The Underwater Library

Via friend of the blog and typo hunter, Leigh, I learned today that the Louisville Free Public Library was recently flooded and is in pretty dire straights:

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – It’ll be sometime Wednesday before the full extent of the damage to the main branch of Louisville’s Free Public Library is known.

Water poured into the basement Tuesday, damaging everything there. Among the items lost, tens of thousands of books, the HVAC system, the branch’s computers and all of the computers set to go to Newburg’s soon to open high-tech library.

Library Director Craig Buthod says computers and “tens of thousands of books” have been lost to the water damage. He says three bookmobiles, staff vehicles and even his car were under water in the underground parking garage.

Buthod estimates in some spots the water was as high as 12 feet. Louisville Fire and Rescue was still on the scene Tuesday night, pumping water out of the building.

Mayor Jerry Abramson says the damage will likely exceed $1 million in the downtown library.

This is a major tragedy, especially when many people are turning to libraries now as a way to not just find entertainment, but search for work. If you can, please donate to help them clean up the library and replace their collection.

Elsevier’s Ethics Problem Goes Way Deeper

Elsevier it appears, was even less ethical, if you can imagine it:

In a statement to The Scientist magazine, Elsevier at first said the company “does not today consider a compilation of reprinted articles a ‘journal'”. I would like to expand on this ­statement: It was a collection of academic journal articles, published by the academic journal publisher Elsevier, in an academic ­journal-shaped package. Perhaps if it wasn’t an academic journal they could have made this clearer in the title which, I should have mentioned, was named: The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine.

Things have deteriorated since. It turns out that Elsevier put out six such journals, sponsored by industry. The Elsevier chief executive, Michael Hansen, has now admitted that they were made to look like journals, and lacked proper disclosure. “This was an unacceptable practice and we regret that it took place,” he said.

The pharmaceutical industry, and publishers, as we have repeatedly seen, have serious difficulties in living up to the high standards needed in this field, and bad information in the medical literature leads doctors to make irrational prescribing decisions, which ultimately can cost lives, and cause unnecessary suffering, not to mention the expense.

Wonder how much of a discount our Elsevier rep will give us if we threaten to cancel?

Link via.

Academic Ethics? What Are Those?

Pharm giant Merck came up with a novel way of advertising their drugs: they made up a phony peer-review Journal. And guess who published it for them? Every academic’s favorite publishing behemoth, Elsevier!*

It’s a safe guess that somewhere at Merck today someone is going through the meeting minutes of the day that the hair-brained scheme for the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was launched, and that everyone who was in the room is now going to be fired.

The Scientist has reported that, yes, it’s true, Merck cooked up a phony, but real sounding, peer reviewed journal and published favorably looking data for its products in them. Merck paid Elsevier to publish such a tome, which neither appears in MEDLINE or has a website, according to The Scientist.

What’s really ironic is that the reason (or I should say, the excuse) that Elsievier gives to libraries for gouging them so badly for subscription fees is that we’re paying for quality. That the Elsieveir name means you’re getting authoritative, peer-reviewed information that is beyond reproach. At least, when it isn’t shoveling shit advertising and tryng to pass it off as research.

Link via.

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* google: elsevier+price+gouging. Fun!

And I thought Our Fines Were Stiff

Overdue library book gets woman arrested:

An overdue library book called “The Freedom Writers Diary” briefly cost an Independence woman her freedom Thursday.

Jesup police arrested Shelly Koontz, 39, on a fifth-degree theft charge because she allegedly failed to return the collection of essays about the struggles of inner-city Long Beach, Calif., high school students.

The book’s retail price is $13.95.

“Theft is theft,” said Jesup Police Sgt. Chris Boos, “whether it’s a 50-cent candy bar, a $13 library book or a $200 TV.”

Koontz is free after posting a $250 bond at the Buchanan County Jail. Efforts to reach her by telephone Friday were unsuccessful.

