Circles, what we tell ourselves, and schools

I’m spending the weekend at a gathering of my co-religionists, talking about fascinating things.

(Actually, I’m one of the people running the event, which after two years of planning is actually a real thing, and so wonderful: all our glitches have been small and fixable so far, but enough to convince me I am not in fact dreaming). But I’m also an attendee. We’ll come back to this.)

One of today’s talks centered around a couple of things that immediately made me go “Must blog about that on ModernHypatia!”

Stories we tell ourselves:

Cultures tell stories. More than that, we tell stories about how the world works, and those stories then shape how the world actually is. Because people listen to the stories.

I’ve been applying to a lot of jobs this year, and one of the things that has fascinated me about the process (and kept me going through the harder bits) has been looking at the stories places that are hiring tell about themselves. It’s particularly true in the independent school community (where the major part of my experience is), but it’s also true in the public libraries and the colleges and the other positions I’m looking at.

Some people call that a mission statement, or a vision statement. But those things are simply reflections of the story, reflections of the narrative, condensed down. Every time we say “This place welcomes diversity” and then act on that, we’re adding to the story. Every time we select books for a display or to add to the collection, we’re adding to the story. One of my library science professors talked about collection development – the art of deciding what to buy (and what not to buy) – as the relationships between an item, other items in the collection, and the people who use them. I definitely agree with that, but I think it goes further: it’s about the stories that become more obvious, when we put them in the same space.

Anyway, part of the talk tonight focused on the narrative of our culture, which is in large part the narrative of progress. That civilisation begins at some distant, dark, and probably unpleasant beginning, goes on through a bunch of stages, and then ends up with us, moving forward through us into some better, brighter, future.

It’s a story where each day must somehow be better than the last, or we’ve failed. It’s a story more and more people I know are less and less satisfied with. It’s lacking. Some see various points that cannot be sustained.

Circles:

It’s also not actually how the world works. Yes, things progress, but they also decline. We have lived in a world that has seen entire classes of beings rise and fall (dinosaurs, for example, or North American and South American megafauna.) And we’ve lived in a world that has seen empires rise – and fall again. A few of those falls have been rapid and catastrophic, but many many more of them have taken place over months, years, decades, centuries – even millenia.

And the world goes on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days, because of some other reading. You see, I’m currently reading a mystery series by Frank Tallis, set in Vienna in the very early 1900s. It’s a time when my grandfather and his brother were infants in that same city, and when their father and mother were running a thriving business. It was also a time when the Austro-Hungarian empire covered a substantial portion of the map.

Times change, and that empire – and the glittering, rich, highly musical and artistic and creative and scientific life of the city has changed. But Mom and I travelled to Vienna and Budapest a few years ago: they are still lovely cities, rich in history and culture and feeling and wonderful things going on. They have not gone away, they have not failed, they have not ceased to exist. They have simply moved into another portion of their lives, as summer moves into fall. Fall will move into winter, which, yes, has some downsides (as anyone living in a city like Minneapolis that has had a high snowfall this year can attest). But winter moves on to spring, as well.

In other words, a circle. Not a line. A different way of being, not a failure.

One question that’s come up in almost every job interview is how I feel about ebooks, and their role in the modern library. My answer is simple: right now, the rights and the practical issues are still complicated. I expect that will get sorted out sooner than later: my bet is that the landscape 18 months from now will be substantially easier, from a user point of view, and from a library point of view. I think there’s wonderful things in these tools, including opening up a wider range of what it means to read, and how we read.

But that doesn’t mean the books are going away, any more than Vienna or Budapest somehow faded from the map when there was no more empire. The books we have will still be on the shelves. Some kinds of books work better than current technology allows, for at least some uses. (And I don’t know about you, but as a committed reader-in-bathtubs, I’d much rather drop even a $30 hardcover in the tub than a device costing many times that much.) Some people prefer them, for all sorts of reasons. I welcome the new tools and options, but I think there’s still a place in the world for the older ones.

Circles. Cycles. Keeping the best of the old, but being open to what new stories, what new narratives, may come along. And asking questions about our old stories, and how well they’re actually serving us.

The question of schools

One thing I got asked this week was “Why schools”. I’ve been thinking about my answer quite a bit, in part because it comes back to this in a weird way: I love the opportunity to watch students grow up, grow into the selves that are most magnificent and glorious and amazing in offering their particular insights to the world.

