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What SERU Solves

Good faith has powered collaboration between libraries and publishers for over 100 years. When books are ordered and purchased from publishers, libraries enter a long-term relationship with the object. In the world of bits, it is understood that the publisher’s relationship with the object stops with the check clearing from the library. In the world of atoms, diffusion happens at a different pace.

Then as now, the publisher gives the library implicit and explicit rights. The library rarely turns around and sells purchased books at a markup, and as needs shift, books may be deaccessioned or sold at a book sale or in the gift shop. All rights belong to the library, and no contracts other than common law govern the publisher relationship.

This has worked out well for both parties. Libraries get to offer information and knowledge to all comers, and publishers get to extend their reach to even non-paying customers. Because the usual customer rights are upheld, infringing uses are rare—not many people copy entire books at a copy machine—and the rare trope of doing well by doing good is upheld.

In the digital age
A few years ago, I was involved in a project to digitize medical reference books. Previously, the highly valuable books were chained to hospital library desks to prevent theft. As the software evolved to allow full text searching, natural language processing on queries, and cross searching with journals and databases, a developer raised an important question. “How are we going to get paid?” Enter the simultaneous use license. Exit simplicity. Enter negotiations. Exit the accustomed rights attached to print books. Enter simultaneous uses.

And of course, this isn’t a new problem. Books were chained to desks from the 15th to 18th centuries until it became attractive to display them spine out. In time, the risk of theft receded due to multiple copies. In the early 20th century, the German literary critic Walter Benjamin predicted that technology would change printing and writing: “With the woodcut graphic art became mechanically reproducible for the first time, long before script became reproducible by print. The enormous changes which printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, has brought about in literature are a familiar story.” CNI collected a list of circulation policies that ALA has compiled over the years, but it doesn’t cover how the freedom to read is made different in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Enter SERU
As my eminent colleague K. Matthew Dames points out, mistrust does characterize the licensing landscape. This is in part what standards are meant to address—adding clarity to new and sometimes bewildering territory, which licensing certainly is.

As a recommended working practice, NISO’s Shared Electronic Resource Understanding (SERU) offers radical common sense. In part, it says, “Both publishers and subscribing institutions will make reasonable efforts to prevent the misuse of the subscribed content. The subscribing institution will employ appropriate measures to ensure that access is limited to authorized users and will not knowingly allow unauthorized users to gain access. While the subscribing institution cannot control user behavior, an obligation to inform users of appropriate uses of the content is acknowledged, and the subscribing institution will cooperate with the publisher to resolve problems of inappropriate use.”

New circulation policies
This goes some way towards creating a circulation policy for the digital age. Dames correctly points out that the current licensing process is broken, and the stakes are high. But without lawyers being reminted as librarians en masse, this impedence mismatch is likely to continue. Given this logjam, SERU was birthed to set reasonable terms as a starting point.

Thus, SERU offers a solution for “particularly smaller publishers who perhaps do not have in-house lawyers or rights departments that can handle them.” Since there is no lack of mechanisms for restricting access to content in exchange for new business models, isn’t now the time to start setting terms before they are set for both libraries and publishers by larger interests?

Though SERU doesn’t claim to answer every possible scenario, it does offer a better, faster, and cheaper method for protecting the rights of libraries and publishers in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Illuminations Illuminations: Essays and ReflectionsWalter Benjamin; Schocken 1969WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

NetConnect Spring 2007 podcast episode 3

In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner famously said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” With the advent of new processes, the past can survive and be retrieved in new ways and forms. The new skills needed to preserve digital information are the same ones that librarians have always employed to serve users: selection, acquisition, and local knowledge.

The print issue of NetConnect is bundled with the April 15th issue of Library Journal, or you can read the articles online.

Jessamyn West of librarian.net says in Saving Digital History that librarians and archivists should preserve digital information, starting with weblogs. Tom Hyry advocates using extensible processing in Reassessing Backlogs to make archives more accessible to users. And newly appointed Digital Library Federation executive director Peter Brantley covers the potential of the rapidly evolving world of print on demand in a Paperback in 4 Minutes. Melissa Rethlefsen describes the new breed of search engines in Product Pipeline, including those that incorporate social search. Gail Golderman and Bruce Connolly compare databases’ pay-per-view in Pay by the Slice, and Library Web Chic Karen Coombs argues that librarians should embrace a balancing act in the debate between Privacy vs Personalization.

