The Unbearable “Like”ness of Being

Check one!

There’s something very weird about setting up a Facebook Page for yourself. It’s an exercise in ego and self-consciousness all at once as you look to add details to make it interesting yet silence the small voice of rejection in the back of your head. As inspired by the picture above, it’s a little bit of the social politics of high school.

This creation is part “mission of mercy” to my Facebook friends, part my own branding and centralizing publicity, and part springboard for some projects I have kicking around in my head. I’ve been writing a lot more, the projects I’m working on are starting to get bigger, and I try to cram all of this into my News feed. When I was posting two or three times a day recently, all I could think was, “Ugh, my family and non-librarian friends are going to kill me for oversharing. And probably the library people will too.” So, in setting up this Facebook Page, I’m moving that content out to its own space. It should make it easier to keep personal and professional items separate from each other.

As my thoughts turn towards my own publicity and branding, a Facebook Page is currently a decent landing spot for such things until I get the energy and inclination to set up my own website. There is certainly an appeal to the inner narcissist, but Facebook does make sharing pretty easy for publicizing projects, presentations, and other things that I’d like to let people know about. So this page is more of my “official feed” from the various output sources that I use. Right now, it’s just this blog and the A View from Your Desk Tumblr (which is still looking for more pictures, so submit one today!), but I’ll see how that works out.

The last aspect is probably the most important to me at the moment. December is going to be a big month for me with some things coming out that I’ll talk more about later. In looking down the line, I’m excited to be working with my good friend Julie Strange on a new joint blog concept; we are hoping to have that active and posting in January if the details work out to our satisfaction.  (Nothing wrong with being picky if you are going to put your name on it.) I’m also kicking around some ideas for a newsletter which would be distributed exclusively through the Facebook Page. (Facebook gives you the option of sending messages to people who “Like” your page; this newsletter would take advantage of that tool.) And, to complete the list of teasers, I have a ton of notes down for an advocacy project that I’d really like to undertake. In doing so, I’d like to take advantage of some of the tools and resources that are available to me on Facebook in order to expand the reach of these projects.

I hope to see you on my Facebook Page. Now, I’m off to determine the implications of whether I should “Like” myself or not. As they say, Freud would have a field day.

Ten Things You Won’t Find On Your LIS Class Syllabus

I generally try to avoid posts comprised of a list but every now and again I get inspiration to put one together. I give credit to Jill Hurst-Wahl for providing a catalyst with her blog post “What I want LIS students to know”. In doing my own reflection of the last couple of years, I’d like to offer my own advice on this avenue. So, without further ado…

1) Don’t buy into the “Old vs. New” librarian generation meme.

At its most basic form, it is the idea that young librarians are just wishing for older professionals to die or retire to make room for them in the job market. In its advanced concept, it is the notion that older professionals are resistant to change and are actively engaged in the prevention of new ideas from being heard, implemented, or otherwise considered.

This is bullshit.

I wouldn’t rule out that the “get out” idea hasn’t passed through the mind of a new librarian. It’s a normal upward pressure felt when new members are trying to make room in a field that is crowded. Nor would is it completely unlikely that an older professional squashed, outmaneuvered, or otherwise dismissed an idea from a young or new librarian simply because they are set in their ways. But to me the embracing of the meme means two things: first, that older professionals are an obstacle to the development of younger librarians; second, that the older generation is incapable of handling change. That, simply put, is asinine shortsightedness. Without the older generation of librarians, there are no mentors, no guides, and no retained professional intelligence that can be passed onto the next generation (and likewise when the current young group becomes the older hands). Nevermind the notion that the older librarians cannot handle or manage change; it’s a rehashing of the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. There is no age limit on being a progressive librarian. One cannot pass around a video of a woman over one hundred years old using an iPad or learning a new dance and praise it while then saying that older librarian generation cannot handle change.   

Don’t get caught up in this meme. It’s a waste of your time.

(Some people will have a problem with the use of the term “progressive”, so I define it as someone moving towards new services, materials, and policies that better reflect the needs of the communities they serve. You may now argue it from there.)

2) The mission is static. The implementation is dynamic.

It’s an oversimplification, but the mission of a library (any library, either public, school, academic, or special) could be summed up in a simple phrase such as “to provide service to a community”. Along with other core librarian values, they do not change regardless of the setting.

