Category Archives: Blog

BCLA Conference – Content Licensing: Negotiating the Shadows

I was asked to be the librarian on this panel at the BCLA conference that was moderated by Ken Roberts. The other panellists were Roland Lorimer (Director of the Publishing programs and the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at SFU), Michael Vonn (lawyer and has been the Policy Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association) and Kevin Williams (President, Publisher and majority partner of Talonbooks).

For the most part we were in agreement, which surprised me. Towards the end I realized that I was sitting between a former Access Copyright board member (Roland) and a current Access Copyright board member (Kevin). Things got a little livelier then with some librarians from the audience challenging Roland and Kevin’s ideas on what fair and reasonable copyright fees look like.

Here’s my opening statement.

The current business model for ebooks sucks for libraries and library users. Libraries need to work with authors, and perhaps publishers to make a new model. Playing by the current rules does not serve our users and it doesn’t serve libraries.

Electronic content in libraries is such a broad issue. Fiction ebooks in public libraries is a completely different world from open textbooks in post secondary institutions. I’m much more familiar with the post secondary context.

So, I haven’t tried to access an ebook or audiobook through the public library for a couple of years. I was wondering if the experience was still as bad as that cartoon “Why DRM doesn’t work, or how to download an audiobook from the Cleveland Public Library”.

22 frustrating steps for downloading an ebook through the Cleveland Public Library using Overdrive: find book you’re looking for, add book to cart, login and check out your book, get a download link, boot up Windows, download proprietary software, install software, get cryptic error, Google your problem, learn you need an updated security certificate, open Windows Media Player, download new security certificate, learn that you need to update Windows Media Player, install update, reboot Windows, start up Overdrive Media Player, get another cryptic error message, insert profanity, give up on stupid library, open bittorrent site, click download, enjoy audiobook

As a librarian the “give up on stupid library” concerns and worries me the most.

I wondered if things have improved. Last week I tried to download an ebook version of John Grisham’s The Rackateers through my library.

These were the steps:

  • go to library website
  • figure out which ebook link to click on
  • search for Rackateers, my search turns up nothing. realize i’ve spelled it incorrectly, though the interface doesn’t give me any suggestions on how to correctly spell it.
  • see that there are 0 copies available, and that there are 6 patron holds, Initially I made a mistake and went through the wrong version of Overdrive and saw that there were 500 people waiting in the province.
  • decide to queue up to wait and click the “place a hold” button
  • hit the authenticatication screen, go looking for my library card because there’s no way i remember the 13 digit library barcode number
  • place a hold
  • open bittorrent site
  • click download
  • enjoy audiobook

I had the .mobi and .epub formats in less than a minute. In 3 years the number have steps has decreased a bunch, but ultimately the outcome has not changed. I wasn’t able to get what I wanted from my library but I was able to bittorrent it quickly and easily.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Are we there yet?” The answer is “no, no we are not.”

I don’t think any of this is new information for people in this room. We all know that the Overdrive experience is sub-optimal and yet most of us feel stuck in the middle. Friends who work in public libraries have said it’s awkward to try and explain that it’s not the library that sucks, but it’s a combination of the vendor and the publishers that are making this hard. (This excuse doesn’t matter to most of our patrons.) Playing by the existing rules is an endorsement.

Let me make one thing clear: the solutions we come up with need to compensate content creators. When I go to work I expect to get paid, and I expect the same for my friends who are authors. I know that John Grisham will not get paid for the ebooks I downloaded. This is what we are losing out on by not being more proactive and creative in helping shape the business models around ebooks.

When he was on sabbatical the awesome Gordon Coleman from BC ELN was curious about the availability of best sellers on download sites. He put his expert “search and find” skills in his back pocket and Googled using a naive search persona. Gordon was able to quickly find 49/50 of Amazon’s best sellers.

He observed that much of unauthorized copying of ebooks seemed to be driven by love of books and desire to communicate, share and recommend. For example, the book review blogs which link to unauthorized copies, and also anonymous people who select favourite titles to build themed collections which are then available as single downloads: “The best 50 business books of 2010″ or “The complete works of Terry Pratchett”.

