The Case for the Great Good Place

Via Stephen’s Lighthouse:

It’s been a couple of days since I sat down to watch this video and I still don’t think it’s enough time to digest everything that I saw. It was like watching a pitcher throw a perfect game or a bowler roll a 300 or some other sports analogy of perfection. While I know that no library operates that flawlessly, it certainly seems that it is a little slice of library heaven on Earth. Patron focused, community supported, technology enabled, staff supported & buy-in? Where can I get some of that?

The part of the documentary that has stuck with me the most is something John Berry spoke about at the beginning of the film. “The Great Good Place” is a term I had not previously heard used in describing the library. In dissecting the phrase in my head, it has such nuance to it that it just blows me away. I do believe there is an inherent goodness to the library and that it is a place of aspirations and dreams.

I had joked earlier this year on Twitter and Facebook that, in the future when people ask me what I do for a living, I’m going to tell them that I work at the creativity factory, but for me there is a kernel of truth in what I said. I do believe that we as librarians are surrounded by thousands if not millions of creative expressions made over the course of written history. Fiction, non-fiction, it all comes together as people pour themselves onto the pages to teach, to entertain, and to share themselves. If you stand in the stacks and take a moment to consider your surroundings, the amount of time and effort used in handing down knowledge and stores that you are surrounded by is pretty damn impressive in my opinion.

I would prattle on about how the library serves its community, works for information access, and in its heart a people oriented service business, but that would be preaching to the choir here. These are all good latent qualities to the library.

Where does the “great” begin then? I believe it is in the execution of the library mission and goals. Like all customer oriented entities, how the library service is carried out is what will make it a ‘great’ place. I’m not sure how to expand upon this point, really; that just about sums it up for me.

Once again, kudos to Darien Public Library for this video. I’m proud to know some of the people who work there and now see what their efforts yield. Now, onwards to make this the accepted and sought after norm for the profession.

(Note: I have been wrestling with WordPress to show the video. If it’s not showing up, you can view the video here.)

The Reports of Our Professional Deaths Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Outside Observer Edition

This article entitled “Digital Underclass: What Happens When the Libraries Die?” by Jason Perlow at ZDNet caught my attention last week. The gist of the article is that libraries are in danger of extinction due to the change in format of one of our cornerstone collection pieces, the book. In moving from physical print to an ebook, Mr. Perlow makes the case that libraries will slowly face away into the past as the demand for physical print diminishes.

While this notion is not a new one that has been fired over the bow of the library ship (and is rebutted by issues of internet access and the increasing importance of bibliographic instruction in an information tsunami world), Mr. Perlow does make an excellent point in regards to the creation of a “Digital Underclass”: that is, those people who will be unable to access ebooks due to poverty. Specifically, when it comes to the rights of those who cannot afford such device:

It means that we need to guarantee that citizens have access, even if they are poor. It means each citizen needs access to free bandwidth to get books and they need devices to read the material on. We can assume that everyone in 10 years will be able to afford a smartphone or a super-inexpensive tablet device with inexpensive Internet connectivity, but that’s an awful big assumption.

And assuming that we aren’t going to cede the distribution of all electronic books to the Amazons of the world, then we need to start thinking about how we build that Digital Public Library infrastructure. Does it make sense to build datacenters at the state or county level with huge e-book/e-media repositories?

The other point Mr. Perlow makes is one that is currently at issue within the library world: the lending of ebooks. Or rather, the lack of such opportunities right now. I found it very refreshing to find someone outside of the library community who has concerns about this situation. It reinforces the importance of education the non-librarian public about what is going on with DRM, copyright, proprietary software, and what it will mean for them in the future if changes are not made now.

Another writer on ZDnet answered Mr. Perlow’s article with one of his own, challenging the idea that the public library would die and that what is needed is a reboot. In “Digital Underclass? Only if we allow it”, Chris Dawson articulates the point that libraries are the great equalizer for information access. Because it is an institution that provides materials and services to a community, the library continues to play an important part in our new information future. What is integral to the future of the library is that it “reboots” itself and morphs into a new institution that can handle the access and availability issues of the 21st century. For me, it is encouraging to hear some of the same arguments that librarians have been trying to make coming from outside observers.

I wrote a response to Mr. Perlow that evening, the first of which I will reprint below.

