concerns about Reveal Digital’s statement about On Our Backs

This is my third post about Reveal Digital and On Our Backs. The first post in March outlines my objections with this content being put online. The second post has some contributor agreements I found in the Cornell’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collection and the notes from my talk at code4libNYS.

About a month ago Reveal Digital decided to temporarily take down the On Our Backs (OOB) content. I was happy to hear about this. However I’ve got several concerns about their public statement (PDF). First, I’m concerned that citing Greenberg v. National Geographic Society foreshadows that they are going to disregard contributor agreements and concerns and put the whole collection online. Second, I’m concerned that minors accessing porn is listed ahead of contributor privacy issues and that reflects Reveal Digital’s priorities. Finally, I’m glad that Reveal Digital has broadened their idea of community consultation from financial stakeholders to include publishers, contributors, libraries, archives, researchers, and others, however I’m still worried about whose voices will be centered in these discussions.


According to Reveal Digital the Greenberg v. National Geographic Society ruling says gives them “the legal right to create a faithful digital reproduction of the publication, without the need to obtain permissions from individual contributors”. ARL has a summary of this case and a 5 page brief written by Ben Grilliot, who was a legal intern for ARL at the time. I’m far from being an expert on US Copyright Law but I understand this to mean that if Reveal Digital digitizes the entire run of OOB without making any changes it doesn’t matter that contributor agreements has limitations. Even if this is legal, it is not ethical.

The ARL summary says “The Copyright Act is “media-neutral,” and libraries believe that it should allow publishers to take advantage of new technologies to preserve and distribute creative works to the public.” I spoke to 3 people who modelled for OOB and none of them consented to have their photos appear online (PDF). As librarians we can’t uncritically fight for access to information, we need to take a more nuanced approach.


I’m puzzled by “minors accessing sexually explicit content” as the first reason Reveal Digital listed.  I can understand that this might be a liability issue, but it’s not difficult to find porn on the internet, especially porn that is more explicit and hard core than the images in OOB. I’m confused by this. Reveal Digital describes OOB as filling “an important hole in the feminist digital canon and is an essential artifact of the ‘feminist sex wars'” so for me this is an unexpected reason. Their statement says that they need a window of time to make the necessary software upgrades to solve this issue. I’m disappointed that this reason is given ahead of contributor privacy.


I was really happy to read how Reveal Digital articulates the importance of contributor privacy:

On the more complex issue of contributor privacy, Reveal Digital has come to share the concerns expressed by a few contributors and others around the digitization of OOB and the potential impact it might have on contributor privacy. While we feel that OOB carries an important voice that should be preserved and studied, we also feel that the privacy wishes of individual contributors should have an opportunity to be voiced and honored.

I feel like the above statement shows that they really heard and understood the concerns that many of the contributors and I had.

Community consultation

I’m thrilled to read that Reveal Digital intends to consult with various communities including “publishers, contributors, libraries, archives, researchers, and others”.

Often when people talk about consultations they mention a need to balance interests. We reject that libraries are neutral, so we need to extend that understanding to community consultation processes like these. Contributors, especially many models, could have their lives damaged by this. Researchers seek to gain prestige, grants, tenure and promotion from access to this collection and don’t stand to lose much, if anything. Different communities have a different stake in these decisions. Also, these groups aren’t homogeneous–it’s likely that some contributors will want this content online, some will be OK with some parts, and others will not any of it online. I hope that centering contributor voices is something that Reveal Digital will build into their consultation plan.

This isn’t the first digitization process that has needed community consultation. We can learn from the consultation process that took place around the digitization of the book Moko: or Maori tattooing or around the digitization of the second wave feminist periodical Spare Rib in the UK (thanks Michelle Moravec for telling me about this). Academic libraries can also learn from how public libraries build relationships with communities.

update on On Our Backs and Reveal Digital

In March I wrote a post outlining the ethical issues of Reveal Digital digitizing On Our Backs, a lesbian porn magazine. Last week I spoke at code4lib NYS and shared examples of where libraries have digitized materials where they really shouldn’t have. My slides are online, and here’s a PDF of the slides with notes. Also: Jenna Freedman and I co-hosted a #critlib discussion on digitization ethics.

