All slow pop songs sound the same? On Fair Use and some such.

Have you heard Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”? You must have. It’s all over the place. Everybody loves it. (Even if you can’t really dance to it.) Some people pointed out the chorus sounds a lot like another ubiquitous pop song of yesteryear – Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”. Not sure? check this out:

Now you might say, “Oh, there’s nothing new under the sun! Chords are chords! Any similarity is incidental!” And you might be right. Smith was born three years after Petty’s song was all over radio, so he has some plausible deniability, maybe.

But this week it emerged that the two settled out of court in October and that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne would receive song writing credits and royalties. If the song wins a Grammy this year, does this mean Petty and Lynne are included? We’ll see.

These sorts of lawsuits are fairly common, though Robin Thicke’s pre-emptive lawsuit against the estate of Marvin Gaye was a new twist. The remix of the two songs is pretty good, and really with enough drugs is everything a remix? In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, one of the most well known lawsuits of this kind is Bright Tunes Music vs. Harrisongs because George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” sounds an awful lot like The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”. What do you think? Harrison (as seen in the video) sang and played guitar on Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.

Fair Use with music is interesting because of the laws on what can and cannot be covered by copyright and the artistic intent. A counter example I’ve been obsessing over is the song “Respect”. The original 1965 version by Otis Redding is a stomper, driven by Al Jackson’s drumming and peppered with the Memphis Horns. It’s so clearly a Stax song. Of course the 1967 cover by Aretha Franklin is iconic – an anthem for women all over. It’s also a very different song, so different I think it’s foolish to compare the two. (I tried for most of 2014.) The words and the basic melodies are the same, but the arrangements made them stand apart. Check out the Ike & Tina Turner cover which is a pretty perfect combination of the two.

Lots of covers differ much from the original that they could be considered completely different songs, but as long as the melody or the lyrics are used, then they need permission. The words are obvious – as evident from “Respect” even though the music doesn’t fully match up. In the Smith/Petty case, it’s a little bit more uncertain but there’s enough there. What’s this mean for librarians? Nothing new really, but it’s interesting when the lines are less blurred. (Pun intended.) Of course, there could be a whole follow up on sampling.

How to gracefully fix a mistake.

People make mistakes. I think it’s in the definition of being human. The important thing is how you respond to it. Do you deny everything? Do you fix it? Do you ignore the problem? There are lots of different ways a person or organization could approach the situation. Often with vendors, it seems they go for the route of vague corporate speak that gives one a feeling of “sorry, not sorry.” This week a company messed up, apologized, and corrected the mistake quickly. I want to recognize them for it.

Air Sage is a company that provides data for market research, tourism, and transportation. They’ve been making lots of noise in the industry the past couple of years, and overall they seem like an engaged company with a good product. They recently conducted a survey of the transportation industry and published the results. There is a lot of valuable information in there, but there was also a page that reinforced some awful stereotypes of women, which was pointed out in a Tweet:


I commend Sarah Fine for catching it and Tweeting about it. You can see from the subsequent discussion, a lot of people thought it was out of line. Hours later Air Sage responded:


And then today they re-released the report with a simple bar chart instead overly sexualized super-heroes. (No word if they donated to WTS, though it would be a great gesture.)

Who ever edited the document should have had more sense than to use those shapes to convey the information about the lack of women in leadership roles in transportation. I get that they wanted to make it fun and show women as super heroes of the industry, but those poses were straight out of some Rob Liefeld nightmare. Yes, they used imagery and stereotypes of women that hold women back to illustrate how women are being held back. Kind of clever in a terrible, straight out of the Onion way. If they wanted to have the report be more engaging and eye catching, they should have done something like the Lisa Frank inspired High Dessert Corridor EIR from Caltrans. (Never forget Brad!)

They made a pretty big mistake, owned it quickly and corrected it. I want to give special mention to their marketing guru Andrea who has been responding to many of the critical Tweets. Nobody wants to engage like that, but it does demonstrate how Air Sage approaches working with the public.

The Future of Handbooks: More about electronic and print resources

Traffic Engineering

 

This post started off where I get most of my inspiration: Twitter. After helping a grad student find resources about trip generation in urban areas which included referencing ITE’s Trip Generation Manual, I tweeted:

This started a brief discussion with @ITEhq, where they recommended a software platform to generate trip generation. They also understood that that solution doesn’t work in my case and appreciated the feedback. @ITEhq, thank you for engaging on Twitter! I really appreciated the conversation and respect your organization more for it.

While I am happy to point out a professional association doing things well, this post isn’t about that. This post is about another wrinkle in the shift from buying and providing library resources from print to electronic.

In traffic engineering there are some core handbooks that every engineer should keep on hand: the Highway Capacity Manual, the AASHTO Green Book, the Trip Generation Manual, the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide, and the MUTCD.  The MUTCD is an FHWA document so freely available online as a PDF. The Highway Capacity Manual (HCM) and the two AASTHO books are available through the Knovel platform. Only the the Trip Generation Manual is not available electronically, so if our researchers and grad students want to refer to it they need to physically come to the library. That’s not the end of the world, but it is a bit of a barrier. It also doesn’t fit with how many of them use hand books now. The student I was working with yesterday lamented they could use ctrl-F to find the section they were most interested in right away. Oh technology the great enabler!

But as seen in my conversation with ITE on Twitter, there is another option: OTISS, an online program used to run traffic impact assessments (trip generation, for those of you not in the know). For many practitioners who do these kinds of calculations on a weekly basis, OTISS is a very handy tool that is used instead of the Trip Generation Manual. The pricing is also reasonable for single users. Unfortunately, it’s not really feasible for a library. The multi-user account is limited to just 3 users, which then also makes the pricing unrealistic given our current budget. If we were to subscribe to it, it would have to be used in the library, which would automatically limit usage making it harder to justify the cost. There’s also the obvious that if we did pay for the service, we would probably violate the TOS by not restricting its use to the first 3 users.

