fighting surveillance @ your library

My friend and Radical Reference colleague Melissa just published a great article about how your local library can help you resist the surveillance state. You should go read it!

And then, since several people who have read it have asked me about it, here’s the privacy brochure I made for my library. Please feel free to steal, adapt, or otherwise use it to help explain library policy to your patrons. (And here it is as a Publisher file, if you’d like to be able to edit it.)

nine years

Nine years ago today, I decided I had to start a librar* blog. I’d been reading blogs for a few months, and in 2005, that seemed like more than enough of reason to be expert enough to do one of my own. And I have never lacked for things to say.

It turned out to be an excellent time to start a blog in libraryland. The biblioblogosphere had an old guard, to be sure, but it was small enough that it seemed possible to read all the blogs you could ever want to, and it was even possible to meet most of the people whose blogs you read at the first ever OCLC Blog Salon. (It was such fun, as you can tell from my eloquent contribution. It was the sort of thing where people took silly pictures and made elaborate inside jokes.) It wasn’t that long ago, but it feels like another lifetime.

I look back at my early entries and often cringe, as one does when coming across versions of oneself from long ago, particularly when one was in a slathering puppy dog sort of developmental stage, as I was when I was in library school. I believed in many things that I no longer believe in now.

I no longer believe in the dream of the single search box. I think that the truth of searching is that finding things is hard. It’s hard not because it requires you to remember whether enter a * or a ? as a wildcard (though that is hard, too) but because it requires you to develop habits of mind, to think about ideas in conversation and in community, and to think about how other people might think about something in order to find what they have to say about it. Certainly we can make search interfaces better, but we cannot — and should not — make them do the work of a human mind.

I no longer believe that every library and every library person should of course start a blog. I’m not sure I ever quite believed that, but certainly I would have encouraged it. It had not yet occurred to me at that time that not everyone does have something to say, or that they do not have something to say all the time, or that they do not have it as an institution, or that they might have several other things of more pressing and immediate concern, such as why are some people suddenly not getting overdue notices in the new system.

But I also look back and am pleased. I care now as I did then about library services in extreme temperatures, and I have advocated for my city to publicize the library as a place to warm up or cool off. I still talk to people about how the world is not flat. what for and for what? remains perhaps my all-time favorite post about sources of information (and it includes, I now notice, a lovely combination of what I’d been reading at the time both in print — in fact, I got my copy of Victor Navasky’s book at ALA that year, where I also go to hear him speak — and online).

I don’t agree with everything I’ve said here, but I’m strangely proud to have kept on doing it, albeit sporadically, all these years. Thanks for reading and writing along with me.

  • 7 May 2014 at 9:35 pm Christina Pikas
    happy anniversary.
  • 7 May 2014 at 10:04 pm laura x
    Thanks, Christina! I remember yours was one of the earliest blogs I read. :)

hey, i’m doing a reading!

Laura poses with a copy of Night Sweats and the Library of Congress Subject HeadingsI took this series of selfies with my book and the Library of Congress Subject Headings by way of self-indulgence (and to show off my white hair) and to promote my reading tomorrow at the fabulous New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids.

That’s Saturday, March 8 at 2 pm! Be there to hear me read from Night Sweats, to buy some books, and to check out the artsy-fartsy section of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (really, there is one).

They’re doing a whole March is for Memoirs series with a lot of great events, so you should check those out, too.

Written by Comments Off Posted in me

ebooks, then and now

In doing some blog maintenance today, I found this draft from a year or so ago that for some reason I never published. While things have gotten somewhat better on the ebook front — more publishers are willing to sell to us, albeit often at extortionist prices and conditions — and certainly the process of downloading an ebook is miles better than it was when we first started offering them. But ebooks in libraries are far from the frictionless experience Amazon offers and will be forever, probably, and so the post still seems sadly relevant to me.

I tell them that it will get better. I apologize for not being able to deliver awesome service this way, the same way we can in other ways.

Rochelle Hartmann, Tinfoil + Raccoon, December 2010

Rochelle wrote those words about the situation with ebooks in public libraries a year and a half ago, which is approximately a decade in library tech time. Back then, perhaps we did think it would get better. Or perhaps Rochelle was putting on a brave face for the patrons, trying to be positive in the way we’re told we should if we are leaders.

Of course, it hasn’t gotten better. Not really.

