Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another shift in the sea: CS Monitor going online

In a way, I'm surprised it took this long for a major newspaper to shift to primarily online. Even when I was getting a printed paper, I typically took the weekly one because I haven't had time to read a paper every day for years (whereas it's easy to dip into a news site for a few minutes in a break from work or during lunch). And I've been seeing this shift with research journals, too; it's been going on for years, of course, but for more and more publications, scholarly and non, online is becoming the principal rather than the alternative publishing venue. (In the case of scholarship, often with prices to match. Unfortunately.)

I'm sure that all the national dailies are trending this way. I'm also sure that none of them wanted to be the first to jump. I find it interesting that even the Monitor is saying that it basically has to do this:

"Changes in the industry - changes in the concept of news and the economics underlying the industry - hit the Monitor first," given its relatively small size and the complex logistics required for national distribution, Mr. Wells said. "We are sometimes forced to be an early change agent."

And so it goes...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On the road again

Today, I am off to the ACRL-Oregon fall conference. I've gone to the Washington one the last few years, but this will be my first time going to Oregon. (For the conference, anyway; I've been to the state several times.) I'm going down early because ACRL-WA has a board meeting this afternoon. And before I go, the car needs servicing, so I get to spend my morning in the shop. Thank goodness for mobile technologies, or I'd have to tell you all about that afterward.

Er. Maybe that's not a good example.

Anyway, I'm developing a fondness for local and regional conferences. I'd started to draw back my emphasis from national events even before the latest economic downturn started to make that an eminently sensible move; although I still have a commitment that will likely take me to ALA this year, I wouldn't be going to ACRL if it weren't in Seattle already.

What I'm finding, though, is that a lot of really interesting stuff happens at these smaller-scale conferences. For me, "really interesting" means stuff I can take back to my job and almost immediately apply. I don't get the occasional derogatory comment about "how we done it good" kinds of presentations; personally, those are the ones I find most useful. Maybe I'll feel differently after a few more years in this profession.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to going for a run at Menucha. It looks beautiful.

I've been a little "eh" about the conference theme--the once and future catalog? Really?--but I think I get what they're getting at. The way we almost inevitably end up designing library websites constitutes, to me, an inherent failure of the OPAC. Maybe it's because I used to work for and have seen how this can be done well--there, the website and the catalog are so thoroughly integrated that nobody thinks of them as separate entities. And yet libraries almost have to do this, because catalogs handle so much so poorly.

I'm going to a users-group meeting on Voyager next month, and hoping afterward to brush up my somewhat rusty XML skills and really do some cool things with my library's website.

It's also been awhile since my last road trip. I've laid in a good supply of music, and downloaded the free portion of this audiobook. If I like the story (I expect I will, I like Jay Lake's work), I'll be buying the rest.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On another note

It's Open Access Day! Which I didn't know until this morning, or there'd be something more here, since there's a blogging competition going on.

Oh, well, maybe next year. Meanwhile, follow the link to learn about OA and read what other people (librarians, scholars, and more) are writing.

Sometimes, it's still about the books

I came to librarianship from previous professions in e-commerce, PR, and freelance writing. Those things, particularly the e-commerce part (put it this way, I worked for when books were all they sold) have impacted how I work: in front of the computer, for the most part. The subject areas I work with in my job, mainly business and the natural sciences, also impact how I work. The scholarly record in those areas is increasingly born digital, and that's how people access it. (Insert yet another reference to that Ithaka study from a couple of years ago here.)

Yesterday, though, I was doing some research on a matter of personal interest after my workday was done. Most of the material my library has on the subject is in print: in books, not to put too fine a point on it. (Although Google Scholar had done well by me, too, including turning up a translation of an Old Irish poem that I was curious about. Since I don't read Old Irish, finding an article that contained a translation and extensive commentary was gold, especially since, in my cursory search, it was the only extant modern English translation available either online or in print.)

So I spent about half an hour wandering the stacks, looking up call numbers, skimming back-of-the-book indexes. These aren't things that I or the students I work with do much anymore. Online searching is so much faster and more efficient, even though a lot of the bibliographic research tools available to us...well, suck, to be blunt.

