All posts by Mirela Roncevic

The flawed (and outdated) art of categorizing books and knowledge

books-401896During my years as a Library Journal book review editor, I spent countless hours each week sorting through books (then physical objects only) to figure out what goes where. When I started my editorial career (in the late 1990s), book categories made a lot more sense than they did when I left the book review job in 2010. I can’t count the times I went back and forth with my Library Journal colleagues about whether a newly arrived print galley belonged in my or someone else’s “pile,” to be assigned for review.

Is it Military History or Politics? But couldn’t it also be Law & Crime? Is it Literature because it’s literary or Self-help because it’s about a writer’s spiritual journey? Is it Philosophy or Religion? And what if it’s always at least three categories combined? Questions like these were part of our daily dialog. In retrospect, my colleagues and I made educated guesses every day when assigning books for review and I have no doubt that we didn’t always make the right ones. The way we printed book reviews in the magazine corresponded to the way books were categorized in libraries. Since we were the ones instructing librarians what to buy (by category), we were essentially driving the way books would be made available to patrons in libraries. Quite a responsibility.

When I started handling electronic products (ebooks and databases), in the early 2000s, it became easier to figure out how to categorize content in digital environments. SCOPUS really is science. SAGE resources are usually, if not always, social science. Well, kind of. “Social science” by its definition is anything but clear-cut and incorporates a number of other disciplines. I remember my LJ interview with H. James Birx, the editor of SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Time, who explained to me at the time that the entries in the A-Z ranged from covering time as a purely scientific phenomenon to those discussing literary novels that explored the concept of time in various ways. So, in a way, The Encyclopedia of Time was a classic ‘reference’ that belonged in Social Sciences, but would also be of interest and great use to literature and science scholars.

I could spend hours citing similar examples that point to how books and electronic products sold to libraries and institutions of learning are getting harder to categorize with each passing year. Which has led me to wonder: Is it time to rethink the way content (in all its forms) is categorized? More precisely: have we reached a point in the evolution of the book to make the discovery of content more in tune with the multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary nature of the world we live in? Should the future goal for publishers and libraries be to get rid of categories as we know them and completely re-wire our thinking to come up with new ways to ‘sort’ knowledge? And how would we do it?

If we consider that the categorization of content has for centuries been tied to the print book—the physical object that has always demanded to be placed on a shelf, which also includes books exploring similar topics or belonging in the same ‘category’—doesn’t it make sense to apply completely different methods when organizing digital content? If shelving books in a categorical order makes sense in a physical library, does it make as much sense in a virtual one? Of course not.

Let’s look no further than to the World Wide Web for clues. How is the world’s information sorted in this vast open space we can’t imagine our lives without? Where do we begin when we ‘enter’ the Internet and need to get to particular information? We usually begin with a simple ‘Search’ screen. If we want to look something up, we don’t first try to decipher where ‘the term’ belongs before we can ‘zoom in’ to get to ‘it.’ In the virtual world, the topic is more important than the category. The category, it seems, has become obsolete.

For the past few years I have had persistent thoughts about why our seemingly organized world of online content is limiting the research experience of students and scholars by limiting the focus of library resources. For the most part, library collections and resources still tell us that History is History, Art is Art, Literature is Literature, and Science is Science. Even publishers and content creators are recognized within the industry by the ‘type’ of category they specialize in: Alexander Street Press, for example, is synonymous with performing arts; Salem Press is synonymous with literature, Adam Matthew is synonymous with history. While I do not wish to undermine the benefits of specialized publishing in a highly competitive and over-saturated book and content market, I am becoming increasingly more aware of their limitations when placed in the context of online research.

Content formats have been blending for years now. It’s common nowadays to enter a library resource and see books next to journals and multimedia files next to plain text.  Doesn’t it then also make sense to break through categorization of content in the same way we have been able to break through the rigidity of keeping ‘containers’ separate in older versions of library databases? To be fair, this isn’t a new concept but judging from the sheer number of resources produced each year (and sold to libraries), the emphasis still remains on preserving rather than defying the concept of categories.

