Not a great week to be a blogger, but rare-book related blogging is still pretty much safe I guess!
1. THE ONLY WINNING MOVE IS NOT TO BLOG? Not quite, but sometimes it feels that way. This week an American man was arrested in Thailand for linking to sites on his blog that were critical of the monarchy there. Thailand is just one glaring example of the threats to bloggers worldwide– think of for instance the arrest in the same country of Suwicha Thakor in 2009 for, similarly, criticizing the monarchy. He is now serving a 10 year jail sentence. But this latest case makes the point that while the web seems to provide a global platform for discourse it can also allow repressive regimes to extendpower outside of their own borders without leaving home– as here were practically a tourist can get nabbed, or with filtering access to the internet. Over 30 countries use similar tactics, filtering access within the country to websites (especially blog hosts) but also policing those channels they filter with sometimes very brutal consequences.
On the other side of the world, the US has released its “International Strategy for Cyberspace“or in other words, according to Ars Technica, the document warns “hack us, and we might bomb you”. These of course are two very different extremeties, but they brought to mind a short piece entitled “Blogging Dangerously” by Ron Deibert in the Index on Censorship (November 2010):
No longer is it possible for bloggers to write in the relative sanctuary of cyberspace as if it were a world apart. State authorities have brought the activities that happen in cyberspace under increasingly rigid and very tangible police and intelligence control.
The tactics of governments are being complemented by the increasingly stifling policies of ISPs’ online hosting companies. It is important to remember that cyberspace is owned and operated by the private sector. Decisions taken for market reasons can end up having major political consequences, though often without public accountability or transparency.
2. DUMPSTER DRIVING: In other internet-related news there is now a program, Dumpster Drive, for “recycling digital files”. “Using dumpster diving as a model for recirculating unwanted objects, Dumpster Drive allows others to dig through files that you delete on your computer in a passive file-sharing network. Instead of simply erasing data from your computer, the software allows users to extend the lifecycle of their unwanted files and pass them on to others.” I know so far this news seems very tech-y, but I think both of these points are useful for rethinking just to what extent a lot of our ideas on free speech and, yes, even recycling, are based towards physical, crumble-able papers, books, and other printed matter. And these ideas don’t necessarily accommodate what we can do digitally. So Dumpster Drive is exciting– it carves out a whole new network of information that is secondhand and unwanted for reuse. Who knows the effects on art and possibly politics this will have? What kinds of mistakes will be made, what secrets will surface? What draft versions of novels can circulate– where their reuse becomes something more sinister than recycling, something like stealing? Will report back when I actually use it because I am still torn…
3. LOS ANGELES LIBRARIAN WITCH-HUNT: Boing Boing is doing a good job of covering this news as it unfolds. An op-ed in the LA Times is also useful. In a small makeshift courtroom librarians are being interrogated as to how useful they are to the intellectual life of their school, with their jobs at stake if they don’t answer the right way. In other words, they’re the first to be put on the chopping block in order that schools may balance their budget in a time of severe cuts. Although the latest development is variations on a theme– they’re trying to fire a teacher based on evidence they’ve extracted from her blog. This needs to get more coverage. Especially if making an example of these librarians is going to set an example for other school budgets.
4. TWO PIECES OF GOOD NEWS: A USEFUL PARTNERSHIP. The folks at Biblio.com and The Literary Tourist have partnered up to, literally, keep independent bookstores on the map. I can’t even express how much I am inspired by this– I especially love the folks at Biblio and I don’t even know them!
In addition, Boing Boing covered an amazing story about a man publishing a Hindu newspaper in Pakistan to reach the small community there. He’s basically doing it from his basement, and now they’ve put up more information on how you can help him.
5. HOW INVESTING IN ANTIQUE BOOKS…CAN GIVE YOU HIGH RETURNS. Says the Economic Times of India– a nice complement to a recent Between the Covers post on whether Books Appreciate in Value. In my experience this is certainly true with early books, provided they are complete.
6. GOOGLE ADDS TO ITS 16th-17th C. HOLDINGS: This was introduced last week actually, but this was the first week I actually had cause to consult them, first in cataloguing Peter Paaw’s Commentary on Head Wounds, and now with Kepler’s Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae. My particular interest in consulting both turns out to be at least one area where the exciting new effort completely fails: fold-outs are not included in the scans, apart from a view of them….folded-in. This is a shame for folks in the trade, since it always helps to treble-check whether or not your book includes all of its proper plates. These are not always included in full collations, or indexes, but their absence affects value in a huge way. Not only that, they’re the most likely portions of a book to be missing through being intentionally ripped out or just as a function of time!
But I noticed something else from this that is just a weird little note: whenever you can see a human finger holding a page down, as in this Kepler, it’s either been blurred or someone has attempted to remove it altogether. Check it out:
Someone has clearly used photoshop here, given the difference between the quality of the text and the quality of the finger(s), with the latter example being a little more time-consuming than the former. It just seems like a weird waste of time thought doesn’t it?