Why sourcing photos matters – how misattribution is amplified on the web

I wrote an article for Computers in Libraries last week about the PicPedant account on twitter and the odd preponderance/problem of unsourced images flying around the internet. This is just a true thing about how the internet works and people have been misattributing things since forever. However, there’s a new wrinkle in this process where the combination of popular blogs/twitter accounts along with some of the “secret sauce” aspects to how Google works creates this odd phenomenon which can actually amplify misinformation more than you might expect. Here’s my example.

Hans Lansgeth

This man is Hans Langseth. I know this because I was a kid who read the Guinness Book of World’s Records a lot and I recognized him from other pictures. He has the longest beard in the world. The image on the right is a clever photoshop. However, if you Google Image search Hans Steininger, you will also find many versions of this photo. This is curious because Hans Steininger (another hirsute gentleman) died in 1567, pre-photography. His beard was also about four feet long whereas Langseth’s beard was more like 18+ feet long.

What happened? Many websites have written little lulzy clickbait articles about Steininger (sourcing other articles that themselves source actual articles at reputable-ish places like Time magazine which are inaccessible because of paywalls) and how he supposedly ironically died tripping over his own beard. They all link to the image of Langseth and don’t really mention the guy in the photograph is a different guy. The image and the name get hand-wavily semantically linked and search engines can’t really do a reality check and say “Hey, we use this image for a different guy” or “Hey, we can’t have a photograph of this guy because he lived in the 1500s”

google results for hans Steininger

Not a huge deal, the world isn’t ending, I don’t think the heirs of Langseth are up in arms about this. However as more and more people just presume the search engine and the “hive mind” approach to this sort of thing results in the correct answer, it’s good to have handy counterexamples to explain why we still need human eyeballs even as “everything” is on the web.

METRO-NY Conference – teaching and learning

I kicked off my year of “Back doing talks” with giving the keynote talk at the METRO-NY’s annual conference. I was invited by Jason Kucsma who I know from way back in the day as one of the founders of Clamor Magazine, where I wrote an article about the USA PATRIOT Act in 2004. Jason is now the executive director of METRO-NY and we marveled at how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Clamor’s back issues are hosted at the Internet Archive. They also do Open Library which I’ve been volunteering for over the past year.

My talk was about the past eighteen months of fair use and other similar decisions that we’ve seen in the courts recently and talking about how now, more than ever, it’s a good time to start affirmatively and possibly aggressively sharing our cultural content. You can read the talk online here and see my notes.

One of my favorite things about going to conferences to speak is that I also get to go to listen. I went to three presentations and I had useful takeaways from all of them. This is what I learned.

  • Beyond Digitization: Hacking Structured Data out of Historical Documents – this was a presentation by a few of the folks at NYPL labs discussing how their crowdsourced “help us structure the data in our theater program” project worked. Great demo, interesting talk. Big takeaway: data, raw data, needs to be “first class citizen” in libraries and be available like other materials. We have a lot of content that isn’t just in monograph/serial form, we should get it out there.
  • Open Access is a Lot of Work!: How I Took a Journal Open Access and Lived to Tell About It – Emily Drabinski talked about how she got the Radical Teacher monograph into an open access model and how it was worth it but also a lot of work. Big takeaway: shifting the model to where you do more labor for the project instead of just paying more for it can be useful in not just bottom-line cash ways.
  • Transforming Computer Training Services @ Your Library – Brandy McNeil at NYPL has turned their tech training program into a big, polished, smoothly working system. This is partly because of funding but in many ways it’s because of the buy-in she was able to get and the collaborations that she did with many other people (branch managers, marketers, IT people, etc) and she outlined how that worked and why it was worth it. Big takeaway: centralizing services and having a consistently branded approach can be very useful in a situation where you have 80+ sites and three languages and countless people and spaces to work with.

2013 reading list, a year end summary

The "to read" pile 5feb13

Here are previous year end lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004. My always-updated booklist lives at jessamyn.info/booklist and it has its own RSS feed.

Number of books read in 2013: 50
2012: 53
2011: 56
2010: 48
2009: 39
2008: 31
2007: 53
2006: 60
2005: 86
2004: 103
2003: 75
2002: 91
2001: 78

average read per month: 4.17
average read per week: 1.04
number read in worst month: 1 (April)
number read in best month: 7 (Jan/Dec)
percentage by male authors: 76
percentage by female authors: 24
percentage of authors of color: 4?
fiction as percentage of total: 54
non-fiction as percentage of total: 46
percentage of total liked: 90
percentage of total ambivalent: 8
percentage of total disliked: 2

Some of the same patterns as last year. I didn’t travel as much and I think this means I read a bit less. I binge-read the His Dark Materials books and read every book by Brad Meltzer. The Kindle lets me plow through sort of simple fiction and humor stuff, but I’m still not really using it for non-fiction or tougher books. In looking at my to-read pile from February (above), I’m realizing I have a pile of books someplace in my house that has some of these books on it (the Miss Manners book and the RV book in particular) that I must have moved when I spruced up my bedroom. Graphic novels continue to entertain me but it’s getting harder and harder to find new long ones that I like. I still use paperbackswap.com for random serendipity–things come in from my wish list occasionally and I’m never expecting them–and to get rid of older books I just don’t need to have around.

