Friday, February 29, 2008

So how did that balance thing work out?

Here it is, 2 months into 2008 and this is to be the year I figure out balance. Much to my utter astonishment, I am leading a really nicely balanced life this semester. I can't take all the credit, but I can take some. Here's the story.

My three courses, the normal grad school load, do not insist on insane amounts of reading and writing. There's plenty of reading so far, but not too much. I have time for it, plus time to think about it and talk with people about it and relate it to other things. Much more like what I really want a grad school experience to include. All three are interesting, and I'm having fun with my ethnography fieldwork, and I'm able to spend plenty of time contemplating my dissertation topic and have several opportunities to get feedback on my ideas. It seems easy this semester.

But that's just part of it. The other part is that I make deliberate choices each day to do other things that don't relate to school. I've been (knock on wood) regularly exercising in the mornings before I get going on other things, reviewing French (watching French in Action episodes), taking breaks and meals in the garden, visiting with friends (lunches, coffee, drinks after work), doing a bit of backyard birding (I have a pretty unusual backyard with a high cliff overlooking a creek, and a lot of interesting birds wander into visual and auditory range), spending time with my mom. In short, I've been doing things that make life rich and rewarding and studying is a part of that, but not all of it.

And then there's work. That is limited to 10 hours a week, and it's well-correlated with my studies. Admittedly, it runs over an hour or so from time to time. But it does not, cannot, get out of hand because I just can't give it any more time than that, and I don't.

It makes me think that maybe this was within the realm of the possible all along but I sure didn't feel that way in any year up until this one. I think it mostly comes down to not having that one thing that, of its nature, pushes everything else to the margins. That's really the secret, and I just have always had that thing that took too much, or to which I gave too much. Either way, it was never balanced, and this year it is.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I'm having a form of buyer's remorse, I think. Maybe. I've been "trying on" the dissertation topic I reported in my last post, talking about it with everyone I can, anyone who'll listen, and everyone seems to think it's ok, that is, it will work, ca marche. But ca marche is like lukewarm. It's the same problem I encountered last semester -- how on earth can I work on a problem for 18 months that I'm only lukewarm about in its most expansive form, knowing that by the time I get it down to an actual researchable question, it will be deader than a doornail. So my mind has begun to wander. I've spent the last 5 days entertaining other ideas, pretty much any idea that pops into my head. Mostly these ideas come from daily events. Something happens, a conversation, a story I read, a project from work I'm involved in, and suddenly, I'm thinking, "hey, this might make a much more interesting, and just maybe, more important and meaningful subject for my dissertation."

So far, these ideas have played out with similar endings: "Naah, stick with the monograph interface thing. It's going to be more interesting." But then yesterday I came up with one that really seems compelling, one that I feel that I really should do, not just because I find it interesting. It started with a talk I listened to the day before yesterday at a class I attended. Lynn Westbrook (iSchool faculty member) was our guest for my Dissertation Research and Theory class and her focus is the information needs of women in crisis -- the crisis of coming to grips with spousal abuse, though they don't call it that anymore. It's been generalized to anyone you're intimately involved with who is abusive. The first question I asked her was why she had gotten involved in this area of research. Our prof admitted to being reticent to ask that, for fear that the answer was too personal. But for me, this was the most important question, because Lynn works on something that, though it's horrifying for me to even contemplate that it exists at all, let alone to work in that field, her work is going to make a concrete difference to real people. Right now. And tomorrow. And the next day.

Now, her topic is not my topic. I just can't go there. But there are things that mean something to *me* and I can find a topic that is more important than some marginal improvement in how people interact with scholarly literature (at best!). Besides, the scholarly community is either going to figure this out or not, and frankly, the absolute best I might have realistically hoped for was just to create some kind of demo that would be criticized and rejected, or worse, ignored, no matter what its stats suggested, if anything at all. How many research reports have I read about really cool interface or knowledge management or other software ideas that were reported 10 years ago or so, and when I googled them to see where they were today -- nada. They were never followed up on, never built upon. They just didn't make a difference.