Susie Bright’s papers in Cornell’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection

A couple of weeks before code4lib NYS, I learned that Cornell has Susie Bright’s papers, which include some of the administrative records for On Our Backs. When I was at Cornell I visited the Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection and looked through this amazing collection. The first book of erotica I ever bought was Herotica, edited by Susie Bright, so it was especially amazing to see her papers. It was so exciting to see photo negatives or photos of images that became iconic for lesbians either in On Our Backs, or on the covers of other books. While the wave of nostalgia was fun, the purpose of my visit was to see if the contracts with the contributors were in the administrative papers.

I hit the jackpot when found a thin folder labelled Contributors Agreements. All of them weren’t there, but there were many contracts where the content creators did not sign over all rights to the magazine. Here are three examples.

This contributor contract from 1991 is for “one-time rights only”.


This contributor contract from 1988 is for “1st time N.A. serial rights”. In this context N.A. means North American. 


This contributor’s contract from 1985 is “for the period of one year, beginning 1.1.86”. 


Copyright and digitizing On Our Backs

Initially I thought that Reveal Digital had proper copyright clearances to put this content online. In addition to the above contributors contract examples, I talked to someone who modeled for On Our Backs (see slides 9 to 11 for model quotes) who said there was an agreement with the editor that the photo shoot would never appear online. These things make me wonder if the perceived current rights holder of this defunct magazine actually had the rights to grant to Reveal Digital to put this content online.

I’m still puzzled by Reveal Digital’s choice for a Creative Commons attribution (CC-BY) license. One of the former models describes how inappropriate this license is, and more worrisome as the lack of her consent in making this content available online.

People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.

Response from Reveal Digital

Last week I spoke with Peggy Glahn, Program Director and part of the leadership team at Reveal Digital. She updated me on some Reveal Digital’s response to my critiques.

Takedown policy and proceedures

Peggy informed me that they had a takedown request and will be redacting some content and with their workflow it takes about 3 weeks to make those changes. She also said that they’ll be posting their takedown policy and process on their website but that there are technical challenges with their digital collections platform. It shouldn’t be difficult to link to a HTML page with the takedown policy, procedures and contact information. I’m not sure why this is a technical challenge. In the meantime, people can email with takedown requests. Reveal Digital will “assess each request on a case-by-case basis”.

Not removing this collection

I am really disappointed to hear that Reveal Digital does not have plans to take down this entire collection. Peggy spoke about a need to balance the rights of people accessing this collection and individual people’s right to privacy. It was nice to hear that they recognized that lesbian porn from the 80s and 90s differs from historical newspapers, both in content and in relative age. However by putting both types of collections on the web in the same way it feels like this is a shallow understanding of the differences.

Peggy mentioned that Reveal Digital had consulted the community and made the decision to leave this collection online. I asked who the community was in this case and she answered that the community was the libraries who are funding this initiative. This is an overly narrow definition of community, which is basically the fiscal stakeholders (thanks Christina Harlow for this phrase). If you work at one of these institutions, I’d love to hear what the consultation process looked like.

Community consultation is critical

As this is porn from the lesbian community in the 80s and 90s it is important that these people are consulted about their wishes and desires. Like most communities, I don’t think the lesbian and queer women’s community has ever agreed on anything, but it’s important that this consultation takes place. It’s also important to centre the voices of the queer women whose asses are literally on the page and respect their right to keep this content offline. I don’t have quick or simple solutions on how this can happen, but this is the responsibility that one takes on when you do a digitization project like this.

Learning from the best practices of digitizing traditional knowledge

The smart folks behind the Murkutu project, and Local Contexts (including the Traditional Knowledge labels) are leading the way in digitizing content in culturally appropriate and ethical ways. Reveal Digital could look at the thoughtful work that’s going on around the ethics of digitizing traditional knowledge as a blueprint for providing the right kind of access to the right people. The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has also put a thoughtful paper outlining the consultation process and project outcomes how they to digitized the historic text Moko; or Maori tattooing.

