Monthly Archives: May 2012

An afternoon weeding

I accidentally got myself volunteered to help out with a big weeding project we’re doing at the moment, so I spent my desk shift formatting and printing out a 7-page title list (and checking in box, pointing people to the stapler, finding a full-text article for someone, and phoning again to find out what’s up with our EFTPOS/card reload machine). Then after lunch I went to spend what turned out to be three hours looking at the shelves to make decisions (or in some cases indecisions) about each book and jot notes on my list.

This particular subject area was about Turkic/Altaic languages, and for historical reasons probably half the titles were written in Russian; many others in French or German. It just so happens that at one point in my life I learned enough Mongolian to catch a bus to another town after several misunderstandings and to explain to people that switching to Russian was actually going to diminish our chances of communication. Alas, I don’t recall any/much of it now, but I can still sound out the Cyrillic alphabet, and after this afternoon’s session have learned several words in Russian after all: ‘dictionary’, ‘writing’, ‘language’, and various obvious cognates.

Weeding tends to be dusty work: I took a break halfway through to wash my hands, down some water, and refresh my sanity while discussing my progress with a manager. Shortly after I got back to work I took a briefer break to stand at the end of the stack while a long earthquake rattled all the shelves. (Honestly, figuring I was on the fourth floor, I was rating it a magnitude 3.9; it turns out it was a 5.2. I probably wasn’t factoring in the extra distance compared to where my home is in relation to the epicentre. Still, it really didn’t seem that big.)

Finished my list and washed my hands again. Is there such a thing as dust poisoning? Because one feels so much better after washing one’s hands. Yes, one can wear gloves, but they’re supremely awkward so I long ago gave up.

Next step: type up notes, sort, and send to manager to forward to some subject specialists. Step after that: format and print out the next list.

How libraries can buy DRM-free ebooks

Libraries hate DRM because our customers hate DRM because it makes the ebooks we buy really truly appallingly horrible to use. I can never find the cartoon when I want it, but it’s something like “How to download an ebook in 37 easy steps”. It involves lots of installation of software and restarting of the computer and logging in to things and troubleshooting, and the final step is to give up and look for it on BitTorrent. (ETA: As per Andromeda’s comment, here’s the cartoon.)

But what can we do when publishers require DRM before they sell anything to us?

Well, the new venture Unglue.it could change things. The idea behind Unglue.it is that:

  • author/copyright-holders pick a lump sum that they think is fair compensation for the rights to their book;
  • people who want to read the book pledge however much they want;
  • when the lump sum is reached, the book is released as a DRM-free, open-licensed ebook, free to the entire world. (If the lump sum isn’t reached, no money’s taken from your credit card.)

This is aimed at individual readers, but why shouldn’t libraries get in on the game? There are apparently some 16,000-odd public library branches in the USA: if each one of those made a one-off pledge of US$1 then American Book Award-winner Love Like Gumbo would be available to their members (and everyone else in the world) in perpetuity. That’s one heck of a cheap ebook. You can store a copy on the library server, or just link to it from the catalogue. You can print it out, if you want – as many times as you want. And you won’t have to buy it again after it’s been borrowed 26 times.

Currently Unglue.it has campaigns for five books. (If this takes off, and I’m convinced it will, there’ll be more.) If any of these books would be of interest to the members of your library, then figure out what’s a fair price (or what you can afford — whichever’s less) and then pledge just half of that from your book budget.

If you really can’t afford it (or purchasing really has to go through approved suppliers, no exceptions ever), well, then promote the campaigns to your members instead.

Or do nothing. When the books are funded, you and your members will get them for free anyway. 🙂

I just think that this is such a natural extension of our mission to use our funds wisely to provide resources to our communities that it’s hardly an extension at all. I think it’s the answer we’ve been asking for to the problem of ebooks. And I think it’s the best consortial deal ever.

So let’s go forth and Unglue!

Institutional repositories and the problem of versions

One of the (many) problems I see our institutional repository running into with busy academics is the utter confusion about what they’re allowed to upload into it.

We promise them we’ll check all the copyright for them (at Sherpa/Romeo) and won’t put anything live that shouldn’t be live. Which solves half the problem.

But the other half of the problem is that even when the journal does allow some version to go up, it’s always a different version. Some say the preprint is okay but nothing else; some say only the postprint; some say the final publisher’s version. So when the author is dutifully filling out the details in the repository submission form, unless they go and do their research (something which we’re telling them they don’t have to do) they don’t know what version to upload. Even if they do know the difference between a preprint and a postprint or that something labelled “author’s copy” is nevertheless the publisher’s version.

So, what we need is some magic DSpace (etc) plugin which, once the author’s filled out the journal field, goes to look that up on Sherpa/Romeo and pops up a wee box that says “Cool, you can upload your preprint – by which we mean [insert clear and concise definition here].”

Of course I use the word “magic” advisedly: from what I hear of DSpace this’d be difficult to impossible, and I don’t imagine other repository management software is light years better. Ideas are easy, implementation is hard.

(The third half of the problem is that it seems some academics don’t actually save these previous versions. A solution to this is probably even harder to centrally automate.)

Links of Interest – ebook lending, web design, bibliographic software, open access

Lending eBooks
Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries has come up with a model whereby they buy, host, and manage the lending of ebooks (including DRM), rather than subscribe to publishers’ platforms. See more details on the model and a letter to publishers about how it works.

Here’s a cute way of reminding users of the value of libraries when they check out print books. It would be interesting to think of ways to make this work with e-resources…

Web design
See a demo of One-Pager, a free template for library websites designed and user-tested to make it easy to find the most important information – and to be immediately mobile-friendly and accessible. You can read more or download the code here.

Bibliographic software
Beyond Bibliographies: Collaborating with Citation Software (powerpoint) is a poster comparing Endnote, RefWorks, Zotero, and Mendeley.

Open Access
(I try to include a variety of stuff in these round-ups, but open access is kind of a strong interest of mine, so…)

Some keen-eyed librarians noticed that the previously open-access Reference and User Services Quarterly was suddenly open-access no longer; the Library Loon investigated and reported back. Apparently in future articles will be embargoed for a year, although as at writing older articles aren’t available yet either.

(This reminds me that I keep meaning to find out whether The New Zealand Library And Information Management Journal is intended to be open access or if it’s just openly accessible by default, so to speak. In any case they’re there at the moment – as are all the LIANZA conference papers from 2004. They’re not browsable/searchable in the most user-friendly format but I know from experience what the web group’s dealing with, and that just getting them all in one place is a fantastic achievement.)

The Library Loon also has a fantastic discussion about how to recognise scammy “open access” publishers.

SCORE Library Survey Report “aimed to get a national [UK] perspective on institutional engagement in Open Educational Resources through their librarians”.

Open Access in Chemistry – slides from a presentation at the 2011 ACS Spring Meeting giving an excellent overview of what it says on the tin – in terms both of numbers and of attitudes.