v23 #3 @Brunning: People & Technology

by | Jul 14, 2011 | 0 comments

At the Only Edge that Means Anything / How We Understand What We Do

by Dennis Brunning  (E Humanities Development Librarian, Arizona State University)  <dennis.brunning@gmail.com>

Not in Your Browser — Rolling Stone Magazine Cover to Cover

A 60th birthday brought Rolling Stone Cover to Cover, the DVD archive of the music and counterculture magazine, 1967-2007, into use here @Brunning.

Being older than a rock era magazine isn’t cause to celebrate.  But a chance, drink-in-hand, rear-end in Lazy Boy, laptop deployed — to revisit youth, drugs, and rock and roll is indeed celebratory.

Rolling Stone commissioned Bondi Digital to present 40 years of Jan Weiner’s rock icon, a magazine that helped define rock and roll as we know it.  Now we can know it digitally.

Although named after Mick and Keith’s enterprise, Rolling Stone first issue stars John Lennon, its patron saint.  Lennon made news and noise in Rolling Stone’s pages; who can forget the stunning cover of Lennon, nude and in fetal position snuggled against Yoko (RS, May).

This is the first page the Bondi Reader displays after installation.  Disc one launches the software and search engine; from there you have the now-expected disc-swapping exercise to access page image.  Ought to be in a browser, sure, but there is a certain pleasure in owning your own copy.  It’s like you have the library’s periodicals room.

That said, you have to love microfilm to appreciate Rolling Stone Cover to Cover.  What you see is much like what you see with microform — a photograph.  With software controls you can zoom in or out but the action is like positioning the film for good viewing.

Ironically, fussing with image position and magnification, familiar to everyone with even passing use of a microfilm reader, has its equivalent in DVD readers.

It takes you back to periodical stacks of public and academic libraries.  Use for research, use for nostalgia.  Use for good reading.  Ponder how far we’ve gone?

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Google Observed…

There is no shortage of books about Google.  Early reports included John Battelle’s insider look, “How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture” which was all roses and no thorns.  “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis,  along the same lines profiled Google as not only a new technology but a new way of doing business — even of thinking.  Ken Auletta, the New Yorker writer and reporter, took a more measured approach to the behemoth, agreeing with Battelle and Jarvis but cautiously suggesting the “end of the world as we know it” brought about by Google may not be the total deliverance we thought.  But it wasn’t all bad either; we are “Googled.”

Recent times have not been as good for the company.  Google just lost its case against copyright as we know it by Judge Denny Chin’s ruling against the settlement.  Google is now in just about every court in the world waging one form of litigation or another on privacy, data security, and search equity.  It’s taking some lumps that weren’t recorded in the Battelle, Auletta, or Jarvis.

Three books in the last year or two set the tone and outline the shape of things to come for GoogleNick Carr, who keynoted at the recent SLA conference in New Orleans, writes in the “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains,” the Internet, led by Google, is filtering how we think at the neurological level.  Because Google is all about immediate relevant results in a sea of data and information, it has promoted, with its ingenious algorithms that reward popular pages, a sugar high when it comes to what we want to know and consider knowledge.  There is no depth to researching on the Internet — only information spread shallow across a huge sea surface of data.

A more comprehensive social, historical, and cultural analysis shows up in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Googlization of Everything: Why We Should WorryVaidhyanathan’s, media studies professor at University of Virginia and noted Google “Gadfly,” got an inside look at Google through interviews with employees but he also interviews everyone else who writes about Google.  For librarians his analysis is thorough — walking us through where Google fits in the scheme of what we do for a living — searching, finding, and curating information in books, journals, and other important documents.  He is especially concerned about the book project, whose impetuous scanning of millions of books and calling it the digital library for all time, ignores copyright, vetting information — all the achievements of publishing and its relationship to knowledge.  Stay tuned, we hope to have an awesome interview with the author in at some point this year.

The latest entry into the Google slam is Steven Levy’s “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives.”  And it is less critique than a first-hand look at how Google got to where it is as a business — and what it may face, as we say, “going forward.”  Where earlier insider looks focused on founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Levy broadens our understanding of the Dad role of Eric Schmidt, who just got relieved of duties this month, and  the army of young engineers.  Levy details what it was like to work on “Internet time” that characterized Google’s steep ascent to world-class company and dictator of things online.  He also suggests that Google had its share of luck — of being there at the right time — a time which may be running out for the company.

Tinged with irony and most fun is Levy’s critique of Steve Jobs and Google.  As we know, the warm fuzzies of Google and Apple, with Eric Schmidt on Apple’s board, ended when Google announced it would compete with Apple’s iPhone.  As Apple quickly became Google’s rival (and vice versa), Jobs summed up Google’s mission “Do no evil” simply as BS.

Now Levy likes Google — you have to write about it from inside the Plex.  But he couldn’t write the real story without detailing how Google, like any competitive and driven company, did not deal “in an up-front manner” with its partners, rivals, and the little companies that got in its way.  From those outside the Plex looking in the motto should be “Cave Google.”

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Where the Wild Things Are — Always More on the eBook…

We’ve managed in the three years of Amazon’s transformative Kindle, to have maxed several times the allotted devices to download books.  The would be Kindle First Generation, Kindle Third Generation, Blackberry, iPad, iPhone, and desktops.  That is, until the limit of five is reached.  Add online management to the daily task of reading in these Internet times!

You’d have to be living under a rock — or have your own compound in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan — to remain unaware of big changes in publishing.  Kind of puts librarians in a spot so well described by our detractors and troubled in our own conversations.  Wither books, wither librarians?

Developments in the industry and the courts suggest — not so fast, ye who would bypass the librarian.  In New York’s Ninth District Federal Court, Judge Denny Chin ruled against the deal struck by Google, the Writer’s Guild, and the Society of American Publishers.  To their question — can we digitally scan books out of print but in copyright and then distribute them without an author’s permission — the judge said, not on my watch.  Go to Congress.

On the other end of the eBook who-gets-what spectrum is Amazon’s Library Lending program.  You can now check out some Kindle books from some public libraries.  And on some Kindles you can enjoy special offers, perhaps from your own library?

Amazon took its sweet time — where is Internet time when you need it? — to come up with a lend-lease program for public libraries.  Partnering with Overdrive, the book distributor e-jour for the public library reading public, you can now download books from participating (and paying) libraries for a period of time.  Details are sketchy at the moment, but mere intent on Amazon’s part defines a company ready and able to exploit all its markets.

And the Kindle with Special Offers?  What Amazon means is advertisements.  For a WIFI Kindle and less than 25 bucks, you can pay forward to Amazon and its retailers with your clicks on ads or your participation in crowd-sourcing all sorts of things.  For example, you can experience various “start” pages and vote for the ones you like, the winner playing on your Kindle whenever you are within a WIFI range.

With Kindle books going online for public libraries, how goes it with academic eBooks?  This world, as usual, is much more complex, including in its definition of eBooks everything from textbook to interactive educational module or whatever Pearson wants to call its wares.  Academic publishers, out of habit, expect huge margins in an economic environment of scarcity.  Read few readers, higher per-unit costs, and so forth.

The big news on the academic eBook front where the e-thing started is that ProQuest bought ebrary.  Presumably, they bought it to counter EBSCO’s purchase of OCLC’s NetLibrary.  A better explanation: library vendor buses come in threes — the first picks up the early adopters, the second, the rest of us, the third, to make sure no one can figure out the real price.

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