I want to first complicate everything I write in the below paragraphs by questioning a mantra of current rhetoric with these words: It is not self-evident information inherently wants to be free.
On February 22, 2013, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, under orders from the President, published a memorandum putting forth the notion there must be better access to Big Data and publications written as a result of federally funded R & D research. These projects are built on data as well as metadata. In the news currently, it has been made public (though assumed by many to be already underway) the NSA has been collecting metadata on all communications networks including social media, web traffic, e-mail and mobile-device communication.
The NSA is clearly being hugely funded in order to accomplish these goals. There are many private companies that have made a lot of money off this data collection. The question arises whether the metadata collected under “secret” action would also be included in Obama’s open data initiative even though it is not categorized as “research & development” – though this could be a work around. And think about the large private well-funded companies that are in charge of putting together all the necessary technological solutions to the problem of storing for retrievability this collection of big data. Will I, as a scholar or researcher, be able to send a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and receive this data or will it eventually become part of the publication cycle (even after the embargo) subscribed to by universities and research libraries?
I don’t think it’s outlandish to think universities would be “allowed” to subscribe to national security research/ information related to politics and tracking human beings. Despite the President’s push for Open and Transparent Government (a not entirely disingenuous push), I have seen snippets of the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA) only accessible by subscription to research universities and libraries at relatively high cost. The difference is that the data in the DNSA has been only recently declassified (some of it as late as 2008 for notes and information related to the 1970s). Yet, now ProQuest is making money on this and its accessibility is in question because of the subscription-only portal. Are we to think the NSA might do the same with our data and metadata currently being collected? I am not talking about data being collected about armies or issues related to troop/operational safety, I am talking about the National Security Agency collecting metadata on US citizens.
One may think we are in a paradox on this issue because of The Office of Homeland Security and ongoing “need” for national security. Michael German, formerly with the FBI and now with the ACLU, suggests the US Government classifies far too liberally to make the information it collects useful or to restrict it to actual cases or individuals under suspicion. This could be true. I cannot tackle that topic here of course. The seeming paradox of national security is the window dressing that obscures another paradox – one not hidden but in fact staring us right in the face – the paradox of information described as wanting to be free but increasingly hiding behind pay walls. The Open Access debate threatens to disrupt this trend in some ways. The problem of course is that open access publication and big data “freely” available online takes massive and continual input over time to maintain in perpetuity. It’s probably easier to continue charging subscription costs to access high level publications and data. Even governmental information is up for sale as evidenced by the Digital National Security Archive mentioned above.
The paradox I am getting to involves the creation of ever greater numbers of web applications built either for use on the internet or via mobile devices that invite the creation of metadata – information that is worth a fortune. The applications are free but the increasing use of them is valuable TO SOMEONE ELSE. Yet I see nothing in the President’s initiative about getting open access to the information WE produce accessing social networks, reading our news on the internet, downloading e-books from our local library, accessing subscribed databases of newspaper archives (or something else fun like that) or playing Tertris or Candy Crush on our tablets while sitting on this bus. The irony of this situation at level one is the history of the internet as it was researched and developed reveals it as a governmentally funded research project. Now it has been effectively “sold” to bidders and the rest of the world (including me with this blog) plays along with the trend.
The mantra of hidden collected information as it relates to national security relates to libraries as well – even given our supposed national love of freedom of speech and freedom to read. When the PATRIOT ACT was put into effect, within it was built a small section giving the government the right to request records from libraries on reading habits. This segment of the ACT is called Section 215. When the issue of freedom to read was brought up by library advocates at press conferences, John Ashcroft, a major proponent for the PATRIOT ACT told the press no letters of request had been sent to libraries. But the Library Research Center run out of the University of Illinois had already collected surveys (done under condition of anonymity) suggesting Ashcroft’s statement was a lie. In truth, every letter of request for information sent to libraries comes with a gag order (I have written on this topic in a white paper available here). In other words, not only is our metadata being collected, but security agencies are asking for information from our reading habits – a task made even easier by web-based access to resources and e-formats.
