From Across the Pond..

From the BBC News Magazine:

I live with the tensions between the world out there I want to see and even contemplate, and the inner world to which the book gives me access. It is the inner rewards of reading a book in a private and concentrated way that lead you into realms of your own imagination and thought that no other process offers. Something happens between the words and the brain that is unique to the moment and to your own sensibilities.

It is why, at such moments, it is so awful to be interrupted – and why I am frequently late at meetings because I find it hard to tear myself away. Any society that doesn’t value the richness of this encounter with ideas and the imagination will impoverish its citizens.

The author, broadcaster Joan Bakewell, discusses the deep cuts to government spending that being discussed over in the UK. This includes the closing of 130 libraries in London as well as in other parts of the country. Her overall concern is on the value of reading and its place in the public discourse as well as society at large. In closing libraries, Mrs. Bakewell worries about the future for the upcoming generations. It’s a nice “feel good” read, though for me it lacks the push for specific action that this issue really needs. Awareness is certainly important, but providing the first step as to remedy the situation is what gets movements rolling. However, I believe that is where my esteemed UK colleagues can pick up the message from there.

Best quote of the commentary:

My defence should not be seen as the attempt merely to rescue a small building in a particular borough, or any other particular places threatened with closure. Rather it is a rallying call for the concept of free libraries. In our culture the library stands as tall and as significant as a parish church or the finest cathedral. It goes back to the times when ideas first began to circulate in the known world. I worry where wisdom will come from.

You can also hear her read the commentary.

Anonymous Rex

Emily Ford over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe has written what I think is a fascinating article on anonymous professional librarian discourse. She takes the position of being against the practice for a lot of sensible reasons: one cannot judge the credentials of the author, no professional ramifications for their words, and the vitriol that can sometimes spew forth from such anonymous prose. These are pretty sound evaluation criterions for judging the work as it is presented and its context. Where I differ from Mrs. Ford is with her conclusion that undisclosed publication being the “last resort” of professional librarian discourse.

If you have this well established reasoning basis in place, then to me it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are surrounding the undisclosed authorship. I think that of all people librarians should have a finely tuned (for lack of a better phrase) bullshit detector. Information appraisal is one of our our bread and butter skills and the rationale that we give to when asked what the profession contributes to society. Under this concept, I don’t think it matters whether the author is known or not when it comes to evaluating their writing; it will either stand up for what is written on the page or not. The missing data regarding author background is just another variable in the equation of the weight you give the piece, not a fatal error that prevents it from being taken as serious discourse.

With the rise of the reputation economy, what matters is the establishment of the identity. If they are a consistent writer of meaningful content, then it builds towards that of a contributor. If they are loaded with divisive and invective terms or attacks on one’s person (as opposed to ideas), then it shifts towards a detractor. Of course, nothing is that simple: the presence of both qualities puts people in the position of judging whether they are building or taking away from the topics. It is left to the reader to judge whether they are a credible commentator on the subject matter. Personally, I would like to give people greater credit in their ability to make decisions regarding the value of content, especially in this profession.

In the end, the reputation created matters more than whether or not they disclose their name. I’m not unmoved by the desire to make people accountable for their words; it’s an undeniable social justice urge to attach the negative connotations of their content with their person. Likewise, there is desire to be able to display support for those whose words move you, make you think, and otherwise affect you. But that should not be an eliminating factor in determining the value of professional discourse.

I find it odd that a profession so hell bent on freedom of expression that it has an entire week devoted to it has such issues with anonymous authorship. Is it not simply another form of expression? If one was to remove the names of the authors from some of the books that are held in such high esteem that week, would that make them less worthy of defending? Should libraries only defend the controversial works in which the author is known? (Go Ask Alice, a book attributed to an anonymous author, is on the Banned Books list.) Is there a compelling reason not to extend this courtesy to professional discourse when the content is well written, well reasoned, and within the scope of professional literature?

I should note that I’m not saying that the Lead Pipe people should accept undisclosed articles for consideration. They have defined their editorial controls to include that authors need to be known; that is their well justified prerogative. In my gradually increasing collection of library and librarian blogs, I have found some anonymous or pseudonymous blogs out there that would pass muster for professional writing in my estimation. (In the efforts of full disclosure, there is also a share of blogs that write pure drivel.) To treat their lack of identifying authorship as a slight is the equivalent of judging the book by its cover. Let the words speak for themselves and then determine its worth.

Identity should not be a barrier to contribution. It’s a luxury that has been afforded to us by the creation of an online world, but it is not simply a last resort.

State of the Blog: Google Reader

I thought a little “behind the scenes” look would be a fun change.

trends

For those who may have a curiosity as to where I get some of my content, that’s my running thirty day total in Google Reader. To be fair, not all of the Reader items are library related. I have a couple of Google alerts for specific terms and subscriptions to some pop culture and technology feeds. This also does it represent combing through a half dozen other news sites that I look through for tidbits that might spark an idea for a blog entry. I also comb through Twitter and Facebook for additional ideas.

