popularize the medium and several individual shows.

Anime and manga took off. The Internet was a huge part of this process, as it allowed communities of fans to find one another and made finding fansubbers and distributers much easier. The Anime Web Turnpike and the Big Anime and Manga Resource List provided links to fan pages with information about the show, however tangentially. At the time, you could write to the presidents of anime companies and expect a serious and prompt response. They were fans, too.

Things have changed, naturally, for the better and worse. Fandom has changed. A convention in 2006 looks very different from a convention in 1994. The conventions are bigger, the audience tends to be younger, and far more people cosplay (“costume play,” or dress in costume as various characters, a term popularized in Japan). (For a scary example of cosplay that has at least partly made public view, if you catch the “Who wants to be a Super Hero?” commercial for the reality television series, you can catch “Man-Faye,” a male dressed as the female character Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bepop. Most cosplay isn’t quite that disturbing.)

The companies have changed as well. They’re a great deal larger and many are far more impersonal. Some of them frown on the practice of fansubbing, some of them turn a blind eye. Some company representatives have reportedly said that fansubbing was all right when they were fans early on, but now that the market is established it should be discouraged (which really rings hollow to me). Some companies reportedly watch the activies and distribution of fansubbers to determine which licenses to acquire. Conventions have to worry about fanart and copyright infringement. Anime is also much, much easier to purchase and find online. New anime acquisitions are announced at by companies at conventions regularly, and P2P has played as big a role in the fansubbing realm as it has for other cultural exchanges.

HEB made us pause, but we’ve seen other signs of how popular these things are. Libraries appear to be playing a role. Viz media had a booth at the last Texas Library Association vendor room. The Houston Chronicle recently ran an interview with a Young Adult librarian, who noted the popularity of manga with the young adult crowd, mentioning Fruits Basket as popular with girls (a truly cute show involving the interactions between a girl and people who are possessed by animal spirits of the zodiac) and Fushigi Yuugi as popular with boys (an older title full of fantasy and magic, originally published in a girls’ comic in Japan. Shh.). Manga has also been challenged in libraries, and that’s a subject I’ll talk about later.

Copyright, Culture, Fans

I’ve been running into references to academic/fan Henry Jenkins from MIT all over the place, so thought it likely that I should link to his blog, Confessions of an Aca/Fan. He talks about games, Firefly, and culture just on the current front page, so it’s bound to be interesting, no?

The latest reference to his blog came from over at chosaq, which discusses the relationship between YouTube and the RIAA, quoting from Confessions, which in turn quotes a post about YouTube and copyright from attorney Randy Picker. Are we all caught up? ^_^ (If you’d like to go further, Picker quotes Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing, which quotes…)

Basically, there have been reports that the RIAA (or someone pretending to be the RIAA) is sending cease & desists to YouTube. Picker believes that the RIAA sending cease & desists after YouTube is not a misuse of copyright. I disagree to some extent. I agree that those actions aren’t an abuse of copyright law, but I think that copyright law should be fixed to allow some of those uses. Copyright law has changed in the last few decades. Not all of the changes have been good or useful, and not all of the changes are sufficient to support the progress of science and useful arts, particularly in the digital environment. Jenkins notes that

We have to fight a two front battle here: help to rewrite copyright law to respect the new realities of the media landscape and help to convince media companies that it is in their best interest to build a more collaborative relationship with their consumers.

That’s an excellent statement about where copyright reform efforts should be. I’d add that somehow the nebulous concept of culture should be included with each of those fronts. The preservation of culture is a difficult thing, which certainly isn’t made easier by the complex beast that is Section 108.

Japanese broadcasters’ reactions to YouTube are pretty hostile, as reported by the Mainichi Daily News. They’ve also started sending C&D’s to YouTube, which in the article is described as “predatory” by a promotional agency. These are interesting actions for many reasons. Japan’s copyright law and the U.S.’s copyright law aren’t terribly similar. For example, the concept of fair use isn’t as protected in Japan as much as it is in the U.S. (however much that might be). YouTube is going to need to figure out how it’s services fit on the international copyright front, much like the search engines have had to.

It’s also interesting because of the practices of fans in Japan. Although Japanese copyright law appears pretty restrictive, commercial and noncommercial fan activities are common. These activities are notably seen in the form of doujin manga and games, which are fan-produced, and often derivative works. Doujin are open, often encouraged, and very popular. Fan activitiy related to Japanese works in the states have also played a role in the prevalence of anime and manga domestically (although for some reason companies are downplaying that role recently). Next post will talk about anime fandom, fansubs and more in the US.