As it relates to how services are rendered, collections are maintained, and policies are outlined, that is a whole different train of thought. Furthermore, it is highly influenced by the circumstances under which the library operates. What works at one library may not scale to another. It doesn’t mean that it is wrong or a bad idea, but that it just doesn’t fit or apply to another situation. Be open enough to recognize the differences in libraries and how different approaches work towards similar outcomes.

Libraries are not a ‘one size fits all’ prospect, but they are operated under the same philosophic ideals and principles.

3) Libraries are not information vaults, but information launch pads.

Like Mrs. Hurst-Wahl stated, the profession is in flux. It is a paradigm shift from being one of few source of information and literacy to one of many. Libraries are not the end of the line for knowledge, but now a gateway to the greater intelligence networks of the world. Communication and computation have made global sharing of collected wisdom the new reality of a connected world. That is the concept that we have moved towards: the people who can make the connection between a person and the information or literacy that they seek. It will be the evolving measure of success for the library and a key element to future measurements of library effectiveness.

4) Service matters.

The passive service model in which a person sits at a desk and waits for inquiries is half dead. While there is merit to having someone on hand to answer patron’s question, it is up to librarians today to provide service remotely. Whether it is by phone, email, chat, text, mobile, or website, people are going to be looking for information on other platforms. It’s up the profession to provide additional reasonable access venues to meet these emerging or established means.

In becoming more connection oriented, the emphasis on customer service has never been greater. It is about creating, cultivating, and maintaining a relationship with the patron community. For myself, I think about the kind of service I like to get at store and restaurants and put that into my efforts to help my patrons. I want them to leave not only with satisfaction, but the desire to come back.

5) Advocacy is the new norm.

In my opinion, advocacy is now integral to librarianship. The days in which the library did not have to sell itself to its community are past and gone. While marketing library services, materials, and programs is important, it is important that the profession be able to articulate and demonstrate the value of libraries to their communities. It’s not simply a matter of reaching those who come to the library, but reaching beyond to those who do not but still support the mission of the library. Whether it is politicians, adults, students, superintendents, provosts, or corporate officers, the ability to show value for the investments placed within the library is an ongoing and important endeavor. In times of need, it is integral to have the ability to call upon supporters.

6) Politics is not a dirty word.

This is simply not limited to elected officials, but the social politics that exist in other settings. While there has been a distain for engaging in such lobbying as we pride ourselves for being neutral and objective, I find there is an important difference between offering information objectivity and being active in the politics of those who make decisions regarding the fate of the library. There is no taint to creating and maintaining relationships with decision makers. I would argue that there is no conflict of interest; in fact, it would be in the best interests for the continuation of the library to curate these friendships.

Politics (as political science or social politics) is something that librarians have been involved with in one way or another for many years; this end of the spectrum should be utilized to the best advantage of the library.

7) Professional development is in your hands.

While there are great libraries and systems out there that provide excellent monetary support for attending continuing educations classes, workshop, and seminars, it’s up to you to find the resources that will further your career. They may send you to the state or ALA conferences, but it’s up to you to attend the programs and talk to the people who share your interests. Beyond that, I’d suggest delving into other professional outlets, whether it is trade publications, academic publications, or online in the form of sites, forums, blogs, and/or social media.

Where there are opportunities, utilize them. Where there are not, make your own. Only you can advance your career.

8) Know your library’s basic maintenance.

For anything that has more than a handful of moving parts, requires electricity to work, or has a computer within it, I’d highly recommend learning as much as you can about it. Whether it is a computer, toilet, fish tank, printer, fax machine, copier, or electrical/plumbing system, you don’t need to know how to repair it, but should have an idea of what to do when things go wrong. Stopping a bathroom from flooding due to a leaky sink, helping graduate students from losing their minds when the printer isn’t cooperating, or being able to figure out what to do if the lights go out or the fire alarm malfunctions, these are the things they don’t talk about in an LIS program. As someone working in the library, you are a first responder to these issues and you should prepare yourself for these situations.

For myself, I’ve learned how to read and reset the fire alarms, reboot and reprogram the phone systems, check for sewage or other plumbing problems, who to call for animals in the library, and the basic fixes for all of our printers, copiers, and a few of our testier computers. No matter what the library setting, knowing your building is an important bit of knowledge to possess in my opinion. Under the right circumstances, this advanced knowledge and preparation can save the day.