But at the same time, while that’s a progression, at least in terms of age, I also see it as a circle: it is a chance every year to begin at a (fairly arbitrary, honestly) point, and to try some new things, and to do some old thing that are loved and tried and tested and helpful, and to see what happens this time. I love the sense of self-reflection that can bring.

And yet, having known many bright and wonderful people for whom ‘the best college’ was not the best goal, I desperately want a narrative that encourages these people to find the things they’re brilliant and magnificent at and share it with the world – something I think our society at large desperately needs. If we move from a model of the straight line of progress, to the curves of a cycle, more people can be more brilliant at more things – and maybe the things we don’t know we need yet, as a culture, a community, and a world.

The last thing:

The last thing from this particular round of conversation is that so much of this begins with the individual.

My goal, not just as a librarian, as an educator, as a sharer of nifty things, but as a human, is to help people find information that makes their lives better, that helps connect them to options and possibilities in a way that’s meaningful to them. Sometimes it’s just standing there waiting to be helpful if I’m needed. Sometimes it’s problem solving and answering questions.

But I think a lot of it is really about my willingness and interest in improving the world, one question at a time. I’m not perfect at this: like everyone, I mess up, or get sidetracked, or have a bad day. But I try always to move along a circle that’s about more choice, more information, more options, in a way people can manage to deal with.

Two years ago, I started going “Hey. We could do this thing. I think it’d be cool and useful and meaningful.” to the board of the organisation running this conference. After about six months of that, they finally said “Well, I think we can do it.” Eighteen months later, we’re here, with amazing people, having great conversations. And it’s only Friday night.

This is not all about me: this event would not exist without the work of dozens of people (just the same way that a school, or a workplace, or anywhere else, should never be about just one person.) But right now, I’m really pleased that I started out, those months ago, saying “Hey, could we, I think it’d be awesome if…”

We all have the chance to nudge the stuff along that we care about – whether it’s by taking on a big project, or whether it’s by chiming in, sharing a quick thought, showing up for something, passing along a resource. That’s what I do my best to work towards at work, and in my personal life, and all the times that are neither and both.

What I want, the next place I work, and the places I live, and the places I share my friendships and thoughts, is a chance to be part of a circle, part of a cycle that honors the rise and the fall, that can explore new things without rejecting the older truths that still work, that takes time for reflection and conversation, and choice. And one that offers people different ways of being within the community, of offering the things only they can offer, as well as those things many people can do. That’s hard (there is nothing quite like running a volunteer-run event to remind you of that!). But it’s worthwhile. And I know those places are out there.

Where do you find them?

Links of the Week, March 22nd, 2011

Welcome to a middle-of-the-week roundup (as I said last Friday, this coming Friday I’ll be running around making an event happen, so you get links today, and then a week from Friday.)

Here, on this blog:

You’ll notice I’ve rearranged the sidebars – added is a new box with quick links to some of my favorite posts and post series. (I think the new layout works a bit better, but please let me know if something doesn’t work for you.)

You’ll see that one of those links is to Copyright Videos: this is the round-up of videos about copyright. My focus was on videos that were short enough (5-10 minutes) enough to be played briefly at the beginning of a discussion, but that also informative enough to give students or teachers something to dig into. (There are a few longer ones that I thought were especially interesting.)

I looked fairly broadly, but I’m sure there’s lots of amazing stuff I missed. If you have a favorite that fits the criteria, please leave it in comments or use the contact form.

Information bits and pieces:

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a neat post about the American Library Association Library, which posts some of the reference questions they receive (with answers) and links to some of their other resources. Brian also has a post showing how Delicious (whose future is still up in the air) and Diigo compare, using the same links and basic structure.

Joyce Valenza shares several posters she and her practicum student, Jenni Stern, made to illustrate how both traditional and new information skills matter.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has been about how information is communicated. I don’t want to do a roundup of links, but I do want to highlight two that I found particularly interesting. One was a conversation on my favorite Minnesota Public Radio show, Midmorning, talking about news and journalism relating to the quake. It’s actually one of the least smooth conversations I’ve heard from the host in a long while, but that shows how hard it is to have a conversation about some of the deeper issues (and it does settle down into the goal topic eventually.)

