Link roundup, things you might like

Access to Congressional Research Service reports is important but not guaranteed

I’ve talked here before about CRS reports and how even though they’re created on the public’s dime, there’s no easy and simple way to search for and actually access them without requesting them one by one via your congresspeople. This is frustrating. Apparently, it’s not even widely known that this is not the case. Secrecy News Blog, from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, reports that the Librarian of Congress isn’t even quite clear on this.

Members of the public enjoy unrestricted access to all reports of the Congressional Research Service, according to the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington.

Though CRS has no direct public mission, at present the public has unfettered access to the full inventory of CRS Reports for the Congress at no cost through the office of any Member or committee,” he wrote in an April 4 letter (pdf) to Amy Bennett of Openthegovernment.org.

Unfortunately, that assertion is quite wrong. The public does not have access to the full inventory of CRS Reports. There is not even a public index of CRS reports that would enable people to request specific reports by title.

If you find this sort of thing totally fascinating, please familiarize yourself with the work that OpenCRS is doing and see if there is a way you can help them. Just look at all this good stuff. [freegovinfo]

Why the Library of Congress Is Blocking Wikileaks

I’m not totally comfortable with Library of Congress specifically blocking access to Wikileaks for staff and patrons at the Library of Congress as confirmed on Talking Points Memo. Here is the LoC blog’s response which refers to the same statement they are giving to reporters and the press. The situation is, of course, quite complicated but I find this to be an odd precedent that makes me a little itchy.

Copyright is killing sound archiving and fair use isn’t doing so well either


Fair Use poster image by Timothy Vollmer

The Library of Congress just released its 181 page report “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age” talking about the challenges of digitally archiving sound recording. BoingBoing gives a nice summary “[T]he copyright laws that the recording industry demanded are so onerous that libraries inevitably have to choose whether to be law-breakers or whether to abandon their duty to preserve and archive audio.” More analysis from OSNews.

And if anyone’s wondering where I’ve been this week, the answer is “Mired in getting copyright permissions for the intellectual property in my book. Thanks for asking.” I have a pretty firm grasp of Fair Use and have been trying to follow the guidelines for Fair Use in Media Literacy Education. I signed a book contract that specifically says that I am responsible for assuring that my materials are being used with permission. Despite this, my publisher (who I am quite fond of otherwise) is risk-averse and wants to make sure I have permission anyhow. Permission that I assert that I don’t need for small screenshots of, say, Google search results or an ALA nested menu.

This gets even more confusing when some of the organizations involved claim that I need permission when I don’t. Since Fair Use, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, is mostly something that gets hammered out through litigation there is no strict set of guidelines as to what Fair Use is. So, big companies with a lot to lose err on the side of compliance with other big companies’ requests, requests that may be extralegal. So Google can’t legally tell you to only use the public domain offerings from Google Books (which they admit) but they make a polite request, a polite request that sounds a lot like a terms of service.

So right now I’m waiting to hear back from Facebook after filling out a form on their website asking for permission to use a screenshot. They say it will take 1-2 weeks. I am confident that my screenshot is fair use. My editor also thinks it is fair use. However they’re not willing to risk it. And so we wait.

Thomas Mann interviewed by Joshua Kitlas

Library student Joshua Kitlas interviewed LoC reference librarian Thomas Mann for one of his classes at Syracuse. I am a Mann Fan, so it was fun to get to read this.

“The profession is radically getting dumbed down. There is so much more to search than Google or OCLC. You need to see relationships between subjects and their headings. Tags by users are simply no substitute. They’re okay as supplements to controlled vocabularies–but not substitutes. There’s a need to go beyond the internet and look at the systems librarians and publishers have developed that are not accessible by Google or the other engines.”

why is the ACLU suing the Library of Congress?

The ACLU filed a lawsuit agains the Library of Congress for terminating a CRS Assistant Director for writing a letter to the editor for the Washington post and an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Colonel Morris D. Davis was, prior to his CRS position, responsible for the prosecution of suspected terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay.

