Managing Digital Content

Checklist – 18 Things to Do to Manage Copyright Laws in 2011

Originally posted at Lesley Ellen Harris' Website, copyrightlaws.com.

The year end is often a time to review finances, clean off desks, and get organized for the new year.  Below is a list of actions to get your copyright matters in order.

Permissions and Licenses

1. Check all licenses for electronic content to determine if any expire at the end of 2010.  Do you want to renew expiring licenses or allow them to expire?  Do you need to take any action to notify the vendor/content owner of your intention to renew or not renew a license?

2. Prepare a database of all content your organization has licensed. Whether it’s an image to use on a promotional brochure, or content from a large electronic database, include all content in a single searchable database that allows you to quickly and easily locate that content and determine what rights you have in it.

3. Generally, the duration of copyright expires at the end of each calendar year.  Determine if any of the works you want to use will be in the public domain in 2011. Review one list of works entering into the public domain on 1 January 2011.

4. Develop the “ultimate” list on what your organization needs from its license agreements. Do you need remote access or the right to share a PDF file? Do you need to make print-outs, or post articles to your intranet? What about using portions of the database for internal education/ seminars? Use the list as a set of goals in your future negotiations for licenses.

Budget

5. Consider your 2011 budget for permissions, licenses and copyright training.  Consult various people in your organization to gather their needs and preferences.  Prepare a draft budget and ensure you have the funds you need to meet your copyright needs in 2011.

Education and Training

6. Brainstorm ideas to get the copyright message to your colleagues.  How about a weekly lunchtime discussion group on copyright issues? Include senior management, marketing and information professionals, and lawyers.  Aim for a diverse group of speakers from authors to photographers to web designers to librarians.  The discussions can help “sensitize” your colleagues about copyright rather than being a lecture style format.

7. Continue your own copyright education.  Do you need a refresher course on copyright?  Or perhaps a course on international copyright or web 2.0 copyright issues?  See what in-person or online courses are being offered.

Management and Compliance

8. Develop a written copyright policy. If you do not already have one, first determine why you need one and how you would use it. If you have one, determine whether it is valuable, how you can improve or update it.

9. Do the same copyright questions arise again and again in your organization? Year end is a good time to compile these questions and prepare short practical answers.  Circulating these Qs & As to your colleagues or posting them on an intranet may help your organization better comply with copyright.

Copyright News and Information

10. Review copyright legislation in 2010 as well as court cases.  Are there any legislative amendments to your country’s Copyright Act that affect you?  Any court cases that interpret the copyright law that relate to your uses of copyright materials?

11. Try to better understand fair use/dealing. Is fair use/dealing narrow or broad? What research is covered by fair use? Create your own checklist to determine what may constitute fair use/dealing in your organization.

12. Create a list of favorite sites and books on copyright so that when you have a copyright issue in 2011, you can quickly consult reliable, helpful sources.

13. Investigate how best to follow copyright issues in 2011.  Sign up for a RSS feed?  Follow someone on Twitter?  (Try Copyrightlaws @ Twitter)  Participate on a discussion list?  There are free and subscription newsletters that may provide timely and relevant news.

Copyright Symbol and Protection

14. Review how you are protecting your own copyright works from documents to images to podcasts and videos.  Although voluntary in most countries, using the universal copyright symbol© is a reminder that copyright exists in a work.  Including contact information for permissions will direct people when obtaining copyright permissions.

15. Copyright registration is voluntary in most countries but consider registering your works with your country’s copyright office.  Rather than registering individual works, register a group or collection of works produced during the year to save time and registration fees.  Registration is important if you are distributing your works to the public and may need to enforce your rights through legal action.

16. Review your agreements with consultants. Who retains copyright ownership in consulting reports? If your organization does, make sure that this is clearly stated in your agreement and if necessary provide for an assignment of this work to your organization. If the consultant owns his works, take a look at the rights your organization has in any of the consultant’s work. If you are a consultant, review what rights you have in your own works.