Different libraries have different policies relating to letters of requests for information. Some capitulate quietly and some have created funny ways to bring the issue to the surface for local patrons. Many libraries dump records as soon as items are returned so the information will not be present for capitulation to an information request letter. But as libraries give themselves over to more and more “free” web based applications that track use of e-resources that track metadata increasingly sold to private companies, with Homeland Security asking for direct and explicit records information and now with all these interactions taking place over web-enabled mobile devices (tablets and phones) tracked by NSA funded private contractors, I have to seriously wonder where one’s Freedom to Read is going. If libraries are spaces where people learn and create and one’s ability to create is tied to the quality and freedom of access to creative expressions of all sorts found at libraries, then the tying down of that freedom by data being collected by private companies for hire and by the government, one has to wonder about the future of creative freedom. In fact, it might be argued that as metadata is increasingly collected by the stakeholders already mentioned, it is questionable whether access is free anymore – even as it goes live with “open-access” publication. I would argue this point is the real capstone within the layer of paradox of Open Data “Access” and the President’s claim on Open Government because information and resources downloaded and linked across the internet are ever easier to track and to collect metadata on use.
Thank you for freely reading.
Please reply here or @Twitter.
This entry was posted in internet, knowledge organization, librarianship, libraries, Open Access, Open Data, reading, social media and tagged data collection, freedom to read, intellectual freedom, library research, metadata, nsa, open data, research habits.
From CHICAGO’S McCormick Place/Convention Center: Watching traffic heading south along Lake Michigan with the lake a mere 200 yards in the distance – beautiful.
Vendors and exhibitors are currently setting up for 5 days of learning and connecting on all things library. This will include books, ebooks and author events of course. Many publishers are even in attendance. But there are lots of technology vendors as well as committee meetings engaging in “think-tank” planning for the future of academic, public and school libraries’ futures. This exhibition/conference will bring together the current and proposed best practices in technical and patron services.
It’s not too late to register. I for one am excited.
Make sure to follow Ala Annual 2013 events on Twitter with the hashtag: #ala2013
I’ll be tweeting through the event from @jltaglich and @meta21st
Don’t hesitate to chat or express all thoughts.
Thanks for reading.
This entry was posted in ALA, internet, knowledge organization, librarianship, libraries, library, library classification, library collections, library design, machine readable information, MARC, metadata, networking, public libraries, reference works, social media, subject access, Technology in Libraries.
The Meaning of Book Reviews for LibraryThing
I have just finished my seventh book review for LibraryThing. Most of my review content uploaded to the site has been possible by books given away at LibraryThing by either publishers or promotional groups. The aim of this tiny essay is to inquire about the meaning of writing for a website such as Librarything given what is happening to publication in general across the internet.
When one enters text or other content into fields in LibraryThing, there is no editor standing over one’s back checking form, grammar, whether anything inappropriate has been included or even whether your content has “stayed on message.” None of these factors are taken into consideration when text is added after the user has logged into the site under his or her account. Reviews, upon submission, can be voted positively following current crowd-sourced, social trends. Reviews can even be flagged for content reasons. But there is no committee, fact-checker or grammar check required to submit.
There are myriad points one could make about writer-controlled content added to a popular and publicly used site such as LibraryThing. Many of the same points can be made about author controlled web-sites of any kind. Writers, like all “public” figures, want to appear to put their best looking foot forward. In our contemporary era, web personas and content added to pages attached to these personas, are submitted to websites. Some of these websites are built upon freely available web authoring software such as WordPress.com. Others may have started out as Blogger sites but have transitioned into full-blown branded sites. And I do mean branding. This means that even if the free code has been downloaded from WordPress.org, it has been manipulated and customized according to specific and unique interests and then hosted at one of the many places to host code seen through browsers as a URL.