In reading your article, “Digital Underclass: What Happens When the Libraries Die?”, I wish to disagree with your assessment of the future of libraries. The short answer is that funding cuts will kill libraries, not technology. As a fellow New Jersey resident, you might have noticed that state funding to libraries was initially cut by 74% in the Governor’s first budget proposal. The final draft was a slightly less 43%, enough to keep federal matching funds for programs and some vital state wide library programs. A good number of libraries cut staff, hours, and even closed. None of this was technology related; it was all due to funding cuts not because the library was unnecessary, but was seen as a community luxury. In the depths of the recession, library visits were up, library usage was up, and NJ libraries saw increases in computer use generally across the board.

My longer answer is that libraries will not close so long as there is a digital divide (the proverbial technology ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’). So long as there is a digital divide, the need for print will continue. I will concede to a reduced demand and different printing schemes, but an all digital content world risks creating too large a gap that will stifle further development. I’m not simply talking about within the United States, but around the world. While cellular technology adaptation is rapidly gaining footholds in the developing worlds, they still lack an incredible amount of infrastructure to support that kind of reading. Furthermore, even with a suitable network system in place, ebooks cannot not replicate certain interactivity aspects of children’s books, the flip-flop of reading and checking the index of college textbooks, and remain under proprietary software and DRM issues.

And now I’m going to give you the third degree for your description of the library. Have you BEEN in a library lately? The card catalog is quite dead, my fellow New Jerseyian. It has been ever since the first OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) graced the entrance of the library. And while we do have shelves of books (a staple), we also have shelves full of music, movies, audio books, and video games along with rows of public computers. The quiet is not what it used to be with collaborative spaces and tapping of laptop keyboards. In a fully digital society, there will be public libraries and people will need them. They will need them for bibliographic assistance, technology classes, and other things that cannot be gleaned from downloading or opening the box.

Will the library be the place that it was twenty years ago? No, absolutely not. The advances in communication and computing have turned the data landscape from (to borrow the phrase from another librarian blogger) an information desert to an information jungle. Librarians are no longer the gatekeepers to knowledge, we are reinventing ourselves as guides. The amount of data created this year will equal the amount of data ever created in the history of man. This mountain of data expressed in petabytes, a one with a scary amount of zeros behind it, and they are looking for names for the next set up the chart. It’s an information future and there will always be a need for someone who can find their way through to the information that people are seeking.

If you’d like to know more about ebooks and libraries, here’s a reading list for you:

Ebook Sanity (and the 3 articles that are immediately linked to it)
Ebook Summit: Our Ebook Challenge
The New Librarianship in the Age of the Ebooks
The World Without Public Libraries (from this blog)

There are other sources out there as well. To be fair, I can see the reason that people come to libraries changing, but right now, I don’t foresee public libraries in danger from media changes. Libraries have been cut out of the ebook scene for a long time, but we as a profession are working to make our own inroads.

He was gracious enough to offer me the chance to write a proper letter to the editor. I drafted another letter that is more on point to the issues raised in his article. You can read my Letter to the Editor here at ZDNet.

In reflecting on this experience, it shows that the profession does have some distance to go in educating people about funding, information access, the role of libraries and ebooks, and the overarching concerns about DRM and copyright. However, it is posts like this that grant us the chance to create a teachable moment. These are opportunities to reach out and advocate on behalf of the library on platforms that reach non-librarians. These are the chances that matter and we should endeavor to seek them out.

If we are going to taut that the library of the future is about connections, then we need to start making some ourselves to the non-librarian world.

A Different Social Path

Via Mashable:

Path calls itself “The Personal Network” because it’s determined to go against the example set by Twitter’s follower model; you are limited to just 50 friends on Path. It chose the 50 number based on the theories of Oxford professor of evolutionary psychology Robin Dunbar, who claims that 150 is the maximum number of social relationships any human can handle.

This site is certainly a “quality over quantity” type of social media platform deal, placing an emphasis on smaller groups of individuals sharing their personal details. It’s the “dinner with friends” motif as opposed to the “giant buffet” that Twitter and Facebook can be. It’s currently in very limited release as an iPhone app, but you can check it out on the web. It also appears to be photo based in its content, but I think that the interface is appealing in its simplicity: place, names, and activity plus a photograph.

In addition, I see it as a good platform to recommend to patrons who don’t want to do the rigmarole of Facebook yet be able to share pictures and activities with each other. Specifically, I can see it as a way to connect non-smart phone using family members with those who have it. I’d be curious to see how it rolls out to other mobile platforms or even as a web portal. It will be interesting to see how Path shapes up because I think there is a place for something between Facebook and Twitter in terms of sharing information with a designated group of people. It will be interesting to see how this platform develops.

Sunday Speculation: Librarian Workout

Photo by hotelcasavelas2/Flickr

I have never been a huge fan of working out. I like being active in sports and outdoor activity, but the thought of going to a gym to use machines was distasteful for a long time. However, when you are out of breath from climbing only a few set of stairs at work, then the time has come to start paying attention to your body’s conditioning.

