A Year of EULAs

It is a truism that people do not read end user license agreements (EULAs) before accepting them. As Jeff Sauro mentions in his post at Measuring Usability, not only are such agreements long and boring, but they also present a single legitimate choice for the end user: agree to the terms and proceed to use the software or service, or decline the terms and do without.

I confess to not spending much time poring over every EULA. As an undergraduate philosophy major, I can certainly understand the need for precision in language, especially when describing a contract between two or more parties. But there’s something to be said for clarity, too, as well as communicating in plain language. One of the hardest assignments I was ever given was to write a coherent philosophical argument in a single paragraph. In such a tightly constructed document, it’s important to find not only the right word, but also the concise phrase.

Compare one (admittedly dense) paragraph with the many pages of obtuse legalese in each EULA.

Starting June 1st, I’m going to track the license agreements that I encounter over the next year and save a digital copy of each, compiling them in order to get a total page count. Why? Mostly it’s an effort to make visible something that typically goes unseen. What usability issues are there in accessing, reading, and understanding these agreements to which we are (nominally) legally binding ourselves? What if anything does this suggest for library services? Finally, the librarian and latent information designer in me wonders about EULA reform.

Book review: Working For Yourself

Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants
by Stephen Fishman J.D.

This book is a great resource for people who are thinking about or have started working for themselves. It starts with the basics: the pros & cons of working for oneself, choosing a legal form for your business, creating a business name & protecting it, and whether or not to work from home. I appreciated going through these topics before jumping into the legal and financial nitty-gritty promised in the book’s subtitle.

I’ve always been impressed by Nolo, finding their books helpful, but realistic in terms of setting readers’ expectations. It’s written in a neutral, professional tone. I’m not particularly versed in legal subtleties, and cannot therefore verify the accuracy of everything that Fishman writes. But that’s sort of the point. This book is a starting point: the information it gives will often be sufficient, and when it isn’t, it will at least help you to be an informed customer when you need to seek out professional help.

As others have noted, it’s a very well organized and comprehensive book. Comprehensive up to a point, as the book can’t cover everything. For more in-depth material than this book can offer, Fishman provides regular citations to other books and resources (a collected ‘further reading’ section would have been a time-saver, but at least the information is still available). The final chapter is entitled “Help Beyond This Book,” and covers when and how to contact lawyers, tax pros and others and find relevant information online (the book is in its 8th edition, and I have to wonder why the listing of usenet groups is still there, but that’s a minor quibble). Appendices provide sample forms and legal agreements, and there is an index.

Highly recommended

Screencast tutorial preview

One of the last (and most useful) training sessions that I took before finishing grad school was how to use screencasting and audio recording/editing software to create tutorials for the library website.

In the interests of turning theory into practice, I’m working on a basic tutorial screencast for an internet library resource. As I’m creating it, I’ll be taking notes on the process and result, and will post again with a link to the finished product as well as a write-up with my experiences and recommendations. And I’ll be using as many free or low-cost alternatives so as to make this a realistic possibility for as many people as possible.

Humble beginnings

Hello!  My name is Jonathan. I’m a librarian who earned his LIS degree in May 2010, and has been working in libraries for almost sixteen years. This blog is something different from my professional portfolio; I envision sharing ideas about what makes this profession a good one, and how to improve it. I’d also like a place to brain dump some of my random library thoughts, something like a virtual idea file.

I’ve also been commenting on the world over at Twitter (@librarianist), so check that out for the latest news and whatnot.