Archive for the ‘ALA’ Category

Digital Resources and Ethics

November 19, 2010

While numerous EMOB postings have discussed issues of access and quality surrounding digital resources, we have yet to discuss these issues extensively within the context of ethics. A September 30th post on Barbara Fister’s Library Babel Fish, “The Great Disconnect: Scholars without Libraries”, spurred me to think more about the ethical side of questions that we’ve been raising. Fister’s post was inspired by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) blog’s post, “Underground Resource Sharing”, that in turn was motivated by other posts, including one by a blogger who, upon graduating, suddenly discovered he lacked access to JStor” (ACRL blog). As the ACRLblog post’s title indicates and Fister’s post explores, there is an underground market for commercial subscription, password-protected databases. The post by the dismayed blogger who found himself without access to JStor generated numerous comments that offered the underground market as an obvious solution to his problem. For instance,

Virtually everyone I know who’s not employed by a top-tier R1 has a bootlegged EEBO account: through friends who are still grad students, advisors, or friends with cushier jobs.”

These comments prompted Fister to respond:

Comments on his post pointed out that, duh, you just get a friend to send articles to you, or you join a Facebook or FriendFeed group dedicated to swapping articles or just get somebody’s login. Too bad we spent so much on EEBO – apparently everyone has a bootleg login.

The notion that “everyone has a bootleg login” as well as the remark, “Too bad we spent so much on EEBO” gave me pause. While I have known a case in which someone shared his login with a few former students (now colleagues elsewhere), I was frankly surprised to hear that this practice is seen to be so widespread. Am I being naive? And, as Fister’s reply suggests, if it is so common, then the practice certainly has financial implications not only for the commercial owners of these resources but also for the institutions that allocate funds (often student technology fees) to purchasing these resources. As Fister also noted, these databases are not free, and it is telling that the surprised blogger could have spent several years if not many earning an advanced degree and remain clueless about the economic issues, costs, and licensing terms associated with these resources.

The exchange also raised questions about sharing an article or a text with a colleague at another institution that lacks access. I have done so on occasion and had considered the gesture a favor to another colleague. I have also performed a quick search and sent title results to a friend. While I can count on my hand the number of times I have done so, this post made me realize that this good-will gesture has another side to it as well if practiced regularly–and perhaps even if practiced only rarely or at all. So, is the use of bootleg logins rampant? What do others on emob think about this underground trafficking, the sharing of passwords and articles or texts? Is the rare sharing of an article or text unethical ultimately? Are these questions of degree? Or are all of these activities equivalent? And how do we view and balance these questions of ethics against those related to the ethics of the digital access divide separating the scholars who have these resources from those that don’t?

On the POD reprint-publishing front, I just discovered this week a new level of ethical low. A student came to me for help in finding a copy of Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster’s Fan Fiction: Fan Labor, List of Fan Fiction Terms, Legal Issues (2010) for a paper she was writing on copyright issues. Well, we couldn’t find the title in WorldCat, etc. though it did come up in Amazon and Google Books. The work was published by Alphascript Publishing, which, as Wikipedia’s Signpost reports, sells free articles as expensive books”, and this title is just one of many they are “publishing.” A general Google search revealed the scam being perpetuated by this outfit:

An Amazon.com book search on 9 June 2009 gives 1009 (6 August, gives 1,859) “books” from Alphascript Publishing.[nan 1] 1003 of the books are described as “by John McBrewster, Frederic P. Miller, and Agnes F. Vandome”. They are called editors in the book listings. It seems the only content of the many books is free Wikipedia articles with no sign that these three people have contributed to them.

The Wikipedia article also notes:

The articles are often poorly printed with features such as missing characters from foreign languages, and numerous images of arrows where Wikipedia had links. It appears much better to read the original articles for free at the Wikipedia website than paying a lot of money for what has been described as a scam or hoax. Advertising for the books at Amazon and elsewhere does not reveal the free source of all the content. It is only revealed inside the books which may satisfy the license requirements for republishing of Wikipedia articles.

The piece concludes by noting that “PrimeHunter has compiled a list of the 1009 titles,” and this list was as of June 2009. The specific title that led to this discovery sells for $49.00 on Amazon.

