Archive for the 'information policy' category

Special Libraries, Information Fluency, & Post-Truth

Lots of librarians are communicating online about providing resources and information in these fraught times. Some are creating displays and programs to support diverse populations. Others are crafting statements of support and/or opposition. More practically, some are stocking their reference desks with safety pins and extra scarves (to be used by women who have had their hijab snatched off).

But these activities are more useful, perhaps, in public or academic libraries.

In the past few days, "fake" news and propaganda has been receiving a lot of attention. (Hear a rundown from On The Media  - clearly a very liberal news source but transparent about it). As noted on this blog, it is not really possible to insist that our patrons/customers/users use only our licensed sources. To be quite honest, even if we could, that alone isn't enough to ensure they are getting the best information. We think that because our people all have at least college degrees that they are experts on or at least competent in critical thinking.

I think, though, that the media environment isn't what it was when many of them were in school. We take the click bait and we see headlines repeated so often on Facebook that maybe we start to believe?

So, now, how do special libraries train and support their organizations in the post-truth world? I have been asked and have accordingly scheduled training that discusses critically evaluating resources; however, that is NOT at all attractive to busy professionals. The only training I offer that is well-attended is problem oriented and is explicitly related to doing the scientific and technical work (no surprise here to my library school professors!). Otherwise, short on-point training at the point of need is also well-accepted.

Integrate aspects of critical thinking and evaluating resources into every bit of training you do. If your user base can qualify for a free web account for the Washington Post (.gov, .mil, & .edu), make that information available even if you provide access through another source.  Do show finding news information in other topical sessions. For example, a session on aerospace engineering could cover things like society news sources and Aviation Week.

If your organization has an internal newsletter and or social media site, link early and often to reputable sources.

Are you integrated into strategic processes (never as much as you would like, I know!)? What information is your leadership getting and from where? The very highest levels of your organization won't typically attend your classes - can you brief their assistants? Can you make this information available to their mobile devices?

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Thoughts on alternatives to Sci-Hub

There have been a lot of blog posts, news pieces, and listserv comments about Sci-Hub. Some have said that while they know it is wrong, they feel scientists have been forced into using the system because they have no alternatives for access. Some responses have been on the order of: we asked our favorite scientists at big US research institutions and they say they have access to everything they need so why don't you? or We give away articles to the very poorest of countries (who might not even be able to take advantage of because poor connectivity), so that should be enough (what about the middle range countries?). Or you make a lot of money and your university has an endowment, you surely can afford this journal and you're just stealing! Or Jean Valjean didn't have access to bread, either, but that didn't mean stealing was right!

Others have repeatedly countered the whole difference between stealing things (bread) and making copies that do not diminish the original (if possibly the market for it).

Anyhoo, what I really want to talk about here is the alternatives for closed access articles. Probably not an exhaustive list.

  • licensed access through your institution as part of a site-wide subscription (on campus, or via VPN/proxy from off)
  • interlibrary loan
  • license your own copy ($30-75)
  • individual subscription (through a society or just from the publisher)
  • "rent" access to view a copy for 24 hours
  • find copies self archived in institutional and disciplinary repositories, on their websites, and other random places
  • find copies illegally shared as part of course materials for another course (this happens for stuff I'm looking for pretty regularly, actually, particularly chapters from social sciences books)
  • contact author for copy
  • contact buddy, relative, etc., at another university to request
  • use walk up access at a local public university
  • use #icanhazpdf
  • use Sci-Hub

So let's look at hassle factor. Part of what goes into figuring out the hassle factor is how you identified the article in the first place and what network you're on.

At MPOW if you use Google Scholar or PubMed and you're on our network, you should be able to go right to the full text for the majority of things you're looking for because we have a lot of subscriptions. We have our IPs registered with Google so it points to our subscriptions and our link resolver. If you use our link resolver, it fills out the ILL form for you from there. Still, it is more convenient to get a pdf from/through Google than wait for ILL or for us to scan and e-mail you something.

What if you're off campus? A quick check of #icanhazpdf showed some people were asking because they were off campus. That, to me, seems like the height of laziness and inconsideration. Does their campus really have no remote access? The person who is sending it to you has to go through more effort than it would take you to VPN or use EZProxy.

One commentator heard from someone who does have access at work but couldn't be assed to use the library tools to locate it. Really? So the search on Sci-Hub doesn't work (I'm told) so the best way to use it is through the doi. I can put the doi of an article into my FindIt tool and get a proxied link to the best source for full text immediately - even if it's at a 3rd party aggregator. Legally. I can also put the PMID in. In fact, I have a plugin in my browser that automatically links the DOI to my link resolver.

Ok, so you may not be at an organization that has all this set up. There are lots of industrial and government scientists who have very little access to the literature. Even if they do have access, they might not have the connecting tools.

