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Do We Want Radical Law-Breaking Librarians?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21 October 2013

Defending Professionals Which Break the Law in the Public Interest

BBC News ItemOn Friday the BBC News published a story which described how “UK’s top prosecutor defends journalists who break law in public interest“. The story was about the role of journalists in making information publicly available. Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions insisted that it “would be very unhealthy if you had a situation where a journalist felt that they needed to go to their lawyer before they pursued any lead or asked any question“.

As today marks the start of Open Access Week 2013 it is appropriate to ask this question of those working in librarians. Should we encourage radical law-breaking librarians who are willing to break the law or challenges established practices in making information available?

This was an issues address recently at the Radical Library Camp event held in Bradford on 28 September 2013. The following proposal was submitted:

Professional ethics: copyright is broken, so why am I enforcing it?

Copyright law is broken. By criminalising citizens and creators in order to protect the profits of corporations, it harms the people that it should be empowering. Therefore I see it as an ethical imperative to break and/or subvert it; civil disobedience is a necessary part of a functioning democracy.

It is part of my job in a library to uphold and enforce copyright law.

Professional ethics are in conflict here: on the one hand, I have a duty to my employer and society to act in accordance with the law; on the other hand, when that law is wrong, it is unethical to force people to comply with it.

How can this be resolved? I’m not sure that the professional ethics espoused by our current professional organisation, CILIP, are enough to negotiate dilemmas like this. What does this mean? Do we need a new, more agile ethical approach that can deal with contemporary information ethics? And if so, can we find this within existing professional frameworks or do we need a new professional body?

Although I don’t know if the proposal was discussed I felt it would be worth revisiting this topic, in part due to a wish to raise the profile of activities which are taking place during Open Access Week but also as a follow-up to related discussions which took place last week at the ILI 2013 conference.

As I mentioned in a summary of a workshop on Future Technologies and Their Applications Workshop Tony Hirst’s story based on his observation that the rules and regulations for the University of Cambridge Library states that “Overcoats, raincoats, and other kinds of outdoor clothing, umbrellas, bags, cases, cameras, photocopying devices, and similar personal belongings shall normally be deposited in the locker-room adjacent to the entrance hall during each visit to the Library” (my emphasis) generated some debate.  Since most mobile phones these days will have cameras and can be used for scanning/photocopying they would appear to be banned from being brought into the library. This may no longer be the case (Tony’s post was published back in December 2009). But the general issue is still valid: “should libraries ban devices which have the capability of copyright infringement from being brought into the library?” I think libraries would be foolish if they tried to ban mobile phones from being brought into libraries; a more reasonable response to problems which mobile phones could cause in libraries would be to require that they are set to silent mode.

But to pose the question in a different way: “should libraries provide training and support for their users to help them maximise the potential of smartphones?” Such training might include use of library-specific applications (QR codes perhaps). But what of use of mobile applications which make use of a smart phone’s camera and OCR capabilities which could be used for copyright infringement?

Are any libraries running courses or providing advice and support in areas which may have the potential for copyright infringement? And in what other areas may we wish to encourage librarians, as journalists may be encouraged to do in some circumstances, to break the law in the public interest or for the benefit of society in general?

Posted in library2.0, openness | 7 Comments »

Update for September 2013

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 September 2013

Back in August in a post entitled Wanted For The ODI! I provided a response to a challenge to “use whatever (legal) means you have at your disposal to reach our Head of Research [ at the Open Data Institute], Tom Heath, and convince him that your CV is worth reading“. Tom read this post and the follow-up posts on What is Open Data, Why the Interest and What Are the Barriers?Supporting Open Data and Open Content and Wanted By The ODI: Conclusions and I was invited to submit a CV. I was then interview for the post of Community Engagement Manager at the Open Data Institute.  I enjoyed the interview (one of only two job interviews I had had in the past 17 years). However a week after the interview I received an email which informed me that “You have an impressive track record of grassroots initiatives and community building and are well grounded in the web scene with a healthy critical eye” but went on to say “However,  we are specifically looking for more emphasis on open data particularly outside of the HE sector so we ultimately have shortlisted candidates who have a greater breath and depth of experience in the areas we are looking for for this role“.

The comments were fair and so I’m continuing to look for new opportunities.

