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March 31, 2005

Digital preservation and newspaper archives

Victoria McCargar, Associate Technology Editor of the Los Angeles Times has written an article on newspaper archives and digital preservation. It's currently available for free/without subscription. There's also a PDF version of the entire issue.

Research on a global scale is under way to find solutions to preserving born-digital content, but it's a field limited almost exclusively to academic and research libraries, national archives and bureaucratic record keepers - professionals invested with a defined responsibility to keep digital files alive and accessible for a long time.

So it is ironic that even as they're publishing stories about data fragility, newspapers haven't quite made the connection with what is going on in their own electronic morgues. (I refer throughout to newspaper archives, but in fact the same issues affect other news media collections as well - for that matter, any data collection that is supposed to last indefinitely.)

The fact is, photo and multimedia databases, and even text databases are potentially shorter-lived than yellowing newsprint, and some formats in use today will ultimately prove more unstable than chemical color photography. Indeed, the very technologies that have enabled the rapid dissemination of news are conspiring to create a generation-size gap in the historic record.

March 29, 2005

Tasini settlement

Finally, a number ...

The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union today announced the filing of a motion for court approval of an $18 million settlement in a class action suit they and 21 freelance writers filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers whose stories appeared in online databases without their consent. They expect preliminary court approval of the settlement within the next month.


Under the terms of the settlement, publishers including the New York Times, Time Inc., and the Wall Street Journal and database companies including Dow Jones Interactive, Knight-Ridder, Lexis-Nexis, Proquest, and West Group agreed to pay writers up to $1,500 for stories in which the writers had registered the copyright in accordance with timetables established in federal copyright law. Writers who failed to register their copyrights will receive up to $60 per article; the organizations believe that many such writers will have valid claims for hundreds of such articles.

All that, for $18 mil? Didn't the New York Times just offer to pay $410 mil for one web company?

March 28, 2005

1st Amendment Project in need of funds

From Neil Gaimain's blog:

... Michael Chabon just wrote to let me know that the First Amendment Project is financially out on the edge...

I'm on the board of the First Amendment Project. It's a nonprofit advocacy organization that among other functions provides legal counsel to writers, artists, journalists and others facing prosecution on first amendment grounds--an organization "dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition." Recently the Project represented the teenager, George T., who was prosecuted AND CONVICTED on criminal charges in California for writing violent poems. The appeals court overturned the conviction.

The Project is also planning a campaign to combat and remedy the shocking deficit of respect for and understanding of First Amendment issues revealed by that recent Knight-Ridder poll of American young people.

They're also about to run out of money. They went broke defending a San Diego environmental activist who was sued by a huge real estate developer for petitioning to protect bald eagles. The plaintiffs tried--and failed--to sue her under RICO (federal anti-racketeering!) laws!

TFAP won the court battle but it was a classic Pyrrhic victory. One more like that and they are lost.

They need money.

There is so much to care about and we face so many demands for our time, attention, and money. I know. But the First Amendment... it all starts there, doesn't it? It seems to me that there's really no point to anything else without that basic guarantee.

If you could manage to contribute even just a little, it would make a difference. I hope you will. And I'll hope you'll forgive this importunate but timely plea.

You can make a donation just by clicking here or entering https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=4512 in your browser.



March 23, 2005

The Info Poor

[Caveat: it's long and rambling and disjointed, in part from being stuck in my head for too long. My apologies if it makes little to no sense ...]

I happily recommend the notes from Jessamyn West's talk on the information poor earlier this week at UNC. Jeff Pomerantz also has a nice set of notes about the talk. It's not that Jessamyn's other presentations leave me cold ... by no means. But the info poor has been on my mind for a long time.

Jessamyn's focus is on a rural population. My concerns (which are still vague, so I'm not about to present a manifesto here) are on urban, lower-class communities. Others are especially concerned about the information (and other) needs of the homeless or language minorities. There is some controversy over whether the Digital Divide still exists, but the info poor and the info apathetic predate and will outlive the divide.

Mind you, I do not plan to become, nor am I qualified to be, an advocate on such issues. I am a policy geek and a slave to theory. I'm more than willing (and even able) to talk copyright all day long. And yet, when I sense that people are being left behind in the race for new, better, faster info dissemination, it gets to me. And when those people get written off as simply not having the right priorities ... it bugs me.