This gets into that gray area of motivation. Stealing a TV or even just shoplifting a candy bar requires premeditation or at least a conscious decision to do something wrong. When Ms. Koontz checked the book out of the library, she was doing something legal and laudable. Forgetting to return a book is not a crime, it’s just forgetful. No one was harmed. And even if the library eventually paid for a replacement copy, this didn’t cost anything extra out of the budget because all libraries factor replacement costs into the budget. They could have just sent a bill to Ms. Koontz for the replacement fee, plus a penalty and made a little money. But going to the hassle, embarrassment and cost of running her through the legal system for what is the most insignificant of misdemeanors is stupid but all too indicative of our culture’s obsession with punishment.

We want the evil doers to pay. We demand Justice with a capitol J for the victims of theft and murder and rape, even if it means stealing property, murdering criminals or putting them in prison to be raped by other criminals. And, I guess now forgetfulness or good old fashioned sloth also demands Justice. Oh, and fornication as well, since the anti-choice freaks would like to inflict pregnancy, STDs and cancer, just so the sluts know what’s good from bad. But at least Sheriff Jim Bob in Yokal town got to flash his badge and show everyone whose a Man.

Link via Moby Lives.

A New Approach to Iraqi Records Management

Remember all those Baathist records that were lost from the Iraqi National Library during the invasion? Well, funny story:

A lot worse things have happened in Iraq, but the removal of the Baath Party archives from the country — 7 million pages that undoubtedly document atrocities of the Saddam Hussein regime — is significant. The documents were seized shortly after the fall of Baghdad by Kanan Makiya, an Iraq-born emigre who teaches at Brandeis University and heads a private group called the Iraq Memory Foundation. Despite protests from the director of Iraq’s National Library and Archives, the documents were shipped to the U.S. in 2006 by Makiya’s foundation and in June deposited with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University under a deal struck with Makiya.

The move was criticized in both countries. The Society of American Archivists said seizing and removing the documents was “an act of pillage” prohibited under the laws of war. Iraq’s acting minister of culture, Akram H. Hadi, issued a statement in late June expressing the Iraqi government’s “absolute rejection” of Makiya’s deal. The documents “are part of the national heritage of Iraq,” the statement declared, and must be returned to Iraq promptly.

Given the hundreds of thousands of deaths and the millions of refugees, why should anybody care about Iraq’s archives? It comes down to whether you care about what happens to Iraq. It’s part of its cultural patrimony. It’s part of its ability to hold the previous regime accountable.

About 100 million other pages of Iraqi government documents are still in the hands of the U.S. military after being seized during the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction. The documents now at the Hoover Institution were taken from the Baath Party Regional Command Headquarters in Baghdad and are particularly significant because they almost certainly reveal who secretly collaborated with Hussein — politically explosive information.

How did one man get possession of the entire Baath Party archives?

Makiya is best known not for his foundation or his 1989 book “Republic of Fear,” but rather for his crucial role in convincing Americans — particularly leading journalists — to support a war to overthrow Hussein. “More than any single figure,” Dexter Filkins wrote in the New York Times last October, Makiya “made the case for invading because it was the right thing to do.” Makiya was an ally of Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, and gained fame for a face-to-face meeting with President Bush two months before the U.S.-led invasion during which he said American troops “will be greeted with sweets and flowers.”

So, to review: the guy who wrote the book (literally) on why we should invade Iraq, who also filled the heads of our top decision makers with fantasies about how we would be received and has numerous close ties to every shady character in the Bush administration who stands to profit from the invasion, either directly or indirectly, has control over the documents that might show who in the US government was aiding and abetting Husein in previous decades (I’m looking at you, Cheney*). But I’m sure it’s all a coincidence. Why would you think there was some sort of corrupt, back patting scheme going on here?

If the Hoover Institution continues to refuse the Iraqi government’s demand for return of the archives, the U.S. government, which improperly gave Makiya permission to collect and remove the documents, ought to insist that those records belong to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. It’s up to the Iraqis to decide what to do with them.

And I’m sure we’ll just send them right over, just as soon as Bush and Chaney have redacted all the stuff that implicates them or their cronies in any wrong doing made them look pretty.

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*Funny thing: I am in fact looking at Dick Cheney most of the day as there is a picture of him in my new office with a personalized greeting, welcoming me to my new job. And people say we librarians don’t have a sense of humor.