9) Be yourself, no matter what they say.

There will be trying times. There will be trying situations. There will be obstructive people, whether they are coworkers, administration, or patrons. The important thing is to remain true to who you are as a person and what you believe in about the profession. Everything else will follow after that. And if you can’t be who you are or follow what you believe, then it’s time to hit the trail in search of a better fit.

That’s it. Be yourself, no matter what they say.

10) Have fun.

For myself, I love what I do. I enjoy what I do for the community I serve. I also like to have fun with what I do. Over a year ago, I started the “People for a Library Themed Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Flavor”  Facebook group because I thought it would be fun to do and to promote. It has serious undertones that relate back to advocacy and awareness, but the first impression was meant to appeal to people’s sense of fun. Same thing for last year’s librarian online gift exchange (which I will be doing again this year, just working out details/logistics) and with the #andypoll stuff on Twitter. Look at what my fellow librarians and friends Justin and JP did with the Project Brand Yourself A Librarian over 8bitlibrary; they had people getting tattoos!   

The bottom line for me is that I can act in a professional manner, enjoy what I do, and have some fun at the same time. I think people forget that last aspect at times, but I hope that this will remind them. Take what you do and bring some joy to it. Trust me, it is totally worth it.

Now, go forth and change the world. Or your little corner of it.

A Day of Thanks

In giving thanks for the season, I’m reprinting my best man speech from last year for my brother’s wedding. This year, once more, my family is missing another person from the Thanksgiving table. So, hug the ones you love, remember the ones you miss, and take joy in a day of thanks for both.

The months of October, November, and December have not been kind to our family. Over the course of years, we have lost many good friends and family members during this autumn season. But today, I believe, this wedding will mark the beginning of a new era of joy for this late year season. On behalf of the Krafts and the Woodworths, it is my honor and privilege to welcome Meghan to our family. I am very pleased that my brother has found someone to share the experience of the journey ahead.

On your wedding day, I wish to offer you this advice, the collected life lessons of our grandparents, Randy, Beverly, Mary, and Richard.

Follow your dreams and passions, wholly and completely, for they are the true essence of life and happiness.

That judgment and acceptance are mutually exclusive. While the former need not be favorable, the latter should always be given.

That love is boundless and unconditional; it is the product of a multitude of small personal acts.

That separation is merely a temporary illusion; that there are no ‘goodbyes’, only ‘bye for now’.

To the happy couple, I offer you simple and unfettered best wishes.

In looking at it now, it has a different resonance to me. But the sentiments still remain for them, my family, and my friends.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Doctorow & The Future of Copyright

From the Guardian UK:

If copyright is to have winners and losers, then let’s start talking about who we want to see winning, and what victory should be.

In my world, copyright’s purpose is to encourage the widest participation in culture that we can manage – that is, it should be a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators, creating the most diverse set of works, to reach the most diverse audiences as is practical.

That is, I don’t want a copyright system that precludes making money on art, since there are some people who make good art who, credibly, would make less of it if there wasn’t any money to be had. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can judge a copyright system by how much money it delivers to creators[.]

This is just one of the better quotes from the latest Cory Doctorow column at the Guardian. I’d say that you should stop reading my entry right now and go read the column in its entirety while you have the spare time. For me, it gave me a perspective on an issue that I had been wrestling with in my mind for a long time. I was stuck in an infinite loop of the creator versus the common good, a revolving fight to allow content makers to control while still allowing people to build, use, or improve upon their creations. (This is what I get for being fair to a fault.) Here, in plain English (the Queen’s, not the colonists, for that matter), Mr. Doctorow lays a great foundation for determining how to approach copyright and the public interest that employs common sense criteria.

While Mr. Doctorow uses the music, movie, fashion, and architecture industries as examples of different cases of logical copyright assertion and consistent public interest doctrine, the industry I was looking for (and found missing) was authors in regards to ebooks. Given his history for giving away his own ebooks and getting companies to drop DRM on his books, I do have an understanding of his ideals for the market. And as much as I admire them, I understand that other authors and publishers may beg to differ. What I am wondering is if there is a balance that can be created so as to allow authors like Mr. Doctorow to drop certain copyright controls while allowing others to keep ebooks under their scrutiny (be it DRM or something else).