When news broke out recently of Finland’s plans to overhaul its (already advanced) education system in the near future by moving away from ‘teaching by subject’ to ‘teaching by topics’ in its secondary schools, it caught some educators by surprise, but I’d argue that it goes in line with an awareness that a multi-disciplinary world demands a multi-disciplinary approach to education and research. So shouldn’t those of us in the business of creating, publishing and packaging content also move in that direction?

As explained in this article, Finish students who are learning about the European Union, for example, will simultaneously be exposed to several subjects, including the languages of the EU members, history, geography and current events. Shouldn’t the same methods be applied to research? When a student is learning about a topic, shouldn’t he or she be exposed to as much varied content as possible covering that topic from every angle and not be sent to a subject-specific category? Thinking back to those years at Library Journal, I’d say that at least one third of the books we assigned for review defied categorization. Today, the number is probably significantly higher.

Since the beginning of time, it seems, publishers and library vendors have produced subject-specific (category-driven) resources fully aligned with school and university curricula. In fact, a significant portion of content creator’s marketing budget is allocated toward ensuring that each new product is aligned with what is taught in schools and universities, so that it can be effectively sold to libraries. This is especially prevalent in the United States. Librarians who directly participate in the creation of products (via Advisory Boards, focus groups, etc.), have a great deal of power in how content is packaged because they echo back to the creators (i.e., vendors) what is in demand. And what is in demand is usually dictated by the institutions those libraries serve.

My point: the shift from ‘categories’ (and subjects) to ‘topics’ has been happening for some time now and is, in fact, all around us. But digital products and resources sold to and used by libraries, schools and universities, including, for example, databases, ebook collections, and e-learning platforms, aren’t exactly keeping up. To be fair, they’ve made great strides compared to what they looked like 20 years ago, but there is still a sense of disconnect about them that isn’t aligned with how modern-day research flows.

We (who work in publishing and libraries) still have the need to clean up the ‘mess,’ because what is out there manifests to us as one big inter-disciplinary mess that we need to get into ‘order’ first before producing and sharing. So we take Fiction and break it into Literary, Mystery, Thrillers, Fantasy, etc. We take Arts and break it into Fine Arts, Photography, Graphic Arts, Interior Design, Performing Arts, etc.

But what if we embraced the mess and worked toward adding more fluidity to research by insisting that resources move away from categories and subjects and move toward topics in completely new ways? What if an art history student studying the work of Van Gogh, for example, could benefit from a mystery novel written by a historian, in which Van Gogh the painter is the main character solving a murder? And this was a highly literary and intriguing novel heavily based on historical facts? How would that student discover such a novel inside an Arts resource recommended to him for research by his professor or librarian? And who would decide this novel’s value as a research tool?

Imagine that student starting his research by simply using the term ‘Van Gogh’ and not needed a subject-specific source to be recommended to him. Imagine him researching the painter across categories in a way that the concept of categories doesn’t even exist.

The physical world will always require organization visible and discernible to the human eye. But in virtual and digital settings, the written word and knowledge will continue to defy categorization and lead us in the direction of fluidity and uniformity. And speaking of uniformity, I can’t help but think that in that not-so-distant future, there will also come a point when content produced outside academia (by qualified, knowledgeable non-scholars, of whom there are many) will co-exist with the content produced ‘inside’ institutions and touted as ‘authentic’ and ‘authoritative.’ But that merits a separate article—the kind of article that also explores the unification of public, academic and school libraries.

It’s all going in the direction of a completely inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary universe. A river of knowledge that flows to everyone and everywhere. No boundaries. Categories as we know them (e.g., History, Literature, Science) become obsolete. Research is centered around topics and topics are living organisms that grow in every way already possible (and not yet possible).


Mirela Roncevic is NSR Director. She is also the founder of the Free Reading initiative. Her full employment history is available on LinkedIn. Contact her directly at mirelaroncevic@gmail.com.

 

Croatia Reads was not about Croatia [but about free access to books for all mankind]

croatia-map-828-x-315-a

This is Article 3 (following What readers want and What books want) in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series of articles on NSR, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016.