This year I’m going to try to actively read more books by women, more books by authors of color, more non-European authors and more books that fall under the general GLBTQ umbrella. It’s too easy to fall into grabbing the most available titles and these have a tendency to reflect the mainstream. No big deal, and I read some good books, but I’d like to expand my range. It’s good to have goals.

2013 in libraries

Daytum Wrap up of 2013 in libraries

I tracked the libraries that I visited this year, like every year. I have also done this in 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. Ten years ago I did a short list of library visits where I actually reviwed the places I’d been. Ah to have that much free time!

I went to thirty-eight different libraries in eleven states for fifty-six visits total. Just a little more than last year. I’m sure I have forgotten some. Here’s the short annotated list of what I was doing in libraries last year. Top three libraries are the same as every year: my local public, my local academic and my summer local. All great places.

  • Hartness/Randolph VT – have not been here so much in the latter part of 2012, but this is still one of my favorite academic libraries.
  • Kimball VT – my local, I don’t work here as much but still go here all the time.
  • Westport MA – summer library, good for DVDs and other vacation-style stuff.
  • Plymouth State NH – gave a talk, saw the library. A neat looking place, with a cool clock in the entryway.
  • JoCo – Desoto KS – a tiny town with a great library where I checked my email while there was a rainstorm.
  • Ashtabula Public OH – stopped by on a road trip and saw a lot of people with fishing poles. A quirky big library.
  • St. Johnsbury VT – was here for the Hug the Library event during the unpleasantness.
  • Minneapolis MN – hadn’t been here since the redesign. Enjoyed its shininess.
  • Natick/Morse MA – killing time between friends and dinner, this was a great place to hang out.
  • JoCo – Lackman KS – said hello to Josh Neff here!
  • Beloit Public WI – lovely library, stopped in on a road trip and enjoyed myself. Fancy and shiny and new.
  • St Paul MN – met a really nice librarian who told me some great history of the place.
  • Harwood HS, Duxbury VT – my friend Meghan works here, stopped by the say hello.
  • Manhattan KS – the public library when I was in town to hang out with my friend Donna.
  • Beebe/Wakefield MA – such a neat place with a great bee-themed marketing campaign.
  • Giamatti research center NY – Baseball Hall of Fame! My friend Paul worked as an intern, was fun to look through scrapbooks.
  • KState KS – Donna gave me the grand tour and we got to see the basement.
  • Nebraska Library Commission NE – said hi to the terrific Michael Sauers and gave a talk here.
  • Brookfield VT – first time in a tiny library so close to home.
  • Omaha Public NE – big and beautiful and got to meet the woman who does programming there.
  • Roxbury VT – another favorite one-room library, haven’t been there since they got a bathroom installed.
  • Somerville MA – killing time before the movies, this library is always busy and has a lot going on.
  • KANEKO-UNO Library NE – an arty, somewhat private library, we took a brief look around. Very cool space & collection.
  • Brown/Northfield VT – lovely merging of old and new buildings.
  • Chelmsford MA – saying hi to Brian!
  • Boston Public MA – a nice place to chill on a chilly Boston day.
  • Providence RI – Surprised I hadn’t been here before. Neat old building, oddly underused, it seemed.
  • Lawrence KS – in an old Borders building while they renovated. Quite busy.
  • Windsor VT – checking out the seed library, great photos of local residents.
  • Hartland VT – stopping by because I was in Windsor, before Amy got there, I think.
  • New Bedford Pl MA – amazing building and we got to peek at some of the artwork they were restoring.
  • Topeka/Shawnee KS – a great tour by David Lee King, consummate friend to librarians everywhere.
  • Lincoln Public NE – stopped in before dinner with Michael, busy and overtaxed.
  • Merriam Park – St Paul MN – smaller neat suburban library.
  • Union/Tiverton RI – so cute, so small! Librarian so friendly!
  • Ashland NE – stopped by when I was on a drive. Neat old building, soon to be renovated, amazingly friendly and helpful librarian.
  • Carney/Dartmouth MA – gosh I love this weird place and I want to go back there all the time.
  • Monmouth/Manalapam NJ – doesn’t look like much from the outside but has a lot going on.

