Cultural Heritage Archives: Networks, Innovation & Collaboration

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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has scheduled a symposium on the topic of archiving cultural heritage. The symposium, scheduled for September 26-27, aims to…

energize the discussion of ethnographic archival thought and practice by presenting fresh and dynamic strategies for contemporary archival realities.

The symposium is scheduled to included panels on the use of cultural heritage archives, archival description standards, preservation and digital stewardship, collaboration, resources, and education, all of which will be attended by a selection of academics and professionals from the archival and cultural professions. Information on the symposium is available here.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Registration will be available at there website sometime in August.

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On another note, the “Calendar of Upcoming Events” is suffering some issues. Please be patient.

 

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New Digital Commons

The DC Public Library has just opened the Digital Commons at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown. The Digital Commons is a truly ambitious attempt at making cutting edge technologies available to the public library patronage including…

  • over 60 PCs
  • 16 iMacs (4 equipped with Adobe Creative Suite)
  • a 3D printer
  • an area to test-drive tablets and e-readers
  • smart boards
  • Skype Stations
  • Espresso Print-on-Demand book machine

The Digital Commons also offers a variety of educational programs that will help patrons master new technologies. You can read about these programs here.

The DC Public Libraries’ dedication to technology and information literacy highlights one of the most important institutional roles: public education. Like John Cotton Dana’s exhortation that museums must serve some educative function, the DCPL is following the trajectory of user need by recognizing the primacy of technology in the information and professional behaviors of the current patronage. By creating a communal space in which discourse and education can occur, the DCPL is proactively adapting to the world around it, metamorphosing from what it once was — a book vault — into what it will become — an open environment to meet the ever-changing patron needs.

ARL/SAA Mosaic Program Call for Applicants

Written by Joseph Koivisto

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Both the Association of Research Libraries and the Society of American Archivists are seeking applicants for their Mosaic Program. The Mosaic Program, according to the scholarship site:

“promotes much-needed diversification of the archives and special collections professional workforce by providing financial support, practical work experience, mentoring, career placement assistance, and leadership development to emerging professionals from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. An important objective of the program is to attract and retain individuals who demonstrate excellent potential for scholastic and personal achievement and who manifest a commitment both to the archives and special collections profession and to advancing diversity concerns within it.”

The scholarship program offers $2,500 per semester. If anyone’s interested, application information is available here. The deadline is August, so apply soon!

Publishing Ethics: Environmental Impact of Digital Media

Written by Joseph Koivisto

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Back for the third and final installment of my write-up for the George Washington University Ethics & Publishing Conference. If I might take a minute, I must say that this has been an interesting little task, this writing up of a single day’s worth of speakers and presenters. At times, I’ve felt like I’ve been prattling on a bit much (come on, the masses have groaned, why does it need THREE posts!?), but I do think that it has been useful to reflect on what was discussed and the unique perspectives offered by the speakers. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

I probably won’t do be as in-depth for my write-ups on larger conferences, but hey, who knows.

Welcome to our final write up: Just what is your carbon footprint?

When it comes to digital media, it seems that people don’t spend too much time discussing the environmental impact of ebooks and MP3s and the like. However, two speakers at the GW conference made me sit up and consider the what we may be doing to the planet in the name of digital data.

The first speaker was Michael Jon Jensen, a publishing consultant who has taught at George Washington University, worked for the National Academies and National Academies Press, and is a cofounder of the grimly comical ApocaDocs (I personally enjoy the PaniCloud of Very Scary Tags). The majority of Jensen’s presentation “Ethics, Publishing, and Planning for the Future: Framing Choices with Eyes Open” addressed the ever-worsening state of our environmental well-being, bringing up horrifying observations about ice cap melt, environmental pollutants, and species decline.

But, instead of merely peppering the audience with “We’re Doomed” sentiments, Jensen framed these observations in the context of a larger question: what role do publishers play in the prevention of environmental catastrophe? For one, he observed that publishers can take an earnest stance on these issues and dare to publish information that does not necessarily support a mistaken status quo of “everything’s fine.” Additionally, publishers stand in a unique position to help facilitate scholarly discourse on these issues by publishing articles and studies that seek to break new ground on environmental sustainability and preservation.

As librarians, archivists, and other cultural heritage professionals, we can ask ourselves the same things. What could our potential role be in the furthering of environmental protection? Can we help to enact institutional changes that are more environmentally friendly? Can we help to facilitate access of resources and data on environmental impact of human behaviors?

But the conversation didn’t stop there. Shortly after Jensen’s presentation, Dennis Johnson, Melville House co-publisher and founder of MobyLives, offered a quick response to Jensen’s observations. While many technophiles deride the printed volume as a dinosaur and an outmoded means of communication that uses up precious natural resources, Johnson observed that digital data, too, uses up natural resources. Not only do pieces of digital media use up electricity as they are stored in server farms, their use requires technological devices (which also run on electricity) that are obsolete and disposed of in a matter of years. By contrast, he observed that he can go to a library and find the oldest book available and “it still works.” (Johnson’s presentation was not on the environmental impact of publishing, but his observations were nonetheless poignant).