Last summer, I had the grand and glorious opportunity to intern at a large newspaper. Part of the experience were weekly intern lunchs where we had guest speakers from various departments of the newspaper. One week, the publisher spoke at length with us about the future of U.S. newspapers. It was an interesting talk -- he talked about personalization and customization and niches, the downward spiral of "broadcast" journalism (as in one newspaper for a vast, diverse population) and subscription models of tiers of content + value-added services. But during the Q&A, I had to ask (as the most media-inexperienced person in the room, AND a librarian): what about your poor readers? How do you plan to keep relevant coverage and an affordable product for those least able but most in need of it?

People were more than slightly confused. And mostly silent. But one of the HR people countered with (paraphrasing): I have gone to visit relatives in a really poor, disadvantaged section of Baton Rouge (?), and there's a satellite dish on every single home/apt. building/etc. People don't buy the newspaper because they can't afford it, but because they don't want it -- the implication being that if they end up missing out on important information that's relevant to their work/lives/environment, then perhaps they shouldn't have put out for the premium subscriptions for 4 ESPN channels instead of taking out a newspaper subscription. For some, that may be true. For others, it's not. (We ended up playing "Trump the Poor Relations" -- I pointed out that my mother has never had cable.)

The person who pointed this out wasn't being callous. The publisher wasn't being greedy. The people who talk about being on the cutting (or bleeding) edge of technology and information distribution without mention of those who lag behind aren't being elitist. I wouldn't even venture to say that they are wrong.

But when I look at what's being talked about in this brave new world of grassroots journalism, podcasting and new media, I worry that some people are already being, and will continue to be, left in the wake of these changes. I'm very relieved that people like Jessamyn are willing to make a case for, and work with, the information poor.

March 21, 2005

FDLP article and comments

I've mentioned before that there's already a scholarly paper on the proposed changes to the Federal Depository Library Program.

The authors of that paper now have a blog devoted to government information called, appropriately enough, Free Government Information. Specifically, they are looking for comments on their paper ... if you have thoughts on the paper or on the GPO changes, feel free to comment at this post. The comments will be informally presented at the Depository Library Council meeting next month.

March 20, 2005

Cloudy days?

At the end of Sunshine Week, there's this [reg. req'd. and isn't bugmenot a wonderful service ...]:

State law gives you the right to see public records and attend government meetings. But now the government wants the power to sue you for asking.

North Carolina's cities and other government agencies are pursuing that authority in two ways:

First, lawyers for local governments and the University of North Carolina are talking about pushing for a new state law allowing pre-emptive lawsuits against citizens, news organizations and private companies to clarify the law when there is a dispute about providing records or opening meetings.

Second, the city of Burlington is appealing a ruling last year by the state Court of Appeals that said the government can't take people to court to try to block their access to records or meetings.

Citizens can sue the government over records, the court said, but not the reverse. The state Supreme Court takes up that case next month and is expected to settle the issue.

March 15, 2005

Scholarly link rot

If I can access this, this may make me happy.

STUDY SHOWS ONLINE CITATIONS DON'T AGE WELL A study conducted by two academics at Iowa State University has shown a remarkably high rate of "decay" for online citations. Michael Bugeja, professor of journalism and communication, and Daniela Dimitrova, assistant professor of communication, looked at five prestigious communication-studies journals from 2000 to 2003 and found 1,126 footnotes that cite online resources. Of those, 373 did not work at all, a decay rate of 33 percent; of those that worked, only 424 took users to information relevant to the citation. In one of the journals in the study, 167 of 265 citations did not work. Bugeja compared the current situation to that of Shakespearean plays in the early days of printing, when many copies of plays were fraught with errors due to the instability of the printing medium. Anthony T. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University and author of a book on footnotes, agreed that citation decay is a real and growing problem, describing the situation as "a world in which documentation and verification melt into air." Chronicle of Higher Education, 14 March 2005 (sub. req'd)

Why does this make me happy? Because I wrote about this a year ago:

it also makes me wonder about scholarship. If I understand the point of citation, it's not only for validation (i.e. I'm not making this stuff up), it's also for accessibility. Just like scientific results have the requirement of reproducible results in order to be consider valid, scholarship requires that we are able to go beyond the piece in hand to read and evaluate what influenced it, whether the evidence offered is in proper context, etc.