I’ve already described my participation in the LinkedUp project’s booksprint. In addition I have taken the opportunity to participate in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC.  This is giving me the opportunity to gain experience of a MOOC as well as the subject area of the MOOC (how the social web can be used to transform libraries)  being of interest to me.

ILI 2013 workshop summaryThe future for libraries is very relevant to a workshop myself and Tony Hirst are facilitating at ILI 2013, the Internet Librarian International conference which will be held in London on 15-16 October.  The workshop on “Future Technologies and Their Applications” will take place on 14 October.  As suggested by the title, the workshop will address the impact of new technologies on the role of libraries and will explore ways of predicting new technologies and preparing for their impact. Clearly the social web is one technological area of relevance to libraries, and the MOOC is providing an opportunity to explore this area in more detail.

I’ve been using the blog provided for the MOOC participants to explore some of the darker aspects of the ‘hyperlinked library’ which Michael Stephens, one of the MOOC facilitators has described as:

an open, participatory institution that welcomes user input and creativity. It is built on human connections and conversations.

But does the vision for the hyperlinked library describe A Privatised Future?; will it focus on services for the self-motivated middle classes?; are we too over-confident in the assumptions hyperlinked library evangelists are making “because we’re right!“; are we helping to build a dystopian future? or will we find that in the future everyone’s A librarian! – so there’s no need for general purpose librarians?

Devils advocate badgeI’ve received a Devil’s Advocate badge for these posts (together, with, I suspect, my post on The Pros and Cons of MOOC Badges) for having “demonstrated a willingness and ability to challenge ideas and inspire fruitful out-of-the-box thinking“.

These posts addressed concerns which I have. or which, although they may not be of concern to me, do reflect legitimate concerns which others have.

I’d welcome feedback on these scenarios and the issues which I’ve described. And if you know of any work opportunities which can make the most of my strengths and expertise, please get in touch.

Posted in jiscobs, library2.0 | 2 Comments »

Enhancing Access to Researchers’ Papers: How Librarians and Use of Social Media Can Help

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 March 2012

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk on “Enhancing Access to Researchers’ Papers: How Librarians and Use of Social Media Can Help” at a meeting of subject librarians at the University of Bath.

The talk is based on work which I’ve recently described on this blog including the post on How Researchers Can Use Inbound Linking Strategies to Enhance Access to Their Papers.

The talk will also address ideas described in a follow-up post on Profiling Staff and Researcher Use of Cloud Services Across Russell Group Universities in which I suggested that, in addition, to encouraging researchers to make their researcher publications available on their institutional repository, they should also be providing metadata and links to the papers from popular third party services, such as LinkedIn,, Microsoft Academic Search and Google Scholar Citations, which are provided particularly for use by researchers and academic staff.

The talk will highlight work in progress in making use of SEO analysis talks, including and, in order to investigate what the highest SEO-ranking sites which link to the University’ of Bath’s Opus repository are. The initial findings from suggests that,, and are the web sites with the highest SEO rankings which have links to the Opus repository. These four web sites all have an SEO Domain Authority score of 100, where this score “is a 100 point predicative score of the domain’s ranking potential in the search engines“.

The talk then goes on to suggest, as explaining in a post on My Trusted Social Librarian, that in addition to encouraging researchers to use such service, librarians may also help to support researchers by being a social librarians and favouriting (or liking or +1ng) useful resources since such actions can be seen in services such as Google,

The slides are available on Slideshare and embedded below.

I would welcome feedback.

Posted in library2.0, search | 3 Comments »

ILI 2011 and the ‘New Normal’

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31 March 2011

This year’s Internet Librarian International conference (ILI 2011) will be held in London on 27-28 October.  The call for speakers begins:

We are now in a time best characterised as the “New Normal”. The new normal isn’t just about austere budgets or the old chestnut of “doing more with less” – it’s also about new technologies. The new normal is having library patrons, users, customers and clients who know as much or more about technology than we do. It’s about partnerships and transparency, about new ways to develop and disseminate knowledge, about the increasing importance of communication skills, about opening up access to information, data, and knowledge.

What is meant by the term the ‘New Normal’ and how does it apply to in a library context?  I found an article on “The Politics Of The ‘New Normal’” which was published in The Atlantic in July 2009.  This states that “About a third of Americans, 32 percent, say they are spending less now and expect to make their present habits a “new normal” of their future budgetings“. The writer, Chris Good, goes on to add “One can’t help but wonder if the “new normal” has political ramifications“.