I had such a good time visiting all of these places. I can get sort of schmaltzy sometimes but I think the public library system in the US is a truly terrific thing. Here’s to another great year of library visits.

Welcome Seven Days Readers

Librarian on a tear

Greetings Seven Days readers. For folks who are not Seven Days readers, you might enjoy the article that was written about me this week: Jessamyn West Documents Vermont Public Libraries. I’ve had this idea kicking around for a while, to do my own version of the 251 Club where I visit and photograph all the public libraries in Vermont, all 183 of them (stats from Department of Libraries). It’s one of those this is going to take me several years projects which is AOK with me. I’ve gotten some interest from the Vermont Library Association–no surprise there–and just maybe we’ll be able to make a little Vermont Library Passport book with a list and a place you can get a date stamp marking your visit. For now though I’ve just got the big wall map that I made and some highlighter pens and my trusty Gazetteer along with this online map which I can probably improve. Of course holidaytime is not a great time to start any non-holidaytime project so it may be a bit before I get this all consolidated into one place but since the article said to check out this page for more, I thought having a little something here might be a good idea. Thanks for reading.

Fair! Google Books case dismissed.

original ferris wheel - from the Open Library

Karen Coyle has done an excellent write up of this so I will refer you there.

The full impact of this ruling is impossible (for me) to predict, but there are many among us who are breathing a great sigh of relief today. This opens the door for us to rethink digital scholarship based on materials produced before information was in digital form.

Folks can read the actual ruling (pdf) if they’d like. This is a very big deal. Thanks to folks who worked so hard on getting us to this place. I’ll add a few links here as they come in.

  • Kenneth Crews, Columbia Copyright Advisory Office: “This ruling joins court decisions about HathiTrust and electronic reserves in demonstrating that even extensive digitization can be within fair use where the social benefits are strong and the harm to rightsholders is constrained. There will be more to come as we transition into a new era of copyright, technology, and even reading.”
  • Brandon Butler, ARL Policy Notes blog; “The decision is a victory not only for transformative, non-consumptive search, but also for serving “traditionally underserved” libraries and their users, including disabled patrons.”
  • Paul Alan Levy: “This ruling provides a road map that allows any other entity to follow in Google’s path.”
  • Timothy Lee, Washington Post: “Many innovative media technologies involve aggregating or indexing copyrighted content. Today’s ruling is the clearest statement yet that such projects fall on the right side of the fair use line.”
  • Mike Masnick at Techdirt: “It all comes together in making a very strong argument that Google’s book scanning promotes the progress of the arts and sciences just like copyright is supposed to do.”
  • InfoDocket also has an updating list of links to discussion of the decision.

We remember: Army special services librarians

Army Hostess and Librarian Service patch

I recently supported a successful Kickstarter campaign by those wonderful folks at Unshelved. They are going to make a series of librarian ranger badges. Fun, right? I think a lot of us are also aware of the Librarian merit badge that you can achieve in scouting.

Here is a badge I did not know about: the Army Special Services librarian badge which refers to the Army Hostess and Librarian Service. Special Services used to be called the Morale Division. As near as I can tell, these jobs were a special subclass of jobs set up by President Truman under the Special Services division of the War Department during WWII at Army posts. During WWI there were similar Special Services programs which created leisure “day rooms” for soldiers that were mainly staffed with American Library Association volunteers. Official organized library services were established by the Army in 1921 and service clubs/hostess houses were authorized by Congress in 1923. Here is a PDF that talks about what services Special Services offered in 1949 noting that they had seventy-seven librarians operating 197 libraries, six bookmobiles and 19 “library depots”. The colors on these patches indicated the nine different branches of the Army showing that the librarians (and hostesses) worked for the entire Army. The uniforms they wore were supposed to be worn at all times and even at home “If more than two guests were present

Here is a photo of veteran Winona Franklin Walker (c. 1945) wearing this badge with her Special Services uniform. and here is an interview with her talking about what the work was like.

The war had just ended. Anyway, we were headed for Paris. So we spent a week in Paris being trained how to set up libraries, and we were told never to complain, that there was going to be scarcity of everything, and if the conditions weren’t to suit us, not to utter a word, that we were there to set up these libraries. And if we didn’t have materials, we’d have to scrounge around and find what we needed, and make do with what we could find. That was it. We had no fine materials or anything like that.