On a happier note, this week I received an invitation for a trial subscription to InteLex’s “The Eighteenth Century”, part of its Past Masters English Letters series. InteLex, a corporation located in Charlottesville, VA, publishes “highly accurate full text databases in the humanities.” Its Past Masters English Letters series series, produced in association with Oxford University Press, features “scholarly electronic editions of the correspondence, journals, notebooks, and memoirs of the most important figures in English literature and other fields from 1100-1950.” Although I have yet to arrange for a university trial subscription, what seems encouraging about this series is the following testimony:

In the world of scholarly electronic publishing, InteLex continues to get it right, as they have from the beginning: working closely with scholarly editors, selecting high-quality editions to digitize, marking them up carefully and well according to international standards, and permitting libraries either to rent them over the Internet or to purchase, own and locally house them, as we do print editions–all at reasonable prices. I recommend InteLex databases to libraries wholeheartedly, not only because they are superior publications and a good deal, but also because InteLex is the kind of electronic publisher that academic libraries need most in the 21st century.

—Scott Dennis
Humanities Librarian and Coordinator
Core Electronic Resources
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library
University of Michigan

As Scott Ennis’s words suggest, resources offering well-chosen texts that are marked up using recognizing standards, produced with scholarly input from start to finish, and sold for a reasonable, fair price are the types of tools we do need for the 21st century. In light of this post’s topic, this list of characteristics also outlines an ethical template that publishers would be wise to follow in making digital products available.

Based on the list of authors (Gay and Swift, both Fieldings, Humphrey Wanley, Humfrey [paleaographer, Anglo-Saxonist, librarian, 1672-1726] and many more figures including late eighteenth-century ones) and its extensiveness (the series contains forty-eight volumes of correspondence) this offering appears to be valuable; in a future report I will report on my experiences using it.

Update on 18thConnect

July 25, 2009

Laura Mandell has placed on update on 18thConnect that indicates that an agreement has been reached for 18thConnect to work with Gale. There’s a recorded link to her ALA talk that is not opening for me as well as the following news about a grant the project has received from ICHASS:

18thConnect: From PDF Images to Clean Data Sets, led by the University of Illinois’ Robert Markley, will use supercomputer time to run a parallelized optical character recognition (OCR) program on pages of images of 18th century printed texts, made available through its collaboration with Gale Group. The resulting archive of machine-readable 18th-century texts in history, literature, art, the sciences, and the emerging social sciences will be accessible to scholars for faceted searching, automated semantic tagging, hand encoding of digital scholarly editions, and data mining. By converting a vast archive of images into machine-readable texts, this project will provide a model for adapting OCR programs to field-specific problems that must be solved in order to preserve the full range of our cultural heritage.

I am hoping that Laura and Bob may be able to tell us more.

New Terms under Consideration (Rare Book & MS of ALA)

July 6, 2009

This notice just appeared on the SHARP-L list and seems somewhat relevant to our discussion: the naming of physical attributes, agents, etc. tied to rare books.  In teaching an undergraduate seminar last fall that used ECCO, I discovered the need to create an illustrated glossary for my students to help them grapple with proper terminology for features they were encountering as we left our modern paperback editions behind and turned to ECCO‘s digitized texts and 18th-century books from my own collection.  We had reviewed many features in advance of our first paper, but I nonetheless received essays that indicated decided confusion–the bookplate mistaken as a frontispiece and subsequently analyzed in terms of the verbal text, issues about imprints, and much more. 

From:   SHARP-L Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing on behalf of Nina Schneider Sent:  Mon 7/6/2009 1:31 PM
To:   SHARP-L@LISTSERV.INDIANA.EDU
Cc:    
Subject:   RBMS Controlled Vocabulary Terms under consideration at ALA Annual

This message is being cross-posted
————————————
Below is the link to the list of terms that are under consideration for the RBMS Controlled Vocabularies at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

Greetings

 

Everyone is welcome to make comments or suggestions.  Please note, if you do want to comment and don’t yet have access to the wiki, please send me an email. I will incorporate all comments received by *Thursday, July 9th.*

Link to terms under discussion:

http://rbmsthesauri.pbworks.com/browse/#view=ViewFolder&Param=-Term20Records%20for20%Annual%2020009

(If the link does not work, copy and paste into a new browser; the terms under current discussion are under the folder labeled “Term Records for Annual 2009.”)

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Nina

+——-
Nina Schneider
Head Cataloger
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street
Los Angeles, CA  90018


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