17. Undergo an intellectual property or IP audit. It’s a great way to make sure all the content and computer software you are using is legal, and a great way to find out what IP you own, and how to market and better profit from that IP. This is true for individuals, small and large organizations.

18. Set up a mechanism for monitoring the legal use of your own online content on an international basis. This can be as simple as doing search engine searches, or you could hire a professional who specializes in finding unauthorized uses of content.  Piracy is not only the domain of the software and entertainment industries.  You may find surprises in how your individual or organization’s rights are being exploited, and your works used and perhaps even sold without your permission.

Click for permission to freely post this checklist on your blog, intranet or website.

Maybe Digitization Isn't Always a Good Idea

Kate Marek writes about a story told by Paul Duguid, author of Social Life of Information, about his experience in a closed-stacks archive, where he was reviewing 250-year old primary documents for a research project. “Duguid, who suffers from asthma, was careful to cover his nose and mouth with a scarf while working with the dusty documents. One day, a fellow researcher in the study room (to Duguid’s horror, as he recalls it) spent his time with a box of letters not reading them, but instead holding each letter to his face, drawing deep breaths through his nose to capture its smell. Here is what Duguid writes about their conversation:

Choking behind my mask, I asked him what he was doing. He was, he told me, a medical              historian. (A profession to avoid if you have asthma.) He was documenting outbreaks of        cholera. When that disease occurred in a town in the eighteenth century, all letters from the        town were disinfected with vinegar to prevent the disease from spreading. By sniffing for the      faint traces of vinegar that survived 250 years and noting the date and source of the letter, he           was able to chart the progress of cholera outbreaks.”

As Marek notes, “I have used this story repeatedly when talking about digitization in libraries. It is a perfect illustration of the potential losses we face when we digitize—what information we lose when we move from physical to electronic and how we may be totally unaware and unsuspecting about those potential losses.” Duguid’s tale is just one of the many fascinating examples of how storytelling can be used in organizations to pass along important object lessons, history, and shared experiences in the library. For more about the value of storytelling, check out Kate’s new book, Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership.

ALA TechSource Workshop: Integrating E-Books and E-Readers into Your Library

Cross-posted at the ALA TechSource blog.

We're happy to announce another ALA TechSource Workshop--Using E-Books and E-Readers in Your Library with Sue Polanka.

With the recent explosion in the popularity of eReading devices, many librarians are grappling with how to effectively integrate these devices into their services and collection. In  two 90-minute sessions on January 25th and February 1st, 2011 at 4:00pm Eastern, Sue Polanka will provide practical guidance on how to begin purchasing eBooks for your library to lend electronically and how to purchase eReader devices for patron use. The first session will provide a basic primer on acquiring eBooks, while the second will provide an overview of the issues surrounding library lending of eBook readers. 

Topics covered will include:

Session 1: Purchasing E-Books for Your Library

  • Selecting content
  • Evaluating vendor offerings and interfaces (publishers and aggregators)
  • Choosing the most cost effective business models
  • Monitoring the workflow

Session 2: Lending E-Book Readers in Your Library

  • Examining legal issues
  • Selecting devices
  • Purchasing content
  • Establishing policies and procedures

Sue Polanka is Head of Reference and Instruction at the Wright State University Libraries. She has provided reference and instruction services in public, state, and academic libraries for nearly 20 years. Her passion for reference and electronic resources spawned her eBook blog, No Shelf Required, a discussion of ebooks for librarians and publishers. She is also the author of the book No Shelf Required (ALA Editions 2010). She is Chair of Booklist's Reference Books Bulletin (RBB) Advisory Board and maintains her column, Off The Shelf, for RBB. Sue is a frequent contributor to Booklist and presents at many state and national conferences, usually on her favorite topic - eBooks.

Registration for this ALA TechSource Workshop on January 25th and February 1st, 2011, at 4:00-5:30 (ET) can be purchased at the ALA Store. To learn more, please refer to the ALA TechSource Workshops Frequently Asked Questions.

