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November 23, 2005

Looking at Sony

That is, Sony the corporation, not Sony the Supreme Court decision about fair use. Although there is a lawsuit in the works ...

Are many of you keeping up with the Sony CD/rootkit/bad juju story? If not, the short version is that Sony BMG added a bit of software to some of their CDs released in the U.S. that prevented unlimited copying/ripping. One of the features of the software is that it hid/cloaked itself deep inside the OS of the computer once installed without permission from the user -- sorta like how spyware, worms and malware work. Worse, the Sony rootkit (actually made by a UK firm, First 4 Internet) theoretically can be used by viruses and other malware. Worse yet, the uninstaller/patch opens up a bigger hole for malware to exploit.

Does that seem like all sorts of bad? I think so. If you want to geek out on more details, you can check out the guy who discovered the rootkit in the first place, various commentary by Prof. Ed Felten on Sony DRM (turns out there's two separate programs/protocols, both of which he takes to task and one of which affects Macs, too -- dangit).

Why am I bringing this up on a library blog. Well:

Sony BMG estimated [earlier this month] that about five million discs - some 49 different titles - had been shipped with the problematic software, and about two million had been sold.

There's already a recall and at least two lawsuits over this (one filed by EFF), but I think there's a couple of questions acquisitions and systems librarians should be asking themselves right now?

  • Are there Sony copy-protected CDs already in our system?
  • If so, have any of those CDs been played on library computers running Windows (and not just the public ones -- do the tech services staff "test-drive" CDs in the course of processing or cataloging them?

If the answer to the first one is "Yes," then now may be the time to act. Optimally, your users should not be warning you of this, but if they do, just go with it. Whether or not you want to be oblique about it or transparent, you really should yank the CDs from circulation. I'm not a lawyer and thusly have no clue about the potential of third-party liability of a patron's home computer is significantly damaged by the rootkit and/or the uninstaller by a disk they may have checked out from the library ... but once you know of the risk, you might as well do the reasonably prudent thing, right? Besides, you need to return the disks and get refunds/replacements.

As for the potential vulnerability of computers in the library -- The Depraved Librarian (what a great name) points to an article in eWeek where an Internet security expert estimates that half a million machines may have this rootkit. Or if you want a more dramatic-looking font:

500,000 computers

Could library computers be in that number? Is this something to think about? I'm not a tech librarian, so if I'm off-base, let me know.

November 18, 2005

Philly news libraries update

From Poynter's:

Philly Papers' News Library Now Extra Lean

On Friday, some 100 people will be walking out from the newsrooms of the Knight Ridder-owned Philadelphia newspapers, the Inquirer and Daily News -- those who have accepted buy-out offers designed to reduce the staff. Among those taking the buy-outs will be two of five employees of the research department (library) that serves the papers' news staff.

There has been discussion and rumor in the last week that the library might be pretty much gutted -- reduced to a staff of two, with the survivors limited to archiving duties and reporters left to fend for themselves when they had research needs. But in a cost-cutting meeting held this afternoon, newspaper executives decided to accept the decision of two library staffers out of five to accept the buy-out offer, and retain the library in a reduced state, according to Fred Mann, general manager of the papers' website, Philly.com, who attended the meeting.

November 16, 2005

News libraries: crisis?

This was posted Monday (11/14) on the Newslib-L mailing list for SLA's News Division by MJ Crowley of the Star-Ledger (NJ):

Today there is news of Knight-Ridder considering a sale of itself. However, beyond that most of you probably are not aware of the downsizing (basically the elimination) of the News Research Library at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

Here's a bit of background:
There is yet another buy-out in Philadelphia (along with other KRT sites) in an attempt to reduce the staff of the two newsrooms to save money and increase revenue. Circulation is down (Latest Inquirer circ at 714,609 Sunday, 357,679 daily) at these newspapers as it is among many of the major papers in the U.S. The Philadelphia papers are owned and publicly traded by Knight-Ridder. Both papers are affiliated with a union. When I left the Inquirer/Daily News in 1995 there were 15 people on the library staff.

