Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why you clever dog you...

Well, for $1295, we can all get a glimpse into the crystal ball of Google's future: Peter Suber, Open Access News. I had just posted yesterday an item in which I hesitated to label Google as any particular kind of business, knowing that they have, "technical infrastructure, patents and agile development processes" (quote from the report discussed in Peter Suber's post above) to say nothing of ideas, ideas, ideas, ideas, ideas, and a corporate culture that lets them flourish, that means they can launch into any business they desire at the drop of a hat (to those of us that move at molasses in January speed). And that's what the report reports. Bottom line? If you want to compete with Google, you better figure out how to be more like Google. It's not a business (that's why it can't be pinned down to a business description), it's a culture and it succeeds at anything it puts its mind to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hey you! Organization-oriented problem solver! We need you over here!

Another of Peter Brantley's posts has intersected with a post from Peter Suber's Open Access News Free online topic pages coming from Elsevier to set my head spinning again. Brantley's post, shimenawa - A Glimpse of Neon is oddly pessimistic and optimistic at the same time. He says, if I understand him correctly, that library cooperation to achieve goals that are beyond individual libraries (like Digital Libraries and a host of other initiatives underway right now) is a dead letter. In the resource discovery context (our supposed forte in the ancient past), the nimble commercial entities are blowing us away. He mentions Google of course, but that's where the Open Access post comes in. Elsevier will launch later this summer a free resource that seems essentially a virtual meeting place built around a subject of mutual interest with links running all over the virtual world, interactive capabilities out the kazoo... We in the research library world are *talking* about how this kind of thing might be a neat idea, how we might work with other libraries in Texas (our Texas Digital Library) and in particular cases, with our Presses, to create inviting environments around which scholars (our scholars we suppose) would gather. Of course we'll do this, on a shoe-string budget, over a long period of development time, slowly, cautiously, testing the water. Wouldn't want to fail would we? How else can we do it at all?

Elsevier, the giant publisher. Google the giant [insert most currently appropriate descriptor here]. Amazon the giant book/everthing distributor. Giant. Can anyone really see our library, any library, ever competing effectively? Not on product; not on service. So collaboration with each other (with other libraries) might be an option, but Brantley has concluded, and I can't say I disagree, that adding together several slow, institutional, conservative, nonprofit entities doesn't make them all of a sudden fast, sleek, nimble, innovative, risk-takers. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, nor out of two sow's ears.

But as I mentioned, Brantley's post is optimistic too, because he has glimpsed something else libraries could do with their treasure trove in the future. But this treasure trove is not our collections, and the future he glimpses is not about resource discovery -- it's about putting to new tasks our way of looking at the world, our way of organizing things, our institutional skill, our professional forte -- about applying our way of relating to problems to solving bigger of the world's problems than finding resources. Stunned silence, at first, then the wheels start spinning. He's talking about our collaborating with the giants, our supplying a piece of the puzzle that they don't have. But wait, isn't that what Google Book Search Library Partnerships are all about, and haven't we been run over by the Mack truck of collective library opinion on that one for giving away the physical treasure trove? JHC. It's not about the books, real *or* virtual, he's saying. That is just beyond us I think. But it has me going.

Oh, yes, copyright. It all relates back to copyright in some strange way. It's still a problem and worth attention, but I become more convinced each day that the successful arguments for change in the current dynamic will be more favorably advanced by demonstrations of what can and must be done to deal with more pressing problems and how copyright, as currently wielded by its owners, unambiguously impedes progress in those spheres. These same commercial interests that have stood fast on their copyrights, barring the door to innovation in the name of protecting current profits (what else were they supposed to do?), are beginning, one by one, to see opportunity where they only saw threat before. And these opportunities come not from standing on their copyrights, but by standing down, even if only a little.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

shimenawa - On scholarly communication and university presses

Peter Brantley, Digital Library Federation, among other things, continually publishes things on his blog that just blow me completely away, because they invariably speak directly to my interests, concerns and thoughts. But he is always light years ahead of where I am in my thinking. Thus, it's like a light from another room, a room that's in the future of my own mind. Kinda bizarre in a way, but on the other hand, hey, I know where my own thinking is going just by reading his blog.

So, case in point: the UT Library and UT Press are embarking on a collaborative project about which we are very excited, but in truth, we are sort of not real sure of what we're doing. Peter's post today, shimenawa - On scholarly communication and university presses, speaks to the complexity of what we are trying to accomplish, probably without a clue about it (on the Library side, that is). Of course, it's better to know you are clueless than to merely be clueless, so every bit of information helps. But as Peter says, lots of libraries and presses are working on this kind of collaboration. So why not collaborate with each other, or does our having entered the world of the commercial competitors mean we are now sworn to secrecy about our trials and tribulations? Don't presses collaborate and commiserate? Need we muck around in the dark? Don't we all want any of us to succeed?