Gordon wrote in an email to me:

I thought about the root of what drove it…a love of books, a desire to share that love, a desire to pick and choose and recommend…and I thought: who else possesses these traits? Oh yes, LIBRARIANS. In fact file sharing is motivated by many of the same things that motivate us; in other words, the pirates ARE librarians without the MLIS. In a way they’re continuing the true spirit of what we do, but outside the walls of the library and not encumbered by any of the institutional crap and licence agreements we’ve agreed to.

I think my intro time is up, but as this conversation continues I’d like to share some ideas on other business models for ebooks that don’t suck.


I think the Humble Bundle model could be viable for queer/LGBT authors publishing with independent publishers. I hope to write a post soon outlining some initial thoughts about what I think this could look like.

egcon2013: open library ecosystem

egcon2013 website header image by Jon Whipple
egcon2013 design work by Jon Whipple

I just finished chairing the organizing committee for the International Evergreen conference in Vancouver. It’s been more than a year of planning and a labour of love. From our own evaluation and from participant feedback we put on a really excellent conference. Now that I’m caught up on sleep here’s some of my thoughts.

Why this was an awesome organizing experience for me

  • great community – the Evergreen community is awesome. People are kind, hardworking and have a DIY get ‘er done kinda attitude. I don’t write code, so can’t make that kind of contribution to the project, but I am good at event planning. While I’m sure I could organize an event for a group of people I didn’t know, it’s easier and more fulfilling to do this for a community of people I care deeply about. One of my first jobs out of library school was doing training and support for the Sitka Evergreen installation in BC. I learned a lot and this experience helped me get interesting library technology jobs. I feel grateful for the skills I built and to the people who mentored me. On a personal level it feels good to be able to contribute something back to the Evergreen community.
  • great organizing team – This was the second conference that we’ve organized together. I have a lot of respect and admiration for these folks: Anita Cocchia (BCELN), Caroline Daniels (KPU), Mark Ellis (RPL), Mark Jordan (SFU), Paul Joseph (UBC) and Shirley Lew (VCC). While Ben Hyman (BC Libraries Coop) wasn’t on the organizing committee he did a stellar job of communicating with and buffering us from the Evergreen Oversight Board and the Software Freedom Conservancy. We all work hard and trust each other. I’ve learned a bunch of soft and hard skills from this group. I enjoyed our group dynamic and loved working together. We were comfortable asking questions and challenging each other. There were a bunch of times i felt like, as a group, we came up with a way better decision than any one of us as individuals would have.

Things that didn’t cost anything and added value

  • We had an amazing team of volunteers who did live note taking as well as helping out stream the technical track. These folks were super enthusiastic and committed. The live notes are written documentation of the conference that makes it easier for everyone to write reports afterwards. One of the participants said “The team of note-takers was awesome.  It let me focus on how any given session could affect my work, without worrying that I’d miss something important as I chased down random thoughts.” For me they function as a quick summary of a video, and I’ll likely scan the notes of the sessions that I missed to figure out which videos I want to watch. Many thanks to Kimberly GarmoeEka GrguricMary JinglewskiJonathan Kift, Jonathan Schatz, and David Waddell.
  • No-host lunches were a great way to get people outside the building to see a little bit of Vancouver. They also were a way to create a structured opportunity to socialise in small groups. From an organizing perspective it wasn’t a lot of work. We created a map of places that are nearby the venue with tasty food that can accommodate 8 people, found locals who were willing to lead the groups, and put out signup sheets (7 people plus a leader). We made sure we identified places for vegetarians and gluten free folks. According to participant feedback the no-host lunches were a big hit. Also, we had a really tight budget, so this allowed us to provide something for lunch without actually having to pay for it. We did this for the Access conference, but didn’t organize it enough and it was a bit chaotic. With a bit more forethought this time things went much more smoothly.

Live note taking and no-host lunches are ideas that can be adapted to any kind of conference or event, not just an open source library software event.

