Category Archives: Librarianship

Since Katrina, Part One: #SinceKatrina, #Katrina10, #Katrina10Years

Katrina Memorial

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina changed my life, in many ways. I want to talk about health information challenges then and now, how the information landscape has changed, but that will come in Part Two. For today’s post, I want to honor many of the other voices and conversations around this anniversary. The hashtags collecting these are:

#Katrina
#Katrina10
#Katrina10Years
#SinceKatrina

People are telling the stories of what happened then, remembering, grieving, sharing anger and hurt that has barely faded. Others are analyzing again what went wrong. A few are celebrating survival and growth. Many are looking to the lessons learned and what must happen to prevent this happening again. There are many worthy stories, opinions, ideas, and ideals here. I’ve selected just a few.

STORYTELLING: THEN & NOW | HEALTH & MEDICAL | HISTORY, MUSEUMS, EDUCATION, & LIBRARIES | RESILIENCE, LOSSES, & LESSONS LEARNED | PROGRESS & NEW TOOLS

STORYTELLING: THEN & NOW

HEALTH & MEDICAL

HISTORY, MUSEUMS, EDUCATION, & LIBRARIES

RESILIENCE, LOSSES, & LESSONS LEARNED

PROGRESS & NEW TOOLS

Aaron, Lost, and Found Again

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

It’s been a couple years since Aaron died. Aaron who? Aaron Swartz. I’ve talked about him here a few times (Jan. 14, 2013; Jan. 15, 2013; Feb 2013; Jan 2014). Aaron was one of those bright and shining young stars, who did amazing things at early ages (helped code RSS at age 14?). reimagined ways to access information (see his fantastic Image Atlas collaboration with Taryn Simon), made very clear challenges with the status quo, and promised a future with much to contribute. That didn’t happen quite the way people hoped. In case you haven’t heard of him, there are a few links at the end of this post. Here is a quote from his dad at his memorial.

“We can’t bring Aaron back, he can no longer be the tireless worker for good… What we can do is change things for the better. We can work to change MIT so that it . . . once again becomes a place where risk and coloring outside the lines is encouraged, a space where the cruelties of the world are pushed back and our most creative flourish rather than being crushed.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

The University of Michigan is planning a really fantastic event this month looking at the circumstances of Aaron’s death, the factors that led up to it, the changes that have come after it, and how this has and is changing the information landscape and legal context in which libraries operate. Even better, you get to see the movie for FREE! Here is the event information.

Panel: Open Access Activism
Wednesday, June 17 at 4:00pm
Library Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan

Panelists:
Melissa Levine, U-M Library’s Lead Copyright Officer
Jack Bernard, U-M Associate General Counsel
Brian Knappenberger, Director, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s film chronicles the story of Aaron Swartz, information-access activist and Internet prodigy, who was targeted by the FBI in a high-profile criminal case involving JSTOR and MIT at the time of his death. Join Knappenberger, along with Lead Copyright Officer Melissa Levine, and Associate General Counsel Jack Bernard in a panel discussion about the issues of the case and how they relate to libraries and information both more generally and at the University of Michigan.

Film Screening: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00pm
Join us for this free screening with the filmmaker at Michigan Theater the evening prior to the panel.

LINKS

AaronSw (his site): http://www.aaronsw.com/

Wikipedia: Aaron Swartz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz

The inside story of MIT and Aaron Swartz: More than a year after Swartz killed himself rather than face prosecution, questions about MIT’s handling of the hacking case persist: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

Remember Aaron Swartz: http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/memories/

Naughton, John. Aaron Swartz stood up for freedom and fairness – and was hounded to his death: The internet activist who paid the ultimate price for his combination of genius and conscience. The Guardian 7 February 2015 18.00 EST. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/07/aaron-swartz-suicide-internets-own-boy

The Life of Aaron Swartz (a collection from the Internet Archive of the rich activity surrounding his loss): https://www.archive-it.org/collections/3492

BBC Four: Storyville: The Internet’s Own Boy http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b051wkry [IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3268458/ ] [Review: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/31/internets-own-boy-review-aaron-swartz-mark-kermode ]

Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/technology/aaron-swartz-internet-activist-dies-at-26.html?_r=0

What’s New, What’s Hot: My Favorite Posters from #MLAnet15

Part 3 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.