Oh sure, you can read many (although not all) Overdrive ebooks on Kindles now (supposing that you are okay with being routed through Amazon — with all the attendant privacy problems that creates — in order to do so). There are many thousands more ebooks in the Wisconsin ebook catalog (11,911 in Adobe ePub format when I just checked; about 2900 ebooks are currently available to check out).

But if you work in a public library that contracts with Overdrive, you know that it will likely be a cold day in hell before we can “deliver awesome service this way, the same way we can in other ways.” Most of the Big Six publishers won’t sell their books to us as ebooks at all, or they’ll only do so for limited numbers of checkouts, or they’ll only do so at greatly inflated prices. None of them will let us loan their books unless we load them down with unwieldy digital rights/restrictions management software. Device makers won’t free up proprietary formats.

You thus find yourself more often than not saying to a patron, “Well, yes, that device might work with our ebooks, and there might be some ebooks available for you to check out.” But mostly you spend a lot of time attempting to explain the publishing industry to them, and file formats, and software requirements. Essentially, there’s a pretty good chance that if a patron asks about ebooks, what you’re going to have to tell them is no.

No, you can’t get ebooks from the library even though you have a card here, because you don’t actually live in our city limits.

No, you can’t get that ebook from the library on your Kindle because it’s not available in Kindle format.

No, you won’t be able to get that book from the library till probably next year some time, after it moves to the publisher’s backlist.

No, you can’t get that as an ebook through the library at all, because that publisher won’t sell to us. Yes, I know it says right there on Amazon that it’s available, but we can’t actually buy it and loan it to people.

It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. It’s not why I became a librarian, and I doubt it’s why any of you became librarians, either.

Sarah Houghton is breaking up with ebooks. Some of us never wanted to date ebooks in the first place. But breaking up with them now isn’t as easy dumping a bad boyfriend. For most of us, it’s going to be more like a long, drawn out divorce, the kind with property disputes and bankruptcy filings and custody battles.

 

  • 18 February 2014 at 10:00 pm laura x
    It's a new blog post! Well, actually, it's an old blog post, but it's new to you, since I never published it before.
  • 19 February 2014 at 1:35 am Galadriel C.
    Oh wow! This is a great post and your timing is amazing as I'm in the middle of working on a presentation for ER&L on expectations vs. horrid reality of ebooks.
  • 19 February 2014 at 1:39 am RepoRat
    oooh. will you share said presentation when it is done? will there be video?
  • 19 February 2014 at 1:47 am Galadriel C.
    Absolutely! And yes there will be a few screen captures. The winning one right now shows how it takes 1 minute and 43 (something like 14+ clicks) seconds to download an EBSCO ebook. That's the short version as it assumes one already has an EBSCO account.
  • 19 February 2014 at 1:48 am RepoRat
    thank you! if the conf does video, please let me know -- this is a natural guest lecture for my summer course.
  • 19 February 2014 at 1:52 am laura x
    So glad it's helpful! I must have been thinking it wasn't done when I first wrote it, but who knows? I've kind of been sleepwalking through the past two years.
  • 19 February 2014 at 2:53 am WoH: Professor MOTHRA
    Do you has twitter?

open access rocks; Lambert Academic Publishing does not

Last April, after discovering that I could, I decided to add my MFA thesis to Iowa Research Online, the institutional repository at the University of Iowa, where I got my degree. For good measure, I slapped a Creative Commons license on it (and was told that I was the first person ever to request one at Iowa). I did all this not so much because I think you should read my thesis as because I believe in open access and I want to support it however I can. Iowa instituted its open access policy (since amended with various opt-outs) requiring the electronic deposit of theses and dissertations after I left, and I’ve written before about why I felt most of the outrage about it was hypocritical at best. The people who don’t want to make their theses open access are often the very same people who get snitty about why can’t they just make a bunch of copies of a New Yorker essay for their class. I rest my case.

Since I added it to the IR, it’s been downloaded 38 times, which is rather more than the one time the physical thesis has been checked out, so if my goal were to increase my readership, it’s certainly the way to go.

As I learned the other day, though, it’s also clearly the way to go if you want to get academic spam. Like many people out there (just look at the comment thread on that post, or heck, just Google Lambert Academic Publishing), I, too, was targeted by an academic vanity press with pretensions of scholarly greatness. I reproduce the full email below:

Dear Laura Crossett,

While researching dissertations and theses listed on the University of Iowa’s electronic library for publication, I became aware of the paper you submitted as part of your postgraduate degree, entitled “Encounters with dead white men and other excursions”.

