Kindle Unlimited

I wrote the following post for the iSchool’s Information Space Blog. Thought folks here might find it useful.

Can I tell you why I’m so excited about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service? Because, aside from all my publications with academic presses and journals, I am an independent publisher. My book, Expect More, was published as a physical copy and digital copy through Amazon’s tools. What’s better, I’m automatically part of Kindle Unlimited, and maybe this will get me more readers. You see, the vast majority of the 600,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited are self-published books.Want the top sellers in the New York Times list? Ah, go to a library.

Surprised that a professor of library and information science isn’t all that worried about the fate of libraries (mostly public libraries) in the light of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited launching it’s “Netflix for Books?” Don’t be. Amazon joins a pretty crowded field, including Overdrive,Scribd, and Oyster. What’s more, Amazon is leading with 600,000 items, where libraries have access to tens of millions of titles…seriously.

Perhaps, you may think, I am an ivory tower academic blind to the coming disruptive change…like when the Internet was going to put libraries out of business… then Google…then Netflix…then Yahoo! Answers. Here’s the plain truth: there is a HUGE disruptive change happening in libraries, and it is facilitated by things like Google and Kindle Unlimited. Libraries are shifting from collection-focused buildings to centers of innovation focused on communities. If you think of libraries as places filled with books, you are in for a bit of a shock. Any library that can be replaced by a $10 a month subscription to stuff SHOULD be replaced.

Kids watching a 3D printer working

Kids at the Fayetteville Free Library watch a 3D Printer in action. Image via 3ders.org.

Let me give you a small example of what I mean. My wife recently had to be out of town for 2 weeks, so I got single-father duty. The majority of those days we were at the library. We were there so the kids could 3D print iPhone cases for their friends, borrow games, and join Minecraft groups. Did they check out books? Sure, on our way out…if we had time. Why was the public library doing all of these things? To meet the library’s mission of improving their community through knowledge creation. My kids were learning through books, sure, but also video games, Do It Yourself (DIY) printing, and by interacting with other folks in the community. In the coming weeks, the same library is having DIY sessions on home improvement, including electrical work…I NEED that.

Now, this might seem a flippant response to a major technology mover. After all, was there nothing in Amazon’s move that worried me? Oh yes…hell yes if I’m allowed to swear on this blog. It terrifies me and should terrify you how Amazon is currently working to break publishers and pursue a monopoly in book sales. They are making information unavailable to their customers trying to improve their position in the market. They are making titles harder or impossible to find out of a drive to the bottom line, not the good of the people.

Comic depicting what would happen if big ISPs were allowed to charge for tiered internet access.

An example of the consequences of the end of Net Neutrality. Image via commoncause.org.

But honestly, that is nowhere near as scary as things like network neutrality, where Internet Service Providers are trying to figure out how to monetize your viewing habits and pick the winners and losers in new Internet services. And that, frankly, pales in comparison to digital sharecropping, where huge corporations get massive billion-dollar valuations based on the content and work of their “users.” I mean, who is using whom when YouTube gets bought by Google for over a billion dollars and not one video producer saw a dime?

So are there scary things going on? Yup? Thank God we have some folks who are in the information industry and base their work on century-old values.Thank goodness there are information professionals that continue to maintain an internationally-distributed network of local knowledge hubs dedicated to community engagement and free and fair access to the life blood of democracy: information. Thank goodness there are librarians who long ago realized that it is not the size of your collection, but the reach of your community that really matters.

By the way, if you have $10 a month lying around, try Marvel Unlimited. If you are a comic book fan it is fricken incredible.

EveryLibrary Rapid Response Fund

I love this idea. I have been a big fan of EveryLibrary since it started. They are doing good work for a good cause (libraries) and they are doing it in a smart way. Their latest effort, Rapid Response Fund, will allow them to help libraries at the 11th hour:

“Our Rapid Response Fund is designed to amplify the voices of local library advocates during a crisis by supporting paid ads for outreach and action. “

I urge you to take a look: http://everylibrary.org/rapid-response-fund/

Exploring Digital Libraries

I was delighted to find a copy of Karen Calhoun’s Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects in my mail. While many may know of my more recent work around new librarianship, I spent a good amount of my time as a starting scholar in the world of digital libraries.

