Monday, August 16, 2010

Internet Broadband and "The Tragedy of the Commons"

I read for the first time Garrett Hardin's excellent 1968 article, "The Tragedy of the Commons", after someone brought it up on the ngc4lib discussion list in reference to the Google-Verizon broadband proposal. While Hardin speaks as an expert in biology, I like his use of philosophy in building his argument. For example, he invokes A.N. Whitehead's definition of 'tragedy': "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things ... This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama". (p. 1244f.);  and quotes Charles Frankel on 'Responsibility', i.e., "the product of definite social arrangements" (1247), which is to say that it depends on context. While hard to summarize, Hardin's essay can be said to frame human overpopulation (along with consequences such as air pollution and other species' extinction), as a classic 'tragedy of the commons', and argues that neither appeals to conscience (as per Jeremy Bentham) nor enlightened self-interest (as per Adam Smith), but only mutually-agreed-upon behavior modification (e.g., coercive laws, tax disincentives), can save us from our current (as of 1968 at least) out-of-control procreation.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fun with Drupal

Haven't posted much here lately, partly because I've been messing around with Drupal. See dsl_drupal feed in right navigation panel.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Massive Disruptive Change at the Network Level

Two interesting reports: Schonfeld &  Housewright's  "Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, publishers, and Societies" (Ithika, 2010) and Michalko, Malpas, & Arcolio's  "Research Libraries, Risk and Systemic Change" (OCLC Research, 2010).

The Ithika report (from the folks who bring us JSTOR) continues a longitudinal study begun in 2000 to gauge faculty perception of how digital technologies and services are affecting research, teaching, and scholarly communication. The 2009 questionnaire was sent to 35,184 faculty members, with a response rate of about 8.6% (3,025). Chapter 1, on "Discovery and the Evolving Role of the Library" interested (and alarmed) me the most since it describes an erosion of libraries' traditional 'gateway' role as an increasing number of resources become available online and companies like Google compete to provide access (see e.g., p. 12). Based on the survey data, the authors contend that "the academic library is increasingly being disintermediated from the discovery process, risking irrelevance in one of its core functional areas." This evolution seems virtually complete in the case of  physics (or at least high energy particle physics). Partly due to the continuing importance of locally-owned print monographs, however, and therefore local discovery tools, the humanities and certain social sciences still rely on library mediation for resource discovery. The authors suggest that the "most urgent challenge facing academic library leaders" is to decide whether to reach out more to the scientists for whom the library stopped serving as a knowledge portal and thus risk losing the humanists or to continue to focus on the needs of humanists at the risk of further alienating the scientists. (The social scientists are somewhat caught in the middle in this scenario). Moreover, "Libraries need to regularly assess whether their constituents continue to use and value the gateway services that they provide to ensure that the level of investments being made are justified by the benefits being gained by their constituents" (p. 12). How would this apply to the Yufind project?

By contrast, the role of the library as 'buyer' or 'purchasing agent" is more appreciated than ever, perhaps due to shrinking acquisition budgets and growing need to have the library coordinate digital licensing across academic departments.

Chapter 2 o fthe Ithika report focuses on the growing acceptance of digital publications as definitive (i.e., not derivative from print) and digital repositories as a reasonable long-term preservation strategy. Chapter 3 looks at changes in scholarly communication, and continuing resistance from authors to e-only, open access journals. As long as tenure committees continue to rate traditional journals most highly, policies to encourage alternatives, like institutional depository mandates, are unlikely to succeed. While electronic preprints in arXiv is a great boon for physicists, even in their case "the published article remains all-important" (p. 29), and rapidly supplants the eprint once available in published form. Moreover, even among disciplines that value free access most highly, "a journal being well-read among one's peers is the most important characteristic in its selection, and in every case free availability is among the least important" (p. 26). This doesn't mean that everyone's happy with this arrangement. In fact, "one-third of faculty members strongly agree that tenure and promotion practices 'unnecessarily constrain' their publishing choices'" (p. 32).

The second report, from OCLC Research, is based on interviews with 15 ARL library directors in the United States. The introduction states that "in 2008 OCLC Research engaged an organization experienced in conducting risk assessments for corporate, governmental and education clients with the objective of identifying the most significant risks facing research libraries." One concern I have is that the risk assessment firm is never mentioned by name in the report. This seems like a pretty important detail. 

As reported in the section called "Risk Cluster observations" library directors worry that non-library actors are doing a better job making resources available and usable and "our current value proposition can't compete with the alternative service provider" (p. 12). The perceived result is a "defection of the library user base" (p. 15). Not surprisingly, perhaps, given the provenance of this report, the authors "do not regard these as risks that the individual libraries can reasonably hope to mitigate, rather, they demand join action at the group and network level." Other major concerns among ARL library directors include a dearth of leadership potential among younger library staff and an "organizational culture that inhibits innovation".

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

OCLC putting Squeeze on MSU?