Whatever code and style limitations that may have been imposed by free blogs hosted at WordPress.com (which always include .wordpress.com in the URL) have been evaded by adding more distinguishing features, but not limited to, branding through naming. Some famous authors with fully branded websites (which do not necessarily have to be based on WordPress.org code) are William Gibson, Thomas Pynchon and Jeanette Winterson. I mention these three as examples of different styles that are designed with the intent to brand each author for marketing (which is not a bad thing). Each site is different. In truth, each of these sites may have people who run them who are not the authors themselves. But that doesn’t matter because the authors themselves are in control of what happens on them and how content is uploaded for live viewing.# So even though each author’s controlled and branded site looks nothing like LibraryThing nor a “standard” blog that could be run by anyone with an internet connection, the overall demand from controlled web publishing technologies are the same – content added for all the world to see is uploaded/added by select administrative personnel who determine what content is loaded and may or may not have any fact-checkers, editors or “appropriate” content managers standing over their shoulders deciding whether said content has “stayed on message.”
Now, it probably works to the benefit of every author who has a branded website to “stay on message” and use all necessary fact-checking and editing skills at hand because, well, they’re authors who author (write) and who are interested in developing an educated and positive fan base. These aspects of web publishing, however, are used by every author. It doesn’t matter if an author runs a small blog hosted on freely available software (where the software is openly branded) or a site built on fully developed and manipulated code. Each author wants to put his or her best looking foot forward. One could argue the best looking feet on the internet are branded and controlled websites. But it is not the case that every author prioritizes his or her writing the same way as another more famous one. Plus, there are lots of important and famous institutions (some universities and publishers) who use freely available web publishing software (where the software is openly branded) to promote their goods and services. Why can’t a “normal” person do the same thing? Time and space change all the time.
It seems to me many authors who care about their content added to the internet will already do their best to upload and submit the highest quality content they can manage. No, not every submission or act of uploaded content counts as authorship or toward activities built to promote a “writer.” But these days with technologies such as websites, blogs, Twitter, google+, about.me, LibraryThing and other social media applications that can be linked to each other, why would an author not make the most of every act of content upload? The linking of technologies to each other, a form of interoperability, can be used extremely effectively to promote and cross-promote writing of all sorts all across the internet. In some cases, a single post in social media will automatically cross-post to other applications. Professional writers use these technologies intelligently all the time. An amateur or non-professional writer can as well.
In many cases, posting in social media dovetails into the history of a writer’s writing. Writing a “proper” essay somewhere for web or print publication in which content is theoretically edited by a “real” editor is then promoted via blogs, websites with branded URLs and social media technologies. And now with publishers of books and e-books lining up to get some of those same publications promoted on LibraryThing, literary minded writers and creators of creative critical essays can submit high quality reviews for others to read while “real” writers can submit reviews to “real” publications on the internet. I understand the conundrum of peer-review when it comes to what makes a “real” publication. In no way are those justifications negative. They make sense to me too. In tandem with this point is the statement from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers that users who write reviews are more likely to receive more books to review than those who fail to submit reviews for books received has the caveat: the actual content of reviews does not matter. In this, a submission to LibraryThing may not count the same as publication proper, but publishers are still riding a circle by using it so heavily to promote (alongside “real” sites of publication) their wares. One just hopes, at least I do, that all reviews submitted to LibraryThing exhibit the best looking foot forward by writers submitting content for this particular social web portal. There is obviously some value and some cultural cache attached to these reviews.
Thank you for reading.
As always, I am open to comments here or @ Twitter.
#If this is not true, please communicate with me in a polite and educational manner. Thank you.
Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning
Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533
One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.
TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.
Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.
How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.
A strength indeed.
*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.
PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.
This entry was posted in collection development, internet, knowledge organization, librarianship, libraries, library, library collections, library design, networking, reference books, reference works, social media, Technology in Libraries.