Tuesday, 25 October 2011

America the shockingly new

My love of America, Americans and Americana has many roots and branches. One of them is the "newness" of the country, at least from a European immigration perspective.

As a comparison, the English Civil War was fought in the seventeen century. Before that, the Elizabethan era, and various Henrys and Edwards as kings. Before that, lots more history. My family on my fathers side was easy to trace back to 1505, and we've since gone a lot further back. The village I grew up in sits in a flood plain that's been an agriculture area for several thousand years. When bits and pieces of artifacts from the Roman occupation of some 2,000 years ago are found, locals don't get excited about it; it's all been seen before. Boring.

The history of America, on the other hand, as a growing and expanding population, is almost shockingly new. The Huff recently ran a piece on a TV clip that's on YouTube:

Just...wow. That was a TV show from 55 years ago.

Which means there are people alive today who will have watched that TV show, where a guest revealed he saw President Lincoln being assassinated, as the American Civil War drew to a close.

Heck, doing the math it's possible that the guest had known, spoken to people who were alive before America gained independence, less than 90 years before Lincoln was shot.

It's difficult sometimes to get my head around how recent, new, this all is. Perhaps I have the same dislocation feeling as American colleagues and friends do when they visit England, or "the old country". Last time one did, we went in a rural pub. He spent much of the evening transfixed at a plaque detailing the seven hundred year history of the building, while the regular drinkers stared transfixed at a soccer match on the TV.

Moon over Boston

Yes, there may be many similarities between Britain and America, but in terms of historical timeline, they couldn't be more different. At the time America was electing its 1st President of the United States, England was on royal monarch number ... 54 (if you start with King Offa in the year 757). By the time Lincoln was assassinated, the royal family-ruler situation had been in effect in England for over 1,100 years.

Yes, sometimes America feels shiny, new, and in many ways running through an accelerated growth and catchup. While the senior who is Britain plods on, doing what it does every day and smiling at past glories (real or imagined), America is the teenager who's just drank too much sugary pop and is running noisily around everyone. Gotta love the place.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Dictionary definition (Appropriately written in 140 characters)

Librarian (n). Intelligent life form who organises, or finds, knowledge for other life forms. Thrives on socialising, social media and cake.

Sugar! Lovely tablet from Jaf


The almost obligatory #libcampuk11 retrospective posting ("Let a thousand reflections bloom" yadda yadda yadda). Went to the Library Camp event on Saturday, after a previous evening of drinking and meeting with some enthusiastic/thirsty librarians. In point form:

1. I was never bored. Not once. Perhaps, probably because, there was no-one standing in front of me for an hour droning on about what's on his powerpoint slides. The session times are perfect. 45 minutes in, people say interesting stuff, no bullshitters or egos, 15 minutes out, pick the next room.

2. Extreme tweet-meet. Can usually handle meeting one or two people I follow on twitter for the first time at a go but ... so many ... overwhelming. Running through my head was "First real life impressions - do not make a complete arse of yourself", hence didn't speak much during the day. That and the raging hangover. Never EVER agree to a librarian when they say after several hours "The gin was nice; shall we try the vodka now?" especially if you have an all day conference the next day. Too old for this.

2011-10-08 10.04.07

3. The New Professionals, those here, are seriously well informed about matters library. I listened and learnt a lot. Not surprising. A large part of that informing is through using soc media, and especially twitter, and using it bloody effectively.

4.1. But from the horror stories that came out in a few of the sessions, most actively working libraries are not so connected, especially at work. One example of many; librarians can't (not allowed to) tweet about the services they offer to the public. Instead, they email a council dude, who then mangles this into PR which usually doesn't match what they do. Or gets disseminated at all.

4.2. Related to this, from what was said most librarians aren't (as) well connected, or on Twitter or social media. Kinda, tip of the iceberg thing. Yes! With the well-informed, connected, librarians (esp. New Professionals) being above the water and seeing where they're going, but the majority being poorly connected, under the water, moving along kind of blindly doing the 9 to 5 job without a clear image of how the sector, threads of change, are moving.

5. It was good to see a significant presence at the event from non-librarians who are heavily meshed into the Birmingham social media scene. Laura, Mark, Andy, Simon, Dan and some others. There's a heck of a lot of blurring and overlap between the arts, library and social media sectors in Birmingham.

6. Cake. Bloody hell. For a conference of officially 150 people (or 175), that was ... something else.

Library Camp cake

7. The sessions were useful. The first one, run by Michael on public libraries, was an eye opener. People there who were front-line staff and described their situations cheerfully bluntly. As a side point; Michael as 2014 CILIP president, following Phil and Lauren? Yeah, can see that.

8. The games in libraries / gamification session was the personal highlight as it's a goodly chunk of what I've spent the last decade messing with. Great to see a packed room - in the UK - of people at that session. It was jarring, noting how very different the US and UK games in libraries thing is, for a whole raft of reasons (not the fault of anyone, the good people, in the room). Good for to be back in the UK and hear this as a personal reality check (if you heard a knocking sound, I was the one at the back in the lounge area, lightly banging my head on the wall). Separate post on that later this week.