One thing that always bothered me about the digital library field was a sort of bipolar approach to the topic. On one side were the computer scientists, and on the other the librarians. To be sure there were plenty of folks who bridged this world, but the literature and meetings felt like a sort of parallel play.

This is why I love Karen’s new book. She has done an amazing job of capturing the digital library world from the 90’s to today. She does this not as some sort of annotated bibliography, but as a conceptual evolution. You can see the development of digital libraries from collections of stuff, to communities of interest.

She also merges the disparate worlds of computer science and library science together in a masterful way. She uses the history to create a robust platform for understanding digital libraries today…in essence making the field feel relevant and refreshed. If you have a chance I strongly recommend the book.

Here is some additional information:

Calhoun, Karen. 2014. Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects. Chicago: ALA Neal-Schuman.
(table of contents available at http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=4247)

Facet has prepared a chapter by chapter synopsis at http://www.slideshare.net/amarintha/exploring-digital-libraries-chapter-by-chapter-summary.

EveryLibrary.org Libraries Get Their Own PAC

Nope, that’s not PAC as in “Publicly Accessible Catalog.” That’s PAC as in “Political Action Committee,” and it is about time.

I was very excited to hear about EveryLibrary. A PAC that it is dedicated to:

…support these [local library funding] campaigns through non-partisan, pro-library voter education and get out the vote work. “We want to work with the local committee to enhance their efforts,” says Chrastka. “We will work best when we work with you. This new national library PAC will make a real difference in your tax or bond campaign.”

I love it! Non-partisan, pro-library, and local. More than making folks feel good about libraries, or love reading, here is an organization meant to directly support libraries at the local level with funding. Workbooks and lectures are good, but now here is some serious rubber meets the road support. This will never support the grassroots support we need from our communities, but it certainly will help foster that support. Instead of seeing ourselves as victims or pawns to politicians (“quick get a picture by the books”), we now can build an alley in the fray.

Here is the full press release:

For Immediate Release
September 5, 2012

Contact: John Chrastka,
john.chrastka@everylibrary.org
312-574-0316

EveryLibrary – a National PAC for Libraries

EveryLibrary is launching today as the first and only national political action committee (PAC) for libraries. Focused exclusively on local library ballot initiatives and measures, EveryLibrary is dedicated to helping libraries win at election time. The organization, found online at www.everylibrary.org, will fundraise nationally to support local library ballot committees and PACs, and provide them with technical support and consultancy on how to run – and win – at the ballot box.

“EveryLibrary is built on the idea that any library ballot initiative anywhere matters to every library everywhere,” says John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary. “EveryLibrary will allow us to raise funds and support specific ballot measures that keep libraries open and thriving. Elections are the “last mile” of library advocacy and this new PAC is an amazing opportunity for our community to talk directly to voters.”

During each election cycle, library districts and other jurisdictions put hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds, milliages, levys, and other taxing authority on local ballots. EveryLibrary will be organized as a 501c4 social welfare organization to support these campaigns through non-partisan, pro-library voter education and get out the vote work. “We want to work with the local committee to enhance their efforts,” says Chrastka. “We will work best when we work with you. This new national library PAC will make a real difference in your tax or bond campaign.”

EveryLibrary is conducting a $50,000 fundraising round from September 5 to November 7, 2012 to underwrite the fees associated with its legal filings and to create campaign toolkits, voter education materials, and messaging targeted to 2013 election initiatives. Visit http://rally.org/everylibrary to learn more and to donate today. Individuals, corporations, unions, and certain foundations are eligible to donate. EveryLibrary will use donations to support local committees and PACs while providing technical assistance to campaigns.

More information about EveryLibrary can be found online at www.everylibrary.org and via social media at www.facebook.com/everylibrary or @EveryLibrary on Twitter. Donations made via http://rally.org/everylibrary are secure but not tax deductible for income purposes.

