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A little background: when I was younger and my dad was a technologist, every so often he’d go to Washington DC to go talk to some people about technology stuff. He was always super cryptic about it and we’d joke that he was a CIA informant. To this day I don’t know what he was doing, advising someone about something. Which is just my roundabout way of starting this post about talking to the White House last week.
By “White House” in this case I mean Valerie Green, the Director of Presidential Personnel at the White House. I’m not 100% sure how I wound up talking to her and Amanda Moose, her special assistant, about the incoming Librarian of Congress but I think it went something like this…
I have, as you know, been agitating about the incoming Librarian of Congress, making sure librarians get their voices heard about this appointment. The job is a lifetime position and is often given to late-career historians. James Billington was such a person. While he did some good things for LoC in his tenure, he probably should have retired earlier and there have been legitimate criticisms of some of the things he did and did not do. I made the Librarian of Progress website and wrote an article about this for Medium. The #nextloc hashtag? That one is mine. Medium is one of those online writing platforms. They employ me to do some writing. Other people also write for them who are not employed there, for example Jason Goldman, the White House’s Chief Digital Officer.
Jason wrote an article talking about what he was doing there and I responded. We tweeted back and forth a few times. I sent him a copy of my article when I wrote it. He emailed in early July that I should chat with Valerie Green. I said “Sure, happy to continue the conversation” and then didn’t hear anything until I got an email this past Tuesday asking if I was free for a phone call with Valerie the next day at noon. Noon wasn’t super convenient but when the White House says “Free for a phone call?” the right answer is yes. I have this to say about the White House: of all the people who I have had phone meetings with in the last year or so, they were the most on time and the most prepared. The forty-five minutes I spent talking to Valerie and Amanda were a delight and not just because I felt like I was advancing my cause, both of them were pleasant and smart people who asked great questions and seemed to value my time and their own.
We talked for about 45 minutes about what the job of Librarian of Congress entailed, where Billington didn’t help, what a new person could really do to change things, and why it matters. I felt listened to and they laughed at my jokes. One of the most interesting questions they asked, besides “Has your opinion changed about what the job entails after talking to people about it for a month?” (it has) was about whether I thought people would be really hostile towards basically any appointee in today’s political climate or if there were people who might please everyone (not who were they but just did such people exist). I got to tell them how much I thought certain high profile possible choices were going to be lightning rods (in a mannerly and polite way) and how I was very concerned that media industry people would be trying to stack the deck in favor of their people. I also told them that some people–loud internet people–would probably hate whoever got picked but if they at least felt listened to it would matter a lot. That is, I think a lot of people would be disappointed if the incoming LoC was another older white man, but that could be mitigated somewhat if that person had a serious plan in place for working on LoC’s diversity issues that was front and center of their early communications.
I gave them a long list of people to talk to, primarily people at smaller libraries or representing underrepresented groups in librarianship. They seemed to appreciate that I’d thought about this a lot but also wasn’t a zealot about it. We had a nice and reasonable conversation and I felt upbeat about it afterwards particularly about my biggest fear which was that the job would go to some industry hack who was determined to wrest the Copyright Office from the clutches of the library. All in all, a very good discussion.
Librarian of PROgress. Let’s start the conversation.
People have been asking me, and they may be asking you, about the job opening for Librarian of Congress. I put together this little one-page website to give people a run down of the important issues as I see them. #nextloc
I’m not totally comfortable with Library of Congress specifically blocking access to Wikileaks for staff and patrons at the Library of Congress as confirmed on Talking Points Memo. Here is the LoC blog’s response which refers to the same statement they are giving to reporters and the press. The situation is, of course, quite complicated but I find this to be an odd precedent that makes me a little itchy.
Fair Use poster image by Timothy Vollmer
The Library of Congress just released its 181 page report “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age” talking about the challenges of digitally archiving sound recording. BoingBoing gives a nice summary “[T]he copyright laws that the recording industry demanded are so onerous that libraries inevitably have to choose whether to be law-breakers or whether to abandon their duty to preserve and archive audio.” More analysis from OSNews.
And if anyone’s wondering where I’ve been this week, the answer is “Mired in getting copyright permissions for the intellectual property in my book. Thanks for asking.” I have a pretty firm grasp of Fair Use and have been trying to follow the guidelines for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education. I signed a book contract that specifically says that I am responsible for assuring that my materials are being used with permission. Despite this, my publisher (who I am quite fond of otherwise) is risk-averse and wants to make sure I have permission anyhow. Permission that I assert that I don’t need for small screenshots of, say, Google search results or an ALA nested menu.