I’m also fascinated by the geek comic xkcd’s illustration of radiation levels. You can see some more about the design over on their blag, and his source for the data has a different presentation of it (with more about some specific effects) as well. (She’s a senior reactor operator at the Reed Research Reactor, and as she says “.. one of my many duties is being aware of radiation levels in the facility and adjusting my behavior appropriately.”)

Connecting online:

There’s a great post about what social networking might mean in academia from the Tenured Radical. I definitely agree that it’s much more about making things easier than anything else.

And in the latest round of privacy issues in online settings, Etsy (which has been moving towards adding more social networking tools) made people’s past purchases visible online. Fortunately, they turned this off, but in the meantime, there were some interesting posts about the specific issues of privacy in a purchase setting. Ars Technica has a summary, and Yvi has a roundup of several other posts, as does The Consumerist.

Jonathan Martin has a great post on edSocialMedia about the dilemmas and tensions of blogging as an educator. Personally, I blog because writing for an audience (even a very small one!) makes me think about what I say (and how I say it) in ways that improve my life (and my professional work), because I like sharing neat stuff with other people (hi, librarian), and because it also helps me have a record of what I was thinking about (at least partly) at a particular time.

(I’ll also be honest here and add that I’ve spent more time on the professional blog rather than other forms of writing in the last 10 months or so because it’s also a great way to demonstrate my technical skills, information literacy interests, and much more to potential employers. But I’d been blogging in other settings long before that, and knew that once I found the right tone and focus for this space, it’d be great, which it is.)

Ebooks:

The big conversation this week has been about ebooks, and more specifically pricing. First, there’s the question of how much money is saved by having an electronic version rather than a print version. iReaderReview has an older post from 2009 breakdown of costs with links to some other analysis. (but the print book numbers probably haven’t changed that much: I wanted something for context.) Here’s another take from an eBook publisher. There are definitely various ways to look at pricing, but the short answer is: the costs aren’t always where readers expect.

(The rest of this gets long, so you get a ‘continue for more’ cut at this point.)

Continue reading Links of the Week, March 22nd, 2011

Quick note

I’m postponing today’s link roundup until Monday (or maybe Tuesday) for a couple of reasons.

I’m still working on the copyright videos page, which I’d like to include as a link, but more than that, this week and next both have some particular schedule complications: I’m chairing a weekend conference within my religious community next weekend, and it’s (unsurprisingly) taking time to deal with last minute details.

I’m also going to be there all day next Friday, so won’t be able to do a post next week. Doing one on Monday or Tuesday spreads things out a bit more, so seems like the best solution all round. See you back here then!

Thoughts after Marlowe

I am returned from seeing the Theatre Pro Rata’s production of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Short version: I liked it, it made me think interesting things, and if you’re in the Twin Cities, and have free time before the end of the run, I recommend it to your attention.

[It is running Sunday, the 13th at 2pm, then the 17th, 18th, 19th at 7:30pm, and Sunday the 20th at 2pm. Tickets are on a sliding scale, $14-41  (cash or check only) and you can call and reserve tickets in advance. As my friend Liza found out: to reserve, you call, leave a message, and they’ll call you if there’s a problem. More at their website.]

I incidentally very much like the tag line in their program and on their mission statement: “We want you to love the play as much as we do.” As you might guess from the length of the following, I do indeed!

Now on to the more involved thoughts. (I am going to discuss things like how the play ends below, because I figure that spoilers on a story that’s been kicking around for the better part of two millenia is just sort of silly. I do make mention of the pace of the ending of another work – Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cryoburn, but not what actually happens.)

Continue reading Thoughts after Marlowe

A crash course in Marlowe

I got an email from a friend a couple of days ago going “Hey, wanna do something social? Haven’t seen you for a while, and I’d like to.” After kicking around a couple of ideas, she mentioned that she’d been interested in going to see Christopher Marlowe’s Dido: Queen of Carthage by the Theatre Pro Rata, and was I interested?

I was, but after saying that, had a moment of “Boy, is it possible to major in Medieval/Renaissance Studies in college and have gaps in your knowledge” – I’ve never actually taken a class that taught Marlowe’s work, and I’ve only read his Faustus (and that a very long time ago.)  And Elizabethan drama was not something my father, the theatre professor, gravitated to (he was much more likely to aim at Molière, a longtime fascination of his, or various other French playwrights, if he was not focusing on his primary interest, ancient Greek (and by extension, classical era) plays.

