Tuesday Night Deep Thought: Information Future?

Today I found myself pondering the following question:

“Where will information content be in five years? Ten years?”

And after a long bout of deliberation this evening, I couldn’t really come up with an answer. I think that’s part of our professional problem, really. I can’t think of one person who has more than the most speculative of an educated guess. I’m sure there are some who might read this and take umbrage at this statement, thinking that they are or know someone who could provide an answer. But my guess is that if we were to take the answers, seal them in an envelope, place them in a time capsule, and open them in five or ten years, they would be mostly (if not completely) wrong. (There could be a wager in this, I reckon.)

In thinking about the future, I did a survey of the past. I took a look at some of the sites I use now (and some related ones) to acquire a proverbial snapshot at what existed, what just started, and what was yet to be five years ago. Here are the results:

  • Established five or more years ago: Amazon, Blogger, Livejournal, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Google Picasa, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, WordPress, LISNews, TinyURL.
  • Infancy/just started five years ago: Gmail, Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, Yelp, Netvibes, Ning, Reddit, Library Thing, Digg, Kayak, Vimeo, Newsvine, Renren (formerly Xiaonei; it’s the world’s largest social network based in China).
  • Didn’t exist five years ago: Google Calendar, Reader, & Maps; YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Diigo, Foursquare, Jaiku, Plurk, Good Reads, Brightkite, Scribd, Hulu, Fancast.

This doesn’t mention the leaps in technologies like mobile phones (iPhone, 2008) or e-readers (Kindle, 2007) within this time period, nevermind the announcements of the last few months (the iPad and the Nook). Nor does it include the general decline in printed newspaper and periodical readership that has trended during this time period. And, to toss something else into the mix, it doesn’t account for the change in design of library spaces that make them more community oriented (this would be more of something of the last ten to fifteen years, give or take).

There is simply a lot of things going on; too much, I believe, for anyone to grasp in terms of the big picture. And I think it’s time that the librarian community admits that we really don’t know where exactly information content is going to end up in that time. Sure, we can say where it will be in the short short scale of maybe a year, perhaps two, but beyond that is lost to us.

Am I wrong?

(Edit: Fixed a spelling mistake.)

Deconstructing Library 2.0

I realize I’m relatively new to the library scene as a second career librarian, so some of what I’m asking may have been covered somewhere already. I’m fine with being corrected in the comments (since there is no better way to learn than to question), but I’m still going to ask.

In trying to get an idea of it, I plugged the term into some search engines and then just followed the trail. I found the Library 2.0 listing in Wikipedia which also provides an antiquated round up of writings on the subject (the most recent article mentioned is 2007). It lists the principles as the following:

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC
  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services
  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services
  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models
  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.

The first principle seems very specific and certainly obtainable. I don’t know of any examples of such an interface, but it has my vote for how an OPAC should function. The second and third principles look like the application of market research. Ask users what they want, design around it, and customize where desired.  Maybe it’s because I have a science background, but when I look at fourth and fifth principle, I see the basics of evolution. The concept of an organization changing due to external pressures (read: patron requested services and materials) over time does not strike me as being radical or controversial at all. It is basically a call for librarians to use some (pun intended) intelligent design in approaching .

So, this concept is an intersection of a still-yet-to-be-realized vendor request, knowing and engaging your audience market research, and an evolving service model? Perhaps I do not understand. Were libraries not doing any of these things before?

Maybe the definition is antiquated. It was written before the rise of the current social media and Web 2.0 tools and websites. Does it need a revision?

First, a few observations and questions off the top of my head.

All too often, especially when it comes to technology, people will cite a recent survey or fact about the sale of technology or usage statistic and use that to make broad pronouncements of something that the library should be doing. But the causal connection logic doesn’t follow. For example, if the total number of smart phones sold in the United States went up last year, this does not necessitate that libraries need mobile applications or sites. How many of those phones sold are replacing current phones? How many of those mobile users are library users? If I said that there are 1,000 people in a town, and that there were 600 people who have smart phones, this is not an immediate call to develop mobile resources. The question that this scenario begs (and that never seems to be asked) is how many of the library users have smart phones and would want or use a library mobile resource. While it could be argued that the creation of mobile resources might entice the non-library smart phone user to become a patron of the library, the counterpoint I would offer is simply, “Prove it.” Where is the correlation between the broader trends and the library user?