Karen Coyle has an interesting (and alarming) post on OCLC's punishing treatment of Michigan State University after the MSU Library chose SkyRiver over WorldCat for its cataloging operations. It appears that even after MSU's switch, the Library still wanted to contribute records back to WorldCat for ILL purposes and expected to pay the advertised rate of $0.23 per record. In fact, OCLC wanted to charge the equivalent of $2.85 per record. This was unaffordable and led MSU's Clifford Haka to write, "While we will continue with OCLC for ILL, I regret that our newer holdings will not be available for others to consult." Coyle remarks: "I find it astonishing at any corporation would choose to punish customers rather to work to with them back. I also find it astonishing that OCLC is willing to keep current customers through threats in fear." Worth reading her full post.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Metadata Services Toolkit ready for Production?

I was impressed with Jennifer Bowen's demo at ALA and installed the software on my local machine once I got back. I wrote up some specifics at CMS blog.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Programming Skills Recommended for Librarians

There's an article by David Stuart in the latest issue of Research Information entitled: "Research Skills could Transform Librarians Roles". Because someone tagged it "code4lib" in delicious , the citation showed up in Planet Code4Lib. I was happy to discover it there since it helps me understand my own growing enthusiasm for programming. The reality today is that most people search for information on the web and most are satisfied with 'good enough' results rather than 'most authoritative' results.  No need for librarians in this scenario. For research purposes, though, 'good enough' is often not good enough. In an age of inoformation superabundance, separating the wheat from the chaff (or what librarians call'selecting') may be more important than ever. At the very least we can help our readers make this distinction for themselves by designing transparent, user-friendly research portals.. Stuart points out that while the traditional document-centered work of librarians is disappearing there's a growing need to help make sense of vast amounts of digital information published on the Web. Getting programming skills in the hands of librarians can help. APIs makes it easier than ever to create mashups of web content from debatable sources like Wikipedia as well as more traditional sources like the New York Times. While it is preferable in the long-run to harness APIs through a programming langauge like Java or PHP, there's a lot one can do with freely-available mashup editors like  Yahoo! Pipes and Openkapow, along with open data sources like those tracked in programmableweb.com

Here at Yale, Yufind is using the Amazon, Google, xISBN, and Wikipedia APIs, plugged in mostly through PHP scripts. After reclamation with OCLC, we'll probably add the WorldCat Search API which should help display Yale's holdings alongside those held by peer institutions.  While APIs allow us to integrate a host of data sources into our web applications, some of the most important data sources are necessarily firewalled. For example, we might want to use circulation statistics at some point to support a recommendations engine (e.g., '90% of people who read this book have also read the following'). Because we have access to these data, and because we understand local user needs, librarians are well placed to integrate them into new discovery tools. And programming knowledge can help make happen a lot more quickly.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Report on Harvard Libraries

A high-level Harvard task force urges closer cooperation and a unified strategic plan among the university's 73 separate libraries (and with peer institutions). I posted a few notes on the CMS blog.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Stephen Abram's anti-OSS position paper

I posted some links about Abram's position paper (and mostly negative feedback) over at the CMS blog

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Cartoon Worth a Thousand Words

I think this Jim Morin cartoon pretty much hits the nail on the head:

Why are you dithering?

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Monday, October 26, 2009

White House deploys Open-Source Drupal

Whitehouse.gov is now Drupal-powered. I commented on this (and Drupal use in libraries) over at the CMS blog.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

U.S. Industrial Decline (as viewed from Germany)

A thoughtful and poignant (if also left-slanted) essay from the Berliner Umschau, translated by Watching America: "American De-Industrialization Continues Unabated."

This part in particular made me wince: "When word gradually spread that Detroit automobiles were of inferior quality, all three American car manufacturers responded with attempts to inoculate their customers with doses of chauvinism: Buy American! Dealerships were festooned with American flags and banners. This took on a life of its own with auto dealers competing with one another to have the biggest flag. When the foreign journalist mentioned earlier last returned to the United States, he reported seeing a gargantuan American flag flying over a dealership on a 150-foot flagpole. Instead of flying gigantic flags, no one apparently ever came up with the idea of building better cars."

(Note: glancing at the car section of the Consumer Reports Buying Guide for 2008, it's clear the U.S. still trails Japan and Germany on quality and reliability.)

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Jung's Red Book to be Published after typed drafts found at Beinecke and Elsewhere

The New York Times Magazine 9/30/09 cover story, “ The Holy Grail of the Unconscious: What the Unearthing of Carl Jung's Red Book is Doing to the Jungs and the Jungians (and maybe your Dreams)", recounts how the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology” is now about to be published.

Jung's complete illustrated manuscript had been locked away in a safe deposit box for many years by his heirs. Recently, though, two incomplete and un-illustrated typed drafts of the Red Book were discovered, one at the home of Jung’s transcriptionist's daughter, and the other at Yale’s Beinecke Library "in an uncataloged box of papers belonging to a well-known German publisher."

In order to prevent selective, unauthorized quotation from the typed drafts, the family decided it was time, 100 years after Jung wrote it, to allow the original mansucript to be scanned and published .

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