on public domain and “public domain”

There has been a lot of great writing about copyright and access to our cultural and intellectual history in the weeks since Aaron Swartz’s death. I have been retreading some of my old favorite haunts to see if there was stuff I didn’t know about the status of access to online information especially in the public domain (pre-1923 in the US) era.

I talk like a broken record about how I think the best thing that libraries can do, academic libraries in particular, is to make sure that their public domain content is as freely accessible as possible. This is an affirmative decision that Cornell University made in 2009 and I think it was the right decision at the right time and that more libraries should do this. Some backstory on this.

So, if I wanted to share an image from a book that Cornell has made available, I have to check the guidelines link above and then I can link to the image, you can go see it and then you can link to the image and do whatever you want with it, including sell it. This is public domain. The time and money that went into making a digital copy of this image have been borne by the Internet Archive and Cornell University. The rights page on the item itself (which I can download in a variety of formats) is clear and easy to understand.

Compare and contrast JSTOR. Now let me be clear, I am aware that JSTOR is a (non-profit) business and Cornell is a university and I am not saying that JSTOR should just make all of their public domain things free for everyone (though that would be nice), I am just outlining the differences as I see them in accessing content there. I had heard that there were a lot of journals on JSTOR that were freely available even to unaffiliated people like myself. I decided to go looking for them. I found two different programs, the Register and Read program (where registered users can access a certain number of JSTOR documents for free) and the Early Journal Content program. There’s no front door, that I saw, to the EJC program you have to search JSTOR first and then limit your search to “only content I can access” Not super-intuitive, but okay. And I’m not trying to be a pill, but doing a search on the about.jstor.org site for “public domain” gets you zero results though the same is true when searching for “early journal content” and also for “librarian.” Actually, I get the same results when I search their site for JSTOR. Something is broken, I have written them an email. [update: they fixed it!]

So I go to JSTOR and do a similar search, looking for only “content I can access” and pick up the first thing that’s pre-1923 which is an article about Aboriginal fire making from American Anthropologist in 1890. I click through and agree to the Terms of Service which is almost 9000 words long. Only the last 260 words really apply to EJC. Basically I’ve agreed to use it non-commercially (librarian.net accepts no advertising, I an in the clear) and not scrape their content with bots or other devices. I’ve also seemingly acquiesced to credit them and to use the stable URL, though that doesn’t let me deep-link to the page with the image on it, so I’ve crossed my fingers and deep-linked anyhow. I’m still not sure what I would do, contact JSTOR I guess, if I wanted to use this document in a for-profit project. Being curious, I poked around to see if I could find this public domain document elsewhere and sure enough, I could.

At that point, I quit looking. I found a copy that was free to use. This, however, meant that I had to be good at searching, quite persistent and not willing to take “Maybe” as an answer to “Can I use this content?” I know that when I was writing my book my publishers would not have taken maybe for an answer, they were not even that thrilled to take Wikimedia Commons’ public domain assertions.

As librarians, I feel we have to be prepared to find content that is freely usable for our patrons, not just content that is mostly freely usable or content where people are unlikely to come after you. As much as I’m personally okay being a test case for some sort of “Yeah I didn’t read all 9000 words on the JSTOR terms and conditions, please feel free to take me to jail” case, realistically that will not happen. Realistically the real threat of jail is scary and terrible and expensive. Realistically people bend and decide it’s not so bad because they think it’s the best they can do. I think we can probably do better than that.

when good librarians go bad, genuine options in librarianship

I upgraded WordPress this week. Please let me know if anything is wonky.

This is an exchange from facebook with names changed to protect the innocent. It highlights something I find happening to me in the library world all the time — having to balance solving the problem with following the rules. The person posting the update needed an article. The rules said they had to pay $31.50 for an article. This didn’t pass the sanity check ["$30 for one article from a journal, that's crazy!"] and the librarian was grousing. They’re also grousing to a huge network of librarians, many of whom had free [or, paid for by their institution] access to the same content. I saw Nicole speak in Florida this past week and one of the quotes she repeats again and again is “With enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” meaning that a particular coding problem that might vex one or two programmers is unlikely to vex, say, a thousand programmers.

My Jessamyn corollary to this is “With enough libraries, all content is free.” That is to say… if the world was one big library and we all had interlibrary loan at that library, we could lend anything to anyone. The funding structures of libraries currently mean that in many cases we’re duplicating [and paying for] content that we could be sharing. This is at the heart of a lot of the copyright battles of today and, to my mind, what’s really behind the EBSCO/Gale/vendors. Time Magazine is losing money and not having a good plan for keeping their income level up, decides to offer exclusive contracts to vendors and allows them to bid. EBSCO wins, Gale loses. Any library not using EBSCO loses. Patrons lose and don’t even know they’ve lost.

When I was blogging for BoingBoing I often came across content that I didn’t have access to. I was also confronted with, in many cases, unreasonable fees requested [$9.95 for 100 words, really?]. Me being me, I could always find a librarian with access to, say the Times Online archive, or old articles in JSTOR. But I also felt it was cheating. But I was also annoyed that being resourceful is also somehow cheating. And I knew that many of my patrons with fewer resources would just pony up. Where do we draw the line between enforcing other people’s rules and solving problems with our patrons? Now that we’re getting more and more networked, this whole idea of local content works for some things [historical photos, town history] and not for others [journal articles that are held in thousands of libraries worldwide]. Do we have a plan for moving forward?

a few new interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights

While I wish, as per usual, that the URL and the web page were friendlier and that I could see what changes were made, ALA has released a few more council-approved interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights, two new, two revised, one new from Midwinter. I’ll link to the new stuff individually as well.

