Last Sunday’s Ethicist column in the NYT’s featured a question about eBooks and the lending loopholes for Kindle users.
Through my public library, I can check out a book on my Kindle for 21 days. Then the system sends a signal to erase the book and make it available for someone else. But there’s a loophole: if my Kindle is offline, the book isn’t deleted and is still available for another reader. So if I need another day, I leave the Kindle offline and continue until I’m done. When I go back online, the book is deleted. I say that’s fine. But my co-worker says that I promised to return it after 21 days — just like a physical book — and I must honor that promise.
The Ethicist uses an excellent example to approach an answer to this question. To paraphrase: Suppose your physical library book is due on Sunday, but you do not return it until before the library opens on Monday as you know that it the book is not counted until then. Is your reading of the book on Sunday afternoon wrong? It seems rather clear that most people would say this is acceptable; your holding it through Sunday evening in no way impacts your agreement with the library (to return it in a certain amount of time) or hinders another person from checking it out.
However, I think that this question and how one answers it gets to another point about eBooks in libraries: the seemingly arbitrary idea of lending limits on something that is not subject to the same scarcity problem that a physical copy is. Leaving out the real world matters (libraries pay the publisher for rights to a certain number of eBooks, &tc, &tc…), limiting access to digital content feels strange and antithetical to the times we live in today. It feels like the dying swings of an institution trying to keep content “institutional” when everything in the world is pushing in the opposite direction – towards openness.
This is why I would expect that the co-worker, the one who wanted the woman posing the question to turn her Kindle on and allow her book to be deleted after 21 days, is probably in a small minority with her opinion. This worries me for another reason. On a certain level, agreeing with the woman’s use of the loophole says everything libraries need to know about patron’s view of lending limits on eBooks: it is an artificial limitation not worth full compliance.
This is a small but important point. Perceptions of libraries and librarians are changing. Information is no longer limited to the physical. It’s no longer hidden behind walls or cloistered in a room somewhere. What happens when patrons embrace this faster than libraries?
** I realize that there are important and difficult questions libraries need to deal with in regards to digital content and I do not mean to make a simple or reductive point. But, in the end, the point is both rather simple and reductive (maybe libraries need to get better at phrasing the issue?) for many people: making it difficult to access or imposing seemingly arbitrary limitations on content is not acceptable. Patrons, especially of the younger generation, will not even put up a fight about this. They will simply find what they need elsewhere, legal or not.
What are the common ways that people cite information online? How do you do it? Do you use a full bibliographic citation? Probably not. That is because writing for the web is different than writing an academic paper, a book chapter, an essay or something else that requires proper citation.
Online most people tend to be relaxed and informal about citations because web writing lends itself to a more conversational format. Only a real snoot* would want everything discussed in a blog post displayed in proper MLA Works Cited format. Usually a hyperlink, an @ or, my favorite, a h/t is common. I have been thinking a lot about this idea since a discussion came up in one of my classes, International Issues for Info Professionals, recently. The professor, Deborah Turner, requires that all students properly cite sources in Blackboard discussions. Since she is running this class as an e-seminar, she discussed having torn feelings about this. It has been my experience that most professors do not require full citations. Or, if they do, I have managed to maintain a GPA of 3.9 without ever once doing it.
The more I think about this issue, the more I realize just how relaxed I have become in regards to proper citation and giving credit online. It is probably a product of my many years of blogging and participating in online forums where informal citations are, to borrow Professor Turner’s words, “e-cultural norms.” Nevertheless, I am about to become an Information Professional. Or, at least, I am going to have an expensive piece of paper saying I am qualified to be one in some capacity. Should I not begin holding myself to a higher standard on this issue? How can I be serious about respecting ideas or protecting intellectual property if I myself do not practice it?
But here is the problem. Full bibliographic citations do not work on the web. I tried doing it in this blog post for everything that I hyperlinked and it looked silly and awkward. In Blackboard it is easier and makes sense due to the nature of the discussions there (btw, my newest project is to include sources from outside LIS and attempt to relate them to as many of the discussions as possible on Bb in order to make things more interesting. I’ll probably blog about this at some point).
Everyone deserves credit for their work. What is the best way to ensure this on the web? Does anyone have any references about this topic for me? Is there any literature about it? Any thoughts? Is this even something Information Professionals should worry about? I’m curious.
* For an explanation of “snoot” please see David Foster Wallace’s (2001) essay Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage.