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.

The annual banned books week roundup for 2013

salinger's 60 years later, banned in the US

For some reason last year I didn’t do my annual roundup of Banned Books Week websites. Here is a link to the source of the image above which is from the New Yorker’s article about the JD Salinger-evocative book 60 Years Later, Coming Through the Rye which is illegal to sell in the US. You can find more news articles about that situation at the author’s small Wikipedia page. You can look at past posts on this topic by checking out the bannedbooksweek tag here or here is a list of the annual posts: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. I skipped 2005 and 2012.

As usual, you get a neat real-time look at what’s going on by following the Twitter hashtag. Do NOT look at the bbw twitter hashtag as I mistakenly did last night. As usual there are two “main” sites the ALA site at ala.org/bbooks and the bannedbooksweek.org site which is really nice looking this year. The BannedBooksWeek Twitter account is still moribund which is a damned shame. The Virtual Read Out doesn’t seem to have any new videos this year… yet?

Please remember if you are a librarian who has a book that is challenged, report it to the ALA so they can keep track of it.

Here is the list of organizations who are co-sponsors. Let’s look at their websites.

The language of the censor is the language of the tyrant, the absolutist, the one with no vision. It is the antithesis of art because it assumes that there is only one perspective, one reality, and that anything that fails to rhyme with it is a sin against nature. But the real sin against nature is to suffocate personal truths and experiences with wobbly doctrine and to disguise it as morally just. Art— particularly literature—exists to show us there are as many worlds as there are people. Each of these worlds come with its own laws. These laws vary from person to person, but if there is one that they have in common it is to share your truth. We owe it to our humanity and our short time among other humans to respect the truths that are shared with us. – Nick Burd

Websites are working and the word is getting out. I was pleased with this year’s collections of content. What I’m concerned about, as per usual, are challenges and censorship that don’t even reach the physical items on the library shelves. What about this Salinger book? Worldcat shows 40 copies of it, a handful of which are in the US, and the reviews of it haven’t been so great anyhow. But the idea that the book wasn’t obtained and removed, it was never obtained in the first place (as we see with so much born-digital content that we can’t even get in lendable format) opens a door to all new ways that libraries can not get books. The old challenges (dirty cowboy? really? do not google that) remain and new ones appear.

The FBI, and whether they’ve been here or not

the fbi has not been here

Hello, I was away for the summer. It seems that there has been some activity. If you’re here because you heard about my The FBI Has Not Been Here signs, here is a link to the page where I first mentioned them, back in 2005 or so [ETA: Internet Archive says 2002, thanks Frank]. Back when this idea was getting batted around it was originally because the USA PATRIOT Act was concerning people, the idea that if you even got a National Security Letter not only would it compel you to turn over records, but it also prevented you from telling anyone other than your legal counsel. This sort of sucked and so people fought back. Most notably the people from Library Connection in Connecticut who got the gag order part of the USA PATRIOT Act declared unconstitutional. And you may have read about Brewster Kahle talking in the New Yorker about what it’s like to get a National Security Letter. Brewster is one of the strongest advocate for the right to privacy (and libraries’ right to defend their patrons’ privacy) and even he was sort of freaked out by this. Now that we’re looking into the face of the NSA looking into damned near everything and their heavy-handed tactics to get corporations to comply with them, it’s almost quaint thinking that we were just afraid of the USA PATRIOT Act. You can read more about the idea of “warrant canaries” here. I certainly didn’t think them up, just got a little traction with this one. Oh hey look there is this image over on Wikipedia’s warrant canary article. That’s nice.

unintended consequences: Wiley price hike post-Kirtsaeng

In the wake of the Kirtsaeng decision Wiley has, predictably, decided to raise their prices in the UK to match American prices for titles. The news I got was from a forwarded email but it appears, in part on this website as well

The price increases are the publisher’s reaction to a recent US Supreme Court ruling whereby lower priced editions bought elsewhere in the world were allowed to be sold back into the US, a market which has traditionally had higher prices than other markets. To reduce the impact on US sales, Wiley have chosen to increase the prices in the UK to match the American prices. Unfortunately we have no ability to influence this decision although our buying team has vigorously championed non-US customers against price increases.

The blog post goes on to mention that “Closer examination of Wiley’s list of titles shows that most US Edition titles have more than tripled in price.” The email I was sent also included a link to this list of comparison pricing for literally thousands of Wiley titles so you can do the math yourself.

