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September 2005
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November 2005

Linking Proposal From DC Principles

I wonder how far we can take this. 

The scholarly society publishers, clustered under the banner of the "DC Principles," have issued a press release on their offer to NIH to set up a system of direct links from PubMed to the articles in the journals that they publish.  It is presented as an alternative to the NIH manuscript submission policy, and it isn't quite that, but it opens up possibilities that librarians ought to embrace.  The press release (and the proposal that is also on the website) is short on technical details, but the ability to easily make direct links from the PubMed citation to the full text of the article is something that we all want.

It barely addresses the archiving/preservation issue, but that could be easily solved (LOCKSS and a dark archive).

The major problem, of course, is that not all NIH-funded research is published in those journals -- but this is where speculation gets interesting.   Suppose you're an author, getting ready to send your article out.  You're aware of the NIH policy and, despite the fact that it's a royal pain in the ass, you want to be a good citizen and get your article into PMC.  You can send it to the leading Elsevier journal in your field, and go through the hassle of posting your manuscript to the NIHMS..., or you can send it to one of the Highwire journals and not worry about it.   All NIH needs to do is modify the policy so that articles published in journals that participate in the linking program (and make all of their content freely available in 12 months or less) are considered to be in compliance.

The critical issue with scholarly publishing today is not open access -- it's the fact that over the past thirty years, the academy has turned over responsibility for scholarly publishing to the for-profit sector.  The DC Principles publishers are anachronistic holdouts -- thank god!   They tend to be less expensive than commercially published journals, and they're run by the faculty and department chairs and deans on our campuses.    They share our goals -- to get scholarly information into the hands of those who need it.  My biggest frustration with the whole open access debate is that it has put librarians and the society publishers in opposition.   Instead of working together to transform scholarly publishing, we waste time and energy arguing.   This proposal is an opportunity to get us all on the same side of the fence -- where we ought to be.   


Southern Chapter Annual Meeting -- Keynote

(an experiment in live conference blogging)

We've been in Puerto Rico for days, and the meeting proper is finally getting underway.    Yesterday was CE  day, and the welcome reception.  Now the meeting is opening with  Dr. Angel  Roman-Franco, who is on the faculty at the School of Medicine here.  Notes on the history of public health is his topic.   

He starts, in the idiosyncratic way that he promised, talking about our relationship to bonobos and chimpanzees.  He says that's where public health really starts -- "primates know how to deal with their diseases." 

All great civilizations began around great rivers -- he starts with Egypt.  They were great builders.  And it was there that they first encountered the problem of public health.   He tells of referring to the Edwin Smith Papyrus to find cases to use to teach his current students.

Building the pyramids was an organizational and logistical nightmare.  And you must figure out how to manage infection and other diseases.  There were many accidents in this setting.  The average lifespan was 30 to 35 years.

The Egyptians also gave us geometry ("Egypt" means "the measured land").  Imhotep, one of the architects of the pyramids, was also the first physician in history. 

Neither the Egyptians nor the Greeks ever developed the arch -- the Romans did, however, which enabled them to build the great aqueducts, with which they could deliver fresh water widely.   Delivering clean water continues to  be one of the major public health problems we face.  Physicians treat illness; they don't prevent illness. The solutions to public health problems are in the hands of engineers and government officials.  In Rome, the senators had to pay for public works -- Caesar did not.  The first public libraries in history were in the baths of Rome.  "I was recently asked by our librarians," he says, "how to bring people back into the library."  The room erupts in laughter...

As the Romans built great aqueducts to bring water in, they always created the sewage systems to take the waste away -- these are the two fundamentals to public health.  (Unfortunately, the Romans drained their waste away in the Tiber.)  The world did not see water distribution systems as advanced as these until the London of the 1800s.  Constatine closed the public baths, and hydraulic engineering disappeared for centuries.

"Let me turn now to children.  In the past, children had no social value."  Because of the rate of infant mortality, people had to inure themselves -- you couldn't allow yourself to invent too much emotional energy into children because so many of them did not survive.  Blake's poems, Songs of Innocence (1794) are the first poems in western civilization to speak of children.  It was a cry for social justice.

Child labor laws did not exist -- and still do not exist in some places.  And he shifts from children exploited for labor, to children exploited as soldiers around the world.  This is a public health issue!

Moving on...  the balance of payments problem brought on by huge purchases of tea, led England to sell huge amounts of opium to the Chinese, leading to addiction.   The convergence of tea and sugar led to slavery in the new world.