I never denied to myself the fact that I am overweight, but I hadn’t done anything about it until recently. In visiting the gym tonight, I was thinking about what to write for today’s Sunday Speculation when the epiphany hit me.

What is the workout that you as a librarian put yourself through? In other words, what are the personal professional development and continuing education activities that you use to keep in the swing of things?

For myself, it’s a little bit of professional publications (Library Journal and Booklist at work) and a healthy dose of library and librarian blogs in my Google Reader. I can’t say how many blogs I subscribe to, but I easily go through a couple hundred library related items a day. I find the inspiration for many posts there as well as ideas to steal take back to work with me. I also find that it is useful for keeping up with the current library issue debates.

At my library, the thing I work on the most which sounds simple but isn’t always is this: I try to greet every patron with a smile and an upbeat greeting. It’s not easy because there are days when you don’t feel it on the inside; on those days, it becomes a bit of theater. However, I will admit that in doing it once, it makes subsequent greetings easier and it does improve my overall mood.

So, the question again I have for you is this: how do you work out your librarian muscles and “keep fit”?

Bibliographic Instruction is Not a Home Run Derby

From the Pegasus Librarian:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s been that I am not there to teach the students how to find, evaluate, and use information. I tried that with a couple of courses, and it failed. Miserably.

No, I’m there to do two things: to give the students a couple of skills they need right now, and to spark their imaginations about what could be possible if they decided to make a habit of this research stuff.

To go into another metaphor for what Iris has written, bibliographic instruction is not a home run derby. It’s not a matter of trying to get everything in one swing. You just want to get the person on base and tell them how they are in scoring position. It’s not your one and only chance to reach people, but it is the first chance to tell them about what you have to offer. Time is limited, so pick the basics and give them a preview of what else is out there. Leave the door open for those who want to know more about what else they can learn.

As the old showbiz adage goes, “Always leave them wanting more.” With bibliographic instruction, the same entertainment advice holds true.

Gorman Gaming Gaffe, Ctd.

I started to answer some of the responses that I got from my recent post “Gorman Gaming Gaffe”, but the length of replies gave me the idea to spin them out into their own blog post. There were a couple of thoughts I wanted to expand upon because I think there are larger concepts and ideas in play here.

In their respective replies, Will Manley and Liz Burns came to the defense of Michael Gorman’s overarching position that the library has deep roots as an educational institution. The presence of gaming can act as a sideline from this mission. How gaming is used as a program, an attraction, and lending material matters when it comes to the discerning eye of the public and those who control the budget. As Liz says (and I agree), libraries can have games and gaming while maintaining the educational aspects of the entire library.

The point that doesn’t sit well with me in their replies is that, if public libraries are to be the education institutions that people like Mr. Gorman wish them to be, what about the sheer volume of entertainment that we collect right now? What is the educational value of the latest Michael Bay movie, a Lady Gaga CD, a Nora Roberts paperback, or a Jody Picoult hardcover? You could tuck the latter two into a wider mission for literacy, but the first two are going to be a hard sell under this ideal.

I know that such a position is not new by any means. Within the last three years, I can recall reading a letter to the editor in my local newspaper in which a fellow townsman argued for the library budget to be limited to only “academic pursuits”. However, it is my feeling that the public library has been popular culture collector for some time now. In acting as a reflection of the communities served, the collection has roved to other types of holdings as a reaction to the local changes in taste and technology. It’s not so much that the library has wandered, but that it has followed where the patrons have indicated that they want them to go. This trend has not been created in a vacuum, but as an acquiescence to the suggestions of people using the library.

(If someone wants to make the argument that we should not always give patrons what they request as a matter of course in following the educational ideal of the public library, they are free to do so. I will not be making it, but I will acknowledge its existence.)

I would not want gaming (video, board, card, or otherwise) to be afforded a second class citizenship in collection development. It strikes me as odd to not think twice about buying the latest Hollywood hype high-explosion-low-plot-no-acting drivel and yet turn up the nose on games and gaming materials as somehow being unbecoming of the library to collect. In considering that there are studies that support the benefits of video games, card games, and board games, this dismissal is based on outdated perceptions.

As it has been suggested in previous post and in the replies, games can prove to be a valuable marketing tool for the library. In hosting gaming, the library can reach out to individuals who are not current library users in a new way. Once they are in the building, you can build a rapport with them and market to them. The placement of advertising and even the program itself can maximize their exposure to your services, materials, and other programs. Just like the candy in the grocery checkout aisles, you can bring them in for one thing and have them leaving with something else. But, I believe more importantly that this presents the opportunity to build a relationship with the patron.