What is so interesting about this observation is the fact that we frequently do not consider the environmental impact of electronic media. Certainly, as disembodied bits of code that are magically transmuted into human-readable output, digital media defies the easy association of information with some form of physical instantiation. And it does require a bit of mental abstraction to associate digital media with a constituent resource as it doesn’t necessarily follow the the source–>process–>product chain through which we understand resource usage. Trees are cut down to make paper to make books. What about an ebook?

In an extremely interesting article about energy waste at data farms from 2012, James Glanz wrote that servers for large sites (think Facebook, think Amazon, think Elsevier) waste up to 90% of their energy usage due to capacity maintenance. Additionally, their back-up procedures (diesel engine generators) produce harmful exhaust. According to the article, some companies in Silicon Valley have even been cited as some of the worst air pollution offenders.

While we constantly champion the virtues of digital data (accessibility, sharing, collaboration, innovative data usage, &c.), perhaps we should take a minute to pause our praise and think about the environmental costs associated with these new and fascinating types of data. As more and more journals are switching to digital subscription services, we may be cutting down less trees, but how much harmful carbon-ladened exhaust are we pumping into the atmosphere?  How can libraries and publishers work to help stem this negative trend in energy and resource waste?

So, just because that ebook didn’t kill any trees, don’t think that it doesn’t come with an environmental price-tag attached.

Publishing Ethics: Copyright

Written by Joseph Koivisto

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Hello again! Back with another blog post about the George Washington University’s Ethics & Publishing Conference. Today’s topic?

Do you own what you own and just how do you own it?: Immediately following a somewhat abridged break for lunch — for which I will quickly say: kudos, GW, great spread, wish we could have enjoyed it longer — we were treated to an excellent panel on Copyright and Fair Use. Moderated by Eric Slater of the American Chemical Society, the panel consisted of Kieth Kupfershmid of the Software & Information Industry Association, Chris Mohr of Meyer, Klipper & Mohr, PLLC, and Jodie Griffin of Public Knowledge. All three of the panelists were excellent and held a fantastic discourse on the topic of fair use and copyrights.

The discussion centered on two relatively recent court cases that centered on issues regarding copyrights and published media. Both cases raise interesting questions about the role of copyright law in the publishing industry and what impact court decisions will have on the future of publishing.

The first case discussed was Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a case that can be read about here. In brief, Supap Kirtsaeng — a then student at Cornell University — attracted the ire of publishers John Wiley & Sons, Inc. by having family and friends in his native Thailand send him English-language textbooks so that he could sell them on eBay. The motivation for this is that Wiley, like many publishers, price their wares according to the market in which they will be sold. Accordingly, prices for similar items are greatly decreased in developing markets (such as Thailand), allowing Kirtsaeng to undersell the publishers American MSRP while still making a profit. Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided for Kirtsaeng, citing his right to first sale which enables an individual to sell something that they legally own.

How does this tie back to librarianship, you might wonder? From a publishers’ perspective, this court decision disincentivizes publishers to price books according to markets, which, according to Mohr and Kupfershmid, may lead to a single ‘global price’ which, in turn might decrease accessibility to information for smaller libraries in developing nations.

On the other hand, Griffin asked whether a negative court decision would have been any better because it may ultimately erode the notion of object ownership that is traditionally assumed when purchasing a copyrighted work (i.e. a book). If the right of first sale is invalidated in this case, might the dynamic become that of licensing information rather than owning an object?

The second case that the panel explored was that of Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi, Inc., which can be read about here. In this ongoing case, Capitol Records filed a suit against  ReDigi, producers of software that allows users to resell songs purchased from iTunes, claiming that their software illegally reproduces digital media that is owned by the record company. The case is ongoing, so be sure to watch for developments.

The question of resale of digital media is a huge issue for the publishing industry and, ultimately, any consumers of digital media — individuals, companies, libraries, you name it. For publishers, the unchecked resale of digital media would represent a death knell, or as Mohr put it (and I paraphrase), publishers could hire someone to turn out the lights on their way out. Digital media — an infinitely reproducible, nondepreciating good — represents one of the biggest challenges to copyright laws ever. However, consumer perspectives cannot be ignored. If the copyright law is modeled in such a way as to grant the greatest benefit to the publishing industry, then all consumers of digital media are beholden to the industry’s whims.

As library, archives, and museum professionals move forward into an increasingly digital world, we must keep an eye out for upcoming rulings on and changes to copyright law as they may have lasting impacts on the pricing, accessibility, and availability of print and digital media.

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Still to come:

  • So, Just what is your carbon footprint?