[Note: As always with posts on this blog, authors speak for themselves. – dw]

HarperCollins has changed its agreement with the main distributor of e-books to libraries: e-books will now become inaccessible after 26 checkouts.

I understand publishers’ desire to limit ebook access so that selling one copy doesn’t serve the needs of the entire world. But think about what this particular DRM bomb does to libraries, one of the longest continuous institutions of civilization. Libraries exist not just to lend books but to guarantee their continuous availability throughout changes in culture and fashion. This new licensing scheme prevents libraries from accomplishing this essential mission.

It’s beyond ironic. Until now, libraries have in fact had to scale back on that mission because there isn’t enough space for all the physical books they’ve acquired over the years. So, they get rid of books that have fallen out of fashion or no longer seem important enough. Now that the digital revolution has so lowered the cost of storage that libraries can at last do far better at this culture-building mission, a major publisher has instituted the nightmare culture-killing license.

So, why do I say that HarperCollins has lost its soul instead of just criticizing it for this action? Because if you cared about books as vehicles of ideas and not just vehicles of commerce, you would have dismissed with contempt an idea that treats them as evanescent as chatter on a call-in show.

Wikipedia is looking for volunteers to answer some questions as they try to understand why researchers and experts do and do not contribute to Wikipedia. From the email they’ve sent around:

Wikipedia is increasingly used by university students for “pre-research”, to gain context and explore ideas for course assignments and research projects [1]. Yet many among scientists, academics and other experts are reluctant to contribute to Wikipedia, despite a growing number of calls from the scientific community to join the project [2-3].

The Wikimedia Research Committee [4] has just launched a survey to understand why scientists, academics and other experts do (or do not) contribute to Wikipedia and other collaborative projects, and whether individual motivation aligns with shared perceptions of Wikipedia within expert communities. We hope this may help us identify ways around barriers to expert participation. The survey is anonymous and takes about 20 min to complete. Please help us circulate the link among your colleagues and collaborators:


[1] http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125899/
[2] http://www.jmir.org/2011/1/e14/
[3] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/members/aps-wikipedia-initiative/
[4] http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Research_Committee

Harvard’s Library Lab has announced the first projects it will be funding. It’s an exciting group, and we’re proud that three of our projects made the list:

  • Library Analytics Toolkit: Tools to enable libraries to understand, analyze, and visualize the patterns of activities, including checkouts, returns, and recent acquisitions, and to do so across multiple libraries.

  • LibraryCloud Server: Build and maintain a web server that makes available to all Harvard library innovators data and metadata gathered from the Harvard libraries.

  • Library Innovation Podcasts: A series of biweekly podcast interviews with library innovators about their projects and ideas. The initial series would consist of 15 podcasts of about 20 minutes each.

We’re very excited about these, and have already begun work on them. In fact, if you have ideas for people to interview for our podcasts, let us know.

A couple months back on the airplane, I made a version of this list. Some loose observations/questions about the Lab, what we’ve been focusing on, what we could be looking at…

1. Measuring success – What constitutes a successful project? What is our (LIL) metric?

2. Off-line innovation -We’re focusing on software & data, how can we expand our scope offline?

3. Voyeurism sells – Our most successful endeavors (as measured by eliciting a response [IMO]) have pulled back the curtain, allowing people to “see in” the library. People are curious, how can we leverage this voyeurism to make great projects?

4. See our assets with fresh eyes – Libraries have several amazing assets to leverage for innovation (that start-ups could only dream of):

  1. central location – public libraries, private ones, academic – libraries are always sited at the heart of everything
  2. librarians – an interested community, a live and in-person customer support staff
  3. strong user base — a community of patrons
  4. transaction data – we can still identify trends, learn about the community while respecting privacy
  5. trust – people trust libraries and librarians as purveyors
  6. inventory – stuff (books, dvds, mags, kindles?) people want, for “free trial”

5. The Library experience – Libraries, in general, have looked the same for quite a while. The experience visiting a library, the services provided, the look hasn’t changed too much. What would the most far-out, radical library be?

6. Future – The future of the library is not the future of the book. But how is it not?

7. A culture of innovation – How can we, as a Lab, both advance large projects, while also pursuing smaller ideas and experiments?