Collecting New Media

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25 March
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Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in the case Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, Inc., ruling that goods lawfully made outside the U.S. are protected by the first sale doctrine. The case centered on whether or not Americans or businesses could sell, lend, or otherwise give away goods they owned, but had been manufactured overseas. Kirtsaeng, a graduate student, bought textbooks manufactured in Thailand and later solder them online in the United States was being sued by the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, claiming the first sale doctrine did not apply and Kirtsaeng had violated their copyright.

As the first sale doctrine also enables libraries to lend and sell material to its patrons, a ruling against Kirtsaeng could have had serious implications for libraries. The American Library Association clearly supported Kirtsaeng, submitting briefs in his favor. Writing his opinion on the case, Justice Stephen Bryers said,

The American Library Association tells us that library collections contain at least 200 million books published abroad. How, the American Library Association asks, are the libraries to obtain permission to distribute these millions of books? How can they find, say, the copyright owner of a foreign book, perhaps written decades ago? Are the libraries to stop circulating or distributing or displaying the millions of books in their collections that were printed abroad?

Maureen Sullivan, the current ALA president said in a response to the decision,

We welcome the Court’s clear ruling in favor of the first sale doctrine. The ALA will continue to fight for Americans’ right to access information.

While I agree with the ruling, I find it interesting that Sullivan stressed library patrons’ access to information in her statement. Explicitly making that connection, between the physical object of a book and the ideas and information it contains is hardly new or radical. But in a world where we buy the rights to an e-book, rather than the book file itself, I think the connection is all that much more critically important to acknowledge.

28 February
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Digital Slide Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America, an initiative launched out of the Berkman Center to unite the existing digital library hubs at existing institutional collections just announced a collaboration with ARTStor– the dominant digital art image library in the US.  Art scholarship, and the services that address the needs of art historians and art academics are generally niche products dominated by a few early entrants into the market. When instituions began to digitize their slide archives, ArtStor was formed as a nonprofit consortium to provide a shared online image library accessible to educational institutions. The idea was to avoid redundant scanning and cataloging of slides.


Of ARTstor’s existing 1.4 million slides, 10,000 high-quality images from six leading museums will be available via DPLA.  Here’s the catch.  ARTstor  presents their collections as expansive (and implicitly, exhaustive) but is actually strongly biased toward paining, sculpture, photography and architecture. The interface only displays static images, and primarily images from old slides so ARTstor focuses on works easily represented by a single, static image.

Every tool has limitations, and I understand if collecting examples of media work is outside of ARTstor’s mission.  I worry, however, that they have simply sidestepped an entire substantive chunk of 20th century art making simply out of fears of copyright or technical limitiations.  Moreover, because ARTstor presents itself as the canon,  I wonder if it is not further shortchanging students live off-axis to major art centers.

I wonder if ArtStor actually .  Back in the day, when slide libraries were the means by which students accessed art images, there was an implicit understanding that these were not really comprehensive. Plucky students knew that they had to travel to access larger, more comprehensive slide libraries or look to other sources if they wanted to see more contemporary work.  ARTstor partners with contemporary-focused institutions and living artists to digitize their collections.  There is the appearance that the service is up-to-date.

On the contrary, they pick and choose to represent their own strengths. For example, of the MoMA’s expansive collections, only two departments- “Painting and Sculpture” and “Architecture and Design” are included.  Forgotten are huge Departments of Film, Media, even Prints!  The exemption of huge swaths of the MoMA collection would be evident only to someone familiar with the museums organizational structure.  Not particularly likely for an undergrad–ARTstor’s primary user.

This bias is present in individual artist selections.  Elizabeth Peyton, a figurative painter working today was recently added.  Her long-time domestic partner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, arguably a much more important 20th century artist was not.  Ririkrit’s sculptural installations are activated by participation with the audience.  These works may not be as easily captured as Peyton’s paintings, but they do have extensive photo documentation.

