Of Time and the City

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2008

When I first started going out with my partner Pauline, in the early 1980s, I had a somewhat dismal opinion of Liverpool. She wanted to show me how great the city could be, so she insisted on taking me to the Palm House in Sefton Park. I rather vividly remember how distressed she was to find that the beatiful structure of her childhood was derelict and vandalized. My father, whose mother came from the city often recalls a visit just after the war, to a city that was incomparably exciting. He remembered the overhead railway, the buses, the underground – a place alive.

That Liverpool is the subject of Terence Davies’s wonderful poetic treatment, “Of Time and the City”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1232790/ (“Official site”:http://www.oftimeandthecity.com/index.php ). He takes the city of empire, of shipbuilding and docks, of sport, of children playing on working-class streets — the city of his childhood — and traces its decline and collapse through the 1970s and 1980s. At the same time, he indicates, through music — especially his use of Mahler’s 2nd — that there is life yet and the possibility of return. It is hard to give a flavour of the combination of image, music, poetry and personal recollection that Davies conveys, but he tells us of a place that is badly damaged but still has immense weight and grandeur (aptly evoked in his shots both of industrial landscape and of great Victorian buildings like St George’s Hall). Of course it is a film that will mean most to those from the city, perhaps especially the legion of exiled scousers. But it said a lot to me, with a more episodic connection, and even those who only know it from a distance will love Davies’s work. Get to see it if you possibly can.

We’re In Ur Librariez, Controlling Ur Recordz

by Henry Farrell on November 13, 2008

“Aaron Swartz”:http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/oclcscam tells us about another effort to fence off the information commons.

OCLC was founded in 1967 by Fred Kilgour, a pioneering Ohio librarian, with a simple idea: Instead of having every library in the country separately catalog a book — laboriously entering its title, author, and subjects in just the right format — why not have one person enter the cataloging information, upload it to a central computer, and then let everyone else download a copy from there? It was called WorldCat, for World Catalog, and it’s been a resounding success. … OCLC’s control passed from librarians and academics to business people (its senior executive comes from consulting firm Deloitte & Touche). They realized they had a monopoly on their hands … used the resulting flow of cash to fund a spree of acquisitions of commercial companies and expand into other fields … dragged its feet in getting library records on the Web …

All this was bad, but it was tolerable. At least folks could build an alternative to OCLC. So that’s what I and others have been doing — “Open Library”:http://openlibrary.org/ provides a free collection of over 20 million book records that anyone can browse, download, contribute to, and reuse for absolutely free. Naturally, OCLC hasn’t been a fan. They’ve been trying to kill it from the beginning — threatening its funders with lawsuits, insulting it in the press, and putting pressure on member libraries not to cooperate. … But recently, it’s gone one step way too far. Not satisfied with controlling the world’s largest source of book information, it wants to take over all the smaller ones as well. It’s now demanding that every library that uses WorldCat give control over all its catalog records to OCLC. It literally is asking libraries to “put an OCLC policy notice”:http://oregonstate.edu/~reeset/blog/archives/574 on every book record in their catalog. It wants to own every library. It’s not just Open Library that’s at risk here — LibraryThing, Zotero, even some new Wikipedia features being developed are threatened.

This seems to me to be a terrible idea, for all the obvious reasons. I suggest that CT readers who have a mind to should “sign this petition”:http://watchdog.net/c/stop-oclc, and email their librarians to request that they investigate this and seriously consider protesting this proposal. I’ve drafted a short email (which I’ve sent to my own university librarian) which people can use as a model if they want; it’s below the fold.

Update: “Inside Higher Ed”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/14/worldcat has a story this morning suggesting that the offending policy has been partly amended.

By the time news of the policy, to take effect in February, spread across the blogosphere, OCLC posted a new draft softening some of its requirements — for example, by making it optional to use or keep the text referring to WorldCat’s policies and clarifying that non-commercial use of the records was generally protected, except in cases where it could interfere with OCLC’s mission. And while the shift signals some openness to members’ concerns, some still aren’t satisfied, especially with the way the initial decision was made. … Terry Reese, the Gray Chair for Innovative Library Services at Oregon State University Libraries, said in an e-mail that it is partially a philosophical issue: “At its core, libraries have always been about providing access to our information and our metadata. We don’t make value judgments as to why people may want/need to use our materials — but that’s essentially what OCLC is doing now (whether intentional or not).” He continued, “As OCLC is oft to bring up, WorldCat is a member created resource — yet, OCLC seems to be the only organization that is allowed to have unfettered access to that data. There are many ways to protect the membership’s investment in the data that has been created.” But for OCLC, the issue is one of adapting to a Google-oriented world without sacrificing the value of WorldCat.
[click to continue…]

42 Writers for Liberty

by Chris Bertram on November 13, 2008

Liberty, the British organization that campaigns for civil liberties and against state abuse of power, has a new website centred on the British government’s proposal to hold people without charge in terrorism cases for up to 42 days. Fortunately, the House of Lords has thrown the measure out for the time being, but they may well try to bring it back again. In the meantime, whether in celebration of the measure’s defeat or anticipation of its return, you can read the thoughts of a collection of writers including Ian Rankin, Julian Barnes and Stella Duffy (particularly good, I thought).