This leads into my next point.

When public librarians think about their relationships with patrons, what is the time scale that they are using to analyze them? Are they thinking of the patron in the present as in how many items they have out now, how often they are visiting the library now, and how many services they are using now? Or are we thinking of the relationship over the course of lifetime? I think there is such emphasis placed on the statistics that the public libraries can gather now that the relationship over the course of decades is set aside.

I’m not ignorant of the fact that statistics are important for showing value for the money invested in the library, but it does make me wonder if we are just paying lip service to the “lifelong learning” idea. Instead, are we engaged in a quasi Glengarry Glen Ross style of high pressure salesmanship where we are actively trying to convert people into power users or increase the number and types of materials that they borrow or the programs they attend? This places an emphasis on those we can convert into immediate statistics versus those who will provide a greater number of statistics on a longer time scale through a slower developing accord.

In thinking about my own relationships with patrons, it reminds me of Ranganathan’s 5th law of library science: the library is a growing organism. We are growing our patron relationships from the moment they step through the doors. If we were to imagine them as plants, very few of them will be kudzu, some will be evergreens while others are perennials, and there will be orchids (which can take up to eight years before flowering). The rate of growth in the relationship between the user and the library does not follow a single pattern. It is up to the profession to recognize these signs and cultivate our relationship with the patron at the pace of their expectations and growth.

I think there is more to consider when it comes to the library-patron connection. How do you view this connection?

Gorman Gaming Gaffe

There’s an article in the Los Angeles Times about libraries reinventing themselves for digital content when this quote popped out at me:

Some traditional librarians worry that experiments aimed at making libraries more accessible could dumb them down.

“If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries,” said Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Assn. “The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, ‘Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky’ — it seems ludicrous to me.”

For me, there are a couple of things wrong with this quote. First, when the library can attract anyone into the physical building (teen, adult, kid, senior), you are given any number of opportunities to market other materials and services to them. The teens might not borrow that Dostoyevsky book, but it works to build a relationship between the library and that age group. These relationships and experiences carry forward beyond the teen years in adulthood. This relationship model applies to the other groups I’ve mentioned and works towards the life long relationship that libraries as a whole want to build with people.

The shortsightedness of Mr. Gorman’s quote is that it relies on a notion that there exists an instant or short term conversion of a single interest patron (only checks out DVDs, only attends video game programs, etc.) into a multiple interest patron (starts borrowing other materials or attending other types of programs). That the single purpose of forming a relationship with a patron is to move them into utilizing as many materials, services, and programs as quickly as possible without regard for their current needs. It’s the equivalent of asking someone to marry them on the first date. Just as we look to the future of the library with longevity, so must we give the same consideration to patron relationships. It doesn’t mean we can’t do a hard sell every once in a while, but keeping perspective on the relationship as an ongoing and growing connection over decades.

Second, the tone of the quote is rather dismissive of experimenting with new formats and ideas. The game rooms that Mr. Gorman is lamenting today might be gone in a few years from now because they really don’t further the library’s mission, they fail attract people to the library, or they are simply be untenable for continued funding. Some experiments work, some don’t, but not trying is also not discovering and stifling to innovation. Even in failing, there are insights to be gleaned for future attempts or avoidance of certain strategies.

I would not consider dismissing Mr. Gorman’s quotation because he has only worked in academic libraries all his life (and not in a public library) so I would hope he would give a little more consideration to different ideas being attempted in public libraries for attracting patrons. It is this process of change that leads to a better overall service and product, but there are going to be many missteps along the way. It may be a game room, it could be video games, but it’s going to take many ideas to figure out which ones are good or bad. Hopefully, in the end, this will bring the results that these libraries are looking for: people walking through the door, ready to see what the library has to offer them today.

(h/t: Resource Shelf)

School Libraries: Endangered Species?

From the Not So Distant Future:

It seems like a no-brainer. For students’ reading skills to improve, they need to read. They need to have lots of access to books and technology. They need to feel comfortable around books, talk about books, and associate books with positive interactions. They need the support of librarians who can match them up with the right books, bring guest authors into the school, create book clubs, help them access electronic books, guide them to online book discussions, help them get past the digital divide by providing Internet access and information literacy training, and connect their teachers with the latest tools.

And we know this works — study after study has shown that schools with well-stocked, well-staffed libraries have higher achievement test scores. And yet, perplexingly, across the nation, librarian positions are being cut; elementary libraries have no librarian, librarians are spread among multiple schools, and libraries are being closed due to lack of staff, or opened only a few hours a day, manned by the occasional teacher.

