Month of November, 2012
Rory Litwin has a nice comment today over at Library Juice. He says he hates the slogan "Librarian: The Original Search Engine" because it confuses what librarians do with what search engines do. He suggests a better analogy would be: "Librarians are to search engines as astronomers are to telescopes."
People who don't know much about astronomy can get some use from a telescope, but we understand that with an astronomer's knowledge it can become much more powerful as a tool for discovery. We would not say, "Astronomers: The original telescope," and we wouldn't think for a second that that a slogan like that would be flattering to astronomers or supportive of the astronomy profession.
But he goes further. Read the whole (short) post:
- You would not say, "Astronomers: The Original Telescope", by Rory Litwin, Library Juice, (November 30, 2012).
...a good slogan for the library profession should also encompass the other roles that librarians play in their institutions, as selectors, organizers, and preservers of information resources who have their communities in mind, and as the creators and maintainers of the systems and intellectual infrastructures that facilitate the connections between them.
Does your Kindle track what books you search for? Does your Nook monitor what you're reading after you purchase an e-book? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been digging into the license agreements and technical capabilities of e-book readers to find the answers to these and similar questions since 2009. Their newest report is now available:
- Who's Tracking Your Reading Habits? An E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy, 2012 Edition
As we've done since 2009, again we've taken some of the most popular e-book platforms and combed through their privacy policies for answers to common privacy questions that users deserve to know. In many cases, these answers were frustratingly vague and long-winded. In nearly all cases, reading e-books means giving up more privacy than browsing through a physical bookstore or library, or reading a paper book in your own home. Here, we've examined the policies of Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Sony, Overdrive, Indiebound, Internet Archive, and Adobe Content Server
Chris Rusbridge, retired Director of the UK Digital Curation Centre (DCC), sent an open letter to Tony Hey of Microsoft asking that they publish the specifications for older file formats. He has received a reply:
- Response to the Open Letter on obsolete Microsoft file formats, Chris Rusbridge, Unsustainable Ideas, (Nov 26, 2012).
- We do not currently have specifications for these older file formats.
- It is likely that those employees who had significant knowledge of these formats are no longer with Microsoft.
But the good new is that Microsoft is willing to work on the problem! The response from Microsoft continues:
- We can look into creating new licensing options including virtual machine images of older operating systems and old Office software images licensed for the sole purpose of rendering and/or converting legacy files.
- One approach we could consider is for Microsoft to participate in a “crowd source” project working with archivists to create a public spec of these old file formats.
Of course, this is a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone solution, but such kludgy solutions are necessary when born-digital information is produced in proprietary formats rather than open formats -- and when libraries accept these formats rather than insists on preservable digital objects.
"PACER Federal Court Record Fees Exceed System Costs". Shane Shifflett and Jennifer Gollan, California Watch.
While the report notes that Senator Lieberman and AALL have been trying to persuade the Administrative Office of the US Courts, it should also be noted that other library associations have been in on this fight for quite a while including the Depository Library Council to the US Public Printer and ALA's Government Documents Round Table (GODORT).
Along with official calls for free access to US court documents, there's also been a grassroots effort to wrest control of these public domain documents in the form of RECAP (that's PACER backwards ;-)), a firefox plugin built by the fine folks at the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University. The plugin automatically donates purchased PACER documents into a public repository hosted by the Internet Archive. Perhaps this report along with official calls from politicians and librarians will be enough to finally get the Administrative Office of the US Courts to fix PACER and offer free access to US Court documents as it should be!
The federal government has collected millions from the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER – nearly five times what it cost to run the system.
Between fiscal years 2006 and 2010, the government collected an average of $77 million a year from PACER fees, according to the most recent federal figures available...
In recent years, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and the American Association of Law Libraries, which represents 5,000 law librarians nationwide, have tried without success to persuade the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and members of Congress to provide free access to PACER records.
Earlier this year, the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of The Bay Citizen, applied for a limited exemption from PACER fees to research potential judicial conflicts in California. Such fee waivers are typically given to academics and nonprofits “to avoid unreasonable burdens and to promote public access to information.” CIR is a nonprofit organization.
[HT to Gary Price at InfoDocket for alerting us to this report!]
"Privacy International asked lawyers, activists, researchers and hackers at Defcon 2012 about some of the debates that thrive at the intersection between law, technology and privacy. We also wanted to know why privacy matters to them, and what they thought the future of privacy looked like. This video is a result of those conversations."
Featuring Cory Doctorow, Kade Crockford, Jameel Jaffer, Dan Kaminsky, Chris Soghoian, Marcia Hoffman, Moxie Marlinspike, Phil Zimmerman, Hanni Fakhoury and Eli O.