Here's the current situation: by this past summer, through retirements and prior forced layoffs, the staff size was down to 6 people for two newsrooms (serving staff of approx 600). For this most recent buy-out initiative, The Philadelphia Inquirer's senior management has created an "organization team" with the following mission statement:

To develop a comprehensive list of recommendations to senior management on the future of staffing -- long-and short-term -- throughout the newsroom. We need to make the best use of our talented reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, news editors, copy editors, researchers and online staff to create a news report that is distinctive and relevant to a rapidly changing readership. Through the integration of certain departments we will try to find a way to improve the versatility and strength of the staff so we can produce a more compelling and visually engaging news report.

What is going to happen to the library?

"We will likely be reducing the staffing in the news research library. While our plans are not yet final, it looks likely that the staffing will consist of no more than two people, and that the job will consist mainly of archiving. Reporters, editors and photographers in both The Daily News and The Inquirer will be given extensive training in Lexis/Nexis, DocCenter and Internet research in general so that they will be able to handle their own routine searches. In this Internet age, every reporter should be able to quickly locate basic information. It is a necessary journalistic skill set in the 21st Century.

Separately, we will be augmenting our Computer Assisted Reporting staff to provide more reporting and more database research for our watchdog efforts and for bigger projects. These positions will require an ability to report independently, as well as to do sophisticated data analysis. Those postings have just gone up."

I send you this information, not because I hold hope that there is anything that can be done to prevent this "mistake" in Philadelphia. I send it because you all need to know about this situation.

Additionally we need to ask ourselves some serious questions.


Here are some additional questions (We KNOW what OUR answers are - but ARE THOSE ANSWERS the same as management's?) :

1) Has management gotten the wrong message (or no message) about the value of the news library?

2) Is basic information enough? or Are library researchers really necessary when everyone has GOOGLE?

3) Is it realistic that all reporters can do there own research? (Have we "trained" ourselves out of job?)

4) WHAT IF our news organizations don't desire "proper" information management and archiving?

5) What is the role of the library in the future news organization? If companies don't support ongoing training for newsroom staff, then how can librarians/news researchers fulfill their increased roles as "research and database coaches?"

6) Where is the leadership in news libraries? Library management skills are important, but how and when can we develop and demonstrate our leadership talent to those BEYOND the newsroom - those in charge of the bottom line? What more should we be doing?

I am not simply suggesting a back and forth discussion on the listserv.

I think it's time for all of us in the News Division to conduct some serious and major discussions ...at conference ... in writing (News Library News and more)... on the web ... in committees... AND - beyond discussion - consider WHAT actions can be taken that will make a difference.

* What is our worth to the news organization...and the bottom line?
* Are we an asset or a liability? How can we demonstrate our value?
* Have you served your boss today? And does he/she know it?

Obviously, there is much more to this topic than all these questions, but we need to get started and soon.

BTW, Barbara Semonche kindly points out some links that address some earlier examples of "vanishing" news libraries, most notably Nora Paul's and Kathy Hansen's "News Libraries in Crisis."

November 15, 2005

Lots o' Google News

I am not a search engine watcher. It is not my personal or professional inclination (beyond a certain "which engine works best for me for what type(s) of query?) to be a search engine watcher, and with trying to survive the first semester of law school, I don't have the time or energy for it.

And yet, I can't help watching Google. When I have the time. But I haven't had a lot of time, so a lot of stuff has gone by me.

Like the new book, The Google Story, by David Vise and Mark Malseed. Gary Price has more about it, along with a short excerpt.