This was the first time that the conference proceedings were streamed. It was expensive to pay for AV for the main track, but I think is important and should be a requirement of future conferences. There were a total of 183 people watching the live stream from the United States, Canada, Czech Republic, Japan, Mexico, Finland and the UK. As Mark, Shirley and Ben from the BC Library Coop were willing to figure out a DIY streaming solution for the tech track, we were able to also do this for next to no money. It was awesome to hear from someone watching in Mexico (a CS Masters student who is implementing Evergreen for two university libraries) via Twitter. Thank you to Sam Mills for volunteering to edit the video from the main track and to Mark Jordan for getting it up on the Internet Archive.

this is a love letter

Photo credit: Danita Thewalkingcrime

I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it to code4lib this year in Chicago. Instead I tuned in via the Livestream and have rewatched a couple of talks several times. The presentations that have been had the biggest impact on me at code4lib and other conferences are the ones where I feel an emotional connection with the speaker or when I know the presenter is stretching out of their comfort zone to push against the edges of what’s possible. The speakers who resonate most deeply for me are ones who take an emotional risk and name their personal stake in their work or give me a glimpse of the complexity of who they are.

Bess Sadler’s talk titled Creating a Commons moved me to tears at my desk. I love her values, intelligence and bravery. Her comments about community are spot on:

Hydra, in additional to being a digital repository solution, is a community. In fact, increasinly this seems like our primary identity. What we are finding is the ability to collaborate on common solutions is more important than any single project. This gives us resiliency and room to experiment. I think having a community makes us feel safe enough to take risks. And sharing work frees up our time to innovate. By trusting in each other and cultivating in each other willingness to experiment. We get to try cool experiments like Fedora4lib.

Bess talked about how she ways that she has hacked code4lib. I love how she modeled behaviour for “receiving a bug report” from a colleague about the original title of her talk. I hope she posts the text of her talk soon, because she there were some excellent soundbites about libraries, software, our values, “hacker epistemology” and concrete ideas on how to grow the code4lib community in a more inclusive way for the benefit of all. (Edit: Bess has posted the text of her talk.)

I’ve watched Mark Matienzo’s lightning talk a few times and it still gives me goosebumps. I thought I understood what he was saying, but now I’m not sure. Currently I’m lost down the rabbit hole of some awesome links (1, 2) that he shared about Tim Sherratt’s work, especially the real face of white Australians project.

Mark’s post about his lightning talk is intellectually rich and has given me some big ideas to chew on. However, this is the most powerful part for me, where he makes the personal political:

Through depression and loss I have learned that keeping my emotions private was deleterous to my well-being. Making them public was a necessity, even to just a selected public. It also dawned on me that acknowledging emotion publicly could be a political act or bound with political expression, which I surprisingly discovered as also being present in some of Ann Cvetkovich’s more recent work. Expressing emotion itself could also, in some cases, become an expression or assertion of power. The hardest part of this, at least, was finding my voice.

Thank you Bess and Mark for talking about emotion at the most technical library conference out there. It was a brave, inspring and radical thing to do. The work that folks in the code4lib community is so awesome, but how we choose to do it is also awesome. Some days at work I lose hope that we will be able to accomplish our lofty goals. The work that people in the code4lib community do, the ways that we’re working to be more inclusive community, and the things that we accomplish when we work together give me hope.

Thank you code4lib. I love you folks so much.


Big ideas for libraries in communities

I was super excited and completely terrified to be shortlisted to pitch my idea for what digitization in public libraries could look like. Public speaking is scary for me, and getting up in front of a room of people to present one of my ideas is even more scary. I haven’t really worked with digital collections, so it feels quite presumptuous to pitch my ideas about how I think this could be done to people who actually work in digital collections.

It was also exhilarating. Thanks Baharak Yousefi, SFU Surrey Library, for doing a great job organizing this event. I’ve been chatting with colleagues about how to get beyond the operational business of work and make time to think about why libraries matter and think about the kinds of collections and services libraries need to develop to be useful and relevant.

The audience was invited to leave comments, offer critiques, or suggestions on slips of paper for the presenters. Two of the comments that I delighted me were “libraries are memory institutions” and “love the idea of preserving collective memories”.