ALA TechSource Workshops are designed to give you and your staff the opportunity to participate in a hands‐on learning experience that will help you make the best technology decisions for your library.

ALA Editions on Google e-Bookstore

After several years of planning, Google has finally launched their ebookstore. And hundreds of ALA Editions titles are now available, from recent bestsellers such as No Shelf Required:  E-Books in Libraries to 1969’s ALA Rules for Filing Catalog Cards. Unlike many other e-book platforms, Google lets you use just about any device you own to read any book, anywhere. You can read e-books purchased from Google on the web, Android phones, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and several supported e-readers. Their overview is well worth a read.

You can browse this list of selected ALA Editions titles or use the search function to find a specific book. We’ll be adding more titles as they become available.

LA Times Article Sparks Differing Views of Libraries’ Role

In an article entitled, “Libraries reinvent themselves as they struggle to remain relevant in the digital age,” one prominent librarian from a more traditionalist bent felt that libraries are not the place for game rooms and ping-pong tables. He and others worry that such changes will hurt rather than help libraries’ image and their service role in the community. We wanted to find out more so we informally polled some of our authors on their reaction to the traditional view of libraries and their feelings about how libraries are going about reinventing themselves. Here are some of their thoughts, quoted with permission:

All this talk about libraries not being real libraries anymore because there are more computers being used than books makes about as much sense as saying that paperback romances are edging out hardback classics on library shelves! Library services and collections are NOT mutually exclusive! Our value is growing! It's good news! The doom and gloomers are missing the point if they don't see that the advent of technology, the need for PC connection, the desire to learn how to live online makes public libraries even more relevant and important to their users than ever before - not less! I think a lot of what the article said is true; reference desks will become obsolete as we accept that our 21st-century customers want a different library experience, for example. But one point in this piece is, I think, completely off-base. We're not allowing gaming in order to trick a teen into checking out Dostoevsky but, since gaming and meeting other relevant new needs just may help keep the doors open, he'll at least have a chance to find a copy if he wants one - at his thriving public library!

Catherine Hakala-Ausperk
Deputy Director, Cleveland Heights - University Heights (OH) Public Library, author of  Be a Great Boss: One Year to Success (ALA Editions, 2011)

Oh well, I remember when a few librarians were upset when we put jigsaw puzzles in the library, back in the 80s.  But everyone else loved them.   At my local public library (Brewster, MA) they let a user assemble a puzzle on a library table where passers-by can take a look or stop to help and socialize.  Many public libraries have started chess and scrabble clubs.        

Every community needs a community center and in my small town that is de facto the public library.  What better place?  It's accessible and open 6 days a week.  The meeting room is always busy.  Local artists display their work there.  A huge bulletin board is available to community groups to post notices. 

The display case features monthly exhibits by local hobbyists--from needlework to beautiful sailor's valentines.  The public computers are always in use; in fact people help each other at the terminals.  Mothers chat with each other while their children are at story hour.  Public libraries perform a social function as well as an educational one--and they always have.  I'm lucky to live in a community where the library fosters this. 

Janet Husband, author of Sequels (ALA, 2009) and eSequels.com.
         
I think he is right.  I know that isn't a popular opinion in libraries and I even included video games in my new book from LU, but that was because I knew they were in libraries. . .  not that I want them there.  I often think he is right. He just sometimes says things in a really controversial way.  You can quote that anonymously. 
Any program or service that brings people new to the library inside our doors presents an opportunity for us, the library staff, to show them everything else we have to offer them.  They can not know the breadth of information and materials we have if they never come through the doors to see it for themselves.

Becky Spratford, author of the forthcoming revision of The Horror Readers’ Advisory                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The article muddles academic and public libraries, which have different missions. Anything we can do to get patrons into libraries is good.  In-person visits to public libraries in 2009 increased 10% compared with a 2006 ALA household survey. Seventy-six percent of Americans visited their local public library in the year preceding the survey, compared with 65.7% two years ago. Online visits to public libraries increased even more: 41% of library card holders visited their library websites in the year before the poll, compared with 23.6% in 2006.

