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Magazines > Information Today > May 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 5 — May 2003
In Other Words
By Lauree Padgett

It's May. Or as Queen Guenevere refers to it in the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot, "the lusty month of May, that lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray." You needn't be sitting at a round table—or any kind of table, for that matter—to read this month's picks from Computers in Libraries, CyberSkeptics Guide, and Searcher. And the choice of whether you go astray—blissfully or otherwise—is entirely up to you. Tra la!

Checking Out Library Security

How much emphasis you place on library security depends on two main points:the kind of library you have and who yourusers are. So says Kyle Banerjee in his article "How Much Security Does Your Library Need?" (Computers in Libraries, May 2003, p. 12).As he points out, librarians shouldn't set up security measures merely to prevent attacks, but "to make hardware, services, programs, and data available to those who need them, when they need them."

What makes libraries a prime target for hackers? Even the basic desktop PC can provide them with disk space, processing power, and network bandwidth—not to mention a platform from which to do more hacking. Any high-speed connection will allow hackers to access or distribute anything from illegally copied music to all types of illicit material. Banerjee says, "A compromised desktop machine can collect passwords, probe other machines for weaknesses, distribute files, and perform other tasks that undermine security."

Without a knight in shining armor ready to fight off attacks, there are precautions to take. Think of a firewall—the modern-day castle moat—as your first lineof defense. Installing reputable antivirus software is like giving your computer a vaccination. The risk of becoming infected isn't entirely eliminated, but the odds are greatly reduced. Monitoring network activity is the key to troubleshooting problems. Use encryption to prevent data from being monitored or altered.

You can also take a number of steps to thwart unwelcomed intrusions. Don't create world-writable server directories. Be wise when setting up passwords and group accounts. Always back up valuable data. In addition, automating routine monitoring tasks will make your system safer. So will conducting regular check-ups and learning about some of the more detailed aspects of your system. Lastly, Banerjee reminds us what the winningest coaches have always known:The best offense is a good defense. He says, "The best ways to maintain security are to observe common-sense practices and to educate users."

The Virtual Chase

Need a reliable and extensive legal research Web site? Marylaine Block ("Virtually Chasing Information," CyberSkepticsGuide, May 2003, p. 4) has uncovered a real gold mine: law librarian Genie Tyburski's site, The Virtual Chase (TVC; TVC provides guides to entire bodies of law, including case law, regulatory law, state law, criminal records, and legal subjects. Rather than just offering links to online documents, Tyburski explains the Web resources, how to use them, and what their benefits and limitations are.

TVC isn't just for lawyers or law librarians, even though Tyburski receives rave reviews from both groups. Block notes, "Law has a nasty way of affecting almost everything we do." From trying to locate standard business forms or searching for adoption records to figuring out if an image you want to put on your Web site is copyrighted, we all regularly find ourselves on the outer to inner fringes of the law. That's why TVC is such a find for researchers. Specialized guides are great starting points for tackling any number of legal questions that are bound to pop up from time to time.

For fact-checking, the Factual Resources section is impressive, offering language and online reference tools, alerting services, topical resources, and statistics. Need to get people out of the Dark Ages and up and running on the Internet? Tyburski's got this area covered too, with articles such as "Pick a Search Engine," "Tips for Conducting Internet Research," and "Deceptive Facts." Internet trainers will most definitely want to check out the Internet Trainers' Stop & Swap. There you'll find the outline for an Internet Research Skills seminar Tyburski teaches. Or you can review Hypothetical Research Scenarios to see how good you are at choosing the best resources.

Tyburski's daily Web log, The TCV Alert, is the place to go for a wide range of information, including news on legislation and court cases, search engine updates, research tips, and Web resources. Block says, "By her own standards, we can trust Genie Tyburski because she's smart, honest, thoughtful, and knows her stuff, but also because she's a librarian and Web research applications specialist...."

Sour Notes

There's a war going on in Hollywood that isn't taking place on a soundstage at Paramount or Warner Brothers.And you're not going to see trailers for it at your favorite multiplex (although the saga could turn up on E! True Hollywood Story). Clueless? Check out Carol Ebbinghouse's Sidebar column in the May issue of Searcher(p. 18). The aggressors in this far-from-fictional battle are the big guns in the entertainment industry, including the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.

As Ebbinghouse explains, from pending legislation on Capitol Hill (HR 5211) to a massive letter-writing campaign, the "Creative Content Community stands vigilant in its battle against services and technologies that would liberate music, movies, games, media, etc., to all takers." Basically, if passed, the legislation would help content providers "to combat peer-to-peer piracy," i.e., unauthorized downloading of copyrighted materials on networked computers. However, as the Association for Computing Machinery countered, this legalese could be interpreted as allcomputers connected to the Internet. This would result in degradation of service and/or service disruptions for millions of law-abiding Internet users, many of whom would not even be using P2P networks.

In October 2002, the above-mentioned associations joined forces to send letters to Fortune 1000 companies and 2,500 college and university presidents. The corporations were asked to prevent employees from taking copyrighted material off the Web while at work. Likewise, the collegiate letter addressed the problem "that a significant number of students are using university networks to engage in online piracy of copyrighted creative works." The letter then suggested a number of bandwidth-management tools that are available to assist the schools in monitoring computer usage.

There's no question that copyrighted material is being downloaded and no money is being channeled to the proper copyright holders. However, Ebbinghouse's article argues that the way to deal with copyright breaches is not by passing laws or pushing tactics that pose a threat to privacy rights. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, in its own letter to college and university presidents, expressed concern for the effect such computer monitoring could have on "the marketplace of ideas," contending that it's "incompatible with intellectual freedom."

Is there a happy medium between Internet users' freedom to download copyrighted material and the entertainment industry's attempts to protect that content? Ebbinghouse quotes an article by Tim O'Reilly ( "Why would you pay for a song that you could get for free? For the same reason that you will buy a book you could borrow from the public library or buy a DVD of a movie you could watch on television or rent for the weekend. Convenience, ease of use, selection ... the sheer pleasure of owning something you treasure."

Clearly, this is a copyright issue that's far from over. And to borrow an old DJ phrase from when there was still such a thing as a 45, catch you on the flip side, babe.

Don't Let It Be Forgot ...

As for me, I'm all spun out for the moment. Hopefully, "before you drift to sleep upon your cot" tonight, you'll have stored up a few choice tidbits from these articles to serve you well in the months to come. In the meantime, don't spend all your time reading—even ITI publications. Get outside and enjoy May! Before you know it, winter will be here again!


Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s manager of editorial services. Her e-mail address is
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