The gap between what is being studied and exhibited and what Artstor presents is truly great. In fairness, ARTstor has just begun to collaborate with Rhizome to catalogue still images from their collection of new media art. Still, this is a tiny portion of a broader landscape of global media work.

I guess what I am getting at is that the Digital Public Library promotes itself as a champion for free and open access, we have to remember that any institution build on existing collections will possess the biases of that old collection. Moreover, digitization can actually slow or stop an existing workflow that enabled new media to enter circulation.




18 February

Do the Books Make the Library?

The relevant video won’t embed, but can be found here.

Bexar County, TX, (which includes San Antonio) has plans to create an all-digital lending library. There would still be the physical location, the library building, but rather than spend money on books and shelves, it was decided that the money should go towards e-readers, computers, and e-book licensing fees. There are, naturally, concerns that this will be another flop in trying to re-brand libraries in the digital age. From librarians the argument is that not all books, even on Amazon’s best seller list, are even available in e-book format. Those that are, because they come from very specific distributors, are prohibitively expensive. Take 50 Shades of Gray as an example:

Consumer price for print edition: $9.00
Amazon Kindle edition: $9.99
Library price for print edition: $9.57
Library price for digital edition: $47.85

From library patrons, the backlash is against using the e-readers themselves, rather than having the tangible experience of reading a print edition of a book. And while wear and tear on a physical book is generally repairable, wear and tear on an e-reader comes with a whole host of other problems and required technical knowledge.

At this juncture, the argument can go on in circles indefinitely. What initially struck me about the plan, was not that a public library would build a completely digital library (there are a handful of university libraries with exclusively digital holdings), but rather that despite this huge technical leap forward there was still going to be a physical space for the library. This isn’t a library in the cloud, from which patrons download the e-books they want from anywhere with an internet connection, but a brick-and-mortar building. Granted  digital editions have their own space requirements, just like regular old print editions do, but they’re markedly different requirements. I think it’s a testament to what libraries are and mean to the popular consciousness, that despite this radical change in the materiality of the library it still exists in a physical space.

“The Olds” and their aversion to new technology and its applications to better the information professions have become a recurring theme in class. Nelson Wolff, the top elected official of Bexar Co. spearheading the project admits, “I am a guy who likes that physical book in his hand. But I also realize I am a bit of a fossil.” If the success of the all-digital library is predicated on use, and “the olds” make up a large proportion of library patrons, are there ways to overcome this aversion to receiving the same information in a different format? Is it even something we should concern ourselves with? I have a kindle that I read from regularly, but I also buy books when I want the physical copy sitting on my bookshelf. In my estimation, the conversation should be more focused on “both and” rather than “either or.”

21 January
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Google is NOT the Enemy

After reading this article about Google losing a lawsuit which stalls the company’s mission to digitize all library books, I’m left wondering why.

The article summarizes the reason in a word: Copyright.  Copyright law was originally created as a way to promote authorship and innovation by making it illegal for your work to be copied or used in a way which would decrease the benefits to the author.  However, these laws were enacted in an age before digital media and before works became infinitely copyable.

The fact that copyright law is the roadblock to the process is saddening.  The case is just another example of what Hedstrom mentioned in the paper “Epistemic Infrastructure in the Rise of the Knowledge Economy”.  She states that new means of enforcing copyright, such as data encryption, are “becoming counterproductive to innovation and knowledge generation that copyright was supposed to encourage.”  In this case I would agree.

The article goes on to say that the judge agreed with the opponents in that ruling in favor would give Google an unfair advantage to other companies.  Google would in effect have a monopoly on the scanned books and would therefore be the only company that could make money off of them.  To this point I agree that there would need to be added stipulations.  One solution would be to divide the works into a few different digital-media companies.

Google continues the project and at last count had scanned 20 million books.  Hopefully the legalities will be solved in the future and we all benefit.

