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Mar 29

Technolust: the fifth column of the information counter-revolution (VALA Events 2013)

On Wednesday night, I attended the first VALA event of the year, where Hugh Rundle from Boroondara Libraries spoke on Technolust and libraries. It was a very interesting and thought provoking talk, which my notes do not do justice to, but they will at least give you an idea and hopefully get you thinking as well.

Technolust: the fifth column of the information counter-revolution

Talked about small projects driving Tasmania’s economic recovery in the last decade of last century – not the big projects that did it. It was based on a vision of natural produce, hard work and lack of pretension.

Tasmania’s failure was in an initial lack of self- belief, once they found it, the state was well on the road to recovery. Libraries are in the same boat now, some librarians are looking for the next big technology to save libraries.

When looking at any new project in libraries, we need to know why we are doing it, what we are trying to achieve and how we will measure success.

A library is a system for sharing ideas, based on the principles of preservation, openness, freedom and privacy Its about accessibility, access, freedom and protection of individual rights. The combination works together for libraries, in sharing ideas. That`s our unique value proposition, making us different from Amazon, etc.

Revolution is happening, with more people with access and the ability to share. Increases both readability and writability. The combination of the personal computer and web has opened everything up.

Revolutions always upset the status quo, with those in power wanting to keep it. So then comes the counter revolution. In our era it is coming in the form of severely restrictive copyright, reducing the ability to remain anonymous, filtering, e-books licencing, Internet use logs and other invasions of privacy. And it comes in the guise of friends eg. Amazon, Google and Apple.

We must be careful not to become the unwitting counter revolutionaries, and in turn forgetting our principles.

Introducing new technology is not about fashion or keeping up with the cool libraries. We do need to get the technology, but that which our community needs. Money spent on this technology means that the money is not available for other purposes. What is it that makes it useful to your community? What features should we be looking for – need to focus on the consequences as well.

We now have an ebook crisis, because the whole model is about licencing not sales. If the sub disappears, so does the content. Same thing happened with serials in academic libraries. The publishers/aggregators decide who will get access. DRM restricts access rights like portability and disabled access. Egs. removing ebooks, geographic blocking, automated filtering. Some of these involve websites which require extra logins for library users, but can we protect their privacy there?

Cloud based data is subject to the laws of the country of the server, so if your data is in the cloud in the US, it is subject to the Patriot Act. RFID – what data is on the tag that could be read by Near field communications apps?

Solutions?

LOCKSS – even if you stop a subscription, you have a copy of your paid for content.

Libraries on Wikipedia – SLQ running workshops on creating quality content.

Open access archives, including journals. eg First Monday by Uni of Illinois. Douglas County Libraries are self hosting e-books – unfortunately from small publishers only.

Library Box – anonymous wifi access for downloading.

RFID can be anonymously encode – id numbers only, not titles or user info.

Google Analytics alternative Piwik – you’re data is then protected and not used.

Community based platforms such as Vicnet and Museum of Victoria’s Collections Online.

Trove. API has now been released.

Need to consider these things in a more comprehensive way and act on it.

Internet development is an attack on the principles that libraries rest on. It’s not the technology we need to focus on, but the bigger issues of copyright reform, metadata and more.

We need to make things that retain our principles but still provide what our users want. We need to be proactive about protecting our values. Libraries will become irrelevant when we throw away our principles and instead of asking about consequences, we focus on features.

Act boldly with your next tech project – base it on the principles outlined above and your library will remain relevant.