Today, we have new emergent diseases and the threat of bioterrorism.  And perhaps the most dangerous -- avian flu.  150 million people are expected to die when the pandemic hits.  This will be a public health catastrophe as dire as slavery was, and as child labor was.  This morning CNN is reporting further extension of avian flu to other countries.  Soon it will be on our shores.

In closing he quotes Matthew Arnold,

        And we are here as on a darkling plain
        Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
        Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Good job!....


Free Culture: Siva on Google

I'd seen Lawrence Lessig present before, so I already knew that he is one of the most engaging speakers around.  He is tremendously effective at using visuals to complement and enhance his talk -- it's light years away from the typical word-slide-with-a-couple-of-graphics presentations that most of us are bored to tears with.  His opening for the Free Culture Symposium did not disappoint.    Even if his content hadn't been spot on, creative, and stimulating, he would've been fun to watch and listen to.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, on the other hand, was a revelation because I had not ever seen him present.  Stylistically, he's the anti-Lessig.  LL's is rapid-fire, synchronized with images and words and sound and video -- it's a virtuoso performance, every element working together.  Siva had no video, no images, no visuals at all.  He came out with a handful of notes that he referred to occasionally, and just talked.  He was very funny, very informal, and made it very clear that he was trying these ideas out -- wasn't necessarily a hundred percent sure that he was on the right track, but he'd been thinking about this stuff a lot lately and wanted to talk about it here, to see what we thought.  It was a virtuoso performance too.

Lessig expanded on some of the themes laid out in his book, Free Culture.  It was a "big picture" presentation, examining how the "default" for use of creative works has shifted from "free" in the analog world, to "regulated" in the digital world, and how that has resulted in a bottling up of creative works that threatens to undermine much of our ability to continue to develop culture in important ways.  The bottom line is that current copyright law is no longer effective, and he ended with a plea to librarians to get involved in these issues -- if it's just lawyers and content producers talking about it, nothing, he says, is going to change.

Siva's was narrower in scope, focusing very particularly on the Google library project.  While he made it clear that he is a fan of Google and thinks it's a great company, there are a number of things about the Google library project that worry him.   He said,  "I think Google is one of the coolest things to come around in my lifetime -- but I think libraries are cooler."    He said, "My problem is not with Google, but with the five libraries."

In essence, and I hope I'm not distorting his position, he thinks the prospect of doing something like Google Library is fabulous, but he is distressed that it isn't librarians running the project.    Central to the problem is the fact that Google is a company, and ultimately it is its responsibility to the shareholders that will determine its actions.  Librarians, on the other hand, are supposed to be working for the public good.  He points out that Google has no commitment to privacy comparable to librarians' ethics -- he asks whether Google will be as devoted to preserving the privacy of the users of Google Library as librarians are to the people who make use of their collections.  There is a stability problem -- suppose at some point in the future, Google's shareholders decide that it's not a profitable endeavor, and so they shut it down?  And he worries about the potential unanticipated negative effects if Google wins its fair use argument -- might that not actually inspire the copyright holders to push, successfully, for much stronger copyright protections, leading to an erosion of the fair use privileges that we now have?  He spoke more passionately and fervently about the importance of librarians to these issues than many librarians do.  He was adamant:  "Google is not a library and never will be."

I'm sure this simply reveals what a complete intellectual property geek I am, but when, after he was done, the first hand that shot up to ask a question was Lessig's, and for the next several minutes, the two of them engaged in a discussion of tactics and possible outcomes, I was completely thrilled.  Kinda like watching Bob Dylan come out at the end of a Van Morrison concert to join Van for the encore.

There was much, much more to the Symposium  -- there was a Wikimedia guy there (Daniel Mayer) who gave a great presentation that showed he's got a much better grasp of the potential and limitations of Wikipedia than many of its librarian fans do; there was a contributed paper addressing the bottling up of government information that we're witnessing as so much moves to digital form; there was a superb wrap-up by Cliff Lynch where he focused on the important role of higher education institutions in taking a lead in dealing with these issues.

I learned some new things, shifted my thinking on a few others, maybe even changed my mind about a couple of things.  And then I went out into Atlanta and had a great dinner in a casual Italian restaurant and listened to a few hours of a wonderful jazz quintet at Churchill Grounds.  An excellent day all 'round.


Free Culture Symposium

Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan on the same bill is a rare opportunity.  Rarer still to see them in a small lecture hall with 100 participants.  It was worth the drive over to Emory for this one day session.

We're into the contributed papers section now, and it's less engaging, but Lessig and SV are both such superb presenters (with very different styles), that it's not a fair comparison.

I'll try to write more about the conference and the points later on -- we've still got Lolly Gassaway and Cliff Lynch coming up to end the day in another couple of hours -- but it's been excellent so far.  I've probably already gotten more out of it than I do in the typical three or four day standard conference.