Some discussion in the comments over at LISNews.

Library Accessibility – What You Need to Know

The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies has created a series of tipsheets to assist librarians in different sorts of libraries in dealing with and understanding accessibility issues. They’re short, easy to understand, come with references and cover a wide range of topics.

Journal Data: Price, Impact, and Use

I was doing my generalized clicking around this afternoon and saw this FriendFeed comment (originally via Twitter) “How much does an annual library subscription to the top 20 closed-access journals cost? Lets start a virtual library for non-scientists.” I was all set to comment “Hey there aren’t really individual prces for a lot of those journals because of bundling and bla bla bla” but then realized someone else had gotten there before me and included a link to just such a list.

I had not seen the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communication price list before but there it is in all its resplendent glory. Bill Hooker ran some analysis on these numbers back in March (start here if you are truly a numbercrunching fanbrarian) and draws some interesting conclusions. If you really like this sort of thing, you really should put Open Reading Frame in your feed reader.

dad using his library card

This is the second and last part of the Jessamyn’s Dad’s Library Card story. I went home yesterday. I got a phone call from my Dad.

Dad: So I clicked the link in that email the library sent?
Me: Yeah? Good.
Dad: It connects me to “iBistro on the go…” what is that?
Me: That’s the library’s online catalog. The library is supposed to type their name at the top there but it looks like they didn’t.
Dad: It’s hard to read.
Me: Yeah it sure is isn’t it? [explains how to make font bigger]
Dad: How do I look for a book, do I really have to log in first?
Me: You shouldn’t have to, but maybe, it depends how it’s configured.
Dad: My login number is fourteen digits long! Why is that?
Me: Good question. You can probably set the browser to remember it. Your PIN is probably the last four digits of your phone number
Dad: It is. Why do I have to log in here?
Me: Well you can reserve books and check your account and there are privacy laws about that information.
Dad: Where does this catalog live?
Me: Depends on the library, many libraries run it off of servers in their basement. Some use hosted versions of the catalog. The consortium probably hosts this one.
Dad: And this iBistro thing is something they buy?
Me: Yeah and they pay a lot of money for it.
Dad: It sucks.
Me: Yeah. It’s sort of useful for consortiums [explains consortiums] so libraries can do interlibrary loan and stuff.
Dad: Okay I searched for sailing and I get 1500 hits. How do I search for the most popular books?
Me: I don’t know if you can, you can redo your search and sort by relevance.
Dad: Amazon lets me search by popularity. I like that.
Me: Yeah I do too. Can you sort the search you have?
Dad: No, it says there’s more than 500 records so I can’t search.
Me: You may be able to search by subject heading and get a shorter list.
Dad: Didn’t I do that?
Me: No, you searched by keyword [explains difference] or you can search just the books in your library.
Dad: I’m not already doing that?
Me: No, you’re searching the whole SAILS network.
Dad: How can you tell?
Me: Because on the search page next to where it says library, is says ALL.
Dad: Okay I’ll find my library. There are like 100 libraries on this list!
Me: I know, you can borrow books from any of those libraries.
Dad: I just want to know if there’s a book at my library.
Me: Yeah, that should be easier.
Dad: What are these libraries at the bottom of this list just called zddd and zddddd?
Me: That’s probably some kludge that the libraries are using to put books in a category or location that isn’t available in the regular catalog.
Dad: Okay thanks for the tutorial. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Me: You’re welcome. It’s not you, it’s them.

How accessible is your library?

I was looking for something completely different and wound up finding the Traveling Wheelchair’s four star review of the Boston Public Library and noticed they’ve reviewed a few other libraries in the Massachusetts area. Reading Kenny’s experiences in and around Boston Public Library gives you a really good idea of not just what accessibility means from a legal perspective, but how it’s perceived from a wheelchair user perspective.

Topeka Library Board Restricts Access to Four Books

Library Journal put up a quick article about the Topeka Library Board’s decision from yesterday to restrict access to four books with sexual themes. I was following most of the meeting, in realtime with photos by keeping an eye on David Lee King’s twitter feed (starting about here) as I was in my all day meeting. Here’s the brief story from the AP Wire. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this story.

One lawyer at the meeting told the newspaper he had already been approached by potential plaintiffs. “Because it would take these books off the shelves and place them out of reach of patrons browsing the shelves, the proposed policy is unconstitutional,” warned the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri in a letter to the board.

scooting about in the library

From the VTLIBRARIES Mailing list: “A public library in Illinois offers a motorized scooter for its patrons to use. One of those ideas that makes you think, of course!”

Accessibility of Google Books

A little-known nifty thing about Google Books is that books already digitized via GB, whether in copyright or not, can be made available to students with visual disabilities. More inside scoop on the MBooks project at the BLT blog and at the MBooks accessibility page.

We now have a system in place for students with visual impairments to use MBooks [i.e. the digitized collection] in much the same way. Once a student registers with OSSD, any time she checks out a book already digitized by Google, she will automatically receive an email with a URL. Once the student selects the link, she is asked to login. The system checks whether the student is registered with OSSD as part of this program, and whether she has checked out this particular book. If the student passes both of those tests, she will get access to the entire full-text of the book, whether it is in copyright or not, in an interface that is optimized for use with screen readers. Currently, this system is available to UM students with visual impairments. We are investigating the possibility of including students with learning disabilities as well.