The odd aspect to this post, to me, is that ebook prices are also going up despite the fact that ebooks can not be resold and are not, in my understanding, affected by this ruling. Am I missing something?

theming it up for 2013

I’ve been doing a lot less public speaking this year, by choice. Just trying to travel less, be more of a homebody, be choosier. I just noticed that I haven’t mentioned any of the talks I have been doing or will be doing, so this is the post that clears that up. I have done three talks this year, all thematically related. You may be able to detect the theme….

1

Basically they summarize what’s been going on in the world of Fair Use the past year (a lot!) and then talk about what libraries are doing and what they can do. I also talk a bit about my work for Open Library where I am volunteering doing email support, helping people freely download and read ebooks through the Internet Archive‘s somewhat quirky interface. It’s challenging and fun. The two are related but maybe not in the way you’d think. People who are curious about Open Library or maybe helping out a little, please drop me an email and I can talk more about it at length.

A few upcoming talks, most on the far horizon. In August I’ll be in Lincoln Nebraska talking to rural librarians about technology use and training. In April of next year I’ll be at both TXLA (my favorite state conference I think, though there are many close seconds) and then at the Michigan Rural Libraries Conference on Mackinac Island. If you’re going to any of these, please let me know.

press release: librarians now helping people get information

"That's wrong information"

Two things to mention here

1. I finally saw Desk Set. I have no idea how I not only managed not to see it before but also how I even missed the theme which is whether computers will ever really effectively (and cost-effectively) be able to do our jobs.

2. ALA is going on right now and I’m not there. Each year there is usually some sort of “Librarians, they are really great!” press release around this time which often winds up in my various mailboxes by various sources. This year it’s this one: APNewsBreak: Librarians to help with health law. Which, hey great, librarians they’re still there doing their jobs. Good for them. The thing that is so weird about this, to me, is it’s basically implying though not outright stating that librarians will be doing this work 1. officially and 2. as part of some nationwide project. Neither is true as near as I can tell. I asked over at ALA Think Tank for people to give me an update on what was happening at ALA (at this program) which further confused me.

The only real fact we got from that article is that OCLC got an IMLS grant to create training materials to help librarians do this. Today I got this press release from Meredith (thank you!) that seems to say that OCLC got $286,000 from IMLS to create training content on WebJunction to help libraries help patrons with the new heath care law. And then, amusingly as I was driving from Massachusetts to Vermont trying to find a radio station, I heard some right wing talk show radio host who was MAD that librarians were going to have a part in the “indoctrination” by the “regime” that was doing the health care stuff. Sheesh.

In summary: librarians are still doing their jobs. OCLC/WebJunction are getting money to (maybe) help us to do them, lots of people get the wrong idea about libraries’ role in helping the people who have been digitally divided.

Serendipitously browsed: gems of american scenery

I went to the Windsor Library in Windsor Vermont this weekend to take a look at their seed library. It was really neat. The whole building was terrific with large photographs of people from the community. Jim and I poked around in their historical books room and found this gem. It’s a collection of stereoscopic “Albertypes” in a book by Charles and Edward Bierstadt, brother to the more famous Albert (name of photographic process just a coincidence). The book comes with a little viewer built in to the book cover so that the images can be seen in 3D. I took a few photos of the book and more of the stereoscopic images can be seen online. And now I’ve been spending all morning reading about the Bierstadt brothers and the overlap between Albert’s painting career and the other brothers’ photography careers. Fascinating stuff.

book cover, gems of american scenery, white mountains
book cover

image of the viewer built in to the book cover
viewer built into the book cover

instructions on how to use the book
instructions on how to use the book cover

Jimviewing the images
Jim makes it work

Link roundup, things you might like

What is going on with New York’s public libraries?

chart showing rising demand and program attendance at NYs libraries and lowering support

Rising demand for NY’s libraries and lowering support. Source.

I know people are probably pretty up on the general level of change, upheaval and consternation that are happening surrounding NYPLs big changes, most notably the changes at the Central Library but also the closure and sale of the Mid-Manhattan branch. You may not know about the closure and sale of some of the Brooklyn Public Library’s branches in which buildings are being sold and new spaces are being leased/rented to fit the library collections, programs and staff into. I know we’ve been fighting against some of the major downsides involved in leasing versus owning content, I think it’s important to think about the major downsides involved in renting rather than owning real estate. Here is some further reading about the Brooklyn plans.

Want to get involved?

