Why Net Neutrality Matters to You (and Libraries)

Depending on your personal news filter bubble, you may or may not have heard the phrase “net neutrality” discussed in the news quite a bit lately. If you don’t think of yourself as a “tech-type,” you may have been tempted to ignore these stories. “What impact could they have on my day-to-day life,” you might have asked yourself? The answer is, quite a lot actually.

At the risk of sounding trite, I think it’s worth restating just how much our daily lives revolve around our access to the Internet. When the campus network is down we wonder what work we’re supposed to get done all day. When Facebook or Twitter crashes we’re left unconnected from our friends and families. Many of us (myself included) have cancelled all cable access and rely on streaming video over the internet for our news and entertainment.

Although there may be only a small portion of the web that we each call “home”–those websites and apps we visit and use on a daily basis–we all assume that by virtue of having Internet access we technically have equal access to all information we might ever want online. This has never really been true, but if the push for net neutrality fails, this will dramatically impact the way we gain access to content online.

In plain language (thank you Electronic Frontier Foundation), net neutrality is “the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally.” Without it, cable and DSL companies would be able to provide faster connections to websites and services that pay for this improved access. Great, you may be thinking. Then maybe when I try to watch Netflix on a Saturday night it will stop buffering in the middle of an Orange is the New Black episode.


Privileging access to some content over others means that the ISPs (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) have the real power over your life online. If Comcast and Amazon strike a deal for faster access to their streaming video content you might find yourself out of luck if you’re trying to access HuluPlus. More importantly, what happens to start-ups, non-profits, and educational institutions (like libraries or non-profit online education programs) that don’t have the kind of funding that private enterprises do to guarantee that their content is privileged online? Accessing their content will be slower, more difficult, and not as easy as it is now.

On May 15, the FCC voted 3 to 2 to consider two primary options for the future of net neutrality:

  1. The FCC would require ISPs to provide a basic level of internet service, then they could charge businesses to deliver their content faster.
  2. Internet access would be re-classified as a public utility, which would give the FCC greater regulatory power to ensure net neutrality.

Naturally, librarians are big net neutrality proponents, as are the folks at the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, but also, perhaps not unexpectedly, artists and musicians who rely on the Internet to get their content out to the masses and build a fan base. The internet giants aren’t staying silent either. Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon all have made an official statement in favor of net neutrality as have 150 other internet companies. It simply isn’t in their business interest to pay more to deliver their content.

The next time NPR has a story on net neutrality, turn it up. It’s worth a listen.



Popular vs Scholarly articles

I stumbled across a news article this week that was really fascinating (to me), so I thought I’d share it on the blog…and, I’ll mix in a little bit of information literacy as well.  The article is about an experiment performed to see if professional musicians could tell the difference between modern-day violins (costing about $30,000) and Stradivarius violins (costing about $6 million).

Here’s the news article – I’ve linked to the Guardian’s version of the article, but as you can see it’s an AP article which is available on lots of other news sites as well.  The original research article was published on April 7, 2014 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

These sorts of news articles – ones that are based off a recently-published research article – come out all the time, and provide great examples of the differences between a popular article and a scholarly article.  The version from the Guardian is easy to read, has pictures, and highlights the main points well.  It also has lots of advertisements and links to other catchy headlines on their website.  It has no citations.  It’s fairly short, too – it won’t take more than a couple of minutes to read the entire article.  Now consider it against the actual research article from PNAS.  As you can see, it’s quite different.  There’s no pictures or advertisements, there’s a list of citations at the end, it’s much longer and not as easy to read, because it contains MUCH more detail.

The reasons for these differences are simple – these two articles are meant for vastly different audiences.  The newspaper article is written by a journalist for a general audience.  That same journalist might be writing about the Ukraine tomorrow; on Thursday they’ll be covering the Malaysian Airlines accident.  They’re not an expert on violins or designing valid research experiments, but they are an expert in producing well-written pieces that tell a story and provide a measure of objectivity.  These types of articles are a great way to relax on a bench outside the Campus Center as you wind down your lunch hour, but they might not be such a good idea to cite in a term paper – and again, that’s really not what they’re designed for.

The librarians here at the SMCM Library will be glad to help locate, differentiate, and cite any type of information sources you may have, or need.  So feel free to stop by the reference desk or make an appointment.  Happy librarying!


Discovery, but not so discoverable


OneSearch.  We like it a lot.  It’s the main search on the library website and will give you everything from journal and newspaper articles to books, images and DVDs.  It’ll retrieve anything it can find somehow related to your search terms.  It’s a great tool and time saver.

Despite all the positive things we have to say about OneSearch, we’re feeling a bit frustrated at the moment.  We always knew, and do our best to explain, the results in OneSearch would not include everything which the library owns or has access to. OneSearch provides a service.  It pulls results from the library catalog and databases in one search, on your behalf, so you do not have to search the catalog and databases individually.  In exchange for this service (and in order for this service to function properly and legally) the company which owns OneSearch, EBSCO, has signed licensing agreements with other database vendors and publishers.  The providers who do not agree to such terms do not participate in the service.  We knew about these agreements, always and from the beginning.

