I promised to write about this a few days ago and it’s been, quite a week. Short version: starting May 1st I took a job doing user support for Open Library. It’s very part time, very fulfilling and a lot of fun.
Longer story: MetaFilter, my internet home for over a decade and my employer for almost that long, has been going through some challenges. There was a severe financial downturn (the site is nearly 100% advertiser supported, allowing them to have nearly eight full time employees) and staffing was going to have to be reduced. You can read about some of that happened on Search Engine Land or Matt Haughey’s post on Medium because this was basically a weird “I wonder what happened at Google?” situation. We’d been facing decreasing revenue for about eighteen months and things weren’t improving. As the person in charge of running the site but not managing the money aspect of it, the last year and a half had been really bad for morale. Not knowing if your job was going away, getting gloom-and-doom reports from on high, not being able to plan for the future because you don’t know if there will be a future, are just destabilizing and not allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. I have a longer version of this that I’d be happy to explain over a beer or two, but that was the general gist.
And ultimately, as much as I loved what I’d built–Ask MetaFilter is one of the best Q&A sites around, bar none, the moderation team is the best group of moderators there is, period–my “career goals” such as they are weren’t with website moderation, they were and remain with libraries. So when stuff started getting hairy in late 2012, I decided I needed a non-MetaFilter hobby, one that was library related, and I decided to talk to the Internet Archive about helping out with Open Library. Open Library, if you don’t know, lends ebooks worldwide. Worldwide. It’s a cool project.
I hadn’t known at the time that Open Library was a bit of a ghost ship, being kept alive and online but not really in active development. I put my head down and just started answering emails, reporting bugs, being the change I wanted to see in Open Library. And once the writing was on the wall at MeFi, that I could stay on as the oldest employee but in a work situation that was more “Everyone works all the time” which was no longer something I wanted to do, I talked to the Archive about getting an actual job-job. I made a data-based pitch “Look, I answered 7000 emails last year and rewrote the help pages and FAQ, user support is probably something that either needs more volunteers or a paid staff member” and they agreed to take me on as a part-timer to keep doing what I was doing, and maybe do a little more.
So I still answer emails, but I also attend staff meetings (via Skype) and have the keys to the Twitter and the blog. It’s weird working in a free culture type of place but still working with Adobe’s DRM nearly every day. I made a graceful mod exit from MetaFilter and I still continue to hang out there, because why wouldn’t I?
Long range I’m not sure what my plan is. I’ve got the same adult education job in my small town in Vermont and don’t plan to leave that. I still write a regular column for Computers in Libraries and I’m still on the road doing public speaking stuff about once a month (contact me if you’d like me to come speak at your event) which I may ramp up depending on how this all goes. I still have a lot of Vermont libraries to visit. I’m trying, despite my tendency to overwork, to take the summer at least partly off. And one of the things I want to do, oddly enough, is spend more time on my blog, writing down more of the things I am working on, in a place that’s mine and not MetaFilter’s.
That’s the news. I’m excited to get back to working more with libraries, all kinds of libraries.
I regularly trot out Open Library as an example of both a project that is nice and library like while also being attractive and usable and, at the same time, pushing the envelope of “how to be a library” in ways that are dignifying to both patrons and librarians alike. I was delighted to read this article about the results of a recent meeting where ALL state librarians voted unanimously to form an alliance with the Internt Archive’s Open Library project.
[Oregon state librarian] Scheppke said this allows libraries the chance to envision digitizing everything in their collection, from books about local history to works by local authors.
“If that doesn’t happen who knows when those books will become ebooks, maybe never,” Scheppke said. “That’s what really appeals to the state libarians; it’s a solution we haven’t had up until now to have a much more complete ebook collection,” he said.
One of the fun parts of the Symposium this wekeend was seeing Brewster Kahle talk about stuff. He started out by talking about this book Libraries of the Future that he wanted to scan and put on the Internet Archive. He then talked further about how figuring out who owned the copyrights for it was a total pain in the ass. I’m not even sure if he ever did figure it out; he even had MIT’s librarians working on it. The book is online anyhow. I haven’t looked at books in the Open Library project in a while but how slick is this? Full and slightly messy text here which, amusingly, ends with: PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE CARDS OR SLIPS FROM THIS POCKET.
I was lucky enough to catch Brewster Kahle talking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now on my drive home from NJLA. I feel like I’m pretty up on what’s going on with Google and the Internet Archive and book scanning. What I didn’t know is how Google’s agreements with libraries are hindering the IA’s access, not because of the contracts, but just because of differing priorities. The video and transcript are now available online.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean when you say it’s not legally required. You mean in the contract, what they have with Google? And so, if Google was here, they’d say, “We didn’t say they couldn’t give it to Internet Archive. That’s their prerogative.”
BREWSTER KAHLE: Correct, that basically Google didn’t put it in their contract. Yet from a library’s perspective, why have a book scanned twice? It’s wear and tear on the books. If they think that—and they wouldn’t have signed it if they didn’t think that the Google thing was a good idea. But now that they’ve signed this with Google, they don’t want it scanned again. And this is a problem, because the books, even the out-of-copyright books, are locked up perpetually.
An ongoing debate in the copyright wars is whether an institution that is making reproductions of public domain materials available should be allowed to dictate terms (usually involving payment) for use of those items. We all know that libraries need money. It’s also true that having digital copies of rare materials available helps preserve the original items. So, if I want to download a public domain book from Google Books — say John Cotton Dana’s book A Library Primer — I get usage guidelines from Google attached to the pdf I’ve downloaded.
Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.
We also ask that you:
+ Make non-commercial use of the ﬁles We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these ﬁles for personal, non-commercial purposes.
+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google’s system: If you are conducting research on machine translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.
+ Maintain attribution The Google “watermark” you see on each ﬁle is essential for informing people about this project and helping them ﬁnd additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.
+ Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can’t offer guidance on whether any speciﬁc use of any speciﬁc book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book’s appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.
These are all “suggestions” as near as I can tell. As with the Chicken Coupon fiasco of a few days ago, the implied threat that comes along with this item puts a bit of a damper on the joy that is the public domain. Bleh. We’ve seen other big corporations and libraries doing this as well.
However, this post is mostly to say “Yay” about Cornell’s decision to remove all restrictions on the use of its public domain reproductions. Here’s their press release about it and here is the web page with the new policy. What’s their reasoning? Well among other thigns it’s hard to support a misson of open access and at the same time go out of your way to make materials more difficult to get ahold of and interact with. You can see some of Cornell’s 70,000 public domain items at the Internet Archive.
Before there was Braille, there was Moon. Check out these photos from some antiquarian Moon books. More on Moon. This post was made the same day that the Internet Archive announced that they have one million books available in DAISY format for blind and visually disabled folks. Not just talk, here’s the list of them. Image is from this book. [via]
“I’m a librarian. What I am trying to do is bring all of the world’s knowledge to as many people as want to read it. The idea of using technology is perfect for us.” Brewster Kahle gives a twenty minute talk about free culture and libraries and digitzation at TED.