Monday, January 30, 2012

Acquire. Distribute. Archive. Repeat.

This is the role of the library as I see it.


We acquire materials. We acquire experts. We acquire technology.


We lend materials. We make experts available as full and part-time paid employees, contracted performers and presenters, volunteers, and other paid and unpaid services that connect library customers to experts in real time or as recorded media. We reserve time for users to have access to technology, tools, objects, digital files, physical space, virtual space, etc.


We buy or lease materials for long-term use. We store what we can. We record events through various media, as images, video, audio, text, and original objects. We preserve for future users.


And we do this again, and again, and again.

Pretty simple. Anything I missed?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Amazon *

So. I've had this thought for a long time, but I don't think anyone can answer the question:
How much influence do book sales on have on (the) The New York Times Best Seller list?
Is there a list of titles whose majority sales were from Amazon that made the NYT list (based on those sales)?

Librarians already know about the influence of Amazon because we deal with library patrons daily who want us to buy some book they saw on Amazon that had "really excellent reviews" from some unknown friends of the author. There has been lots of crap that got bumped on Amazon that made it onto our library shelves. Much of complete and total shit.

So now that Amazon will have its own publishing house (and for tax purposes, will have its offices only in "the cloud," or Belize), to what degree should we ignore sales from those Amazon authors? For example, Penny Marshall is reportedly writing a book for Amazon, and on any other day since 1993, not one person would care. But give Amazon's muscle in the retail world, Penny will sell tons of copies of her milk-and-Pepsi tell-all.

Should publishers be allowed to decide which books become bestsellers? Hell Yes, you might say if you ran Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, and Macmillan.

But they don't. They promote the books all they can, but they don't own the book stores. Not until now.

If Amazon is both the publisher and the seller, then what happens when they promote a book? It sells. Because everyone who visits Amazon is going to see that book on the front page, and in the sidebars and in the pop-ups. And they will buy.

So now Amazon publishes the book that becomes the bestseller that makes the Times list that influences what libraries buy. And what every other book retailer in the world sells. Can you say, MONOPOLY?

The first title that Amazon publishes that becomes a Times bestseller should bring a wave of lawsuits. Or at the very least, should require an asterisk next to each title that makes the list, meaning, yes, this book sold well, but not in a way that's ethical.

At some point, will the list become Amazon's Best Seller List at The New York Times? If the Times could be so lucky.

[source for Penny Marshall info, Amazon's Hit Man]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Six Dollar an Hour Man.

There will definitely be a day when Americans can no longer afford the products we outsourced to China.

Remember, we went to China to make products at lower costs. We sent them our plastic sandals and t-shirts. But now they have our computers and televisions. And one day, the American worker won't make enough money to buy that computer.

When corporations look at the Chinese factory model with envy, you know the goal is to turn Americans into slaves. Cheap Chinese labor is driving down the value of the global workforce to near zero. "We've found someone who will work cheaper than you. Goodbye."

But, yes, to say the goal is SLAVERY is to oversimplify. The goal is to keep China happy.

I've heard stories about what it takes to do business in China. One story says that a company needs to turn over all the schematics and manufacturing plans to China to have them approved. And then China keeps them. But I don't know if this true. Because if true, it would mean that any American that outsources to China is staying in China. Because if they leave, China will simply build the products anyway. And sell them and put the American companies out of business.

Listen to this story where the corporate executive is giddy, absolutely giddy with the notion of a workforce that produces 24 hours a day:
One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
source, NYT,"How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work."

Look at what is expected from workers. That is an inhumane work environment. That factory could not legally exist in the United States. But that's what corporations want: no labor regulations, no rules at all.

And who the hell brewed those 8,000 cups of tea?

I think the next step is to treat laborers as a commodity, trading at a fluctuating rate on world markets. Today, you make $10 an hour, but tomorrow we pay $9.27. The result might not be slavery because there is some income, but it will be slavery because there will be no place else to go.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When there is nothing left to digitize.

I remember when we used to lease our home telephone. It was on the wall in the kitchen.


It was our only phone.