In many places ILL is awful. Let's be quite honest. Another form. Asks a lot of information. May have a different login. May take 2-3 weeks to arrive. It may be fax quality. May be a cost associated. In one sociology class I was in as a student they were going off on how bad it was: wrong article, missed several pages, illegible copies... the one guy put his request in like 5 times before getting a full, readable copy. He kept putting it in after a while to see how many tries it would take! Your buddies on Twitter do not have to print, scan to fax quality, and then send.

I love how people say you can use your local publib. Mine is not going to ill for scholarly articles for you. They don't have that kind of budget or staff. I think it's getting harder to use walk up access, too. If you have eduroam you can get on the network but if you're at a local small business? It's not like when the journals were in print.

I don't even know where I was going with this but to say that #icanhaspdf has a point. Library systems need to get easier and get in the workflow, but also scholars might actually need to put some effort in to learn to do things the right way.

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How to get unbound by non-forward thinking users...

Jan 16 2016 Published by under information policy, Uncategorized

Last post I described a system that was stuck by its own commitment to user-driven development. They're really stuck. So what are possible ways out? Particularly for a government system?

I really don't know and particularly for a government system but that doesn't mean I can't think about it.

One thought was that maybe they need to make their case more clearly. How could they describe the projects better to make them more attractive in the rankings? This is probably impossible and maybe even insulting as they probably tried very hard to get their point across in the past. They seemed frustrated. Of course, they could hire a consultant to tell them exactly what they already knew - some people will listen to consultants.

I was wondering if acquisition rules would allow them to set aside like 20% or something to do their projects - ones that they thought were best but not necessarily voted on by the users. This would work for things that were less expensive to do or could be piloted.

Part of the problem is that the system may need to be re-architected and might need major redesign. Some of the pieces can be kept, but need to be integrated. That would have to wait for the next major version. Maybe if their key software underneath has to be upgraded, they could use that as a reason to do some things?

Sigh. I don't know. It sure is easier just to dream of a cool system.

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When listening to the users may not be the best thing

Jan 16 2016 Published by under information policy, knowledge management

At work we evaluated the fitness of one large collaboration platform for use for another group. The government was already funding this one big thing and it made sense to see if it could be leveraged instead of starting from scratch even though the potential user groups are extremely different.

The system we evaluated was carefully designed with lots of input from user groups, by well meaning, competent people, using best practices from the field. GAO has fussed at them a few times over the years for the same things they always pick up on and there are always questions about if their system is used enough and how and what contracts they have let and for how much. They have a roadmap for development that is carefully developed in coordination with the users and they use agile development with frequent small releases and quarterly larger releases. There's lots of training available both ad hoc, recorded, and live as well as in person presentations at conferences and the like.  They have a bunch of case studies in which the system has had a pivotal role in supporting collaboration and solving a difficult problem for the users.

Sounds great, right? The only thing is that the actual system is pretty ugly and not all that functional - certainly not what we had been designing with our ambitious state of the art system. We asked about things like how access control is done, how information is organized and retrieved, how content management is done, what the portal does, how it supports communication and collaboration... all fell very far short of our expectations. How could this be? We were looking at current features in products on the market - we even looked at products they have.

In my opinion (not anyone else's), it's all about their users and their governance. They have proposed many of the things we want in our system and their users de-prioritize all of them and do not chose to fund them. You see, a lot is needed for really good content discovery - there's a lot of infrastructure, which is invisible to the user (see Star's stuff on infrastructure). There's a lot of humans developing and training information organization schemes and building ways to ingest and process information such that search works. There are the policy requirements in a federated system like this to allow these various repositories to be searched. There's ongoing maintenance and user testing and ranking and boosting and troubleshooting for even a decent search to work, not to mention the full content discovery.

So the professionals propose projects to work on these things and improve them, but the users - who are expert in an ENTIRELY different area - are not getting it and are not trusting the professionals. And money is always limited. So the communication pieces aren't integrated. There's not fine role based access control. There's no way to search across various things... But their users are happy and are getting EXACTLY what they asked for.

So how do you design a governance system and development for a massive collaboration system such that it is user-based and need-based, but you still can fund infrastructure work needed to provide the functions for the users. I don't know. We laid off our taxonomist because management thought our search tool did all that itself - it doesn't.  Clearly we don't know how to make the case, either.

Is there hope? If the two systems are joined, might the developers leverage our information to force some of these improvements? Dunno.

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WRT NCTA ads: No.

Sep 16 2014 Published by under information policy

Net Neutrality FUD all over the place. NCTA has these ads in the WaPo about how 1) you can find everything on the internet and 2) you can't find any reason the internet should be regulated like a utility.


You can, indeed find many well-reasoned essays on why the internet should be regulated like a utility - see, for example, books and essays and blog posts by Lessig, Wu, Cerf, and others. All shared freely. For now.

