Major Publishers Go MOOC | Inside Higher Ed -
Awhile back, I wrote about open courses and libraries. Predictably, one of the major companies in the MOOC world has partnered directly with a few academic publishers, including Gale and Oxford, to provide materials to students enrolled in the courses.
For Scientists, an Exploding World of Pseudo-Academia -
A parallel world of pseudo-academia, with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that will print seemingly anything for a fee, has the scientific community alarmed.
Hmm. If only there were a cadre of professionals out there who kept track of such things, who had a vested interest in keeping an eye on which OA journals were high quality (such as PLoS) and which ones were not. If only there were people researchers could partner with, along with their professional colleagues, to discuss and evaluation publication venues. If only there were people who spend a great deal of their time teaching other people how to critically evaluate what they see and read.
It’ll come to me in a minute, I’m sure.
Technology news sites and authors’ blogs exploded mildly last month on the news that Amazon.com’s patent to re-sell used e-books (filed in 2009) had been approved. (The explosion probably would have been a lot bigger had Amazon actually launched such a service—so far, they have not.)
The response from Libraryland has been more muted, which surprises me a little. Perhaps it’s because library lending of Kindle e-books already exists; it’s no exercise of the First Sale Doctrine, consisting as it does of a licensing agreement between Amazon and Overdrive Media, and the selection is laughable (one gains access to far more borrowable e-books by joining Amazon Prime). Perhaps it’s because we’re still figuring out how to deal with this brave new world of variable licensing models and haven’t had time to think about what transferability of licenses means. Or maybe we’re too amused at the rest of the world’s discovery that you don’t buy an e-book, something libraries have known since the first vendor issued its first license.
The patent essentially articulates a transferable license, be the transfer permanent or temporary, whether money changes hands or not. This covers gifts and loans as well as resales, and that’s what carries implications for libraries. There’s considerable potential here for e-book lending to become more feasible for libraries, not less, since the patent describes a mechanism for iterating the number of transfers and specifies that the number of transfers is finite. While this brings back unpleasant memories of HarperCollins’s 26 loans limit, it’s a model that’s working out well for EBL, though there the loan threshold is considerably higher. It’s easy to see why this model appeals to publishers: a major source of resistance to e-book lending is that digital copies don’t degrade (well, they do, but not in a way convenient to selling more copies) and once an e-book is transferable, why would anybody buy another?
Otherwise, in practical terms what Amazon proposes isn’t all that different from how e-book lending works now, except that instead of being passed from one individual to another, the e-book’s content reverts back to the library in the meantime. One might hope that, should Amazon choose to actually develop this patent, that process might become less cumbersome; right now, library e-book borrowing is a multi-step process requiring multiple applications and sometimes multiple devices, increasing the likelihood that the potential borrower will give up in frustration. It would likely also increase the selection of borrowable e-books, which is potentially good news for libraries.
That assumes that Amazon intends to develop this patent, though. Not every patent leads to a product, and it’s entirely possible that Amazon filed this patent to keep someone else (like, say, Apple) from doing the same.
Ever since content went digital, though, people have been struggling to solve the problem of how you remunerate content creators and distributors when you aren’t transferring a physical object from one person to another. What are you selling? What price can you put on a copy that can itself be copied infinitely? Transferring digital content requires making a copy: when you loan an e-book to someone else, you make a copy that that person then has access to.
The license states right up front that it is attempting to make digital content transferable while maintaining scarcity. Artificial, the objection runs. Well, yes. The whole edifice is artificial, born directly out of the thinking that an idea can be a commodity, that intellectual property has an objective reality. It was convenient enough to think that way when ideas necessarily came packaged as concrete objects, and one could transfer the concrete object from one party to another.
With digital content, that’s no longer the case; thus, vendors have turned instead to licensing, so that what you’re buying is access to the content, not the content itself. Again, this is something libraries have been dealing with for years: our literature is rife with discussion (and occasionally, lamentation) of the shift from ownership to access. Amazon’s patent is essentially an expansion of this licensing model that maps out a way to make content licenses transferable.
It remains to be seen what they’ll do with this idea, now that the patent has been granted. But when you think about it, it seems like a pretty big deal.
A Library for the Subway -
A trio of students from the Miami Ad School—Max Pilwat, Keri Tan and Ferdi Rodriguez—have came up with an innovative concept that allows people to read the first ten pages of popular books while riding the subway.