This gets even more confusing when some of the organizations involved claim that I need permission when I don’t. Since Fair Use, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, is mostly something that gets hammered out through litigation there is no strict set of guidelines as to what Fair Use is. So, big companies with a lot to lose err on the side of compliance with other big companies’ requests, requests that may be extralegal. So Google can’t legally tell you to only use the public domain offerings from Google Books (which they admit) but they make a polite request, a polite request that sounds a lot like a terms of service.
So right now I’m waiting to hear back from Facebook after filling out a form on their website asking for permission to use a screenshot. They say it will take 1-2 weeks. I am confident that my screenshot is fair use. My editor also thinks it is fair use. However they’re not willing to risk it. And so we wait.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit agains the Library of Congress for terminating a CRS Assistant Director for writing a letter to the editor for the Washington post and an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Colonel Morris D. Davis was, prior to his CRS position, responsible for the prosecution of suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay.
62. Because of his former position as the Chief Prosecutor for the military commissions, Col. Davis is regularly asked to comment on Guantánamo and the military commissions system. Col. Davis believes he has a unique perspective to add to this debate, and he would like to convey his insights and opinions to the public. Since he was informed that he was being terminated by CRS, however, Col. Davis has declined numerous opportunities to speak publicly about military commissions issues out of fear that he could be subject to further retaliation by the Library and [CRS Director Daniel] Mulhollan.
63. The decision to terminate Col. Davis for his speech has intimidated and chilled other CRS employees from speaking and writing in public. CRS employees are confused, uncertain, and fearful about what outside speaking and writing is permissible.
64. As a result of the Library’s and Mr. Mulhollan’s actions, Col. Davis has suffered, and/or will suffer, both economic and non-economic losses, emotional distress, and other compensable damages.
Shorpy is a great source for old photographs. They often get them from sources like the Library of Congress which is where this photo of the New Cannan public library in 1953 came from. You can also see the original set of photos over at the Library of Congress [did not see this one over at their Flickr photostream]. The big add that Shorpy’s has, however, is the community. It’s not just a photo of a library, it’s also people commenting about their memories of the library including where else they’ve seen that certain floor tile [fun fact: it's also the tile that's in my bathroom as near as I can tell] [thanks mike]
I just became a fan of the Library of Congress on Facebook. They seem to be using facebook in a prety normal way, highlighting events, adding a few photos. If you want to find other ways to be social with LoC, check out this post on Resource Shelf. I’ve always felt their YouTube channel was pretty nice.
Erica says it better than I can — regarding the discrimination lawsuit the Library of Congress lost because it rescinded a job offer from a hired applicant who disclosed that he was transitioning into becoming a woman — “Hey, Library of Congress. Cut that shit out.” Thanks to the wonders of YouTube you can hear Diane Schroer herself talking about transgender discrimination.
The Library of Congress has finished a report (full report and shorter summary in pdf) summing up what they’ve learned after the first nine months of their experimentation with Flickr. Here is an excerpt from the summary. Look at these numbers.
The following statistics attest to the popularity and impact of the pilot. As of October 23, 2008, there have been:
- 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
- 79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
- More than 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
- 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
- 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
- 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
- Less than 25 instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate.
- More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been enhanced with new information provided by the Flickr Community.
Between January and May 2008, the Library saw an increase in hits at its own Web site. For Bain images placed on Flickr, views/downloads rose approximately 60% for the period January-May 2008, compared to the same time period in 2007. Views/downloads of FSA/OWI image files placed on Flickr rose approximately 13%. Average monthly visits to all PPOC Web pages rose 20% over the five-month period of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. For additional information, see the Outcomes section in the full report.
Not only is that data good news about the project but being able to say “Hey when the Library of Congress opened up their photos to commenting and tagging, they only had to remove 25 inappropriate tags/comments out of 75K instances of user-generated content” thats a big deal.
For some reason, writing the talk about tech support in libraries has been making me think about libraries on social networks again. Maybe it’s the little push of friends I get on Facebook after I give a talk to a new group of people. Maybe it’s because I had to explain yet again that I think it’s worth powering through bad design and usability in order to have presence in a place where your users are or might be. Maybe it’s because social software seems like a free and easy way to give your library a human face on the larger Internet. Maybe it’s because after being at SXSW I just see social software as the default way to be on the web and so libraries that are moving forward with blogging and other web tools may as well expand into using social tools as well. This has nothing to do with 2.0 anything, although I guess you could see it that way.
So, to that end, I’m making a small list of ways that I think libraries and librarians can use thse tools to further the existing missions of their institutions. It’s nothing new, but I’ve been pondering it lately and I think specifics, and links to examples can he helpful. Feel free to add more in the comments.