I have been steadfastly avoiding choosing a topic that centered on copyright. Everyone expects me to do copyright. I was soooo tired of it when I started this program that for the first year I just avoided it entirely. Now I've seen it creeping in around the edges of things I'm doing, and this semester I've realized that it is an important part of what's happening in scholarly communication (duh, I know) even an interesting part. And I had planned to tie whatever I did in with the mass digitization/business model/free content effect on reliance on copyright (ie, the premise of Mass Digitization, as one part of the story of moving scholarly monographic content to the web), BUT yesterday I realized that there's something more important, more fundamental, and something I may also not be able to really make a difference in, but I should try. I'm better qualified to try to do this than to try to come up with a better monographic interface.

In less than 9 years, we ARE, *are* are going to see another extension to the term of copyright. The curtain on the public domain is going to ossify at 1923. That's 9 years for anyone who thinks this is not a good thing to get our butts in gear and see if a case can be made for the economic value of a public domain. The case for the economic value of eternal protection (forever minus a day, as they say to avoid the Constitutional "problem" of limited times) will be easy to make. It will be beyond obvious (and it will be massively funded by its proponents). Further, the harm from eternal protection will not be obvious as it gets easier to locate copyright owners and get their permission for uses of their works, as orphans are identified, as transaction costs drop to zero and, ironically, as the value of [individual items of] content itself drops to zero.

Although licenses are displacing copyright as the determiner of our rights to access and use others' works, it's just a transition. Licensing is a double-edged sword, but there it is. At least there's the possibility of balance (ie, licenses can be used to lock things down, or to shed excessive rights and even to limit the term or abandon it altogether). But in the mid- to long-term mass digitization and the enormous corpus of web content are pushing abandonment of reliance on copyright, and even on licenses. The price of content is headed to zero. If you don't need to be compensated for its use, then what difference does it make if content is protected or not. The bundle will devolve down to attribution and maybe some limited commercial translation/adaptation right. But what's to keep people from making the argument that with a functionally trimmed down copyright, and friction-less access to the transfer of rights, copyright's danger to the pd is diminished, so what's there to worry about in extending the term of the rights of those who do in fact reap a large economic benefit from exclusively exploiting their properties? On the other hand, will people like that exist in 9 years? Can we imagine a time when Disney won't care about protecting Mickey anymore? Fundamentally, should he be able to protect Mickey as long as Mickey makes money?

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it is ok for the Internet to eliminate the need for a public domain. But if it's not ok, we have 9 years to make the case and find the funding to match Disney's to present the case to Congress. Otherwise, au revoir, la fin de la fable.

So, is there a dissertation topic in there? How is it an iSchool dissertation and not just a copyright dissertation? I guess I'll think about it for a couple of days.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dissertation proto-proposal: the scholarly mongraph interface

I am imagining this scholarly monograph as a layered kind of thing. I guess I'll use the tabs metaphor for the moment, though that's sort of old. But, for now, the tabs on my interface, which interface I imagine (at this time) would be resident on servers within a discipline environment or an institutional environment (TDL, for example):

1. Project Title page, DOI, other metadata
2. TOC fully hyperlinked
3. text in a format optimized for straight reading
4. html text fully hyperlinked
5. a blog for the project (pre and post publication)
6. bookmarks page with feeds (; blog reader) for all web resources
7. pre-publication peer-review/imprimatur page (info and links to the publisher, if any, and info about peer-review)
8. post-publication commentary and discussion (commentpress version)
9. Bibliography/references, printable
10. Bibliography/references, fully hyperlinked
11. Search page with log of all searches (anonymous)
12. Non-text media arrays or versions (images, sound, video, visualizations)
13. Databases or raw data that underpins the research results
14. POD tab/links to booksellers, if appropriate

Could this be constructed in a blog, with the tabs to static pages being links to pages in the blog, and those not amenable to formatting within the blog linking to free-standing pages in a related or remote directory (for example, the non-text media, the databases or raw data, links to visualization software, etc.)? What about a wiki like the ACRL Scholarly Communications Research Agenda?