OneSearch is accessible from off-campus.  Students, faculty and staff members can search and must only authenticate into the system to access the full text of articles.  Members of the community can search our holdings and view citations, but not access licensed materials.  To borrow a book or read an article, a community member would have to physically come to the library.  This “guest access” is helpful to our community members who rely on our resources for their research needs, and to students from other academic institutions who also use our resources.

Something has changed in the licensing agreements. Now, some of the citations themselves are inaccessible and un-viewable to anyone off-campus unless that person authenticates using a network ID and password.  What does that mean?  Faculty, staff members, and students, have to login before being able to view all the results displayed.  It’s an extra step, but not any different from searching a database from off-campus.  Members of our community, however, can no longer search across our collection and view article citations from the databases while off-campus.  Essentially, OneSearch, which is designed to promote discovery and access, is now limiting that freedom and access and our patrons are suffering because of it.    What to do about it?  We’re not really sure yet.

You Paid #(!*% For That?!?

This morning on the radio I heard a report about the impact of the next round of automatic sequester budget cuts.  Once you eliminate all of those programs that are “untouchable” there isn’t much left.  Everyone is for budget cuts until those cuts come too close to home, which for our elected legislators means impacting seniors, jobs in their districts, etc.  So who gets affected?  Sometimes it’s groups without much political clout.  Or people with jobs in public service (which can spill-over to people with jobs in the private sector).

Who decides where the money comes from?  If you had to cut 10% from your monthly spending today what would you choose?  Your cell phone service?  Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video?  Coffee and lunch out? Your electric bill?  You would have your own list of “untouchables.”  You know what you spend so you can decide what is most important and how to prioritize your budget reductions.



Budget reduction is happening on many college and university campuses.  Costs rise every year and budgets don’t always grow at the same rate (sometimes they don’t grow at all).  The only way to pay our bills is to find more money (the dreaded “generate revenue) or to cut costs.  So, like the federal government, or you, we have to prioritize, to decided what is untouchable.

But wait!  You are running the library.  Isn’t most of what you provide free??  It’s on the Internet, isn’t it?!  OK – maybe that was a bit of hyperbole.  But I bet that many students and faculty on my campus (and others) don’t really know how much we spend on the resources you need/want to help you succeed.  There are a few reasons for that:

  • Many information vendors (the companies that license our electronic resources) have a confidentiality clause in their license contracts.  That clause prevents us from discussion cost publicly.  This is a way for vendors to negotiate different prices without being transparent about the criteria used to determine the price.  Many librarians now refuse to sign licenses with this clause.
  • Librarians have been reluctant to talk about cost with our students and faculty.  Our job has always been to provide access to information, to help our community members find and use information, and to be a welcoming and engaging place.  We don’t want to sully that with conversations about money.

But it’s time for some straight talk about money.  There has been a lot of conversation among librarians lately about what we pay for our resources, especially our online resources.  You know, the ones with the 24/7 access to full-text that you love.  Librarians are asking our publishers and vendors questions about why we have to purchase big bundles of journals (more is better, right?) instead of selecting only the journals we want (can you say cable company?).

Did you know that the average book price in 2012 (according to our book vendor, Yankee Book Peddler) was $82.09 for a print book which is up 4.9% from last year, and $112.42 for an ebook.   Did you know that prices for books in social sciences rose about 7%, about 5% for the sciences, and 1% for the humanities?

Did you know that we spent about $273,000 just on electronic resources last year (not including some of our individual ejournal titles)?  Is that a lot or a little?  What are we getting for our $273k?  We get access to the full-text of about 20,000 journals (do we need that many?).  We get access to images and data from reference books online.  We have access to art images, primary source materials, and books.  Does it really cost that much?  It’s hard to know.  Even though we have the ability to negotiate for our costs, licensing an online resource is still a lot like buying a car.  Once we’re done we still don’t really know if we got a good deal or not.



So when it’s budget cutting time we look at how much online and print resources are being used and who needs them.  We consider the impact of stopping access but being able to add it again when/if economic conditions improve.  We propose buying articles on demand rather than paying for subscriptions.  We have options.

I think it is important for our students and faculty to know how we make decisions about spending our resources and why it may be important to “just say no”.  Sometimes we might cancel or decline to add a resource in order to reduce our spending, and sometimes we might say no because it’s the right thing to do.  The publishers and vendors won’t change their sales strategies without pressure from customers (that means you).  Knowledge is power.  To learn more read the blog posts linked above, or email me (cerabinowitz@smcm.edu).  Let’s have coffee and talk.

Too Awesome Not to Share

As Celia mentioned in her last post, librarians have a long tradition of upholding library users’ privacy. It’s in our professional Code of Ethics!