- Get your library a Flickr account. These accounts are now nearly free through a collaboration between Flickr and TechSoup. TechSoup has an article about how nonprofits can use Flickr. My advice: free image hosting and easy image uploading for staff. Consider uploading some historical photos that you can share with the people in you community. Check out what the Library of Congress has been doing and how much tagging and commenting is happening on their photos. It’s like a Letters to the Editor section for you archival photos. I use this photo quite a lot on my photoshop class, teaching people how to edit pictures.
- Anyone can get an account on Facebook. Facebook now has the ability for businesses and organizations to create “pages” (as opposed to profiles) where you can put information about your organization. You can see a few library pages here: NASA Glenn Technical Library, Iowa City Public Library, The National Library of Scotland. You can click here to create your own organization page. For people who are already on Facebook, which includes a huge percentage of high school and college age people, they can become “fan” of your organization which means they will get your updates. If you already have a blog, you can set your Facebook page to automatically read and republish your RSS feed inside Facebook. I do this with my personal blog so people who are my friends on Facebook can read my blog updates. The same way Google really let us get information out of the web, people are searching their networks on Facebook sometimes before Google.
- If you’re a librarian, think about getting on Twitter. You can read this post for background information about Twitter or this Library Journal article for more information about messaging services generally. This is not so much, as I see it, to communicate with patrons but to do two things. 1. create a short pithy easy to update RSS feed of news or information or links that you can repurpose to put on your blog, website, Facebook profile or elsewhere. 2. communicate with librarians who are on twitter in droves. When I was creating my talk I asked a question, literally hurled it out there into the aether, and got back seven or either useful responses within about an hour. That’s ready reference.
- Added later: think about a 23 Things type project. Vermont is doing this. It’s an easy way to give staff a casual fun exposture to a lot of social tools and let them see for themselves what they’re good for. Offer continuing ed credits or other fun incentives. The set-up costs and investments are nearly nothing and the ongoing investment is mostly time. One of the things I hear all the time is that staff are interested in new technologies generally but lack the time to explore and so get technostressed because they feel that they’re jumping in to some very public online activities without feeling competent in what they’re doing or what they’re there for. a 23 Things project can help that immensely.
The reason I think it’s important to show good examples and best paractices is because we’re still dealing with libraries like Mishawaka Library which thinks that blocking social software sites in their library because they can’t manage unruly teens is some sort of solution to a problem. I’m not saying there aren’t problems surrounding public computer and internet use in libraries generally, maybe there are even sometimes problems with teens, but really responding to the problem by blocking wide swaths of the Internet is not really going to help anyone understand the problem better. It just makes libraries look hostile and librarians look reactive. I’m sure there’s a larger post here about dealing with teens + comptuers + internet + understaffing + the fear factor of unknown online socializing, but I feel that it’s all of our responsbility as online community members of various stripes, to provide positive examples of social software online. This is mine.
A President’s Day link for you. An NPR story about some recently surfaced photos of Lincoln’s inauguration, via MetaFilter.
The Library of Congress had discovered unseen photos of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. They’d been housed at the library for years, hidden by an error in labeling.
I got into a funny conversation with a friend of mine at the MIT Puzzle hunt this weekend (my team came in third out of 37!) about finding images of things. There’s a lot of data collection in puzzling and a lot of times when you have to do is, say, look at a photo and figure out what it is or where it’s from. This is great of someone recognizes it, not so great if someone doesn’t. Every puzzler has their own personal sites they use for this. I tend to use Google images because it’s fast and I can move through it quickly. Others use Wikipedia. My friend was saying he uses the Commons site. At first I thought he meant the Creative Commons search which I don’t fiund super-useful and told him so. He actually meant the Wikimedia Commons which is a great place to find freely licensed images.
Now Flickr has launched their Commons site which does a few things.
- Makes LoC images available for anyone to see
- Allows people to tag and interact with these photos
- Creates a new way of licensing or explaining their IP idea called “no known copyright protections” which they go on to explain
These beautiful, historic pictures from the Library represent materials for which the Library is not the intellectual property owner. Flickr is working with the Library of Congress to provide an appropriate statement for these materials. It’s called “no known copyright restrictions.”
Hopefully, this pilot can be used as a model that other cultural institutions would pick up, to share and redistribute the myriad collections held by cultural heritage institutions all over the world.
So, they’re taking a risk, they’re sharing their data, they’re presuming good faith, and they’re going to try this out. Close readers may also note the small text on this page “Any Flickr member is able to add tags or comment on these collections. If you’re a dork about it, shame on you. This is for the good of humanity, dude!!” Which, loosely translated means they’re starting out trusting people and trying to maintain a light tone about it.