I had a particular slant, where I was looking for new technology posters, emerging and emergent innovations, but then I was so delighted with the richness of systematic review research being presented, that there is a lot of that, too. The chosen few ran from A to Z, with apps, bioinformatics, data visualization, games, Google Glass in surgery, new tech to save money with ILL operations, social media, Youtube, zombies, and even PEOPLE. What is it with medical librarians and zombies? Hunh. Surely there are other gory engaging popular medical monsters? Anyway, here are some of my favorite posters from MLA’s Annual Meeting. There were so many more which I loved and tweeted, but I just can’t share them all here today. I’ll try to put them in a Storify when I get back home. Meanwhile, look these up online or in the app for more details. By the way, they started to get the audio up, so you can use the app to listen to many of the presenters talk about their poster.

Poster 14:

Poster 28:

Poster 30:

Poster 38:

Poster 40 (and that should read “Twitter”, not “Titter”):

Poster 43:

Poster 54:

Poster 65:

Poster 83:

Poster 100:

Poster 121:

Poster 125:

Poster 130:

Poster 157:

Poster 202:

Poster 224:

Poster 225:

Poster 228:

Poster 238:

Poster 243:

Systematic Reviews 101

Systematic!!!

This morning in the Emergent Research Series, my colleagues Whitney Townsend and Mark MacEachern presented to a mix of mostly faculty and other librarians about how medical librarians use the systematic review methodology. They did a brilliant job! Very nicely structured, great sources and examples, excellent Q&A session afterwards. They had planned for some activities, but it ended up there wasn’t time. I’d like to know more about what they had planned!

I was one of the folk livetweeting. According to my Twitter metrics, this was a popular topic. I assembled a Storify from the Tweets and related content. I thought it would be of interest to people here.

Storify: PF Anderson: Systematic Reviews 101: https://storify.com/pfanderson/systematic-reviews-101

On Validating Search Strategies

validation

This question came up because of this:

Varela-Lema L, Punal-Riobóo J, Acción BC, Ruano-Ravina A, García ML. Making processes reliable: a validated pubmed search strategy for identifying new or emerging technologies. Int J Technol Assess Health Care. 2012 Oct;28(4):452-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22995101

What did they mean when they said “a validated PubMed search strategy”? Our MLA systematic review team that is working on search strategies for emerging technologies identification was, shall we say, curious. For this article, it meant that they tested the search results against the next best method previously used (handsearching). The topic was emerging technologies, and what they did was select influential journals and scanned the TOCs manually (which actually means by using their own eyeballs). The journals they scanned were: Science, JAMA, Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Annals of Surgery, Am J Transplantation, Endoscopy, J Neurology Neurosurgery Psych, Archives of Surgery, Annals of Surgical Oncology, British Journal of Surgery, and Am J Surg Path. Of the 35 articles that qualified from these journals, the search strategy accounted for 29. The ‘missing’ articles lacked appropriate title words relating to the novelty of the concept, OR used text words that had been removed from the search strategy to improve specificity (reduce total numbers retrieved).

Is that an appropriate way to validate a search strategy? Probably a pretty fair approach for this one, IMHO, especially since they did such a good job of reporting the specific calculations and details of the actual findings of the searches. Is that how most search strategies are validated? Well, perhaps not.

What I’ve been doing to validate search strategies for systematic reviews is to test and compare the search results to a defined set of sentinel articles. The sentinel articles are selected by the team’s subject experts as being good examples of articles that should be retrieved by a search on the defined question. The requirements beyond topic are that each of the sentinel articles should be older than two years, newer than 1990 (this can be flexible, depending on the topic), and must meet all of the defined inclusion criteria for the review. I usually recommend that the pool of selected sentinel articles include no fewer than 3 and no more than 10 citations. This is to make it possible to achieve complete success, as with each added citation, inclusion of all of them becomes more difficult. I also emphasize that the articles do not need to be excellent or required articles on the topic (ie. “gold standard” articles), but that it is, in my opinion, actually more effective for testing if the articles are a selection of relevant, but not necessarily the best ever written on the topic.

