Category Archives: Library Issues


I’m sure this isn’t an original thought (so very, very few are), but it was novel enough to me that I needed to write it down…and that’s pretty much what a blog is designed for.

I’ve written and talked about how libraries need to become comfortable with the containers of our new digital content, as since we move into the future the containers (ereader, ipad, tablet) will be important to users. We already know, more or less, how to deal with content. I’ve also been thinking about the interfaces that we use to access this content, and it just hit me:

Print is the only example of a media where the User Interface, Content, and Container have been, historically, the same thing. With music and video, we are completely used to the container, the content, and the user interface each being distinct: we put a tape into a player, which we control with kn0bs or buttons, and the content itself is ethereal and amorphous. With print, until very recently, the content, container, and interface were all the same thing…a book, a magazine, a broadsheet, a newspaper. All are content, container, and interface wrapped into a single unit. This may point to one of the reasons that people seem to feel a deeper connection to print materials than to the 8mm film, or the cassette tape.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these distinctions between container, content, and interface….I think that these three concepts could inform the way that libraries conceptualize what we do, and maybe find better ways to do it.

Disney, Libraries, and Copyright

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with Copyright Law in the United States has probably heard of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, passed in 1998 largely due to the lobbying power of the Disney corporation. Anyone who has children, or is just a fan of the Disney oeuvre, is likewise aware of their “Disney Vault” system, wherein Disney releases one of their animated films on DVD for a limited time, and the withdraws it from retail sale for between 7 and 10 years.

The tension between copyright, libraries, and Disney’s Vault process is one that was brought to light for me in a series of tweets this past week from Gretchen Caserotti. She was struggling to replace films in their collection due to damage, loss, etc, and discovered that there are 22 Disney films that they can’t replace now due to Disney’s Vault. I hadn’t thought about this as a result of the Vault, and my first thought when the issue came up was Section 108 of the US Copyright Code…otherwise known as the Reproduction by Libraries and Archives section.

Librarians should all be familiar with Section 107, the Fair Use provision of US Copyright law. But I’m consistently surprised how few librarians know Section 108. It gives libraries specific abilities regarding copyright, and in regards to the Disney issue, I immediately thought of this section:

h) (1) For purposes of this section, during the last 20 years of any term of copyright of a published work, a library or archives, including a nonprofit educational institution that functions as such, may reproduce, distribute, display, or perform in facsimile or digital form a copy or phonorecord of such work, or portions thereof, for purposes of preservation, scholarship, or research, if such library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation, that none of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) of paragraph (2) apply.
(2) No reproduction, distribution, display, or performance is authorized under this subsection if —
(A) the work is subject to normal commercial exploitation;
(B) a copy or phonorecord of the work can be obtained at a reasonable price; or
(C) the copyright owner or its agent provides notice pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Register of Copyrights that either of the conditions set forth in subparagraphs (A) and (B) applies.

There is also the section that allows for:

(c) The right of reproduction under this section applies to three copies or phonorecords of a published work duplicated solely for the purpose of replacement of a copy or phonorecord that is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, or if the existing format in which the work is stored has become obsolete, if —
(1) the library or archives has, after a reasonable effort, determined that an unused replacement cannot be obtained at a fair price; and
(2) any such copy or phonorecord that is reproduced in digital format is not made available to the public in that format outside the premises of the library or archives in lawful possession of such copy.

This section isn’t as useful, as (c)(2) prevents the circulation of copied DVDs, although it does appear to allow for patrons to view the DVD inside the library. And section (h) is limited to works in the last 20 years of their copyright term. The original Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, was published in 1928, and Wikipedia reports that it should fall into the public domain in 2023. This would mean that, roughly, Disney media published between 1928 and 1935 would be subject to this rule. That range does not, unfortunately, cover any Disney films, as Snow White was released in 1937, and was the first major motion picture put out by Disney. But it would mean that in just 2 more years, in 2012, that Snow White _should_ fall into this category.

So, copyright nerds and librarians: is it legal for libraries to back up their DVD purchases, in a situation where it is a known fact that they will not be able to re-purchase them when they are needed? Here’s a situation where a legal copy of a DVD is owned, it is damaged or stolen, and the legal owner wants to buy a replacement…but can’t. Shouldn’t it be legal for a library to do this? Does Fair Use (section 107) give a library the right to make a copy in this situation?

Sirsi-Dynix vs Open Source Software

There was a bit of a firestorm online this past weekend, when an Open Source Position paper distributed by Sirsi-Dynix, and authored by Steven Abram, hit the web. This paper was originally believed to be a “leak”, and was even published on wikileaks before Abrams put a link to it directly from his blog, and wrote an entry outlining why the paper was put forward to begin with. From his blog:

Some have expressed surprise about the position paper. Some call it FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. I call it critical thinking and constructive debate – something that everyone in libraries should embrace and engage in.

I do not hope to fully outline my thoughts about this here in a single post. Suffice it to say that I think the paper significantly mis-characterizes Open Source software in general, and Open Source library systems specifically. I am currently aware of three different efforts to annotate and answer the recently released, one of which I started in Google Docs in hopes of getting refutations together for the various points brought up in the Sirsi-Dynix piece. There is also an Etherpad collaborative refutation began by Tim Spalding of Librarything, and the Code4Lib group’s version on their wiki.

I’m going to give just a few excerpts here, and brief responses. I respect Stephen a great deal, but even viewing this paper in the loosest sorts of ways, there are just blatantly misleading statements scattered throughout. So, a few thoughts:

Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is rare for completely open source projects to be successful.