So, the original photos are still held by the Library of Congress and Flickr has no “ownership” of them as a result of this partnership. They’re available worldwide [well except Dubai and other places that block Flickr entirely] and they’re in a system that allows for user-generated content additions to the content. I’m pleased that the LoC, or someone at the LoC decided to step up and really demonstrate how trust and openness can help further the mission of culutral institutions. Now if I could only get LoC to friend me….
By: Jenny Levine,
Blog: The Shifted Librarian
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Recently, Michel Le Querrec friended me on Flickr. I’m not sure why, maybe to extend the reach of the project he’s working on using the site, Photos Normandie. Apparently the National Archives of Canada (and the U.S.?) are uploading pictures from the Battle of Normandy, more than 2700 of them to date.
I found the photographs fascinating, even though the captions and descriptions are in French, so I friended the site back, and now every day I see a few of these amazing pictures mixed into my photostream. It’s very strange to see thumbnails of dogs, nature, friends, children, libraries, and then the Battle of Normandy, but I find it an interesting use of Flickr and the images usually force me to reflect on how lucky I am in this day and age. For some, it would be interesting to add in streams from Iraq, Kenya, and other places that would bring home the reality of the rest of the world, especially in a classroom setting.
All of which was broiling in the back of my mind when I saw this incredible announcement from the Library of Congress, an institution I have to say I never thought would take this step.
My Friend Flickr: A Match Made in Photo Heaven
“If all goes according to plan, the project will help address at least two major challenges: how to ensure better and better access to our collections, and how to ensure that we have the best possible information about those collections for the benefit of researchers and posterity. In many senses, we are looking to enhance our metadata (one of those Web 2.0 buzzwords that 90 percent of our readers could probably explain better than me).
The project is beginning somewhat modestly, but we hope to learn a lot from it. Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist.
The real magic comes when the power of the Flickr community takes over. We want people to tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves. For instance, many photos are missing key caption information such as where the photo was taken and who is pictured. If such information is collected via Flickr members, it can potentially enhance the quality of the bibliographic records for the images.
We’re also very excited that, as part of this pilot, Flickr has created a new publication model for publicly held photographic collections called “The Commons.” Flickr hopes—as do we—that the project will eventually capture the imagination and involvement of other public institutions, as well.
From the Library’s perspective, this pilot project is a statement about the power of the Web and user communities to help people better acquire information, knowledge and—most importantly—wisdom. One of our goals, frankly, is to learn as much as we can about that power simply through the process of making constructive use of it.” [Library of Congress Blog]
More info is available here, here, and here. Major kudos to LOC for seeing the opportunity and seizing it. Hopefully the community will respond and help tag the images for retrieval, but it will be an interesting experiment either way. I am very impressed with this effort and can’t wait to watch it grow.
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The Library of Congress is on Flickr! I am charmed by their profile. “Yes. We really are THE Library of Congress.”
The LOLbrarians group on livejournal has been somewhat quiet lately, but I enjoyed this little mockup about the Libirary of Congress and their excellent unique historical map. Reading that made me realize there was a digital version of the map online that I could go look at. Neato.
By: Jessamyn West,
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On my fridge I have a photocopy of a letter that Sandy Berman sent to the Library of Congress this August suggesting that they establish dildoes as a LCSH. I got many fascinating photocopies along with it for supporting evidence. I enjoy being on Sandy’s mailing list. Today, vickiep from del.ico.us sent me a link to “strap-on sex” as a new Library of Congress subject heading. Hooray! Unfortunately, links that go into the Library of Congress Authorities searches aren’t permanent but I was able to replicate the search and find the listing for dildoes in the weekly list for September 26th. Of interest to me particularly is that the authority record for strap-on sex contains Wikipedia, Google and “LC database” as notes in the 670 field. update: Tim at LibraryThing has a post showing the record.
I’ve been chitchatting with Simon as he’s been compiling and data-cleaning his set of LoC authority records. He’s at ALA now, and the data has been released into the wild. There’s something that warms my little librarian heart getting to read raw MARC on my own little laptop. Try it yourself!
I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t always follow through and read their links. I appreciate it when people whose opinions I trust can summarize long things for me. Sometimes I sumarize those things for other people. Tonight I am reading the twenty-four page report More on What is Going on at the Library of Congress prepared for AFSCME 2910 by Thomas Mann. You can find it linked off of this page, if you really like reading these sorts of things.
