State of the Blog Address

So, I’ve been plugging away at this blog for a month. I know, what a noob, right? Well, it’s not my first stab at blogging and I’ve maintained a personal journal over at LiveJournal for a couple of years now. I guess that’s technically a blog, but since it has the word “journal” in it, it gets me all caught up in semantics. At any rate, this is my second attempt at having a completely public blog (my LJ is private and limited to family and friends).

In looking back at the past month of entries, they started off very serious, very link laden, and a mix of fact and opinion. As time moved on, I got away from that format. As much as I like trying to provide a complete picture of some of the issues that I support, it can be very draining. More draining than I thought it would be since it doubles the writing time as I collect and paste links and edit heavily. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to provide the whole picture and cite my sources; it’s the right way to present the underlying facts that support a position. But, as the month went on, I have found that my interest was waning due to the high standards I had set for myself.

And hell, this is not supposed to be work, this is supposed to be something that I want to contribute to on multiple levels. So, the course has now changed (or, as I like to imagine it, “I am not lost, it is that path that has wandered”). I’ve always had the impulse to write, but not always the willpower to follow through. Right now, I have the willpower so I might as well take it where it is going and not stifle it by setting an unreasonable standard. I like writing about library science, religion, politics, goofy stuff in my life, and stuff that just pops in my head and demands to be recorded online.

More importantly to me, I like telling a story. I come from a long line of storytellers who savor the experience (much to the chagrin of my wife who hates waiting for joke punchlines and/or anything long winded).  I have many happy family memories involving people gathered around a dining room table or scattered in the family room or patio telling tales of their life experiences. More often than not it was something funny, but there would be stories of the somber times of World War II, Depression, and the intervening years of personal tragedies and other close calls. I’ve always known I was a storyteller. And though I prefer the spoken word to the written one, this is as good a medium as any for sharing most stories.

And so, I will see in another few months whether or not I stuck with the current format. It’s nice to see how certain things evolve over time. I’m looking forward to where I’m going, wherever that may be.

Men are from 523.43, Women are from 523.42

On the way home from the NJLA conference today, my wife mentioned to me that she thought that this year’s conference had more young men than last year’s. I thought this was a strange observation since (1) it was confined to such a narrow band of crowd population and (2) what gauge was she using to measure the number from last year compared to this year. (I could toss in “why are you counting young men?” as a (3), but I think the first two get the job done objectively.) I remember writing something about gender in the NJLA Blog from last year’s conference. In looking back on that entry, it feels to me like I was more excited to contribute to the NJLA blog than I was at actually making a point that people wouldn’t simply scan over and move on the next entry. Ah, yes, it was during my rookie librarian year. I was all very new to the profession and full of optimism and ideas.

I was still full of optimism and ideas even before Karen Hyman’s keynote speech. Her speech almost compelled me to rise from my seat, get in my car, and head back to my branch to announce, “We are going to weed, redecorate, renovate, and improve staff morale today” while emphasizing each concept with a rev of a chainsaw. Perhaps it sounds a bit extreme, but my library could benefit from some new window holes, a noticeably smaller collection, and a suddenly cooperative and motivated staff. (Lest uninformed readers be shocked, it is a little known fact that the chainsaw is McGuyver’s army knife, duct tape, and chewing gum rolled up into one extremely delightful gas guzzling tool for all occasions. It is so good at solving problems that it can work by simply holding one in your hands while you talk.)

To be certain, if I had known that I would have gone into such a female dominated profession, I certainly would have tried to stay single longer than I did. (I’m sure I’ll get pinched in my sleep for that.) Sadly (that’s another pinch), I got married long before thoughts of library science danced across my mind like a tantalizing raven haired seductress (yet another pinch).

