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The readings by Miller this week were partly review for me of things I knew already, with some elaboration and detail, but some of the information was definitely new.

I’ve been reasonably familiar with the various mechanisms for accessing the internet since I’ve used many of them at one point or another – dialup modems, DSL, and cable modems at home, T1/T3 lines at work, and wireless at both places plus other areas. I hadn’t known all the history of them, though, for instance how early T1 lines were developed.

The discussion of packets in ch. 4 of Miller helped clarify my understanding of those, especially the explanation of the differences between TCP and UDP. Likewise the material on IP addresses and proxy servers was really useful; proxy servers are something that I sort of vaguely understood but this helped me grasp what they do better. Same with routers, which again, I had some vague notions and I think now I understand better. I remember WINSOCK and having to install several versions of that! It’s so much easier now that TCP/IP is built into Windows.

Domain names and lookups I did know something about already, since I’ve maintained a personal website for some years and have to pay an annual fee to my host for domain registration, and I recall from early web days occasionally using the numeric addresses instead of names to reach some sites. I also remember doing ping tests a few times.

The readings by Ojala and by Eliopoulos & Gotlieb were a little dated, since there have been some changes in search engines in the last 6-7 years, but still useful. The table in the Ojala article which summarized the differences and similarities between search engines was good (although sadly the scan made it hard to read which engine was being described in which column). It was also good to be reminded (in the Eliopoulos & Gotlieb article) that the 80 results after the first 20 often can also be highly relevant – so often we settle for what we first see because it seems acceptable and we don’t want to waste time.

The Burd chapter looked back to what we did in building hypothetical computer labs in the second week of class; good as a refresher.

References:

Burd, Stephen D. 2006. Systems architecture. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson.

Eliopoulos, Demetrios, and Calvin Gotlieb. 2003. Evaluating web search results rankings. Online 27 (March-April): 42-8.

Miller, Joseph B. 2009. Internet technologies and information services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Ojala, Marydee. 2002. Web search engines: Search syntax and features. Online 26 (Sept.-Oct.): 28-31.

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[This was originally written for a course on Information and Communication Technology]

“Connected data” and “connectedness” don’t necessarily carry the same meaning for me. “Connectedness” implies something more human – a person-to-person link – whereas “connected data” might foster the former, but are reducible to pixels and bytes.

That suggests that “connected data” are invariably digital… which isn’t quite what I meant, because it’s easy to think of ways in which non-digital information or data may be connected in various ways (texts by the same author, or on the same subject, for example). I do, however, think that digital data are easier to connect together, and that it’s easier for users to connect with those data as well. The hope with changing technologies is that they will enable users to make those connections faster/better/easier, allowing users to choose between different possibilities to find the one(s) that work(s) best for them.

We’ve looked at, used, and developed a number of different tools in this class, most although not all of them being web-related in some way (and even the ones that are not inherently web-related, like databases, can be accessed or used online). Most of these tools promote connections between pieces of data – databases most obviously, but web pages, blogs, and wikis all bring together information, for example by including links to other sites. Many of them also promote connections between the data and users, as in the way that wikis typically allow any user to add or edit information on their pages. Some of them facilitate connectedness between users, as with blogs where a reader can respond directly to the blogger.

The key thing to remember, though, is that no tool is perfect for every purpose, and also that however cool something is, if it doesn’t produce the kind of results we’re hoping for (whatever those may be), it’s pretty much useless. A wiki is a pallid and lifeless thing if no one out there is interested enough to contribute to it. Podcasts that no one wants to hear sound their barbaric yawp over the rooftops and into silence. (Sorry, got a bit carried away there.)

So I can see potentially using many or all of these tools, as a librarian, but I don’t think any one of them is truly necessary to do the job and do it well. They’re tools. Means to an end, not the end itself. If using podcasts and RSS feeds helps my library reach out to undergraduates and tell them about the things the library can assist them with, then those are good tools to use. If Adobe Connect Pro lets me meet virtually with colleagues at other institutions, so that we can brainstorm and work together without having to spend scarce funds on airfare and hotels, then that’s a good tool. If my department can use a wiki internally to get all of our procedural documents online, rather than producing dozens of paper copies and having to redo them all the time as the procedures are updated, then that’s a good tool, too.

