Friday, October 26, 2007

Sting, The Police and "Filter(s)"

It seems to me if you wanted to make the best case against Internet "filters" you would want to avoid using that term ("filter(s)") in relation to applications that supposedly "filter" objectionable Internet content. Why? The acceptance and use of the term itself implies comprehensive, accurate and beneficial "filtering" is going on.

1. Let's examine "beneficial". Think of filters in every other context, water filters, air filters, etc - they keep out the harmful stuff, leaving only the healthy stuff. Should the term "filter" be then applied to applications that block access to health care information?

Contrast the connotations of "filter" and "censor". Which implies their action will beneficial? What would the climate of the discussion be if we were talking about "electronic censors" as opposed to "filters"?

2. "Comprehensive and Accurate". Through the use of proxies and terms in languages other than English, getting around these applications is not difficult. So the case can be made that calling these applications "filters" - in so far as they imply the filtering is comprehensive and accurate, is misleading and counterproductive.

Gvien the above, it undermines the argument to say, "We oppose (mandated) filters" and then in the next breath say "Filters don't work". From this perspective, accepting and using the term "filter(s)" is like agreeing to let the other side cheat (in so far as they are allowed to inaccurately describe a central factor in the debate to the benefit of their argument, although perhaps not knowingly) - not to mention it is misleading to our users.

If you are going oppose these applications, couldn't you argue it would be more accurate and better inform the discussion to use language that accurately reflects what these things are, something like "faulty electronic censors" (maybe others can suggest better phrases or terms) as opposed to using language that implies these things are something they are not (comprehensive, accurate and beneficial) and then say they say in the next breath they are not those things?

So where do Sting and The Police come in you ask? Well, without getting too philosophical I have a vague recollection of a Police/Sting lyric which implies that you ought to be careful about the language you use because it creates your reality. I've got to run this morning, and I wasn't able to find it quickly in several lyric search engines, but it makes the point nonetheless.

(Please share if you know the lyric I'm grasping for....)

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on InfoCasting

Thanks to all who shared their thoughts on InfoCasting. Your comments suggested the following analogy:
InfoCasting could be to traditional play-by-play/commentary, what blogging/podcasting is to traditional major media journalism.

Agreed, good InfoCasting would require up-front work, and if we (libraries) were doing it, it would have to be fact-based (non-library InfoCasting would allow for more opinionated commentary), but I do think there is the potential to add value to all sorts of broadcasts - perhaps in unseen ways (think back to before blogging hit it big, who would have thought so many people had so many valuable things to say that weren't already being said through traditional outlets?).

I'm just brainstorming here, and some of this would simply be interesting for its own sake in true "Pop-up Video" fashion, but for American NFL broadcasts (and perhaps you would only do one InfoCast for the Super Bowl) you could cover things like:

Why the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester - officially listed as a wide receiver - is allowed to wear the number 23, even though wide receivers are only allowed to wear numbers 10-19 or 80-89? (Yes he used to be a Defensive Back, but the NFL is usually a stickler for these kinds of things... If anyone knows, please pass it along!)

Picture the "Pop-Up Video" bubble and bubble sound for this one:
That the NFL allows players to wear shirts with full length sleeves and short sleeves, but not three-quarters length sleeves.

And perhaps information about the referees - would you believe Mike Carey owns his own sports apparel company (we could provide a link) and is 57 years old!

An explanation of how "waivers" works.

But InfoCasting for sports is just one option. The key would be to InfoCast events you are knowledgeable and passionate about. As far as I know InfoCasting hasn't ever been done.
Anyone interested in being a pioneer?


Friday, October 19, 2007

InfoCasting via Twitter

Sunday afternoon in the fall in the U.S. means one thing to many people, professional football. And near Chicago, Illinois, that translates to the Chicago Bears.

So while working one Sunday a few weeks back the following went through my head:
Not many people will be here (at the library) between 12 and 3, because the Bears' game is on.
Next thought: Why don't we go to where they are, watching the game?

How could we do that? Perhaps by setting up some kind of contextual, value-added, strictly factual broadcast (an "InfoCast" if you will) to accompany ongoing events (could be any kind of event) we know many people are watching. (Hmm... InfoCasts could be done during popular TV shows, or and this could be dangerous territory, but perhaps, fact-checking from neutral, credible sources during political speeches....)

We would make our presence known, and make it clear that as Reference Librarians we are available 24/7 to answer questions related to the event or anything else. A kind of interactive, 2.0 Biblio-"Pop-up Video".

My initial thought was that this could be done via Twitter, but, and correct me if I am mistaken, those who would be receiving the InfoCast would either need to be continually refreshing to get new messages or if they were subscribed, checking their email for new messages. Not ideal, but I suppose a live vocal broadcast could also be done - although that would seem to require more effort and polish.

Sure, with NFL football games there may be some legal issues that would have to be, forgive me, "tackled" (that's terrible...), but in the abstract, I find the idea of doing an InfoCast intriguing and fun.