[In contrast, I’ve read all of Shakespeare at one point or another, and seen most of it in performance in some form, often multiple productions. And I’m familiar with Dido’s story both from the Aeneid, and from both listening to and performing in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which premiered in 1688.]

All of this combined, it seems a good time to do a refresher in Marlowe, and on this play in particular. And at the same time, I want to balance that with experiencing the play as a play, rather than a written work. Because it’s actually sort of rare that I go to see things without knowing a fair bit about them in advance.

So, my decision is to do some reading and learning about Marlowe and general background before I go, but not to actually read the play. (Though I may see about rereading the relevant section of the Aeneid again.) However, because we’re going Saturday, I don’t have time to get books from the library in time, so my focus is of necessity online materials.

And, because I figured it might amuse, I thought I’d share how I go about that.

Production information and starting points:

Biographical notes:

People mostly agree that Marlowe wrote Dido relatively early in his career – some people think it was the first play he wrote, some people think it was the second. The most common date given for it is 1584 (based on dates for the troupe that’s recorded as playing it in the first publication), when Marlowe was still at Cambridge.

Marlowe was born in 1564, as the son of a shoemaker in Canterbury. His parents had 9 children (6 of whom survived into adulthood: Marlowe was the second child, but his older sister Mary died when he was four.) His intellectual gifts were recognised quite early, and he eventually gained a scholarship to the King’s School (the choir school associated with the cathedral) which focused on a heavily classical education.

He then went to Cambridge, finishing his BA in 1584 (and his MA in 1587), again, focusing on the classic Latin authors – he wrote at least one play (now lost) before Dido. Marlowe went on to have an even more exciting life as an agent of the Queen (plus the circumstances around his death), but I’m skipping those right now as not relevant as background for this play.

The story:

The story of Dido, Queen of Carthage comes out of the core of the Aeneid, when Aeneas leaves Troy, and has not yet reached Italy. Carthage was a small country to a small empire in Northern Africa (what is now Tunisia). Dido is also known as Elissa (perhaps a variant on the Phoenician Elishat – Dido as a name may be related to the Phoenician word for wanderer.)

At any rate, the basic story is that Dido and her brother Pygmalion were children of the king of Tyre. After the king dies, Dido and Pygmalion were supposed to become joint heirs to Tyre. By this point, Dido had married (Virgil names her husband as Sychaeus), a man who was wealthy and powerful. Pygmalion attacks and murders Sychaeus to gain his wealth, Sychaeus appears to his wife in a dream, and tells her both where his wealth is hidden, and to flee Tyre. She does, and ends up founding a new city-state, Carthage.

Virgil’s take on the rest of the story is that as the Gods are shooing Aeneas off away from Troy, so he can eventually go found Rome. He lands in Carthage, and he and Dido fall in love, aided by the interference of Juno and Venus. Another king (Iarbas) is jealous (Dido having previously turned him down), and he prays to Jupiter to make Aeneas go away. Gods being Gods, this is what happens (and Aeneas does not handle it well), leaving Dido alone. She cannot bear to live, and kills herself (in Virgil, she builds a massive funeral pyre, stabs herself with a sword Aeneas left, and swears eternal enmity between Carthage and the descendents of Troy (foreshadowing the Punic Wars.)

Marlowe’s work is based heavily on Virgil, but he adds a number of elements – a subplot of Anna (Dido’s sister) and Iarbas, and Aeneas’ first attempt to leave Carthage.

In some versions of the story, part of the reason for Dido’s suicide is that Iarbas has enmity toward her in specific (because she wouldn’t marry him, but would love Aeneas), and so removing herself from the stage (so to speak) will be better for her country.

The play:

The Marlowe Society has lots of nice background. The actual date of the play is unclear: people are currently seeming to settle on 1585-86ish, but it might be 1584, or it might be later. Some people think it must have been written after the less proficient (in terms of stagecraft) but better known Tamburlaine, which was probably written in 1587.

  • Sources
  • Plot summary
  • Dramatis Personae
  • Themes (notably the pettiness of the Gods, unrequited love, Marlowe’s challenging of convention about how relationships are negotiated, and the contrast of the romantic plot against a moralistic plot where you see very different takes on the characters.)

That last bit has a lot in it that’s reminiscent to me of Euripides, who does the same thing. (More specifically, who has an interesting trick of spending half the play making you think sympathetically of a character, and then turning that on its head.)

