Vacation, Libraries, and Library Tech

Back from vacation! My wife’s family lives in Nebraska, and we had a family vacation travelling around Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. We drove over 3,500 miles (starting from here in Austin) and saw some really great stuff that I’d never seen before, including Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument, the Black Hills, Deadwood, Sturgis (just before bike week), Devil’s Tower, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and a demolition derby. ^^

We ventured through several small towns, and in just about all of them the city library had a prominent position on the main street, and looked well-maintained. There was a lead story about library programs in the main paper at Lincoln, NE, and in Cheyenne we saw a library reading program commercial on television. Today we saw a Library of Congress commercial about reading… when did those start?

We’ve started a Koha installation for our IT Lab’s book collection. There are several reasons for this, beyond our book collection getting out of hand. ^_^ First, open source and free software are pretty logical choices for libraries. Code can be examined and edited, and if you have people who are comfortable with tech and experimentation then it can be a pretty low-cost alternative to other software, especially for libraries with limited resources. I’ll write more about open source later (and link to the open source and libraries websites that are outhere), but we’ve always had a pretty good commitment to it- we’ve got about 25 or so servers running Linux, including our main systems. Koha is shaping up to be a pretty interesting project. We’re not too thrilled with the interface, but if the Z39.50 add-on works then we should have relatively smooth sailling… sadly, it seems that LDAP integration with Koha is problematic, so we’re not quite sure how we’re going to sign iSchool individuals up for accounts yet.

Got the new version of DSpace up (1.4) this week, using Gentoo. I’ll be creating pages detailing some suggestions for installing DSpace with Gentoo based on my, Sam’s, and Shane’s experiences.

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.

No more Public Access Terminals at UT?

I’m using my lunch break to browse the University of Texas at Austin’s Libraries Administrative Council minutes and UT’s Library Committee minutes. I think it’s a great thing that these minutes are made available to the public. They’re usually open records, and there’s some interesting and useful information publicly available there (sometimes if you read between the lines).

I spotted something interesting in the May 31st minutes: “Campus IT group has started discussion about discontinuing public access to campus workstations. Libraries will develop a process to grant temporary EIDs to the public.”

This is interesting for several reasons. One, it looks like it is the result of pressure from either ITS and/or the Information Security Office. What are management implications for library information technology decisions made under these circumstances? Is it a common occurrence? Is it a cause for concern? (That’s before noting that the current method for granting temporary EIDs is time-consuming and difficult).

Two, and more importantly, what does it mean for the privacy of patrons? Is anonymity an important concept on the web in the library? Because the EID authentication system is handled through UT centrally, I’m pretty certain that these records aren’t controlled by the library. Should the browsing of patrons be considered in the same way we consider library circulation records? I can’t imagine that these ideas weren’t discussed- well, I could imagine it, but I’m sure the administration must have given some thought to the subject. What have other people done, and is it something to worry about?

Gormon’s a n00b.

At any rate, you can read about the latest Gorman speech at fellow GSLIS alum Steve Lawson’s blog, See Also. Steve’s also got several links to responses to Gorman’s statement, in which he discusses the current state of LIS education, which he perceives as in crisis. He decries the opinions of “the millenniarist librarians and pseudo-librarians who, intoxicated with self-indulgence and technology, will dismiss you as a ‘Luddite’ or worse. They and their yips and yawps can safely be left to their acronymic backwaters and the dubious delights of clicking and surfing.” There might be a point in the statement, which can be read in full using the dubious technologies of the Interweb and PDF, but it’s easy to lose his point with such divisive and dismissive language. He may have “rattled some cages,” as he puts it, but he’s really drawing attention away from the areas that he wants to focus on. That’s a pity, because the subject itself is an important one. What does it mean to be an ALA accredited institution? What are the core values of librarianship that every librarian should learn before they graduate from such a program? What are the best ways to teach these values? What are the practices and skills that people need? There are all sorts of discussions that we could be having. There are differences in values among different types of librarians, and other information professionals as well. How do we reconcile the professional values to the different types of jobs that people who graduate from our program are going out and getting?

As I commented on Steve’s blog, I’m starting to hear “traditional” librarians, presumably the main focus of Gorman’s statements, completely dismiss his statements. I suppose the pseudo-librarians and millenniarist librarians already do. I wonder what I am? I’m not a librarian at all, but I’ve got The Degree. I’m certainly not technology-phobic, working on IT at an ALA-accredited program. I also value “traditional” librarian values and practices. Come on, Gorman.

Ah, well. At South Padre Island near the town where I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley on the border between Texas and Mexico. I’ll be talking to educators and librarians about copyright, education, and technology. The recent national immigration focus has certainly been interesting here… I’ll write about it a bit later.

ALA Copyright News

From Miriam Nisbet,
Copyright News updates & reminders:

(1) Section 108 Study Group: Due to a delay in posting the public roundtable transcripts on the Section 108 Study Group website, and because many commenters are busy responding to an Orphan Works legislative deadline, the deadline for submission of written comments on the issues raised in the February 15 Federal Register notice has been extended from Monday, April 17 to Friday, April 28.

The transcripts will be posted on the Section 108 Study Group website this week. The Study Group is charged with preparing findings and makeing recommendations to the Librarian of Congress by mid-2006 for possible alterations to the copyright law that reflect current technologies.


Copyright Resources

Haven’t been posting much recently because I’m working on the next version of Several people on ALA’s copyright advisory network group, including me, have been creating lists of resources. I hope to be able to put up the new version of the site later this week/weekend.

For the part of this collecting process involving books, I’ve been in the library and online. I find the Amazon reviews of some of books we have listed interesting. I’m slightly surprised at the accusations of communism and marxism directed towards the authors of some copyright-related books… occasionally very heated reactions against proposed reforms to copyright and IP law. I wonder if the authors read them (looking at Lasica, Lessig, Litman, Stallman, Vaidhyanathan)?

At any rate, if anyone has any good copyright resources that must be listed, let me know.

Smithsonian Agreement Angers Filmmakers – New York Times

Smithsonian Agreement Angers Filmmakers (New York Times, free registration required)

I had been hoping this was an April Fools joke, since I first heard about it on that day, but no such luck. The news has actually been around since early March.

The Smithsonian- a public archive and museum- is making an exclusive deal with Showtime. Documentaries that feature exhibits or personnel from the Smithsonian will have to be shown on Showtime first, and not PBS or other forms of distribution. Officials say that the deal “was not meant to be exclusionary,” but that’s completely untrue. They’re using public resources to sustain themselves in an exclusionary manner. While finances are obviously an issue- and not just for the Smithsonian, but museums and archives in general- this type of abuse of public goods has some pretty terrible implications. We’ve seen this type of behavior from museums and archives before, particularly when there are monetary problems, but these types of actions tend to defeat the purpose of why we have these public services in the first place. Without public access, public institutions are not serving their purpose.

CIS: Weaving threads

Siva Vaidhyanathan has published Critical Information Studies: A Bibliographic Manfesto in the journal Cultural Studies, also available on that link through his website. He’s also posted some reactions and a description of that journal issue about Critical Information Studies, which includes some really interesting people. The journal includes articles by Kembrew McLeod, who famously trademarked Freedom of Expression (TM). (I had a copy of that trademark hanging outside my office for the better part of a year.)

This looks like a really great inter-disciplinary framework. It’s also exactly the kind of thing I’m studying- I’m familar with a lot of the resources in that bibliography. This is really a great concept. I look forward to reading and hopefully, contributing to this area in the future.

I’d add Peter Hirtle to the bibliography, too. ^_^