Beyond the Bullet Points: IFLA Code of Ethics

IFLA just released “IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers” (you can read it here http://www.ifla.org/files/faife/publications/IFLA%20Code%20of%20Ethics%20-%20Long_0.pdf) and to call is disappointing is putting it mildly. There are few documents that so clearly represent a collection centric worldview. That is, libraries are collections, and librarians jobs are about maintaining (and circulating) that collection.

To be sure there is some good stuff here (I’m all for ethics). Yet every time it gets a good head of steam, it veers back into the old school presumed safety of objectivity, and stacks. It also assumes throughout that all the professional ethics are practiced in a library. It seems that librarians and information professionals don’t need to care about ethics unless they work in a library.

I’ve devoted the better part of a decade to countering this collection-centric worldview so I won’t rehash that decode in this post. You want to see my take on ethics, you can here. Instead let me point out some particularly problematic parts of this code:

From the preamble –

This code is offered in the belief that:
Librarianship is, in its very essence, an ethical activity embodying a value-rich approach to professional work with information.
The need to share ideas and information has grown more important with the increasing complexity of society in recent centuries and this provides a rationale for libraries and the practice of librarianship.

So far so good.

The role of information institutions and professionals, including libraries and librarians, in modern society is to support the optimisation of the recording and representation of information and to provide access to it.

That’s right, your job a a librarian is optimization. Not to improve society, not to make a difference. Your job is to make the printer to work faster and get those suckers to the shelves (or CD’s, or online searchable databases). How about that for inspiring passion.

Information service in the interest of social, cultural and economic well-being is at the heart of librarianship and therefore librarians have social responsibility.

Remember this line for later when we get to neutrality. For now, can someone explain to me how optimization of recording representation of information (at least we can agree it is not information itself) is a social good?

OK, that’s just the preamble. Off to the actual ethics. First up, Access to Information”

The core mission of librarians and other information workers is to ensure access to information for all for personal development, education, cultural enrichment, leisure, economic activity and informed participation in and enhancement of democracy.

Now I actually really love the second part of this statement. The problem is it is not the ethical responsibility to actually further communities education or participation in democracy…nope, we ensure access [to a collection] that will do that for us. Read: librarians are passive and our effect is from our collections.

Librarians and other information workers reject the denial and restriction of access to information and ideas most particularly through censorship whether by states, governments, or religious or civil society institutions.

Surely, I can’t have any problems with resisting censorship you say. And you would be right. Of course, resisting is an active verb that would imply we do more than reject it (rejecting a denial at that), but actually fight against it and arm our communities to do so as well. Of course the idea of doing anything with our communities would imply that we are more than just collections, and that doesn’t fit in this document.

Librarians and other information workers offering services to the public should make every endeavour to offer access to their collections and services free of cost to the user. If membership fees and administrative charges are inevitable, they should be kept as low as possible, and practical solutions found so that socially disadvantaged people are not excluded.

Read…you are a collection and an institution. Apparently if you are an embedded librarian or work in places other than a library no ethics for you.

Librarians and other information workers promote and publicise their collection and services so that users and prospective users are aware of their existence and availability.

Do we promote our skills? Do we promote our communities? Nope, our collections and services (presumably in relation to the collection).

I actually like section 2. RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETY. There is still an emphasis on collections, but at least it acknowledges that we live in a community and that community has a culture we must respect.

Section 3 is pretty good with the exception of…

The relationship between the library and the user is one of confidentiality and librarians and other information workers will take appropriate measures to ensure that user data is not shared beyond the original transaction.

This is so un-nuanced I cannot stand it. It just begs for an additional clause on the end about “without the knowing approval of the user.” Don’t even get me started on the term user. It is well intentioned here, I just hate the term.

Section 4 is fine, until you realize it is all about other people’s intellectual property rights. Underlying the entire section is an assumption that libraries are places of consumption that build collections through acquisition, as opposed to community creation.