I’m so thrilled to have the chance to turn my pitch into a funding proposal for the Vancouver Foundation who announced that they will be funding two of the projects up to $10,000. Yahoo!

lesbrarian buttons

lesbrarian flag

Several years ago I decided I wanted to get a group of lesbrarians together for the Dyke March. The night before the Dyke March I used some paint from the dollar store on a sheet to make a Venn diagram illustrating the overlap between lesbian and librarian. That photo has gone around the internet a few times now, been included as an entry in Urban Dictionary, shown up in Questionable Content, an awesome webcomic. This year I wanted something different and Kathleen Jacques agreed to design something new.

I picked up the buttons for this year’s Vancouver Dyke March the other night and I love them. Designers like her are amazing–the final design was better than anything I could’ve articulated.

Here’s some of her explanation about the design choices she made:

What do you think of this Lesbrarians family? It struck me that, if there are going to be multiples for buttons (and potential other uses), it’d be cool to have versions with splashes of solid color so that they kind of do a rainbow as a set. I ended up with five: three shushers and two book-lurkers. My general idea is that it’s a family with a unified visual identity, but with flexibility within it. I think I like the black lineart/color background better than the solid colored ones…what do you think?

My rationale for the font goes like so:

  1. the condensed narrowness lets the word be a little bigger in small spaces, yet it’s still easy to read
  2. the ALLCAPS makes a punchy rectangular form that’s easy to fit and stack and curve in various ways
  3. the slab serif is kind of reminiscent of old typewriter or book text, but the font itself is a contemporary design (and an independent one that’s available for free, which is cool)
butchy book peeper

curly haired profile shusher with book

green two-tone hair profile shusher

blue shushy McBunheadhalf shaved baby dyke book peeper

lesbrarian text button

I was super happy with Chris Bentzen‘s button making. He was fast, inexpensive and they look great. Also, he lives in my neighbourhood so it was really convenient for me.

I’ll be selling buttons for $1 each to recouperate the money in paying for the design and the cost of getting the buttons made. At some point I’ll make an online store and also have tshirts and bookbags, but if you want some now get in touch.

Happy Pride!

lesbrarians vol. 3

lesbrarian, complete with bun, winking over an open book

I’m super excited about the new lesbrarian logo that Kathleen Jacques has been working on. This isn’t the final one, but it’ll be close. I hope to have buttons made in time for the Vancouver Dyke March.

If you’re a queer lady working in libraries, archives or just a fangirl, please consider this your invitation to join us. Feel free to dress up as the stereotype or not. I’ll be there at 11am, though the march doesn’t leave McSpadden Park until noon. We’ll have lesbrarian approved booklists to give out to people. If you have other ideas, please let me know. (I’ve had fantasies about a book cart drill team, but the logistics of acquiring the book trucks and returning them seem like too much of a pain during the busy Pride weekend.)

RSVP on Facebook, or just show up. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Get in touch.


new job

This is my second week at CILS, a unit that serves post-secondary students with print disabilities by creating alternate formats like: etext, accessible PDFs, Kurzweil and DAISY. I’m getting familiar with our production workflows, cataloging alternate formats and the related policy issues around alternate format production: stuff like copyright and advocacy. I’m also trying to remember new names, figure out where things are and get around the Langara campus without getting lost.

Print disabilities, alternate formats and (web) accessibility are a new areas for me. Which blogs and sites should I be reading? Who should I be following on Twitter?

Evergreen Unsung Heroes

I was inspired by Chris Cormack’s excellent series of blog posts highlighting awesome people in the Koha community. I wanted to adapt Chris’ idea to the Evergreen community. Here’s the call for submissions from a few months ago.