Obviously, it would be a system that allows for an opt out. That handles Mr. Doctorow’s end of that equation. But what would be the rights for those who opt in that make the most amount of sense for the author as well as the general public? A model based on print books is not going to work since the ebook resembles a music file more than its paper brethren. So maybe it’s time to dream up something new.

I have an idea, but it’s just that: an idea. So bear with me.

Why not create a pricing scale that reflect the balance of control between the author or publisher and the end user? To give an example to illustrate what I mean, let’s say you are shopping for an ebook by a popular author. A DRM, no transfer licensed ebook would cost $5; a DRM transfer limited ebook would cost $7.50; and a DRM free do-what-you-want-with-it no licensed ebook would cost $10. In other words, the cheaper prices reflect the assertion of author/publisher control of the material and the more expensive prices grant greater control or ownership. It’s a sliding scale in which the price determines the rights granted to the ebook.

Basically, you buy your way to the freedom you want for the material. Buy the cheaper DRM book and want the DRM free version? Pay the difference. Could people opt out of the scale and name one level of control and one price (even free)? Certainly. Under a scaling system like this, it doesn’t deny people who simply want to read without a concern towards readership. I believe that people will pay a premium for ownership, so why not utilize it as a revenue stream for the publisher or author? Yes, there are still concerns about piracy and authors that will only sell under one set of conditions. As this is an idea, I don’t have a firm grasp how to respond to those potential pitfalls. Hopefully, someone else reading this might have a solution. However, I think this is a step in the right direction for further development.

(As an aside, consider the fact that iTunes offered DRM free tracks at a premium before dropping down their price to compete with Amazon.)

Thoughts? Can something like this work?

Augmented Library Reality

This is why I like reading a ton of blogs. If something gets past me the first time, someone else might pick up on it and make it an blog post. This is one of those times.

From Shelf Check last month:

What if […] there were neat, social, community-building opportunities for patrons to engage in whenever they happened to step foot in the library? That didn’t require planning on the library’s part, or remembering on the patrons’ part? That were targeted to their own individual interests? That fostered connections between them and their neighbors? That made stopping by the library just to see what’s up in the building worthwhile, as opposed to only using the digital branch? That helped people to learn and to better use our resources and our spaces?
Here’s what I’m thinking: a living, updated-in-real-time site (somewhat like Twitter or Foursquare in the way it works–and it would need IM capabilities built in), ideally displayed prominently on a large screen in the lobby/entrance, but workable even if it was just on the web via a link on the library’s home page (that automatically loads when you use the library computers, and that wireless users can choose to load).

Emily Lloyd goes on to note a couple of things. First, a system like this is completely voluntary. If you don’t want people joining you or learning your name or any intrusion on your privacy, then don’t do it. Even if you share an activity or location once, you are not under any obligation to do so in the future. It’s a complete opt-in idea.

Second, people could create accounts with a user or screen name that is not connected to their real name. This creates a barrier between the user and their identity and allows them to share as much information as they want about themselves when they meet up with someone. People will be given an additional safeguard over their identity.

Third, it could be done for a relatively low budget. While Mrs. Lloyd talks about a display setup, I know that the technology exists now for people to text a message to a special short code and have it appear on a screen. (I remember seeing it in Boston at an ice cream place called Toscanini’s. You can see the monitor in the upper left corner of this picture.) I would surmise that it would be a matter of buying the display and the software or service to use it. Under this premise, a patron could text a message, it would display for a set time (for instance, one hour), and then scroll away afterwards.

I can see this idea as being meaningful to the library in several ways. First, it creates the air of spontaneity that Mrs. Lloyd speaks about in her original post. It becomes a place for people to drop in and see what is going on at the library. It changes the tempo from being static to dynamic in nature, in which smaller events and connections can be created on an ongoing basis in conjunction with scheduled library programming. With a “status board”, one could mix the library events with patron happenings, allowing the library to announce what is going on currently as well as who else might be there or other things going on in the library.

Second, a savvy library could analyze the ‘check-ins’ to see what people are up to. Is there a regular group meeting to talk about current events? Offer them space or refreshments or other support. Do people regularly come to study Spanish? Examine your language collection and see if they are using it or whether additional purchases should be made. It provides some feedback as to patron behaviors and activities; and more importantly, it is something you can act on in tailoring the user experience.

