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Hyperlinked Communities: To Libraries and Beyond

While this blog post title sounds cooler and more imaginative than this post will be, I couldn’t help using it when it came to me and was at least somewhat relevant to what I wanted to talk about. Spoiler alert: this post may be a bit scatterbrained. Each week we are given so much to read and think about that I have a hard time deciding what to focus on and how to pare it down for a blog post. I would like to discuss a few things that stood out to me this week in reading, watching, and listening to information on hyperlinked communities.

I will admit that the first thing I do when I open each week’s module after reading the introduction is watch all the videos. This week, the first video, called “Local Stories,” immediately called to mind feelings of being inside a museum rather than a library. The video shows an interactive screen where users can manipulate images and text to learn about the historical events and people on the display. This got me thinking about some of the similarities and differences between libraries and museums, and wondering if some of the boundaries between the two are really broken down by the idea of hyperlinked libraries. I am not an expert on museums, but the traditional view of museums seems to be a distinct directional transfer of information from museum exhibits and displays to the patrons. Museum patrons still go there with a variety of expectations, whether to learn about something specific, or just hoping to be (educationally?) entertained. However, this is quite similar to the shifting expectations of libraries as strictly containers of knowledge in book form to the kinds of interactive spaces seen in the video mentioned above and the Oak Park “Idea Box” space. I wonder if museums, too, are making the kinds of changes we see in libraries towards a participatory culture, and what could result from a continual shift away from their traditional institutional models towards ones that seem to blend the two together as community/cultural spaces. Is it the goal of both libraries and museums to “reach all users?” In his article for EveryLibrary, Matthew Enquist writes about how both libraries and museums serve as catalysts for community in unique ways and advocating for their continued importance.

Screenshot from Daemon x Machina taken on my phone.

I am increasingly interested in how perceptions of libraries (and now museums) are changing with the constant innovations taking place to make them more accessible, purposeful, and welcoming to all users. I was playing a computer game the other day called Daemon x Machina (in which you pilot giant robot suits to defend Earth and humanity from AI controlled robots in the distant post-apocalyptic future), where one of the missions tasks the player with keeping the AI from taking control of an “ancient” library. What results from the characters’ conversation is actually a pretty heady discussion of the fact that libraries do not only contain physical books, but harbor cultural information of all forms, citing one character’s interest in music as an example of important cultural expression. While this seemed like an odd situation for a conversation like this to occur, I was fascinated by the fact that so much interest was taken in having the characters debate the purpose and importance of libraries.

I think it is inarguable that libraries must be kept relevant as focal points for community interaction and development, and the attitude for acceptance and innovation is highlighted by Michael Stephens’ approach to “lead from the heart, learn from the heart, and play from the heart.”

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Content: Cory Doctorow’s Copyright Philosophy and Libraries

I was initially drawn to Cory Doctorow’s Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future (2008) because I recognized his name as an author of science fiction. I read his novel For the Win (2010) as part of a video games and literature class as an undergrad, so I was curious about the kinds of connections I would find to libraries. It turns out, there are some very big ones: innovation, participation, and interconnectivity to name a few.

Doctorow begins the forward to Content by stating that he as been releasing his books online for free since publishing his first novel in 2003. He writes that “every one of those books, [he’s] included a little essay explaining why [he] does this sort of thing,” and rather than do it again in this book, he realized that this “whole book is [his] explanation for why [he’s] giving it away for free online. He refers to this collection as the closest he has ever come to a “Comprehensive Doctorow Manifesto” (p. 2). Upon reading this, I immediately checked the introduction to For the Win, having downloaded both books from his website, and sure enough there was a thorough explanation of his thoughts on copyright and making his work available online. I will return to the introduction in For the Win later because I would first like to discuss how Doctorow’s ideas establish a philosophy of innovation that speaks to the development of libraries today.

Doctorow wants to make his work available online because he sees that as an inevitability. He writes, “Once it’s in the world, it’ll be copied. This is why I give away digital copies of my books and make money on the printed editions: I’m not going to stop people from copying the electronic editions, so I might as well treat them as an enticement to buy the printed objects. The information economy is all around us” (p. 50-1). Rather than keeping information behind what he sees as easily overcome obstacles such as digital rights management (DRM), it is important to recognize that in a world run by DRM, nothing would be accessible online at all without payment. His opposition to DRM speaks to one of the core tenets of libraries to make information accessible. While some economics remain involved in libraries, such as access to journals, e-books, software, etc., this is a barrier that is being intentionally torn-down when possible rather than built up. Doctorow describes this relationship by describing the failures of DRM, “Better access to more information is the hallmark of the information economy… none of us rely on curtailing access to information… we compete by supplying a superior service, not by eliminating competition” (p. 63). Doctorow’s innovative approach to copyright and publication speaks to idea of “radical trust” espoused by Michael Stephens. Providing a product online is Doctorow’s way of marketing his work, not undermining the existing economy of artists selling their work for a living.