After talking to several models who appeared in On Our Backs a common thread was that they did not consent to have their bodies online and that this posed a risk to their careers. Keeping this collection online is an act of institutional violence against the queer women who do not want this extremely personal information about themselves to so easily accessible online.

Librarians–we need to do better.

alternate formats: who pays?

text: "free the textbook" over a blue sky with white clouds and open books that look like they're flying

Yesterday a had a big realization. Many textbook publishers continue to publish inaccessible content and those costs are borne by the public education system through alternate format production. Publishers are not responsible for producing accessible material and universities and colleges purchase things that aren’t accessible to all their students and then pay again to make them accessible. In BC I’d estimate that at least $1 million per year is spent on obtaining or producing alternate formats. This is an access issue, a human rights issue, and it’s also an economics issue.

Here are some of the conversations and pieces of information that led to this observation.

Creating an Inclusive Quality Standard of Education

I was sad to miss The Guelph Accessibility Conference at University of Guelph last week. Karen McCall presented Creating an Inclusive Quality Standard of Education (PDF handouts of her slides) where she argues that access to education is a human right. At work I’m more focused on the technical workflows and had forgotten about the human rights issues around access to education. She says that “accommodation is the norm, rather than the exception” and that this keeps people with disabilities “on the periphery of society” (slide 3). She states that “what this does is shift “the ‘cost” of inclusive design and inclusive communities to the corporate sector instead of in primary, secondary and tertiary education” (slide 3).

Karen states that in the US $79 billion is spent on ICT (information communication technology) a year, so there is enough purchasing power to demand that things are accessible from the start. She argues that “the best way to ensure inclusive communities is to mandate the procurement of eAccessible only products and services” (slide 6). This would also encourage competition and innovation in the market, which would benefit everyone.

Universal design for learning workshops

Recently I’ve presented a few workshops on universal design for learning (UDL) with Amanda Coolidge and Sue Doner. These workshops build on the personas from the Accessibility Toolkit. The workshop materials are also CC-BY licensed, so feel free to use or adapt them.


Appendix: Redesign or Accommodation Activity Guidelines

In this workshop we also compare disability accommodation and UDL. There will always be a need for disability accommodation, but we argue that using the UDL principles can solve many of the common access issues (videos without captions, images that lack descriptions, poor organization of information and concepts).

Disability Accommodation Universal design for learning
reactive proactive
accommodation is for one student who has appropriate documentation improves accessibility for many students students with disabilities; students who have a disability and lack the documentation; students with a disability who for whom the stigma in accessing services is too great; students for whom English is not their first language; students with a variety of learning styles
for many students there is a stigma in accessing disability services the onus is on the instructor to think about how they are teaching rather than on the individual student to request a retrofit

Jennifer LeVecque, from Camosun’s Disability Services Department, pointed out that for print coursepacks from the campus bookstore it’s possible that the publisher gets paid more than once. First, the library might already be paying to license journal articles databases that have those articles. Second, the bookstore (or the copyright office) might be paying the publisher for the rights to produce the coursepack, then passing those costs on to the student. When most academic libraries opted out of Access Copyright tariff in 2012, many worked to change the workflow for producing and licensing coursepacks, encouraging faculty to link directly to the articles that the library had licensed. This is also a UDL best practice as it supports multiple ways of representation and allows students who have print disabilities to access these digital files using whatever assistive technology they use.

CAPER-BC Advisory Committee meeting

At the CAPER BC Advisory Committee meeting there were questions about why publishers are producing new e-textbooks that are not accessible. Jewelles Smith, BC Director for NEADS, suggested that it would be useful to collaborate in assessing the accessibility of specific publisher e-textbook platforms, or of common e-textbook titles that are being used. Last month Benetech published their Buy Accessible guidelines, which is a list of specific questions for people who are selecting and purchasing textbooks to ask publishers and vendors.

So what?

Many for profit textbook publishers continue to publish content that is inaccessible and the public education system spends money to remediate these textbooks to make them accessible. Textbook publishers make a lot of money and have shrugged off their ethical and legal (depending on where you live) responsibilities to students with disabilities and faculty keep choosing to use these textbooks, and bookstores keep buying them. Then Disability Service Offices and organizations like where I work spend a lot of time and money retrofitting. This is not a financially sustainable model.