What do you think? Is anyone doing this? Other thoughts on InfoCast mediums? Or potential InfoCast events?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Magazine Subscriptions - for Patrons/Users

First, a big thank you to everyone who read and/or responded to the first post. This rookie blogger really appreciates it.

And thank you especially to Jenny Levine for mentioning the first post on her blog (see link at right). If you aren't already subscribed to theshiftedlibrarian be sure to do so, it's one of the best information science/library blogs out there.

A question for you - is anyone aware of any libraries providing subscription services to patrons on individual magazine titles? In other words, the patrons tell us they want to subscribe to a title, and then when a circulating copy is ready, it's automatically on hold for them.

Anyone aware of any ILS systems (maybe open-source systems like Koha or Evergreen) or other software solutions that could support this kind of activity?

If the logistical hurdles could be surmounted (and having enough copies of desired titles to stave off patron frustration could be one of them), offering this kind of service has always struck me as a win-win.

Patrons would love it, especially if it could be paired with some sort of home delivery (I wonder if libraries could mail at the discounted bulk rate for magazines....), and libraries would love it because it cements an ongoing usage relationship with patrons - the kind of thing businesses would kill for.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Google Proposition - Challenging our Identity, Furthering Our Mission?

Imagine this: Google, whose mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful", realizes it’s too expensive or just not worth it to fight the fight to scan and make copyrighted books available online. Instead they acquire one or more publishing houses (who perhaps can be had for a reasonable price because their major media parents are disappointed with their contributions to the corporate bottom line) with the intention of providing unlimited simultaneous, free access to texts online while "monetizing" that access via advertising in the same way they have very successfully monetized search results. 

Then being as resource rich as they are, Google attracts writers and book producers by offering better compensation in exchange for the right make their to-be-published works immediately and "universally accessible" online. In addition to monetizing book access, Google claims it is doing “good” by making this information "universally accessible and useful" free of charge to readers.

To see if this was fiscally possible, I checked Google's August 7, 2007 balance sheet as reported on Yahoo Finance. Google has a "capital surplus" (or cash) of over $12.50 billion and net tangible assets of over $17.50 billion.

Random House has been called “the world's largest English-language general trade book publisher" and perhaps the biggest publisher in the United States. In 1998, they were purchased by German media company Bertelsmann AG for $1.4 billion. 

Since then the asking price for Random House (if it were up for sale) could conceivably have quadrupled, quintupled or sextupled, but even if that were the case, Google theoretically would have enough cash to purchase Random House and with the resources leftover, purchase 2 more Youtube's at $2 billion a piece. (And let's not even get into discussing the fine line of credit they would be able to take out with any lender worth their salt...)

A more likely scenario would see Google purchasing a smaller publishing house. They could then follow the strategy outlined above: pulling best selling writers and book producers away from other publishing houses by offering better compensation in exchange for the right make their works immediately and "universally accessible" online - which could be attractive to writers and book producers. In time, Google, and other copycat competitors, buy up individual "legacy" publishing houses, gaining their backlist titles and negotiating the rights to make them freely and "universally accessible" online.

Eventually, the “immediately and universally accessible” model becomes the dominant publishing model, although perhaps initially only for adult books.

If this happened, how would libraries respond? and should we actually be lobbying Google and others to follow this path? 

There would be justifiable concern about Google (and other for-profit organizations) gatekeeping and controlling access to the world's published material (a significant concern!), but not withstanding the current digital divide, it is difficult to argue that the freely, immediately universally accessible model would not do more, faster, to give more people access to information than libraries ever could going forward.

Would we protest, perhaps out of a short-sighted desire to preserve ourselves as an institution as we have traditionally existed?


Would we embark on some kind of "transformational change" (as many before me have called it), satisfied our mission of providing freely available information is substantially (if not perfectly acheived - perhaps negotiating electronic and hard copy fail safes to maintain access in case Google and others become "evil") and reorient and redevote ourselves using freed up resources to address other community needs - hosting cultural and/or social centers, focusing on instructing and becoming "People's Universities", navigating the available information etc....

Harvey Hahn, my collegue at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, has suggested the same "freely available" publishing model could be applied to databases as well (those available throught Thomson, ProQuest, Gale etc). He suggests that making that information (journal articles, legal info, health info, dissertations, etc.) freely available, could have a greater beneficial impact.

Could a non-profit publisher thrive and sustain itself by using a freely and immediately available model right now? and should libraries be involved in that? My best guess is that it would be difficult, but so many Internet organizations (Wikipedia, Ebay, Craigslist etc...) seem to be able to sustain so many activities that seem unlikely on the face of them.

Discussing the "Google Proposition" as a real possibility gives us a better chance to proactively affect its potential unfolding. If we don't, we risk being caught flat-footed, perhaps reacting in some knee-jerk, but less influential way - akin to "shouting at the river", objecting to its course as it flows by us.

What do you think?