Peggy Johnson, author of  Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management

Libraries, like most public entities, are in a time of retrenchment – doing less with less.  Times like this also offer an opportunity to try new things, keep those that working well, and let go of functions that don’t serve us as well as they did in the past. 

Valerie Horton, editor of Moving Materials: Physical Delivery in Libraries

From a business perspective, many libraries are looking for a new business model. In every business model, the organization needs to clearly understand its core processes or what it does best.  If  a library provides a coffee shop better than the top competitor in that area (Starbucks, etc.) then it should provide that service.  If a library is able to provide a competitive coffee service because its revenues are subsidized by taxpayers and consequently it does not face the same cost structure of a for-profit organization, this is not a real library core process.  Without a clear identification of core activities and a means to improve them (balanced scorecard, etc.), it would be expected to see the start of all sorts of flailing activities from game to slumber rooms.

Steve Smith, author of the forthcoming book , Cost Control for Nonprofits in Crisis

While this was just a small sample of opinion, clearly there is no consensus as to what the “library” should be.

ALA Editions on Kindle

Did you know that many of our titles are now available in Kindle editions? Over the past six months we’ve been hard at work converting and uploading many of our recent and most popular books so that you can read ALA Editions wherever you happen to be, whether it’s on the train during your commute or while you’re deep in the stacks. We’re adding more every month, but here’s our current inventory:

ALA TechSource Bloggers Discuss the Libraries at the Tipping Point eBook Summit

On Wednesday, September 29th, over 2000 people joined together for the (LJ/SLJ) “Libraries at the Tipping Point” eBook Summit.  This first-of-its-kind virtual discussion of eBooks offered a variety of conversations, programs, panels, and vendor information about the future of eBooks in libraries. 

As someone who has written and blogged extensively about eBooks, I was thrilled to take part in the virtual eBook summit, both as a participant, and as a moderator.  An event of this magnitude made me realize that we’re finally here!  After 11 long years (the introduction of NetLibrary), eBooks have finally hit the tipping point in libraries.  Several ALA TechSource bloggers, including Kate Sheehan, Jason Griffey, and Cindi Trainor, also took part in the summit.  I had a chance to ask them some questions about the value of the summit and common themes and issues.  Here’s what they had to say:

Sue Polanka: Which aspects of the eBook Summit were of value to you?

Kate Sheehan:  I was really impressed with the whole thing - I still haven't gotten to go back through the archive to catch up on the panels I missed, but I'd recommend the How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers panel, Ebook What-Ifs: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning, and the keynote presentations. I'm looking forward to going back to catch up on the K-12 track and the academic library track, though. I heard great things about the RA panel as well. The content was consistently great and the interface was very good as well. 

Jason Griffey:   There was an enormous amount of great info and thought provoking ideas here, but the two that really grabbed me were Eli Neiburger's section of the conference-wide panel, and Kevin Kelly's keynote. If you only listen to two things, those will give you enough to think about for a great while.

Cindi Trainor: I tend to gravitate toward visionary speakers who postulate about the future based on our past, so the talk given by Eli Neiburger resonated the most with me.  He later posted to twitter, "It was my intent to show we have a bright future if we can just stop living in the past,"
and he hit that nail right on the head.  The business models of the print world are not translating well into the electronic world, as far as libraries are concerned, and if libraries don't make herculean efforts to bring significant change, we are, as Eli said, screwed.

SP: During your panel discussion, what were the common themes and issues discussed?

JG:  I was a panelist on Reality Check: Putting Ebook Reading Devices into Kids’ Hands, and the focus seemed to be, like many of the panels of the day, on the problems with the current ebook situation; incompatible formats, DRM, and pricing structures. There was also a lot of talk about use-cases for K-12 education, and what ebooks might bring to the educational structures of public education.