On that note, I rarely (if ever) see a posting, press release, or story about something new the library is offering that references a user survey or focus group or even an anecdote. It’s as if the notion for these new offerings appear on circumstantial evidence or hunches or a variation of (the term I liked the moment I saw it) Ideas Worth Stealing. There appears, to me, to be an endless loop of libraries adopting practices (either service or technology) which do not catch on. These failures are then chalked up to a failure to publicize, staff training or awareness, or lack of interest when there was little or no user feedback indicating such a tool or service was desired in the first place. How much of a stranger are we to our patrons? If I stopped ten random people in your library tomorrow, had them write down what they wanted on a piece of paper, would you be able to guess what it was with any accuracy?

Now, beyond those statements, a few more questions.

  • What is beyond Library 2.0?
  • How are these principles different than how things were done in the past (pre-2006)?
  • How does Library 2.0 address the digital divide?
  • How much is Library 2.0 really driven by the user experience? I imagine the library-patron relationship less like a ‘horse and cart’ and more like a planet-moon relationship. (If information was the sun, patrons are the Earth and libraries are the Moon. We are roughly in sync with our patrons, sometimes ahead or behind, and sometimes in the way.)
  • When will the OPAC meet the our demands and (more importantly) the search engine expectations of our users? Do we have to go open source to get what we want? Why aren’t we yelling at vendors to do this? Why are we putting up with this?
  • Has Library 2.0 been hijacked by technophiles? In looking over the Library 2.0 Ning, the majority of posts in the forums and blog revolve around technology. Or is it because online librarians tend to talk about online tools and sites?

And finally:

  • Is the term Library 2.0 dead? Is it more of a quibbling point for people who are looking to argue about the present and future of libraries? Does it really mean anything anymore? Has it become more of a “Blind men and an elephant”? What does it matter anyway?

I may get some heat on this last question, but if it takes some bumps to learn a few things here, I’m willing to take the knocks. I don’t mind being set straight, but in reading up on Library 2.0, I’m wondering what the big deal is about it.

My Library Route

(This entry is part of Ned Potter’s Library Routes Project. The idea is to write an entry detailing how you got into the profession along with what made you decide to do so and/or the career path which has taken you to where you are today. I’ve been wanting to write this entry for a long time.) 

Just under ten years ago, I was standing out in the summer sun surrounded by acres and acres of various types of plants in pots. Wide brim hat on my head, sunglasses keeping the glare at bay, everyday was warm when you wore jeans to work. Shorts are not your best option when you are working with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that carry labels that say “Caution”, “Warning”, or even a few “Dangerous”. As I was given rather fair skin and an inclination for contact dermatitis, jeans were part of my own work uniform. The site was 400 acres in size nicknamed The Orchard; it was a former orchard cleared, graded, Not built for people of my height, either. covered in gravel, and had rows and rows of rib houses (much like the ones in the picture to the side). Hundreds of these houses were on the side, some as long as football fields. As my first job out of college, I was hired as an Assistant Manager of Irrigation and Chemical Application. This meant running the water pump, managing the watering of areas, creating spray schedules for chemical applications, and maintenance and repair of literally miles of PVC piping and hundreds of sprinkler heads. Our group was the smallest, but it was tasked with one of the most vital aspects to commercial horticulture.

In the previous four years, I went to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey outside of Atlantic City. I had completed a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science (A B.S. in B.S., I would joke) with a late concentration on horticulture. I was doomed from the start, I think, since I certainly could name and explain all of the plant cellular operations and chemistry but my taxonomy was terrible. But I didn’t want to work at a desk at that time; I wanted to be outside, working with my hands, and with a job where I couldn’t take the work home with me. This nursery was the right fit for a me at the age of 22.