We need to be aware of what’s out there, technologically. It’s changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up, and invariably we’ll get into some ruts. One can imagine hearing in ten years, “We’ve always had a weekly podcast!” The point is to do our best to stay aware, to stay flexible, to use the tools that work and not be afraid to try new ones or discard old ones if they’re not doing the job any more.

I’ve drawn on the images from this site (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/afeast.htm) in teaching, especially for a class that I have taught on food in pre-modern Europe, using several of the images to illustrate points in a lecture. It’s the simplest sort of a digital collection, really, maintained by a single person out of personal interest. The images are grouped thematically on separate pages, and each theme page has thumbnails and brief descriptions of the images; the images themselves can be reached by clicking the thumbnail. So it’s not a particularly sophisticated collection in terms of organization or labeling, but since it’s also not that large of one, the way that it is set up suffices for the purpose.

Given that I’ve just been thinking about copyright issues, it’s notable that the site’s owner is erratic in attributing the origins of the images displayed. Some are; for instance, an image of a baker (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/kitchens/kit055.html) is said to be from a 1432 Flemish manuscript of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Others, like this merchant with a nutmeg (http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/foods/food005.html) merely have an approximate date given, but no other indication of where the image came from. The images from A Canterbury Calendar, originally from a manuscript dated to about 1280, are taken from a book published in 1984, and I’d hazard that probably no permission was given to display them online, although I might be wrong.

This is one of those areas where I find copyright law problematic. Frankly I doubt that having these images available online is going to prevent anyone who might want that book from buying it; the dozen images alone hardly comprise the information that would normally be wanted. So it’s not going to cut into sales or use of the book (the edition from which the images are drawn is out of print, in fact, although there is a revised edition in print). It’s hard to see how enforcing copyright here would encourage greater creativity. Actually I’d suspect that having the images out there on the web is what might stimulate interest and possibly new thoughts and ideas on the topic of medieval food.

If I thought copyright was a tricky and irritating thing, coming from the perspective of an instructor, it’s much more of a potential problem when looked at from the perspective of creating an online collection, as I discovered in writing a paper on the topic.

Copyright law is lengthy, complicated, and (in my opinion at least) frequently does not actually do what it is intended for, that is, “promote the progress of science and useful arts,” as stated in article 1, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. A compilation of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 plus related and more recent acts runs to over 300 pages (http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf). Wading through the tortuous prose of the Act is not easy. Luckily there are various other publications which summarize certain areas of the law and discuss their applicability, like the ARL’s “Know Your Copy Rights®: Using copyrighted works in academic settings” (http://www.knowyourcopyrights.org/index.shtml).

I learned the interesting fact that copyright law in the U.S. is usually revised by having the industries involved work out the changes in the law and then give that suggested text to Congress (Dames 2006, 36). This struck me as extremely problematic; the industries, e.g. publishers, are going to have a lot more clout and stand to profit the most from changes in copyright law such as a lengthened terms of copyright, and will the actual creators of the works. It’s difficult to see how, then, creative thought is likely to be stimulated by copyright.

On the other hand, the fact that copyright is now assumed and need not be formally registered (for a price) is a plus in these days of the internet, since someone (a U.S. citizen anyhow) who places a new creative work on the internet does retain copyright to that work. They may choose to relinquish some or all of their rights, e.g. with a Creative Commons license (see http://creativecommons.org/) which allows others to use the work in defined fashion, but it’s at their choice.

What I concluded overall from the research I did was that it’s critical for any person or institution that may be setting up a digital collection to be extremely careful ahead of time in paying attention to the issue of copyright, and ensuring that either the collection’s contents are in the public domain, or that all necessary rights permissions have been secured. While an instructor in a classroom may be able to use materials on the basis of fair use, creating a permanent online collection is a very different matter.

Reference:

Dames, K. Matthew. 2006. The copyright landscape: Introducing U.S. copyright law. Online (Sept./Oct.): 35-8.

Dr. Martens pointed us at this article at LibraryJournal.com: At SPARC Digital Repository Meeting, Shulenberger Calls Out AAUP, ACS. Towards the end of the article the author (Andrew Albanese) notes, “Libraries, with stretched budgets, have bought fewer monographs, and the consolidation in the bookselling market has left university presses increasingly alone to fend for their survival. It’s time, Shulenberger, urged, for all campus units, to find ways to pull in the same direction, for everyone’s common benefit.”