One other interesting note is that on the 1594 quarto, one Thomas Nashe is given credit along with Marlow for writing Dido. Again, the Marlowe Society has lots of details.

Okay. Now I think I’m ready to go take in the play, without feeling like I know exactly what’s going to happen.

Links of interest: March 11th, 2011

Hello, welcome to this week’s links-that-intrigue-me.

First: Marianne had some great comments about the copyright videos I linked to last week. One of my other browser windows currently has a bunch of open tabs where I am looking for more varied perspectives (in video form). I hope to get that posted sometime early next week. (I was hoping for this week, but forgot about the part where it takes me more time to watch videos than it does to scan most webpages for the useful bits.)

Changing world:

There continues to be a lot of discussion in various online spaces about ebooks, ebooks and libraries, technology and education, and much more. This fails to surprise me, somehow. This week has brought:

21 things that will be obsolete by 2020 covers.. well, 21 things in the world of education that may not be here. I disagree with a number of points (I’m pretty sure print books will continue to be around, in part because it’s not like the existing print books we have now are suddenly going to vanish in a puff of smoke or anything), but it does raise some interesting issues about the assumptions behind our current educational models, and what could change, what should change, and what might be really amazing to explore.

Banned Library has a post on 5 Reasons Libraries Should Not Use eBooks … Yet. There’s some vociferous disagreement in the comments that makes further interesting points. (Me, I agree that there are some very real technical, practical, and funding challenges there, especially for public libraries, and that it makes sense not to put too much weight on any one solution or option until some things settle more.)

Brian, at Swiss Army Librarian, has a roundup of links and conversation about the current ebook situation and Harper Collins. [ETA: I realised when making another edit I forgot to mention something here: my understanding from folks I know in the publishing industry is that most of the costs in publishing remain for ebooks – it’s just the shipping/distribution bits of the cost that disappear, which are not as big a part of an individual book’s cost as you might think at first glance. I’ll see if I can dig up some useful discussions of this.]

Steve Lawson and Iris Jastram have the beginnings of a plan for libraries and ebooks: it’s articulate, thoughtful, and addresses a number of specific frustrations and issues. It also can continue to grow, so they’re looking for feedback. Jenica and Marianne both also have additional excellent comments on the plan. (I’m still thinking about the questions Marianne raises.)

Interacting online:

The other major theme in my reading this week was some interesting approaches to interacting online.

Mark Thompson, at Poynter, has a great post called “A 5-minute framework for fostering better conversations in comments sections” that looks in particular at the challenges of figuring out a better way to do that for NPR’s comment threads, that includes links to a lot of different examples (both of what works, and what fails).

Library Journal Online had a piece on whether incremental or major website redesigns are better for libraries (and there’s some discussion in comments). My own take is that it depends very much on what you’re using on the back-end: sometimes a big leap into a new scaffolding is the best way to be able to be more flexible and incremental in the future.

Tyler Tevo0ren had an interesting guest post at Zen Habits on creating a mindful digital life. I particularly am mulling over the advice to “Choose the traits you like about yourself, and exemplify them online.” and the idea of a digital home versus embassies.

There have been a series of posts by various people on the concept of a “YA Mafia” – namely, the idea that YA authors are using their power to ruin up and coming authors, and that’s turned into a more general discussion about cliquishness, friends, and social connections in the publishing industry.

Holly Black’s initial post on this summarises the flaw with the first part very simply: as she says

“But even if there was a YA Mafia, I very much doubt that they’d be able to ruin your career because writers are basically lazy and impractical people. We live in our heads a lot and we can barely get it together to do anything. Seriously, it took me until after 3pm yesterday to get myself a sandwich.”

She’s got a further link round up in a later post, and the DearAuthor site has some thoughts, links to past discussions related to the romance community, and links to other notable posts related to the bigger discussion of interactions between readers, authors, and reviewers.

And finally:

Sarah, at Librarian in Black, has a fascinating if distressing post talking about the results of a survey around book challenges. I find it distressing, but not precisely surprising that there are more challenges than get reported, and that many challenges are not handled in accordance with the actual policy.

Thoughts about copyright

I’m currently working, in another tab on my browser, on a resource page of videos about copyright. As part of that, I realised there’s a bit of personal background I wanted to talk about, but that doesn’t fit the goal of that page. So, here it is.