So what exactly  happened with ebooks in Croatia in December of 2016? The first two articles in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series, which focused on why the project was immensely beneficial for readers and books (and the future of books), left some questions unanswered, owing largely to my affinity for describing life’s experiences (not just this one) not in a linear fashion but instead in the way in which they get stored in my memory. This often has little to do with chronology and more to do with how various lessons from the experience present themselves to  me after the fact.

The Croatia Reads project, which I founded and managed, was many things to many people who are, in one way or another, affected by books either because they write them, read them, sell them, distribute them, or manage them. In retrospect, and perhaps more than anything, Croatia Reads was an attempt to present the library of the future in all its invisible glory. And this library is able to (finally) fully democratize the written word by virtue of becoming completely invisible, thus accessible to all people, all at once. This, as I’ve written in various other posts, is the vision I have both for the industry I love and have devoted two decades of my life to and for the world, which I’ve had the privilege of experiencing through life on three continents.

The idea came to me about a year ago in the midst of a meeting I was having with my (at the time) colleagues at Total Boox, the company behind the pay-as-you-read ebook model for libraries and direct consumers. Continue reading Croatia Reads was not about Croatia [but about free access to books for all mankind]

ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban

proquest_logo_186_notag

Kudos to ProQuest for this.

From a ProQuest press release:

No-charge access to ProQuest databases helps individuals continue their research and learning

ProQuest has launched a program to provide no-cost access to its databases for students and researchers who have been separated from their universities and libraries because of travel bans or other immigration changes. The company has an email hotline ContinueMyResearch@proquest.com where these displaced researchers can arrange for access to the materials they need to continue their work.

“ProQuest is an open and inclusive organization that takes its role in supporting research and learning very seriously,” said Kurt Sanford, ProQuest CEO. “We’re doing whatever we can to mitigate the interruptions facing our community of students and scholars around the world.” Continue reading ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban

Free Content Alert: Internet Archive

chains-book-bw1-002

Ari Sigal has joined the NSR team to draw our attention to free content and free books online each week. Ari shares my passion for free access to knowledge beyond institutions, zip codes, and library cards (and he is a librarian, so his support is extra special). I thank him for agreeing to come on board and enlighten our readers about the wealth of good free content online available for discovery. I look forward to his tour of free books in digital format every Friday and learning from his evaluations. This week we highlight the omnipresent Internet Archive.—Mirela Roncevic, NSR Editorial Director


INTERNET ARCHIVE

internet archive

This week’s post on free sources considers the Internet Archive, and it’s a bit complex. Not that I want it to be, but it typifies DRM issues. If you bear with me, I believe you’ll find the result worthwhile.

First, the straightforward part: Internet Archive (IA)  is a true nonprofit, founded in 1996, and headquartered in San Francisco. According to a lengthy wiki on IA, its size was 15 petabytes. (A petabyte is 10 to the fifteenth power in bytes, or a million gigs.) Its stated mission is to provide “universal access to all knowledge.” The basic stats are staggering. Wiki continues,

It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books…In addition to its archiving function, the         Archive  is an activist organization, advocating for a free and open Internet. The Internet Archive allows the public to upload and download digital material to its data cluster, but the bulk of its data is collected automatically by its web crawlers, which work to preserve as much of the public web as possible. Its web archive, the Wayback Machine, contains over 150 billion web captures. The Archive also oversees one of the world’s largest book digitization projects. Continue reading Free Content Alert: Internet Archive

What books want (and what we are misunderstanding)

What books want

Article 2 in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series

This is Article 2 (following What readers want) in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series of articles on NSR, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016. The series is not meant to be a standard academic case study of all that various numbers and figures prove and don’t prove about the future of books and reading. It is an attempt to draw from the experience in a way that highlights all that is missing but within our reach. Croatia Reads was/is meant to give us a glimpse of a future that holds so much promise for the written word. In this future things look radically different than they do today, but the possibilities (and opportunities) for all who work with books are endless.


