June 20, 2005

ALA Study of Government Inquiries to Libraries (More on the Patriot Act)

The New York Times today reports in an article about a new study conducted and just released by the American Library Association which gathers statistics about inquiries by government officials to libraries related to the government's counterterrorism activities. (As of this morning, I could not find a link to the study itself on the association's web site.)

According to the article, "the study does not directly answer how or whether the Patriot Act has been used to search libraries. The association said it decided it was constrained from asking direct questions on the law because of secrecy provisions that could make it a crime for a librarian to respond. Federal intelligence law bans those who receive certain types of demands for records from challenging the order or even telling anyone they have received it." [Tim's comment: Check out that last sentence--in some cases libraries not only cannot challenge the demand for information, they cannot reveal that they received it! That is scary, folks. The government could very well ask what you checked out or read, we would have to tell them, and we would be prevented from telling you that they asked about you.]

The survey included 1,500 public libraries and 4,000 academic libraries, most of which had not received any inquiries. But from those who did, extrapolated to 500 libraries, there would have been about 600 requests for information.

Bush Administration officials said they had not yet seen the details of the study but proceeded to denounce it anyway.

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June 16, 2005

U.S. House Votes to Revise U.S. Patriot Act

CNN reports today that the U.S. House of Representatives, in an unusually bipartisan fashion, has voted to repeal one of the most troubling parts of the U.S. Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and includes a provision allowing law enforcement agencies to examine circulation records in libraries and book sales records for bookstores for any reason, without warrant. This provision has been decried by librarians and booksellers around the country as a serious invasion of privacy and gives law enforcement agents a blank check to go on "fishing expeditions."

Libraries have long been highly protective of their readers' right to privacy. It is part of librarians' code of ethics that readers have a right to read and check out of the library what they want without intrusion by others. Most online library systems, including the system used by Kelvin Smith Library and other libraries on campus, automatically discards all personal information about who has checked out books once the book has been returned, retaining only a count and general demographic statistics about the circulation transaction. Library staff are trained not to discuss or divulge who currently has a book checked out. (This question comes up quite often: for example, a professor will come in and say that he or she needs a book. We say that it is checked out, and the professor says, "Oh it's probably one of my students that has it, tell me who it is." It is our policy not to divulge such information. We instead offer to hold the book when it comes in, or, if it is overdue, to recall it. We can also try to request another copy on OhioLINK.)

President Bush has threatened to veto a bill that reduces federal authority over the records.

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April 13, 2005

Coalition for Networked Information, Washington, DC, April 4-5, 2005

Last week University Librarian Joanne Eustis and I attended the semi-annual meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) in Washington, DC. These meetings always feature a wide array of updates on what libraries are doing in the way of networked information and digital library projects. They also always feature sessions on emerging technologies and standards as well as some thought provoking sessions that may not have immediate applicability to libraries.

The opening plenary session of last week's meeting featured representatives from the so-called "Google Five" -- the libraries with whom Google has negotiated agreements to digitize all or large parts of their libraries. These libraries are Stanford, Harvard, University of Michigan, New York Public Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library. A press release about Oxford's arrangement can be found here. Information about Stanford's project is here.

The libraries are all under strict non-disclosure agreements with Google, so there was not a wealth of information divulged. The amount of material to be digitized at the libraries seems to range from "pretty much everything" at Michigan to "a tasty selection in the tens of thousands of volumes" at New York Public. It was clear that Google had done a "divide and conquer" move with these libraries, in that they each did not know who else was involved in negotiations until they read it in the news release.

It appears that Google will give the libraries preservation-level copies of the digital images that are created as part of the project. This will run into many terabytes of information, for which the libraries do not yet have a clear plan as to how they will be used. Harvard and NYPL seemed the most cautious.

For all of the massive marketing splash that Google made with this announcement, there seems to be no doubt that for the foreseeable future, Google's plan to include some unknown part of this full-text material in their database will not radically affect libraries or the need for libraries to continue digitization of their own materials. When someone says, "When is Google going to have all the books in the work?" you can honestly answer, "No time soon."

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March 29, 2005

Grokster and the Supremes

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in a case that pits the online peer-to-peer software company Grokster and others against M-G-M and the major recording and motion picture companies. (Here is the New York Times coverage.) There are stars on both sides of the debate, both for and against file sharing. It is estimated that tens of millions of songs and movies are illegally downloaded every day.

Grokster will base its arguments on the so-called Sony Betamax case of 1984, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Sony could not be ruled for infringement even though some consumers used it to make illegal copies of copyrighted movies. What may influence this case, however, is the large scale piracy that has proceeded from the various file-sharing, and the fact that the digital copies are "perfect" (in contrast to multi-generational videotape copies, which lose quality with each succeeding copy).

As the New York Times correctly points out,

Regardless of the outcome, it still won't be legal to download copyrighted materials over the Internet without permission, though tens of millions of computer users do so each day. And any ruling won't affect thousands of copyright lawsuits filed individually against Internet users caught sharing music and movies online.
Even if Grokster wins, it is still illegal to download somebody else's property onto your computer. Pay a visit to the iTunes store or the reincarnated Napster or Rhapsody or one of the other services instead and get out your credit card.

Posted by tdr at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

Help keep OhioLINK strong!

For the Case community, OhioLINK, the consortium of academic libraries in the state, has become a vital resource for research and teaching. The many services include subscriptions to electronic journals, online full-text databases, and the ability to check out books from other OhioLINK libraries and have them delivered here to Case.

OhioLINK is facing a crisis of funding due to the state's precarious financial status. The following communication was received today on an OhioLINK email list:

The next biennium operating budget is being debated in the Ohio House of Representatives this month. During this time it is critical that legislators, especially members of the Ohio House, receive letters in support of OhioLINK. So please continue to make your campus aware of the need for their support.

Tom [Sanville, OhioLINK Executive Director] will be testifying Tuesday, March 8, in front of the Ohio House of Representatives' Higher Education Subcommittee of the Finance and Appropriations Committee. It is extremely vital that members of this committee understand the importance of OhioLINK and how it benefits higher education and the state as a whole. The more letters in support of OhioLINK that these folks receive the better.

The members of the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Finance and Appropriations Committee:

Chair: Shawn N. Webster (R), District 53
Vice Chair: Jimmy Stewart (R), District 92


The committee's home page is at:

For legislators' contact information visit

If OhioLINK is important to your research and teaching, please consider taking time to communicate that importance to your state legislator, and especially to the committee chairs listed above.

Posted by tdr at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Tim's KSL Blog--Here it is, first post

This is the first post of the blog I will keep at Case on behalf of the Kelvin Smith Library Administration. It will include news of various kinds as well as commentary on issues related to the library. It's also a mechanism to give quick information to KSL staff as well as the outside world.

I will attempt to differentiate between factual news and commentary. Nonetheless, I feel the need to give the standard disclaimer that any opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the Kelvin Smith Library, its administration or staff, or Case Western Reserve University. I will label personal commentary with an appropriate blog category. The default template for blog.case.edu is pretty bland, so as I get time I'll try to spruce it up a bit.

Feel free to comment, give us feedback on projects, services, etc that are reported here. We anticipate that there will be other blogs in KSL coming soon, and that we will use blogs as one more tool to provide information to our customers.

Posted by tdr at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)