a separate post – talk about my new job

OpenLibrary front page

I promised to write about this a few days ago and it’s been, quite a week. Short version: starting May 1st I took a job doing user support for Open Library. It’s very part time, very fulfilling and a lot of fun.

Longer story: MetaFilter, my internet home for over a decade and my employer for almost that long, has been going through some challenges. There was a severe financial downturn (the site is nearly 100% advertiser supported, allowing them to have nearly eight full time employees) and staffing was going to have to be reduced. You can read about some of that happened on Search Engine Land or Matt Haughey’s post on Medium because this was basically a weird “I wonder what happened at Google?” situation. We’d been facing decreasing revenue for about eighteen months and things weren’t improving. As the person in charge of running the site but not managing the money aspect of it, the last year and a half had been really bad for morale. Not knowing if your job was going away, getting gloom-and-doom reports from on high, not being able to plan for the future because you don’t know if there will be a future, are just destabilizing and not allowing me to do my job to the best of my ability. I have a longer version of this that I’d be happy to explain over a beer or two, but that was the general gist.

And ultimately, as much as I loved what I’d built–Ask MetaFilter is one of the best Q&A sites around, bar none, the moderation team is the best group of moderators there is, period–my “career goals” such as they are weren’t with website moderation, they were and remain with libraries. So when stuff started getting hairy in late 2012, I decided I needed a non-MetaFilter hobby, one that was library related, and I decided to talk to the Internet Archive about helping out with Open Library. Open Library, if you don’t know, lends ebooks worldwide. Worldwide. It’s a cool project.

I hadn’t known at the time that Open Library was a bit of a ghost ship, being kept alive and online but not really in active development. I put my head down and just started answering emails, reporting bugs, being the change I wanted to see in Open Library. And once the writing was on the wall at MeFi, that I could stay on as the oldest employee but in a work situation that was more “Everyone works all the time” which was no longer something I wanted to do, I talked to the Archive about getting an actual job-job. I made a data-based pitch “Look, I answered 7000 emails last year and rewrote the help pages and FAQ, user support is probably something that either needs more volunteers or a paid staff member” and they agreed to take me on as a part-timer to keep doing what I was doing, and maybe do a little more.

So I still answer emails, but I also attend staff meetings (via Skype) and have the keys to the Twitter and the blog. It’s weird working in a free culture type of place but still working with Adobe’s DRM nearly every day. I made a graceful mod exit from MetaFilter and I still continue to hang out there, because why wouldn’t I?

Long range I’m not sure what my plan is. I’ve got the same adult education job in my small town in Vermont and don’t plan to leave that. I still write a regular column for Computers in Libraries and I’m still on the road doing public speaking stuff about once a month (contact me if you’d like me to come speak at your event) which I may ramp up depending on how this all goes. I still have a lot of Vermont libraries to visit. I’m trying, despite my tendency to overwork, to take the summer at least partly off. And one of the things I want to do, oddly enough, is spend more time on my blog, writing down more of the things I am working on, in a place that’s mine and not MetaFilter’s.

That’s the news. I’m excited to get back to working more with libraries, all kinds of libraries.

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.

“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

Open Library – Making inroads and headway in all 50 states

I regularly trot out Open Library as an example of both a project that is nice and library like while also being attractive and usable and, at the same time, pushing the envelope of “how to be a library” in ways that are dignifying to both patrons and librarians alike. I was delighted to read this article about the results of a recent meeting where ALL state librarians voted unanimously to form an alliance with the Internt Archive’s Open Library project.

[Oregon state librarian] Scheppke said this allows libraries the chance to envision digitizing everything in their collection, from books about local history to works by local authors.

“If that doesn’t happen who knows when those books will become ebooks, maybe never,” Scheppke said. “That’s what really appeals to the state libarians; it’s a solution we haven’t had up until now to have a much more complete ebook collection,” he said.

The interface is us – what people think about ebooks

This is shaping up to be the year that people really start seeing ebooks and libraries as things that can go together. ReadWriteWeb just made this post about the Internet Archive getting into the ebook lending business, both via its collection of freely available ebooks as well as a pilot program with a small subset of libraries. This is terrific. It is also confusing. I followed the links in the press release and on the Internet Archive site itself and could not figure out exactly how I’d go about borrowing a book if I was a part of a member library (I have a Boston Public Library card). That said, wow the interface itself is knockout and just made me want to click around and mess with it.