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is an academic publisher, which specializes since 2002 in the publication of high quality monographs, master theses, diploma theses, dissertations and postdoctoral theses from renowned institutions worldwide.

I am therefore inquiring whether you would be keen on publishing your academic work with us.
In other words, we would make your work available in printed form and market it on a global scale through well-known distributors at no cost to you.

I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest with a reply email and we will send a detailed brochure to you.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

With regards,

David Daniels
Acquisition Editor

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is a trademark of:
OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. KG

Heinrich-Böcking-Str. 6-8,
66121, Saarbrücken, Germany

d.daniels(at)lap-publishing.com / www.lap-publishing.com

Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10356 Identification Number (Verkehrsnummer): 13955 Partner with unlimited liability: VDM Management GmbH Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRB 18918 Managing director: Thorsten Ohm (CEO)

I was tipped off by the mere phrase “academic work.” One can only assume they did not read my thesis very closely, since, although it was submitted as part of an academic degree, it is a creative work, not an academic one. I am also not interested in publishing it: I already have published it. You can download it for free or borrow it through interlibrary loan. If you want to support my work as a writer, you can buy my book. I would suggest, if you are the recipient of a similar email, that you delete it, ignore it — or, better yet — put it out there for all the world to see. We escape scams through constant vigilance. Together, we can do it better.

weeding: how i did it

Weeding has been getting a lot of attention in library circles of late (or, er, in the library circles I hang out in, which is pretty much the LSW room on FriendFeed). The discussion comes from a story that revealed a major weeding project was underway at the Urbana Free Library and that it was being done hastily and without much librarian supervision.

Read the original story, a followup, and some statements from librarians for more information, but the gist of it is that the director wanted to get a major weeding project done quickly before a new RFID system was put in, and so she decided all the nonfiction older than ten years should be targeted, and librarians were to look only at lists when deciding what to keep, not take time to peruse the shelves. Oh, and much of this was done with temporary employees while the person in charge of the collection was on vacation. The result was that huge swaths of the nonfiction collection were reduced by 50-75%.

At best, this is what we call a major snafu; at worst, it’s a travesty of management, planning, and community relations. I lean toward the latter view, but I respect that, as they say in The Big Lebowski, new shit may come to light.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to talk a little about how to do major weeding in a more thoughtful way and about. As it happens, in my eight years in the library profession, I’ve been involved in three major weeding projects. They’ve varied in size and scope, but in every case, they represented a collection that had barely been touched in a decade or more. In my current job, I’m in the final stages of weeding the mystery and fiction collections. Here, then, is a bit about how I did it and what I’ve learned along the way.

The First Pass
I started by targeting things had not moved at all in the past decade. I ran a report of everything that hadn’t circulated in ten years and had a volunteer pull the volumes and bring them to me for deletion. I looked at these books only briefly in passing; a handful I retained either because they were the sort of classics I could imagine someone walking in the next day and wanting or because I had an immediate idea for a display that I thought would bring the books new life. Out of 500+ books on the list, I saved perhaps half a dozen.

The Second Pass
The second thing I wanted to do was eliminate old books with low circulation. I ran report for books more than twenty years old with five or fewer circulations. I saved more out of that group — sometimes for the reasons mentioned above; sometimes because they belonged to a series that we had all the other volumes of. In one case, eight out of the ten volumes of a series showed up on the list. The remaining two volumes had circulated only six times, just missing the cutoff, so I weeded them, too. There’s nothing more frustrating than a series that’s missing most of its volumes.

The Third Pass
We have enough money at my current library that when a book is very popular, we buy a LOT of copies of it. That’s great, as it means people who want to read the latest book by Janet Evanovich or David Baldacci don’t have to wait months to get it, but several years later, it means we have five or ten or fifteen copies of those books sitting on the shelves not getting checked out and taking up space. I had my volunteer pull so that there were only two copies left of everything. In some cases, I added a few copies back in, but for the most part, reducing duplicates has freed up a lot of space and made for a much nicer browsing experience. It is possible that in a few cases I was a bit overzealous. I was walking through the Bs today and noticed a gaping hole. “What the hell happened here?” I thought — and then, “Oh, Dan Brown.” We had two copies of The Da Vinci Code left, and both are currently checked out. Ooops.