Of course, there are many organizations that are working very hard to keep potentially ephemeral resources available to generations of scholars. But there's going to be a lot of material that may be of interest and relevance to you and your research, but may not be accessible to your audience by the time they read your research.

This begs, to me, two sets of questions:

1) Are we going to find a way to cite dead or inaccessible sources? Is the situation with lost electronic resources analogous to rare, out-of-print or non-published manuscripts and other works? Does the scholar say to his audience, "I saw this, I evaluated/critiqued it correctly, this citation was correct at the time it was generated, you have to trust me on this?"

It's not like they took my advice or anything, but it's nice to know it wasn't simply idle chatter ...

March 13, 2005

Some progress from Salinas

From American Libraries:

Salinas Closures Temporarily Halted The Salinas (Calif.) city council voted 6�0 March 1 to keep its three libraries open 36 hours per week through mid-June and 8�10 hours per week from July to December, if Mayor Anna Caballero�s goal to raise $500,000 is reached before June 30. According to the March 2 Monterey County Herald, the action rescinds the council�s previous plan to keep the libraries open only one day a week. The city had voted in December to lose the branches one by one this spring due to an $8-million budget deficit.

�I think it�s just marvelous that they are committed to keeping this library system open in some way or another,� California State Librarian Susan Hildreth told American Libraries. �There is so much community activity on many different levels to try to define a permanent or more stable funding source for the library.�

But the latest action does not cancel the council�s decision to lay off 33 library workers. Nine full-time and two part-time workers will be rotated among the three libraries. Shifting block-grant money used for homework centers at the Cesar Chavez branch will fund their salaries.

The Salinas Californian has an article on the current fundraising efforts and includes an address for sending donations to the "Rally Salinas" fund mentioned in the AL article.

March 09, 2005

Natl Geo copyright case decision upheld

News librarians have been closely watching three cases regarding rights of freelance writers/photographers vs. those of publishers: Tasini v. New York Times [Tasini, i.e. the freelancers won], Greenberg v. National Geographic Inc. [freelancers won] and Faulkner v. National Geographic Enterprises Inc.

The 2nd Natl Geo case was decided last year, with the court deciding in favor of the magazine.

Now, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the lower court's ruling for Natl Geo.

In Tasini, the Supreme Court held that articles appearing on popular search engines that separate the articles from their context are not a protected "revision" under copyright law. As a result, the Court held that publishers had violated the rights of freelance authors in presenting these articles individually, out of the collective group in which they originally appeared.

The Court also noted, Judge Winter said, that collections placed on microfilm and microfiche were permissible uses of the copyright granted to publishers because these collections preserved the context in which the articles first appeared, unlike electronic databases, which separate them.

National Geographic's compilation included characteristics resembling microfiche.

There appears to be some conflict between the two Natl Geo cases. However, a key part of the 2nd Circuit Court's ruling is that the first case was decided before the Tasini decision and there has been a significant change in the law since the March 2001 finding of copyright infringement (which predates Tasini by only 3 months).

The big issue appears to be context. In Tasini, the republished works of the freelancers were made available separate from the other published material (whether through web archives or aggregated databases like Lexis/Nexis and Factiva). For Faulkner, the court has found that the circumstances of the digitization AND display made the CD-ROM compilation functionally equivalent to a microfilm of the magazine and thus non-infringing.

What does this mean (other than that news librarians won't slit their wrists over the unfairness of it all)? This could bolster electronic archiving and the idea that such products (CD compilations, PDF archives) may complement microfilm as a way of preserving the "paper of record". Replacing microfilm may be far off in the future, but one obstacle has been removed for those who are looking to towards that future.

Also, 4 of the 5 major U.S. library associations (no SLA in this one) filed an amicus brief in the appeal of the Greenberg decision, siding with Natl Geo and arguing that the CD compilation functioned like microfilm and supporting "the right of scholars and researchers to combine pre-existing works with the necessary software to provide a searching capability."

However, this appears to have no bearing on third-party digitization efforts, such as the Google deals. I'm sure lawyers and librarians can parse this out better than I can.