I have two observations from the last few months. First, people were reluctant to promote themselves and write bios listing all their accomplishments. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. It was more effective to ask someone’s coworker, colleague or boss to highlight their contributions. I like that our community values humility, but know that most people enjoy being recognized for work that they are proud of. Second, some people felt that the work that they did was insignificant and not worthy of being recognized. Almost all of these people were women who had been nominated by other people in the community. After an email or two all of these people agreed to be profiled.
I’m going to continue this project for the next year. I’m sure the design students at Emily Carr University will do something interesting with this content (ebook? website? deck of playing cards? laser engraved beef jerky?) for the Evergreen 2013 conference.

sharing serial prediction patterns

One of the core strengths of libraries is shared standards and sharing library data. Since we migrated to Evergreen in May I’ve been doing migration cleanup, implementing acquisitions and trying to figure out serials. Setting up serial prediction patterns is ugly in any ILS because prediction patterns are ugly.

There’s a great opportunity for the open source ILS world (both the Koha and Evergreen) communities to develop a standard so that libraries using these systems can save time and money by sharing serial prediction patterns. As more academic libraries are considering migrating to Evergreen, this would also help remove a barrier to selecting Evergreen. While it’s painful and annoying for me to manually set up all of our serial prediction patterns, I work in a small library, so it’s still possible. There’s only about 150. For a large university library it would not be possible set up a prediction pattern for each title.

Examples of serial prediction patterns

Can you guess what these prediction patterns describe?

  • Published Monday – Saturday, except for Christmas Day. Issues are identified by date. (daily newspaper in most cities)
  • Published weekly on Thursday, except for a double issue in the last two weeks of December. Issues are numbered continuously and four volumes are published annually, starting in Jan, Apr, Jul, Oct (The Economist)
  • Published twice monthly, except monthly in Jan, Jul, Aug, Dec. Issue numbers restart in each volume, which starts in Jan (Library Journal)

None of these are terribly complicated and yet they are still pretty messy. Thanks to David Fiander for letting me pinch these examples from his slides.

What’s a serial prediction pattern? Who cares?

Scholarly journals/magazines/periodicals/newspapers are published on different schedules. For example, some are published weekly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or yearly. There are also cataloguing codes for semiregularly, 3 times a year, biennial, triennial, and completely irregular.

In academic libraries it’s important to know if the library has a specific issue of a title, as users are most often looking for a specific article in a specific issue of a title. Generally, in public libraries this level of detail is not necessary. However, if libraries shared these prediction patterns perhaps more public libraries might use them.

Prediction patterns are also used to figure out which issues of a title should have arrived but haven’t. Libraries can then claim the missing issues with the vendor or directly with the publisher. (As an aside, I think journal claiming is a silly process that involves a lot of correspondence that doesn’t often end up in the issue being replaced. Some libraries are giving up on claiming for each issue.) Still, it’s important for both the user and the library to know which issues are missing in a run.

If serial prediction patterns interests you I highly recommend watching David’s webinar from 2009 on this topic.

What’s information is included in a serial prediction pattern?

There’s a bunch of information in a MFHD record, namely:


  • Hierarchy of enumeration, for example volume, issue, number, part (can have up to 6 levels in the hierarchy)
  • Does the numbering restart? If so, when?


  • How often does the title come? weekly? monthly? 4 times a year?
  • Are there exceptions to this pattern? If so, what are they?

Pattern (both publication and enumeration)

  • When is the journal published?
  • What publications will be omitted?
  • What issues will be combined?

Next steps

I’m not really sure what the next steps are. I think the open source ILS communities are best positioned to tackle this and figure out a standard way of sharing prediction patterns. We might want to talk to serials and cataloguing experts, like perhaps the folks at CONSER or NASIG. Perhaps it would be useful to talk to folks at OCLC or NISO. We might want to look outside the libraryland–what other industries are sharing information about odd, picky, sometimes irregular patterns? How are they doing things and what can we learn?

I’ll be presenting on this topic at the Evergreen conference next week and want to explore some next steps with people. I’ll be copresenting with Grace Dunbar and Mike Rylander from Equinox Software on Resource Sharing in Evergreen on Friday, April 27th from 3-4pm


welcome to code4lib

This was my first code4lib. It was awesome and one of the best library things I’ve ever been to–I’m inspired by the work people are doing, I’m excited to research new things and most importantly I feel like I’ve finally found my people in libraries.