What is the experiment? What is the research about? Given the needs defined in studies a, b and c, an interface for presenting research with features x, y and z should meet scholar's and their audiences' needs. How to test that? Just create it, showing how it is responsive to the needs culled from the earlier studies, and then convince a press/library collaborative to offer it as a format for research reporting in the social sciences. I will, of course, report the entire experiment using the format (assuming I can get TDL to host it for me).

So, I am integrating some of Lisa Spiro's observations, particularly, numbers 7 and 8 ( And I am pursuing some of the objectives noted by the ACRL, specifically, Theme 4 about authoring tools: Research and develop authoring tools, publishing templates and open source software packages for scholarly discourse, teaching and publishing. Examine the feasibility and characteristics of registries of such tools.

I also can incorporate into the studies that I consider as sources for the design ideas, the study the Danielle mentioned the other day in response to a blog post: Modern Language Association's Task Force report on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion

This task force report executive summary is at:
My project would be responsive to two of its recommenations:
3. The profession as a whole should develop a more capacious conception of scholarship by rethinking the dominance of the monograph, promoting the scholarly essay, establishing multiple pathways to tenure, and using scholarly portfolios.
4. Departments and institutions should recognize the legitimacy of scholarship produced in new media, whether by individuals or in collaboration, and create procedures for evaluating these forms of scholarship.

And there's Kathleen Fitzpatrick's New (Social) Structures for New (Networked) Texts:;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0010.305
I need to reread this for its insights. I read and referred to it in my blogs article, but that was a very limited aspect of it. She also has an article at, about the evolution of MediaCommons and its responsiveness to the MLA report.

And finally, copyright. The hypothesis that copyright becomes less important and authors are happy with attribution alone, is an integral part. We absolutely MUST get past DRM. The work has to be open access. That means I can't really avoid the issue of how to fund the dissemination. If no exercise of the copyright monopoly, then funding has to come upfront, not from sales of copies. But what about the POD and bookseller sales? But even those would not be accomplished by virtue of an exclusive right, only a non-exclusive right to provide a service, a printing service. Imprimatur and peer-review would have to be paid for up front. So would hosting and software (maybe these are the same costs). So even if a copyright subsists, its function has changed. It is no longer about excluding others from making or distributing copies. It is mainly about right to perform subsidiary functions for a fee to be paid by the recipient of the service, right to attribution. Rights to create derivatives would be abandoned. Right to prevent copying, distribution, even performance, would all be dedicated to the pd. A very different copyright, a much reduced copyright, in scope. What about length of the term? This is harder to predict. Many people may be willing to give it all up at a period of 14 years, or 28 years. Maybe life of the author. Maybe life + 10 years. But really, that should be negotiable, just like the CC license scope is negotiable. But we need to start having the conversation about what is a reasonable term, in light of Pollock's article that 14 years is optimal. What does it mean to have an optimal or suboptimal term? Personally?

I started doing some research in the Libraries' databases on "interface scholarly monograph" and turned up nada. I talked to Randolph and he suggested I look for stuff on how people are using e-book readers or using e-texts more generally, not just scholarly monographs, but e-books. I had looked at that earlier but was pretty disappointed in it. It seemed like straight translation of books into digital form. No imagination, no exploitation of the medium, no thoughtfulness whatsoever. But I'll look again. There is that fiction project from if:book. I should revisit that.

I do need to get this written up fairly quickly though. I told my committee I was going to draft my work proposal and I've completely ignored it. I need to schedule it or it won't get done. Done.

I wonder if I did a video version of an ethnography, say, of the UT Press, if I could fit it into the final story. Does the dissertation have a place in it for an ethnography of the UT Press, maybe in a video? A whole 'nother interpretation of this little piece of things? Not a story told in prose, but the story told in film. I thought of the ethnography as just helping me to understand the Press world better, but maybe there's a place for the ethnography in the finished product. Since I have all those tabs, it seems like the ethnography can be fitted in even if it's not integral. Maybe that's one of the good things about the tabbed approach. It lends itself to relationships.