Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reprise on Google, eBooks, Copyright and All That Jazz

  An enigmatic personage by the name of Dr Beachcomber has sent me an email with a link to his posting Google Burns the Library at Alexandria. He has included my reply as a comment on his blog, so I am returning the compliment by referencing him here. Is this what you call some kind of hippy blog-in?
  While I have mildly chastised him for over dramatics in headline writing, the books not actually being burned as a result of having been digitised, there is a issue of concern regarding the quality of scanned digital editions, and another issue brought up by another commenter on the recopyrighting of material already in the public domain as a result of it being reprinted or republished. There is also the very tricky issue of the destruction of original printed or written material after it is digitised.
  Taking the last first (Hey, I'm in Australia, we are upside down here!), I was many years ago doing a research project which involved examining museum records and objects. Now museum curators have a habit of updating their records when they think that a person looking at them is some kind of expert and they ask them questions about things. For historical reasons, I wanted to know what the original records said about the objects. With the old handwritten cards and registers, it was possible to separate the original records from later annotations, and even to work out who had made the annotations and when. Only one museum had an electronic catalogue at that time (1991), and they were quite disappointed that I actually wanted to look at their tatty old paper records. I guess the question is, how many old paper backups do we need to keep for safety? The same applies to books.
  On the second issue, I was told many years ago by a copyright legal bod in my university that it was legal for me to scan out of copyright visual material and republish it digitally, but it was illegal to reproduce digital scans from modern facsimile editions of out of copyright material. My only question about that is, how could anybody tell? At the moment the business interests are noisily defending ever increasing copyright restrictions, but the ready availability of copying and reproduction technology is going to make soup of that, and real soon. I suggest that if you have some favourite old, genuinely out of copyright, books in your particular area of interest or expertise, digitally reproduce them yourself, circulate them among your friends and colleagues, and loudly announce them as public domain.
  The quality of some of the old material scanned and placed in the public domain is an issue. Dr Beachcomber is determined that Internet Archive editions are better quality than those from Google, but I bet he has never spent three days printing a long book page by page from two separate Internet Archive scans, hoping that the pages missing from the two editions do not actually coincide at any point. The end result was a largely black and white edition with occasional colour pages, none of which had bookmarkable or cut and pastable text as they were simply image scans of pages. And the Kindle editions are similarly unnavigable and messily formatted. And the text only versions are unformatted to illegibility and full of OCR errors. But apart from that they're alright. I suspect that there is just some degree of luck with the digitisation of particular works, and how carefully they have been done.
  I have touched on these issues in earlier posts, Eeee! Books, and Scribes, Copyright, Crime and Google, with a short note at the end of Horrible Old Handwriting. I guess the whole issue is just not going to go away real soon.
   The whole issue of preservations of books and text is, of course, not new, but there are so many texts to preserve these days. We have almost no original Roman era texts of the Latin Classics, because they were written on papyrus rolls which fell to bits. These works are mainly preserved from much later copies in vellum codices, much more durable, produced by Christian monks. The thought of these celibate ascetics solemnly copying down the erotic poetry of Ovid and the like is always good for a giggle, but they did. There have even been conspiracy theories that the monks actually forged all the Latin Classics. I doubt it, but how much did they edit, correct, annotate and standardise these texts? Perhaps Cicero or Livy might be surprised to discover what we think they had written.
Postscript: With apologies to Dr Beachcomber, after rechecking, it seems that the download I had such trouble with was a Google scan, although I accessed it through the Internet Archive. It was one of a large set uploaded by one tpb, who seems to be a very messy worker. Perhaps I was dead unlucky, because there appears to be another edition of the same book available through the Internet Archive which is not from Google, so at least they are not claiming a monopoly for their grotty scans.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bang the Drum

   Got this reference from the blog gladly wolde he. The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education is getting rolling in the USA. I read their list of principles and cheered. Let's just hope they can get the people with influence to listen and are not simply outshouted by the economic rationalists and big business loudmouths who think the whole world should be run for their personal economic benefit.
   One point which resonated strongly with the medieval enterprise in this household was the matter of the use of technology. Yes, some of us have been using it in education for years, and no, it doesn't save money. Using internet and multimedia technology in teaching can be used to do more than simply provide a feed for information. It can be used to enhance the educational experience and to increase inclusiveness by making opportunities for more people to participate. But it is a helluva lot of work and requires an intelligent combining of expertises in specific subject areas with that in the technology itself. And then it all goes out of date and you have to do it all again.
   The whole issue of governments wanting some kind of increased output from higher education while putting less in themselves, and restricting access by making the whole process too expensive for many potential users, is not confined to the USA. The same process is happening here in Australia. There have been protests in the streets on the matter in Britain. In fact, if anyone knows of a country where this trend is in reverse, we all need to know about it. I suggest that this is a campaign that everyone in the educational sector, or for that matter, everyone with a brain, should be getting behind, wherever they be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Literacy Teaching - Again!

  My two granddaughters, aged nearly 8 and nearly 11, have just been participating in what are called NAPLAN tests at school. I can't remember what NAPLAN stands for, National something-or-other, but they are basic tests of literacy and numeracy, the basic function of which is to see whether kids across the land are meeting appropriate standards in these subjects. Pretty harmless and sensible, you might think.
  Schoolteachers, however, have been whipping themselves into a frenzy of hysteria over it all. Apparently teachers are the only members of the work force who should not be subjected to any kind of scrutiny on the quality of their work. They are also, by their own telling, so naturally dishonest and devious that they very idea that their pupils may be assessed will inevitably cause them to cheat on the testing. And to think that they keep lecturing us on the subject of "values"; a concept dragged into the school lingo by a previous Prime Minister of our fair land who thought that the only people who had any were right wing, avowedly Christian, white males in suits. Ouch, we are getting  political; time for a diversion.
  The teachers also claim that the tests put incredible stress on the kids. I checked this out with my two, who seemed perfectly cheerful about the whole process. When I asked them if anybody had got upset, they did mention one boy, but he has a habit of throwing stress attacks while playing sport, at birthday parties, and possibly represents a child at the stress laden end of the spectrum. As my older granddaughter has a mode of spelling that would grace Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, I cannot imagine she will do much for their general score, but she was not in the least stressed about it.
  Personally, I think a little stress to achieve does you good. Not that I would advocate beating Latin grammar into the little possums with a birch rod, like they did in the middle ages. It seems a little strange to me that we are so accustomed to literacy and its use in every aspect of what we learn that we find it hard to imagine how much was learned in a non-literate mode in ages past, but we think that assessing the level of literacy that we are achieving poses unacceptable stress. I think there is possibly more stress involved if your deficiencies in the area of literacy only show up at your first job application.
  There has been a little hiatus on updates to the website lately, due to real life interfering with virtual reality, but hopefully I will be adding some new sections soon.