You can't find everything on the internet, either, and even many  "kids today" know this. See.

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Government cost recovery gone awry: PACER and NTIS

Aug 27 2014 Published by under information policy, Information Science

(reiterating these are just my personal opinion and do not reflect anything from my place of work - if you know what that is - or anything else)

For many years, the US federal government has tried to cut costs by outsourcing anything that isn't inherently governmental, making sure that government doesn't compete with industry, and requiring cost recovery for government agencies that provide services to other agencies (see A-76 ).

Old examples that might have changed: GPO had to do all printing of history books for military historians, but the quality was ok, the distribution was crap, and the DoD history organizations and readers had to pay a lot of money. So what they did when I worked there was to give the book to a university press that would do a decent job with it. The books were not copyrightable anyway because they were work for hire by a government employee. Everyone was happy. Another old example was that Navy was required to send all records to NARA. But then Navy all the sudden had to pay NARA to keep the documents (I think this has changed - my example is from late 1990s). This was things like deck logs. Hugely important documents.

NTIS has long been caught up in this. Agencies producing technical reports are required by law to send them to NTIS (if they are unlimited distribution). NTIS is required to recover the cost of their administration and archiving by selling the documents. This is hard because first, agencies are not thorough in sending stuff to NTIS (often because their central repository isn't even getting copies - even though required by regulations, instructions, etc.) and second, agencies make these documents available for free from their own sites.  NTIS also has picked up a few bucks here and there doing web and database consulting and licensing their abstracting and indexing database to vendors who resell to libraries. Why pay for it from a third-party vendor? Cross search with your favorite engineering database. Better search tools.

PACER is also caught up in this. There's actually a law that says US Courts has to recover the cost of running the system by charging for access or for documents. They do not want to but there is a law that they must obey.  This is information that really should be freely available and easily accessible. A famous activist tried to download the whole thing and make available, but he was stopped.

The results of forcing these agencies - GPO, NTIS, US Courts - to recover their costs are great and they directly work against the open government we need and deserve. It causes the agencies to cut corners and not have the systems they need. It causes customer agencies and citizens alike to distrust and dislike them.

Now, US Courts has removed large collections of historical documents from PACER because of an IT upgrade. Read the Washington Post article. Various people in Congress are trying to shut NTIS down, again. GPO seems to be ok, for now - lots of cool neat things from them.

Libraries  - like mine - have been burdened by cost recovery, too, and it often signals the beginning of the end. Superficially, makes sense to show how much something is valued and by whom. In practice, you need a lot more accounting systems and controls over the professional workers that prevent them from doing their job. These services are directly in support of strategic requirements (open government and accountability) but are infrastructure. People are blind to infrastructure until it's no longer there.  NTIS, PACER, GPO and others need to stop with this cost recovery business (meaning Congress has to pass a law that removes that requirement) and be funded as infrastructure. Outsource to get needed skills you can't hire in government, but be smart about it.

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Trust in the Cloud

May 24 2014 Published by under information policy

That's not a "you should... ", that's a "do you...", or "should you..."

Centralization of IT services has the potential to save a lot for better quality support. Instead of little groups of servers in re-purposed closets or even decommissioned bathrooms, services are provided out of centralized data centers with UPS and backup power, expert support, etc. A local Maryland county library system is losing its IT - they will all be moved to the county IT department. While I have concerns that the larger department will understand how library systems work - that might be a good thing. Instead of special snowflake IT folks, there will be professionals that can cross train and have more backups. In academic institutions, the servers might be co-located, and the server maintenance might be done by a centralized IT, but there may be library systems employees that do the configuration, customization, and maintain the data.

Goodness knows there were plenty of stories of backups being done manually (or not being done) and also stories of people tripping over power cords, and oh, where I used to work (pre-library days) there was even an asbestos incident trying to put a vent in the decommissioned janitor closet door where the servers were and where they were overheating.

from, This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

from, This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

To take that one step further, maybe software as a service makes a lot more sense. Then you've got bigger data centers, with even more specialized staff (specialized in running data centers), fail over plans (you hope), and service level agreements for availability.  Libraries generally have good internet. For things like discovery services, this makes a lot of sense to me. For catalogs - I can see it if you're a small organization. I think MPOW is doing this for recruiting software, IT ticketing, and evaluation software (lab-wide - so not just library).