The only downsides that I can see critics raising is the possibility of user stalking, inappropriate status messages, and the potential for luring people into remote areas of the library to assault them. User stalking is nothing new to the library, so that could be handled accordingly. Inappropriate status messages could be filtered before being posted with a backup system in place to remove those that survive the process. As to the last aspect, luring people to areas of the library, it would be a matter of letting people know that if they are unsure about joining someone in the library, a staff member would be glad to escort them. There are some common sense guidelines can be put in place much in the way that you tell kids to not go with strangers.

The aspect of this idea that appeals to me the most is serendipity. It’s the creation of a possibility or a chance at something new or different. The brain appreciates a good gamble, especially when there is nothing to lose in trying. It’s a risk-reward that is all reward. It’s a good gamble on a local social connection which creates a new possibilities for the patron.

Someone should steal try this idea. Because I’d like to see how it works.

(h/t: The Civil Librarian)

The Mitigation-Prevention Dynamic

ux-suffers

There’s something about John’s tweet here that struck me as having broader implications. How much time is spent in libraries working on preventative measures as opposed to mitigating ones?

By preventative measures, I mean the policies and practices that seek to regulate as much as possible for both the patron and the staff. Everyone has seen some variation of signs that are full of “NO” statements; no eating, no drinking, no cell phone use, no loud voices, no moving the furniture, no horseplay, no running, and so forth and so on. Everyone has also seen signs that are full of declaratives such as “Patrons must have your library card to do [X, where x can equal anything]”, “Patrons must return materials here”, or “Computers are for adult patrons only.” There is a point where having such things make sense; you want to show that there are basic rules to using the library.

But there are moments when I really wonder about it. Most of the time, these moments happen in the few seconds after a staff member has related a story about an incident within the library and finishes with the sentence, “I think we need to make a sign for that.” Inwardly, I cringe because the one of the Great Ironic Truths™ of the library (an ancient institution dedicated to reading) is that people generally do not read our signs. Even then, when I ask whether this has happened before or if it is part of a series of incidents, most of the time the answer is no.

So, in summary, something bad has happened once, there is no indication whether it is part of a future pattern, and now we need to take a dramatic step in ensure that it never happens again. I’m sure that there are some situations in which this applies, but to use it as the ‘one size fits all’ reaction to every potential negative event in the library is absurd.

It’s a bit hard to tell at times whether the pendulum between mitigation and prevention has swung too far in the latter direction. There are photo groups on Flickr dedicated to documenting library signs that are borderline infantilizing the patron. There are also a good number of stories that get passed around by rules and policies that are drafted or modified in order to address very specific incidents. On the other hand, there are individuals like Stephen Bell, Michael Stephens, and the source of inspiration for this post John Blyberg that are working towards the mitigation end of the spectrum. In keeping up with their efforts, I think it might create a bit of a blind spot to the overall issue. In other words, I can’t tell whether prevention is as big a monster as it comes across as or whether the negative prevention stories resonate more with people than positive mitigation ones. My instincts are telling me to lean towards the “monster” idea, for what it is worth.

What do you think about the mitigation-prevention dynamic? Has it gone too far to the prevention end? Where can mitigation be substituted for prevention? And where do we mitigate when we really should prevent?

Sunday Speculation: Games & The Brain

Tim Chatfield–TEDGlobal-July 2010

This TED video is not a continuation of a case for gaming in libraries, but rather a glimpse into the discoveries about human behavior that video games are revealing. The industry, poised to reach triple the size of the recorded music industry by 2014, has been taking lessons from how people act within their virtual words, what motivates them, and what reward systems work. In turn, game designers are crafting their worlds to play on people’s expectations, their thought patterns, and what keeps them engaged. While the “laboratory” for these discoveries is online, the implications of these findings have real world applications.

As Mr. Chatfield notes in the close of his talk, game creators are now constructing virtual worlds to meet (and appease) the neurological biometrics of the brain. He makes a list of the lessons that can be gleaned from it and the real world implementations that can be used. I don’t really have a question other than wondering what other people who have viewed this think about the points it raises. So, take about fifteen minutes to watch the video and please post your thoughts below.