Obama on libraries, librarians & the freedom of speech

Stephen’s Lighthouse points the beam at a four year old speech, which Obama held for the American Library Association as a young senator. His eloquence and his sense for “the right thing to say” is no news. He says:

At a time when book banning is back in vogue, libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.

That’s why I’ve been working with Republicans and Democrats to make sure that we have a Patriot Act that helps us track down terrorists without trampling on our civil liberties. This is an issue that Washington always tries to make into an either-or proposition. Either we protect our people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles. But I don’t believe in either-or. I believe in both ends. I think we can do both. I think when we pose the choice as either-or, it is asking too little of us and it assumes too little about America. I believe we can harness new technologies and a new toughness to find terrorists before they strike, while still protecting the very freedoms we’re fighting for in the first place.

Ah! The man who spoke those words is now president of the United States. Ain’t that great?

Read the whole speech here.

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I want to go to the library

but I never seem to get down there! One reason is that the nearest library is in Woking, our local town, which I’m not particularly fond of. Another is that I’m never encouraged to go! I’m all the time searching for books for the courses I attend and of course some of them are not your average bestseller. I’ll always start by just plain Googling the author/title to see what comes up. Then I search specifically in Google Books, because some publishers are actually nice enough to allow Google Books to scan AND publish books that are out of print. But most publishers are not. Before Christmas I wanted a book, which has been out of print for a long time. And there’s no reason to believe that it’ll come up for a new edition any time soon. But it was only available to peek at. If I wanted to buy it, I’d have to buy it second-hand at a rather steep price for such a boring text-book. But – supply and demand, you know! Then I searched the library catalogue for Surrey, but no luck there either. That meant that either I had to go through all the hassle of getting it from outside Surrey or from British Library or just buying it. So I shelled out and have now added a book to my collection that I didn’t even want.

With good reason you might now ask: “What is she getting at?” I’ll tell you – I’ve often wondered why, when you Google a book, you don’t get a result saying “Click here to see the nearest library that has this book”. There’s a bit of it in Google Books, but it doesn’t work all that well – and only a fraction of the world’s books are at Google Books yet, although they are working on it!

A snapshot of my phone, open on the tech news page.

Today I read in The Guardian’s excellent tech-news, delivered directly to my Iphone, why that is. It’s of course governments who are dragging their feet. Nothing new in that. But apparently the guilty party is a cataloguing company called Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in Ohio… So all the eager modern-day librarians out there who so want to share their collection of great books with the wider public just aren’t allowed. That’s really, really sad. I hope – but am not counting on – that whoever in Obama’s administration this thing sorts under will do something and break the monopoly of this kill-joy in Ohio. Read the whole article, it’s not that long and it’s interesting. There’s more in it than just the above.

Oh, and if you’ve never checked out Google Books you should. It’s a great place and it’ll only get greater! I just made a search for a book that’s on my reading list for the next course I’m taking. As you can see, if you click here, the publisher does not allow browsing, not even a few pages. If you look at this other book, you can see an example of a publisher who allows you to have a peek at the book and finally here, you can see an example of a whole book, ready to read, if you can be bothered to read it online. For non-fiction, where you’re not planning to read the whole thing like the one I’ve chosen (it’s Plato’s Republic if you were too lazy to click through), it’s very practical with the search function, which they still haven’t invented for printed books.

See the right hand side of the page
Search results on the right hand side of the page
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… but I read it on the Internet!

A phrase usually heard from school children, but something quite similar applies to most of us. This little post is just to appologise for my post including the Letter to America. Allthough still every bit as funny, it just turns out that John Cleese had nothing to do with it. Read here how it came about. Here’s another explanation of the same thing. Nobody alerted me to my mistake, but suddenly my inner librarian poked me and said: Hey, you’d better verify that one before you start spreading it!

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