SP: What are the biggest challenges for libraries in regard to eBooks? 

KS:  I think fear is a huge factor for libraries and ebooks. Libraries are facing budget crises; they're cutting back on staff, collections, and services and it seems that everywhere we turn, someone's predicting the end of libraries. Librarians who began their careers before the advent of the Internet are probably having major deja vu. It's tempting to just hunker down to wait for the publishers and big book retailers to duke it out, but I think David Lankes was right on the money when he urged librarians to get involved in the future of ebooks. I hope that all libraries can work together to find models and solutions that make sense for our members, but I do think different types of libraries will have different needs, though it may take a while for those differences to become obvious. 

I've only recently begun to spend time in school libraries, but I think a lot of them have done an excellent job positioning themselves as the place for students to learn research skills as well as develop a love of reading. That seems to have held them in good stead through the "everything is online" years and seems like a really good way to weather the "everything is on my kindle" years. It has the added benefit of being genuinely helpful and necessary to a good education. Both academics and school libraries may suffer from a broad assumption that young people will automatically prefer ebooks (though I'm sure young backs prefer etextbooks to heavy packs). Public libraries are just constantly under fire. As every public librarian knows, it seems like every other person wants to tell you that the library is dead. There's a pervasive sense of fear and powerlessness in public libraries when it comes to ebooks, but I think we're getting past that and starting to look at what our options are. 

JG:  I think that the biggest challenge is that libraries are being challenged at their most basic level: the ability to act as a collector and distributor of media under the First Sale doctrine. eBooks and other natively digital media types aren't bound by the same sorts of First Sale doctrine that physical media is, and the limitations brought about by restrictive licenses are a huge problem for libraries.

 CT:  For me, limitations to sharing and reusing ebook content constitute the largest roadblocks to wide adoption of ebooks in academic libraries, either for textbooks or in research.  At my library, we try to buy an electronic copy wherever we can, as these work best to serve our students and faculty who participate at a distance or online.

It's simply not as easy to print or share parts of an ebook (depending on the platform) as it is to print or share a single journal article or most information on the web.  Industry-wide, I am disappointed by the lack of business models that enable libraries to provide ebook content on popular ereaders.  The traditional role of libraries as provider to those who can't afford their own access is being ignored in this arena.  It's forced libraries to walk a fine line with digital content vendors like Amazon, providing readers and content to patrons in spite of Terms of Service that do not allow for it.

SP: What were some important "takeaways" or "a-ha moments" you had during the summit? 

KS: One of my favorite themes was the idea that the library can become the nexus of community-generated content. We've seen that idea floated around library circles for a long time, but if everyone, including the library, is publishing electronically, the bar for entry gets a little lower. Publishing a paper chapbook of teen poetry can be a huge amount of work for an understaffed, underfunded library. But making teen poetry available to everyone's ereaders electronically seems more feasible. I was struck by Eli Neiberger's thoughts about "dead" technologies that still exist today and how things like candles have changed from daily necessities to an almost luxury item with special uses. I kept thinking about apps like Hipstamatic that imitate old and damaged photographs. Technology isn't as linear as we tend to think - outmoded technologies like horses and sepia-tones photographs have new lives. Riding a horse isn't so much a method of transportation as a sport and it's impossible to find a digital camera that doesn't have a "sepia" mode. Libraries have to keep carving out their niche, but that's better than waiting to see what publishers and Amazon decide for us. 

JG:  All of Eli's examples of technological advances and cultural reimagining lit up all the right parts of my brain. Just a great set of examples that show why libraries need to be paying a lot of attention to these issues.

Interview with Frances Jacobson Harris

I had a chance to interview Frances Jacobson Harris, Educator, school librarian, and author of I Found It on the Internet, Second Edition.

J. Michael Jeffers: Frances, you have been a high school librarian in a very special school for how many years? Tell us a little bit about your school and also what has changed the most in your tenure?

