Most people have heard the news that on Saturday, the two-year anniversary of his arrest, 26 year old Aaron Swartz killed himself. I didn’t know Aaron well though I was lucky to have crossed paths with him a few times, we were on the same team during the MIT Mystery Hunt and we were both involved, him much more than me, in some of the early days of Open Library one of my favorite websites on the internet. Thanks to Aaron, and a short list of other people, that site exists and continues to grow.
Though not an ALA Think Tanker, Aaron had more of a Make It Happen ethos than anyone I knew. This was true even if what had to happen went against the current legal zeitgeist and/or conventional wisdom. I don’t think he was a lonely rebel type, but I think he was often willing to go further than others were comfortable with and we as a culture, and we as a library culture, have gained a lot of good things from that. We need to continue to step up, as many have always been stepping up, to ensure our citizens’ rights to access to the information that they need and want in an environment that is increasingly becoming monetized, silo-ized and just generally commoditized.
It’s a problem; we are now and have always been the solution. Please go liberate a public domain document and leave a wish or a thought in Aaron’s memory. And then let’s get back to work. Here’s a quote from Bibliographic Wilderness’ post about Aaron, linked below.
Librarians and libraries have professional knowledge that portraying Swartzâ€™s activity as a million-dollar-plus profit-movitated larceny, and prosecuting it as such, is ridiculous. And librarians and libraries know that the inequity in access to scholarly content that offended Swartz is a real problem. However misguided his approach to addressing the issue, Swartz was on our side â€” or at least, we should have been on Swartzâ€™s side, writing the prosecutor and court with our professional expertise that this was not the sort of crime it was being portrayed as.
Articles, tributes and links to other things you might want to read about Aaron.
- MIT Tech news: What did Aaron actually get in trouble for doing anyhow?
- Alex Stamos, to be Aaron’s expert witness: The truth about Aaron’s “crime”
- Library Journal Article: Did Aaron have anything to do with JSTORs decision to make some of their public domain documents available?
- Bibliographic wilderness: We should be taking more steps to ensure access the way Aaron did.
- Lawrence Lessig: Aaron was bullied by the legal system.
- Memorial website including a statement from his family and girlfriend.
I saw this post circulating around facebook and, of course, the word “library” caught my eye. The Boston Globe has a longer explanation about what all the kerfuffle is about, but still uses words like “hacking.” The Demand Progress blog, the organization that Aaron directs, has this statement and some additional blog posts. The New York Times seems to have the most comprehensive explanation of what happened when and has the text of the indictment.
What we do know is that the US Government has indicted Aaron Swartz [who you may know around the internet for any number of things] for, apparently and allegedly, downloading 4mil articles from JSTOR without (I think?) the proper credentials. Aaron turned himself in. At issue are many points of JSTORs terms of service and what sort of access is given to guests of the university. As Aaron is a net activist, I’m certain this is some level of intentional move on his part, I’m quite curious to see where it goes.
Update: JSTORs official statement, Wired article with more details
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.
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.
I rarely post links to job here because it seems to me that most postings for library jobs are more or less the same. This one is different. The Open Library project, which I linked to here before, is looking for some new folks. You’d be working with a fun team of geniuses, most notably Karen Coyle who is the chief librarian of the project. Telecommuting an option. Interested? Read the job description, then email Aaron and tell him you heard about it here.
Tasks include: working with our chief librarian, Karen Coyle, to implement algorithms to do data merging and other processing tasks; writing scrapers and crawlers to grab various data sources; writing importers to parse this data into something that can be imported into our database; and managing all the people who want to help us with these tasks.