Oddly the minor problem I had, and it is minor, is the same as the complaint that people who have used OverDrive via their own library to try to read ebooks. This reporter from the Wall Street Journal explains the headache that is trying to search OverDrive for available titles, those that are available for checkout. In order to check out and download an ebook, which I eventually did, I had to

- Search Open Library for ebooks
- Find one with a “borrow” icon next to it. OL also offers DAISY format for people who are visually impaired as well as many books that can be read locally.
- Get redirected to a search on OverDrive’s site saying “nothing available.” Redo search on OverDrive’s site to find this title available.
- Click WorldCat’s “find in a library” option and type in my zipcode
- Figure out that book is or is not available from my local library. Start again.
- When I find a book that is available, click through to my local library catalog & click “add to cart” to return to OverDrive (if book is available, which it sometimes isn’t)
- Take side trip to download Adobe Digital Editions (much less painful than previous OverDrive software experience)
- Proceed to “checkout” on OverDrive after entering a library card number that I think will work
- Download book. Read book.

So, not terribly bad and I think better interfaces and interactions between websites will make this process much more seamless. Right now I had to interact with Open Library, OverDrive, WorldCat, my library’s branded OverDrive page and my library catalog. At several stages during this process there are varying levels of “availability” of an item. Specifically.

- Book is shown in Open Library but is not available at a library I have access to.
- Book is available at a library I have access to, but not in the format I am looking for.
- Book is available at a library I have access to in the format I want but has been “checked out.”

Currently there is no one way to do a search for an ebook and have a result say “Yes we have it, it’s in this format, and it’s available NOW” I am optimistic that it is a matter of time before this is working and Open Library is currently making this work better than anyone else. Update: the Palm Beach County Library has a really nice interface that makes it a lot more clear what’s there and what’s actually available.

Moon Letters from The Cataloguer’s Desk


Before there was Braille, there was Moon. Check out these photos from some antiquarian Moon books. More on Moon. This post was made the same day that the Internet Archive announced that they have one million books available in DAISY format for blind and visually disabled folks. Not just talk, here’s the list of them. Image is from this book. [via]

OCLC kerfuffle, summarized in a way I agree with

Stefano Mazzocchi has a summary of the issues in the new OCLC policy dispute. Worth reading, mostly free of handwaving. [thanks peter]

What is up with OCLC?

This all started with a little wink-wink posting about OCLC from Tim over at LibraryThing which was the first I’d heard about OCLC’s policy changes. As someone who doesn’t interact with OCLC or their data too much, I didn’t really understand this and had to wait for some clarification posts to understand both what was going on and how it affected people and projects like LibraryThing and Open Library. The upshot as I understand it is that OCLC is basically saying “Sure you can share your records, but not with people or organizations who materially compete with us” That’s my summary anyhow. Here’s the non-legalese policy on the OCLC site. Here’s the more legalese version. Here’s a wiki version of the changes between the “old” new policy and the new policy. Isn’t technology grand? Karen Calhoun a VP over at OCLC has written a defense of the new policy on her own blog; there is some lively discussion happening in the comments. There is also this podcast of Roy Tennant and Karen Calhoun talking with Richard Wallis from Talis (whose business model is also potentially affected by this policy change) about the ramifications of this change.

So, the policy OCLC has put up has been revised somewhat, doesn’t go into effect until February, and gives people a lot of time to think about what if anything they want to do about this. Tim Spalding has a business model that is compromised by OCLCs refusal to let their members share these records. The Open Library project is also possible compromised and Aaron Swartz has written two posts about the policy change: Stealing Your Library: The OCLC Powergrab and OCLC On The Run. He also directs people to the Stop OCLC Petition if you’d like to sign on to ask OCLC to repeal these changes. More community discussion taking place at MetaFilter, Inside Higher Ed, and Slashdot and code4lib is maintaining a wiki with links to more commentary. I’m still catching up on the back and forth and may write more later, but it’s interesting to watch this unfold.

why I’d try an API

A few neat announcements in libraryland concerning data or connectors being made more open and available. These two examples may not seem as linked as they are.

  • LibraryThing releases (sort of) (almost) a million book covers, free for your use, under most circumstances. You can also cache the covers locally as long as you don’t do it in such a way that you support LT competitors. While I understand why this isn’t linked with the Open Library project, I’d love to see it get there in the future sometime. update: John Miedema reminds me in the comments that I’d meant to also link to the openbook WordPress plugin for people using WordPress.
  • WorldCat released their search API over the weekend. As with many OCLC things, this is great news for their member libraries and not that great for anyone else, but it’s a real step towards letting (their) people get at their data, not just their web pages. You can get some details, in slightly dense format, on this page.

Open Library, really open. Aaron Swartz discusses.

David Weinberger blogs about Aaron Swartz talking at the Berkman Center about the Open Library project. Pay close attention to the Q and A and think about this in terms of the Google Books post/article from yesterday. Who is really in faveor of openness? Who talks the most about openness? Want to help? They still need programmers. And book lovers.

Q: Why won’t OCLC give you the data?
A: We’d take it in any form. We’d be willing to pay. Getting through the library bureaucracy is difficult…
A: (terry) You need to find the right person at OCLC
A: We’ve talked with them at a high level and they won’t give us any information. Too bad since they’re a non-profit. Library records are not copyrightable. OCLC contractually binds libraries.