My college chemistry found some use to the chemical work, as you needed to find different dilutions for chemicals before applying them from giant sprayers. There was always weeds to kill, growing through the gravel and dirt, in the edges of the houses and along the inner roadways. And there were certainly other pathogens that needed attention: mold, mildew, fungus, and insects of all types and stripes. And the watering was nearly year round; when the houses were covered, it could get up to 60 degrees or hotter depending on the amount of light that the polyurethane covering allowed in. In January, the rose plants would arrive and we would grow them up to size to send to the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes for their spring garden sections. Between our site and the other company site close by (a larger 800 acres, now 1,200), it was quite the operation.

Fun times! To an extent, I liked the work there. I do like playing with the big toys such as front end loaders, tractors, fork trucks, and other vehicles. My real attraction was being able to do something for which I could see a result. When I watered, a plant grew; when it got sick, I applied treatments to make it better. The downsides are really all I have left in terms of memory for the place beyond those feelings; low salary, little benefits, unfair treatment of migratory workers, a somewhat poisonous corporate atmosphere with little room to advance, and repetitive seasonal work. I got a promotion to the propagation section (where cuttings were grown up), but within six months they decided they didn’t need me anymore.

Rather than fire me right then, they gave me “another chance” by assigning me a near Herculean task building more rib houses on the nearly acquired property. It was an impossible task given in the cold of winter, given not enough manpower, tools, or time to complete it. I resigned myself sticking it out; they were not going to make me quit.

Three months later, I got my walking papers. I think I smiled the whole drive home. The tribulation was over.

In another six months, I found work at a much smaller commercial nursery deep in the southern parts of New Jersey. Fairweather Gardens is a tiny operation which specializes in a variety of hard-to-find plants for the hardcore gardener. The Philadelphia Inquirer had done a story on them and, on a whim, I sent them my resume and cover letter. This would end up being a very brief stint (I lasted about 3 months) but an important one for me and my Library Route.

After returning from a short trip during which I got engaged to my now wife Kathy, I was just about to tell the owners the news when they told me that they were firing me and giving me two weeks pay in lieu of notice. I was devastated. As I was handing over the pruning sheers I had been given, one of the owners said something to me that got me on the start of my route. He said:

Andy, you seems to have abilities and interests in other things for which you are more passionate about. We’re wondering why you are not doing that instead of this.

For a long time, I thought it was an backhanded insult given out while I was getting ready to go home to Kathy and tell her that I had been fired again. But as the time stretched on after that day, I really started to think about it. Horticulture was something I could do, but it wasn’t where my passion was. I could see during that job that I wasn’t at the same level as the owners who lived, breathed, and knew horticulture.

I did find work again as a temp worker at DuPont (we lived in Delaware at the time), but it was a way to pay the bills while I figured out what I was doing with my life. I had always had an interest in law, I thought, so why not try out law school? I took the LSAT, applied to Widener Law, and was accepted into their  night program. Working full time, every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I would head up to campus for 3 to 4 hours of class time with other parts of my day crammed with class preparation and studying. Kathy and I were virtual strangers to each other as our time tables did not generally mesh well except on Sunday evenings or after 11pm every other night.

I loved law school as well, but between working full time and studying the rest of it, it did not suit my learning style at all. There was no room to breathe, to rest and relax, and to recuperate. In the end, the only class I did well on for both semesters was my legal research and writing class. Everything else was dismal and put me on academic probation.

It was during this time, seated at my computer in our little office we had in the apartment, that Kathy started talking about finding another career. She had always been interested in librarianship since she was a high school student. It was there, sitting in my computer chair, listening to her talk about it, that the thought first crossed my mind. Surely, I thought, it has to be easier than this law school bullshit. I was sick and tired of the stress, the work, and being away from family and friends. I did well in my research class, so maybe becoming a law librarian was a good alternative.