This report is an update of a 2001 GAO report on the dissemination of technical reports. It offers quite a bit of information as to the scope of work done by the NTIS and the costs associated with that work. Don't forget to read Appendix II: Comments from the Department of Commerce for additional context from NTIS/Department of Commerce. GAO's conclusion states:
...Charging for information that is freely available elsewhere is a disservice to the public and may also be wasteful insofar as some of NTIS’s customers are other federal agencies. Taken together, these considerations suggest that the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information may no longer be viable or appropriate.
In light of the agency’s declining revenue associated with its basic statutory function and the charging for information that is often freely available elsewhere, Congress should consider examining the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information to determine whether the use of this model should be continued. (P. 29)
Given that GAO's conclusions -- along with NTIS comments about the conclusions -- are that 1) NTIS offers a valuable service of access to the federal scientific literature but 2) their current fee-based cost-recovery model is not sustainable, I have some suggestions for NTIS moving forward. These suggestions speak to the need for greater access AND preservation of NTIS technical reports and a better long-term funding model:
1) Technical reports would be the perfect space for an OpenAccess model in which the costs would be borne by the organizations creating the reports. Offering technical reports online for free would also fit well with the open data goals and initiatives as laid out by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The statute under which NTIS operates states that it must be "financially self-sustaining, to the fullest extent feasible, by charging fees for its products and services." But the statute doesn't state who must pay those fees. Maintaining the NTIS database of technical reports should be borne by the organizations which created the information in the first place.
2) NTIS should institute a digital preservation plan that includes long-term storage in the LOCKSS-USDOCS program. I've had good discussions about this in the past with NTIS staff. With the future of NTIS in doubt, now is the time to assure that their valuable work to this point is not wasted or lost to the digital sands of time.
3) Distribute metadata for bulk download in the same fashion as the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) does for its reports. This allows libraries to add MARC records to their library catalogs for increased access.
4) Expand the reach of the Federal Science Repository Service by partnering with academic libraries. Many academic institutions are building digital repositories (ie., Stanford Digital Repository (SDR)) and would be interested in hosting and giving access to this information.
What GAO Found
As a component of the Department of Commerce, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is organized into five primary offices that offer the public and federal agencies a variety of products and services. As of late October 2012, NTIS was supported by 181 staff, all except 6 of which held full-time positions. NTIS reports its progress toward agency goals to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of NTIS reports to the Director of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. In addition, NTIS receives oversight of its functions and strategic direction from an advisory board with members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. NTIS's product and service offerings include, among other things, subscription access to reports contained in its repository in both print and electronic formats, distribution of print-based informational materials to federal agencies' constituents, and digitization and scanning services.
NTIS revenues are generated exclusively from direct sales or subscriptions for its products and services. NTIS reported that net revenues from all its functions (products and services) totaled about $1.5 million in fiscal year 2011. However, over most of the last 11 years, its costs have exceeded revenues by an average of about $1.3 million for its products. While NTIS has not recovered all of its costs for products through subscriptions and other fees, it has been able to remain financially self-sustaining because of revenues generated from its services such as distribution and order fulfillment, web hosting, and e-training. The NTIS strategic plan states that the electronic dissemination of government technical information by other federal agencies has contributed to reduced demand for NTIS's products. As a result, the agency is taking steps to reduce its net costs, such as improving business processes and increasing the breadth and depth of its collection.
NTIS's repository has been growing with mostly older reports, but the demand for more recent reports is greater. Specifically, NTIS added approximately 841,500 reports to its repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, and approximately 62 percent of these had publication dates of 2000 or earlier. However, the agency was more likely to distribute (by direct sale or through a subscription) reports published more recently. For example, GAO estimated that 100 percent of the reports published from 2009 through 2011 had been distributed at least once, while only about 21 percent of reports published more than 20 years ago had been.
Of the reports added to NTIS's repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, GAO estimates that approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources. These reports were often available either from the issuing organization's website, the federal Internet portal (http://www.USA.gov), or from another source located through a web search. Reports published from 1990 to 2011 were more likely to be readily available elsewhere than those published in 1989 or earlier. Further, GAO estimated that 95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS were available free of charge. NTIS's declining revenue associated with its basic statutory function and the charging for information that is often freely available elsewhere suggests that the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information may no longer be viable and appropriate.
Why GAO Did This Study
NTIS was established by statute in 1950 to collect scientific and technical research reports, maintain a bibliographic record and repository of these reports, and disseminate them to the public. NTIS charges fees for its products and services and is required by law to be financially self-sustaining to the fullest extent possible.
GAO was mandated by Congress to update its 2001 report on aspects of NTIS's operations and the reports in its collection. Specifically, GAO's objectives were to determine (1) how NTIS is currently organized and operates, including its functions, current staffing level, reported cost of operations, and revenue sources; (2) the age of and demand trends for reports added to NTIS's repository; and (3) the extent to which these reports are readily available from other public sources. To do this, GAO reviewed agency documentation, analyzed a sample of reports added to NTIS's collection from fiscal years 1990 through 2011 (reports from the period since GAO's last study and other older reports), and interviewed relevant agency officials.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is suggesting that Congress reassess the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information to determine whether the use of this model should be continued. In comments on a draft of this report, the Department of Commerce stated that NTIS believes GAO's conclusions do not fully reflect the value that the agency provides. However, GAO maintains that its conclusions and suggestion to Congress are warranted.