Frances Jacobson Harris: This is my 24th year at University Laboratory High School at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Uni is a public laboratory school that serves gifted students in grades 8 through 12. We're small - only about 60 students per class (300 total). The program is rigorous and students are held to high standards. At the same time, teachers have a lot of autonomy to develop curriculum. Pretty much each of us gets to know every one of the students. What has changed the most while I've been here? Technology, without a doubt. It's changed the way we communicate and, for many of us, the way we teach. What hasn't changed is a school culture that values trust, creativity, and community. Lockers stand open, students have free periods rather than required study halls, and most every student participates in extracurricular activities and/or sports. As illustration - the class of 1972 sponsors the Wylde Q. Chicken Spontaneous Generation Award for Coloring Outside the Lines. For the most part, technology has served to facilitate this culture.

JMJ: Have these changes been good for the school learning environment?

FJH: Definitely. Advances in technology have certainly improved access to information resources and possibilities for collaborative learning. Our student newspaper is entirely online; student journalists now write for an unlimited audience (and the comments on their stories to prove it!). In fact, I wish some of our teachers would do a lot more to transform their teaching with technology. A few still use it in the same way they used overhead projectors.  

JMJ: What about the students themselves. What drives, motivates, interest them?

FJH:: Many of our students come to us with a lot of intrinsic motivation, which is a too-rare, but entirely wonderful characteristic. They are, of course, interested in all the things their peers are interested in - music and other media (including books), friends, hanging out, fitting in, and getting more sleep. Unfortunately, grades are often a big motivation around here. We don't do class ranking, or it would be even worse. Many, though, are just insatiably curious - which is a joyful thing for a librarian.

JMJ: Tell us some of the new initiatives or programs at your library.

FJH: Our main claim to fame is the team-taught computer literacy curriculum, a semester course which is required of all incoming (eighth grade) students, followed by another semester course in the freshman year. Some of my pieces of the course can be found on our website: http://www.uni.illinois.edu/library/computerlit/index.php. While not exactly "new" (we've been doing this since 1996), the courses are in constant evolution. They have given me a chance to really focus my instruction on information evaluation and responsible use of information and communication technology. These skills are particularly important in our environment because we have never installed Internet filtering software (having the University of Illinois as our Internet service provider obviates the need for E-Rate funding and its mandate of filtering software). Therefore, it's terribly important that we talk, talk, and talk with students about what they find online and how they treat one another online (and in person). The course, as well as collaborative work I do with teachers, gives me lots of opportunities to keep those conversations open. In fact, the vast majority of problems we have do not involve exposure to inappropriate content, but tend to revolve around interpersonal relationships.

It is my hope that our approach to information access can serve as a model of what "normal" could be. Yesterday I saw a tweet from Dr. Alec Couros, a professor of educational technology and media at the University of Regina, who posted "I'm feeling pretty stifled with China's Internet filtering, but it still seems more liberal than most western K12 schools." Unfortunately, I think he's spot on about the draconian way we restrict access to the Internet in schools. I'm convinced there are ways to keep our students safe AND to allow them to engage in the online world in enriching and engaging ways - ways that prepare them for the world outside school.

   JMJ: When you talk to colleagues and friends in the (school) library world, what are their biggest concerns?

FJH: Lack of funding for staff and materials are HUGE points of discussion. I also hear a great deal about restrictive technology environments - not just filters, but rules and administrative procedures that tie librarians' hands, making it difficult to deploy Web 2.0 tools, communicate with students and parents, and even update library websites. And of course, many of my colleagues are concerned about the impact of today's high stakes testing environment, one that overly ties a curriculum to preparing students for testing.  

   JMJ: You must be very proud of the second edition of I Found It on the Internet. What is especially new and significant in this edition that readers really must know and understand?