I start by responding to what I have heard publishers, librarians, and authors say for many years (especially in recent months), and what I no longer relate to as a publishing professional, passionate writer, life-long learner, and restless reader. This idea—this insistence—that books and knowledge must be protected. That there is a lot of logic behind how books are written, how they are published and distributed, and how they are curated and ‘saved’ for future generations. But is there? What if there used to be a lot more logic behind it all than there is today?

Books, I see now, do not want to be guarded or protected. They do not care to belong to any entity (human or artificial) and, in fact, do not want to belong even to those who create them (authors), claim them (publishers), and collect them (librarians). Books don’t want to be recommended and they don’t want to be judged. Like traveling souls yearning to meet a curious companion on their journey, they want to be free to reach the reader on their own terms. They want a relationship with the reader that is genuine and organic and does not involve outside forces.  And it is clear: they can only accomplish all this in digital format. Continue reading What books want (and what we are misunderstanding)

Knowledge Unlatched announces plans for 2017

 

Knowledge UnlatchedNSR (supporter of all initiatives bringing open and free access to books and knowledge), is always glad to hear from the folks at Knowledge Unlatched. They shared some news in an email yesterday. Here is an excerpt from the email and the news article on their site:

Knowledge Unlatched’s Plans for 2017

The year is already off to an exciting start as we see pledges come in from libraries all over the world who wish to support KU Select 2016; our HSS e-book collection featuring books from 54 publishers on 5 continents, curated by 40 acquisitions and collections librarians in 12 countries. The outcome of the library pledging period will be published in February.

Knowledge Unlatched is very active in developing Open Access. Our goal is clear: we want to make KU a platform for different Open Access initiatives to allow them to focus on developing their models whilst broadening the funding structure.

1. With JSTOR, KU is testing an experiment on usage. All KU Pilot and Round 2 titles will be hosted and fully available as Open Access on JSTOR, without cost to users.

2. We will soon be ready to add geolocational usage data to the COUNTER-compliant stats libraries are already receiving for unlatched books.

3. In summer we will help OAPEN, one of our hosting partners since the beginning of KU, to distribute their institutional repository version to libraries. This will be an important step to also help “green” OA to advance within institutions.

4. Together with Language Science Press, we are exploring opportunities to gather funding for Open Access from a larger variety of organisations. So far we’ve sought support exclusively from libraries. Now we will be testing a new multi-stakeholder model, including other funders in support of OA.

5. We recently announced that we will be adding journals to KU. We are already receiving very promising submissions from publishers, and a number of esteemed presses are participating in this effort to flip existing subscriptions into OA.

6. We’ve also been working on a project which we are currently calling ‘KU by Request’, with a library consortium and a few publishers in Germany. If all parties agree, we will be offering German-language titles selected by libraries in a particular discipline.

7. Finally, we are working on an idea with title ‘KU Club’. This model would allow smaller libraries to benefit from both networking and information resources as well as governance opportunities.

What readers want (and what we are not giving them)

pexels-photo-196649

[Article 1 in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series]

This is Article 1 in the “Lessons from Croatia Reads” series, which aims to describe the experience of turning the country of Croatia into a Free Reading Zone in December 2016. The series is not meant to be a standard academic case study of all that various numbers and figures prove and don’t prove about the future of books and reading. It is an attempt to draw from the experience in a way that highlights all that is missing but within our reach. Croatia Reads was/is meant to give us a glimpse of a future that holds so much promise for the written word. In this future things look radically different than they do today, but the possibilities (and opportunities) for all who work with books are endless.

* * *

For the past many months, I’ve had the privilege of stepping outside the confines of the publishing and library industries (as well as the borders of the United States) to engage in non-profit projects and initiatives that bring books and knowledge to people. There comes a point in every person’s career when we crave to turn our professional jobs into missions, and it simply isn’t enough to earn a paycheck, even amidst the most challenging circumstances. We take a leap of faith and jump.