OTISS is not the first time I’ve encountered this problem and it certainly won’t be the last. As more resources are moving from print to electronic, there are the common questions about DRM and ownership versus licensing. There are also increasingly more cases where the new platforms for delivering the content and information were designed in a way that libraries can’t easily (or even legally) participate. This is why I’m happy that AASHTO licenses their handbooks through Knovel, because to buy them electronically would restrict us to usage on a single machine. That was the common delivery and restriction method before cloud-based solutions became common, only now it’s tied to a user. I don’t know what the solution is aside from having this discussion and raising awareness of the issue. Just something to think about.

Playing tourist – A visit to my local public library.

Ohio County Public Library - 1950s

 

Yesterday was the first time I’d step foot in a public library as a patron (not for a meeting or class) in over a decade. I went to check out the newly renovated branch near my house and to get a library card. Yeah, it had been so long I either lost my library card or it had expired. It had been several addresses ago anyhow. So I went in to be a good neighbor and citizen. I left feeling out of place but also thinking about how weird MPOW must seem to people.

While I stumbled about the place, trying to get my bearings on what one does in a public library, I had the line, “Cause everybody hates tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh,” from Pulp’s “Common People” going through my mind. The exercise (and it really did seem like an exercise) was like going to another world and seeing how they do things. It reminded me somewhat of when I first used the library at Göttingen – I knew how libraries worked, just not how German libraries worked. A decade later it was more of the same – I knew how libraries worked, but having spent most of my time recently in the niche of special and academic libraries, I didn’t know how public libraries actually worked. I just wandered around observing the people using the library and the people working in the library, and while it didn’t seem all that different than MPOW, it clearly wasn’t the same.

The first thing I had to wrap my head around was Dewey. I haven’t thought about it much since the requisite assignment in a cataloging course. Then there was the issue of the size of the physical collection. It was perfectly adequate for a small branch, but I had to first adjust my notion what stacks should be like. Once I got my bearings it became clear that I hadn’t actually used a library for anything other than work in a long time. I was determined to check something out to use my new card, but what would that be? I joke how much I don’t read books, but it’s true. I have recently read some books, but they were mostly about football, and the branch didn’t have any books on the topic. I browsed fiction and settled on a short book by Victor Hugo that looked depressing. When I went to the desk to check out, the librarians politely escorted me to the self checkout machines and showed me how to use them. They were eminently nice but as I approached them for help, I had the feeling as if I were grossly out of time. I was out of time, decades out of time. I wanted to joke with them about it all, a librarian being unable to use a library, but I  didn’t think they’d care and it wasn’t really relevant.

The reason I decided to share this very mundane story, other than to make fun of myself, is that it reminded me to think outside my situation. Libraries are very diverse entities and while I rant that we’re more than just books, there are some who are still very much books. There’s not one size fits all model. It also reminded me of what services people expect. Universal paging is becoming a standard service that people expect, will self checkout be the next such thing? I sort of hope so.

I do plan on going back when the books I paged come in. Hopefully this won’t be a once in a decade thing.

 

 

Thoughts from #IDCC14 – Learning new tricks after grad school.

Librarian searching on the computer by UWMadArchives
Librarian searching on the computer, a photo by UWMadArchives on Flickr.

One thing that stuck with me from IDCC14 was the issue of training and continuing education for digital curation for people out of school. Mid career, early career, established career professionals could benefit from continuing education in the field.

There was a session at the conference that focused on improving SLIS curricula to prepare new grads to be equipped for the future. Some bullet points I took away from the panel:

  • Comparing CS and LIS grads – CS degress are more in demand (read: jobs) than LIS. LIS programs continue to produce more degrees than jobs.
  • LIS grads want more programming, change management, and engagement with scientific communities.
  • There is work to be done wrt keeping skills up-to-date, and drawing distinctions and roles within jobs.
  • Who should we be attracting to data curation? Most STEM grads want to be researchers, not curators.

My main takeaway from the session was the implicit mindset that for most people already out of grad school the ship had sailed and we’re a lost cause. Well, not all of us. Some already had the background (STEM, programming, tech) or were curious and self-motivated enough to develop the skills. Everybody else, they were out of luck.

Then today I saw this tweet from @LibSkrat:

 

It addresses the same problem from a different angle. We need change and new skills? Let’s just hire out of that problem. In some situations, such as natural attrition through retirements, this is happening. But what about the rest of us? Do we have to go back to school?

That’s one option, especially with certificate programs popping up at several SLIS programs. For those with the money and time, this could be a good investment. For people who can’t fully commit yet, there are MOOCs, which is also good. I think ultimately there will need to be many approaches to fit the different needs of the group.

Ultimately though, it’s the attitude that these skills must be formally taught and developed in school is disappointing. It lets people off the hook for their own professional development by implying they can’t do it informally. It’s a cop out in a way. I can easily see a colleague shrugging their shoulders, “I can’t do digital curation because I didn’t learn about that in school.” And while there is some work being done to educate current professionals on how to translate their skills to this new area, as long as there is the attitude of “we can hire for innovation, ” we’re going to hold ourselves back. Is this what happened when library automation stormed on the scene? I really hope not.

While we do need to revamp SLIS curricula to meet the changing needs of the workforce, we also need to encourage, support (with time and money), and promote learning within our profession. Of course, there are some people who push back, and I think it’s appropriate to call them out on their abdication of professional development. This means we need opportunities to grow, so let’s get on it.

(This isn’t even touching the false assumption that all new SLIS grads are tech geniuses who want to hack everything.)