Way back in the dark ages of communications history, you didn't own your own telephone, BellSouth or one of the other companies leased it to you for a couple of bucks a month. That's why everyone remembers having an olive green or lemon yellow or fire orange wall phone or pink "princess" phone or black or clay desk phone because everyone got one of six phone colors. So over time, you ended up paying about $600 for that 5-pound hunk of metal and plastic. And if you ever moved and forgot to return it to the phone company, they would hunt you down and take your first-born son. If you don't follow the rules, someone comes to take it away.

But that was my first experience with owning something without owning it. We'd never "rented to own" our furniture or TV. Our piece of shit car was ours for the $50 my dad paid for it.

But now that I'm out in the business world, I see so much more that our business owns but doesn't own. We lease everything.

So why do I feel a sudden outrage over our leasing of ebooks that I don't feel over, say, some Dun & Bradstreet business directory that we've leased for years? Why do I suddenly feel like I need to have total ownership of that copy of Franzen's Freedom that I don't feel when I box up the D&B and send it back to the publisher?

And what about electronic journals? Why didn't I get upset when the New York Times pulled some of its content from one of our subscriptions? Or why don't I post petitions online to complain when other magazines and econtent become licensed to a single distributor and we get locked out unless we want to break existing contracts, or simply pay more for something we used to offer under the old contracts? As a librarian, it would seem that I should be more upset by all the restrictions and terms of service I need to agree to follow than I am now. How pissed off are you?

The answer is simple: It's because we lend books. Libraries should always have the freedom to lend materials to anyone. I was going to say 'without restrictions,' but that would be stupid: libraries make plenty of rules about lending that we expect our borrowers to follow.

But we lend. And we don't want to be told how to do it.

We can also see the daily use of ebooks and the impact not having a proper supply means to the borrowers. When something is popular, we miss it when it's gone. We also look for ways to exploit the supply: we might shorten the lending period for popular materials. But the decision is ours. We don't being locked into someone else's restrictions.

So that's the real problem with ebooks. Because we lend them like printed books, we feel we should retain that same freedom to which we've grown accustomed.

But as you can see, the problems with leases have been around for many years. Libraries simply don't own all the materials we pay to use. We can't afford to own it all. So we lease. But it's with ebooks that many librarians have suddenly become aware of the problems associated with leasing. And they don't like them.

So. What to do?

Some people are saying to own them, anyway. To claim that each ebook is a purchase and to apply Fair Use to them and lend them with the same freedoms we expect from printed works. But that seems like a lot of work. You'd need to host your titles, break DRM, set up a secure distribution channel, avoid copyright violations, manage lending periods and dodge the cops.

Which is all good if we can prove ownership. But if we don't own it to start, then where can Fair Use help? Simple: If you own it, digitize it. If you don't own it, don't.

Some librarians say to digitize what we can and distribute what we can. These are the things we're not good at since we've been relying on other parties for these services for so long, the digitizing and hosting and distributing. So, we'll see what happens next. Although there's a slim chance there won't be anything left to digitize if we wait too long.

The What Ifs? are these: what if publishers continue to move all content to digital? And what if we, in order to save space, discard all of our print? And what if we just lease and no longer own any of the resources we have in our libraries? And what if some corporation digitizes everything first? And what if Copyright extends to grant greater protections to orphaned works so that no one could be sure what was in the public domain and what wasn't? What if there was nothing left that we could digitize, legally?

Libraries could make other arrangements. There are thousands, tens of thousands, of people who would gladly make their works available to libraries freely if they had some assurances that they would retain their copyrights and that they could retain some control over their works in the rare case that something they created became valuable. Hell, I would let libraries distribute my books so long as they didn't print out pages just to wipe their patrons' asses with them. So yes, there are real digital issues worth fighting for right now.

But as far as what we should do with ebooks now? I'd like to see a total boycott. Now that publishers can see how much $$$ we have to spend, we should boycott all ebooks. Stop all orders until we get terms we want.

Yeah, I know you won't do that. Because you're afraid. Or maybe you're a pussy. Or because it's unrealistic for me to try to simplify the issues of fair use and ownership down to a Yes / No decision.

