On Libraries and Book Thieves
I've been keeping busy with a few projects, including lots of research and reading into My Obsessive and Excessive Exploration into Very Nearly Everything (I've been asked a few times "what are you researching" to which the most cogent response I can usually come up with it "good question", though my Ello motto, "Progress, Models, Institutions, Technology, Limits" seems to be a good start. Perhaps I should have business cards made...).
I've been reaquainting myself over the past year or so with libraries. They're a wonderful and ancient institution, pre-dating both booksellers and publishers, and, as a wonderful recent online essay points out, founded on the concepts of copying and piracy. The first true library of the world, at Alexandria, grew by seizing all manuscripts which arrived at the city, and copying them out, by hand. The original owner was then provided, in many cases, the copy. Alexandria became the first true center of academia in the world, and held that position for centuries, though it was ultimately destroyed -- perhaps burnt, perhaps pillaged over time, nobody is quite certain (and the records ... seem to have been destroyed). Many of the seiminal works of the ancient world survive to us only by single copies, as in the case of Ptolomy. Many of the Greek and Roman classics were reintroduced to Europe between the 7th and 14th centuries.
In their modern incarnations, libraries offer both an immediate archive of literature (often several hundred volumes), but also access to a wider world of works, through both regional cross-lending programs and the Interlibrary Loan (ILL) system. Through these a tremendous number of works are available.
But this comes with the overhead of tracking due-dates and fines and not letting your local reading pile grow too much in excess of your capacity to read and process. Which for my own uses is further slowed by the need to read quite actively -- taking notes and following up references. Library books also lack the flexibility of one's own copies in that stuffing the pages full of scraps and notes, or composing marginalia directly on them, is generally frowned upon. More's the pity.
There is one other advantage: libraries will often have access to other archives, including JSTOR, various databanks, and periodicals archives. Perhaps not your local public library, but a community or junior college, almost always open to the public, may. Public universities are almost always open to the public, though lending may be quite restricted. Private universities less so, though it pays to inquire, and one may be pleasantly surprised.
Often though, my first preference is in seeking out online copies, without the limitations of library lending.
There are many archives of generally available works. The Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg both have extensive and excellent collections, as does Wikisource (a primary source reference, not to be confused, as one correspondant of mine did, with Wikipedia). In a bit of recent research, reading James Burke's 1978 book Connections (from the TV series of the same name), I came across reference to Georg "Agricola" Bauer's 1556 text De Re Metallica. For over four centuries, this was the leading text on mining and mine engineering, despite being written in Latin, and not translated until 1912, when a young American mining engineer and his wife did so, into English. His name: Herbert Hoover.
The Internet Archive has a copy of Hoover's translation of Agricola. I was thrilled. (I've also waxed rhapsodic on TIA's BookReader online software, which is also excellent.)
There are also numerous online archives, particularly of economic works. I've noted before that, ironically given my own views of the school, Austrian and Libertarian leaning organisations tend to have quite a few useful collections of economic works.
But there's still a tremendous amount of literature that's not available online, and for which carrying (or even shelving) physical copies is too limiting. Which is why I, as many other researchers, am a book thief.
I make very heavy use of tools including Library Genesis, BookZZ, SciHub, and others, in which copies of books and articles may often be found. This is a growing practice, and one that's attracting the attention of the publishing and academic publishing worlds, including Elsevier, academic publisher with over $2 billion in profits in 2014.
The problem, quite simply, is that information wants to, and must flow. Some of those I've been researching recently lay out the case for why this must be excellently. James Burke does in Connections. The late John Holland, of the University of Michigan, describes the common elements of the process of evolution, whether in biology or human invention: it requires the recombination of extant elements. Which if hoarded off from one another, or locked behind $14 (or $30 or $60) per article, or $60 or $600 per book, purchase restrictions, simply fail to do anyone any good.
I'm increasingly utterly convinced that information is a public good and should be treated as one. This doesn't mean it has no value or that those creating it shouldn't be paid, but as with other goods for which marginal costs trend to zero, and whose own value is difficult to meaningfully assess (Godwin's Law), the goal should be not to pay individual producers based on how much they can negotiate for individual sales of their works, say, a $2 million album sale to a well-known, dispicable drugs mogul, but to accept that such creators simply need to have their subsistence and research provided for, and that that market is absolutely the wrong mechanism by which to do this (only one of multiple such cases of "free market" failure).
Looking at how we got here, how copyright evolved (of which I've some familiarity), academic publishing (less), alternative forms of content creation and funding (serial publication, retainer-and-reports, etc.), is pretty fascinating. I plan on digging into this more in future.
The pathetic state of information technology
As some of my recent Ello posts have noted, I've found limitations imposed by my available technology similarly frustrating. I'm still largely using an Android tablet, which again does have some quite attractive features: light weight, gobstopping battery life, at 10" a sufficiently large screen to comfortably read most PDFs in one-page-up mode (portrait), and good integration with a bluetooth keyboard (presently engaged).
But in terms of organising the content I've curated, or am attempting to curate, it continues to be a chore.
Firefox does a decent job with memory management, but tabs aren't a substitute for content organisation. Calling material out of its reading list is slow, though that beats alternative bookmarking (also employed). Bookmarks and the interface generally are de-featured from the full desktop version. The Reader Mode feature is frustrating largely in some usability affordances and lacking features, otherwise it's an instant win over virtually every website's native styling.
Readability is showing increasing signs of having lost its will to live. Best I can tell the Android app's not been updated in nearly 3 years, the Web client lacks for features, and the project's own Web site, Twitter, and Facebook feeds are similarly abandoned. That's a real pity, as I've some 1,500 items in it, and the prospect of moving those to a more viable platorm is not endearing.
I looked into tools for managing my article and citations references, finding Mendeley to be the most frequently mentioned one ... then discovered that it's now owned by Elsevier. Given my relationship to the academic publishing world, this is entirely a non-starter. Sadly there's no Calibre or Zotero client for Android.
PDF bookreaders and downloaded file management tools are another pain point.
Several of the bookreaders, particularly PocketBook, have some nice features, and, once you've identified and opened the book you're interested in, behave nicely. FBReader is another choice (a fallback) -- while it lacks some of PB's UI/UX refinement (largely in zoom and advance controls), it's more robust at actually opening up some specific content which causes PB to explode messily.
But neither offers management capabilities suitable for more than a score or so items (and I'm working in the 100s). Worse, what tools for annotating book title, author, tags, and other data simply don't save user inputs, which is beyond aggrevating.
I've yet to find a file manager worthy of the name on Android. Few are even file manglers, they just succeed in annoying the beasts occasionally. Utterly useless crap award goes to the warning over opening executable content, with no options for either removing execute permissions or downloading content without execute bits set. I'm presented with this. Every. Single. Time. It's fucking pathetic.
Worse though: every last file manager is entirely graphically oriented, with no capabilities for working with more files than can reasonably fit on 1-2 screens of a device. Again, a score or so. To the point that it's not even viable to move downloaded content out of the Downloads folder.
Again: fucking pathetic.
Those last two hassles will likely be addressed once I convert the tablet to CyanogenMod, but that introduces yet another increasingly urgent complaint concerning technology: it's just too much of a fucking pain in the ass to deal with. And that's across pretty much any and all peremutations -- in the past month or so I've jousted with and lost to Android, Linux, Mac, iOS, and Windows.
Life's too short. And there are too many books to read. And steal.