And jump I did, from New York all the way to Croatia, where I would (not immediately upon arrival but soon thereafter) embark on the project of my life and turn an entire country into an open virtual library (available to all its people without a card and access code and regardless of status, geography, background, citizenship, etc). In early December 2016, Croatia (the country of my birth) became the world’s first Free Reading Zone for one entire month. Continue reading What readers want (and what we are not giving them)

Book of the Week: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen; Volume II by Collins Hemingway

No Shelf Required is an ardent supporter of independent authors around the world writing and producing their work on their own terms and with their own resources. In an effort to draw attention to quality independent literature (fiction and nonfiction published by independent authors and indie publishers around the world), and in agreement with BlueInk Review, NSR highlights reviews of a wide variety of titles published on BIR’s site each week. Enjoy this week’s pick.


The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume II

 

About Author

collins-hemingwayCollins Hemingway notes that his approach to fiction is to “dive as deeply into a character’s heart and soul as possible, to address the root causes of their behavior rather than to describe superficial attitudes and beliefs.” He also notes that “his sentiment regarding the importance of literature is only slightly mellower than that of Jane Austen, who observed that the gentleman or lady who fails to find pleasure in a good novel must be ‘intolerably stupid.’” Hemingway lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Oregon.


 

About BlueInk Review

BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. It offers serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Reviews are penned largely by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine.

 

Book of the Week: A Curious Host by Nanette L. Avery

No Shelf Required is an ardent supporter of independent authors around the world producing their work on their own terms and with their own resources. In an effort to draw attention to quality independent literature (fiction and nonfiction published by independent authors and indie publishers), and in agreement with BlueInk Review, NSR highlights reviews of a wide variety of titles published on BIR’s site each week. Enjoy this week’s pick, a novel by a Nashville-based writer, educator, and researcher.

A Curious Host

 

About Author

Nnanette-averyanette L. Avery lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a writer, educator, and researcher. Her first novel, Orphans in America, was named a “Best Indie Book” by Kirkus and “A Reviewer’s Choice Indie Book” by Foreword Reviews.

 

 

 


About BlueInk Review

BlueInk Review was founded by Patti Thorn, former books editor of the Rocky Mountain News, and Patricia Moosbrugger, literary agent and subsidiary rights specialist. It offers serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. Reviews are penned largely by writers drawn from major mainstream publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, and editors of respected traditional publishing houses. Select reviews appear in Booklist magazine.

News Roundup [September 23, 2016]

end-of-week-e-news-round-up3

How a café in Croatia became an open virtual library (and what it teaches us about the future of books) (No Shelf Required)

Kindle Unlimited Funding Increases Slightly in August 2016 (The Digital Reader)

Research Tools: USDA Releases New Database with Nutrition Info For Over 80,000 Brand Name Food Products (Infodocket)

Kobo Aura 2016 vs. Kobo Glo HD vs. Kindle Paperwhite (comparison) (Password Incorrect)

The Kindle Reading Fund will make books more accessible around the world (Ebook Friendly)

Creative Commons licenses under scrutiny—what does “noncommercial” mean? (Ars Technica)

Download our new #Frankfurt @Book_Fair preview magazine free (Publishing Perspectives)

2016 Trend Report: What publishers need to know (The Average Joe)

Copyright Is Not an Inevitable or Divine Right, Court Rules (Torrent Freak)

e-Book Cover Design Awards, August 2016 (The Book Designer)

Comic Book Readers Still Prefer Print Over Digital (InfoDocket)

Facebook begins using artificial intelligence to describe photos to blind users (The Verge)

NSR Post: A time to soar above the level plain of tradition (No Shelf Required)

New Partnership between EBSCO and Mackin Makes Accessing eBooks Easier for Schools (Library Stuff)

Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next (Techcrunch)

Former Disney Digital Boss Says He “Loves Piracy” (Torrent Freak)

Keio University Offers “Introduction to Japanese Subcultures Post-1970” Online Course For Free (Crunchyroll)

Stop Piracy? Legal Alternatives Beat Legal Threats, Research Shows (Torrent Freak)

Students and universities set to reap the benefits of market-leading e-book pilot (JISC)

Aberystwyth University share their digital storytelling experiences (JISC)