The librarian who loves to read is a stereotype, one that a lot of my friends in my profession eschew. The reading I do on the job certainly isn't the kind of reading I'd prefer to spend my time on, professional or scholarly research notwithstanding.

And yet, if it holds true in my case, what's so bad about that? One major difference that I find between going to the stacks and going online is that the latter often has an illusory sense of urgency. There's always more to discover and it can feel overwhelming.

There's always more to discover in the stacks, too. But there's something patient about a physical library, and that's a characteristic that the Internet lacks.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fair Copyright in Research Works Act neither fair nor encouraging of research, film at 11

Yes, it's been awhile. The semester started, and that means I've been embroiled in the sorts of things one does in the library when the semester starts: library research instruction, juggling serial subscription renewals, and trying to keep the mail from overtaking both my inbox and my desk. (My mailbox is rather small, so I can only ignore it for so long.)

But while the public's attention is fixed (not without reason) on bailouts and elections, a post at Au Courant brings the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act to my attention. Really, once the open access movement started to gain a bit of traction, this sort of thing was only a matter of time. And one thing you can bet on: any piece of legislation that uses both the words "fair" and "copyright" in its title isn't going to be fair at all.

The proposed act is an amendment to Title 17 which, as most anyone reading this probably already knows, is the part of the U.S. Code that pertains to copyright. Specifically, it proposes to amend Section 201, which pertains to ownership of copyright.

What it does is add new limitations on the federal government. Now most people I know, regardless of their political affiliations, have no objection to this, especially considering the bloat of the current administration. But let's take a look at the language.

The amendment specifically pertains to "extrinsic works". What's an extrinsic work? Glad you asked. It's defined in paragraph 3 of the proposed amendment, as follows:

(A) EXTRINSIC WORK- The term 'extrinsic work' means any work, other than a work of the United States Government, that is based upon, derived from, or related to, a funding agreement and--

So this refers to a work that is funded, but not created, by a Federal agency; "funding agreement" is defined later in the act. What's under discussion here is, in essence, federally funded research: meaning, for instance, biomedical research funded through NIH grants.

'(i) is also funded in substantial part by one or more other entities, other than a Federal agency, that are not a party to the funding agreement or acting on behalf of such a party; or'

The work, therefore, is being funded by other entities in addition to the Federal agency. This is hardly unusual, especially in STM (science, technology, and medicine) research; few grants are big enough to fund what constitutes a major research project these days.

'(ii) represents, reflects, or results from a meaningful added value or process contributed by one or more other entities, other than a Federal agency, that are not a party to the funding agreement or acting on behalf of such a party.

This is where, in my opinion, the language starts to hedge. So it's not necessary to actually be receiving funding from another entity, as long as that other entity is adding meaningful value or process to the work.

Such as, for instance, publishing it. Remember that we're in Title 17, here.

Okay, so that's an extrinsic work. What are the limitations so imposed? Here's the first part of paragraph 1 of the proposed amendment:

(1) LIMITATIONS REGARDING FUNDING AGREEMENTS- No Federal agency may, in connection with a funding agreement--
        `(A) impose or cause the imposition of any term or condition that--
          `(i) requires the transfer or license to or for a Federal agency of--
            `(I) any right provided under paragraph (3), (4) or (5) of section 106 in an extrinsic work; or
This is pretty clear. It says that the funding agreement can't stipulate the transfer of rights provided under paragraphs 3, 4, or 5 of section 106. These are, briefly put, the right to distribute copies, to perform works publicly, and to display works publicly. In other words, the rights by which copyright holders enable the sale of books and magazines, the staging of theatrical productions, the showing of movies, and so forth.

In other words, this goes directly to the open access mandate which went into effect in April 2008, which stipulates that all NIH-funded research must be made available to the public via PubMedCentral within 12 months of its publication.

Don't think so? Take a gander at this next bit:

`(II) any right provided under paragraph (1) or (2) of section 106 in an extrinsic work, to the extent that, solely for purposes of this subsection, such right involves the availability to the public of that work; or

Availability to the public. Paragraphs 1 and 2 pertain to making copies and producing derivative works. This act wouldn't touch any of that--except insofar as it involves making the work available to the public.