He makes a lot of interesting points that other scholarly types have been trying to make in more clunky fashion for quite some time. In short, libraries that still exist for the purpose of furthering scholarship are having a harder time doing it, both because of the shift towards electronic reources and the “it’s all on Google” mentality but also because our own institutions (LoC I am looking in your direction) seem to want to actively dismantle some of the better tools we have for organizing and accessing knowledge. I’m just pulling out a small part of this, but really you should go read the whole thing. Some peopel might take umbrage, but one of my favorite things about this particular presentation of the issues is that Mann really seems to have a well-researched opinion that he wants to get across without insulting anyone, having a hissyfit, or saying that other people are losers or idiots. It’s clear that he has a take on things, one that others would disagree with, but he lets his metaphors and ideas speak for themselves, even as he’s responding to people who I assume were disagreeing with his last paper on the subject.
The Continuing Need for Reference Librarians
What catalogs and portals cannot do, however, what classified bookstacks cannot do, what Internet search engines cannot do, what federated searching cannot do–these things can be done by reference librarians who, far beyond the capacity of any “under the hood programming,” are able to provide researchers with expert guidance on the full range of options available to them for their particular topics, in an intelligent sequence of use, with the best search options and sources segregated from thousands of blind alleys, dead ends, and mountains of unwanted irrelevancies.
Reference work, in other words, is not just a nice “add on” optional service; in its dual function of providing point-of-use instruction and overview classes it is integral to the efficient use of research libraries and to the promotion of scholarship in general. It cannot be replaced by “under the hood” programming improvements in library catalogs or portals, especially when such programming dumbs down multiple complex systems to a lowest common denominator of keyword searching–and also fails to search the vast arrays of resources that are not digitized at all.
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Tim made the announcement of the announcement (pdf), so I guess this is the announcement of that. Simon Spero, superhero, has released an almost-complete copy of the LoC authority files. You can just … have them. I have a copy. I like to grep through it for fun on snowy evenings (that is how my Nerve personal ad will start, I am certain of it). I am interested to see what happens next. You can’t copyright this data, but you can sell it. Now that it’s available for free, it will be interesting to see if you can even do that.
This phase of the project is dedicated to the men and women at the Library of Congress and outside, who have worked for the past 108 years to build these authorities, often in the face of technology seemingly designed to make the task as difficult as possible.
Two neat things. Library of Congress has a blog. Librarian.net blog is on its (currently two items long) blogroll. Woo, we love LoC! Now please consider replacing the subject heading Hermphroditism with Intersexuality. Thanks.
David Weinberger has a concise summary of Thomas Mann’s long article about the concept of reference and scholarship and how it fits into modern day librarianship, especially research libraries. This is the sort of thing Michael Gorman talks about in grouchy pundit ways, but Mann really digs deeper and seems to understand both sides of the equation. Weinberger’s posts sums up some of the high points with some strong pullquotes, but I’d really also suggest reading Mann’s entire essay. Here are some quotes that I liked, but don’t think that gets you off the hook from reading it. You hve to get to about page 35 before you hit the “what sholdl we do about this?” part.
I cannot claim to have a system that flattens all the lumps, but I am concerned that many of the more important problems facing scholars are being ignored because a “digital library” paradigm puts blinders on our very ability to notice the problems in the first place.
On different types of searching:
Note that as a reference librarian I could bring to bear on this question a whole variety of different search techniques, of which most researchers are only dimly aware of (or not aware at all): I used not just keyword searching, but subject category searching (via LC=s subject headings), shelf-browsing (via LC’s classification system), related record searching, and citation searching. (I also did some rather sophisticated Boolean combination searching, with truncation symbols and parentheses, discussed below.) Further, as a librarian I thought in terms of types of literature–specialized encyclopedia articles, literature review articles, subject bibliographies–whose existence never even occurs to most non-librarians, who routinely think only in terms of subject searches rather than format searches. And, further, one of the reasons I sought out the Web database to begin with was that I knew it would also provide people contact information–i.e., the mail and e-mail addresses of scholars who have worked on the same topic. The point here needs emphasis: a research library can provide not only a vast amount of content that is not on the open Internet; it can also provide multiple different search techniques that are usually much more efficient than “relevance ranked” and “more like this” Web searching. And most of these search techniques themselves are not available to offsite users who confine their searches to the open Internet.
While folksonomies have severe limitations and cannot replace conventional cataloging, they also offer real advantages that can supplement cataloging. Perhaps financial arrangements with LibraryThing (or other such operations) might be worked out in such a way that LC/OCLC catalog records for books would provide clickable links to LibraryThing records for the same works. In this way researchers could take advantage of that supplemental network of connections without losing the primary network created by professional librarians.