FJH:: For this edition, I was particularly happy to shine more light on what we now understand about young people's use of the Internet as it relates to safety issues. Recent research tells us that the stranger-danger "technopanic" response is no longer the appropriate one. The vast majority of kids know how to protect themselves from those textbook types of dangers. Those who do not, or who actively court risky online situations, do need our attention. But we do kids no favors when we broadcast a generic "just say no" response. Instead, we need to recognize that young people are active participants in the online world, not just passive inhabitants. Truly, they shape their online world as much as it shapes them.  I'm hoping that after people read this edition of the book they'll be better informed about how we can help kids do that shaping, as much as coming to a better understanding of what we can and should do to protect and educate kids.  

JMJ: Finally, a trick question: Since your recent book went “rather well” would you consider doing another book for Editions?

FJH: Yes - when I retire! Actually, I will probably do that (retire) within the next 5 years. Right now I hardly have time to eat. I've been spending every available minute filling this website with content: http://www.cufolkandroots.org.

Chrystie Hill on Libraries and Community

In October 2009, Chrystie Hill spoke at TEDx - Columbus expressing in a personal way her vision for libraries. As she notes, in researching for her book Inside, Outside, and Online, she spoke with library staff, thinking about their practice through a community-building lens. Across the board, she heard that librarianship is about people and connections, not the books or the services that we think people need.

Tim O’Reilly, in presenting his ideas of Government 2.0 in an Inc. article, said, “We've come to think about government as a kind of vending machine -- we put in our taxes and we get out services." He suggested that we look at government as a platform, like Apple’s iPhone, upon which 150,000 apps have been created, harnessing the entrepreneurial energy of others. What then would be the role of public libraries? Digitized music, movies, and ebooks challenge libraries’ function as a “vending machine” of physical items. Perhaps libraries’ platform is the human connection that Chrystie describes in this 20-minute video.


Chrystie Hill said that she was mad that she didn’t bring a copy of her  book to the Tedx talk.. “They didn’t tell me I could.” We’ll do better. Below is an excerpt. 
 

As a library professional, I value traditional library services and am as interested as most of my colleagues in whether library visits and overall circulation have increased. Yet, increased circulation and visits to the library, even an increase in library program or classroom attendance (especially for children’s programs), feels less of a feat against the fact that we’re not doing a good job online or outside the library. We’re absent (not entirely, but mostly) as active community builders even in our own spaces, but certainly outside the library. We’ve neglected to recognize our role as organizers and keepers of information access as primarily a social role. In fact, the scholars engaged in early discussions about the role of the library in developing and facilitating the participatory and social nature of the Web weren’t librarians, and the year was 1996.

In their seminal work “The Social Life of Documents,” John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid explained that documents—digital or otherwise—are much more than carriers of information. Although documents are powerful for helping us structure and organize information space, they also help us create and negotiate social space. In other words, groups form and conversations emerge around them. Brown and Duguid argued that we should expand our notion of the document to include all the social interaction that happens around it. Here they are in the late 1990s, well before Web 2.0 or prevalent Internet use, telling us that if we pay attention to how people form groups and create community around documents, it will help us move technology (and by extension, other ser¬vices) in the direction of what humans actually do with a document (Brown and Duguid 1996, 2000). In my version of the story of where we went wrong, my first point is this: we’ve neglected to consider, in general, the social life of documents, as outlined in the article. This is true for all documents, regardless of format.

A few anecdotes from some target users are instructive:

Trudee is a young professional, presently in her early twenties. She won’t ask a librarian any question, at any time, for any reason. I can ask my friends or find it myself, she says on the suggestion that she ask a reference librarian to help her solve a problem or locate information; they’re faster.

Matt is a middle manager, presently in his early thirties, who also trained as a librarian. Upon discussing whether his local library is relevant to him, he says (quite emphatically), the most important information need that I have is “what are my friends doing?” concluding then that the public library is not relevant to him as an individual user.

In the words of one OCLC survey respondent, presently in her early forties: Books, books, books, rows and rows of books, stacks of books, tables filled with books, people holding books, people checking out books. Libraries are all about books. That is what I think and that is what I will always think.