Draft versions of the search are tested against this set of articles, and if any “drop out” (are not included) we need to then figure out why, and determine whether to revise the search to include them, or justify the exclusion, or request NLM to correct the coding error in that article’s record. In these last two cases, the exclusion must be reported in the methods. Ideally, one would also describe the strengths, weaknesses, and/or limitations of the search strategy.

Here are some citations to other ways in which searches are validated.

Hausner E, Waffenschmidt S, Kaiser T, Simon M. Routine development of objectively derived search strategies. Systematic Reviews 2012 1:19. http://www.systematicreviewsjournal.com/content/1/1/19
NOTE: This is basically the same “sentinel articles” approach described above.

Hausner E, Guddat C, Hermanns T, Lampert U, Waffenschmidt S. Development of search strategies for systematic reviews: validation showed the noninferiority of the objective approach. J Clin Epid Feb 2015 68(2):191-199. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0895435614003874
NOTE: Interesting article tests the reproducibility of Cochrane reviews and their reported search strategies. The emphasis is on the need for objective and reproducible search strategies in systematic review publications.

Van Walraven C, Bennett C, Forster AJ. Derivation and validation of a MEDLINE search strategy for research studies that use administrative data. Health Serv Res. 2010 Dec;45(6 Pt 1):1836-45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026961/
NOTE: Compared to handsearching.

Walsh ES, Peterson JJ, Judkins DZ. Searching for disability in electronic databases of published literature. Disability and Health Journal Jan 2014 7(1):114-118. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1936657413001647
NOTE: Very interesting two part test to manage the quality control of the search strategy. First, they used the method described above (compared to sentinel articles), then, because the search excluded specific topic terms in favor of broad keyword searching, they validated by comparing retrieval to the results of a known topic search.

Hempel S, Rubenstein LV, Shanman RM, Foy R, Golder S, Danz M, Shekelle PG. Identifying quality improvement intervention publications–a comparison of electronic search strategies. Implement Sci. 2011 Aug 1;6:85. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-6-85. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3170235/
NOTE: Compared relevance and quality of search strategies by results being reviewed for relevance by independent experts. My personal misgivings about this method for validating a search is that it cannot test for what is missed that you don’t know about.

Tanon AA, Champagne F, Contandriopoulos AP, Pomey MP, Vadeboncoeur A, Nguyen H. Patient safety and systematic reviews: finding papers indexed in MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL. Qual Saf Health Care. 2010 Oct;19(5):452-61. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20457733
NOTE: Compared sensitivity & specificity for new search strategies in comparison to previously published search strategies on the same topic. Validated by comparing to a large selection of sentinel articles. Very difficult to achieve, and am ambitious strategy!

Brown L, Carne A, Bywood P, McIntyre E, Damarell R, Lawrence M, Tieman J. Facilitating access to evidence: Primary Health Care Search Filter. Health Info Libr J. 2014 Dec;31(4):293-302. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25411047
NOTE: Interesting strategy that first created and validated a search strategy in OVID for quality control over the search development process, and then converted the strategy to PUBMED and validated it again. The validation was again through the selection of a set of sentinel citations, but they explicitly selected for the best quality articles in the topic and referred to the set as the “gold standard.”

Damarell RA, Tieman JJ, Sladek RM. OvidSP Medline-to-PubMed search filter translation: a methodology for extending search filter range to include PubMed’s unique content. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013 Jul 2;13:86. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700762/
NOTE: Same strategy as the article by Brown, Carne…Tieman above, but a different topic.

You can find more articles on this topic by exploring the following search results:

(validated OR validation OR “quality control” OR “quality assessment”) search strategy review http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=(validated+OR+validation+OR+%22quality+control%22+OR+%22quality+assessment%22)+search+strategy+review

At the Movies: Sex Positivity Messages on Youtube

Montage of thumbnails for several Youtube channels focused on sex positive messages

Tonight there is a #medlibs Twitter chat on some ways in which sex education is happening on social media.