The Final Pass
This is what I’m doing right now, and it’s the only truly time consuming part, since most of pulling was done by volunteers. At this point, I’m going out myself with a cart and walking through the shelves and looking for books that look old and tired. When I have a few dozen, I head back to my office to evaluate them. Now I am handling each book individually, looking it up to see how it’s circulated over the years, who its author is and what else they’ve written, what reader it might appeal to. The books with circs that were low but not quite low enough to have been caught on the second pass often get weeded. They are old and often musty. These are the popular fiction of twenty or thirty or forty years ago. From a cultural history standpoint, they’re fascinating — Fear of Flying was far from the only novel that examined women’s lives in the context of women’s liberation — but most of these didn’t get famous. Some of them may be good books, but in my library, their appeal factor will be limited. Twenty or thirty years from now my successor will be weeding all the issue fiction I’m buying now, as well she should.

The books with excellent circulation numbers I look to replace, if I can. Again, my library has enough money that I can buy new editions of Agatha Christie’s mysteries and Watership Down and the work of Isaac Asimov. We have excellent book menders, but sometimes a book is so old even they cannot save it. If I can’t find a replacement edition, I try to see if there’s something else we can do to clean it up. Sometimes just a new Mylar cover works wonders.

And sometimes I discovered things I had no idea existed, like a series of books about Swedish-Americans that will be perfect for a patron I know — a patron who will likely tell other patrons with similar tastes, and who will thus get these books out and about again.

This project started this past spring, and I expect to be done with it by the end of the summer. It should make our shelves look much nicer and it will, I hope, help get more books into the hands of patrons, which is where they belong.

night sweats: my book

Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, cover featuring an old sofaAs mentioned here previously, about a year and a half ago I had a baby (and, as often happens, nine months before that I got pregnant). Now, many months and many lunch breaks and late nights and thank God for babysitters later, I also have a book. It’s called Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, and you can buy it as a paperback or an EPUB ebook directly from Lulu.com or as a Kindle book from the Kindle store. It will eventuall be available through Amazon as a paperback, too, but apparently that takes six to eight weeks, so don’t hold your breath. I am also offering a free stapler to the first library to catalog it.

Half the proceeds for Night Sweats go to Our Bodies, Ourselves.

This book wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from a lot of people, but I’d like to give a particular shout out to a few people in libraryland:

Walt Crawford‘s book The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing led me through the process of taking my words and making them look like an actual book.

Amy Buckland led me to PressBooks, which made that actual book into a thing people can read as an ebook.

Steve Lawson took my photos and a half-baked idea and made a beautiful cover.

Jenna Freedman copyedited the book and reviewed it while it was in manuscript.

And David Fiander found a couple of glaring omissions in the EPUB version. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, entirely my fault.

And many of you — too many to name here — have read sections, offered commentary, chatted with me at various points while I was freaking out about either the book or the baby, and generally helped make this the best profession ever. My thanks.

an open letter to the Edwin Mellen Press

I should have written this a long time ago. My delay comes not from hesitation or indecision but from illness, and for that, I apologize. My thoughts may be late in coming, but they are no less sincere.

I am a librarian. My father, John M. Crossett, was a Classics professor. He was also, albeit not until after he died, an Edwin Mellen Press author. The Press published the Festschrift his former students and colleagues compiled in his honor and later the translation and commentary of Longinus’s On the Sublime that he did with James A. Arieti. Although I have been in touch with many of the people involved in both publications, the words and opinions here are my own.

Dale Askey is also a librarian. Several years ago, he published a blog post critical of the quality of the scholarship and books put out by Edwin Mellen Press. The blog post has since been removed, but Edwin Mellen Press sued both Askey and his current employer. Mellen has now dropped at least one of those lawsuits, citing, among other things, “social media pressure,” and, among others, that it is “a small company” and “must choose its resources on its business and its authors.”

I signed a petition asking Mellen to drop the lawsuit.

I know, at least by name and reputation, many of the people involved in the social media pressure, although I also know there are many more.

Librarians, like many professionals, are often quick to spring to the defense of one of their own, and we have done so in this case — the case of a man in trouble for having an opinion.

My father was a man of many opinions. Many of those opinions made him unpopular in the times and places that he taught. But his ideas — in the form of those who did admire him — found a home at Edwin Mellen, and I am grateful to the Press for that. My copy of Hamartia, inscribed by its editors to me, is one of my most cherished possessions.