It’s All Very Technical

I usually refrain from discussing work or job-related things on the blog, but I have to share the good news: having been unemployed for less than a month, I have a new job! Starting August 4, I will be head of Technical Services and Systems at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

I am super excited about this job! At the interview, I felt like I was talking to people who really got what I was saying about using new technology (all that web 2.0 stuff you may have heard about) in the Library. That’s a good feeling.

Posting around here will continue to be light as we look for a new apartment (a new new one, closer to work) and continue with the whole “I’ve just moved across country, where the hell am I,” feeling that has been our life for the last week.

But!

We’re still going to Comic-Con at the end of the month! So there will be pictures. And reviews. And blood. OK, not blood. But powerpoint slides! I’ll have the presentation I did for my job interview, on using web 2.0 tech in the library, online before too long. Won’t that be fun.

Coming From A Man Who’s Clearly Never Read A Book In His Life…

Brent Bozell has a column at Townhall in which he takes us dirty hippie librarians to task for our censorship:

It is quite apparent who the ALA believes to be the heroes and villains of this struggle. There are the avatars of intellectual freedom, the brave souls who champion open-mindedness, and then there are the censorious busybodies. Some have made the obvious point that challenging libraries to provide titles they’re not stocking would turn the tables and make people realize that librarians can also be censorious in the titles they choose not to display. The mere act of selecting some books and excluding others is a “censorious” act.

Press accounts leave out that the ALA not only disdains the public “challenges,” it lobbies on the books’ behalf. In 2006, the two-penguin-daddy “And Tango Makes Three” was honored as an ALA Notable Children’s Book. The librarians’ group isn’t simply for “freedom.” It’s for sexual liberation, promoting the “non-traditional,” and it takes offense at the idea that parents might not want their children discussing homosexuality in kindergarten. Simon & Schuster, the publishers of “Tango,” offer discussion questions about the book on their website. One says: “Tango has two fathers instead of the traditional mother and father. Do you have a nontraditional family, or do you know someone who does?”

Already we can predict how the ALA next year will complain about any objection to a book called “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding,” the story of a young guinea pig who worries that her Uncle Bobby won’t play with her anymore after he “marries” his boyfriend Jamie. The book ends at the “wedding,” with Chloe as the enthusiastic flower girl. In other words, the ALA doesn’t favor open discussion and debate with parents — which is what the “challenges” represent. Its idea of “freedom” is emboldening librarians to be brave enough to indoctrinate children with what they really need to know, whether their parents object or even know about it. If public debate follows, it’s viewed as a distasteful and unfortunate bump on the road to enlightenment.

You keep using this word. I don’t think it means what you think it means, Brent.

First off, the ALA’s Most Challenged list is compiled to bring attention to books that people–specifically, people form the community served by the local library–want removed for ideological reasons. Promoting books that bigots and other non-elites* want banned is the exact opposite of censorship.

Secondly, promoting books with a minority viewpoint, such as And Tango Makes Three, while not promoting, say the Bible is not censorship either. The Bible, or to be less inflammatory, Doctor Seuss books, don’t really need promoting. Everyone already knows about those books and the viewpoints they express and knows that they can come into just about any library and find them. But people also come into libraries looking for other books, sometimes ones they may not even know exist but hope to find because they need information that isn’t contained in the usual books. Information such as how to handle introducing children to the notion of same sex parents. And because libraries serve everyone in the community, not just the privileged white Christian majority, they often carry and promote these books as well as the standard selections that won’t offend your lily white, antiseptic mind.

Also: if you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, you can always find the nearest librarian and request them to carry it. They’ll more than likely agree to purchase it, with the caveat that they may not be able to do so right away, since their budget has been cut by anti-intellectual shills for one of the most unenlightened and disastrous administrations in US history.

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Link via Mister Leonard Pierce at Sadly, No!

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* Thanks to the tireless efforts of Brent Bozell and the right wing clown car posse, everyone who isn’t a coal miner’s daughter or a member of the KKK’s noose tying brigade is now an “elite” which no longer means good, but has come to mean self-satisfyingly superior. Because why anyone would want to feel superior to mouth breathing red necks and lynch mobs in search of a body is clearly beyond the intellectual skills of Brent Bozell. These are his people after all.