Sexual Education & Social Media Chat — Sex Ed On Social Media: Quirky or Quality? http://medlibschat.blogspot.com/2015/01/sexual-education-social-media-chat.html

In preparation for this, I’d like to share highlights from a few of the more popular “sex positive” sex education Youtube channels! “Sex +,” “sex positive,” and “sex positivity” is a whole movement focused on looking at sex and sexual behavior as a good healthy thing rather than “dirty”. I’m probably oversimplifying with that rough definition, but it gives the broad idea. Many of the advocates and information channels include education, but some focus instead on relationships, communication, psychology, and attitudes. Some are professionally made, some are from health care or educational professionals, some are homegrown. You can’t tell which are the good ones from the source. Some professional ones are badly made or slanted, some homegrown ones are excellent and accurate.

As the phrases “sex positive” and “sex positivity” become more popular, you also begin to find some pornography channels that adopt the phrase in order to get into the search results. This has also happened with “sex ed” and “sexual education,” where some of the channels are more focused on education, and others are more focused on the (ahem) sex. This makes it really hard to go out, do a search, and actually FIND good quality sex ed content in Youtube. You can’t know before clicking if you’ll find something educational or something more smutty or something simply stuffy.

These channels often have clever names to communicate their focus topic (Ask My Girlfriend, Cherry TV, GLAMerotica 101, Kara Sutra, Nice Girls Like Sex Too, Sexplanations, Twisted Broad). Some of them provide good information in a cute way, others have cute names but rarely post any information, and yet others aren’t actually on the topic they seem to be on. Even if they post information rarely, it might be good, or it might be dated or irrelevant. Even if they have lots of views, it might be because it’s a good video or it might just be, well, porn. Again, you don’t know until you go look.

So, you can’t trust the key words, the metadata, the sponsors, the names of the channels, or the names of the videos. This is one of the best reasons for medical librarians and health care professionals to look into this before the questions are asked or answered. Trust me, you REALLY don’t want to be browsing these while someone is looking over your shoulder waiting for an answer! I stumbled into a few surprises while planning this post that I really could have done without. (The eyeballs! They burn! Ahhhh!) So spare your eyeballs, and check out a few of these as examples of the sex+ genre.

In this collection (which is highly selected and ONLY examples!), I’m focusing specifically on pieces with a more education focus and less of the sex, how to, issues, or relationship management, even though those are also obviously important. This means I didn’t include the famous Dan Savage or Kara Sutra or Just Sex or Nice Girls Like Sex Too or Twisted Broad or …. I also wanted to show sex ed that is more peer-to-peer, from teens and young adults to other teens and young adults, so I didn’t include pieces that try to sell sex toys or psychotherapy or couples therapy or from major universities. Face it, the universities offer solid content, but it isn’t as fun and engaging. Should it be? Why or why not? Did I miss any channels you think are great? Please list them in the comments!


LACI GREEN

Of course, I have to begin (and end!) with Laci Green, who is THE name in this space. If you only have heard of one sex positive online advocate, it is probably her. This video on the topic of what is consent and how to get it goes into an essential concept in sexual safety, as well as prevention of rape and sexual violence. Her description of the video includes “how to properly ask for consent, as well as what consent does and does not sound like.” Good stuff, worth thinking about. What would you add or change?

Wanna have sex? (Consent 101) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD2EooMhqRI


LACI GREEN: A NAKED NOTION

Laci Green started up a second channel in partnership with Planned Parenthood for talk about sex topics that are less educational and more issue-oriented. In this space, she has a small collection of videos on topics such as recovering from rape, hormone therapy, birth control, pregnancy testing, and more.

Sex After Rape https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnK6xN7PF4


LACI GREEN: MTV BRALESS

Laci Green started up a THIRD channel in partnership with MTV for talk about pop culture, some of which includes sex talk and much of which doesn’t. In this space, she has a small collection of videos on topics such as recovering from rape, hormone therapy, birth control, pregnancy testing, and more.

Sex At Hogwarts?! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXPQBLOfnFk


SEXPLANATIONS

Sexplanations is a channel designed around the perception of authority (“with Dr. Doc”) right along with quirkiness (check out the pigtailed avatar). The “Dr. Doc” behind the show is Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist.