We need to build in language around accessibility into procurement policies at universities and colleges. Where things are not accessible we need to make the cost of retrofit explicit and charge that cost back to the publisher. With digital workflows publishers have the opportunity to make fully accessible digital versions of textbooks available for students to buy. Right now alternate format production is a market externality to publishers, so there is no financial incentive or cost to meeting accessibility guidelines. If we believe that education is a human right for all, then we need procurement policies and laws that reflect this.

changing the rules of the game: what libraries can learn from Beyoncé


black t-shirt that says "Okay, ladies, now get's get information"
Dr. Safiya U. Noble‘s selfie

Recently two awesome things changed my world. Beyoncé released her album Lemonade and the BC Library Association conference happened.

Cory Doctorow’s opening keynote was brilliant. As expected he gave a smart and funny talk full of examples to illustrate the bigger issues. I don’t think anyone will forget the baby monitor cam that was taken over by creepy men who were taunting the baby as an example of privacy flaws in everyday “smart” devices. I feel like he gave libraries more credit than we deserve. I felt pretty depressed and without hope thinking about how libraries continue to choose proprietary vendor technology that does not reflect our core values.

One of my favourite conversations at this conference was with Alison Macrina, from the Library Freedom Project.  We talked about many things, including our mutual love for Beyoncé. She saw her concert in Houston and told me about the amazing choreography for Freedom, which was the last song Beyoncé performed.

When I asked friends what their favourite song was on Beyoncé’s Lemonade a few people said that they thought of the whole album as one song, or as an opera. So, on the way home from the conference, I was listening the whole album and hearing it in a new way. I jumped off the bus and walked up the street to my home just as Freedom came on, by the end of the song I had a realization. Beyonce embodies freedom by owning her creative product, but perhaps even more importantly she owns the means of distribution. Like Beyoncé, libraries need to own our distribution platforms.

Tidal, Beyonce’s distribution channel, is a streaming music platform that is a competitor to Spotify and Pandora. I’m not sure what the ownership breakdown is, but Tidal is owned by artists.  A few of the artist-owners are Jay Z , Beyoncé, Prince, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, Madonna, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Usher, Chris Martin, Calvin Harris, deadmau5, Jason Aldean and J. Cole. Initially many people thought Tidal was a failure, but that has changed.

Lemonade was launched on HBO on April 22. On the 23rd the only place Lemonade was available was streamed through Tidal, and for purchase the day after. On the 25th it was available for purchase by track or album to Amazon Music and the iTunes Store. Physical copies of the album went on sale at brick and mortar stores on May 6. Initially the shift to digital distribution replicated the business model for distributing records which generated huge profits for record labels, but often cut out the artist.

PKP (Public Knowledge Project) is a great example of how academic libraries built open source publishing tools to challenge scholarly publishers. This has been a game changer in terms of how research is published, distributed and accessed.

For more than 10 years we’ve been complaining about Overdrive’s DRM-laced ebooks, and the crappy user experience. Instead of relying on vendors, we need to build our own distribution platform for ebooks. I realize that it’s the content our patrons are hungry for, and that we’re neither Jay Z, nor Beyoncé. If publishers aren’t willing to play with us, we have strong relationships with authors and could work directly with them as content creators. There needs to be a new business model where people can access creative works and that the content creators can make a living. Access Copyright’s model doesn’t work, but we could work with content creators to figure out a business model that does.

In her closing keynote at BCLA activist and writer Harsha Walia talked about systemic power structures and the need to change how we do things. Talking about pay equity she said “It’s not about breaking the glass ceiling, it’s about shattering the whole house.” Vendor rules and platforms are about profit margins for those companies. Libraries need to change the rules of the game.

Tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder
Tell the storm I’m new
I’m a wall, come and march on the regular
Painting white flags blue

Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!

embodied library work

I’m coming down from the Gender and Sexuality in Library and Information Studies colloquium that Emily Drabinski, Baharak Yousefi and I organized. For me one of the big themes was bodies and embodiment.

