Archive for the ‘Writing and blogging’ Category

Go read this.

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Dorothea Salo has a new article out in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication.

You should read it, especially if:

  • You care about open access
  • You care about scholarly communication in academic institutions
  • You would like to see a healthy future for scholarly communication and for scholars, including independent scholars
  • [This bullet removed as, well, a spoiler for those who don’t read thoughtfully.]

The title: “How to Scuttle a Scholarly Communication Initiative.”

The remarkable thing about this article is that it appears to have been used as a blueprint by any number of institutions before it was published.

One consequence of Salo’s article: My planned article-in-installments, “How not to be the expert,” a series of autobiographical musings, may be postponed indefinitely. Once you’ve seen a master at work, it’s easy to recognize one’s own limitations. But that’s me. For you: Go read it. Now.



Night Sweats: A hard-hitting review

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

I’ve seen a number of really favorable reviews of Laura Crossett’s Night Sweats: an unexpected pregnancy.

Actually, all the reviews I’ve seen of the book have been very favorable.

I purchased the book* and finished reading it yesterday** and felt that I should provide a contrarian review, one that’s hard-hitting and exposes all the book’s faults.

So, here goes:

Major faults and failings in Night Sweats

  • I’m pretty sure I found a copy-editing error.
  • It could be longer.

That’s about it. I’d like to argue about Crossett’s religion, but for a lapsed Methodist to take on an Episcopalian about religiosity exceeds even my capacity for absurd argumentation–yes, she’s more religious than I am, but that strengthens the story in ways I can’t possibly argue with.

Then there’s the other side…

Good points about Night Sweats

  • Crossett’s an excellent and achingly honest writer.
  • It’s a true story and an interesting one.
  • Crossett’s also hilarious, not necessarily what you’d expect in this kind of a book. (Whatever “this kind” might be.)
  • The book’s just plain compelling–even if (like me) you’re someone for whom the story of an unexpected pregnancy might not immediately connect.

Despite the (probable) copy-editing failure, I’d be dishonest to sum this up as anything other than:

Buy this book. Read it. I’m pretty sure you’ll find it worth your while.

Oh, and if you want the ebook, it’s available from the usual suspects, but Laura*** (and Our Bodies Our Selves, if I have that right) gets more of the modest proceeds (it’s $4 if there’s no current sale) if you buy it directly from Lulu.


*Why did I buy this book? Well… Laura sent me a PDF to see if I had comments on her layout and typographic options, since she used The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing in the project–and gives me credit in the acknowledgments. I did manage to look at the typographic choices, which I find excellent–but it was difficult because I just wanted to read it. And I wanted to read it enough in print to buy it.

**Why so long? After all, the book’s only 93 pages long and it’s so well written that it’s an easy read. Well, there’s a sick cat–which Laura may find amusing, since a sick cat enters into the book–and also I was trying to prolong the experience.

***Why am I sometimes first-naming Ms. Crossett? Because she’s a Virtual Friend. I don’t know whether we’ve ever met face-to-face, but we’ve been chatting on Friendfeed as part of the Library Society of the World for years, and she’s also given me good and sometimes tough advice on the side on some library-related projects. She’s one of many there who I respect considerably and can say that we frequently disagree but not in ways that are disagreeable. She’s a good person. And, of course, one of those writers–like Barbara Fister–who make me recognize the limits of my comparatively crude writing skills.

Tools vs. Emotions and the context of EVIL

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a post as much as I have with this one. I’d done three minor rewrites, each time saying “Or I could just scrap the whole thing” but not doing so. This time, I’ve scrapped a whole bunch of it.

What’s left may not make much sense unless you’re in the ALA-TT group on Facebook (which, by the way, has nothing to do with ALA) or unless you saw a certain high-profile blog post and were able to make an unnamed connection. I feel I was badly misquoted in that post–but the writer didn’t actually use my name. So I’ve scrapped most of what I was going to say but will leave portions.

Although, try as I may, I still can’t see how “I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft” as a complete statement from someone who hadn’t been in the thread before, tossed into a thread on a new iOS version, is humor. Or is not an attack on people (which, by the way, probably include most Mac owners–e.g., anyone using Office for the Mac or Word for the Mac) who “choose to use Microsoft.”