But... when you license a software as a service type thingy or cloud hosted application or whatever the real name for it is... do you do due diligence to check on the security? Do you know that your data that you are required to keep private (patron records are controlled by law in some states) are kept private? What availability is promised? Have there been major outages or (gasp) data losses - what happened and what will prevent that in the future? Can you get your data back out? How is the service paid for  - is it metered so if you use more, you pay more? Where exactly are the data centers? Does your employer have rules about your data being overseas? See more explanation of some of these things here ( )

With all that said, how about you personally? I know a famous librarian who has pulled her stuff from Google servers for various reasons. Amazon web services have had some outages. Most concerning is the recent issue with Dedoose, a software to help with qualitative research. I thought Dedoose sounded awesome and the way you pay for it sounds much more reasonable than the competitors. However, in early May, they had a big big problem. Inside Higher Ed has more on it here.

It sounds like some people might lose weeks worth of coding and analysis. Presumably people would still have the raw data that they had to import originally, but that is a lot of work. People more knowledgeable than I suggested their original set up wasn't sound. I don't know, but if there are all these changes they can make now to make it better, sounds like it wasn't all that.

More broadly - do you trust the cloud? should you? Just because it's a large company doesn't mean they know how to do cloud well. Just because it's a small start-up doesn't mean that they don't. It's not really reasonable to keep local copies of certain things. Maybe multiple cloud services for backups - but make sure they aren't both just front ends for the same cloud! Oy.  I feel for the people who lost data.

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Celebrate Day Against DRM

May 06 2014 Published by under information policy

CC BY 4.0 Defective By Design,

CC BY 4.0 Defective By Design,

DRM - digital restrictions management - is a collection of methods to try to "protect" "intellectual property" from being "stolen" or re-shared or re-used ways differing from the intentions of the "owner."  DRM prevents legitimate uses and fair uses protected by law. Real pirates circumvent DRM - the only people it harms are those of us who try to obey the laws.

Libraries are between a rock and a hard place. For some materials, the only way to get electronic access is by agreeing to DRM. We like and heartily support vendors that do not use DRM for their ebooks but we're forced to deal with others.


I got an ad in e-mail this morning from O'Reilly bragging about no DRM. That might be true, but they do indeed use technical measures to prevent institutional subscribers from downloading books or printing more than just pages of notes.  So don't believe them!


If you're interested, here's a page with more information:

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Great presentation on ebook hassles

Mar 11 2014 Published by under information policy

Trying to explain to people about some ebooks is just miserable. Springer is the notable exception. Their stuff just works and is findable.

Enjoy this from Joelle Thomas and Galadriel Chilton:

ER&L 2014 Never Mind I'll Just Buy It: Why Library Users Won't Jump Through Your Hoops from Galadriel Chilton

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Stockholm Deer

Feb 21 2014 Published by under information policy

Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries and Archives at SUNY Potsdam, famous for dropping the ACS package, gave an outstanding Keynote at the Charleston Conference back in November. Her slides are here. There is a video here (only about 30 minutes - watch it). The title here is based on her point that librarians have Stockholm Syndrome and are like deer in the headlights.

Ms Rogers is notable for many things. She is somewhat young to be a Director of Libraries. She shares what it's like to be an administrator and provides wonderful mentoring for academic librarians in the ranks. She's a talented writer and speaker.

She also is quick to call bullshit when vendors play shenanigans thinking they can bully her because she is a woman or because she's younger. She's known for this with ACS and she's also taken on Sage.

This talk was more about how we need to be more than a pocketbook. How we need to call bullshit when vendors don't negotiate honestly. She brings up some horrific examples of contracts saying the library will try to thwart FOIA requests to get what they're paying. Libraries being offered deals if they stop pushing Open Access.

I think this resonated with a lot of people. I know of a society that was pricing based on what they could get away with, not their expenses plus a cushion. I think this is more typical that we know.

Anyhow. A while after, a rebuttal (yes really) came out in Against the Grain. I'll have to admit that I feel protective of Ms Rogers - which she surely doesn't need from me - so I got defensive immediately. But I looked at it again. Surely it's not all goodness and light for these authors! One says in the comments about some problems she has had.

One thing that some commenters miss is that many people use  - eek - swear words to express frustration over difficult situations or people. In some parts of the country swear words are part of the fabric of conversation. Her twitter account is her conversation. Her personal blog is conversation. That doesn't make her a bully. I have to admit that I was brought up not to swear and it was jarring to live next to someone from Brooklyn when I first got to college! And then when I went into the Navy... holy cow. (Of course now I can swear with the best of 'em. Who said the Navy wasn't good training?)

I have to admit that I'm a third-party to the negotiations. I come from a rich institution with strong leadership in the library that also won't take crap from vendors. They deal with this so I don't have to, but I will say that I will have to deal with our scientists who are going to miss some journals we're going to cancel next year from the society that insisted on a 16% price increase. I don't know if I'll point this video out to them but I hope some people outside the library world will watch it to understand a little more about what goes on.

This is really just meant to be a pointer post  - I'll leave more detailed analysis to others. I do recommend you note this post to LIBLICENSE - someone else standing up.

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