John Wilkin, a librarian at the University of Michigan whose library recently dropped 700,000 books into the public domain with the CC Zero license, has made an interesting comment on this act. He compared bibliographic records made available all over the internet to so many flower seeds in the wind. We need to be careful not to end up with a “dispersed and diluted” action. Otherwise, we are in danger of getting “babel” where we want “authority”. Do we seem like children blowing wish flowers in the wind while we are opening up data on the big web?
Laments For the Libraries On the Web
Recently, libraries have been bitterly lamented in the “Three Jeremiads” post that circulated the web. The worries are still the same, only the publishing world batters on the library walls ever harder, and Jeremiads 1, 2 and 3 are, as follows:
Jeremiad 1: The escalation in the price of periodicals forces libraries to cut back on their purchase of monographs; the drop in the demand for monographs makes university presses reduce their publication of them; and the difficulty in getting them published creates barriers to careers among graduate students.
Jeremiad 2: Libraries suffered even greater budgetary cuts, but the journal publishers were not impressed. Many of them raised their prices by 5 percent and sometimes more. Professors became entrapped in another kind of vicious circle: they write up the results of their research and their libraries need to buy them back at ruinous prices.
Jeremiad 3: Google Book Search – the largest library and book business in the world has the “settlement”: the profits to be produced by Google Book Search are divided, 37 percent will go to Google, 63 percent to the authors and publishers. And the libraries? They are not partners to the agreement, but many of them have provided, free of charge, the books that Google has digitized. Again, the libraries need to buy them back.
Careful With That Dandelion!
A solution? Make records freely available on the internet? Yes, John Wilkin argues, “having bibliographic records move around in this way is the sine qua non and even the purpose of openness.” He is proud to announce the availability of nearly 700,000 records from the University of Michigan catalog with a CC-0 license. Then, what do we need to concentrate on?
- collaboration: this is to avoid dispersion
- integration: how well linked or combined the data is
- management: co-ordination of users who have, after all, the potential to contribute
- strategy: instead of simple file sharing
New technologies put knowledge very beautifully in our hands, but we need to know, as we are opening it up, that it is fragile, and if we are not careful enough to put each “flower seed” in its right place, then we are nothing more than children, blowing away at the dandelions and watching the shapely forms they trace as they float.