There are few things my father and I would have agreed on (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, gay marriage, abortion, and the Western canon spring immediately to mind as points of divergence). But I believe that he would agree with me on this one thing: a lawsuit is no way to respond to criticism. The proper response in a scholarly community to a disagreement is not to sue to but to argue. Make your case. Support your argument with examples from the text, from critics, from experts, from data.

John Milton, one of my father’s favorites, one of mine, and, I daresay, one of yours wrote

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life.

Mellen has made a promise to keep all its books in print, and it has done so, thus preserving some life-blood that is quite precious to me, but I am just me. The quality of Mellen’s books as a whole, their place in libraries, and their contributions to scholarly discourse I leave for others to judge — I am a public librarian, not an academic. But as I judge books by their contents, I judge men and women by their characters. Dale Askey had the courage to voice an opinion. Edwin Mellen Press, on the other hand — you had the cowardice to try to shut that down. You believe Dale Askey tried to kill a good book, but he did not. He burned nothing; he destroyed nothing. You, on the other hand, are attempting to kill off the voice of a man. No one who claims to work in the tradition Milton defended, no one who “remains resolute that all have the right to free speech,” has any right to shut down a disagreement with a lawsuit — not, at least, if they wish to be found to be of good character.

Publishers Still Hate You, But They Want to Look Nice

I’m really glad that Simon & Schuster has agreed to make “an exception to their current national eBook sales policy for libraries” for my humble little state so we can have ebooks of the selection for this coming year’s statewide reading program.

I’m a lot less glad that there’s a policy Simon & Schuster needs to make an exception to at all. As American Library Association President Maureen Sullivan put it, “It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is ‘no good here.’”

The Iowa librarians who persuaded Simon & Schuster to make this exception had, apparently, quite a bit of persuading to do:

Simpson and Martin provided answers to a series of questions asked by S&S such as the history of the AIR [All Iowa Reads] program (now in its 11th year), how many Iowans read the AIR selection, how many copies are sold, names of past AIR titles, circulation numbers. “We gave the data we have,” said Martin. “While we don’t know the exact number of circulations of our selections, we do know that Iowa libraries own a total of 300 to 400 copies of each of the previous AIR titles.

The rest of the press release from the Iowa Center for the Book has a similarly librarianly, conciliatory tone. I don’t feel conciliatory. My gratitude toward Simon & Schuster is real, but it is neither wide nor deep. It shouldn’t be necessary to supply data to a publishing company to demonstrate that libraries buy books and patrons read them. We’ve been buying books from publishers for centuries now. It shouldn’t be necessary to beg, as a publicly-funded institution, to buy something that is freely available on the open market. Publishers ought to care about readers all the time, not just when someone begs them to make an exception.

I’m a librarian, and, as one of my library school professors said, librarianship is not a refuge. I’m a fighter, not a begger. Who’s with me?

  • 19 December 2012 at 8:25 pm Andy
    Yep. We need to nail asses to the wall.
  • 19 December 2012 at 8:39 pm Steele Lawman
    Yeah, ass nailing. That's what librarians do best.

patron schools reference librarian

Today a patron asked for “the phone numbers for some periodicals.”

I Googled (because hey, that’s how I find phone numbers) and discovered that both the titles I’d been given were for catalogs. I wanted to make sure that’s what she wanted so I asked a few questions. “Is this a magazine or a newspaper? It looks as though Newport News is actually a catalog.”

“Is that what you call it?” the patron said. “Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. Essence is like a catalog anyway.”

Catalog, magazine — they’re all the same. This is the point where I think of my academic librarian friends beating their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to explain the difference between a magazine and an academic journal (not to mention the difference between a journal and a peer-reviewed journal), and also the point where I start to despair for the American public. Really? Catalogs and magazines are just the same thing? Gah!

Then I started to think about it. Lucky, after all, is from what I understand basically a magazine about shopping for stuff. Many magazines have more advertisements than they do articles. Then I was reading this little bit of the preview of The Science of Yoga on Amazon:

The colorful pages of the magazine offer a vivid example of how companies target the demographic. Hundreds of ads promote skin-care products, sandals, jewelry, natural soaps, special vitamins and enzymes, alternative cures and therapies, smiling gurus, and ecofriendly cars. Each issue features an index to advertisers.

Sometimes the patron actually may know more than we do.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t still try to differentiate between different kinds of information. But we live in a world where those lines are very blurry, a world where almost everything is for sale, a world where we are all a target market.

 

  • 8 July 2012 at 3:10 am Meg VMeg
    crazy? or crazy like a fox (unironically)?