Archive for the 'Information and the Internet' Category

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



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!


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!


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.


Plagiarism: Not just about academics Part II

Folks, I’m not lying when I say, “Plagiarize at your own risk!”. Here is yet another example where the practice of plagiarism proved to be detrimental to one’s professional aspirations: Denver city council candidate caught up in plagiarism charge. As I’ve noted before, ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to plagiarism, nor is intent (or lack of it). In the case above, do you think the majority of voters will excuse this candidate for her lies and deceit? Judging from the results of a recent CO primary race that included another plagiarist, I’m going to say “not very likely”.


Keepin’ it real

One of the 21st century goals for the library profession is to ensure that our patrons and the public at large are “information literate”. For those that are not familiar with the concept of information literacy, you can find a definition on the web site for Association of College and Research Libraries.

So why all the fuss about information literacy? Well, with the advent of the internet age, many of us have witnessed first hand the astronomical increase of information sources, voices, and opinions on all manner of topics. And at times, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction among the cacophony of the internet. Further muddying the waters are deceitful practices such as electronic astroturfing, which is described by George Monbiot of the Guardian (UK) as an increasingly used tactic by corporations, government agencies, and special interest groups to influence, and in some cases, undermine public opinion.

So what does this mean to you as a student researcher? I often suggest to students that they should identify the professional society or trade association associated with the industry or occupation they are researching. A good strategy for this task is to limit your Google search to .org sites, as in this example. But in an era of electronic astroturfing, its not just enough to trust any old .org site. Students need to go one step further. In the case of electronic astroturfing, look for contact information on the web site. Is there a verifiable street address? Phone numbers that allow you to talk to real persons? How long has the association/society been in existence? Do they publish a newsletter or magazine, and if so, is the publication acknowledge as a voice of authority within the profession?

It seems the more information you find on the internet, the more you need to verify its authority, accuracy, and value!


On whose authority? Look for references!

It seems there have been a number of recent cases of mainstream journalists and news publications that have been caught doing a poor job of reporting. More specifically, failure to check the authority and accuracy of information sources. The New York Times has pointed out that Rush Limbaugh used erroneous information retrieved from Wikipedia on his talk show. The article points out that Limbaugh, armed with false information took to the airwaves and provided commentary that was off base. This post is not an indictment of Limbaugh’s political positions. Instead, it is a reminder how easy it is to be led astray when you fail to check the validity of your sources. This particular instance really provides all the evidence you should need for why Wikipedia is generally not accepted as an academic source, and as such, you should refrain from using it during your research as a Regis University student.


July 2018
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