I took a semester leave of absence that fall while Kathy attended Saturday classes held at the Free Library of Philadelphia by the staff of Clarion University. When she kept coming back with tales about what she was learning and doing, I knew I found something I could do as well. That fall, I made a proposal to Kathy: move to Clarion, get our degrees as fast as we can, and then move back. We’d live on student loans and whatever work we could find as well as maybe some family charity. Within those four months, I applied and was accepted to the program, found a place to live (a tiny single newly renovated single family house), packed our stuff one dark January day, and moved out to Clarion.

This is my Library Route.

The Disconnect

Big tree limb down on the property Right as I was finishing dinner on Wednesday night, the power went out. The chili was basically done, left to sit on the gas stove and allow the flavors to intermingle. I had started to bake some cornbread which, once I remembered after locating the flashlights and candles, was about half baked. The house has a gas fireplace and we had been through this power loss routine before. We sent out text messages (I did a couple of Twitter updates) and made a few calls to let people in the area know what had happened (and reported it to the utility company), and then put them down to save on our charge. Gathering what we needed into the family room, we hunkered down in front of the fireplace and made the best of it.

Kathy had a book and read for most of the evening (and as it would turn out, most of the night). I had a book as well that I could have gotten, but I was in no mood for reading. I wasn’t really in any mood for doing anything, really; I was just listening to the wind outside. Laying on the couch, with the crackle of the fire, eyes looking out the back window area watching the tree sway in the wind. Shortly after the power went out, we had limbs from trees around the Where the trees were hitting the front  of the house house breaking off under the weight of the snow and hitting the roof. You wouldn’t hear the crack, just the dull thud as it hit the roof and rolled off. A couple of these whole limbs, perfectly healthy limbs (not a good sign), snapped off at the trunk of the tree. Most rolled off the roof and into the shrubs, squashing them under the weight of branch and snow. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t worried that one of these branches would fall in such a way that it would smash a window or take out the power lines, but I tried not to let it cross my mind.

Early in the evening, I went out to shovel a little bit. I wanted to do something and that was the only thing that I could really do. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do much or get very far, but I was not ready to simply lay there while this was going on. The driveway of the house is not under and trees, so I was going to stay out in the open and not risk getting hurt or killed by a falling branch or tree. I told Kathy I would knock on the window at regular intervals so that she wouldn’t worry; if it went too long without a knock, she should come check up on me. The eaves on the house are rather wide, so I had a place to duck under to avoid any potential falling debris. I got wrapped out and headed outside to shovel the back walk and anything else I had the strength and energy to do.

Once outside, it was bright in only the way that a winter landscape can be. The dark trees against the cloudy sky made everything stand out as I shoveled my back to the driveway. It was apparent very early on that this was going to be a short trip outside if I wanted to continue to shovel; the heavy wet snow was enough to make any snow removal arduous. I didn’t want to take out the snowblower since there is a lot of driveway under trees and I wasn’t feeling that adventurous. So, in standing under the eaves of the garage, shoveling every now and again, I would listen for the wind to kick up. You could hear it coming through the trees from far away, so I’d stop, watch, and listen.

Big downed limb on the property Near and far, you could hear the sounds of branches snapping, their popping and crunching coming through the winter air. Some were so close I’d peer through the darkness to see if I locate the source; others were like distant gunshots, their noise taken away by the wind. I did hear one crash close enough to put it a house or two away, but my vantage was blocked. I did go around the edge of the house to check out the limbs that had fallen, to note their location, and to see if there was any visible damage to the house itself. During this period in time, I watched someone try to make their way through a side street, their tires spinning in the sleet and snow mixture that had formed on the road. I don’t know what would possess anyone to leave their home, but it must have been enough to brave the storm.

Afterwards, I came back into the house, changed into pajamas, and took the couch that I would be sleeping in that night (pictured below). There, laying on the couch, listening once again to the fire next to me and the storm above me, my situation dawned upon me.