62. Because of his former position as the Chief Prosecutor for the military commissions, Col. Davis is regularly asked to comment on Guantánamo and the military commissions system. Col. Davis believes he has a unique perspective to add to this debate, and he would like to convey his insights and opinions to the public. Since he was informed that he was being terminated by CRS, however, Col. Davis has declined numerous opportunities to speak publicly about military commissions issues out of fear that he could be subject to further retaliation by the Library and [CRS Director Daniel] Mulhollan.
63. The decision to terminate Col. Davis for his speech has intimidated and chilled other CRS employees from speaking and writing in public. CRS employees are confused, uncertain, and fearful about what outside speaking and writing is permissible.
64. As a result of the Library’s and Mr. Mulhollan’s actions, Col. Davis has suffered, and/or will suffer, both economic and non-economic losses, emotional distress, and other compensable damages.

public library photos and reminiscences

New Canaan Public Library from LoC
Shorpy is a great source for old photographs. They often get them from sources like the Library of Congress which is where this photo of the New Cannan public library in 1953 came from. You can also see the original set of photos over at the Library of Congress [did not see this one over at their Flickr photostream]. The big add that Shorpy’s has, however, is the community. It’s not just a photo of a library, it’s also people commenting about their memories of the library including where else they’ve seen that certain floor tile [fun fact: it's also the tile that's in my bathroom as near as I can tell] [thanks mike]

Be social with your national library

I just became a fan of the Library of Congress on Facebook. They seem to be using facebook in a prety normal way, highlighting events, adding a few photos. If you want to find other ways to be social with LoC, check out this post on Resource Shelf. I’ve always felt their YouTube channel was pretty nice.

Library of Congress reports on Flickr project

The Library of Congress has finished a report (full report and shorter summary in pdf) summing up what they’ve learned after the first nine months of their experimentation with Flickr. Here is an excerpt from the summary. Look at these numbers.

The following statistics attest to the popularity and impact of the pilot. As of October 23, 2008, there have been:
  • 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
  • 79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
  • More than 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
  • 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
  • Less than 25 instances of user-generated content were removed as inappropriate.
  • More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been enhanced with new information provided by the Flickr Community.

Between January and May 2008, the Library saw an increase in hits at its own Web site. For Bain images placed on Flickr, views/downloads rose approximately 60% for the period January-May 2008, compared to the same time period in 2007. Views/downloads of FSA/OWI image files placed on Flickr rose approximately 13%. Average monthly visits to all PPOC Web pages rose 20% over the five-month period of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. For additional information, see the Outcomes section in the full report.

Not only is that data good news about the project but being able to say “Hey when the Library of Congress opened up their photos to commenting and tagging, they only had to remove 25 inappropriate tags/comments out of 75K instances of user-generated content” thats a big deal.

Flickr Commons project – one organization’s report

I wrote a little bit about the Flickr Commons project in an article for Computers in Libraries magazine. You may have seen it mentioned here and elsewhere in library blogland because two prominent libraries, the Library of Congress and Bibliothèque de Toulouse have put collections there. I’m most fond of the Smithsonian’s collection though I pretty much love all of them and love seeing No Known Copyright Restrictions next to all those images. So yay, I love Flickr.

However, a question many people ask is: is this project working to do anything other than give librarians fancy 2.0 tools to use? In a recent lengthy post by another participating cultural heritage organization, The Powerhouse Museum, they explain what the project has done for them. I’ve pulled out a few quotes. [thanks peacay!]

In the first 4 weeks of the Commons we had more views of the photos than the same photos in the entirety of last year on our own website. It wasn’t as if we made the images on our own website all that hard to find – they were well indexed on our own site by Google, they were made available to the national federated image search/repository Picture Australia, and they also existed in our OPAC. Still, that was no match for Flickr.

Whilst some of the information we are learning about the images this way could probably have been discovered by the Museum itself, that the public has been able to do this for us and often within hours of new images going up on to the site speaks volumes… This is also very much about empowering and acknowledging the importance of ‘amateur’ knowledge, which in the networked environment can often outpace, and sometimes outperform, isolated ‘professional’ knowledge.

Tags are easy and we’re treating them just like our other community generated metadata. Now we’ve passed the 3 month mark we’ve pulled all the tags to date back into our own collection database online where they will soon appear alongside the tags that have been on our own site.