Budgets, Banners, & Blogs

With the recent library budget cut proposals announced in New York City, it inspired me to do a new banner for the blog. If you liked the last one (or future ones), you can grab them for yourself off of my Flickr account. I’d like to thank John LeMasney for indirectly pointing out Inkscape to me. It’s been a fun program to fiddle around with. You can check out John’s blog project, 365 Sketches, and see what things Inkscape can do.

Dismantling the Echo Chamber

Picture by Warthog9/Flickr

I had never heard of the term “echo chamber” till I read Ned Potter’s post as part of Bobbi Newman’s thoughts on the phenomena. Well, I had heard such a thing referred to in a more unflattering term, but never applied to an online community. It makes perfect sense in retrospect since the online world is vast and niched enough to produce communities for any interest. It is not a stretch of the imagination to fall into a space where you have surrounded yourself with like minded people with identical or closely similar ideologies. In contemplating this on my own, I have come up with a few conclusions I’d like to share.

First, I think the real issue with the responses to Mr. Godin’s post is not that there is an echo chamber, but that there is no equal platform to respond on behalf of the library community. He doesn’t allow comments so there is no way to place any of our rebuttals next to his original post. (He does have trackbacks which could put a reply next to the original entry, but the single trackback is from another business blog.) So, we are left to our own platforms to disagree in front of an audience that is (unsurprisingly) mainly our professional peers.  I don’t think it is shocking that there was such a unified response disputing the assertions and ideas that Mr. Godin had posted since they are an egregious misrepresentation of what libraries are doing and where they are going. (As I wrote so in my post regarding his entry.)  But, without a similar platform or venue, we were left to equivalent of talking amongst ourselves. I do take heart in the number of replies in agreement with my sentiments, for this is an instance where it is good to know that the online librarian community is in relative agreement.

(On a tangent, I know that comments in blogs has been a topic for a long as people have written blogs. One of my favorite political blogs, Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, does not allow comments. Over time, Mr. Sullivan has asked his readers as to whether or not to open up posts to comments and it has been steadfastly voted down each time. The difference between Mr. Godin’s and Mr. Sullivan’s blogs is that latter offers an email address for reader feedback, comments, and dissents (some of which are posted). There is no other resource for Mr. Godin’s blog, save to post and hope that he reads his trackbacks or links to see what people are writing.)

Second, I really don’t think the replies represent a true echo chamber. I think that that they are replies from likeminded people who find Mr. Godin’s post to be an incorrect assessment. I really don’t find it shocking in the least since finding people who are similar in temperament and beliefs to ourselves is something we do on a daily basis. In a paper from 2008, a study revealed that followers of political blogs are more likely to read only blogs that are in agreement with their own beliefs. Infrequently, there will be crossover where someone reads blogs that are radically different than their own ideologies. I would not think that it would take a giant logical leap to infer that librarians who are online tend to read blogs written by people who agree with their philosophy and approach to the practice of librarianship. (Specifically, that Library 2.0/101 people tend to read other who support it, school librarians read other school librarians, public librarians read other public librarians, and so forth.) In order to establish the presence of an echo chamber, I feel I would need to see replies on librarian blogs and the ones they reference on a longer timescale. For now, I remain unconvinced.

 

I can only speak for myself, but I try to avoid homogeny in my Google Reader feeds by trying to find a diversity of voices on library and librarian issues. In building my own virtual “Team of Rivals”, I subscribe to several blog feeds written by librarians and MLS graduate students to which I rarely agree with their viewpoints. But I feel it is important to do so and I do it for a number of reasons.

First, it makes me work harder to justify my own positions. I feel it makes my positions stronger when I am forced to defend them in the face of adversarial contention. It leads to robust, more concise rationales that can be easily explained and defended. Second, it is opposition intelligence gathering. If I learn of the viewpoints and justifications of those I disagree with, I can create stronger arguments to overcome them. Perhaps a holdover from my brief stint in law school, but there is strength in knowing your argument and that of your opponent when you engage in earnest debate. Third, it has caused me to moderate or change my position in light of different approaches and knowledge. By getting a broader vantage point on an issue, I learn other perspectives and ideas that I had failed to consider or simply did not know. It is part of a greater open-mindedness that I try to embrace when approaching all things in life.

I would like to imagine that, as librarians, we are inherently "echochamber proof". How could we possibly espouse on the merits of a well rounded collection that portrays all views on a topic when we limit our professional personal learning to only those who hold similar beliefs? For while each is within their own right to exhibit their biases within their personal readings and activities, a diverse range of professional reading sources is (in my opinion) the best way to grasp the occupation as a whole. While we are united in our belief in common principles (intellectual freedom, unfettered inquiry, uninhibited curiosity, to name a few), we bring to the table our own approach and philosophy to these guiding principles. To dismiss others out of hand for their differing viewpoints or (worse) on their professional standing, publication affiliation, anonymous nature, or other irrelevant conditional, I find it to be distressing.
The Irony Fairie by Andrew Scott

It strikes me as the pinnacle of irony that there are those in this profession would defend the right of another to obtain radically divergent and odious materials and resources in the name of the greater good of intellectual freedom, yet would dismiss a professional peer commentator not on their merits but over irrelevant secondary circumstances. (Hence a visit to this blog from The Irony Fairy, pictured to the right.) That baffles me at times and has the inklings of a "do as I say, not do as I do" mindset when it comes to one of the underlying philosophic principles of this profession. Perhaps my idealism is getting the better of me as I close this blog post, but I find it more to my liking than the dark grip of cynicism that is far too common when it comes to different thought presented on the internet.

In closing, I am reminded of a quote from Edward R. Murrow:

If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox […]. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the … confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought.

Sunday Night Ponderance

What would a transliteracy READ poster look like?

