Monthly Archives: January 2011

The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

Community-Led Service Planning – Take it or Leave it?

Dangers of Dichotomising

Remember George Bush?  That guy really had some great quotes didn’t he?  One of my favourite is “you’re either with us, or your with the terrorists”.  As we have come to understand since 2001 (although some of us saw it immediately after he said it), the danger with dichotomizing complex issues is – presenting people with only two options for viewing the world doesn’t accurately reflect reality.  The world is much more complex than x or y..

So what does this have to do with community-led service planning…???

Take it or leave it? Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

When thinking about the community-led service model (paired down version below / full version on pp 30-31 of the Working Together Toolkit) it is not an all or none approach to service planning.  If the community-led approach is viewed as a standalone approach it can be both overwhelming and scary for library staff, since in order to implement library service planning solely from this perspective, new skills need to be developed by staff.

Simplied Traditional and Community Led Service Models

Instead of viewing community led planning as the only way in which to work with community, IT COULD BE VIEWED as a set of additional skills which library staff can develop, and build on top of traditional approaches, in order to improve library services!  In addition, library staff can draw upon these new skills, as they or the community see fit.

Step I. So, for instance, when determining which community(s) to work with (doing the community assessment)  library staff will still want to approach community assessment from a traditional perspective.  It will be important to know demographic characteristics of community, who is using your library (internally generated statistics), what current library users think of library services (comment cards, survey results etc.).  During this initial phase of community led service planning, it will be imperative to create relationships with the community you want to target (so you will need to, as mentioned in the toolkit, spend time in community (or in branch) developing relationships and discovering what is important to community).  If relationships aren’t developed – community led service planning will not occur.

Step II. During the next phase of service planning – needs identification – staff can still speculate what community needs are, but after developing relationships, you have the opportunity to verify if library staff perceptions actually match communities perceptions of need.  This is a very important step to be aware of.. and can really inform us of the impact of working with communities (especially since we will rarely if ever be able to predict what others needs are without actually consulting or collaborating with them).

Step III. and IV. Service planning and delivery are the next two steps.  While I always advocate for using community led approaches, if you are just beginning to use this approach, and you have discovered need from community, maybe the service is only planned by staff… or maybe you try to work with community ‘a little bit’.  Same with delivery…

Now evaluation is a different cup of tea… see a previous blog posting on community led evaluation vs. traditional..

By approaching community led work as a way to both develop new skills to work with community, on top of what we are already doing in libraries, and to discover and develop services based on community needs, it is much more likely to be integrated into a system and receive buy in from staff.  In addition, it will also ensure that library staff do not feel like their current approach to work is devalued.. and they will also be much more likely to try innovative new approaches to working with communities.

~ Ken

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Filed under community development, public libraries

Publishers, Green OA & Institutional vs Subject Repositories

Back in November, I was among the many authors to receive an email from Emerald Group Publishing, touting the publisher’s “commitment to protecting your work,” and announcing their use of the Attributor service to track down “unauthorized copies” of “my” (really more  theirs, now, as I only retain some limited rights) work and issue “legally-binding takedown notices.” Emerald asked for my cooperation by providing my personal/institutional/corporate web addresses (presumably for exclusion from the search).

This was much discussed in the blogosphere while I was busy getting a concussion: see Dorothea Salo (multiple posts), and Charles W Bailey if you need the rundown.  Basically, Emerald decided to use this weird Attributor software that was intended for mass-media use in order to try to clamp down on free-roaming e-copies of their articles. This, while unpalatable to some, is technically their right. Then I guess they decided that they could spin this in a way that would appeal to academics, and sent out that strange email that had some reeling and others just ignoring.

Among the questions in response were: Will anything bad happen if I don’t reply with my URLs? Will anything bad happen if I do? Why are they calling it *my* copyright, when they took it from me? Am I going to get in trouble for self-archiving in my subject repository, since they didn’t ask for those URLs? Should I send them URLs of other places (e.g. course websites, subject repositories) the article is posted, to try to get those excluded from the search since I’m okay with them, or is that just asking for trouble? I’m not sure when the response rate to the Emerald Attributor email was, but I’d guess it was low due to a combination of people being unsure of what it meant and people feeling like it was unnecessary spamminess regarding articles from projects that were long ago “closed out” as far as the authors were concerned.

At the time, I wondered if the omission of subject repositories (e.g., PubMed Central, RePEC, E-LIS) on Emerald’s list of URLs to collect was an oversight. Emerald is, after all, a RoMEO “green” publisher with no embargo period, who states outright, “We do not restrict authors’ rights to re-use their own work.” I haven’t personally published with Emerald in a few years now, but when I did, my friendly editor didn’t seem to balk at my hand-scrawled confirmation of my understanding of my self-archiving rights on the copyright transfer form.

However, about a month later I was advising some authors in copyright negotiation with Elsevier, in which an editor refused to allow archiving in a subject repository (e.g., PubMed Central) without a specific deal between a mandating funding body and the publisher. I was therefore forced to conclude that I was just naive in my reaction to Emerald’s apparent distinction about archiving location and there is some publisher strategy afoot that is accepting deposit in IRs yet creating barriers to use of subject-based repositories.

This is a troubling distinction in my eyes. I work in health research in Canada and our funders are so relatively small (compared with the US NIH) that our needs are often overlooked/left out of publisher policies and deals. Not allowing our authors to archive their articles in PubMedCentral Canada may inhibit discovery of their works, as (unlike items in our IR) PMC Canada articles should be discoverable via any PMC portal. It’s also a potential blow to smaller genre subject repositories that are unlikely to be included in such deals. Further, these distinctions make archiving yet more complicated for researcher/authors to navigate (perhaps this is the point).