Somewhere along the way we chose (deliberately or otherwise) to value our traditional roles as much as we valued the traditional definition of the documents we cared for. If documents helped humans structure and organize information space, librarians helped humans structure, organize, and access documents. In neglecting the social nature of documents and our users, we neglected to nurture, or at least to articulate, the very social nature of our own roles.

“For what Hill (director of community services, WebJunction) offers is nothing less than a holistic vision for public libraries in the United States, centered on the library's ability to create community. She adroitly draws on scholarship and research, examples and interviews, to create a plan for libraries that is as sharply focused as it is quietly urgent.” Library Journal, starred review.

See the Google books excerpt.

So You Want to Write a Book...

If you want to publish your book, you need access to an editor—not just any editor, but an acquisitions editor. (Publishing has all kinds of editors--copy, developmental, photo--you name one, we have it.) For authors trying to break into publishing, the hardest thing to do is find an acquiring editor who will listen and read. This is especially true if you want to write fiction or a trade book. With tens of thousands of people convinced they are destined to be the next John Grisham, you can imagine the chaos if all their ideas, proposals, and final manuscripts were allowed to flow into publishing houses. Who would sort through it all?

There was a time when a neatly typed manuscript, with a stamped, self-addressed return envelope, was sufficient to send off to a publishing house. You might have received an acknowledgement—even a letter.  There was actually some human contact. Up until ten or fifteen years ago, some junior editor might actually sift through the week’s mail looking for something promising. Now you need an agent; you need access; you need a reputation. It’s like getting your first job out of college: you couldn’t get one because you had no experience, and you couldn’t get experience because you had no job!

As difficult as it is to get an editor’s attention, getting an agent to read, listen and think about your book proposal or idea is never easy.  Agents earn their cut of the royalties (say 10%) because they can and do help develop projects, and they know what acquiring editors and publishing houses are looking for. Just as important, they have contacts. They can pick up the phone or send an e-mail and get answers. In some cases, they find multiple interested publishers and can set up the exciting and potentially lucrative Dutch auction.

Why has the publishing game become so difficult, so complicated? Part of the reason stems from the consolidation of publishers over the last 25 years. There are simply fewer independent houses that are willing to risk taking on new names. Further, the entire industry has been under great financial pressure—and not just recently. With consolidation has come expectations of ever high earnings, and most editors are judged (and paid) according to their ability to produce high-income books. Marketing, too, has a much stronger influence. The traditional model in which editors ran things is disappearing; marketing has taken over with a bottom-line perspective.

So what is a humble and struggling author to do? For one, find an agent; second find out what is selling and what kinds of books publishers sell. (The worst mistake is not doing research and trying to sell your great American novel to a house that does not publish fiction.) But there are other, interesting alternatives. Lulu and Amazon, among others, have made it possible to self-publish a book—an alternative that even established writers are increasingly considering. (And, of course, there are books on how to do it.) But let’s be honest: It is not easy to make a name or get your-self-published book in the retail stores, thus the luring attraction of an established publisher.

Before self-publishing became the rage, vanity publishing houses existed (and still do).  These publishers can take your manuscript, edit it, make pages and eventually create cover art and bound books. The only problem is that you have to pay for all of this and these houses typically have little or no marketing assistance. They can store them, for a fee, so that you don’t have to fill the basement with boxes of books. But you have to get make the rounds to bookstores, get on sites, and generate orders.

If your goal isn’t to write a best seller there are many small and specialized houses that are very approachable. Often they are professional organizations who publish for their members, such as ALA Editions. We are very open to submissions, proposals, and inquiries. But this is equally true for smaller houses that specialized in everything from poetry to wellness. The most important action to take is to research the respective publisher’s website and find out how and if they take unsolicited manuscripts and in what form. For example, Skyhorse, a New York-based independent, publishes in a variety of areas. They offer very specific advice when submitting a proposal; they especially encourage you to look through their site to make sure what you are proposing matches their publishing program.

So, join the fun and publish your book…
 

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