“Who are your guys?” some radical librarian resources

books are weapons in the war of ideas

cc image from Wyoming_Jackrabbit

I listen a lot to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast about comedy. He interviews pretty much everyone you’ve ever heard of in the comedy world (and some people you may not have heard of) and one of the things he always asks people are “Who are your guys?” like who did you come up with in the comedy world and who did you identify with or look up to when you got started? I recently got an email from a library school student who is an anarchist librarian wondering a similar thing basically who my guys were and what resources were out there for radical librarians. The people who were my guys when I got started are all doing different things right now, interesting things. I wanted to share an amended version of the resource list and email I sent her. These are just people in the radical librarian niche, there are a lot of other people who have influenced me in many other ways. Who are your guys?

Sandy Berman was one of my original guys. I was lucky enough to get to know him when I was a library student and was active in my local SRRT chapter.
http://www.sanfordberman.org/zine/zine1.htm

I think the work that Radical Reference is doing is important. It’s sort of distributed often crisis or demonstration-based reference services and they also do some email and other support.

http://radicalreference.info/

It’s a neat project and the takeaway for me is the idea of “just in time” reference or event-based reference especially at large events like marches and demonstrations but this could be anything really.

There used to be a much more active anarchist librarian community on a mailing list and forum

http://forums.infoshop.org/viewforum.php?f=6

I’m not sure where that bunch of people gets together, but Chuck Munson who runs that site is worthwhile to talk to.

The big takeaway is that there are a LOT of people doing this sort of work, the profession attracts folks like us.

Rory Litwin and the Library Juice Press put out a lot of worthwhile information about the more radical aspects of the profession as well as professional development opportunities.

Library Juice Press
http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/
Library Juice Academy
http://libraryjuiceacademy.com/

The FreeGovInfo people spend a lot of time making sure that government information is available to ALL the people. It’s interesting since, well, it’s very involved with government, but making the current government we have accountable and responsible is a worthwhile goal

http://freegovinfo.info/

Other people who are doing “free the information” activities include

The Internet Archive & Open Library & Archive Team
http://archive.org
http://openlibrary.org
http://archiveteam.org/index.php?title=Main_Page

The Prelinger Library
http://www.prelingerlibrary.org/home/

Carl Malamud and Public Resource
https://public.resource.org/

Open CRS
https://opencrs.com/

The Social Responsibilities Round Table and the Progressive Librarians Guild
http://libr.org/srrt/
http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/

are both groups that take a fairly radical approach to what is a library issue and work within big organizations like the ALA to be on the record about things that matter. There’s some pushback to this, but overall I think they are worthwhile. Not everyone is an anarchist, there are varieties of left-wing thinkers (and some libertarians? I don’t know) but worthwhile to get to know and worth seeing if there are people in your area.

More recently the Occupy Libraries put an organized face on the idea of a protest library. Many places to read more, here is a current blog and wiki about the Occupy Wall Street library.

http://peopleslibrary.wordpress.com/
http://olan.wikidot.com/
(not to be confused with “occupy your library“)

There are also mutual aid type societies of groups of librarians working towards a common cause without the more formalized structure of a state or national organization.

Urban Libraries Unite
http://urbanlibrariansunite.org/

Rural Libraries Unite
http://www.rurallibrariansunite.org/

Some individual librarians are people I met early on and are still continuing to do great stuff. I’m also most hesitant to mention anyone for fear I’ll leave someone out, but here are two folks

Julie Herrada
, curator of the Labadie collection
http://www.lib.umich.edu/users/jherrada
Lincoln Cushing, archival consultant, All Of Us Or None collection (among other things)
http://www.docspopuli.org/Personal.html

But at some level I think the best way to start mutual aid projects from within the library context (in my personal opinion) is to try to work FOR

- fewer limitations on content (against DRM even if you may not be able to eradicate it)
- fewer copyright restrictions and be careful about self-censoring
- access to library materials to more people including historically disadvantaged groups such as language minorities, people in prison/jail, homeless people, people with disabilities
- sharing the community resources that you hold in the widest way possible

And while I think it’s important to be upbeat, it’s also important to understand what the threats are in the community and trying to work AGAINST

- more restrictions on copyright and/or internet freedom
- people meddling in childrens’ rights to read or intellectual freedom generally
- internet filtering
- publisher’s harassment of librarians and others for telling the truth about their practices or business models
- increasing push towards rental/lease of content and away from purchasing it and the rights that first sale gives us