In a library (and educational) context in addition to the obvious economic and political changes there are also technological developments which are adding to the radical changes we are seeing across the sector.  But what might the implications of the ‘New Normal’ be in a Library context?  Let us assume that an accompanying discussion about such implications is based on an agreement that there are significant changes which will have an impact on working practices and will challenge orthodox thinking and working practices.   I should add that although the political and economic changes  are undoubtedly contentious there will be other changes which many will welcome.

Focussing on the technological developments we have seen in recent years it can  be argued that:

  • Many users now have the skills and access to technologies to find and access resources which previously were mediated by librarians.
  • We are seeing a decrease in the importance of finding via metadata and an increase in the importance of social discovery.
  • We are seeing a decrease in the importance of libraries providing access to trusted resources. Instead users now wish to access resources they find in the wild – but will need to be able to evaluate such resources.
  • We are seeing a  decrease in an unquestioning belief in the value of libraries and librarians and a need for the sector to be able to demonstrate value and pro-actively market themselves.

The Cabinet Office has recently published the Government ICT Strategy (PDF format).  The document provides many statements which, of the face of it, seem reasonable, especially for those who have been active  in IT development work.  For example:

  • projects tend to be too big, leading to greater risk and complexity, and limiting the range of suppliers who can compete“: Yes, there is value in agile development and rapid innovation projects which JISC, for example, has been funding.
  • Departments, agencies and public bodies too rarely reuse and adapt systems which are available ‘off the shelf’ or have already been commissioned by another part of government, leading to wasteful duplication“: The not-invented here syndrome we are familiar with.
  • systems are too rarely interoperable“: Again we are familiar with non-interoperable silos.

A number of solutions the government is proposing will we welcomed by many:

  • create a level playing field for open source software“: The JISC OSS Watch service has provided advice in this area  to the HE/FE sector.
  • impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security“: Many will see benefits in mandating use of open standards which can help public sector organisations from continuing to make use of proprietary formats.

Whilst there are aspects of the Government ICT Strategy which make for uncomfortable reading it does seem to me that there may be benefits in embracing new approaches which may build on experiences gained over recent years in working in a changing environment with changing user expectations and requirements.

I will be interested to see how speakers at the ILI 2011 conference will address the implications of the “New Normal”.  Note that the deadline for submissions is 8 April – so if you have an interest in sharing your experiences I’d encourage you to submit a proposal.  If you are not able to submit a proposal, I’d welcome suggestions on what the New Normal might mean to you – I’d especially welcome positive examples.

Posted in Events, General, library2.0 | 2 Comments »

Contrasting Visions of the Library of the Future

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 April 2009

My Views From 2001

I was invited to take part in a panel session at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference way back in 2001. Myself and my fellow panellists (Greg Notess and Mary Peterson) had encountered a number of bland panel sessions at previous conferences in which panelists uttered trite sentiments which nobody could possibly disagree with (yes, user testing is a good thing and so is accessibility and quality information). We decided to  avoid falling into this trap and I found myself in the position of having to respond to Greg and Mary’s views of the key role the library sector had in supporting use of networked services and supporting users in a networked environment. I suggested that librarians were just another group of users who had nothing special to add to the development of innovative networked services and, indeed, could inhibit development by seeking to take inappropriate methodologies to the Web environment. Now although these remarks were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it would be interesting to see how they may relate to today’s networked environment, 8 years later.

The Darien Manifesto

The authors of the Darien Manifesto (John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor) have no doubts regarding the importance of librarians, with a manifesto which begins by giving their view that “the purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization“. And this “purpose of the Library will never change“! Whilst a number of people have expressed concern over this monolithic description of The Library, and pointed out the unease we would feel if other bodies made similar statements (“The purpose of the government/the police/the Freemasons is to preserve the integrity of civilization and this purpose will never change“) other comments do appear to more accurately reflect the role of libraries  (“provides the opportunity for personal enlightenment“; “encourages the love of learning” and “empowers people to fulfill their civic duty“) and librarians (“select, organize and facilitate creation of content” and “connect people with accurate information“), various commentators, including the Annoyed Librarian, are questioning the manifesto.

The Researcher’s Perspective

Here in the UK a debate is taken place on the Libraries of the Future which is being led by the JISC. At a recent debate on Libraries of the Future Professor Peter Murray-Rust gave his thoughts on what he expects from an academic library from a research/scientific perspective.