But this is the truth: we need to stop "buying" ebooks right now. And we need to use that money to attract agreements that are compatible with our print lending policies.

We need ebook leasing, but in a way that benefits us: we need to be able to pay a fee for unlimited lending for ebooks for a fixed period.

We also need ebook ownership for the copies we purchase.

But we're not going to get it.

I don't have any manifesto for this. Except for you to spend your money wisely: Don't get ripped off.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Flavor of our Books.

Publishers and authors know that romance novels and ice cream go together. They know that Shakespeare goes better with Camembert and Faulkner is smoother with rye whiskey. Mike Mignola's Hellboy comes alive with a Baby Ruth, and Mickey Spillane and Anne Rice beg for the taste of fresh blood in your mouth.

I asked recently on Twitter about things that became more valuable when licked, and now I can say that books can be added to that very short list as several new authors have published books where the ink and paper has flavor.

Jolene Campbell's Beaver on Mars uses this new technology to add apples, pine, chalk and other flavors to her novel. "Nothing else conveys the mood like taste," she says, licking the page of a frantic chase scene that fills her taste buds with cinnamon.

James Frey's new book, A Million Plus One tastes like shit, actual human feces. When asked which technology he used to get the paper to taste that way, he replied, "I didn't do anything special. My books just taste like shit naturally."

Many publishers are adding this technology to their recent releases, but trends suggest that readers are looking for even more direct ways to incorporate more sensory participation into the reading experience.

One major publisher is said to be working on a device that will, at a predetermined point in the story, either terrifying or suspenseful, will actually slam shut on the reader's tit.

"But we're still in the testing phase," the unnamed source stated.

-- idea stolen from "The Soundtrack of Our Books."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If SOPA were applied to the real world...

luckily, SOPA has failed. because I never had time to make a post on what would happen if we applied the same law that would destroy links to potentially criminal sites to solving the same problems in the real world:

yes, that is the government solving the problem of a guy selling bootleg copies of Tintin in the back of his record store with its usual finesse. see if any customers can get to his store any time soon.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Amoeba. A-you-ba. A-we-ba.

We are single-celled organisms in the internet's complex ocean of life. I guess. I haven't really thought about it much, but it seems accurate. But what I have thought about is this:

True story. I had an email from a library patron that say this, verbatim:
"Please give me step by step instructions for downloading ebooks, but keep it simple."

So when I read it, I punched myself in the face. And then I read it again. Because I don't understand any way to give step by step instructions for downloading ebooks, YET still keep it simple.

There are about anywhere between 9 and 62 individual steps for downloading an ebook and the 9-step instructions are only for people who already understand concepts such as "download" and "ebook." So for someone who demands step-by-step instructions, we're looking as something closer to 30 steps, which forfeit any relationship to the word "simple."

We're human beings. We're supposed to be at the top of the evolutionary ladder. We've left this planet and landed on a completely different astral body. And came back. We're supposed to have amazing brains to do this stuff, but still, we're alarmingly primitive.

We may be able to grasp complex ideas, but a survey of the internet can't prove that. We group together because we like the same song or television show or ice cream flavor. Personally, I follow people on twitter who use the hashtag, #banana.

We praise memes. The simpler, the better. Honey Badger, what? I was in Target and saw a Honey Badger t-shirt. So I had to track down the origin of that meme. And it was stupid. Most memes are stupid. Insert an image of a naked French guy into any photo or maybe Paula Deen or a furry animal and the stampede begins. Suddenly everyone has to do it. Why? I guess some memes are funny, although I don't get the joke. I don't understand any of the Ryan Gossling mass-awareness. I know why the cake is a lie, but I don't care. And don't try to explain why that cat can has cheezburger.

So what does the internet say about us when we flock to these posts and repeat and repurpose these ideas over and over into the millions?

This all didn't bother me until Lana Del Rey got a modelling gig. If you don't know, Lana Del Ray has a couple of songs, maybe three, but only one is worth listening to. Video Games. It's a cute song about a girl who pretties herself up only to have some dude completely ignore her while he plays games. Or that's what I hear when I listen to it.