Anyway, shorn of most of the discussion and the names involved, here’s what’s worth saying:

There’s nothing wrong with loving Apple products, if you’re one who extends love to things other than people and perhaps pets. Enthusiasm is a good thing.

I do not understand, and do not appreciate, how it is that loving Product A makes it commendable or even OK to diss those who choose to use Product B.

I like Honda Civics a lot. In my lifetime, that’s all I’ve driven as a primary car–and the one time we purchased something that wasn’t a Honda, we were deeply disappoint. If I was given to loving object, I could say that I love Honda.

But, you know, it would never occur to me to say “I can’t believe people still buy Toyotas.” Or GM, or Subaru, or BMW, or whatever.

The point at which a preference for A turns into the felt need to put down those choosing B–with the exception of sports teams, where the corporate structure seems to rely on this silliness–is the point at which fan turns into fanatic. There’s at least one broad strain of fanaticism that says “our way is the only way and those who feel differently are wrong (and maybe should be punished).” I don’t much care for it.

The post in question–the one that I’ve decided not to name explicitly or discuss in detail–also gets into tools vs. emotions; the person seems to think you should be emotional about (that is, love) your computer.

Here I plead guilty. I’m a tool-user. I like Word a lot because it’s an exceptionally flexible toolkit; ditto Excel. I like that Windows lets me use any of half a dozen different ways to do something, whatever suits my own habits at the time. I don’t gaze in awe at the desktop or have any desire to stroke my notebook. I use it. A lot. I never worry that what I do with my computer might not be “worthy” of Windows or Gateway. It’s a tool (actually a toolkit).

But, you know, if you love your Mac, that’s OK. I know people who use Macs and iPads and iPhones as tools. They’re good tools. For some people, they’re better tools than Windows PCs or Android-based tablets (of which I happen to have one, a Kindle Fire HD 8.9–I find it a good tool, also, but don’t love it) or Android phones. And that’s their choice. If they develop a more emotional relationship with their Apple devices–well, again, that’s their choice.

I honor their preference. I don’t feign lack of belief that they could make such choices.

I couldn’t do as much writing as I do without Word (and, having tried it, I don’t think LibreOffice would work nearly as well for me). There is no way I could be doing the large-scale analyses I’ve done of public and academic libraries without Excel’s speed, flexibility and feature set. I find Windows a welcoming environment for me.

Of course my computer is my primary creative tool–but it’s still a toolkit, a means of producing something, whether it’s a post, an article, a book, a presentation or a tweet. My computer is a means: the end is the actual expression.

As for love? I love my wife (of 35.5 years so far, and shooting for many more). I love our cats. I tend not to love objects–in fact, I like Honda Civics, I don’t actually love them. I am, admittedly, not the world’s most emotional person. I do not love my 5-year-old cheap Gateway notebook, but it sure has been a good toolkit!

Oh, and for those who did read the other post: I never ever said that Mac fans are EVIL. I would never say that. Not even in jest. Here’s what I said:

…good to be reminded that it’s EVIL to criticize Apple fans, but it’s perfectly OK to trash any of us who prefer Microsoft. Thus it has always been; thus it will always be.

If you can turn this into a statement that Apple fans are EVIL, you’re a more clever reader than I am. Just as, if you can turn “”I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft,” all by itself, into humor, you have a much keener sense of humor than I do.

Eight years of randomness

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Time for the annual post again–on April 1, because this blog had its first post on April 1, 2005.

No, that wasn’t an accident.

I didn’t expect it to last more than four or five years. In some ways, it didn’t: the peak month for posts was actually May 2005, and the peak year for posts (that have survived) was 2008.

Of course, I didn’t expect Cites & Insights to last more than six or seven years either–and it almost didn’t make it past Year 11.

I’m not going anywhere. The blog continues to be unscheduled, erratic and somewhat random.

A couple of metrics

As of right now, there are 1,739 surviving posts. (I’ve trimmed some, mostly announcements of Lulu sales and other date-specific posts with no other content.)

There are 4,026 comments–not counting the 89,000+ that have been trapped by Spam Karma 2 or that I’ve flagged as spam. That’s 2.3 comments per post, but most posts don’t have any comments…

The blog seems to get a lot of traffic, although it’s never been quite clear whether that traffic has much to do with actual readers.