My bed for our night without powerI had not been so utterly disconnected in a long while. No computer, no text (saving phone charge, just in case), no games, no television, no technology whatsoever. I had no idea what time it was; I couldn’t even remember the date. As I lay there, my mind was still churning but without the usual external stimuli. It was like a party where the noise level suddenly dies down and all but one person shuts up so their voice carries throughout the room. In this case, my mind was the only voice left.

And so, as I lay under many layers of blankets, I just let my mind roam.

I can’t really say that I thought of anything deep and profound, but that I didn’t realize how much of my day had some form of technological input. Even when I’m out and about away from the computer screen, I text on a fairly regular basis with a number of different people. It didn’t matter where I was, there was always a level of connectedness that was present. With the power loss and a driveway full of snow, it was gone. It was a disconnect that I hadn’t experienced in years. (As I write about it now, I think it might have been when I was riding around Australia on my own back in college.)

And so it was, staring at the ceiling and watching the flickering of the fireplace light on the ceiling, almost a passenger in my own brain. With the outside idea support structures away, it was left to its own devices. Scenes from my life, work at the library, friends new and old, just wandered in and out as the night stretched on. I have no idea how long this went on; I know Kathy told me I dozed off several times.

As much as I would think to avoid putting a moral or conclusion on this experience, it feels right to say that I need more kind of this time. While it could be at home, the temptations of the household technology make it a harder sell. I should think that, in conjunction with my new year’s resolution to get out of the house and be more social, I should be looking for more opportunities to find places that make such temptations hard if not impossible. I’ve heard of monasteries that rent rooms to people to allow them to come and stay (with devices forbidden), but I’m thinking of some more local nature destinations. Banish the cell phone to the car, go camping or hiking, maybe visit the beach. I’m not completely firm on ideas, but this feels like the right direction.

It’s always interesting to me how the perception of things can change with just a little shift. I guess this was one of those times. And from the looks of it, it was a tiny bit overdue. This past year has put me on the move and perhaps it is time to take another. ;)

(For those interested, here’s the link to all of the snow pictures from the past week.)

The Library Reloaded: Library Cards

Photo by NJLA/Flickr While I was taking a break working on a blog entry, this post by Patrick Sweeney about getting rid of library cards showed up in my Google Reader. He talks about replacing library cards with user names and passwords, with authentication control happening at the library locations. I thought this was such a different take on the one traditional part of the library experience that I started to write a reply. What I wrote grew beyond what felt like a simple note so I decided to drop my current post and craft this one.

So,  with the spirit of Patrick’s post in mind (getting rid of library cards), I started to think about what existing technology that we have now that could be adopted to fit this ultimate goal. In leaning back in my desk chair and rolling the puzzle around in my head, I brought it down to a few requirements: provide the same level of authentication (for privacy), provide the same level of permissions on and off site (for access), and be arguably easier and cheaper than the process it replaces (issuing library cards). Under those guidelines, I’d like to propose some additional alternatives to the library card (with varying degrees of viability).

1.) Cell phone wallet: Popular in the countries like Japan and South Korea, your library card information is stored on your mobile device. Simply by swiping your phone on a signal reader, you can use it for all of your library business (e.g. checking your account, borrowing materials). Computers in the library could be fitted with readers. For offsite authentication (such as remote account and database access), the user could simply retrieve their stored card number from the phone.

The major con for this is that not everyone has a cell phone, whether they are too young (think babies, toddlers, kindergarten through whenever their parents want to five them phones) or they cannot afford one with cell phone wallet capability. While the technology is popular in other countries, it has not taken off in the United States. In addition, this could also pose account management issues with people wanting to lend their card to others to check out materials, use computers, and other situations of permissible card lending. Unlike a card, a cell phone does not lend itself as well to lending.

2.) Fingerprint Scanner: No need to carry a card when you are using your fingerprint for authentication. Fingerprint scanners have come down in price to being under $100, a figure that is relatively easy to reach. Just scan your thumb or forefinger at the circulation desk or computer lab to prove your identity. It’s more reliable and secure than a library card since fingerprints are a unique biometric. The patron’s privacy is secure behind the fingerprint; it also completely removes the need to remember a library card while providing an accurate way of identifying patrons.