But in giving it actual serious thought, the gender imbalance is a complete non-issue for me. I wouldn’t exactly call myself progressive unless “I don’t care where the answer comes from so long as it is right” counts. When I’m reaching out to colleagues for answers to a question I can’t figure out, or share ideas for new programs or services, or to find out why my patron’s hold got sent to another branch, the gender of the person on the other end of the conversation is completely moot. I’m sure there are social scientists who could show me how different gender balance works environments perform but, honestly, unless there is some sort of earth shattering difference, it’s trivia that I would store away for the night I can shout it at the television during Jeopardy!.  It reminds me of a line by Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (played by John Amos) in the television series The West Wing when asked about having a young black man serve as the President’s body man:

I got some real honest-to-god battles to fight [...]. I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.

Back to optimism and other things that spring eternal, I will say that loathsome, too oft repeated cliche that the best days of library science are still ahead. And while the phrase may be vile, the new information networks and communications are not. We stand at the frontier of complete information immersion where there are few actual limits to access and all forms of knowledge are now intertwined. For me, the future does not lay in creating a better library system, but in the empowerment of the end user. We can come up with as many features and tools as we want, we can create a big ole pile of features and tools that could be stacked end to end and reach from the Earth to the moon and back, but it will mean diddly squat if our patrons don’t know about it, don’t know how to use it, can’t figure out how to use it on their own, and/or don’t ask us about it. In my sophomore year of librarianship, I see the mission of the library is to educate and empower the patron with the access and tools to the resources they desire. Let us move from being gatekeepers to guides.

I’m sure I’ll look back in a year and snicker at my second attempt to figure out the big picture, but it’s nice set lofty goals and to have stars to reach for.

Fuzzy Wuzzy Wuz OCD

The other night, the wife and I are out having dinner with some dear friends. In the course of dinner at a fabulous Chinese buffet (one of the better ones in the area, I might add), I happened to notice something upon one of my fellow diners. There, on her brown spaghetti stringed top, was a lone white thread clinging to the fabric surface. My first inclination is to pick it off, but alas, not only was she seated across from me, this was not located in a casual pick off area. No, it was on the right boob region of her top. Thus, a dilemma was created for me: how do I casually inform her of an insignificant thread that is located in the so-called “bad touch area” of most child therapy dolls? The bigger dilemma simultaneously arose: why is this little string so damn distracting to me?

I did not bring it up, but mercifully, the string detached itself as the evening went along. It saved me an evening of being distracted in a manner that would make ultimately explaining my behavior feel outright foolish. (“Why do you keep staring at my chest?” “Um… there’s a tiny string there?”) Nevermind the mirth that became apparent when I was telling my wife about this on the car ride home tonight. “You should have said something,” she giggled at me as she filed away this little story for future teasing.

At least we both agreed it was a personality quirk. It wasn’t anything more sinister as it did not control my thoughts (unlike my diagnosed OCD family members). Nor was it anything harmful, since I was not pulling a Monk and trying to unthread or unfuzzy the world around me. But I do think that it was a pretty narrow quirk.

Someone with a bunch of fuzzies or other clothing debris doesn’t activate this need to pick. It’s not like I won’t say anything, but the larger the number, the easier it is to point out the problem without feeling odd. However, if there are a few (like, three or less), then the desire to remove the offending pieces kicks up a notch. I can’t stand looking at a solid color material and see one or two things creating an imperfection in the palette.

This does become an issue in the workplace. As one of the only male staff members at my library, the sexual harassment training dances through my mind when I spy a co-worker with a little piece of debris on their clothing. Now, I know I don’t mean any harm, but as sexual harassment training (and other sensitivity training, for that matter) tell us, it’s not about what we think, it’s about what the other person thinks. So then it becomes a more serious quagmire: do I continue to seek to remove the offending fuzzy, or do I just let it go? Usually I find something else to do, which handles the matter nicely in that “out of sight, out of mind” mantra that works for so many other problems in life. (You know what I mean. Wife, kids, car, creditors, parents, family, work, etc. The fun stuff!)