Robbing The Cradle Of Civilization

Like everyone and everything else in Iraq, the National Library and Archives have had a rough go of it since the Occupation:

The sacking of the library that began April 11, 2003, was a bad one. The current Director of Iraq’s National Library and Archive, Dr. Saad Eskander, estimates that over three days, as many as “60 percent of the Ottoman and Royal Hashemite era documents were lost as well as the bulk of the Ba’ath era documents…. [and] approximately 25 percent of the book collections were looted or burned.” Other Iraqi manuscript collections and university libraries suffered similar fates.

Since then, Iraqis have once again tried to rebuild their library. The occupying powers have played along, but like so much about the Iraq War, their effort has been marked by ineptitude, hypocrisy and a cruel disregard for Iraqi people and culture.

Early in the occupation, L. Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), demonstrated an unwillingness to provide the basic funds necessary for the reconstruction of Iraq’s educational and informational infrastructure. Dr. Rene Teijgeler, senior consultant for Culture for the Iraqi Reconstruction Management office at the American Embassy in Baghdad, left his position in February of 2005, not having “the supplies of ready cash that could be used to acquire something as simple as bookshelves.” His position was left empty.

When John Agresto, the education czar of the CPA, asked for $1.2 billion to make Iraqi universities viable centers of learning: he received $9 million. He asked USAID for 130,000 classroom desks, and received 8,000.

So the NLA staff have looked elsewhere, occasionally finding pieces of the old collection for sale there on Al Mutanabi street, home to Baghdad’s booksellers. In fact Al Mutanabi is the source of 95 percent of the books purchased to replace the looted collection of Iraq’s National Library and Archive. But Al Mutanabi was destroyed by a car bomb in March of 2007.

[…] Many dedicated people have offered important solidarity. In Florence, the city government underwrote construction of a conservation lab. The Czech government funded the training of Iraqi archivists. With the exception of invaluable training sessions organized by private educational institutions such as Harvard University, American support has been limited to a relatively small number of individual scholars, a few dedicated nonprofit agencies, nominal USAID support and the cooperation of a handful of private corporations. In 2005 the American Library Association issued a resolution on the connection between the Iraq war and libraries, calling for a full withdrawal of troops and a redistribution of funding but the conversation never extended much further than the bullet points.

The US State Department has created the Iraq Virtual Science Library, which provides access to a large number of health and science databases to institutions throughout the country. But Internet access, like electricity, is intermittent at best. Iraq is, after all, a largely collapsed society.

[…] It would be unfair and frankly absurd to blame American librarians and their shrinking budgets, rising legal costs and increasingly costly dependence on proprietary databases for the state of Iraq’s infrastructure. But the increasingly unstable position of American libraries is actually part of the same logic that produced that war. The disdain for cultural >institutions does not stop at the border–bombs there, budget cuts here.

This is a travesty, but one that was planned. New Orleans had problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, due to incompetence and terminal feet dragging on the part of the Government. But five years on, the INLA is run by a skeleton staff with next to no money or resources. And in typical US fashion, we decided to give them a big shiny Internet Database and not much else. The fact they still don’t have electricity is just one of those little oversights. We’ll get right on that, I’m sure.

As R.H. Lossin points out in the article, there’s not much help coming form US libraries and while that’s not entirely the fault of the libraries, as they are mostly underfunded and generally shit upon form a great hight by the Bush Administration as well, there are things we could do but simply aren’t. And there’s no excuse for that. The INLA, like the library of Alexandria, is part of the literary, scholastic and cultural fabric of the world, not just some low level agency in a neglected part of the world that just happens to sit adjacent to a large oil reserve. Until we readjust our perspective and start acting in a humane way, the Iraqi National Library and Archive will continue, like the rest of Iraq and increasingly, the infrastructure of the US, to slide into irrelevance and decay.