Both Lessig and SV are able to speak coherently and creatively about the deeper issues involved in all of the intellectual property debates -- what do we really want the world to look like?  What is the point of copyright is fostering creativity?  How do the differences between the analog world and the digital world "flip" the assumptions of control, freedom and regulation?  And what are the deeper legal/social issues that the Google print experiment is going to force upon us as those issues make their way into the courts?  It's a lot to think about, and they're doing a fabulous job of helping to blaze the trail.


The List: Eight

Single Petal Of A Rose
Edward K. Ellington
Duke Ellington: The Great London Concerts

Alabama
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: Live At Birdland

Cold Irons Bound
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

Beautiful Day
Music: U2 / Lyrics: Bono
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind

India

(Sunday, November 5, 1961)
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

The Speed of Light
Julie Miller
Julie Miller: Broken Things

I Fall In Love Too Easily -- The Fire Within
Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn -- Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett: Live At The Blue Note, The Complete Recordings

Amelia
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell:  Travelogue




The List: Seven

Alabama
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: Live At Birdland

Cold Irons Bound
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

Beautiful Day
Music: U2 / Lyrics: Bono
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind

India

(Sunday, November 5, 1961)
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

The Speed of Light
Julie Miller
Julie Miller: Broken Things

I Fall In Love Too Easily -- The Fire Within
Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn -- Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett: Live At The Blue Note, The Complete Recordings

Amelia
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell:  Travelogue




The Golden Age of Books

For our tenth wedding anniversary I gave Lynn a fancy tanzanite and diamond pendant.  She gave me a stack of books.  (Actually, on our anniversary, since we were in Brazil, she gave me a set of little mockups of the books that she'd made by downloading cover images from the web, and then pasting them onto cardboard and putting each one into a little jewelry box.  Very clever.)

The grandest of them is the 3-volume boxed set of the Complete Calvin and Hobbes -- twenty-three pounds of some of the most wonderful cartooning ever done.  I've been a manic fan ever since June 7, 1986, when I first laid eyes on one of the strips.  For years I even carried around a little laminated head shot of Calvin in my shirt pocket for good luck.

The set is beautifully produced.  The Sunday colors are superb, the reproductions marvelously crisp, the contrast between the white backgrounds of the daily strips and the cream of the pages perfectly balanced, the paper itself a pleasure to touch as one leafs through each volume. 

As I looked through it I thought how silly the notion is that digital information is going to replace books.  Books have never been better.   This set is a particularly dramatic example of the current excellence of bookmaking technology, but there are many others.  Lynn also gave me Dugout by Terry Allen -- a multimedia production that includes photos of many of his artworks, along with text by Allen and a number of others, as well as a CD containing a radio-play that amplifies the themes in the book.   Or consider  McSweeney's Quarterly -- each volume a unique gem of clever and creative bookmaking.

I haven't paid much attention to children's books since I stopped reading them myself.  Now, with Josie in the picture, we're collecting quite a few and I'm enchanted with some of what I see.  The latest that Lynn picked up is Inside Freight Train, a charming little preschoolers book in which each page has a sliding insert to reveal what's inside each train car. 

In my little corner of libraryland, books are indeed on the way out.  As simple containers for the kind of information that I'm trying to collect and organize, they're far inferior to well designed electronic products.  But to extrapolate from this to the whole world of books, to think that books are nothing but containers of text, is foolishness of the first order.   I'm baffled by the fact that I rarely see a defence of books that goes beyond "I really don't like reading on a computer screen" as if that's the only difference.  Well made books are marvelous objects themselves, and the experience of making one's way through simply can't be replicated in any meaningful way with an electronic version.

If all you need to do is shovel text and images from one place to another, digital publishing is the way to go.  You don't need books for that kind of information drudgery anymore.   Now the focus of bookmaking can be on the true flowering of the art.   Far from killing off books, digital publishing is opening the way to a golden age.


66 Steps

The women in the Danneman cigar factory were wearing beautiful green dresses and turbans.  There were a dozen or so, lined up in two rows at their stations, some doing the initial rolling (using a sort of treadle machine), some working on the various finishing steps with small scissors or knives.  The room was warm -- Carolinha explained that you can't get good cigars out of an air-conditioned factory -- but it was big and airy and very clean.  The women seemed slightly amused and not at all flustered at being on display for the tourists who came through in groups of two or three or four.  At the end of the room was a display case full of cigars for sale, of course, but I wasn't tempted, having smoked my first cigarette in twenty-five years earlier in the day.