Vanessa Richards‘ keynote was amazing. She spoke a bit and facilitated us in singing together. It was powerful, transformative and extremely emotional for me. Some of the instruction she gave us was to pay attention to our bodies, “what do you feel and where in your body do you feel it when I tell you we are going to sing together?” Both my body and my mind are very uncomfortable with singing. At some point in my life someone told me I was a bad singer and ridiculed me and I think I believed them. Vanessa Richards said something like: “Your body is the source code. Your body knows how to sing. All the people who told you that you can’t sing, kick them to the curb. This is your human right.”

For me this was deeply transformative and created magic in the room. We sang 3 songs together, and by the last one there was a beautiful transformation. I observed people’s bodies. People’s shoulders had dropped and their weight was sinking their weight down into their feet. People were taking up more space and looking less self conscious. Also, our voices were much louder and they were beautiful. This was an unconventional and magical way to start the day together.

There were so many excellent presentations. I was so excited to learn about GynePunk, the cyborg witches of DIY gynecology in Spain. James Cheng, Lauren Di Monte, and Madison Sullivan completely blew my mind in their talk titled Makerspace Meets Medicine: Politics, Gender, and Embodiment in Critical Information Practice. This is the most exciting talk I’ve heard about makerspaces, though they argued that because it’s gendered and political we’re unlikely to see this in a library makerspace. GynePunk reminds me of the zine Hot Pantz that starts with:

Patriarchy sucks. It’s robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe it’s integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies.

I also loved Stacy Wood’s talk on Mourning and Melancholia in Archives. She told the story of working in an archive and having cremated ashes fall out of a poorly sealed bag that was in a poorly sealed envelope. I hope I have a chance to read her paper as she had many smart things to say about institutional practice, as well as melancholia.

Marika Cifor presented Blood, Sweat, and Hair: The Archival Potential of Queer and Trans Bodies in three acts: blood, sweat and hair. She used examples of these parts of our bodies that were part of archival objects:

  • blood – blood on a menstrual sponge, blood during the AIDS crisis, blood on Harvey Milk’s clothing from when he was shot and killed
  • sweat – sweat stains on a tshirt from a gay leather bar
  • hair – hair on a lipstick of Victoria Schneider a trans woman, sex worker and activist, and hair samples (both pubic hair and regular hair from your head) in Samuel Steward’s stud file, where he documented his lovers, that is in the Yale Archives

It was so exciting and nourishing to talk about bodies in relation to libraries, archives and information work. I didn’t realize that I was so hungry to have these conversations. I realized that when I’m doing my daily work I’m fairly unembodied dissociated. I bike to work, hang up my body on the back of my office door, and then let my brain run around for the day. I put on my body and go about the rest of my life. I’ve been working to try and be my whole self at work, and have realized that the brain/body binary needs to be dismantled.

I’m not really sure what this is going to look like. I fear it might be messy, as bodies often are. I also fear that there will be failure, as is common with trying new things. To start, I think I’m going to go join the Woodward’s Community Singers this Thursday and sing again.

Woodward’s Community Singers – An Invitation to Sing Together from Woodward’s Community Singers on Vimeo.

digitization: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

I learned this week that Reveal Digital has digitized On Our Backs (OOB), a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. This is a part of the Independent Voices collection that “chronicles the transformative decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press.” For a split second I was really excited — porn that was nostalgic for me was online! Then I quickly thought about friends who appeared in this magazine before the internet existed. I am deeply concerned that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them.

While Reveal Digital went through the proper steps to get permission from the copyright holder, there are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer print magazine is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online. I’m disappointed in my profession. Librarians have let down the queer community by digitizing On Our Backs.

Why is this collection different?

The nature of this content makes it different from digitizing textual content or non-pornographic images. We think about porn differently than other types of content.

Most of the OOB run was published before the internet existed. Consenting to appear in a limited run print publication is very different than consenting to have one’s sexualized image be freely available on the internet. These two things are completely different. Who in the early 90s could imagine what the internet would look like in 2016?

In talking to some queer pornographers, I’ve learned that some of their former models are now elementary school teachers, clergy, professors, child care workers, lawyers, mechanics, health care professionals, bus drivers and librarians. We live and work in a society that is homophobic and not sex positive. Librarians have an ethical obligation to steward this content with care for both the object and with care for the people involved in producing it.