21 January
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I always get a little riled up when any author refers to the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages,” just as Hedstrom and King did in this week’s readings. I am biased. I wrote my Master’s thesis in Art History on French medieval manuscripts and manuscript collections. What Hedstrom and King say is true – that much of the genius of the Greeks and Romans was preserved not by Europeans but by kings and princes of the Late Antique Islamic Empire, and we owe them a great deal. But, to suggest that there was no interest or growth or new thought in Europe for a space of nearly a thousand years is more than a little absurd.

Hedstrom and King are especially interested in collections as public goods, and how this changes a mere collection into a didactic resource. They note, correctly, that during the French Revolution the library of the King was “transformed” into the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Today the Bibliotheque National de France dates their establishment not the French Revolution but to the reign of Charles V of France in 1368. A description of how that early library was used can be found in a first hand account of the life of Charles V, written by Christine de Pisan in 1404, Le livre des fait et bonnes mouers du sage roy Charles V. Christine de Pisan was able to use the library as a work space, a place in which to socialize with other scholars and authors, and as a collective resource under the patronage of the French court. The collection may have been private, but it did support and foster several generations of research and writing prior to its being made a public good.

During Charles V’s reign, his collection of manuscripts were kept in a relatively public and accessible part of the Louvre. He hired a personal valet, who managed his collections both the more public collection at the Louvre and a more private collection at Charles’ residence at Vincennes, that would have been accessible only to Charles and his immediate family – the medieval version of tiered access.

I do not point this out to be a snark to Hedstrom and King. I want to suggest that this medieval model – of a large, research collection that is gated is not so unlike the many, many gates that researchers today encounter when trying to access the information they need. The University of Texas at Austin prides itself on being a top research university, but access to the riches of its library and archival collections as well as its online resources are reserved for current students, faculty and staff. There are, of course, ways to become a patron of the library system if you are no longer affiliated with UT, but I would argue that access remains gated.

Recent events, such as PIPA and SOPA as well as the death of Aaron Swartz suggest that we continue to live in a world of gated information. The acts of the French Revolution remain that – revolutionary ( How truly public are public collections, and what can we learn from the evolution of historical collections, their failures and successes?




29 April
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Zach Weiner of SMBC has a long, thoughtful post about libraries on his blog. A couple choice quotes:

“I mention these ideas not just because I think they’re neato. I think they play the role libraries were meant to serve – pooling resources to benefit people who want to self educate.”

“A good library gives you the right data, but also acquaints you with all its ghosts.”

Should we do more to help highly motivated, highly intelligent, self-directed learners? Is there a trade-off (non-zero-sum) between helping people like Zach and those who need more rudimentary services?

09 April
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Patron Driven Acquisition- The Future of Academic Monograph Acquisitions?

Last week I helped out at the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference, which was held here in Austin. As a part of that, I monitored a session on Patron Driven or Demand Driven Acquisitions for electronic monographs by representatives from the University of Denver, YBP and Oxford University Press. Basically the way that this process normally works is a provider, like YBP, provides the library with thousands of catalog records for e-books from services like EBL, Ebrary or Ebsco that the library then loads into the catalog for users to find. When a user discovers the item they get a five minute preview that is free for the school, so that they can determine if the book is right for them or just get the info they need and get out. After five minutes the session converts to a short-term rental that costs the library 10-15% of the list price. After a certain number of short term rentals, usually three, the library buys the book for the list price and the record is added to the permanent library collection. The University of Denver is one of the leaders in this program, and it saved them approximately $700,000 dollars as compared to how much it would have cost to buy all of the books that had had either the five minute preview or or less than four short term rentals. Because of patron driven acquistions, they have more money to spend on other resources, and their patrons have more options than they would ever be able to afford to buy in a traditional acquisitions model. We actually have a similar program set up here at UT, and so do many other academic libraries and it seems to be working very well.