Three Cheers For The Average User

Emily over at Library Revolution brings up a point that relates, tangentially, to something I mentioned recently in regards to Michael Gorman and his fear of a user-contributed world:

My husband and I recently took our son to the Bronx zoo, where we were in for a treat – se got to see an Okapi up close and personal. Apparently, even in the zoo it is rare to see an Okapi up close – they usually hide in the back of the exhibit. But that day the Okapi was interested in being social and was right there up by the glass.
After talking to one of the zoo guides about this interesting and unique creature and the fact that it is unusual to get such a good look, I was curious. So when I got home I took a few minutes to look up the Okapi online. I just wanted to get a little bit information, so I ended up on Wikipedia, of course. There I learned a few facts about its habitat and behavior, including the interesting fact that they like to eat the burnt wood left over from a lighting strike.

And that was enough for me. It’s all I wanted or needed to know.

So when I have conversations with librarians concerned that people are using the internet to get fast, basic information instead of coming in to the library for “real” research, I have a hard time thinking that is always a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Students need to use good, reliable sources for their research, and a quick Wikipedia reference just isn’t going to cut it. Medical questions, financial questions, and other really important topics should be handled carefully and researched in much more depth. There are plenty of times when there is just no replacement for good, solid library research with the help of an information professional.

But this wasn’t one of them. And there are lots of instances when basic information gained quickly is more than sufficient. I didn’t need (or want) to delve into great tomes of zoological knowledge to learn detailed Okapi facts. I didn’t need to access scientific journals via complex databases or double check the citations and cross references for multiple sources.

This is an important development that often gets overlooked, not just by librarians but by most people in general when discussing the web: people know how to use it to find basic facts and figures that they otherwise wouldn’t. They may not be expert searchers but– and this is the real kicker– they don’t have to be. 9 times out of 10, people use the Internet to find out some basic info on Okapi, or the name of that actor, the one who plays the Lead Tenor in ‘Springtime for Hitler” in the Producers. He looks really familiar, but what’s his name? It’s easy to find out– grab the laptop, jump on line and go to IMDB. (He’s John Barrowman, better known as Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who).

Ten years ago, this answer would have been a lot harder to find out. Sure, you could wait for the credits to roll and pause the VCR, squint and go, “John Barrowman? Well great, I know his name, but what else has he been in?” You would have then had to have gone to the library, asked for a movie guide and hoped they had an up to date one, which they probably didn’t. Now, a few clicks of the mouse and you’re informed. Maybe it’s trivial information but you now know something you didn’t before and more than that, you know where to find information like that, again. Most information needs are like this, which is the dirty secret reference librarians don’t tell you. I do five hours a week on the reference desk and most of my questions are: Can I borrow your stapler? Where are the periodicals? and Why doesn’t my login info work on this computer? Every once in a while though, you get a meaty little research question. I had one recently that made my pulse jump because it was actually interesting: Are their any manifestos about Earthworks and nature installations? A student was writing a paper on Earth Art, like the Spiral Jetty or the Gates and wanted to know if there was any document that laid out the reasons and theories that motivate artists to create these works. She was interested in the history of them as well but wasn’t sure where to draw the line. Did Earth Works go back only to the Sixties or should she include ancient works like the Nazca Lines or Stonehenge? This is the sort of question that involves doing complex searching on databases and looking for books on the topic, a job that requires searching skills. Finding out about John Barrowman’s acting career? Not so much. Knowing the difference between the two types of information is important but recognizing that most people these days can find the easy stuff on their own — that’s huge.

Wizard Rock!

Good friend and regular reader, Andrew sent me this link to the Eugene Weekly, about Wizard Rock:

What you may not know, however, is that within the last couple years, an entire music subculture has been spawned from the world  of Harry Potter: wizard rock. More than 200 bands have come up with clever names (The Hermione Crookshanks Experience, for example) and written rock ‘n’ roll, punk, acoustic and even dance songs about everything from going to Hogsmeade to saving Ginny Weasley from deadly basilisks. There is an engaging purity to the music these bands make since the often campy songs ooze with absolute joy and silliness. These folks genuinely have fun mixing their love of music and Harry Potter.

The best part is, several of these bands make regional tours playing in library’s and chanting slogans like, “Fight Evil, read books.” Good stuff all around.