Library closures and pornography

Campaign poster from Save Lincolnshire Libraries
Campaign poster from Save Lincolnshire Libraries










Well, that title should get me a few more hits than usual, but I fear sweatier readers will be disappointed. The post is really about library closures and threats to freedom.

Now,  it would be fun to ridicule the hapless Councillor Worth’s selfishness and lack of empathy, as evidenced in this poster featuring a tweet in which he explains why closing virtually all of Lincolnshire’s branch libraries, is not going to cause anyone much inconvenience. (A tweet! Says it all really). Never mind, I try to keep the tone of this blog reasonably restrained. After all I’ve never met the man, so it wouldn’t really be fair.

Anyway I think there’s a more sinister agenda at work. One of the councillor’s earlier pronouncements on the topic was that we didn’t need libraries because everyone has a Kindle, or iPad. (Of course, everyone in Lincolnshire has probably got one of these devices for each of their cars).  Even if that were so, a single computer is about as much use for serious research as a single book. Which is to say “not very much”.  Serious research needs serious reading, and as any academic will tell you the publishing industry is very good at leeching off the work of researchers who quite often have to pay quite large sums to access published versions of their own work, having been forced to hand over the copyright to their publishers in order to get published at all. (There’s that free market at work!)  So maybe the Internet isn’t quite as free as Cllr. Worth and his colleagues would like to believe. I don’t think that’s malice on their part. I think it’s genuine ignorance of the fact that what you can find for free on Google and the like, is only a tiny part of the Internet. It’s not “free” anyway. To access it you have to hand over quite a lot of personal data, which is much more valuable to these companies than the coin in your pocket.

The issue that’s worrying me more though,  comes from elsewhere in Cllr Worth’s party, namely from David Cameron’s pronouncements about “filtering” on-line pornography. Now, I am not about to start defending pornography of any sort, but I wonder how long it will be before “pornography” filters become “unsuitable material” filters, and we’re all told what we can and can’t read, or before we have to register to read the works of Karl Marx, or even, if you prefer, Ayn Rand.  If you can filter one thing, you can filter others.

I am well aware that the filtering idea is completely impractical, (unless you have humans somewhere along the line judging what counts as ‘inappropriate material’), but once these ideas get floated they can be hard to kill, and it’s not entirely inconceivable that some workable system may be found and implemented.  For a party that once claimed to defend individual freedom, the modern Conservatives seem remarkably anxious to control every aspect of our lives in remarkable detail. In fairness I suspect the Labour Party would be just as greedy for this level of control. (I haven’t forgotten the ID card fiasco).  Happily we have a defence, in the shape of our libraries where we can go to the shelves and pick different ideas up in the space of a couple of hours without even having to think of the right words to put into a search engine. We really must not allow ourselves to lose this. And that applies to every county in the UK, not just Lincolnshire.

Oh and by the way if some registration system for on-line pornography (or anything else) is introduced, I urge you to opt in. Not so you can look at the wretched stuff, but so that you remain free to live your life as best you can. My argument is rather based on the “I am Spartacus” principle. Admittedly that didn’t work out all that well for Spartacus’s army, but the principle is sound.  The powerful need to differentiate between us, to break us into smaller groups, in order to control us.

As Shelley said “Ye are many, they are few”. Don’t ever let them forget it.

What counts as public these days?

One of the mailing lists I subscribe to burst into life this afternoon with many posters taking umbrage that an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement had apparently taken a discussion and (more or less) republished it as an article. The list in question was not really a private list, although it had certainly been created for and aimed at the academic community and some participants may have regarded it as private. Many of the contributors were complaining that their moral rights as authors had been impugned. I’m not really bothered about the rights and wrongs of this particular issue (at least not as bothered as some of the posters seemed to be) and I don’t want to get sidetracked, so I’m not giving details but I think the debate raises some interesting issues.

Firstly there is the matter of what we do on the Internet. I think it’s probably naive to expect journalists to ignore a public source in the search for an interesting story, and if you really don’t want your words re-used you shouldn’t post them on a public forum. (That said, I’d much rather journalists went out and found real stories rather than sat at their desk rehashing press releases and Internet debates. It would make newspapers much more interesting!)

Secondly this brings up the issue of open access/open source again. I don’t think there is likely to be much commercial value in a post on a discussion forum, or for that matter a blog post, so I’d argue for a default Creative Commons licence for all such forums. Currently the default position is that the person who creates something automatically holds the copyright in it, but the copyright owner can give it away, sell it, or more commonly license it to be used in certain conditions. So I hold the copyright in this blog, but I license it so that anyone can reuse it without cost, and with minimum formality. I do ask that if it is re-used, then my work is attributed to me, and that any amendments are released under the same share alike conditions. I think the same should apply to public, or semi public discussion fora, and that posters should be asked to opt out of a Creative Commons license. After all, the original issue probably got much wider coverage from the THES than it would have done had it stayed in the discussion group.

Open Street Map

I’ve been interested in this project for a while now, and today, after weeks of faffing about with USB to Serial connectors and drivers etc. I finally got my PC to talk to my GPS. Anyway, the point is I’ve finally added a few streets to the Open Street Map project. The idea is that there will be a free open access map of the whole country available, eventually. How this works is you take your GPS unit out, walk down some streets, and it logs a “trace” of where you’ve walked. You then download a bit of software which converts this trace to what’s called a GPX file, which you can then add to the map. (You can’t use existing maps because they’re all copyright.)

It’s not brilliant, because the GPS isn’t absolutely 100% accurate, and it’s quite hard to get all the twists and turns of a street absolutely right, because there a multiple waypoints recorded in the GPS trace and you’ve got to remember the exact configuration of the streets. The ones I walked down all had sort of a T configuration at the end, and even though I walked round this, it’s still quite hard to see the exact layout of the map. Still I think it’s a worthwhile little project, although given that its not all that easy for a novice computer user to get into, I think it might be some time before the whole country gets covered.

All the waypoints are superimposed on the map, and you then have to draw lines (which become the streets on the map) over your waypoints, classify the type of street it is, and then enter its name into the database. You can then add features like pubs and so on. (Which I did of course!). Anyway you can see my endeavours, (so far) by clicking on and searching for Skellingthorpe. Click on the village name in the list that appears and zoom in.

I’m afraid though I’ve quite a lot more streets to do! Gets me out of the house though, I suppose!