There are a few issues to still be worked with this model though, one of which is on the publishing side. Because it can take a while for enough patrons to need any particular book, publishers can no longer count on selling 80% of the copies of a book within the first year, which affects how they price and market books. The rep from Oxford University Press said that to counteract this the are investing a lot of money in making their electronic resources more discoverable. However, until they know how this model is going to affect sales, they are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Also, on the library’s side spending so much money on the electronic copies of books necessarily means less money spent on the print copies, so the University of Denver rep envisions that more and more libraries will want to be able to quickly acquire print copies, possibly through something like an espresso book machine.

Though there are still some kinks to be worked out, this model of demand driven acquisition, seems to be a good way for libraries to acquire electronic monographs, as it saves money and gives the user more choices than the library could possibly hope to provide other wise.

02 April
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Digital Public Library of America

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) is a planning initiative that began in December 2010. It is sponsored by a grant from the Sloan Foundation, and based out of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Robert Darnton, John Palfrey, and 15 other “non-profit and foundation leaders, government officials, and notable academic and public library directors” sit on its steering

All rights reserved by Digital Public Library of America

committee. Darton mentions the DPLA in the interview we read earlier in the semester: “I feel that Google Book Search, which was going to commercialise access to a database of books, was a real threat to the communication of knowledge, even though it looks like a great leap forward. And, therefore, we are trying to create what we call the Digital Public Library of America: an Open Access digital library that will be available to everyone, not just everyone in the United States, but everyone in the world.”

There are 6 DPLA workstreams (Audience & Participation, Content & Scope, Financial/Business Models, Governance, Legal Issues, and Technical Aspects), each with a group of 10-15 convening members (librarians, academics, developers, etc.) who, reflexively enough, are charged with the task of defining their workstream.

Dan Cohen, a convener of the Audience & Participation workstream, had this to report after the first of a two-day convening: “at today’s meeting I kept coming back to a more basic question, a question faced by any new website or digital project: Why would anyone use it? For something as ambitious (and potentially as expensive) as the DPLA, there is the further question: Why would anyone choose to visit the DPLA first, rather than, say, commercial providers like Google or Amazon, or non-profit entities such as the Internet Archive’s Open Library or OCLC’s Worldcat?” (bold & italics are Cohen’s).

These are good questions to ask. Only, the timing is unfortunate: the first iteration of the platform is due to launch April 2013. And there are other questions that need to be answered before, or concurrently with, those about audience and participation. In the same blog post, Cohen notes that “the DPLA may or may not have in-copyright materials, it may or may not be an meta-platform or a centralized resource, it may focus on popular content or the long tail. Obviously these are all questions that will have to be resolved over the next 18 months.” If you’ve noticed that this post is lacking in descriptive details about the DPLA—that’s why.

This isn’t to suggest that the DPLA will not be successful (in part because I have no way of defining what a successful first iteration DPLA would look like); it also ignores, in my opinion, the best feature of the DPLA to date, namely, its website. The website’s design is fine, and it’s easy enough to navigate from page to page, but its content—and linked content—is GREAT! I try not to think of myself as someone who’s about to enter the LIS workforce, but, as someone who’s about to enter the LIS workforce, I was impressed—maybe even inspired—by the interviews with Nate Hill, a web librarian, blog manager, and Audience & Participation convener, and Michael Kelley, Executive Editor of news and features at Library Journal. The blog posts themselves are kind of hit or miss (I recommend “What We Can Learn from DIY Libraries”), but almost always contain one or more promising link. It’s expected, but still very cool, that some (I’m not sure how much) of the development team’s code is accessible through GitHub public repositories. The development wiki, from my perspective, is an even better resource; it’s what I think a development planning document should look like (but of course, I know no better…). The last thing I will mention is the page that links to the WPLA beta sprint submissions. Some of these betas are incredible, others are neat (even if they don’t seem at all suited for the task of indexing and providing access to the DPLA’s hypothetical holdings), and a few fall flat—but still were worth a look, because they introduced me to even more development packages and content management platforms.