But then we come to section 5. NEUTRALITY, PERSONAL INTEGRITY AND PROFESSIONAL SKLLS and I run to my keyboard.

Librarians and other information workers are strictly committed to neutrality and an unbiased stance regarding collection, access and service. Neutrality results in the most balanced collection and the most balanced access to information achievable.

Neutral has the same root as neuter. Now I won’t go through a lengthy conversation about how we as human beings cannot be neutral, nor ever leave the biases built into us as individuals and as a society. I’ve done it other places. Instead let me ask how in the world can neutral people provide “information service in the interest of social, cultural and economic well-being is at the heart of librarianship and therefore librarians have social responsibility” as stated above. If we see libraries as important in the social scheme that is not neutral. If we talk about social responsibility, we are biased towards the norms of that society. If libraries are going to do anything other than collect and wait, HOW CAN WE BE NEUTRAL? This very document screams bias. It shows a clear bias towards open access…hardly universal. It shows a clear bias towards transparency, and equitable access. THESE ARE ALL BIASES. Just because we agree with them doesn’t make them neutral. Librarians are heavily biased towards access and equity.

I would so have loved IFLA to take on the much richer, and much more messy discussion of ethics in the real world. Ethics in the world of majority and minority world views. Ethics that acknowledge individual biases, and ways of overcoming, or at least representing them. As it is this line reads like a piece of throwaway fluff that totally avoids the hard questions of context, and social definitions of right and wrong.

Librarians and other information workers define and publish their policies for selection, organisation, preservation, provision, and dissemination of information.

…because that is all librarians do after all is build collections.

Librarians and other information workers distinguish between their personal convictions and professional duties. They do not advance private interests or personal beliefs at the expense of neutrality.

Wait…what? Oh, I see. We are all biased individuals, we as librarians just have a special super power to turn off those biases and forget we are human beings. This line at least gets closer to reality. We should talk about intellectual honesty, about representing both majority and minority viewpoints in a transaction (really a relationship) with members.

Librarians and other information workers have the right to free speech in the workplace provided it does not infringe the principle of neutrality towards users.

Sigh…does anyone else see the inherent problem with the concept that neutrality is a choice? Either you can be neutral or not.

Librarians and other information workers counter corruption directly affecting librarianship, as in the sourcing and supply of library materials, appointments to library posts and administration of library contracts and finances.

AAAARRRRGGGGG!!!!! So let me get this straight…librarians only care about corruption that directly affects librarians? The rest of the community has to fend for itself. Take a bribe and screw the poor is OK, as long as it doesn’t effect our materials budget?! Oh, and we’re back to the library as a collection, because the only way that corruption can effect libraries is through our materials (because we’re only a collection), hiring in a library, and library money.

OK, there is my rant for the day. To be honest there is some really good stuff in here about librarians needing to be open, collegial and constantly learning. However, the underlying worldview is that librarians work in libraries, and that libraries are collections. The focus is on libraries buying stuff, and lending it out to users. This not only ignores the reality of being human and how people learn, it creates internal contradictions that ultimately turn this potentially important document into jingoistic truisms.

Be ethical, not just when you’re in a library, but all the time. Fight corruption, and discrimination, and censorship all the time, and actively. See your community as more than users that must be coddled and protected. Librarians are ethical, and noble and have a rightful claim to the moral high ground. We take that right not from being passive and neutral, but by being ADVOCATES for the well-being of our communities. Our ethics define us as librarians, so we should take better care to ground those ethics in a worldview that reflects a focus on community and learning, not collections and institutions. We can do better, and our communities should expect more of us.

SU for School Librairans

Here is a short video on the importance of school librarians Ruth Small, Barbara Stripling (vote Barb for ALA President), and I put together to support the lobby for school librarian in down state NY.

Twitter Digest for 2012-02-22

Twitter Digest for 2012-02-15

Twitter Digests

I have not been that active blogging these days, but I have been busy on Twitter. So I’m having my Twitter digest publish to my blog (perhaps you have noticed). I’m working on the format and frequency (was daily, not trying a weekly Twitter Digest) so bear with me.