In this example, the Elsevier editor pointed to the CIHR policy (which applied to the authors and was used as their rationale for wanting PMC Canada deposit). This policy, however, was written before PMC Canada was up & running and thus does not absolutely require deposit there. Elsevier – among other publishers – seems well aware of what they can get away with, and where. Had this been an NIH-funded project, it would be deposited in PMC. I hope CIHR clarifies their intentions regarding deposit location with a policy revision soon, because the “preference” for PMC Canada does not provide authors with the necessary leverage to convince publishers that they must deposit there, instead of only in their IR.

-Greyson

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Filed under copyright, funding, OA, Other blogs, publishing

Modernizing vs Censoring: Where’s the line?

Hello folks — yes I am back and feeling much better, thanks! Looking forward to a new, improved year – this time hopefully without the bike and car accidents that plagued 2010.

——-

What do we do with a “classic” work when the connotation of some of the language shifts over time?

Take Shakespeare, for example. Take high school English, for example. Many students in the Anglo-American world are required to read something by Shakespeare in their high school English curriculum. Few of them actually read the whole original text, at least not without a “translation” into more modern English nearby. Many watch film adaptations along with reading a given play. While I’m sure there is some controversy among Shakespeare purists, one of the widely-celebrated teachable aspects of Shakespeare’s plays is the adaptability of the stories to multiple contexts, despite the inaccessibility of the now-esoteric original language.

What about a more recent example, though, in which the language is still intelligible, but the cultural context has changed, making some formerly “acceptable” language now gravely offensive? Yes, I’m talking about Huck Finn, and the current debate over the suitability of NewSouth Books’ new edition of the Twain classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which has been either modernized or censored, depending on whom you ask.

I have to admit, I’m not as thoroughly offended by this new edition as I feel like I’m expected to be.

I know that schools can go to ridiculous extents to sanitize works in an attempt to keep them palatable to some faction of their community. (How well do I know this? I played Sandy in a Grade 9 production of Grease in which we had to cut out all smoking, sex/pregnancy, and dropping out of school – leaving basically no plot, just girl meets boy and oh yeah a nice car.) On the other hand, I also know that words can feel violent and contribute to an environment of harassment and oppression, and as a member of a group with a lot of white-skin privilege I’m not ready to jump on a bandwagon that says we should make our students – especially students of colour – read the n-word over & over in an assigned book – especially if assigned by a white teacher.

Ideally, Huck Finn would always be taught in the classroom by a compassionate and brilliant Twain scholar with incredible historical insight and the ability to guide students through the nuances of a novel that documents some terrible, violent elements of US history. But in reality, we all know that’s not always the case.

Schools, just like other institutions in society, often perpetrate the experience of violence and oppression upon participants (in this case students). Teachers are just as likely to be racist and sexist and homophobic as anyone else. I’m not sold on the necessity for schools to require the original exact n-word-inclusive Twain wording, when they so often offer abridged, translated or otherwise modernized versions of other works. If a particular school/system wants to take a stand on only assigning original wording of literary texts, more power to them. If that’s something they feel strongly about, there are many such editions of Huck Finn available, and hopefully the adoption of such principles would inspire lots of discussion of the historical context of every non-contemporary text.

In sum, I think the question of “sanitizing” or “updating” the language of a work depends greatly on what the purpose of one’s use of said classic is. Is it to introduce students to the classic text or the works of that author? Grant them some sort of cultural literacy? Understand what makes the texts we have deemed “great” work? Serve as an entre into greater discussions of history, culture, and the big questions? Produce literary scholars and critics? Ideally, school assignments would do all of these, but at core I think a lot would be happy to settle for doing a good job of the first couple or so. If teachers are unable to use (or appropriately use) the original text, and if a more palatable edition makes that possible, so be it — as long as it is obvious that the revised editions are not the original, and the original is widely available.

As an immigrant library student, I was fascinated at exploring Canadian culture through children’s literature. One text (or rather, texts) that really captured my interest was Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s In Search of April Raintree. I really wrestled with her decision to create a revised version for use in schools. I searched and searched for evidence of coercion, of censorship, in this revision, but everything I could find indicated that Mosionier was perfectly okay with it. Her current website (linked above)  proudly lists the three different editions of April Raintree, with their different intended audiences. Researching April Raintree really made me question my ability, as a white, Western, school-type-literate person, to understand what textual authenticity meant in cultural context that weren’t my own. And that’s okay.

Now, Mark Twain/Samuel Clements was white, and isn’t alive anymore to give or decline approval of new editions of his works. But the story of this revision isn’t so much about his cultural context as that of kids of colour who are being assigned to read Huck Finn today. I haven’t yet come across many African-American voices sounding in on this controversy, but I’d be really interested to hear various cultural interpretations of this revision, because the one or two I’ve been seeing don’t seem to be coming from this perspective.

And the line between “bad” censorship of a text and “good” modernizing for accessibility…well, I think it moves depending on where you’re standing.

-Greyson

ETA- NewSouth has responded in the comments of PW, and links to the book’s introduction,which discusses the controversy about the language change.

ETA #2 (Jan 6) – The NY Times has hosted a series of “debaters” writing to discuss this revised edition. Among the voices there, I recommend Paul Butler’s Why Read that Book?, who expressed the kind of sentiment I was intending to get at, but in a more concise and eloquent manner. I also recommend reading Thomas Glave’s Obscuring the Past, even though he doesn’t agree with what I wrote above.

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Filed under censorship, inclusion/exclusion, publishing, racism