Sexplanations Episodes 1-50: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQiadPyjJ4E&list=PL_zdi3TflN9LjEjkqh3OwKb-l8o-ieODH&index=1


REID ABOUT SEX

Reid About Sex is a partnership of Reid Mihalko and Cathy Vartuli (Intimacy Dojo). In their extensive video series they have conversations about topics of interest, ranging from gender identity and sexually transmitted diseases to communication, props, behavior, and sex positive business advise. Whoa. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

Can You Get Herpes From Cuddling? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcXzaKJsaJc


TheTitTalk: THE SEX ED TALK

The Sex Ed Talk used to be called “The Tit Talk”, and can be found in various social media locations under either or both names. Their focus is on what they believe should have been covered in school, but wasn’t, or wasn’t covered as thoroughly as they like.

Vagina 101 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE93vWFglEg


BETTY DODSON & CARLIN ROSS

Dodson & Ross introduce themselves as “the top sex educator in the world” and “the best attorney on the planet and my stunt c**t.” They continue by claiming you can’t ask a good question they won’t answer. They mean it, too. I had trouble finding one that was safe to put in this post. Despite the use of straight language (which sometimes means street language), all the videos are education, and pretty straightforward as well as candid.

Healthy Vaginas Through Menopause https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RTjYaBrYMo


LACI GREEN: THE FAMOUS CHERRY VIDEO

I just couldn’t do this post without included my first and favorite Laci Green video — “You Can’t Pop Your Cherry (Hymen 101).”

You Can’t POP Your Cherry! (Hymen 101) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qFojO8WkpA

Open Access or Not? Thoughts on Selecting Online Resources for MOOCs

Birthday: Saline Train Depot: Office - Upside Down Open

I had a very interesting pair of questions come up this week. So interesting and such excellent illustrations of issues in selecting open content for MOOCs that I wanted to share it, but will “change the names” for several reasons. That this is Open Access Week just makes this even more timely. Take this as an example, a case study or sorts, nothing more. However, I do hope that those of you with more experience in intellectual property law will please chime in to clarify any thoughts or misunderstandings I might insert inadvertently.

For background, I’ve been taking a variety of MOOCs in recent years, few of which I complete, and most of which I register for with three reasons in mind. Reason One: The content interests me, and I wish I had time to learn more about it. Reason Two: I’m curious what the bibliography and resources will contain, and hope to add those to my collection, even if I don’t have time for the class. Reason Three: I’m interested in different MOOC platforms and methodologies, and learn about these best by actually trying them out hands on. As a librarian, I have a special interest in the bibliographies, the links, the readings, and where those come from. Part of my interest is personal and part of it comes from our own institution being engaged with MOOCs through the Coursera platform, and wanting to see best practices for how to identify and select content for these types of classes.

EXAMPLE ONE: OLDER PUBLICATION, RECENT COLLECTION

One of the MOOCs I took included in the recommended readings a link to classic content from the 1800s, but which is included in several anthologies, both new and old. A particular anthology was recommended, and a link provided. The link was to a PDF of the entire book hosted in a site for a Slovenian high school English teacher. Meanwhile, given the importance of the work, copies are also available in several well known and highly regarded collections of open access content. These included Project Gutenberg, EServer (hosted by Iowa State University), the American Studies Project (hosted by the University of Virginia), the Internet Archive, Electronic Classics Site (hosted by Pennsylvania State University), and others, such as societies honoring the author and other academic organizations or collections.

I was alarmed to see a link to a suspect source (Slovenian high school?) provided in preference to authoritative sources which track provenance and verify rights to content posted. I dug around in the downloaded PDF and the pages linking to it, hunting for any indication that the teacher had received permission to repost the full book for his students. All I could find was a copyright statement in the PDF that the work was under copyright and that electronic conversion was not allowed, with a statement explicitly asking readers to not encourage electronic piracy. I wanted to bring this up, but did not want to cause any problems for the professor in charge of the MOOC nor for the school hosting the content. For this reason, I did not bring it up in the class forums, but instead hunted for the faculty member’s email address to send a message about the concern and alternate locations to access equivalent content, even if it is not the same anthology.

I received a note from the faculty member explaining the selection, with an interesting perspective. Briefly the logic follows this progression.