Jessamyn and Peter join me in a far-ranging conversation about some of the access challenges involved for readers and librarians in the world of online books, including common APIs for online books and how to broaden availability for all users.

Books
New Downtown Library
Neal Stephenson
Henry Petroski

Software
Greasemonkey User Scripts
Twitter
Yahoo Pipes
Dopplr

Outline
0:00 Music
0:10 Introduction

1:46 DLF Executive Director Peter Brantley
2:30 California Digital Library

4:13 Jessamyn West
5:08 Ask Metafilter
6:17 Saving Digital History
8:01 What Archivists Save
12:02 Culling from the Firehose of Information
12:34 API changes
14:15 Reading 2.0
15:13 Common APIs and Competitive Advantage
17:15 A Paperback in 4 Minutes
18:36 Lulu
19:06 On Demand Books
21:24 Attempts at hacking Google Book Search
22:30 Contracts change?
23:17 Unified Repository
23:57 Long Tail Benefit
24:45 Full Text Book Searching is Huge
25:08 Impact of Google
27:08 Broadband in Vermont
29:16 Questions of Access
30:45 New Downtown Library
33:21 Library Value Calculator
34:07 Hardbacks are Luxury Items
35:47 Developing World Access
37:54 Preventing the Constant Gardener scenario
40:21 Book on the Bookshelf
40:54 Small Things Considered
41:53 Diamond Age
43:10 Comment that spurred Brantley to read the book
43:40 Marketing Libraries
44:15 Pimp My Firefox
45:45 Greasemonkey User Scripts
45:53 Twitter
46:25 Yahoo Pipes
48:07 Dopplr
50:25 Software without the Letter E
50:45 DLF Spring Forum
52:00 OpenID in Libraries
53:40 Outro
54:00 Music

Listen here or subscribe to the podcast feed

Life Archive

Many libraries including the Greenwich Public Library (CT) have oral history collections of residents, famous and not so famous. But as the US population ages, people are starting to wonder if what they’re creating online will survive them.

Libraries have always kept some kind of vertical file for local residents. The DeKalb Public Library (IL) has a file on author Richard Powers, which proved recently valuable when The Echo Maker won the National Book award.

Perhaps it’s time for libraries to run their own blog aggregators, so that the next Richard Powers’ juvenelia can be preserved for posterity. Open source aggregators exist, from Gregarius (PHP) to Planet (Python) to Plagger (Perl).

Dave Winer, popular for an early vision of weblogs, RSS, and podcasting, among other things, wrote in a post entitled Future Archives, “When a scholar dies, he or she leaves behind a life of work, papers, unfinished manuscripts, notebooks, pictures, recordings, and nowadays computers, disks and websites. Their family and university generally don’t know what to do with them, often the problem is given to the libraries.” Winer went on to say, “Our thought is to try to anticipate the problem, while the scholar is alive, and now that our work is largely electronic, to have it future-safe at all times, leave no work for the librarian, let the families and colleagues deal with the death of a relative and colleague at a personal level, and not as a professional problem.”

Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), which offers metered storage on its servers, has been discussed as one possible solution. Other internet service providers have seen this need, and offer their own solutions. Joyent has Strongspace, which promises to give “a secure place to gather, backup and share any type of file.” Dreamhost has Files Forever, which promises to “keep uploaded files private [to use] as a permanent archive.”

Solution within reach
Jon Udell, Microsoft technology evangelist and pioneer of LibraryLookup, has been thinking along the same lines, writing “I have ventured into this confusing landscape because I think that the issues that libraries and academic publishers are wrestling with — persistent long-term storage, permanent URLs, reliable citation indexing and analysis — are ones that will matter to many businesses and individuals. As we project our corporate, professional, and personal identities onto the web, we’ll start to see that the long-term stability of those projections is valuable and worth paying for.

In Udell’s podcast with Dan Chudnov, librarian and technologist, they discuss possible alternatives. Chudnov went on to post a vision of what a library project dedicated to archiving weblogs would look like from a 2004 conference discussion (see below), since updated to include Atom instead. This service, which mirrors the journal archive service LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe), holds promise for keeping electronic content from falling into a digital black hole.

Weblog mirroring system diagram, originally uploaded by dchud.