We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

Code of Ethics of the American Library Association (last amended Jan. 2008)

We’re quite good at making sure that library users’ records and web browsing sessions are kept private (or not kept at all), and have a great history of standing up to legislation we see as infringing on users’ right to privacy (see the NYTimes article in which we receive the now infamous radical militant librarians label, then see us put it on a t-shirt). In general, people love us for this, but people also love social media, online shopping recommendations, and seeing what their best friends just bought on Etsy. There’s a weird conflict between the kind of privacy people say they want and the kind of privacy infringement they’re willing to put up with in order to have a personalized online experience. Libraries have largely stayed out of it, but recently I came across this really cool initiative that seems to have a good balance of user privacy and personalized recommendations.


sometimes things are awesome

This project is the brainchild of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and is being implemented at not only Harvard but a select group of public and academic libraries in the U.S. The concept is simple: Think something is awesome? Return it to a special “awesome box” or flag it with an “awesome bookmark” and library staff will scan it and have it magically appear on that library’s Awesome Page. What you read remains private, but you now have a better sense of what your fellow-library-goers are reading, watching, and listening to throughout the year.

Plus who doesn’t need a little awesome in their day?

What are your thoughts on the Awesome Box? Would something like it fly at St. Mary’s?

The Royal Birth: An Information Perspective

News and media outlets are flooded with the news:  Kate is in the hospital and the royal baby is on his or her way.  Excitement about the impending birth of the royal heir and forecasts of baby names aside, the way by which the birth will be announced is quite fascinating and of course, steeped in tradition.  I found this article from the Associated Press, which describes the exact protocol for announcing royal births.  According to the article, the official announcement will come in the form of a bulletin delivered straight from the hospital to Buckingham Palace, official with palace letterhead, posted in the frontcourt on a wooden easel – along with a post on Facebook and Twitter.

This royal birth will be the first to be announced using social media, which is not a surprise considering the last royal birth took place during pre-Internet days and social media continues to evolve and build its audience.  According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet Project in December 2012, 83% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media sites.  Between 2008 and 2012, social media usage has jumped from 35% to 67% among online adults.

In this ever-changing digital landscape, where do you go to find news information?  A favorite online newspaper?  Social media?  Google News?


Brenner, Joanne.  Pew Internet: Social Networking.  Pew Internet & American Life Project, February 14, 2013, http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/March/Pew-Internet-Social-Networking-full-detail.aspx, accessed on July 22, 2013.

Lenhart, Amanda.  Adults and Social Network Websites. Pew Internet & American Life Project, January 14, 2009, http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/Adults-and-Social-Network-Websites.aspx, accessed on July 22, 2013.

Reading this Summer?

Reading on the Beach

Reading on the Beach by Courtney McGough on Flickr

Last weekend I broke down. I bought a Kindle (a Kindle Paperwhite to be exact). Despite my ambivalence towards e-reading, it’s getting harder for me to deny the conveniences of an e-reader. I’m a reader. Although chasing a toddler around the house has but a kink in my reading style, I still try to get in as much eyeball-to-text time as I possibly can. When I go on a trip, I take as much care and effort packing my reading materials as I do packing my clothes. This little 5 x 7 inch device is making upcoming travel so much more convenient and amazingly less stressful. Instead of trying to squeeze in 3-4 different volumes I can just pop that Kindle in my purse and call it a day. It’s fantastic.

Will I stop buying and checking out print books from the library? No way. In fact, as I type, I have two books on my nightstand from the St. Mary’s County Library. The Kindle is just a new addition to my reading lifestyle and a great way to kick off the summer reading season. If you’re interested in getting your summer reading off right, the SMCM Library can help.


We have 6 different Kindles for SMCM students, faculty, and staff to borrow loaded with all kinds of fantastic fiction. Want to find out what all the Game of Thrones fuss is about? Read it on our Kindle Fire. Curious about Gone Girl or Kate Atkinson’s latest, Life after Life? Read one on a Kindle Touch. For more about our Kindles and the books on them, check out our online Kindle Guide.

Popular Reading Collection

If you’re more of a print-on-paper kind of reader. We have you covered. Our popular reading collection has a great selection of fiction and non-fiction bestsellers to help you take a break from heavy academic reading. Take a walk up to the 2nd floor and hang a left. In the reading area you’ll find a beautiful water-front view and our awesome Popular Reading Collection.

St. Mary’s County Public Libraries

I wouldn’t be doing my due-diligence as a librarian if I didn’t do a little cross-promotion. We are fortunate to have an amazing public library system in our county. If you haven’t visited one of the branches in Lexington Park, Leonardtown, or Charlotte Hall, please do it. Their book, movie, and music selection is amazing! A few weekends ago I picked up Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers, a copy of the Alabama Shakes album, and Dinosaur vs. The Potty, a board book for my son. They have fun summer programming for kids too!

Summer Book Club

Since you’re doing all this reading anyway, you might as well win a prize or two for your efforts. The SMCM Library’s Summer Reading Program continues this year and gives all SMCM students, faculty, staff, and alumni a chance to contribute book reviews to the Summer Reading Blog and win prizes.

Happy Reading,