This makes me think that academically-oriented online collections in general, and institutional repositories in particular, need to be reconceptualized in terms of what they do and how their functions interact with and/or replace those of earlier methods of sharing information.

There are many reasons why information is shared in an academic context, but two stand out. First, because that is in a sense the entire purpose of the academy: to create and disseminate knowledge. Second, because the way that higher education is structured, the professoriate is judged primarily on the basis of such creation and its dissemination through publication.

Publication in journals or monographs is not the only way in which information can be disseminated, however. The advantages of publication have traditionally been threefold. Publication enabled information to reach more people more quickly than did personal communication (before academic journals existed, the sharing of knowledge was largely informal, and carried out through direct communication until and unless the author published a book). This advantage is now far less relevant, since it is easy to put information on the internet. Publication also fixed the information in a standard, findable, permanent form; and that is an advantage not yet always extant in online formats, though the use of repositories should improve permanency and findability. Finally, publication involves a certain amount of gatekeeping; no publisher can publish everything submitted, since there are questions of cost and also of suitability. Thus the existence of peer review, which in theory ensures that published academic works are of high quality. This is something that repositories do not assist with at the present time, since their purpose is to archive rather than to review.

It would be entirely possible to add some sort of review function to a repository, however. It need not be required for all items, but could be an option. A university press could use the same group of reviewers now called upon to evaluate submitted manuscripts (books, articles, or both) to evaluate items deposited in an institutional repository. If of suitable quality, those items could be designated as “peer reviewed” and be considered the equivalent of a formal publication, with the imprimatur of the press; authors could also have the opportunity to revise the work if reviewers felt it was not up to standard.

Substituting peer-reviewed items in digital repositories for traditional university press-published journals and monographs seems to me to be a potential way to continue disseminating new knowledge, retain quality standards, and yet not continue to need to subsidize money-losing presses. If the digitized items in the repository could also be converted into printable formats, using the Espresso Book Machine or similar technology, then it’s hard to see what losses there would be in such a shift.

The Organization for Transformative Works (http://transformativeworks.org/) is a nonprofit organization created by fans to support the creating and distribution of fanfiction, fanart, and similar transformative works. The founders of OTW believe that current law does permit these sorts of works to be created and freely distributed. They have already established an online, international peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, of which the first issue came out in September 2008.

Of interest with regard to collections is that OTW is also in the process of creating open-source archive software with which to host such works. OTW itself will have a multifandom archive, and the software will be available to others to use as well. They are slightly behind on their projected timeline (they were hoping for a public launch of the archive in August 2008, and it hasn’t happened yet), doubtless due to the fact that this is original software being developed by and for OTW rather than some out-of-the-box package that might not suit the specific needs of fan creators and their works.

Copyright is always an issue to be considered in creating digital archives, and the OTW holds the position that fanworks fall into the category of “fair use.” It will be interesting to see what happens once the archive is in place and fanfiction (and eventually fanart, fanvids, etc.) is made available through it. A reconsideration of what exactly copyright protects may be in order.

This post is simply some musings about what collections are, and what’s necessary to make them valuable.

One fascinating thing about digital/online collections is how incredibly varied they can be. Text-based, still images, images of texts, sounds, videos… no one’s managed to capture and transmit touch or taste or smell, so far as I know, but sight has long been the primary sense upon which we rely for information transmission, and sound the secondary one. (I’m thinking long-term and long-distance here, as opposed to in-person communication.)

So the medium isn’t key to defining a collection, though a digital collection is by definition digitized in some manner.

To call something a collection does imply that a number of different items are included. How many? That can vary tremendously. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions? Perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that once a collection has over perhaps fifty items, what becomes important is how to find a given desired item. Searching is key, especially when the searcher is not already familiar with the collection’s contents.

Any search relies on metadata of some sort. The conclusion I am reaching is that coming up with metadata categories, and then terms, is absolutely key to making collections of any significant size actually usable and useful.

All the information in the world is useless if it’s piled in a random heap.

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