I know that school libraries in New Jersey got clobbered by the budget cuts last year. You can read one librarian-teacher’s account of going from the library back to the classroom due to cuts over at Library Garden. It’s this really horrendous paradox in which we demand better academic achievement from students and then can’t seem to find our collective wallet when the bill comes in. I realize that money is not the solution to some of the education woes in this country, but when you have a bunch of evidence that indicates that a library is a relatively cheap and easy way of knocking up reading scores a notch, it really is a no-brainer.

For related reading, The Unquiet Librarian takes on the lack of mention of school libraries and school librarians in a Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy white paper, “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action”. They appear to be re-inventing the wheel with a recommendation to create Digital and Media Literacy Youth Corps rather than support existing school libraries and librarians that are already in place and on the (relatively) same mission.

What will it take to bring school libraries back from the brink of budget extinction?

(Late addendum: Chicago’s Lack of School Libraries Sparks Dispute. [h/t: Resource Shelf])

Access in the Hands of an Aggressive Filtering Policy

In the November 1st issue of Library Journal, there is an LJ Backtalk article entitled “The Internet is Not All or Nothing”. It is written by Dean Marney, the Director of the North Central Regional Library in Wenatchee, Washington. This is probably not going to ignite any immediate recognition for some readers but this is the library at the heart of Bradburn v. North Central Regional Library District lawsuit. (If you are familiar with the lawsuit, you can skip on down to the break below and avoid all this legal background stuff.) It was the first case in the post-CIPA United State et al. v. American Library Association ruling which held that Children’s Internet Protection Act was not unconstitutional. In the concurring opinions for the case, Justices Kennedy and Breyer focused on the ability for adult patrons to request unblocking or disabling of the library filter.

Justice Kennedy wrote:

If, on the request of an adult user, a librarian will unblock filtered material or disable the Internet software filter without significant delay, there is little to this case. The Government represents this is indeed the fact.

Justice Breyer wrote:

The Act does impose upon the patron the burden of making this request. But it is difficult to see how that burden (or any delay associated with compliance) could prove more onerous than traditional library practices associated with segregating library materials in, say, closed stacks, or with interlibrary lending practices that require patrons to make requests that are not anonymous and to wait while the librarian obtains the desired materials from elsewhere.

As policy, the North Central Regional Library District adopted a procedure for adults to get websites unblocked. From the Washington State Supreme Court ruling:

Here, if a library patron wants to access a web site or page that has been blocked by FortiGuard, he or she may send an e-mail to NCRL administrators asking for a manual override of the block. The site or page is reviewed to ascertain whether allowing access would accord with NCRL’s mission, its policy, and CIPA requirements. If not, the request is denied. If the request is approved, access will be allowed on all of NCRL’s public access computers.

In the case brought against North Central Regional Library District, the plaintiffs were alleging that the library refused to unblock First Amendment protected speech sites when requested by an adult of legal age. From the Free Expression Policy Project:

[T]he plaintiffs include a woman seeking to do research on drugs and alcohol; a professional photographer blocked from researching art galleries and health issues; and the Second Amendment Foundation, which says that the library’s filters blocked access to Women & Guns, a magazine covering such topics as self-defense, recreational shooting, and new products.

In the end, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the library system. The essence of their ruling was that libraries were within their discretion to exhibit this level of control over Internet content as part of providing the general public internet access. Specifically, the court held as follows:

Most importantly, just as a public library has discretion to make content-based decisions about which magazines and books to include in its collection, it has discretion to make decisions about Internet content. A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results. It can make the same choices about Internet access.

A public library has traditionally and historically enjoyed broad discretion to select materials to add to its collection of printed materials for its patrons’ use. We conclude that the same discretion must be afforded a public library to choose what materials from millions of Internet sites it will add to its collection and make available to its patrons.

The case is continuing to lurch through the federal courts now so another appeal to the Supreme Court is inevitable.

And now that you’re caught up, we can go back to the article in Library Journal.


In the conclusion of his article, Mr. Marney asks that librarians “exhibit graciousness, civility, and respect for one another” when it comes to this particular can-o-worms issue. I’ve read the article five to six times and I can see the points that he is making. I’m willing to extend him this courtesy so I will ask forgiveness if I come off as being too harsh or sharp at times. This issue is certainly something that gets the blood going, and I anticipate some good healthy (and perhaps not so healthy) debate on his article and my blog entry.

In the interests of dialogue, I’d like to address what he writes on a point by point basis.