My contradictory background:

I spend a lot of my personal life in several communities where resources and wonderful stuff are widely shared (generally with an ethic of respecting the creator’s preferences) while recognising that current copyright law has some pretty serious flaws. And of course, my professional life is in a world where use of copyrighted work in an educational context is terribly confusing and often contradictory, even though some kinds of use clearly improve learning, understanding, and connection with amazing resources and creators. The current methods for using a work while respecting the effort of the creator are confusing, complicated, and often too expensive (both in time/energy and in things like licensing fees) for individual teachers or smaller schools to negotiate well, even with the best of intentions.

I’m also the child of a father whose published and unique creative work created a meaningful financial benefit for his family (though it was never his primary income). As an adult, I have created a variety of material, some of which I share freely, some of which has more restrictions for various reasons. I have friends and acquaintances who spend time creating creative work for many and various reasons, but who need to sometimes use the law to protect their livelihood, or use of their material in ways that can be anywhere from confusing to utterly misleading or even risky (for example, I have friends who’ve had instructional materials copied without the relevant safety or background information.)

I recognise that copyright does help with the creation of works of larger scope and time, as well as giving creators some legal options if their work (and time, and effort) are abused. (And I have some book-length projects I’d like to tackle where committing that kind of time and energy is only sensible for me if I have some control over the finished product’s distribution.)

And I’ve handled DMCA removal requests in multiple settings over the years. I think the DMCA is an even more flawed law than copyright in general, because the practicalities of the law make certain kinds of legal responses anywhere from effectively impossible to very expensive – something most individuals can’t address. I’ve also seen it used as a club to shut down responses to discussion, to make life difficult for someone on the wrong side of an online argument, and much more in that vein. And yet, it’s currently the only real tool for handling online situations where one person copies another person’s work without permission.

What I’d like:

I’d like a world with reasonably consistent copyright terms, limited to a length of time that allows the immediate personal heirs to benefit (20 or 25 years, perhaps, rather than the current complex system of 50 or 75 years from various dates.) Enough time that the infant child of an individual creator could reasonably have their needs as they grow supported by sales of the work. Not so much time that they are relying on it rather than making their own way in the world.

(I have friends who disagree with me on this one, and think copyright should end at death. I’ve known enough people – including my father – who were working on various projects while dying of terminal illnesses that I think something that protects rights for a period of time after death is only sensible. Otherwise, these people will be more likely to go do something else like spend all their remaining time with their family, and everyone else loses out on their take on that project.)

I’d like a world where corporate copyrights were handled more sensibly. I want companies who do great research, and create wonderful works of art, and do other nifty things, to be rewarded. That’s only sensible. But I think that copyright law should also recognise that they have a certain benefit of scale that individual creators do not have the same access to.

I’d like a world where tracking down the copyright holder was a pretty simple thing to do – a central registry that could be accessed in a relatively trivial manner. (The technology’s there for it now: we just don’t have the collected data stored in a way that makes those connections easy.) Such a registry would also make it easier for people who, for example, were fine with non-profit uses to give quick permission.

And I definitely want a system where handling misuse of someone’s material online were much improved – in terms of the creator identifying their own work, in terms of having misused material removed quickly and easily, and in terms of handling malicious and incorrect complaints well. Again, the technology is there: I would cheerfully pay a yearly fee to dump my blog posts and other submitted materials into a third-party registry that date and time stamps them, so that any future complaint could be compared against that registered material, if it meant I knew I could handle any material used without permission quickly and easily.

I’m a realist: I don’t think I’m going to get any of these things, any time soon. But one can hope – and more importantly, one can take steps towards all of these things over time.

Links of interest: March 4, 2011

One of the huge issues this week was the ongoing conversation (and sometimes argument) about eBooks and libraries. As you may know, OverDrive (the primary seller of eBook services to libraries) sent out a letter late last week with some concerning news: namely, that Harper Collins wanted to significantly change its ebook terms, so that once you ‘buy’ an ebook to be distributed via Overdrive, it could only circulate 26 times, and then no more. (And in addition, that it would remain checked out for the full length of the loan term, even if the reader ‘returned’ it, and could not be read by multiple readers at once – in other words, not taking advantage of the digital nature of the product.)

Lots of people have great posts on this.

All have some additional good points in the comments.