1. The contents of the anthology are all out of copyright, and in the public domain.
2. The anthology as a whole and the editorial comments would indeed fall under copyright protection, however, these were not included in the required readings for the class.
3. The professor had asked the students to read selected pages in the work, not the complete anthology nor the introductory content by the editor. The content on those specific pages is not copyrighted.
4. The professor did not himself create the PDF, nor reproduce the pages, but merely linked to them.

As the professor put it, “the assertion of copyright is not the same as having copyright.”

I find this a very intriguing justification, but incomplete and perhaps a bit of nitpicking. I suspect that if push came to shove, if the publisher of the book chose to contest the availability of the PDF online, the professor MIGHT find that his logic stands in a court of law. I suspect that the publisher (widely international, but the work scanned was from an American imprint) might find it easier to establish a suit against American use of the work than trying to take the case to Slovenia. Copyright itself is not the only concern. Additional concerns are placing at risk the institution that provides the MOOC online, the school for which the faculty member works, as potential collaborators in linking to the suspect content. If the school and organization were aware of this and chose to support the use of this link, that would be one thing, but I am not sure that they were or are aware.

Lastly, but not least, I am concerned about the example being set for the students. In my eyes, the faculty have a duty to model information use and resources following methods recommended for their students. Here at the University of Michigan there have been times when the University has elected intentionally to push the boundaries of Fair Use in order to prevent the erosion of the rights, and knowing that they might find themselves the subject of a lawsuit. The Google Book Project is a notable example of this. Google Books is a definite example of the concept the professor noted, that “the assertion of copyright is not the same as having copyright.” If the use of this Slovenian full text link was intended to explicitly test that legal provision, that would be lovely, and I would applaud the bravery and purpose of both the professor and the institutions supporting the content. If so, I would have personally appreciated having that made clear to the students. If not made clear there is the more subtle risk that students will interpret the Slovenian link to a possibly pirated work as having the approval of the professor, especially when so many other clearly open access copies of the work are available and the link is provided in preference to those open and legal copies. That is what baffles me most.

EXAMPLE TWO: RECENT PUBLICATION, OPEN COLLECTION

This example is almost the complete opposite of the first one! This is what makes these two such an exciting pair of examples for me to explore. In this MOOC which I took, the professor had as required readings almost entirely works which were free to the students. There were just a couple notable exceptions, for which you either had to find a print copy in a library or buy a copy. I was lucky, in that I already owned a copy, but when I accidentally stumbled on a free electronic copy online, I thought the professor would appreciate knowing about it, and that it would make life even easier for the students of that course. The professor, quite rightly, was reluctant to pursue making that link available because the author is still alive and the book still in print, making it pretty clear that the copyright is still in force. So, the question became, when is it alright to share an online copy of a copyrighted work? Ever?

The first important concept to understand is that an author may retain the right to share their work, and still keep it under copyright. Even a Creative Commons license does NOT mean that the author has given up their intellectual property rights, only that they’ve simplified the process of requesting certain types of rights. Which rights are simplified depends on which CC license was chosen. So, it is possible that an author could make the choice to permit use of their work in a specific circumstance.

The second important idea is the question of whether the author or the publisher actually owned the copyright in the selected work. Just because an author wrote a book does not mean that they have the RIGHT to make the decision about whether or not it is alright to put up a free copy online. Frankly, based on what I’ve observed, authors are more likely to choose to make a work Creative Commons than publishers. There are publishers that have chosen to make ebook versions of their backfile free when the original is out of print, but that is still more the exception than the rule. For this example, the copyright is owned by the author, se we really don’t have a clue (unless we ask them).

In this example, again, there was a complete PDF of the book, but in addition to the PDF there were also multiple file formats for different e-reader devices, including accessible formats for persons with disabilities and raw text (ASCII). The PDF was not in some distant country or on the web site for a particular local school, but was instead part of a major online collection of full text works. My first step was to look at the credibility of the provider, which is pretty similar to what I did with the first example.