Apparently some early public service reference librarians were also given the title hostess but this appears to have faded away rather quickly. Nowadays in the Army we’re back to the word morale–as part of the general header “family and morale, welfare and recreation”–and the current recreational libraries of the army have this handy history page to fill in some of the gaps.

elbow grease and geocoding – making a map of Vermont’s public libraries

The really great thing about nearly any computer problem you might have is that it’s very unlikely that you are the first person to have it. So if you have access to the internet and Google (to get you to other online help sources like Stack Exchange and other random app sites) you can find a way to do what you want to do, often.

I am working on a long term project. I am trying to visit all of Vermont’s 183 libraries. One of the things I will need to do to get started on that project is to make a map. The Vermont Department of Libraries makes the location of most of these libraries available in an Excel spreadsheet (thanks!) I just needed to figure out how to make that spreadsheet into a map. I toyed around with the Vermont Center for Geographic information but was having trouble making a CSV file that would satisfy Silverlight’s obscure criteria. And then I found a site that would generate a KML file (for Google Earth/Maps) from a CSV file. And again, I was close, but couldn’t quite get it to work. Googling further I found this impressive site, BatchGeo, which basically says “Hey click here and paste your data and we’ll make our best guess as to how it works and then draw you a map!” I had decently clean data. I clicked and pasted, and this was the result.

View Vermont’s Public Libraries in a full screen map

Oddly, the same data file pasted in to Google winds up looking not quite so clean thanks to quirky handling of ampersands and the non-standard address format of the original data file. But who cares, all I needed was one map. 183 libraries (the most per capita of any state in the US) here I come! You can read more about Vermont’s libraries in this report by the Department of Libraries.

Why digital literacy should include privacy education.

A friend pointed me to an article about educating novice users about technology: Joining the Surveillance Society? New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking (full article PDF). The article calls them “marginal users” which is a term I hadn’t heard before but it seems apt. While I don’t agree with every aspect of the article, the thesis is strong and worth exploring. Only some of the classes mentioned are library classes.

Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers. These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy.

Of particular note in the article

  • Competency of people doing the instructing: “Some staff members revealed that they did not know what cookies are”
  • Bias of the tools being used: “A study conducted at Harvard University showed how search engine queries for “African American sounding” names yield advertisements for criminal background checks. Searches for “Caucasian sounding” names do not.”
  • Appropriateness of tasks to the students: “The (computer training) center required its students to send an e-mail to any city agency or official using the agency’s or official’s website. Staff members said that a majority of their students refrained from this exercise, due to anxiety over being contacted or targeted by government.”
  • Needs exceed offerings: “none of the organizations reported offering privacy education to beginning learners. (The library did offer one-off sessions for privacy and safety…) … issues related to information sharing arose in an ad hoc manner in every class observed.”

The New America Foundation who published the report has a board of directors chaired by Eric Schmidt from Google.

unfashionable libraries

kate spade ipone case

For $40 you can have a iphone case that looks like it was taken from a library that doesn’t believe in patron privacy. As much as I adore the idea that someone would be checking out a Shakespeare book nearly weekly (in 2013! It’s free on the internet) and personally love the iconography of these cards, it’s always amusing to see them in the wild appropriated as something fashionable. Kate Spade has a bunch of new library-themed items which must mean that at least somewhere, libraries are seen as something that are worth money. Fun fact, the signatures on the library card–the ones that make my librarian heart agitated–are names of Kate Spade employees. Hester Sunshine is a Kate Spade blogger. Erin Graves works in marketing, as does Noura Barnes and Sophia Smith and Wendy Chan. Julie Ly is in PR and Suzanne Schloot works in social media marketing. Other folks have signatures that are too obscure (smart move) or names that are too general to track down.

So hey, this is nice and a bunch of people have sent it to me. At the same time, it sort of fetishizes the library (and makes money for the creators) without really passing on any of that whuffie to the library itself (especially in New York with its sets of beleaguered library systems). I have similar feelings about the Little Free Libraries. I like them. They are a fun and neat idea for people to get other people interested in reading and the community-building power of books. I am all for both of those things. But because they are called libraries, people look to me and my library worker friends and say “Hey what do you think? Do you wish you’d thought of this?” and my response, which I try to keep from sounding crabby, is that I love these things but I’m not sure why they call them libraries instead of, you know, community bookshelves which is actually what they are.

Except I know why. Because the word library is evocative of a whole bunch of things, from now stretching deep into the past. It has gravitas and comes with a bunch of associations that you can sort of get for free by linking your thing to libraries. Except libraries aren’t free. And the work that goes into keeping them running (which is a lot more than keeping a bookshelf stocked) is complicated, sometimes thankless and under attack from people who think somehow that libraries are not fashionable enough, not hip or current enough, that our day has passed. So please feel free to quit sending me this iphone case, as much as I love it, and think about why New York loves this sort of thing and is trying to sell off their library real estate in New York City and gut the stacks.