For the first three months of 2013, through March 31, there have been 146,441 sessions (1609 per day, but an average of 4,771 pageviews per day). I have no idea how many of those represent actual readers; I’m guessing a minority.

On the other hand, the blog has been visited from 22,474 IP addresses over the past three months, and it’s hard to believe that there are thousands and thousands of crazed spiders…

Quiet(er) on the blogging front

Monday, July 30th, 2012

For some reason, I thought August was going to be a fairly placid month. After all, I’ve already written (but not edited) the two-part essay that will make up most of the September Cites & Insights and part of the October issue as well; another essay for September’s already in place; and I just finished doing a little recheck of an old spreadsheet that will yield (most or all of) the rest of the October issue. Figure a week to turn the results into an essay (and a new page here, one that LSW members have a head’s-up for).

But there’s also… [Updated 8/2 to correct personal misunderstandings and keep track for myself!]

  • Comments due by the end of August as an external reviewer for a promotion review; I will do that this week (and, given the candidate, it’s a pleasure)\
  • Speaker forms and bio for Internet Librarian speech by 8/26 (slides & draft due September 26; whew)
  • Some specific blogging expectations on a different blog, second full week of August.
  • Almost forgot: I should get proposed editorial changes for my social networking book this month…Later
  • I agreed to do a foreword for a book, also due by the end of the month.
  • Oh, and as noted in the previous post, IMLS just released the FY2010 public library database, and I’d like to at least get started on the real, improved, useful Give Us a Dollar and You’ll Get Back Four in August, so I can finish in September (or at worst October) [This last one is the biggie and drives other deadlines.]

Not complaining. But this does mean that post traffic here is likely to be even lighter than usual. Not that anybody will notice the difference…


Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Laura Crossett sent me a fine reminder of the worth of good editing and focused writing. She looked at the core paragraph in this post (down below the first two horizontal rules) and offered an alternative version, which is far superior to what I wrote.

Here’s her version:

Your public library is in competition with a lot of other agencies–city, county, district, even state–for money. You want your library to sustain its current services and expand them in the future. You know you get a lot of bang for your buck, but how do you show that to the people who hold the purse strings? One way is to use the data in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Walt Crawford has compiled, analyzed, and organized library funding and service data from all around the United States. Give Us a Dollar will let you compare your services to those of other similar libraries at a glance and will help give you the data you need to show your funders how much you already stretch their dollars–and how much more you could provide with even a few dollars more.

She also asked who I thought the key audiences were, and I came up with some answers–leading to the first part of the now-revised post.

So, if you’re a library consultant, public librarian, state library person or library school person–please go read the original post again (specifically the top part) and let me know: Does this sound interesting?

To clarify: Telling me “this might be interesting” or “this might be worthwhile” is not saying “And I’ll buy a copy.” No obligation or expectation of any sort.

And if enough people do think it’s interesting, I will find a way to thank the six libraries who did buy the preliminary version (so far), if only by providing a substantially discounted version of the much-improved book.

And, well, what I say in the post title: Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing.


Mystery Sale–and the Lull in Posts

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

From now through May 31, 2012, there’s a Mystery Sale on Cites & Insights Books (that is, Lulu’s having a Mystery Sale)–which makes it a great time to pick up one or more of my books, or, if you’re a library with a strong collection on Californiana, pioneer life, western migration, etc., a great time to buy Anna Julia Young’s Autobiography. (That’s the hardcover. Here’s the paperback.)

Or, for that matter, a good time to pick up the hardcover version of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

I don’t know what the discount is, or whether it increases if you buy multiple books. Last time I actually ordered during one of Lulu’s odd mystery sales, it was somewhere between 10% and 20%, but I can’t guarantee anything.

The Lull in Posts

I’ve done enough tracking of and writing about blogs, and liblogs in particular, that I should have known better: I said I expected to be posting more…and lately, I’ve been posting less.

The reason’s simple enough.

I’m hard at work on Give Us A Buck and We’ll Give You Back Four (originally “Five” and it may yet change), the study of public library benefits that I discussed here and in prior posts.

My hope is to have it out sometime next week, or at worst the week after.

As for the June issue of Cites & Insights…that should appear a few days after the book does.

As for steady blogging…well, I never was very steady at this.