Using near field communications (NFC) technology, commuters select the desired book from a list of popular titles and read its first ten pages—upon finishing, the reader will be informed of the closest library location from which they can pick up and read the rest of the book.
This is a simple but ingenious idea that can be adopted and adapted to encourage reading in the 21st century, when new technology is changing the way we consume books.
This will be my second favorite thing today.
Open Access resource guide -
While we don’t have a formal OA program on my campus per se, I’ve been rounding up various OA resources for interested colleagues, faculty, and even students. Here’s what I’ve got so far…
Carpet at the Gungahlin Public Library in Canberra, Australia.
Another day, another publisher sues a librarian -
Hot on the heels of the recent news concerning publisher Edwin Mellen and librarian Dale Askey, we have something called the Canadian Center (shouldn’t it be “Centre”?) for Science and Education threatening a libel suit against Jeffrey Beall, who writes the excellent Scholarly Open Access blog (which, if you are a librarian, researcher, or anyone with a vested interest in OA, you should be reading).
You have to wonder what these publishers are thinking. Beall has a strong reputation in library circles for his thoughtful analysis of, and occasional warnings about, OA journals and publishers who attempt to exploit the OA model. As usual, Barbara Fister puts it best: “The number of librarians who will never buy a book published by Mellen and the number of scholars who will avoid ever signing a contract with them went up enormously as a result of their nuisance suit. This is not a business plan I would recommend to publishers.”
Open access has enormous promise, but if it is to succeed as a valid publication model, it will need mechanisms of preserving its integrity. Blogs like Beall’s are one of those mechanisms.
From the Blogosphere: Edwin Mellen Press vs. a Critical Librarian -
Several articles have appeared in the last few days about Edwin Mellen’s suit against Dale Askey and his employer, McMaster University. This is one of the better roundups I’ve seen (thanks, Shana!).
I knew about their previous suit against another party, but I didn’t know that Edwin Mellen’s owner had gotten himself fired from a tenured position shortly thereafter. That’s quite an accomplishment.
If your library is like most libraries, there are a lot of signs. Signs denoting service points, signs explaining how to use the copy machines or the self-checkouts, signs asking please, for the umpteenth time you know we really hate repeating ourselves, take your phone conversation and your Starbucks with no lid outside, thank you.
Or else it’s like ours, with hardly any signs at all (and those it does have are old and dated and have way too many words on them, the picture on the one about cellphones looks like it might date from the late 90s), and a lot of confusion among newer patrons about where to go to get their laptops inoculated against viruses, or where their class that is having a library research class today is located, or what does this call number thingy mean, anyway?
(Our library classroom is in the basement, which is a problem in and of itself.)
Our lack of signage is primarily due to the preferences of a now-departed administrator, and a longtime source of frustration for front-line staff. However, I do think he has a point. Like the Five Man Electrical Band said, signs clutter up the scenery and confuse the hell out of people (well, that’s the gist of what they said, anyway), and in a way, their necessity indicates a failure of design: if you have to explain with a sign what something is, then what that thing is is not self-evident.
This point was brought back to me this week because my current commute listening is Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says about Us). The chapter about signage makes more or less this exact point. There’s some evidence that road signs intended to increase safety have the opposite effect, in some cases because they actually encourage disengagement with the environment in which you’re driving. The chapter features a long discourse about the redesign of streets and intersections in the Netherlands in a way that both makes intuitive sense to the people using them, and more or less forces them to pay attention: not only to their driving, but to the other people they’re sharing the road with.
In other words, if you have a library littered with signs, it might be that what you really have is a library that is poorly designed.
It wouldn’t be too surprising. Many library buildings, mine included, were built before the personal computer was even a thing, never mind laptops, smartphones, wireless access, tablets, e-readers, the Internet (well, there was an Internet, but it was a tiny DoD project at the time), and everything else that has totally disrupted how people seek, find, and access information. And if that’s changed so substantially, wouldn’t people’s experiences of a building in which they use those things to interact with information be different, too?
Maybe, maybe not. But one other thing that Vanderbilt points out is that a lot of the ways we try to manage traffic have remained fundamentally unchanged since the gasoline-powered car totally disrupted how people get from one place to another, with results that are less than ideal.
Signs are a cheap fix. But a better fix might be a full-scale, ground-up redesign.
Justice Department to weigh in on Georgia State suit