So you know, it’s not a matter of trying to pick it off myself. But it’s more of the notion that my observation (“You have a fuzzy on your shirt”) will lead down a bad train of thought (“Only someone really creepy would have been able to spy this thread? THE HORROR!”) This is probably more of a product of anxiety type thinking than, well, real people thinking. But I’ve always found that I’ve been more of attentive observer of people than of other subjects. I can still recall favorite music of friends from long ago, dietary preferences of people I don’t see anymore, and odd and ends about classmates from elementary through high school. Maybe, out of all of the aspects of my life, this is the one area where my observation skills excel. Or, for the wackier alternative theory, this “need to groom” lies with my primitive primate ancestors. The fuzzies are the new ticks and lice and other skin irritants that need to be removed just as our ape cousins do today all over the world. (There is a story behind that last possible explanation. When I was picking a fuzzy out of a co-workers hair a couple weeks back, I made a crack alluding to primate grooming. She snickered at me and said, “Well, are you going to eat it?” “No,” I replied. “Not unless you start putting candy in there.”)

Truly, there must be far far worse quirks to have. I should be thankful that mine is so minor, so hilarious, and so very much not going to get me into any trouble.

Unless the fuzzy doesn’t get removed.

It’s not me, it’s you

Maybe it’s just me, but I have reached the point of push back when it comes to social sites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. The openness of the connections on the web has lead people to make the mistake of thinking that, since we know each other in real life, we should be friends in cyberspace. Since crumbling to the pressure to join Facebook, I initially liked the interface and the ability to keep in touch with friends and family. But like a teen with his parents away for the weekend, there seems to be a call out there that there is a party at my place and anyone can come.

First, it was some of my old high school acquaintances who messaged me. There are only a few people from high school that I am interested in tracking, but these people were the ones I was interested in. Ok, not a problem, so I accepted them. At the same time, it was people I game with and enjoy their company at our once a month events. Sure, I enjoy their company at the game so why not keep tabs on them during the time between?

It took me aback when some of my high school classmates wanted in. Sorry, but to be honest, if I haven’t spoken to you in the ten years since high school, I’m not super interested in talking to you now. Same for the friend of a friend people from the gaming events. I don’t even recognize your whole name, which is when my thoughts first started wandering down this path. And when people I can’t stand start trying to friend me on Facebook and Twitter, that’s when the line in the sand was drawn. Well, perhaps a line in the sand is not the right term. This is more of a Berlin-esque wall to keep the “good” people in and the “bad” people out.

It really got me to thinking about the previous versions of social networks that existed out there. I remember dialing into BBSs, electronic bulletin boards, where the numbers were like secret codes to another computer speakeasies. People would post topics, play games, and swap files. Membership was limited to those people who actually had modem technology and the ability to use it. Then, with the rise of the computer networks like Compuserve and Prodigy, you could join in discussions on specific topics and private groups sprang up. In college, the internet was made available on campuses. Email, message boards, and chat rooms were the next steps, coupled with instant message programs became the new connectivity.  Since graduating college in 1999, social networks had plodded along in various forms till Facebook and Myspace made their appearance on the scene. (Yes, I know Facebook had been around for awhile, but not in its present 200 million user form and interface.)

The explosive nature of social networks in the past few years has been breathtaking. The social groups had always existed but the ease of connection had not. As more people bring their lives online, the need for ease came about. And here, here is the tragedy in my story. It became too easy, too expected that anyone you have ever meet ever now has an access point to your life. I started to feel guilty as I brought the mouse over the Ignore button; I simply couldn’t do it at first. Why did I feel so bad about turning down people for “friend” status for my personal online social network? It’s not like I’m going to see them or talk to them or have to answer awkward questions like, “Why are you not my friend?” There is not much consideration on their part to become your friend as it is. More likely than not, they simply saw your profile come up, think to themselves, “Hey, I know that guy”, and clicked the “Friend Request” button. Hell, there is probably more consideration given to the choosing of a breakfast cereal than for a friend request. So why do I feel guilty?

Perhaps it was because as a kid I was excluded by other kids from their play. Perhaps I don’t want anyone to feel the same way I did when I was told that I couldn’t play. Or maybe because the granting of a friend status is so minor, so silly, that who am I to deny it?