The worth of creativity: From jerk to troll in three easy steps

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012


I was finishing up the draft of one (long) essay for the next Cites & Insights, looking at posts about the future (but not one/two-year forecasts: that’s the second half), and got to a commentary by Jason Scott at ASCII, his weblog: Dated November 10, 2010, entitled “Your Roger Corman Future.

You may want to read the whole thing. It’s 2,500 words, plus 38 comments of varying length. Scott writes well and forcefully, even if he has one of the most unpleasant to read blog designs I’ve encountered: White text on a black background and, if you let the site specify the typeface, you get a bizarre monospaced (like Courier!) sans serif. His writing makes up for it, I think.

Scott does documentaries related to the history of computing (one on bulletin board systems, one on text adventures), along with a bunch of other things (he’s really good at saving tech-related stuff that would otherwise disappear entirely, and now works at the Internet Archive).

When he released GET LAMP, his package on text adventures (actually three documentaries “combined with a coin,” he priced it at $45, which isn’t bad for quality independent productions. And he’s grossed (not netted) six figures on it, which–as he says–makes him hot stuff where true indie filmmaking is concerned. (He’s also a whiz at Kickstarter, to be sure.)

But he got pushback…some of which resonated with what I’ve encountered, but Scott gets it in much more abhorrent ways.

All of which leads to this post.

The Premise: You’re Not Willing to Pay the Price for Some Creative Work That You Might Want to Read/See/Whatever

Here’s what all levels discussed below have in common. Somebody has created something (available in multiple copies). They, or their publisher or distributor, has set a price for copies, possibly one price for physical copies, another for digital copies.

You’re interested in that something, but you’re not willing to pay the price set by the publisher or creator.

The levels come in what you do about it.

Level 0: You don’t pay. If it’s available at the library, you borrow.

This is “level 0” because you’re not being a jerk at all. You’re exercising your entirely valid and reasonable option of not buying something because the price is higher than you’re willing to pay.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

Oh, and if a library you have access to is willing to pay the price and you choose to borrow it from the library? Good for you.

There’s a related level, where you’re also not being a jerk in any way, but it’s a level that only affects some creators and some would-be readers/viewers:

Level 0b: The creator asks for feedback on the price and you say it’s too high

Nothing wrong there either–at least if you’re not abusive in your response and don’t make a point of suggesting a “digital price” that essentially says to the creator “your time, energy and creativity aren’t worth squat.”

So: If I say “I have a new book prepared on Topic X. It’s 200 pages long or a 1MB PDF. I think $45 for a paperback, $55 for a hardcover, and $30 for a download is about right. What do you think?”

You’re being perfectly reasonable to respond “I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for the download or $15 for the paperback” or some variant on that.

If you say “You must offer the download for free” or “A 200-page paperback costs $8.50 to produce through Lulu, so $9 is the most you should charge” -well, now you’re starting to be a jerk. You’re explicitly saying that my (or Scott’s) work is not worth anything.

But let’s move on:

Level 1: You post public messages asserting that my price is outrageous and that only a price directly related to the cost of producing a single copy is reasonable (e.g., $0 or so for downloads)…or, for works involving a publisher, you blame the author for the price set by the publisher.

This assumes that I didn’t say “How much should I charge for this?” It’s not the same as saying “This might be interesting, but I’m not willing to pay $X.” it’s saying “It’s wrong for the creator to charge enough to yield any net revenue for his or her work”–perhaps not in those words, but in effect.

You’re being somewhat of a jerk. You’re telling the creator that creativity is worthless.

I’ve had that happen. You learn to live with it pretty quickly.

[Perhaps at this same level: You’re asked how much you would pay for something. You (several of you) say “I’d pay X.” The creator sets the (suggested) price at X. Nobody pays that amount. Not that that would ever happen…]

Level 2: You post negative reviews about the work, even though you haven’t read or seen it, based entirely on the price (or on assumptions about the work that you haven’t checked).

Now you’re being a major jerk: You’re trying to discourage other people from paying for creative work, since you know (or should know) that people look at star averages sometimes without actually reading the reviews. “Geez, the only review is one-star: It must be crap.”