As nifty as this would be, it completely fails the off site authentication test. It would have to rely on a supplemental piece of material so that people could remotely access accounts and databases. However, for libraries where the materials and databases are not generally reached offsite (think of certain types of special libraries), this might be the right approach to securing access to sensitive materials. Like the cell phone wallet, it also creates the same issues for lending of library cards or allowing multiple people to use a card. Also, it does not address the issue of the small number of people who are without hands.

(My next suggestion doesn’t get rid of the library card, per se. However, I think it does present another possibility to the alternative of the library card.)

3.) A hybrid RFID card/’one button’ authenticator: Ok, so this device doesn’t exist, but it does take two types of existing technologies that would not work for the purposes of this idea experiment and put them together. Yes, it’s still something people would need to carry, but I think it could have broader implications and aspirations for a simple library card.

The RFID provides the on site identification for materials. Swipe the card past a reader, do your library business, done. I think the potential for RFID in libraries goes further by acting as a library card in multiple locations. The idea of a single card being able to access multiple locations (for example, your library, your state’s library, and the Library of Congress) would be the ideal; a single library card to access everything.

The one button authenticator provides the off side identification. Pressing the button provides a unique and time sensitive series of numbers to be entered into the interface to provide access. This is used currently in the private sector for secure computer networks (including the largest massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, World of Warcraft, with over 13 million players) Within a combined system, it could provide remote access to accounts and subscription materials for a spectrum of libraries.

While it solves the problems of remote access that are shared by the cell phone wallet and fingerprinting, each technology carries its own baggage. RFID has privacy and security implications that make it a vulnerable means while the ‘one button’ authenticator has the chance of failing like any other computer chip. In addition, there is the additional cost this would incur in the form of cards, readers, and staff training.

I will admit that it is a bit of technology overkill for solving a simpler problem, but it was still fun to imagine. I really liked Patrick’s post because it was bold in its questioning of a status quo. Perhaps libraries won’t replace cards, but it doesn’t hurt to go back and examine practices to either reaffirm, renovate, or remove them. It is this kind of inquiry that tests the boundaries and makes the occupation and practice more interesting to me.

Overall, I think there are alternatives to library cards, but it is on a location and library type basis. There are enough nuances to this that, in the right situation, a library could replace their cards with something else. Perhaps it is on this micro scale that card alternatives could be considered, so long as it is a true replacement and capable of community-wide acceptance. In any case, I wouldn’t think it would be a daring statement to say that anything that eases the patron-library interaction would be possible welcome addition.

 

Previous Library Reloaded post: Collections

“I can quit Googling anytime, man!”

On the heels of last night’s post, I saw this older article come across Twitter entitled “100 Things You Should Know About People: #8 — Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information”. Apparently, it would appear that librarians are not simply the kind, educated information philanthropists that society and culture has caricatured us. No, we are users and pushers for the dopamine system.

[…] the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behavior. (From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive). It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. The latest research shows that it is the opoid system (separate from dopamine) that makes us feel pleasure.

And, of course, it’s not without potential drawbacks.

With the internet, twitter, and texting we now have almost instant gratification of our desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type it into google. What to see what your friends are up to? Go to twitter or facebook. We get into a dopamine induced loop… dopamine starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, stop checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

I’m curious to see further research or postings on the dopamine system, but I’m not sure if I’m perpetuating a dopamine loop or engaged in a legitimate short term inquiry. But, I swear, a couple of database searches and I’ll drop it.

Honest!

The Body of Information

I just finished reading a New York Times article entitled “Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally” that came out a few days ago. Librarians certainly talk about how information is organized and how it can be accessed, and so I thought this article relates well in talking about how the brain (our ultimate end user) perceives information. It is part of an psychological field called embodied cognition.

Notable quote:

“How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body,” said Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam. “We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.”

We talk about how information is presented all the time, but this brings it to a whole new level. Should we be designing the user experience with these types of body cues in mind? Does this have a viable use in the library at all?