We do not allow the filter to be turned off, as many libraries do, but allow individual websites to be unblocked after review consistent with our collection development policy. (Sometimes there’s a slight delay; rarely does one last more than a day.) As part of the case, we commissioned a study of our filter by Paul Resnick at the University of Michigan School of Information that revealed that fewer than 1/3000th of patron searches resulted in incorrect blocks.

I hate to start off with questions, but I need a better grasp of the policy. Who reviews these requests? When the internet policy states that “the mission of the North Central Regional Library is to promote reading and lifelong learning”, what exactly are the restrictions on latter part regarding ‘lifelong learning’? I ask this since I’m trying to get a better handle as to what made the plaintiff’s sites ineligible for being unblocked as part of their intellectual inquiry.

As to the 1 in 3,000 figure, I see that the National Center for Health Statistics has reported that your chances of dying from “natural forces” (such as heat, cold, acts of weather) is roughly 1 in 3,357. (I’m just mentioning this to give some additional perspective to the figure.)

The outdated tenets about using technology to manage the Internet, promoted by the Freedom To Read Foundation (FTRF) and American Library Association (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom, express dogma and fundamentalism and deserve challenge.

You bring up this point, but it never gets explained. How is it dogma? Why does it deserve challenge? I keep looking for some meat on this point, but there is none offered. I’m willing to hear your view on this point, but there is no payoff to these statements.

I believe that some form of filtering is a best practice in libraries. Everyone at least uses a firewall and a spam filter. Using technology to manage our collections on the Internet is economical and equitable. Filtering offers a technological solution for a technological problem. If your filter is inadequate, find a better one.

I’m going to presume that the filters you are referring to in the last sentence are the ones that control content. I do believe that firewalls and spam filters are a necessary defense against those who seek to invade and do harm to a computer network; it just makes sense in this day and age of technology. The last sentence struck me as odd, though.

The big issue about filtering internet content is that the software is imperfect. To me, it comes across like the Momma and Poppa beds in the Three Bears story: they tend to be too soft (allow too much undesirable content) or too hard (block too much desired content) and never in a state of being ‘just right’. By saying that you allow adults to request sites to be unblocked, one could draw the conclusion from having this procedure in place that the NCRL filter is inadequate and in need of a ‘better filter’. Now, I concede that I don’t know what the frequency of unblock requests that NCRL get, but I hope that I got my point across.

I believe that ALA failed in its attempt to invalidate the Children’s Internet Protection Act in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled that filtering does not violate the First Amendment. The case against us was an attempt to undo that ruling with an applied ­challenge.

I disagree on this point. The heart of the CIPA decision is that any adult could request that the filtering software be suspended or disabled at their request. The Justices took note that this request did not create an onerous burden on the adult and therefore was not a restraint on access to materials protected by the First Amendment. The issue here is whether or not a library should be able to make a determination as to which web content is accessible when an adult patron makes a request.

While the Washington State Supreme Court agreed that it was within the library’s rights to limit access to internet sites (under the premise that collection development policies on physical materials are just as viable on electronic materials on a site-by-site basis), I’m not so sure it will pass muster before the Supreme Court. In ruling on US v ALA, the Court outlined conditions under which the filtering was permissible. Namely, that it could be removed at the request of the individual. The two concurring opinions outline that as a specific reason for upholding CIPA. If you took that pertinent fact away, one could argue that the Court would have decided 5-4 against CIPA as the two concurring opinions jumped sides. Given their recent case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association and their treatment of First Amendment issues within that case (restrictions on selling minors video games with violent content), I would be curious as to how they would handle a publically funded government entity making decisions as to what internet content is accessible. They might embrace the reasoning under Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion as an extension of library collection policies or they might see it as an excessive burden on access to protected speech.

I believe that “all or nothing” would include everything on the Internet. Librarians daily deny patron access to valuable First Amendment–protected speech because it is subscription- and fee-based. These same librarians may feel morally superior for providing uncontrolled access to the free parts of the Internet that include, among other things, obscenity, pornography, child pornography, material harmful to minors, and illegal ­gambling.

I’m having a hard time following the point made in the first half of this passage. In denying the patron access to valuable content due to differing sorts of paywalls, are you saying that the library is preventing people from paying for that content? Or are you saying that the library should be obligated to pay for content behind these paywalls? Or are you saying (and I’m guessing this is what you actually mean) that librarians deny people the access to content because they are not taxpayers or fee based supporters/subscribers to the library? Because, under that logic, I should demand to pay the in-state tuition for public colleges in other states than where I legally reside on the basis that I would be physically standing in that other state when I am making my demand.