02 April
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Compassionate Focus: The future of working together in publishing

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog featured an interview with Monica McCormick, a woman who works at NYU Press and for the NYU libraries almost as a liason, in the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing. McCormick’s statements echo a lot of the concepts and sentiments originating in libraries that we read this week. For example:

Library publishing is just part of a whole continuum of services that libraries offer to support scholarly collaboration and research, which might include data management, curating scholars’ born-digital research collections, providing guidance on copyright and intellectual property, and making the research results available.

However, she is quick to emphasize that university presses and library publishing are very different, the former expected mostly to sell books by developing and refining an editorial vision, and thereby not just adding value to scholarly writing but actually giving back to the academic community. “As a result, university libraries have more leeway to publish as a service rather than a business, by, for example, providing a repository for their institution’s research, or hosting space for online journals for their faculty.” At NYU the press develops a vision of its own, and the library nourishes but also reflects the scholarly community it serves.

I mention this not so much as a real direction or suggestion for a solution to any problem of how all libraries and university presses should trend or how they might be re-conceptualized or grow–the situation is far from resolvable at this point, I think–but because of the pragmatism of her take on the issue. Theory about what is, may, and should happen are all really important, but the reality of the situation is subjective and erratic and transitional–and no one is quite sure about what’s going to happen although we have to talk as though we know we do. So another way to look at the question of what will happen in libraries and academic publishing is to look more closely at individuals and their work.

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On Friday I participated in a panel at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning along with MIT Press editor Marguerite Avery, Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory’s Jeff Goldenson (a designer/architect/programmer), and two designer/architects from Over, Under and Pink Comma–Michael Kubo and Chris Grimley. I know, what was I doing there? It was an eclectic group which seemed to me indicative if the breadth of the perceived publication problem. SA+P Press (the school’s own imprint) needs to find a way to organize its editorial vision and present material created in a number of ways (and, as it’s an architecture school) in a diverse array of media: when presentation and design are integral to the content, how  to incorporate published print materials as well as new and even forthcoming publications into a web presence and publication platform?

Each answer to a discreet question seemed only to make the situation more complicated, less graspable. Everything is expensive, and there is no consistency over time. Lack of foresight and organizational consistency from the beginning means we’ll never be able to control everything that is out there, even when we’re talking about a highly limited situation. Part of this is manpower, and part of it is the evolving, unstable nature of “information”–as Robert Darnton put it rather articulately.

The first thought I had afterward was that it was a failure–at least in as much as there was no consensus at the end of the day. The conversation brought together the real problems posed both by print and digital storage, and no one really had a good answer to the question of why and how and where. Resources that archivists are aware of haven’t always gained traction beyond the preservation field. I sort of felt I should give up on any aspirations for participating in some useful way to the future of publishing.

But by now I have begun to feel better. First, this was a problem to be answered by MIT architects with a clear understanding of the published material, how it is beneficial to scholarship and also for recruitment and PR purposes. A solution is to be determined by students and alumni as well as faculty, as it should be. Second, there is room for all of this material.

Imposing order in the form of an interface (links to content, to purchase hard copies, etc.) will not change the nature of the work that has been done, but it will change way the school delivers a message about the interesting projects and theories developed under its purview and also pose an awesome suggestion for publishing beyond the school. And in this extremely cool and innovative group, the recognition that this needn’t all be limited to print or digital, but rather that media should extend beyond the screen, to be published in physical books, newspapers, and journals that exploit the variety of benefits afforded by print, was extremely exciting. The pink comma guys had some really interesting suggestions and examples of the ways publication and exhibition have coincided in their work, for example.