While I’m not listing the specific title, I will list the collection in which it appeared: The Basic e-Learning Library (BeLL) of the Open Learning Exchange, but not the version housed at their main site, rather the BeLL collection housed in the Internet Archive. I tried first to look at the actual work as posted to see if there was any statement about the rights. I couldn’t find anything. Next I tried looking for some sort of statement on the OLE site. I couldn’t find one there either. I wanted to find out more about the OLE, what they do, and how reputable they are. Well, WOW! They are an international initiative focused on providing high quality education resources to 3rd world countries. And do they have powerful partners: UN High Council for Refugees; US Agency of International Development; US State Department; Oxfam …. And those are only a few. My gut reaction was, “They are partners with the US State Department? Well, they MUST be legitimate and responsible!”

I came very close to stopping there, placing my trust in the State Department and the United Nations to properly vet their partners. The group is doing such a good thing, and I really WANT deeply to believe in them and support this wonderful thing they are trying to do, helping low income countries. But then I tried to reverse verify this, and again ran into problems. I tried to find anything on the UN or UNHCR sites to show that they have a partnership with OLE. Hunh. I couldn’t find them listed on the UN site, but there were a couple links on the State Department site. Not anything saying they are partners, but at least people connected with the organization are presenting at State Department events. Normally, I would really not be working this hard. Normally, I would have called this credible and dropped it, which is what I had done when I made the recommendation to the faculty member. But it was starting to really bug me that I had spent so much time on their OLE site and could NOT find anything explicitly about their licensing of copyrighted content, efforts to negotiate in good faith with living authors or their representatives, or anything else. Most of the links that turned up in my searches were broken. Here is what I did find.

“Part 2: Quality Open-Source Content”
“Did we mention that all of these resources are freely available to members under the Creative Commons License?”
http://ole.org/open-educational-resources/

Now this just reads wrong. Open source applies to hardware and code, not to, well, books. Open ACCESS is the correct phrase for books, literature, articles, and other written works. And, well, if the works actually are open source, or open access, or creative commons licensed, then they are available to EVERYONE, not just members. It sounds wrong, at least to me, to even imply that the content is limited to members-only.

I kept digging. I found their Learning Toolkit page, which stated:

“The Open BeLL – Coming Soon!
Our virtual interactive library will now be available for public preview”

Preview? That again makes it sound as it, well, the content isn’t actually open. And I thought their “virtual interactive library” was already available through the Internet Archive? By this point I am so baffled, I don’t know what to think. I start asking my colleagues, one of whom actually finds the official OLE Copyright Statement. The reason I couldn’t find it was because I was looking on their web site. Now, why on earth would I expect to find their legal statements on their own web site? [sarcasm] It was instead on the Internet Archive site.

Open Resource Library - Copyright Statement
OLE Copyright Statement: https://archive.org/stream/OLECopyrightStatement/OLE_Copyright%20Statement#page/n0/mode/2up

Briefly, what this says to me is that they are putting up full text of commercially available copyrighted works under a Creative Commons license with the assumption that this falls under Fair Use. Let’s take a second and look at fair use a bit more.

“Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
2. The nature of the copyrighted work
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work”
US Copyright Office, Fair Use. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

I’m no expert on Fair Use. You can find more information on this from Stanford, Texas, and our own University of Michigan Copyright Office.

One of my favorite resources from these groups is the UM “Fair Use Myths.

Fair Use Myths: http://guides.lib.umich.edu/content.php?pid=396670&sid=3248179

The first myth states approximately that just because what you are doing is educational is not sufficient in and of itself to make it fair use. OLE says that they are putting up copyrighted content under a Fair Use claim. They don’t anywhere say that they ask permission, but instead assume it will be ok, because they are good folk. (I’m paraphrasing.) The author might have agreed with them, but there is no way for us to know. But the final of the four factors to be considered is the economic impact. If OLE did not have permission, then making a PDF and text of a complete book available for free does seem like something that might possibly have an impact on sales. For me, it seems like this would fail the “four factors” test.

As I said, I’m not a lawyer, and certainly no expert, but I am a librarian, and I tried really really hard to find any evidence to show that OLE did the right work to protect themselves and their partners. I began this post believing in them, and I ended it with an opposite view. During the days I was working on this post, the work in question, the one that sparked this inquiry, has disappeared from the Internet Archive and now gives a statement of not being available due to an enquiry into a metadata error. I am wondering if someone told the author or their publisher.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Just because you should doesn’t mean you can.

Who says so?

But what will the neighbors (students) think?