This ties in with what's going on in the course I'm taking this summer on research methods in the social sciences. I'm beginning to have a better idea of how to translate a generalized interest in the future of the book into a research question or questions. It occurred to me that I might ask, for example, where is innovation in the form of the book most likely/least likely to occur over the next 5 years? That could set a predictive inquiry in the context of observable instances of innovation today or even over the last 5 years let's say. Now of course, I'm just musing at this point, but I've read enough to know that presses and libraries have little if *any* control over publishing innovation in academe. The controllers for that seem to be the social sciences tenure committees, and I have so far read nothing that suggests that these groups are looking for, supporting or even tolerating innovative methods of research reporting. Maybe I've written them off too quickly. Maybe it would make a fascinating study. But I'd like to put my energy into studying an area where there are clear signs of support for innovation. What is it that has kept presses from being more innovative? What might be different today? Where are the most innovative publishers and what created the conditions that enabled that innovation? Maybe having nothing to lose is the key.

All that seems less interesting to me, however, than exploring the actual forms of the book, the form it is beginning to take and might take. So how might that relate to libraries and presses? A survey of experiments with new forms? Focusing on what innovation is taking place, just sort of an empirical study? But where's the excitement in that? Where's the, wait a minute, it would be reported in a novel way that was itself innovative, of course. That would be fun. Sort of a 2010 networked expression/conversation of/about the state of innovation in the form of the "communication medium formerly known as the book." But could it go further, into interpretation and prediction? Actually, it has to, to be of any real interest to me, let alone others. After all, behind my interest in the future of the book is the implication of that realm of change for the future of libraries in a networked world. How do I get from likely new forms of publishing to the future of libraries? Well I'm not there yet. But at least I can see the map.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the street

So, May is gone. I've been to France and returned. I had a great time. But I was happy to be back in Austin, especially happy to be able to understand everything everyone around me is saying. You just don't realize how cool that is until you don't have it anymore.

So I learned a lot of french, though it was an incredible struggle, mentally. The effort to understand is more intense than just about anything else I do these days. Not something that I am excited about doing again, though I'm convinced that it's the only way to really improve, at least if you want to do more than just read french.

The one thing that really surprised me though was that there's a whole 'nother (who else says that?) layer of things to learn about France -- the social rules. They are very different from American social rules. No matter what you can say or understand, if you don't know the rules of social engagement, you make mistakes. With as much as my life has involved teaching these rules to people (from pre-schoolers to grad students), it's really bizarre to be inept in this regard. How do you learn these things other than by experience? And what a painful way to learn when you think of yourself as fairly knowledgable, but in fact you aren't...

Well, I'm inclined to put it all behind me. Life is complicated enough right here and now in the USA. I'll write up my research results, opine about the future of libraries in Google's, Amazon's and Newco's world, an impossible task, and move on.

I am taking a course this summer that covers philosophers who have contributed to the research paradigms typically employed in social science research today. This has me thinking about how on earth I am going to structure research about the future of the book and of libraries in a networked environment. It's becoming clear that I can't just put videos/multimedia explications of my research out there and not care about their effects (my gut instinct). Credibility is going to be an issue, if not for me, for my committee and for the ISchool. People are going to care about the credibility of what I do and I have to start caring about the things that are the hallmarks of "good" research in the social sciences. I am curious, I want to know things, I want to know things that have practical value for the future of libraries, Presses and academe, scholarly inquiry, etc. But to convince anyone that my conclusions are worth their paying attention, I am going to have to adopt strategies and techniques, methods, paradigms, etc. that are credible.

I sort of learned about this on the fly in law, without explicit discussion of it. One just sort of comes to know what is credible, what is respected, and why. Here I have to learn it in the abstract it seems. Well, the philosophical underpinnings of scientific research are quite interesting, but in an "out there" kind of way. The idea that this applies to *me* and my research, well that's just a bit of a stretch right now. But I'll get used to it. I have to.

At least I am acquiring the vocabulary to talk about these issues with the faculty at the ISchool. This is just so reminiscent of the law school experience, the vocab, the "ways of thinking," what was important, what was less important, what didn't matter a hoot. But it's all quite different here. Very little seems to be transferable. But maybe more of it is than I currently think. After all, I never explicitly studied legal research in the same way I'm studying social science research. And besides, the primary research materials are so narrowly defined in law. They are, by contrast, all over the place in social science. Live and learn.

I'm starting a new blog for the Texas Digital Library on the subject of open access/ scholarly communication. Between that effort, the UMUC Collectanea blog and this blog, I'm going to really have to get back into the swing of things in a hurry. I haven't been paying any attention to things for the last 2 or 3 weeks. I actually enjoyed being out of touch a bit. It made me realize the degree to which connectedness has become, for me, addictive. Dennis complains about it (how much time I spend at the computer), but I've brushed it off until now. Now I'm really pretty convinced that it has gotten out of hand. That sense that there's so much I have to keep up with, and the good feeling of being on top of it all (an illusion to be sure...). Well, these realizations on vacation are always a source of resolutions, that, just like New Year's resolutions, come to not much of anything after a few weeks. Still, awareness is a good thing. Who would argue with that.