I think it is unreasonable to conflate the issue of “who pays to support the library” with “what kind of internet access people receive”. I don’t have numbers to back this up, but my understanding is that the majority of libraries provide a guest card or other free temporary access conditions to their collection. The basis of ‘denial’ of access is not a philosophic one, but a funding one. The library provides a benefit to the community that provides its budget, no different than paying for police or fire or trash collection coverage within a certain jurisdiction area.

As to the kind of internet access they receive for their tax or fee money, your statement leans towards a specific kind of harmful materials to minors. But I’m going to address that in a moment.

I believe that pornography can be harmful to children whether they access it or are exposed to it by others accessing it. It creates a hostile environment for our staff and other patrons and overshadows many of the benefits of the free Internet access we provide.

I have a question to this passage: what about violent content? Is that content also harmful to children? In terms of violent content, what kind of content are we talking about? Old Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry cartoons? Ultimate Fighting Championship or Bumfights? Depictions of real war and violent crime (either photographic or video)? Hollywood violence? Game violence? Does this create a hostile environment for the staff and other patrons?

I can see your point regarding pornography and children, but I’m now wondering why pornography is getting singled out for rebuke compared to other materials that have been previously labeled as “harmful to children”.

I believe that the “tap and tell” tactic some libraries use isn’t fair or equitable. Library personnel and security guards are universally untrained to make snap judgments about Internet content, and there are no standards for enforcement.

I find it odd that the qualities of fairness or equality are a consideration here as the NCRL internet policy does not provide transparency for the internet unblocking administration and decision making process, a summary of what sites in the past have been approved or denied (and why), nor outline a process for appealing a internet unblocking denial to either the Director or the Board of Trustees. I’d be interested as to hearing more about how this process is fair or equitable in comparison to the “tap and tell” method. To me, it reads as though the subjective judgments regarding internet content have moved from being reactive to proactive, hidden behind the walls of library administration.

Finally, as we migrate our collections and our entire libraries onto the Internet, we must be responsible to the communities we serve and make our mark as the profession that intelligently manages and makes usable the vast stores of information available online. Content matters.

I both like and dislike this closing statement. I like it because I agree that libraries should be a reflection of the communities that they serve and the collection should be a reflection of the taste and values of the population. It should be authentic to the local person, a place that resonates with the vibe of the community. I dislike it because I don’t think managing the entirety of the internet should be our job. One can find great fault with this idea, but I am in favor of rules and guidelines along with the necessary enforcement. I am well aware of the horror stories that accompany unfiltered access to the internet at the public library, but I think it ignores the lawful use of computers that make up a regular day in the life of the library.

Now, if access to illegal online content becomes an issue at a library, I’m open to taking steps in order to curb it. There is a flex point in which the enforcement passes other duties to the point of being disruptive to staff. How the library proceeds from there is something I’d be curious to hear about as it is a fine balance of staff time and patron need.

While I can appreciate the ideas behind the policy of evaluating requests for website access as opposed to blanket unfiltering, I cannot divorce myself from my information libertarian feelings. I really don’t feel it is the place of the library to place itself in such a position no more than it is the role of the government to tell me what to watch, read, and what I can do with my body. I can accept filtering as a necessary evil of the Federal e-rate and as something to curb the most egregious of internet actions, but I cannot accept the role as being an administrator on a site-by-site basis. It is the right of the individual to marshal their own decisions, to live with consequences, and this is one area where I think libraries can get the hell out of the way.

In closing, I will agree with Mr. Marney and say that I think this is a subject worthy of additional debate. I think there are common grounds that can satisfy this ideal. And I look forward to his replies to my points and the comments of others.

The Persistence of Memory

In fiddling around on Tumblr the other day, I saw a friend had activated the “Ask Me Anything” function on their blog. When you do that, the Tumblr robot sends you the question “What is your earliest human memory?” I don’t know why Tumblr decided it do something like that; perhaps it is some sort of icebreaker. Maybe it is to give people an example of a question and answer when they go to the Ask link. I don’t know about you, but I get enough auto generated questions on the internet; I don’t need another scripted entity questioning me on something.

At any rate, I started to think about my oldest memories. For a long time, I’ve sworn that my memory was crap and that retention was a fickle beast. It wasn’t until recently (within the last few years) that I realized my memory was fine if I gave a damn about it. Otherwise, my brain just treated it like noise. This has lead me to start wondering about what my brain considers to be important for it does not always jibe with my conscious brain. The fact that I can remember what a patron wanted when they came to the reference desk six months ago without an intervening visit sometimes grants me some shocked looks. I can remember minor events with friends from long ago that they have clearly forgotten. I don’t know why I hang onto that kind of knowledge as opposed to theories in biology (the subject I studied for four years in college); it is just another way the human brain baffles me.