I’ve seen some people ask where the 26 number comes from. I seem to recall from my library school days that that’s the average number of circulations a hardcover book gets before it needs to be retired for practical reasons (the binding’s falling apart, pages are missing, it suffers an unfortunate mishap, etc.) However, as anyone with basic statistics knowledge can figure out, a lot of books circulate a lot less than that (and therefore do interesting things to the average), and therefore some books also circulate many more times than that, without problems. Picking it as the number for an ebook circulation is therefore even more problematic than it first appears.

Copyright notes:

Brian at Swiss Army Librarian notes that the Copyright Clearance Center has released a new video called “Copyright on Campus”. He also links to several past videos they’ve done. These are a great resource, and about as fun as anything about copyright is probably going to manage to get.  (Note: there’s stuff they don’t address, but there’s only so much you can do in 5 minute videos.)

Other interesting notes:

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (my favorite new quiz show) has a fascinating post on their blog on why they spell “Gadhafi” that way (as opposed to the 36 other variations out there – the challenge of translating from one alphabet and language into others.) The answer goes back to a letter from Minnesota school children back in 1986.

Doug Johnson has a great post about ways to make research assignments more interesting to students that are very much along my own preferences in this area for two reasons: first, boredom does not lead to great learning, and secondly, learning how to research and evaluate topics you’re interested in has much broader lifelong learning implications than learning how to do academic papers.

(It’s not that academic papers are a bad skill – I still think we ought to teach it, and ask students to do it on an ongoing basis. But that shouldn’t be the only kind of research we teach. Realistically, how often do you do that kind of academic-paper research once you graduate, unless you become an academic? Compared to how often you’re going to get interested in a subject and want to learn more for your own pleasure, or do research to improve your health, or because you’re travelling somewhere, or whatever else?)

Doug also has a post about whether we’re communicating in places where people are listening – something I want to take on here in the near future. (I’m a big believer in the idea that different kinds of technology do different things well, and we should pick the ones that work.)

Dear Author, one of the major romance genre blogs, takes on the question of “When does a reader know too much?” – in other words, how is the reading experience affected by having seen an author interact online, whether that’s a problematic way, an overly personal way, or even a very positive way?

And finally, Cassandra, writing on the DailyKos (not a place you normally expect to see this) has a lovely ode to the role of the public library in her rural Appalachian community, and why the internet access the library supplies is so critical in particular.

Links post: February 25th, 2011

A few links for this week:

Why do we use this tool?

I’ve been reading a lot of back posts from Havi Brooks this week, whose stuff I adore and recommend on the productivity/doing stuff better front, but found one from her from 2008 about Twitter that I really liked and wanted to highlight – it’s a great focus on “Why use this tool, what is it best for?” that I appreciate a lot as an approach.

On Borders and bankruptcy:

I’ve been reading various commentary on this (as one does when one’s personal and professional blog reading includes a number of authors naturally interested in the topic of where their books might be sold and what that means), and have been hoping someone would come up with a really great link roundup. Writer Beware has done so! There are some interesting additional links in comments.

(If you write, or are thinking about writing for publication, especially in genre literature, I recommend reading them in general: they bust publishing scams and all those ideas that seem tempting, but don’t quite add up.)

Library stuff :

File management: what to keep

Welcome to the last post in this series of file management discussions (at least unless people have more questions! I plan to talk about tagging next, which is related, but different. And maybe my thoughts on using Wikipedia and other crowd-sourced tools sensibly. Suggestions and questions and such make me go “oooh” and put particular topics first, so feel free to suggest your favorites)

Anyway, the last topic on file management I really want to address is the question of what to keep. When I started using computers, hard drive space was precious and finite, and at some point, you generally had to look at deleting old material, or saving it to a long-term storage device that was more of a pain to access. These days, not only is storage cheaper, but I can use tools like my Time Capsule and Dropbox so that backing up files takes very little additional time and energy, and that deleting them often isn’t necessary.

(Have a good backup plan. And have a way to back up essential files that lives outside your house, in case of emergency/natural disaster/whatever. Some people swap USB drives with friends, or mail a DVD every few months to relatives out of state, both of which have some password protection options.)

On the other hand, large piles of files we’re never going to touch again, or that can be accessed in other ways make digital clutter that makes it hard to find the stuff we want to use.

So, what do we keep? Here’s what I keep.

Continue reading File management: what to keep

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner