E-books and libraries: same game, different rules

We get a lot of questions from students and faculty about accessing e-books from the Regis Library. Rest assured, the library is adding online and e-books at a rapid rate to meet the demand. However, our patrons are often unaware that the marketplace for e-books and libraries is drastically different than what most individual customers are accustomed to. This article from the Forbes magazine web site does a good job summarizing the current challenges in the library e-book marketplace: The Wrong War Over eBooks: Publishers Vs. Libraries

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Search smarter

Here is a nice blog post entitle How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques that covers suggestions from a Google employee on how to use their search engine for more targeted and precise searching. Many of these tips and tricks can be applied to your academic research! Often there is no need to search the entire web. To start, try limiting your searches to specific domains (.gov, .org, and .edu) and filetypes.

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The high price for good information…

The Regis Library constantly seek out the best value for its students and faculty in terms of access to print and online journals. Unfortunately, within the academic publishing industry there has been a disturbing trend toward exorbitant subscription costs associated with core journal titles, particularly in the sciences. This trend is made possible in part b/c of the monopolization of information within academic publishing, which allows large academic publishers like Elsevier to essentially keep academic libraries hostage since they control access to the core journal titles that are deemed essential to support the curriculum. So you may ask yourself, where do my tuition dollars go? Well, part of the answer is the money goes increasingly to pay for access to journals students need to complete their education and obtain their degrees.

Perhaps the most important point to understand is that information is a commodity, one that is increasingly bought and sold on a marketplace that favors large corporate monopolies. Understand that what is offered at the library is not free, that in fact it costs lots of money to provide access to the thousand of journals, magazines, and trade publications you can access via the Regis Library. And dare I say, if you want to keep higher education affordable, then this is one of the battles that needs to be fought to win the war!

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Plagiarism: Here we go again

Politicians. When will they ever learn? You may recall from previous posts that plagiarism seems to be the norm in politics these days. Want further proof? According to the Boston Globe, Scott Brown lifted whole parts from an Elizabeth Dole speech given at the start of here 2002 campaign. And once again, we see an instance of brazen plagiarism being swept under the rug with excuses of ignorance and technical misshaps. What bothers this librarian the most, is that, “Oddly enough, some of Brown’s material was recently the object of plagiarism in June 2010 by a Tea Party Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina. William Randall was accused of lifting policy positions from Brown’s campaign website for use of his own.” You’d think they would of learned by now, huh? Remember folks, plagiarism is no quick fix, and it will catch up with you in the end!

Information wants to be free…but it ain’t (Part 2)

As a librarian I am often asked what its like to work in a profession that many believe will become obsolete due to the rise of the internet. I firmly believe that libraries will remain relevant for many reasons (the freedom to read, as institutions that support and build communities of practice and well being, as resources for business research and as business partners, and more), but one of the biggest reasons being that information is now a commodity that is bought and sold, often at a steep markup. The amount of information the library provides access would cost each individual millions of dollars. Don’t believe me, take a look at George Monbiot’s editorial from the UK newspaper the Guardian entitled Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist. Editorials often employ hyperbole to emphasis their arguments, but as someone who works in an academic library, I will testify that George is barking up the right tree on this one. Monbiot hits on a number of important points: information monopolies, the surrender of rights by information creators (i.e. giving it away for free), the impact and exorbitant cost of highly rated journals, and what he calls “economic parasitism”. Please give it a read, and then ask yourself this: Are you ready to pay $31.50 for each and every article you read while pursuing your degree? If your answer is no, then you have a reason to support and use your library!

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Information wants to be free…but it ain’t.

Take a look at this NYT times article covering the criminal allegations against Aaron Swartz. Without doubt, many of you would agree that hacking in to a secure computer network is a criminal act. But what about downloading millions of documents, documents that are made available for free to students at M.I.T. and other institutions of higher learning? Whats so wrong with that? Let us examine this statement, “Institutions like colleges and libraries pay for access to JSTOR, which is then available free to their users.” What is missing here is an explanation of the license agreement that is typically signed between the institution (i.e. M.I.T.) and the information vendor (i.e. JSTOR). The content that JSTOR offers is provided to users affiliated with the institution that signs the license. In the license, there is language that explicitly states the terms of use that are acceptable under the agreement entered by both parties. Acceptable use often qualifies as use by an individual for academic or professional reasons. Here is where the problem arises. It’s really hard to argue that an individual needs to download millions of articles for personal use. And as such, Aaron’s actions would be in violation of the license, even if he had accessed the network legally.

Current copyright law does not account for models of open access. In addition, copyright laws favor the commercialization of information, allowing strict lines to be drawn between owners of information and users of information. Most libraries support open access, and at its core, what Aaron is fighting for is worthy and just. But one must realize that while information wants to be free, it’s not.

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Pass this on: Lessons from the telephone game

Remember the “telephone” game? Or maybe you called it “grapevine” back in the day? The game where one person starts with a phrase, tells it to the next person, and then he/she repeats it to the next person, and so on all the way down the line. And do you recall how almost inevitably the original phrase or message was corrupted once it reached the end of the line?

So why all this reminiscing of a childhood game? Well, “grapevine” or whatever you want to call it embodies a phenomenon that demonstrates some of the inherent pitfalls of human communication and our ability to recall accurately information we have heard, read, or seen. A prime example of this phenomenon is summarized in this article from Time Magazine: “After bin Laden’s Death, (Mostly) Fake MLK Quote Goes Viral”. What strikes me as most important about this example, and the game itself, is that despite honest intentions by all parties to communicate accurately the original message in its entirety, the more it is filtered, the more likely the message is to be corrupted and shaped by those who pass it on. Also apparent in this case is our willingness to attribute comments to a particular author, in part b/c they sound or feel like something the author would say. And might I add a third takeway, which is that the author of the original Facebook quote did not make it clear where her opinions ended, and where the quoted materials began. One would not expect such precision from a Facebook profile update, and by no means am I faulting the author of the Facebook post. But change scenarios, and think about such an occurence in a work place or academic setting. Such confusion would be very undesirable.

So beware of the telephone game as it applies to information on the internet. There is a reason why your instructors ask, or even require you to use primary sources or empirical research articles. These source types represent the origin of the information, the start of the telephone line. As a student researcher you want to seek out the original source, which in part allows you to contextualize and interpret the information on your own, without having to rely on others. Thankfully, in the digital age, it is easier than ever to trace back the flow of information, to work your way back up to the start of the telephone line. A good strategy is to use the list of references at the end of an academic journal article to go back and retrieve the original research publications.

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