Doctorow’s philosophy falls in line with Brian Kenney’s “Three Ways Libraries and Publishers Can Work Better Together” (2016) in not only advocating for e-books alongside print books but also seeking to remove barriers to access. Kenney calls for changes in the way libraries access e-books, noting the increasing cost of the Penguin Random House model. Publishers and authors need to work together with libraries to make their work accessible. This is where Doctorow makes a radical comment about the nature of e-books that highlights the participatory and interconnectivity of the hyperlinked library of today and the future. He writes, “The thing about an e-book is that it’s a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm device, pasted into a mailing list” (p. 68). For Doctorow, e-books and the internet in general, as he later notes (p. 69), are social by nature. The sharing of information is essential in his eyes as it is for libraries that seek to reach more users. In K.G. Schneider’s  “The User Is Not Broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto” (2006) as well as Kenney’s later “The User is (Still) Not Broken” (2014), the path toward innovation and continued success of libraries is an emphasis on the user. Doctorow is acutely aware of his users and appreciates their importance in the way he distributes his work. He further establishes this point by highlighting the importance of the individual, “That’s the purpose of copyright, after all: to decentralize who gets to make art” (p. 73). It is not for large organizations to decide, but for any participant to have the right to take part in creating and sharing information.

Doctorow also turns his attention towards the concept of Wikis as a space where there is a truly participant and collaborative culture enabled by the internet. He asks the question, “Can we merge composition and editorship into a single role, fusing our creative and critical selves?,” and then answers it himself, “You betcha” (p. 136). They type of collaboration involved in developing Wikis is similar to what Michael Casey calls for in his post “Revisiting Participatory Service in Trying Times” (2011). In it, Casey wonders why libraries have remained somewhat limited in their use of emerging technologies to foster true participation on the part of users. It is easy to use new systems of sharing information to spread news and ideas, but to actually allow users to contribute themselves is the goal of 2.0 libraries moving forward.

Although I have gotten a bit carried away with this post, I said I would return to the For the Win introduction, and I will do so to continue discussing innovation in participation and interconnectivity. After receiving numerous emails offering donations because of his free online model, Doctorow created a fund that would allow teachers and librarians to receive free copies of the novel for their libraries or classrooms. He writes that this system has put more than a thousand books into the hands of readers in schools and libraries (p. 3). This anecdote about the impact that his copyright philosophy has had reminded me of Michael Stephens’ post about keeping, sharing, and making stories (2017). Doctorow’s philosophy allows stories to be kept and shared easily, which in turn lets new users make their own stories by participating in the ones he created and sharing them with others. He advocates for a change in the way we use technology and a new approach to copyright that aligns with the evolution of libraries and librarianship.

Works Cited

Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Retrieved from: https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Doctorow, C. (2008). Content: Selected essays on technology, creativity, copyright, and the future of the future. Retrieved from: https://craphound.com/context/download/

Doctorow, C. (2010). For the win. Retrieved from: https://craphound.com/ftw/download/

Kenney, B. (2014). The user is (still) not broken. Retrieved from: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/60780-the-user-is-still-not-broken.html

Kenney, B. (2016). Three ways publishers and libraries can work better together. Retrieved from: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/69404-three-ways-publishers-and-libraries-can-work-better-together.html

Scheider, K.G. (2006). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Retrieved from: http://freerangelibrarian.com/2006/06/03/the-user-is-not-broken-a-meme-masquerading-as-a-manifesto/

Stephens, M. (2017). Telling stories. Retrieved from: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=telling-stories-office-hours

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Change and Tradition

There was so much to think about in the module this week on the model of the hyperlinked library that I have been finding some difficulty in deciding how to narrow down my thoughts. I would like to focus on two key concepts that seem to me to be at the core of the hyperlinked library model and to ask a question that pertains to something (hopefully) coming up in my life.

The idea that the world has changed and is continuing to change with the development of the Web is not a new concept. However, the fact that we are having to adapt to and contend with constant change gives rise to a new mindset and core skillset that are necessary for success in this world. I particularly appreciate the heartfelt conviction for meeting the needs of people around the world expressed in the first chapter of Michael Stephens’ The Heart of Librarianship (2016) and Steve Denning’s Forbes article “Do We Need Libraries?” (2015). Each author emphasizes a policy of not only asking users for input and incorporating user-centric practices in libraries, but also seeking to place the success and well-being of the user at the forefront. Denning’s “fourth question,” “What needs could libraries meet that users haven’t even thought of yet?” speaks to this idea that librarians as “facilitator(s) and guide(s)” (Stephens 2016) need to be creative innovators rather than simply performing the same reference tasks that have been performed for decades. Stephens emphasizes that we should be wary of the statement “We’ve always done it this way” (p. 13) as a sign of tradition remaining unchanged out of habit rather than intention.

This dichotomy of change and tradition made me think about a job that I am currently applying for as a library assistant at the UC Davis Mabie Law Library. As an undergraduate at Davis I heard stories about the law library being intensely quiet, full of students who would glare at anyone who made a sound and who would check out important course books so other students would not have access to them before an important exam in order to improve their own class rankings. While I have no way of verifying these stories, my perception of the library is as the most traditional form of library, one centered on physically books with minimal noise or interaction. Thinking about change as it is discussed in the readings for this module in library practice, organizational structure, and purpose has made me wonder how specialized libraries like a law library for students of a specific professional school might fit in with the hyperlinked library model. I am not sure what my exact question is, but I still wonder if there is a place for the more traditional library (although not endorsing the behavior of the students in the stories above) in this rapidly changing world and field.