This is only true in the same way that saying “it is rare for projects to be successful” would be true. Many things fail…it’s just that in the open source world, you get to see the failures, whereas in a closed/proprietary world you don’t.

It is very unlikely that an open source solution is any less expensive than a proprietary solution. In fact, in all of the data SirsiDynix has collected, we are not seeing quotes that conflict with this assertion. Indeed there are very few green fields in the ILS marketplace. Most libraries already have an ILS and receive upgrades as part of their maintenance contract from us or other proprietary vendors. These maintenance contracts are a small percentage of the initial price.

I do not have numbers at my fingertips, but I feel very, very certain that if you actually calculated TCO in any rational way, open source wins. Why? Because it’s a difference of where you are choosing to put your money…instead of paying for support, the typical library that moves to open source solutions has chosen instead to put its money into personnel, and while short-term the cost structures may look similar, paying for a position is far, far more flexible than paying on a maintenance contract. You can’t get that contract to do other things you might need done, while a technical support position can be repurposed.

Plus, while maintenance contracts are “a small percentage of the initial price”, that doesn’t mean that they are in any way a small amount of money. MPOW is a small academic library, and what we pay in yearly maintenance would go a long, long way towards another staff position.

In many markets, there are major systems in accounting, intranets, e-learning, and so on that must tie in to the ILS. In many cases, open source is still the minority solution because, for example, the number of Linux desktops is meager compared to Microsoft Windows desktops. By choosing a Linux desktop, a user closes the door on some software because it may never be created for or ported to Linux. Add to this the major changes in allied systems that require an adaptation for the ILS and the issue grows exponentially.
So for libraries that choose an open source system, the opportunity to integrate different systems into the solution is limited, at best.

This is just a mess of an argument. Why would anyone knowingly choose any software solution that wasn’t compatible with the remainder of their infrastructure? And the advantage of an OSS solution is that the data is yours, and can be massaged into whatever format you’d like…you don’t have to wait on the vendor to decide to add the connector that you are looking for. This is just _wrong_, and I’m not even sure how you structure an argument like:

Windows is more popular than Linux on the desktop.
Some software doesn’t run on Linux.
Therefore, Open Source ILS solutions are bad for libraries.


Proprietary software has more features. Period. Proprietary software is much more user-friendly.

Proprietary software often does have more features…as an example, Microsoft Word has _thousands_ of features, compared to…oh, Open Office. But Open Office has the 20 features that cover 99% of the use-cases for word processing. To argue that proprietary software has more features that no one will ever use doesn’t strike me as a particularly good argument.

And user-friendly? Again, that’s just a statement with no backing…I’ve used tons of proprietary software that had horrible usability. In my experience, it’s almost always the niche proprietary software designed for very specific solutions (like, oh…library systems) that has the worst usability of all.

I could spend many hours digging through this, but I’ll let the collaborative documents tell the rest of the tale. I completely agree with Stephen that all libraries should carefully examine their needs and resources when deciding on what solutions to move to. But this document paints with far too broad a brush, is misleading at best on many points, and simply fails to any test of accuracy. I understand that this is a sales brochure, but I am disappointed at the tone taken….you can critically evaluate without hyperbolic statements like “jumping into open source would be dangerous, at best.” This is more Fox News than CNN, more USA Today than New York Times. I hadn’t hoped for more from Sirsi-Dynix, but I had hoped for more from Stephen Abrams….whether that is fair or not.

I’ve embedded the Google Doc that I started below, but you should definitely check out both the Etherpad and the Code4Lib wiki to see how a large number of librarians are responding. Not everyone put in their thoughts, but the list of people with access to edit is: Nicole Engard, Chris Cormack, Toby Greenwalt, Kathryn Greenhill, Karen Schneider, Melissa Houlroyd, Tara Robertson, Dweaver, Lori Ayre, Heather Braum, Laura Crossett, Josh Neff, and a few others who have usernames that I can’t decipher. 🙂

IL2009 in Wordle form

Aside from my truly epic travel woes, all of which are pretty well documented on my Twitter stream, Internet Librarian 2009 was a great, great conference. I spoke twice, once as a part of a phenomenal mobile panel, and gave a cybertour on the Realtime Web. But it was all of the people and things that I was tangentially a part of that made the trip so exciting. Having an essay up as a part of the Library 101 project was exciting, and being able to be a part of the launching of that project in person was a bunch of laughs.

In addition, I was bowled over by some of the thoughtful comments I received at IL2009. To have people that I respect and adore tell me that they think I’m doing good things, well, nothing could be better. I had multiple people tell me that they hadn’t seen me present before, but that they were impressed with what I did…seriously, I’m all choked up just typing this. Combine that with the massive outpouring of help that manifested when I began having travel troubles, and I don’t think that anyone, anywhere, has a better group of friends. From me, to everyone at Internet Librarian 2009: Thank You!

And finally, because I’m a sucker for visualization, here’s a word cloud of the tweets from IL2009. Thanks to someone (who did this?) there’s an archive of all the tweets tagged #il2009, available not only for display on the web but as delimited text files! I grabbed the tab-delimited version, ground it up with TextEdit and removed the hashtag, along with dates, etc, and fed it to Wordle to see what the result looked like. Here it is….a pretty great representation of what people were talking about at IL2009.

Screen shot 2009-11-01 at 8.17.43 PM