For more information, contact Valerie C. Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or email@example.com
UPDATE: That Was Fast: Hollywood Already Browbeat The Republicans Into Retracting Report On Copyright Reform, by Mike Masnick, Techdirt (Nov 17th 2012)
...as soon as it was published, the MPAA and RIAA apparently went ballistic and hit the phones hard, demanding that the RSC take down the report. They succeeded. Even though the report had been fully vetted and approved by the RSC, executive director Paul S. Teller has now retracted it...
The link below to house.gov is now broken. A copy of the file is available here.
David Weinberger points to a Republican House policy paper "that nails three myths about copyright law and suggests four areas of reform."
- RSC Policy Brief: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it. The Republican Study Committee Jim Jordan (chair), Derek S. Khanna (Staff Contact), November 16, 2012. [PDF, 9 pages]
This paper will analyze current US Copyright Law by examining three myths on copyright law and possible reforms to copyright law that will lead to more economic development for the private sector and to a copyright law that is more firmly based upon constitutional principles.
The Three myths:
- The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content
- Copyright is free market capitalism at work
- The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity
And the policy solutions:
- Statutory damages reform
- Expand Fair Use
- Punish false copyright claims
- Heavily limit the terms for copyright, and create disincentives for renewal
Today I was re-reading an article from a few years ago and was struck by how prescient it was in providing a formula for the success of libraries. Here are some of its main points:
- Find a niche with growth potential (serve a community).
- Organize information to make it useful
- The internet is a distribution channel -- not a product (add value!)
- Turn words into math (sophisticated mathematical formulas can find patterns in content and make it more discoverable)
- Separate the signal from the noise (Type the word "jaguar" into Google's search engine and you'll get 64 million results. Fix this!)
- Computers can't do everything (humans indexers and editors make the difference that algorithms cannot)
- Print's not dead, it just needs online help
There you go!
Oh, I left out two things: One of the main rules was "Treat content like patented material" and the article was not about libraries but about Westlaw which has a successful "business model" of doing what libraries don't do anymore because "it is all on the web" and "someone else is doing that" etc.: selecting, acquiring, organizing, and preserving information and providing discovery of, access to, and service for that information. And they built their business model on using Free information. Most libraries do not have to make money which means they could do this for less cost and deliver the results to more people for free. But libraries would have to make the case that this is a better, more equitable, more democratic model than relying on the private sector. And they'd have to have leaders with the vision to build a 21st century library. Westlaw and others did it in the 20th Century. Google could never have built Google books without all the work libraries provided by building collections. What libraries have this vision today for future generations?
Read all about it:
- Westlaw rises to legal publishing fame by selling free information, By Erin Carlyle, City Pages, (April 29, 2009).
The U.S. House Office of Legislative Counsel produces a number of compilations of public laws for use by the committees. Recently, they made them over 250 of these compilations available to the public on their web site:
- Statute Compilations: A list of our frequently requested compilations in PDF format.
[T]he frequently requested compilations of those public laws that either do not appear in the United States Code or that have been classified to a title of the Code that has not been enacted into positive law. They have been prepared by our Office for the use and convenience of the Members and committees of the House.
- Unofficial documents: The compilations of public laws, as amended, provided at this site are unofficial documents and should not be cited as legal evidence of the law.
- Status: Please note carefully the date of the last amendment compiled, as some of these files have not yet been updated to reflect the most recent amendments enacted.
Ever heard the term "bit rot" or wondered what actually happens when electronic files go bad? The Atlas of Digital Damages is a collection of files with corrupted bits, so you can visually see what happens. The Atlas is a flickr album, or rather "a staging area for collecting visual examples of digital preservation challenges, failed renderings, encoding damage, corrupt data, and visual evidence documenting #FAILs of any stripe." So, in addition to viewing these examples, you too can contribute examples to help build the Atlas' collection. A blog post by Barbara Sierman, from the National Library of the Netherlands, first posed the question and well, folks ran with the idea and created this "crowd sourced effort" to document digital degradation. See, "Where is our atlas of digital damages?".
I discovered this nifty item while reading through the November Digital Preservation Newsletter from the Library of Congress (there's lots of great project updates and information, especially on the geospatial digital preservation front in there - so go check it out!)
and check out the LOCKSS project for digital preservation approaches and methods to prevent bit rot on a large scale.
[This post was nicely sent to us by our pal Kris Kasianovitz, International, State and Local Government Information Librarian at Stanford. If others want to send us items of interest, please send them to freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com. Thanks Kris!!]