This was in Sao Felix (alas, I have no idea how to get the right accents on the Portugese words here in Typepad), our last stop on our daylong tour.   The Danneman factory has recently been renovated into a cultural and arts center, and we stopped for a coffee in a big open art gallery with some wonderful paintings, and as we made our way back to the van we passed a group of people, chairs arranged in a circle, listening to a young woman with an Alabama accent talking about the role of the historically black colleges in the development of higher education in the southern United States.

We were sleepy from lunch and we all (except the driver) dozed on the two hour drive back to Salvador.  The success of a tour is critically dependent on the guide, and we were extremely fortunate with Carolinha.  We'd signed up the day before, at the touristic booth in the exhibit hall, with a young man who spoke almost no English.  With the little French that he and Bruce shared, we were pretty sure that the tour would be just the three of us and that the guide spoke English.    And that it would be very relaxed.

By 8:35 the next morning, as Bruce and Lynn and I waited in the hotel lobby for someone who looked like they might be our guide, we were wondering if "relaxed" meant that we shouldn't count on them getting to our hotel on time, but then a stocky woman in her late forties, with short black hair and a bright smile, toddled up -- "Mr. Madge?" she said to Bruce (whose name was on the ticket).  When he nodded, she shook his hand and said, "I'm Carolinha," and apologized for being a little late.  The driver pulled up in a small van, and we were off.

Carolinha chattered on in a very casual, nonchalant manner, occasionally pointing things out as we left the city.  We never felt (we all agreed on this that evening as we sat by the pool, drinking caiprinhas and discussing the day) that we were on a scripted tour; Carolinha's manner was such that we felt as if we'd just been introduced to a bright and engaging local who had agreed to show us around and take us to some places that she thought we might find interesting.  It was, indeed, very relaxed and felt very spontaneous, even though we knew that we were getting the same tour that she gave several times a week.

She talked a little bit about herself -- about her mother, now 81, who still exercised obsessively and "ate lots of salads".  Carolinha herself liked meat (this came up because she had to call ahead to order our lunches), and didn't care much for exercising.  She regretted it only when she had to climb the 66 steps to her apartment in the city.  She'd bought the apartment for the view of the ocean, and she loved it, but there was no elevator and at the end of a long day, those 66 steps were a trial.

As we pulled into Santo Amaro she asked us if we knew of the singer Caetano Veloso.  "This is his hometown.  His mother still lives here, over there..." she pointed to a small yellow house as we passed.  "I don't go to visit her anymore, though..."  and she explained that there had been a mayor of Salvador some years ago who was really terrible.  He was finally voted out and left the city in disgrace.  But he moved to Santo Amaro and ran for mayor there and won, with significant assistance from Veloso's mother.  So Carolinha wouldn't go to see her anymore.

The market is open everyday in Santo Amaro, but this was Saturday so it was even busier than usual.  It was a warm, beautifully sunny day and we strolled through the stalls casually, as Carolinha stopped here and there to point out something.  At the stall of the tobacco vendor we saw big thick ropes of pressed and cured tobacco, and saw how the vendor shaved off just a bit, loosened the fibers in the palm of his hand, and quickly rolled a cigarette that he held out as a sample -- I had to try one.  (I was reasonably careful not to inhale much -- and it still left me rather light-headed for awhile).  We looked at everything the spice vendor had to offer, figuring out the English words and equivalents (Bruce was particularly good at this since he uses many of those spices in Indian cooking).    We saw the jars of dende oil -- palm oil -- used as the basis for most Bahian cooking.  There were huge baskets of fruits and vegetables everywhere, fish laid out and salted, unfamiliar cuts of meat hanging from hooks.  How I would have loved to spend a week there, just going to the market everyday to find new things to cook and prepare!

But there was more to see -- the little house off a dusty side road where a friend of Carolinha's made her own chocolate from the cacao trees in her backyard, the convent in Cachoeira that's been renovated into a bed and breakfast, and the very elegant lunch served on the beautiful patio of a farmhouse, high above the valley of the Paraguacu river that separates Cachoeira and Sao Felix.

When we finally got back to the hotel, we thanked (and tipped) Carolinha and the driver profusely.  Carolinha said she'd had a good time; she liked these small tours more than the larger groups where she had to work harder and often keep the commentary going in two languages.   Lynn said, "I'm sure you're eager to get home and get up those steps and relax."  Carolinha laughed.  She reminded us that she'd talked to her husband earlier in the day and he'd been sitting out in front of the house drinking a beer with his son.  "I'll go home and sit with them and have a couple of beers first.  Then I'll be ready for the 66 steps!"