Heh, I crack myself up at times.

The more concrete, more accurate answer is one that I arrived to in college. High school forces you to interact with people you generally don’t like or don’t want to deal with; college frees you from the interaction. Sure, there are some annoying or obstinate people you will have to deal with, but the time spend dealing with them starts to reflect conditions in the real world: if you don’t have to deal with them, then you don’t have to deal with them. It’s that simple. So, to carry over this principle to social networks is a snap.

(There are also good arguments for it in controlling your personal information including likes, dislikes, opinions, ideas, thoughts, and daily activities. And for avoiding awkward social moments when someone reads a less than savory opinion about themselves. I wouldn’t doubt that someone might read this and think it talks about them.)

There is one story I’d offer as an example. It has given me the strength to follow my conviction in this matter. During college, there was a very nice but very annoying person who used to tag along to meals with myself and my friends. It turned an average meal into a grating affair as this person sucked the joy out of the eating and socializing experience that was the dining hall. We were miserable, feeling powerless in our situation. One night, in lamenting this social quagmire, I suggested that we work out a system to avoid this person. It was a perfectly horrible yet wonderful utilitarian reasoning that brought forth a solution to the problem: the guilt we felt about ditching the person was minor compared to the aggravation and misery caused by bringing them along. So, we used the phones, messages in passing, and we successfully ditched the person most of the time from then on. Meal times once again became fun.

The bottom line for me is that social network sites are the best way to keeping tabs and sharing life with the people I really truly care about. Some are old friends, some new, others from work, and still others from shared experiences and activities. If you don’t fall into those categories, then I’m sorry, but I really don’t care about what you are doing, I don’t want you to have the ability to comment on my activities, and I think we should lead our lives in parallel: never crossing. Even as I write this, it seems harsh, but the truth sometimes is. The social networks have turned the connectivity from a trickle to a flood, and I’m not interested in the noise outside my select social circle.

Believe me when I say, “It’s not me, it’s you.”

The New Know Nothings

On April 15th, the Tea Tantrum Baggers Party gathered at places all over the United States and protest… something. I wish I could say with clarity what the hell they are protesting, but between the media reports, their own PR, and what I have heard, I can’t really say I have an idea of what grievances they are petitioning the government. I would guess from the name that it had something to do with taxes, but the website, the pictures from the blogosphere, and the media coverage put it all over the place. (Thus a failure of modern protests when there is no central message.)

Moreover, it reminded me of a nativist party of the earlier American politics, the Know Nothings. While the 19th century Know Nothings earned their name as a reply to query of their activities (“I know nothing”), these 21st century Know Nothings would derive their name from the fact that they truly know nothing. Trifling matters such as facts, evidence, and reality do not deter them from decrying the apparent “excesses” of the newborn Obama administration. The taxes of the middle and lower class have been temporarily cut, not increased. The national debt generated from the Republican Congress and White House of the past eight years are finally being completely reconciled and included in the actual budget. We are not headed towards socialism, communism, or fascism due to the Obama policies; not even the true European Socialists believe such malarky. I won’t even address the claims of the Birthers, Creationists, gun owners, Creationists, or anyone not central to the tax issue since most are absurd and the others irrevelant.

The majority of these protesters truly know nothing. And their prejudices are so deep, their ideaologies are so firm, there can be no dialogue, no exchange of ideas, and no political compromise so we can move forward together. There is nothing but rage against a government that was not of their choosing, elected fairly in our democratic society. It’s the emotional exultation of those who felt that losing the election was the same as losing their country. You cannot argue the merits of democracy and then proclaim all opposing viewpoints as being traitorous. The lack of logic and reasoning makes my brain hurt. It’s as thought the mantle of minority fringe political theatre has been passed from the moonbat wackery on the left to the wingnut wackjobs on the right, and the cycle begins anew. (The benefit of the extreme politics of either side is that it drives people to the all powerful political center.)