I was looking up replacement string reels for my electric edger, to make sure I had the right part and approximate price–after two years’ use, it finally ran out of “string.” One site had three reviews, all of them highly negative. Why? In two cases, because the person purchased the wrong thing, and therefore it was a bad, bad thing. The third one was just mysterious.

Need I say Open Access: What You Need to Know Now–where a science blogger assailed the book because he/she assumed ALA had commissioned the report and, therefore, should release it for free (you know, since every scientific organization releases all the work appearing under the organization’s imprimatur absolutely for free, like the American Chemical Society), and a “reviewer” (possibly the same person) wrote a one-star “review” at Amazon that was based on a price I had no control over and an assumption that this was a “white paper” (presumably paid for in advance). (I normally wouldn’t link to Amazon, but since that’s where the review is…

This is the kind of thing that gets discouraging. And it’s the worst I’ve encountered. But not Scott: He’s been subjected to…

Level 3: You inform the creator (publicly or otherwise) that the asking price is outrageous and, therefore, you are wholly justified in looking for a pirated version, which you intend to do.

Now you’ve gone from jerk to troll (probably not the right word, but I still don’t like “pirate” for copyright infringement, even in this most blatant of cases): You’re saying “I want what you’ve done; I don’t think you deserve payment; therefore it’s ethical for me to break the law in order to acquire your work without paying you for it.”

Go read the post and comments. Scott says this sort of thing a whole lot more eloquently than I ever will.

Who or what writes this stuff?

Monday, March 12th, 2012

I stopped doing “great spam I have known” posts–with rare exceptions–partly because you really can’t cut-and-paste from the list of spam comments presented by Spam Karma, partly because there are so damn many of them…

But a few, those that are apparently slightly less spammy than others, show up in a daily email summary (and a few–two yesterday!–actually get through until I see and flag them). Many of these have slightly deficient grammar and substantially deficient sense. Some are almost classic, such as this one:

I liked up to you’ll obtain performed proper here. The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish. nevertheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you would like be handing over the following. sick no doubt come more before again since precisely the similar nearly very regularly within case you defend this hike.

Well, I’m happy that the sketch is attractive; too bad it’s invisible. But thaty may have to do with my not being sufficiently well-preferred, according to this comment:

Thanks , I have just been searching for information about this topic for a while and yours is the best I’ve came upon till now. However, what about the bottom line? Are you positive about the source?|What i do not realize is actually how you are not actually much more well-preferred than you may be right now. You’re very intelligent.

Unfortunately, some compliments aren’t even worth the electrons that carry them…

Nicely played, spammer…but not quite nicely enough

Monday, February 27th, 2012

A little more than a month ago, I posted “Keeping it going: another update on library social networking et al.” Included in that post was an amplification of my need for funding to expand and continue my broad investigations into public library social networking.

Somebody (who shall go nameless) posted what appeared to be a cogent reply, noting the existence of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and suggesting that I try there. It was flagged for moderation, and reading the first paragraph, I almost approved it…until I got to the final paragraph, where it turned into a sales pitch for some product entirely unrelated to me, libraries or even the Gates Foundation.

It was spam–but not “pure and simple.” Some spambot had actually managed to parse the post well enough to come up with a seemingly logical response, one that wasn’t just parroting the post. Or maybe some human spammer figured I’d be so delighted with the suggestion that I wouldn’t read all the way through to the end of the post.

Didn’t happen.

Oh, as to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for which I have the greatest respect:

I checked. The foundation doesn’t make grants to individuals. In fact, it can’t make grants to individuals even if it was so inclined: Its tax status and charter prevent it.

Also, for U.S. library-related grants at least, it appears that Gates always goes looking, it doesn’t accept applications.

I would love to have appropriate institutional affiliation or partnership. Any suggestions are welcome. I’m pretty sure that most other foundations (e.g., Knight) will have similar limits to Gates. (Some library school want to make a name for in-depth study of public library use of social networks? I could work with you, possibly…)

So far, no progress on finding sources of funding (or, really, knowing how to do so). The improbable possibility of Kickstarter is starting to look better…

Anyway: As the title says: Nicely played, spammer…but not quite nicely enough.

And I once again apologize to people who submit legitimate comments only to have them trapped as spam. I continue to average more than 100 spamments per day, so really don’t look carefully at each apparent spamment. If you think this has happened, please, please email me your comment at waltcrawford at