I think it's because I got the feeling that she had been reduced to a meme. That someone, and I don't know who, it could be the woman herself, had made the conscious decision to parcel out bits of image to see who would find some attraction with what part. And then when that part became the focus, then we would be sold that product.

If so, this isn't new. Did you ever see the movie The Idolmaker? It's the same thing. It's probably on YouTube. It's also like old 1970's TV catchphrases like DY-NO-MITE. Or Aaay. But that was the seventies when we were all high all the time. So it just makes me depressed that we are supposedly so enlightened by all this information; yet, we continue to seek out simple messages.

Maybe it's because the more complex the world becomes, the more we want things to be uncomplicated. Kiss my grits.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Internet is not a right.

Don't be stupid enough to say that the internet is a human right. Sure, the internet allows us access to information we could never reach before, but it's not a human right to have access to ALL or even ANY of that information.

How would you even define the internet if you wanted to refer to it as mainly the information carried and not the hardware and software necessary to transfer it?

The internet changes from moment to moment. How can you expect to have a right to something that's here one minute and gone the next? The internet evolves and flows continually, daily. It's like saying you have a right to the oceans. You might have some rights in the oceans, but only the rights that your boat offers. And only the rights that territories grant. And only the rights that you can defend. Because you're out in the ocean. With sharks.

You also can't dump toxic waste in the oceans. And you can't remove all the food from the oceans. And you can't remove all the water from the oceans.

Well, you can. But you shouldn't.

If you shield any part of your Facebook profile from strangers then you agree. If the internet were a right, than Facebook would be a right, and access to every user on Facebook would be a right. But the right to access Facebook accounts is not a right because Facebook is just another service accessible through the internet.

Many resources that can be found on the internet are not free. But if the internet is a basic human right, then these resources must be free. What about access to monitor nuclear power stations? Or water treatment facilities? Oh, wait, you say you don't mean that everything *on* the internet is a right? Then what the hell do you mean? You mean access to the internet? Again, the whole internet, or just the good parts? What if you can only access a State-sponsored internet? Would that be okay? And if not, why not? Since no one person has access to every part of the internet, then it can't possibly be a right.

Basic human rights should never infringe on the rights of others. A basic human right to the internet would force us all to be equals on the internet. But we're not equals. Some of us are creators and some are consumers; some are providers and some are participants. You have as much right to play World of Warcraft as you have to walk uninvited through the front door of my home and eat dinner at my table, which is no right at all.

The internet is just technology. When you compare the technology of the internet to things such as the printing press, you reveal to the world that you don't know what the internet is. The thinker of that piece of wisdom says "The invention of the printing press revealed new rights, new concerns nobody cared about until the printing press appeared. It's difficult trying to list these new rights without reference to the technology that enabled them."

And what are these new rights the internet creates? The right have my avatar fuck your avatar? The internet is the medium and we are the message. Whatever rights we have in the place where our feet touch the soil are the only rights we should expect online. Demanding a right to something that requires the functions of artificial satellites in orbit around our planet is simply arrogant.

One would think that it's more important to say that freedom from hunger is a human right. But we all know that isn't true. Because food isn't free.

The internet allows us to gather and use information more quickly. And we know that information is power. And since when is power a basic human right?

You have no basic human right to any of the things you find on the internet. Except maybe a right to assemble peaceably. Your rights to free speech are strictly moderated at most places on the internet. Your freedom from violence and abuse is constantly under attack.

What are basic human rights? I have the right to participate in government. But no one would every argue that I should have access to serve in every political office in the country without restrictions. I have the right to live in the country of my choice. Unless I don't follow the rules and piss off the country of my choice, then I don't. I have the right to live free from violence. And we all laugh at that.

And despite what you may think, there is no basic human right to be educated; that's actually a responsibility that most of us neglect.

The internet is like the real world in that you can have all the rights you can afford to pay for with money or with violence.

Or, ... you know what? I changed my mind. Make it a right. Everyone can have all the internet they can fill their bellies with, and all the internet that fills their lungs, and all the internet that provides warmth and shelter and love and freedom. Yes, and all the porn your hungry eyes can swallow. Because clearly, you have your priorities in order.