And as Avery pointed out, it’s not just about content, it’s about linking content to its targeted and potential readership in the most useful and efficient form/format possible. We have long acknowledged that actually the cover really does make a difference but an editor of the future must attend to meaning wrapped up thoroughly in form and presentation. Sometimes, the book should be 8″ by 13″ to respect the dimensions and qualities of maps included, even if it’s more expensive that way. Just as digital content design is a really interesting area of innovation, printing methods are changing rapidly and associated costs influence what we can do.

And as Goldenson made it clear, the librarian must observe and reconceptualize the ways its design impacts library use and readership. He spoke about a course he’s teaching at Harvard’s GSD (which you can read about at in which students experiment with what libraries can do for scholarly and broader student communities. Part of the implication is that libraries won’t be rarified and run by “librarians,” I think. The librarian role will evolve to diversify along the lines of perceived institutional needs in the form, primarily, of design and legal specialization. (He is also responsible for the Library License concept which is worth a look.)

I know it’s been said before, but the most important take away is that we have to engage with a lot of people, to move in tandem by communicating with one another (also meaning, we need to learn how to talk to people of many different disciplines), and to push one another very hard towards developing standards and protocols for presenting and expanding the notion of what information is and can do. Willingness to disagree is as important as an excellent ability to listen, to perceive priorities, to think critically about relationships of content, form, design, dissemination, and preservation. I dare say awareness, coordination, and compassion for the work of others are as important as editorial focus and diligence.

01 April
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New Spaces for New Missions: The Future of the Library

To re-purpose an old gem of Mark Twain’s, reports of the demise of the physical library have been greatly exaggerated. What is instead happening is that the physical spaces of all types of libraries- public, academic and special, are being transformed to accommodate the library’s new functions as an electronic resource center, study space and campus living room, just to name a few. These changes are the focus of two articles published in the most recent issue of American Libraries, the magazine published every two months by the ALA.

The first article, “New & Now: 2012 Library Design Showcase”by Greg Landgraf, features new and innovative designs for physical library spaces. There are green libraries infused with natural light, inviting living room-esque collaborative study spaces, children’s sections that include interactive learning elements, outdoor reading rooms, and state of the art technology labs.

Spartanburg (S.C.) High School

Collaborative Study Spaces


What you don’t see a lot of in these spaces are rows and rows of stacks. Rather the emphasis is on people, community and technology. These are not libraries devoid of books, but they aren’t really the focus. There is also a clear interest in multipurpose spaces that people can interact with and shape to their needs at the time. All of these different changes suggest that a growing number of libraries are shifting their focus from being repositories of books to serving their user communities in a number of ways.


Centennial College Library, University of Toronto

Living Wall and Natural Lighting

The other article, “The Once and Future Library: An Architect’s Perspective on Designing for Changing Constituencies”, by Charles G. Mueller, who is a member of the ALA, as well as an architect, argues that the future of libraries and their mission is changing so rapidly that many of the plans made a year ago for new library buildings and renovations to existing buildings are now obsolete, as are the old formulas used to calculate space needs and codified library standards. Rather, he argues libraries should make a concerted effort to make their spaces as flexible as possible. They need more niche spaces for collaboration and socializing, and appropriate spaces for programming and library services. However, he realizes that right now many libraries do still need to use their space for stacks, but argues that they won’t for very long. Because of this, libraries should design spaces that can hold shelves, but can also be converted to other purposes- which includes small but important details like installing lighting suitable for both purposes.

North Carolina State University

Outdoor Reading Room

Both of these features agree that the best libraries are ones that accommodate collaboration, socialization, and have the facilities that users will want and that will serve the library well moving forward into the digital age. After all, as Mueller points out in his article, a 2011 survey said that %65 percent of adults had visited a library in the past year and an ALA survey showed that most public libraries’ resources, especially internet access and employment services, are more in demand than ever. Therefore, it is extremely important that physical libraries continue to exist in schools, universities and communities to serve their users. The question is whether the physical buildings will serve the needs of the users. The libraries featured in these two articles seem to be well on their way.