Mr. Vise has also authored an opinion piece about Google that was in a number of newspapers. I'm not sure how many papers ran the whole thing, but the Salt Lake Tribune allowed a near-2,000 word count for the piece (which is substantial for the opinion page). Oh, the things I learned:

  • The company is quietly working with maverick biologist Craig Venter and others on groundbreaking genetic and biological research. Google's immense capacity and turbocharged search technology, it turns out, appears to be an ideal match for the large amount of data contained in the human genome.
  • Its ad-driven financial success has propelled its stock market value to $110 billion, more than the combined value of Disney, Ford, General Motors, Amazon.com and the media companies that own The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
  • The more books and other information that they can translate into any language through an automated, math-based process they are developing [emphasis mine], the more compelling the Google experience will be for everyone, and the more wealth the company will have to invest in their vision.

In addition to summing up Google's activities, Vise's op-ed is a mix of "Golly gee whiz!" and "OMG! Aaaaiiiiieeee!" responses:

Consider the wide-ranging implications of the activities now underway at the Googleplex, the company's campuslike headquarters in California's Silicon Valley. Google is compiling a genetic and biological database using the vast power of its search engines; scanning millions of books without traditional regard for copyright laws; tracing online searches to individual Internet users and storing them indefinitely; demanding cell phone numbers in exchange for free e-mail accounts (known as Gmail) as it begins to build the first global cell phone directory; saving Gmails forever on its own servers, making them a tempting target for law enforcement abuse; inserting ads for the first time in e-mails; making hundreds of thousands of cheap personal computers to serve as cogs in powerful global networks.

Okay, the Google global cell phone directory, I didn't know about, but is the company really demanding such information in exchange for a Gmail account? Because I know of at least two people who don't own cell phones but do have Gmail. The "inserting ads into email for the first time" seems wrong, in spirit if not in fact. The web-based list/group management site Topica has been placing ads in every post for every free list on its site (and if you get posts via email, voila, it's in your email). All of my outgoing Yahoo! mail gets a little text ad at the end (although it's for another Yahoo! service). Mind you, I still have baggage over Gmail (and it matches my shoes!), but let's not go crazy.

Okay, here, let's go crazy: Google may be launching a book rental service.

Web search leader Google Inc. has approached a book publisher to gauge interest in a program to allow consumers to rent online copies of new books for a week, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The proposed fee is 10 percent of the book's list price, the Journal reported, citing an unnamed publisher.

I wonder if Michael Gorman knows about this yet?

Alright, I'm done for now ... back to Contracts.

November 10, 2005

USA PATRIOT Act renewal discussion


URGENT ACTION ALERT: PATRIOT Conferees will discuss legislation TODAY – call your Members of Congress!

Yesterday the House and Senate named conferees (list is below) to hash out the differences between the House and Senate versions of PATRIOT reauthorization legislation. Now discussion of the reauthorization bills will begin in earnest—and constituent input remains very important. The Senate version of the reauthorization bill contains key reader privacy provisions—the House version does not.

The conference committee meets TODAY at 1:30 PM EST. This may be the only meeting of the committee, so your action is needed now!

Please call your Members of Congress TODAY and ask them to support the Senate version of PATRIOT Reauthorization legislation. The Capitol switchboard number is: 202-224-3121.

Your grassroots efforts have truly made a difference in the ongoing debate over PATRIOT provisions—please keep pushing your Members of Congress to support the Senate version of the bill and restore important reader privacy protections.

House PATRIOT Conferees:

Chairman Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
Chairman Hoekstra (R-MI)
Rep. Coble (R-NC)
Rep. Smith (R-TX)
Rep. Gallegly (R-CA)
Rep. Chabot (R-OH)
Rep. Jenkins (R-TN)
Rep. Conyers (D-MI)
Rep. Berman (D-CA)
Rep. Boucher (D-VA)
Rep. Nadler (D-NY)
Rep. Oxley (R-OH)
Rep. Bachus (R-AL)
Rep. Frank (D-MA)
Rep. Harman (D-CA)
Rep. Wilson (R-NM)

Senate PATRIOT Conferees:

Chairman Specter (R-PA)
Chairman Roberts (R-KS)
Senators Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. DeWine (R-OH)
Sen. Kyl (R-AZ)
Sen. Sessions (R-AL)
Sen. Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sen. Kennedy (D-MA)
Sen. Levin (D-MI)