How could this be different?

Reveal Digital does not have a clear takedown policy on their website. A takedown policy describes the mechanism for someone to request that digital content be taken off a website or digital collection. Hathi’s Trust’s takedown policy is a good example of a policy around copyright. When I spoke to Peggy Glahn, Program Director for Reveal Digital she explained there isn’t a formal takedown policy. Someone could contact the rights holder (the magazine publisher, the photographer, or the person who owns the copyright to the content) and have them make the takedown request to Reveal Digital. Even for librarians it’s sometimes tricky to track down the copyright holder of a magazine that’s not being published anymore. By being stewards of this digital content I believe that Reveal Digital has an ethical obligation to make this process clearer.

I noticed that not all issues are available online. Peggy Glahn said that they digitized copies from Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture at Duke University and Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University but they are still missing many of the later issues. More issues should not be digitized until formal ethical guidelines have been written. This process should include consultation with people who appeared in OOB.

There are ways to improve access to the content through metadata initiatives. I’m really, really excited by Bobby Noble and Lisa Sloniowski‘s proposed project exploring linked data in relation to Derrida and feminism. I’ve loved hearing how Lisa’s project has shifted from a physical or digital archive of feminist porn to a linked data project documenting the various relationships between different people. I think the current iteration avoids dodgy ethics while exploring new ways of thinking about the content and people through linked data. Another example of this is Sarah Mann’s index of the first 10 years of OOB for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archive.

We need to have an in depth discussion about the ethics of digitization in libraries. The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics is the best discussion of these issues that I’ve read. There two ideas that are relevant to my concerns are about consent and balancing interests between access to the collection and respect for individuals.

Whenever possible, it is important to give creators the right of refusal if they do not wish their work to be highly visible.

Because of the often highly personal content of zines, creators may object to having their material being publicly accessible. Zinesters (especially those who created zines before the Internet era) typically create their work without thought to their work ending up in institutions or being read by large numbers of people. To some, exposure to a wider audience is exciting, but others may find it unwelcome. For example, a zinester who wrote about questioning their sexuality as a young person in a zine distributed to their friends may object to having that material available to patrons in a library, or a particular zinester, as a countercultural creator, may object to having their zine in a government or academic institution.

Consent is a key feminist and legal concept. Digitizing a feminist porn publication without consideration for the right to be forgotten is unethical.

The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics does a great job of articulating the tension that sometimes exists between making content available and the safety and privacy of the content creators:

To echo our preamble, zines are “often weird, ephemeral, magical, dangerous, and emotional.” Dangerous to whom, one might ask? It likely depends on whom one asks, but in the age of the Internet, at least one prospectively endangered population are zinesters themselves. Librarians and archivists should consider that making zines discoverable on the Web or in local catalogs and databases could have impacts on creators – anything from mild embarrassment to the divulging of dangerous personal information.

Zine librarians/archivists should strive to make zines as discoverable as possible while also respecting the safety and privacy of their creators.

I’ve heard similar concerns with lack of care by universities when digitizing traditional Indigenous knowledge without adequate consultation, policies or understanding of cultural protocols. I want to learn more about Indigenous intellectual property, especially in Canada. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at Mukurtu, a digital collection platform that was built in collaboration with Indigenous groups to reflect and support cultural protocols. Perhaps queers and other marginalized groups can learn from Indigenous communities about how to create culturally appropriate digital collections.

Librarians need to take more care with the ethical issues, that go far beyond simple copyright clearances, when digitizing and putting content online.

On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

slow exposure photo of a freeway with two on-ramps that go off in different directions
High Five Ramps by SETShot

As a newcomer to the open education community I observed that there is a core group of smart and passionate people who were doing their thing. At first the opportunities for where and how I could participate were not obvious or clear to me. I don’t think I’m the only person who has been puzzled by how to become an active participant, instead of a bystander, in this community.