March 04, 2005

Public Action for Salinas Libraries

Distributed by Global Exchange:

Join an Historic 24-Hour Emergency Read-In
* Save the Salinas Public Libraries
* Celebrate Your Love of Books
Saturday, April 2nd, 1:00p.m.
to Sunday, April 3rd, 1:00p.m.
at Cesar Chavez Public Library, Salinas
Then at 1:00p.m. Sunday we will join festive Cesar Chavez Holiday Celebrations

ALL of Salinas's public libraries are scheduled to SHUT DOWN for lack of funds
We MUST not and WILL not allow this to happen

Libraries are the soul of our communities, providing vital services to all�especially the most low-income members and children. If we allow the Salinas libraries to close, we will see a wave of library closings throughout the country. We NEED YOU to help save our libraries!

Join famous authors, poets, elected officials, community folks and book lovers from all over the state for a 24-hour celebration of reading and literacy, starting at 1pm on Saturday, April 2nd and culminating on Sunday, April 3 with the yearly Cesar Chavez Holiday march and cultural celebration in Salinas. Bring your family, your sleeping bag, and your favorite books!!!

We will be calling on Governor Schwarzenegger and other state elected officials to find equitable solutions to pay for the operating costs of our libraries in poorer communities.

Can we unite to keep Salinas libraries open?
Si, Se Puede! Yes, we can!

Contact us for information on carpools, overnight accommodations, etc. Let us know you are coming. Find out how you can help. Email: sam@bayareacodepink.org, call 415-575-5555 or in Salinas 831-754-5554, or visit www.codepinkalert.org.
For more info on the libraries see www.savesalinaslibraries.org

Sponsors: United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Salinas Action League, CodePink: Women for Peace, Global Exchange, Vote! The Citizenship Project

Edit: information via Carole Leita -- SaveSalinasLibraries.org has made it easy to donate to their $500,000 campaign ($175,000 donated as of this post). You can now use PayPal.

March 03, 2005

Library Field Trip: Prelinger Library

The upside of not being fully employed is having free time during the week. So I took advantage of that and went to the Prelinger Library.

If the name Prelinger is familiar to you, Rick P. is a film archivist/preservationist who created the Prelinger Archive of ephemeral films (the digitized versions of which are hosted by the Internet Archive). However, this is a completely different project. Rick and his partner, Megan, have created and opened their own semi-public library.

The library is one large room in a semi-industrial space in the SOMA section of downtown San Francisco. It contains around 40,000 books, periodicals, government documents and ephemera contained along 6 shelves, some 15-20 feet in height (maybe more, I'm not good with spatial relations and I forgot to ask). There are a couple of desks, a copier and a flatbed scanner for making print and digital copies from materials, but there's no check-out available.

Okay, you should sit down now. Take a few deep breaths. Have a bit of vinegar handy to wave in front of your nose. Ready?

There's no catalog. There's no call number system of classification. There's not even rigorously enforced alphabetization of titles (or authors) within sections. It's deliberate and there's a philosophy behind it.

The library is organized by the subject interests of Megan and Rick, with related topics (as they see it) shelved next to each other. In the natural science area, you have water data followed by weather material, followed by air material, then fire material. Works dealing with graphic design leads to illustration, which leads to advertising, then television to radio to music to popular culture. Monographs, gov docs and periodicals are shelved together within a subject area. There is a separate fiction section, but it's likely that the fiction will be interfiled into the other parts of the collection.

It's an intuitive, browseable collection, with storage-room type rolling steps to access the material outside of the browser's reach. The library has no full-time, or even paid, employees ... it has irregular hours, but interested users can make appointments to use the library and take advantage of drop-in days that are announced each week on the library's website.

How did the Prelingers go from avid book collectors to opening their own library? Well, they were concerned about de-accession policies and unpopular materials that didn't have high circulation rates but may still be of interest to scholars, artists, auto-didacts, etc. A number of items in the collection, especially the government documents, were acquired from libraries, and still retain the call numbers and property stamps. After finding relatively inexpensive warehouse space in San Francisco, they moved their collection to the current location, organized a gang of volunteer shelvers, and opened for public use.

It is a fascinating experiment. If you're ever in the San Francisco area, you should definitely go for a visit. And, if you've heard of other such autonomous libraries, please share ... perhaps an informal network can be established for these types of institutions.

March 01, 2005

Google Digitization article in Library Issues

Barbara Fister has an article in Library Issues titled Google's Digitization Project � What Difference Will it Make? The online version of the article is available free to non-subscribers of Library Issues for one week (through March 7). If you or your institution doesn't subscribe to LI, check it out while you have the chance.