I have been reluctant to go to code4lib in the past, as I’d heard it was a hostile environment for women. While I’ve heard about a couple of crappy incidents in the past, this was by far the most welcoming tech event I have ever been to. Here are some of the things that the code4lib community is doing to make the community and conference welcoming and inclusive place.

Community norms
While code4lib is a really loose community there are strong informal community norms. The community leaders (who would likely balk at being identified as community leaders) socialize new people by demonstrating what the community values (openness, sharing, creativity, humour and craft beer) in informal and slightly more formal ways. An example of a more formal way is Declan‘s post on hacking code4lib, which includes some guidelines for IRC:

Don’t be sexist/racist/*ist

It’s great to be funny, maybe even a little blue at times, but be careful about steering into areas that make segments of the world uncomfortable, or even feel attacked. We are in a very interesting niche of the technology world. Our librarian population is primarily female, but our technical aspects of librarianship tend to be more stereotypically white and male. We have a wonderful opportunity to attract and promote equality in our field and there’s no reason to make an underrepresented group feel unwanted just to get a couple laughs.

Seeing the gender imbalance written out and reading that this is an opportunity to promote equality makes me relax as I know there are other people who notice that this is a predominantly male environment. I really dislike how some people equate having an environment that is welcoming to women as politically correct unfun spaces. People are funny, in person, in IRC and on the mailing list, yet I don’t feel like the jokes are racist, sexist or homophobic. There’s some “that’s what she said” banter, but I didn’t hear “website that even your mom could use” rubbish or comments that made me angry, sad or feel like I was not among my people. It’s possible to be clever and funny without being a sexist douche.

It’s awesome to see a community put some money where their mouth is. There are  scholarships to promote gender and cultural diversity. I love that gender diversity are includes both women and transgender people. This is another language flag that signals to me that these are my people and they get it.

Newcomer dinners
The newcomer dinners are a great way for new folks to meet people. It’s hard to have indepth conversations with large groups, so having dinner with 6-8 people is perfect. For a community that is more introverts than extroverts, this is a great way for people to connect. It would be better to schedule these for the first night, instead of the second night of the conference.

It was good to see a number of smart women presenting. The code4lib community has their own (broken? see some notes from Erik Hetzner’s lightening talk) way of voting for presentations.

It’s tricky–I want to see more women attending and presenting, but I don’t want to see women presenting on topics that aren’t appropriate for a technical audience. I think this is setting some women up to fail and reinforces that women aren’t doing good technical work. When I helped select the program for Access 2011 one of our goals was to aim for equality in the ratio of male:female presenters. While I think the liberal feminist strategy of counting the number of women is useful, it is also limited. After reviewing the submissions that we received I contacted a few women who I thought would have interesting things to present and invited them to present at Access. I didn’t want presenters to feel tokenized because of their gender but I didn’t want to organize a conference that was mostly men presenting.

Encouragement from code4lib vetrans
At Access both Bess Sadler and Karen Coombs encouraged me to go to code4lib. I have a lot of respect and admiration for these two geeky women who do great work. A lot of other folks in the code4lib community also encouraged me to go too. I’m so glad I did, as I met so many awesome people, have some more insights on how to put on events, learned some new things and am inspired to hack my library’s culture.

This year about 22% of the participants were women, and 38% of the presenters were women. On my bike rides to work I’ve been pondering what an ideal code4lib looks like in terms of women’s participation. It will never be a 50-50 split, and I’m not sure if that’s a super useful way to assess things. Many communities struggle with how to be inclusive while retaining their core focus. I think code4lib is doing a bunch of things right. Thank you everyone who has put their energy into making code4lib such an awesome conference and community, and doing interesting and awesome work in libraries with technology.

Also, thanks Equinox Software for the scholarship, Erik Hatcher from Lucid Imagination for your registration slot, and Kathleen Jacques for the Photoshop help.

Edit: Bohyun Kim and Becky Yoose started a Google Doc as a place to brainstorm ways to make code4lib more welcoming for newbies, go add your clever ideas there.