9. So relieved that my personal experience and use of Twitter has not changed or been compromised by this event. Had mixed feelings about meeting so many people I follow on Twitter, in a compressed timespace of just a few hours, but although overwhelming (point 2) it worked out okay. Worked out really well, as post-event and clear head later, chatting more to those known but not met before, and chatting to some new people. Phew.


10. There were people there from both CILIP and Voices for the Library, and they listened and spoke and hugged and participated and stuff. Despite being two different organisations in many ways, they have a largely shared common goal, and apart from the occasional minor person difference, get on and work together. Which is good, as the only "winners" of any distracting infighting in the library activism and advocacy scene are these people.


Horses for courses; everyone has their own set of desires, wants, needs for events. Have been to several hundred library events since 1992 (averaged one a week, due to jobs and projects, in 1995-1999). Most were forgettable, even some of those which many thousands of pounds in costs etc were thrown at; a few stand out. Personally am ranking this as third favorite overall, and also favorite library event in the UK I've ever been to.

Anticipating whiners

I await the inevitable whine/viewpoint that you don't have to be "on" Twitter, or similar, to be a librarian / good librarian / effective librarian. Well, that's nice for you. True, you don't have to be. It's just up to you how informed / uninformed you want to be, about information sources, what's happening in the library sector, library issues and battles that may one day come knocking at your door. You are entitled to your opinion that twitter isn't useful or helpful. And I'm glad that I won't have to read your opinions, about Twitter, on Twitter.


Claire has done a tag cloud from the tweets and put it on Flickr. And have just realised it's in the shape of a ...

Library Camp

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Making free knowledge expensive: Wikipedia to Amazon scam

You can buy from a rapidly growing collection of works of all kinds on Amazons various online stores; books in print, or for the Kindle. Publications from major publishing houses, minor ones, and works that are self-published.

But, as with many things in life, where an opportunity presents itself, there's someone out there ready to exploit it. Copying free stuff from online - that other people have written - and turning it into a book for selling isn't new; here's an example from a few years back (see the reviews).

And so we have the "author" (I'll return to that) who cuts and pastes material from Wikipedia pages into a single document to form a "book", which he or she sells through services such as Amazon.

Here's one spotted by David McMenemy - the "books" (cough) of Kevin Roebuck.

Let's take one book at random that you can look inside (you'll need to log on to your Amazon account). This one:

Hypervisor: High-impact Technology - What You Need to Know: Definitions, Adoptions, Impact, Benefits, Maturity, Vendors by Kevin Roebuck.

It's £39.97 and, interestingly, is a paperback published on "26 May 2011".

Hmmm. So, it should be up to the minute. Let's have a look at page 221, which is about the PearPC:

Extract from "Hypervision"

The full sized version on the screen is here.

But ... this text on Wikipedia looks strangely similar:

Wikipedia page on the PearPC

And if you go back in various revisions on Wikipedia - this article started in 2004, it gets even more similar.

Yes. The book is a compilation of Wikipedia pages. Old wikipedia pages at that. Despite the book being labelled "26 May 2011".

How does the author get away with it? Well, there's this disclaimer in the front where he acknowledges that the stuff has come from elsewhere, and may be out of date:

Extract from "Hypervision"

I'm not sure at all that this makes it legal. It gives the impression it's put in there to mitigate any comeback from Wikipedia, and/or to sate Amazon if they are alerted to this issue.

This whole think is probably annoying to many people. To the original authors. To the authors of updates of the Wikipedia pages, and to Wikipedia people trying to encourage people to use Wikipedia (unless this is actually approved by Wikipedia - see next section). To the many legitimate authors and publication houses who are trying to get their works promoted and sold in a rapidly crowded online marketplace. To people who have spent money on these books, then found they could get more up to date versions of the knowledge online, and for free.


I started to read about the copyright stuff, but quickly grew weary. Quick questions; anyone have quick answers?

1. Is this actually legal?

2. Do the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia, or the authors of the content in these books know about this? If they do, is there an implicit or explicit approval?

3. How much money do the Wikimedia Foundation get per copy sold? How much has been donated so far?

A few thoughts

This should not stop or deter the editing of Wikipedia because of things like this. The problem is NOT with wikipedia. It's with the opportunist compiler (author is definitely not the right word) and the publisher of the compilation.

Also, this doesn't show or prove that self-publishing is always bad. There is good self-publishing. And bad, often horrendously priced, non-fiction works from publishing houses.

However, this does show that selecting material for purchase has to be careful - and in Amazon's favour, the search inside option means the contents can be checked. Other factors, such as the absence of independent reviews, should trigger a few warnings.

And it also shows that Amazon need better controls over the content of their online book stores. As sometimes, like in this case, it just appears to be a free for all. This is not the first time Wikipedia content has problematically appeared on Amazon, but this particular example appears to be more blatant.

Knowledge should be free. That's not the same as free knowledge that is out of date should be repackaged and sold at a huge profit margin, which goes to not the knowledge creators but someone who knows how to cut, paste and publish.

Also see: Shovelware

Update. Seems to be legal(ish). Sadly. Add to the long list of reasons why libraries need professional librarians with contemporary skills, so they don't get ripped off in spending money on this.