`(ii) requires the absence or abandonment of any right described in subclause (I) or (II) of clause (i) in an extrinsic work;

This just means that in addition to transferring these rights, the agreement also can't require these rights to be nonexistent or abandoned.

`(B) impose or cause the imposition of, as a condition of a funding agreement, the waiver of, or assent to, any prohibition under subparagraph (A); or

In addition, the prohibitions previously described can't be a condition of receiving funding in the first place.

`(C) assert any rights under this title in material developed under any funding agreement that restrain or limit the acquisition or exercise of rights under this title in an extrinsic work.

This wording is a bit confusing, but essentially what it boils down to is that the Federal agency can't assert Title 17 rights over existing material where the funding agreement has already restricted those rights--thereby, it seems to me, covering work released between April 2008 and whenever this act, should it pass, goes into effect.

Any term, condition, or assertion prohibited under subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) shall be given no effect under this title or otherwise.

Now I find this bit pretty alarming. It seems to be saying that if there's anything anywhere in Title 17, now or in the future, that contradicts A, B, or C, it is now void. I can see that having an ill effect for libraries.

On to paragraph 2:
      `(A) CERTAIN OTHER RIGHTS NOT LIMITED- Nothing in paragraph (1)(A)(i)(II) shall be construed to limit the rights provided to the copyright owner under paragraphs (1) and (2) of section 106.
So the copyright owner can still do what he/she likes with regard to copying and derivative work. No surprises there.

`(B) NO NEW COPYRIGHT PROTECTION CREATED- Nothing in this subsection provides copyright protection to any subject matter that is not protected under section 102.

Section 102, for any of you who aren't aware, defines what can be copyrighted. Again, no surprises there.

The next bits come from paragraph 3, where extrinsic works are also defined:

`(B) FEDERAL AGENCY- The term `Federal agency' means any department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government.

`(C) FUNDING AGREEMENT- The term `funding agreement' means any contract, grant, or other agreement entered into between a Federal agency and any person under which funds are provided by a Federal agency, in whole or in part, for the performance of experimental, developmental, or research activities.'.

Prescient of them. Yes, right now the only Federal open access mandate applies to NIH-funded works. This proposed act applies to any works funded by any Federal agency. Such as, for example, the NEA. Or the NSF. Or any other Federal agency you can think of that funds research. The Federal government is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, source of research and grant funding in this country. Think about what this means for public access to Federally-funded material.

(b) Applicability- The amendment made by subsection (a) applies to any funding agreement that is entered into on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Of course. You can't make it retroactive--although it seems to me that paragraph 1, subsection C sort of does.

(c) Report to Congressional Committees- Not later than the date that is 5 years after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Register of Copyrights shall, after consulting with the Comptroller General and with Federal agencies that provide funding under funding agreements and with publishers in the private sector, review and submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the Register's views on section 201(f) of title 17, United States Code, as added by subsection (a) of this section, taking into account the development of and access to extrinsic works and materials developed under funding agreements, including the role played by publishers in the private sector and others.

I have to admit, I'm having difficulty reining in my snark at this point. It isn't at all surprising that publishers want to control access to material that they publish; this entire proposal is just another salvo in a long-running battle.

I also have to admit, however, that it positively blows my mind that publishers honestly seem to think that they have this much authority to control access to research that they had no part in funding. Well, you could argue, but they control access to research funded from other sources, right?

Yes, they do. And isn't it interesting that their role has shifted from publishing--which is, fundamentally, about making information available--to controlling access to that information.

The difference is, that's not taxpayer-funded research. If something is made possible through a grant from NIH, NSF, NEA, or another Federal agency, then you paid for it. You ought to have access to it.

You can read more about this at Peter Suber's blog (which I recommend reading generally), and follow the links there to further commentary. In particular, also look here, where much more detailed analysis than my novice's take is available, including considerable discussion of why this is just bad law.

Congress reconvenes in January. At some point after that, the bill may come out of committee--or sail through attached to another bill, as so often happens.

If open access matters to you--and if you pay taxes, it should--contact your Congresscritters. Many of them have no idea why this is important, for reasons that Suber describes. Enlighten them.