Peter’s views had been outlined in a series of blog posts prior to the debate (Peter was living his open vision and encouraged those interested in helping to shape a vision to engage with the ideas he was developing in his blog).

As described by Professor Bruce Royan in a report on the event, Peter’s views challenged current orthodox thinking regarding the libraries’ relevance in a networked world:

The Librarians of the future will not emerge from the Libraries of today. The researchers of the future won’t want journals, they’ll want little bits of lots of papers, and they won’t respect faculty or subject boundaries, as their work will be interdisciplinary. If they need an information service, they’ll JUST DO IT for themselves

What Does The Future Hold?

The official blog for the debate provided a summary of Peter’s talk which began:

What is happening in the world is bypassing university libraries.  I talk to colleagues and the feeling is that libraries for STM (science, technical, medical) are not useful. That’s not my polemic view – that’s reporting on having spoken to people.

Will librarians have a significant role to play in the academic library of the future (the future of public libraries, whilst important, was not touched on in Peter’s presentation)? And is Peter’s assertion and question in a recent blog post: “Wikipedia has won – how can we convince you?” further evidence that the librarians who warn their users against such popular Web 2.0 services are becoming marginalised?

But maybe the Dryberg Darien manifesto does contain elements which reflect Peter’s views:

  • Adopt technology that keeps data open and free, abandon technology that does not.
  • Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes.
  • Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not.
  • Trust each other and trust the users.

Perhaps Peter would endorse the third bullet point which calls for staff who aren’t prepared to adapt to a changing environment to be sacked. And there was me thinking that the manifesto simply endorsed woolly liberal values!

Posted in Events, library2.0 | 4 Comments »

Blogging Librarians

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30 July 2007

Way back in December 2006 I asked Where Are The Blogging UK Librarians? There were a number of replies to the post and, since, then, I’ve touched on a number of issues related to the use of blogs within a library context.

And I’m please to announce that myself and my colleague Kara Jones (who works in the Library here at the University of Bath) have had a proposal accepted to facilitate a half-day workshop (or ‘masterclass’ in the official parlance) at the ILI 2007 conference.

I think the blogging UK librarians  are to be found in many more places than when I first asked  my question. So the issues Kara and I would like to address in our workshop include how are blogs being used; what strategies were used to get blogs deployed within the organisation (did you encounter any barriers and, if so, how did you overcome them?); what is the technical architecture for your blog (what software do you use and is it hosted externally or installed locally); how is you blog managed; do you have any metrics to demonstrate (or perhaps justify) the success of your blog and what advice would you give to others who are just starting on this path?

Note that the resources we will develop for the workshop will have a Creative Commons licence to allow their reuse by others.

Thoughts, comments, etc. will be appreciated.  You can add comments to this blog post. Alternatively, as part of an evaluation of the Ning social networking environment, Kara and I have set up a “Using Blog Effectively In Your Organisation” discussion area within the Library 2.0 area of Ning.  Feel free to the discussions in that environment.

Technorai tags: ili2007

Posted in Blog, library2.0 | 3 Comments »

Amazon Links From Library Web Sites

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 June 2007

Amazon links form library Web siteI noticed recently that the Perth College Library Webspots blog published a a post back in April which included links to Amazon for further information about books held at the library.

I think this is a useful service – the books are mentioned in context, and the Amazon link enables further information about the book to be obtained. And if the user wishes to buy the book, they can do so – and any income which the institution gains from this referral link will be useful, although this is no likely to be substantial.

But I have heard that some libraries would not allow such services to be deployed. Some of the reservations which libraries may have over deployment of various Web 2.0 services are described in the Web 2.0: Addressing the Barriers to Implementation in a Library Context QA Focus briefing document. This document includes the comment:

However, information professionals may feel uneasy about appearing to be promoting the use of Amazon as a commercial service to their users. This might potentially damage relationships with on-campus bookshops, or leave the Library service open to criticism from users that the Library is encouraging students to purchase essential materials rather than ensuring sufficient copies are provided.

Is this a legitimate concern? Are libraries which include Amazon referral links likely to causing such problems? Or is this very much horses-for-courses, with different libraries making a variety of decisions, based on various local factors.

Posted in library2.0 | 11 Comments »