Would it be someone holding a laptop? A smartphone or other mobile device? Or seated at a computer? Or a wifi router? Or e-reader?

And, more importantly, why haven’t we seen one yet?

I want to take a picture of me with my laptop with the banner page of my favorite blogs. That’s my READ poster.

Friend of a Friend’s Group

I need your help.

A few months back, after an exchange of emails with Steve Lawson following his fundraiser for the Louisville Free Public Library, I was trying to think of a way to help libraries in general. I am hoping that what I am going to propose right now will do just that.

Friend of a Friend’s Group is a wiki set up to collect information and resources for everything dealing with a “friends of the library” group. From starting a friend’s group to fundraising and advocacy, I’m hoping to harness the combined knowledge and expertise of the library community for this important purpose.

As we are painfully aware, 2009 saw a great deal of turmoil as libraries fought back the budget knife in states and cities around the country. Many were forced to cut services and/or hours, some had to lay off employees, and some even had to close their doors. From all prognostication, 2010 is going to yield the same hardships. This wiki project seeks to combat this by giving libraries of all sizes the advice and tools to build and use library advocates within their community. The library is a community supported, community driven institution and there is no time like the present to cultivate and utilize the grassroots support that awaits realization.

At present, I have created a skeleton of what I think the wiki should include. As wikis are quite mutable, please feel free to add topics and areas that I missed. However, please keep in mind the spirit of this project: to provide libraries with fund raising ideas, advocacy suggestions, and practical information regarding and for their friend’s group.

Please take a moment to check out the wiki. If you are familiar with wiki coding and have things to add, please do not hesitate to do so. If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with wiki coding and still want to help out, you can still help out through this submission form. I can add your content to the wiki from there.

Together, we can make something great. Please lend a hand in building this resource for our combined future.

ADDENDUM:

Norman Oder at Library Journal pointed out to me that there are two ALA groups that address certain aspects of this.

Associations of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations and Friends of Libraries USA.

Information Access in the Balance

There were two items that came out today that I just felt compelled to write about. The first is about the New York Times and the second is about the database service company EBSCO.

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It was announced today that the New York Times will be moving to a system in 2011 in which users will be allowed a certain number of free articles per month before having to pay for further access. In its present form, people would be allowed to view 10 articles per month before incurring a $3.59 charge per week. There are many unknowns in the business plan, but as can be expected, there are some aspects that should concern librarians as this is a potential barrier to information access.

First and foremost, as most libraries are subscribers to the print edition of the New York Times (a noted exception to the article limit), does that give us one unlimited access license? Will there be an institutional licenses or accounts? I am hoping there is consideration taken for school and academic libraries as their students turn to the Times for accurate and timely stories for their research and projects. 

Second, this creates a small but distinct financial barrier of access for the  working poor and others living below the poverty line. Unless there is some kind of institutional access available, I fear that these people will be prevented from accessing additional articles. While the current fee is relatively small, for those on a tight budget could quickly add up and be better spent on gas, bus fare, and other necessities. As the economy evolves into one based on a person’s knowledge, I am concerned that this could lock out or inhibit those who cannot afford it if it is based on individual accounts.

Third, I’m curious as to the timeline under which an new article will move from a recent story to an archived one. I’m also curious as to whether this archived content will be counted as an ‘article access’ against the monthly quota as well as whether or not this content will be embargoed from various databases. I would hope that there would be a finely balanced timeline under which an article could move from being behind a paywall and into the general archives.

Fourth and last, I’m wondering what this will do to the “link economy”. Content sharing drives people to websites through PLNs and other discovery network tools. While the NYT is not moving to the extremes of the AP, I fear it will put a damper on linking to some of the good journalism and content at the Times. I’m not certain what the impact will be, but I have a hunch that it will result in people finding other links to stories or simply look for a pirated versions of the story on the internet. Since e-books have started to be traded by pirates, I can’t imagine stories behind paywalls would be terribly far behind either. It creates its own disruption for those who use NYT articles for their blogs, research, and other in-depth studies as not everyone who wishes to see the cited articles will have access to them.

On Twitter today, I called this move the “Jay Leno of newspaper moves”. While I recognize the need to provide revenue so that the reporting can continue, I don’t think it will yield the profit margins they are hoping to gain. Furthermore, I think this creates potential customer service headaches as people take issue with article accesses that are not the ones they are looking for, potential inaccuracies in their indexing, and basic disputes as to what constitutes an access. Make no mistake that the journalism industry needs to figure out a business model to remain viable while providing the best possible access to information. This is the first of many movements that will be coming out of a business that has failed to innovate over the last 15 years since the dawn of the internet. The ripple effect remains to be seen, but this is one change of many to come.

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During the ALA Midwinter Meeting, EBSCO announced that they have become the exclusive full text content providers for a myriad of popular magazines. Simply put, if you do not have a subscription to EBSCO databases, you will not have database access to current or previous articles. While most of the magazines carry content for free on their websites, there is no guarantee that this practice will continue in the future. This kind of content monopoly is rather disturbing as a threat to information access (especially in school libraries with shrinking budgets). There’s an excellent post on the GALE blog about EBSCO’s previous exclusive agreement to carry content. They really hit some of the feelings I have on this news and I could not have said some of the concerns any better. Exclusive agreements do not help the previously diverse marketplace nor the library customer nor the end user.

At the moment, I’m fairly uncertain what can actually be done about this. With content residing on the sites of the magazines, does it arise to a monopoly? What are the recourses one can take? Do libraries have viable alternatives? If libraries are the facilitators of information access, are we simply relegated to buying it without challenging the circumstances under which it is given?

If there was any time to act upon either one of these issues, the time would be now. (NYT contacts, Letter to the Publisher or President) (EBSCO contacts)