I feel sad for the group of libertarians who started the tea party idea long before the past election as a means of protesting government taxation. They don’t deserve to have their excellent political point hijacked by these new know nothings. Ignorance as presented on such a grand political stage is disheartening for the future of our current system. A lack of grasp of the facts and political reality is also a sad moment for me as those who protest the spending and debt of the government said nothing during the previous years when it was created.

Another disconnect and shirking of responsibility all in the name of partisan politics. And, as a result, here arises the new Know Nothings.

If Links Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Links

The Associated Press is mad as hell and they aren’t taking it anymore.

While whom they remain angry at is somewhat nebulous, the venerable pillar of news reporting is looking to get a piece of the new media revenue pie by asserting greater control over their content. The current status quo is one where various types of web entities (such as Google, Yahoo!, and The Huffington Post) arrange licensing agreements in which they pay for the right to link to AP stories, audio, and videos. It is from here that the gray areas of the web emerge as sites, bloggers, and other aggregators link to the content that is generated through these AP licensees. On these tertiary sites, people can generate revenue from either ads or services that they provide while linking to AP product.

While stealing content is pretty straightforward, the trouble begins with linking of photographs, stories, summaries, and other copyrighted content. Such sites look to invoke the “fair use” for their use of the copyrighted materials since their argument is that they do not take substantial portions of the original works. While copyright law defines a “fair use” exemption, the criteria for determining such a case is less than crystal clear. By their own admission, there are no set parameters and it would require a case by case analysis of the works to determine whether “fair use” applies or not.

So, here lies the current dilemma: how does a link fit into the equation? The controlling document here is the Digital Rights Millennium Act, an act that was written and amended (and re-amended) before the current wave of web technology of the last two years. While current court cases provide a limited fair use protection to certain forms of linking (such as thumbnails and  inlining (linking photographs from other servers)), there is a still a universe of circumstances under which links exist. There is no way that the current version of the DRMA addresses these new circumstances to any degree of satisfaction; in fact, I would agree with the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the inadequacies of this act create a internet ripple effect which do not reflect the current web reality. While I as a content creator am completely sympathetic to people who wish to control the fruits of their labors, the current laws and regulations apply obsolete or ill-fitting rules on those who wish to share content with the new tools and technology in use today.

There are those who say (and I am one of them) that the news print media has had over a decade to adapt to the new web environment. The signs that the current business model would not hold have been there with the reduction of readership and shrinking subscription base. It is only now that a new revenue stream has become apparent that the AP has determined itself to exercise control over the content. But this genie is out of the bottle, and the technological and social norms of the internet have done nothing but to make the sharing of information easier and more accessible. Once again, it is an industry that should be pushing innovation in technology by developing new methods of information delivery that will generate revenue and provide news while still embracing fair use as a means to increase site traffic and readership. For the AP to try to put the breaks on the link economy (which does exist) would be akin to trying keep a litter of puppies from escaping from a box; the constant effort to retain everything will prove to be exhausting and ultimately fatal to an flawed business model. There is nothing to fear in linking; if anything, it is a medium that should be embraced by the AP.

(Posted at LISNews)

Politics in the Age of Information

These days, there is a disconnect between politics and the information age that I find disconcerting. We live in an age where information is neatly digitized, indexed, and available upon demand for those who seek it. And yet, there are those public figures who do no such fact checking of their own to some of things things they have said in the past. I concede that positions change over time and with different fact parameters, but what always surprises me is the disconnect to these past statements. It’s not like there isn’t a way to determine previous positions on a topic via searching relevant databases or the internet.

In a recent example, take Rick Warren. In an interview with Larry King, he indicated that he had never spoken against the gay marriage issue embodied in Calfornia’s Proposition 8. Not only is there evidence that he did so, but it is a video. Where is the reconciliation?

Insofar as politics go, the best collection of position or statement reversals lies with The Daily Show. If it is left to satirical entertainment to keep people honest about their positions, then what the hell are journalists doing these days?