I was surprised to find out that my oldest memory goes back to when I was ten months old. It was surprising because when I asked my mother how old I was when this memory happened, that’s the age she gave me. For the longest time I had thought that I was older, but she assures me of the age and the events that transpired. And she has good reason to know, as I will endeavor to explain.

I remember standing in my parent’s kitchen with a little Fisher Price Doctor kit in hand. My mother was on the phone with my great grandmother, talking about things that are now lost to time. I was standing in front of the open door to the basement when I indicated to her that I was going to walk down the stairs.

I may have made the first step, but I did not make the others. The most vivid part of this memory is being airborne, turning and spinning as I fell, looking across the open basement from underneath the bannister. That’s the part that has stuck with me the most (and probably the reason I remember it) is that my thought at that exact moment was amusement. Not shock nor horror nor pain, but amused at the way the world looked different in those few moments as I was airborne. It was a glance at the world in a different way for a split second and in that precious point in time, I was strangely delighted for it.

The Fischer Price doctor kit had come open and spilled the contents onto the stairs with me. I can still see them on their own flight arcs past my vision as we all went down the staircase together. Not quite a 2001 moment, but certainly added to the weirdness of the scene as I think back on it.

With all that said, I don’t remember landing. That glance out of side of the stairs is where the memory stops. What almost stopped was my mother’s heart as she watched me in profile disappear down the stairway no more than seven feet away. She had enough presence of mind to tell my great grandmother, “I have go. Andy just fell down the stairs” before hanging up the phone and flying down the stairs after me. She took me to the hospital where I checked out fine. No broken bones, no concussions, no other trauma than being ten months old in a hospital. I was lucky since neither the stairs nor the basement floor had any sort of give or softness to them.

In the few times we have spoken about it, she and I have very different emotions attached to the event. I remember the aforementioned wonder of the experience, to strange perspective of tumbling through space and how different the world looks. She remembers being a young new mother who watched as her baby disappeared from sight in a flash and the resulting noise as I hurled down the stairs. While we are both relieved by the experience, we clearly have different connections to that event.

Until this evening when my mother set me straight, I didn’t think that this was my oldest memory. And since I’d rather not leave people on a down note of a child in peril, I can actually show you what I thought was my oldest memory.

L to R: Me, Marion, Pete (baby), Mary (aka Oliah)

This picture has a fun story to it. The first being that this picture (and others that came out of the photo session) have been universally discussed and agreed within the family to have not been the best of my great grandmother, Marion. It was August in New Jersey (translation: hot, 110% humidity, dog days of summer) and she was not in a good mood. And for her to not be in a good mood is not good news for anyone else. It’s one of the few times in life that the term “snippy” can be used in a loving manner to describe someone’s demeanor. However, as this was the occasion of all of her great grandchildren being in one place at the same time, the natural inclination of the collected family to get some photographic evidence of this occurrence took precedent.

The second reason is that it represents a relatively normal moment between all of the possible things that go wrong with photographing young children. There is a reason that my great grandmother has her hand underneath the armpit of my cousin Mary (also known as Oliah) seated on her left. It was to prevent her from standing up to throw her dress over her head yet again, much to the consternation of my great grandmother. My younger brother Peter is sitting on her lap. Judging from the way she is holding him, I think he had been making a fuss between escape attempts. And when he was put on lockdown, he resorted to other audio ways of displaying his displeasure.

This left my great grandmother with no arms to deal with me. As you can see in the picture, I was poised to go back to chewing on my sneakers. In an effort to rally through this snafu of family photography, I remember my grandmother leaning over to me and telling me quietly but harshly that I would not get a cookie if I kept putting my shoe into my mouth. I complied for those next few moments, long enough to snap some pictures, before forgetting the peril of my previous ways and went back to happily chewing on the shoe rubber*.

Yes, that’s right. The one memory that I have of my great grandmother is of her being terse with me. Though I don’t remember it, my mom took me over to her house everyday to have lunch with my great grandmother when I was a baby. The house is still stands in Moorestown, right around the corner from where my grandparent’s house was (and where I used to live). It’s odd to drive by the house, to know that someone who loved me greatly once lived there, and yet can’t remember a damn thing about it. But I do remember something of her, which is more than a lot of other people. I’m glad for it, but now what I really want to know now is:

Did I get a cookie anyway?



* Thus, my long history for sticking my foot into my mouth was born. [rimshot]