I’m completely inspired by the idea of a Z-degree, or a degree program where there is no cost for textbooks for any of the classes, but feel that’s a daunting goal from where most of our institutions are at currently. I’m excited about how some faculty are moving away from disposable assignments to assignments that further knowledge creation and sharing, but I don’t regularly teach so this isn’t something that connects with me either.

While the open education community is much more decentralized and open source communities have some additional structures (like feature road maps and release dates) there are still some valuable lessons that can be learned.

Continue reading On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

Missing the mark: IBM accessibility

I’m excited to see that accessibility is becoming more of a mainstream discussion within web development communities and technology companies.

This short 2 minute video from IBM answers the question “why is accessibility important?” The production values are high and the music is upbeat and feel good. This video was created with subtitles, which makes it accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks.

This video, however, is not accessible to blind and many visually impaired people as it has lots of information that is only conveyed visually and there is no descriptive audio. The following facts are only presented as text on the screen:

  • 1.2 billion people in the world have a disability
  • 600 million are over the age of 60
  • 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 15 years
  • 20% of the population has language or text comprehension difficulty
  • 2.4 million children have cognitive learning difficulties

In addition to these snippets of text, the visuals of different people with different types of disabilities doing different things is not accessible to blind people. While the talking heads are accessible, a blind person doesn’t know who the person talking is. This context is important.

This is highly ironic as the video opens with a (presumably blind) person using a white cane and then cuts to a short clip of a different person walking with a service dog.

Phil Gilbert, General Manager, IBM Design and one of the talking heads in this video says:

I think we have a unique responsibility to the world, being who we are, to design for inclusion. The differentiation that we can drive into the marketplace by designing intentionally to reach every possible human being on the planet, regardless of their technical capability, I think it could possibly be one of the key differentiation of our portfolio has in the marketplace.

In addition to being full of jargon like “key differentiation of our portfolio” this video does not deliver on the promise to design for inclusion or to reach every possible human being on the planet. This video on accessibility excludes blind and visually impaired people and that sucks.


Bitmoji of Tara holding up a sign that says "NO"

This morning I received an email asking me to peer review a book proposal for Chandos Publishing, the Library and Information Studies imprint of Elsevier. Initially I thought it was spam because of some sloppy punctuation and the “Dr. Robertson” salutation.

When other people pointed out that this likely wasn’t spam my ego was flattered for a few minutes and I considered it. I was momentarily confused–would participating in Elsevier’s book publishing process be evil? Isn’t it different from their predatory pricing models with libraries and roadblocks to sharing research more broadly? I have a lot to learn about scholarly publishing, but decided that I’m not going to contribute my labour to a company that are jerks to librarians, researchers and libraries.

Here’s some links I found useful:

Amy Buckland’s pledge to support open access

Mita Williams pointed me to The Cost of Knowledge petition, which I also encourage you to sign.

using Pop Up Archive to help create a transcript

I had the pleasure of being on Circulating Ideas with Steve Thomas. We talked about a bunch of things including open textbooks, accessibility, alternate formats, and being a systems librarian. He’s a great host and an interesting person to chat with. The interview went up last week.

Without a transcript a podcast isn’t accessible to Deaf and some Hard of Hearing people. It felt strange to be talking about accessibility and universal design and have it be in an audio-only format. So I decided to produce a transcript.

I heard the folks from Pop Up Archive present at code4lib in Portland. Pop Up Archive makes sound searchable using speech-to-text technology. Their clients are mostly public radio broadcasters who are looking to make their sound archives searchable. I remember thinking at code4lib that this could be an interesting tool to help make politics more accessible and transparent. For example, transcripts could be made available fairly quickly after a municipal committee (or provincial or federal committee) met.  The transcript is almost the byproduct of this process.

I was curious how it could be used to produce a transcript. I was also curious about how accurate the machine transcript was, as well as how long it would take me to clean up. First, you upload the sound file. Next, you can add metadata about the file you uploaded. Then Pop Up Archive processes your sound file. The machine transcript takes as long as your file is, in my case 39 minutes, to process. The machine transcript was about 80% accurate. Finally you can edit the machine transcript on their platform. It took me about 2 hours to clean up a 39 minute interview.

Continue reading using Pop Up Archive to help create a transcript