Friday at the OLA Super Conference 2008

After being exhausted from trying to handle two days at my first OLA Super Conference (1, 2) I decided that one day was enough this year.

So I braved the Toronto snow storm on Friday and made my way down to the Metro Convention Centre.

Session 1009 – Google: The New Library Vendor
This session was given by Greg Sennema from Wilfred Laurier. The OCULA blog gives a good description of the talk. I saw his session about WordPress last year and again he put together a very solid presentation. Having a keen interest in all things Google, I must admit I already knew about some of the topics he touched on such as iGoogle and Custom Search Engines. However, his main point in showing some of the new tools Google is creating was to ask the question about how they will effect the services libraries provide in the short and long-term. A thought provoking idea he mentioned was whether projects like Google Books (scanning all of the books in libraries like the University of Michigan, etc.) will replace the traditional delivery of ILL. While the full-text of copyrighted books are not being provided to the public through Google Books, you can imagine that in the future that various universities that are part of the Google Books project may come together to provide full-text access to each others’ user communities, thereby making all the staff time and cost of traditional ILL irrelevant. I’m sure the copyright-owner lobbyists may have an objection or two to this however.

Session 1100 – Slow in the age of speed
This presentation by Carl Honore, author of “In Praise Of Slow“, inspired me to try and make more time to nap in my office. I’ll report back on how my supervisor feels about this effort to be more productive.

Session 1204 – The Kids Are Alright, Or are They?
Any session named after a Who song has to be good. The content of this very interesting talk is summarized well on the OCULA blog. I’m already an avowed Mohawk Library fanboy so it was interesting see and hear from two of the schools’ main librarians. I think the lovely (and award winning) Jennifer commented on my post back in the day. They talked about how educators, library people, etc. are inundated with the idea that today’s students (millenials, etc.) have all these specific characteristics (naturally tech-savy, able to do their homework while listening to their iPods, have differently wired brains, spend all their time in Second Life, etc.) so we must change the ways we instruct and interact with them. They talked about how these claims did not always square with their experiences at the reference desk. I know how they feel. Seeing students struggle with Microsoft Office documents that open inside WebCT and not knowing how to print them, I question the theory that because a kid plays World Of Warcraft all day that he somehow becomes a savant at how various software systems interact.

The speakers did a great job at peaking behind some of the research the Mark Prensky’s of the world use to back up their claims and showing the lack of solid scholarship at the heart of much of it. I knew I recognized that name when they mentioned it and I remembered that I did a copyright request for the use of some of his materials. Hopefully the department I did the request for isn’t basing all their plans on Prensky’s work.

All in all, an excellent example of evidenced based librarianship. Check out the blog they created for their research:

Session 1318 – Scholar’s Portage. Avoiding the Waterfall: Leveraging Social Networking Tools And Scholars Portal Data
Come 3:45pm on a snowy day, the third day of the conference, people are naturally getting a little tired. Add to this a session that some people may consider a little on the ‘dry’ side and it added up to a sparsely attended event. Luckily I dig ‘dry’ and throw in a cute librarian who’s really into music giving the presentation so I found the session very worthwhile. While it has very little effect on my duties I am always curious about what exactly Scholars Portal is and what the future plans are for this joint effort of Ontario’s universities. The speakers gave some interesting insights into what they do now and were open about their thinking process in trying to decide how to evolve their services in a way that truly is a benefit to their users and not just Library 2.0 applications for the sake of Library 2.0. As usual I’m doing a lousy job of describing the session so here is:

All in all it was another very well organized event with interesting speakers and topics. My only complaint was the lack of a free pen in my conference package. Also I can’t really be seen carrying around a bag covered in butterflies so I had to give the conference bag away to my Mom. I also forgot to see if Access Copyright was giving away free mints again this year. There’s always next year.


The IIPA (No I’ve never heard of them either)

Michael Geist posted more information this week about international organisations that are critical of Canada’s efforts in the areas of copyright reform and intellectual property protection.

In this case he highlighted the International Intellectual Property Alliance’s 2007 Special 301 Report for Canada. In addition to a number of issues that lead to them recommending that Canada be, “elevated to the Special 301 Priority Watch List in 2007”, they made special mention of the most recent copyright reform bill’s (Bill C-60) educational and library exceptions. They state:

“Bill C-60 also included flawed proposals in the area of educational and library exceptions, such as an ill-defined new exception for use of a work in a “lesson, test or examination” in educational settings, and a provision authorizing interlibrary distribution of digital copies that would have had a significant detrimental impact on publishers of scientific, technical, and medical materials in particular. These should be carefully re-examined. The Canadian government should ensure that any legislative proposals it makes on educational and library exceptions to copyright can pass muster with its existing and anticipated international obligations, and that they provide ample room for market solutions.”

Regarding the first point about a new exception for the use of a work for lessons, tests, etc., my experience analyzing the fair-use provisions ingrained in U.S. law suggested to me that this provision would simply provide Canadian educators with the same flexibility enjoyed by their American counterparts.

Michael elaborates on this issue at the end of his article when he points out that it appears that many of the international organisations like the IIPA (and the corporate interest they represent) want to make sure that it is only the United States that enjoys the relative freedom of strong fair-use provisions.

Many teacher’s inquire about whether they can post certain journal articles (one’s that are not in our subscription databases) scans of pages from books, etc. in their course-management systems. We explain to them that this requires a formal permission from the publisher or author. I must admit that while this process can be time-consuming, I feel it is the morally correct approach when you are talking about using complete articles, entire chapters from books, etc. I do feel that the new copyright legislation should provide clear provisions for the educational/library use of portions of works. These proportions of use should be similar to the claims Google makes when it says they are within fair-use laws for their book scanning project.

I still feel that those of us in Canada have to jump through a lot more hoops to provide quick and easy access to materials. I often come across American college and university web sites and I find scans of articles from journals like the Harvard Business Review just sitting on their sites (not behind password protection). I’m pretty sure they didn’t ask for permission to do this, they simply have a tradition of making use of their fair-use laws.

And regarding the IIPA’s concern about the proposal for interlibrary distribution of digital copies of publications, I think they are sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the inevitable trend of medical, scientific and technical journals moving to predominately electronic formats. As long as this proposal covers the distribution between interlibrary staff (not staff sending materials directly to students) publishers should not be a concerned that they would be losing any revenue. A fair compromise would be to allow for the interlibrary transfer of digital copies and a guarantee that the person requesting the material be given a paper version of the material.

I believe there is a way to ensure that libraries are given the flexibility to fully exploit the digital tools available and at the same time respect the intellectual property of authors and publishers.