When it comes to library and librarian blogs, I like a wide range of voices to choose from. I’ve started incorporating blogs from other library types (academic and school, mainly) and specific library aspects (reader’s advisory, cataloging) so as to broaden my world view. I won’t say that I’m able to understand everything I read, but I’m working on it slowly.

In sharing some of my own continuing education, my question to my readers is this: what online (or offline) sources do you use to get news in the library world? What works for you?

LISNPN Interview

For those who don’t know Ned Potter, he is a librarian in the UK and the co-creator of the Library Routes Project. This fascinating project asks librarians to write about their journey to the career and what the road was like for them. Over one hundred librarians have shared their story and there is always room for one more. Go and read some stories or share your own (this is my entry for the project). Ned is also brilliant for his work tackling the library echo chamber and looking to outside sources for insight and perspective into the library world. He’s a gentleman and a scholar, and I am pleased to trade tweets and emails with him.

Awhile back, Ned asked if I would agree to do an interview for the UK based LIS New Professionals Network. The site for the group describes itself as “an online network for new professional in Library & Information Services”. The interview itself was all done via email to which I wrote my replies and sent them back. It was part of a group interview in which my answers would be combined with two others: Bobbi Newman and Buffy Hamilton. I’ve excerpted my answers to the interview below, but you should go and read the whole thing.

[Note: These answers were written a few months ago. So the ebook one is a bit out of date already. –A]

***

Seeing as this is a US librarian special, let’s look at some cultural differences first of all. In your opinion is there any difference in the way people in the UK or America view the library as an institution (and the people who work there)?
From what I have read, I don’t believe so. I think there might be a difference in the underlying expectation of government service. Whereas people in the UK pay higher taxes but receive a greater number of government services (healthcare being the major example this year in the US), people in the US have come to expect the government to cover certain basic services. Libraries are one of these services, but opponents of such public money expenditures tend to the frame the institution as a luxury.

I’ve always had the impression, just from my limited experience of Twitter etc, that a greater number of senior professionals engage with social media in the US than in the UK – would you say that’s something you’ve noticed? And if so, why do you think this is? I like it when senior pros use social media because it levels the playing-field – it’s communication to anyone whose interested, rather than just to other high up people.

I wouldn’t have a good explanation as to why this is so. If I was to guess, I think it’s because the US just has a larger number of early adoptors since we have a larger professional population. I’d be interested if there was a way to survey the number of professionals who use social media versus the overall professional population so that a measurement of overall adoption could be established.

I do like it when senior professionals use social media because I think it is a great way to communicate ideas from a vantage point of experience. The common complaint is that there isn’t much leadership in the library field and I think that having these experienced individuals on social media counteracts that notion.

Okay last cultural difference question – in the UK we have a concerted New Professionals movement. People who’ve joined the profession in the last five years or so get bracketed as New Profs and grouped accordingly for events etc. Is there anything similar in America? I’ve not noticed such a specific move to label the newbies on your side of the Atlantic…

As someone who graduated with my MLS in 2006 and got my first full time librarian job in 2007, I’m in the New Profs bracket. While I haven’t seen anyone label the new librarians as such in the US unless you want to count "The Unemployed" which is more prevalent than it should be in new MLS graduates. There are not the positions available that had been heralded by the ALA and Occupational Outlook (that’s a US Department of Labor publication that forecasts job growth).

Do you see libraries as being in something of a state of crisis at the moment? What is the biggest threat we’re facing – governments, media, public perception, what?

That’s a big fat "it depends" answer. For school libraries, any cuts to education spending (whether local, county, or at the state level) tend to take a chunk out of that budget. Schools are under enormous pressure to preserve instruction time and keep class size low, so they take it out of other places. Depending on the state, school libraries are varied state of crisis; whether it is staffing, materials expenditures, or even additional duties, school libraries are taking the hit for budget cuts.

In the public library, there are any number of crises that libraries are facing all across the US. There have been some big budget battles between librarians and the elected officials with inconsistent results. Some places, like the state of Ohio, libraries were able to recover funding through ballot initiatives where people voted for taxes to restore funding to their library. In other places, like my own state of New Jersey, state budget cuts have been ravaging local budgets and the libraries are being put on the chopping block pretty ruthlessly. For my fellow librarians, it has been a learning experience as to how to get involved in the political process. I think in the long run we will weather through it, but there are going to be some lean years and some rebuilding involved to get back to where we were. However, I don’t think a little time in the wilderness is necessarily a bad thing; it’s that time spent in proverbial exile that allows for an objective evaluation of the institution and where it is going.

(I’m not terribly familiar with academic libraries, so I’m not certain what they are facing at the moment. Same goes for special libraries.)

Overall, I think the enemy of libraries is perception. What people think about libraries is what they believe about libraries, so something erroneous such as "everything is online" or "libraries are unnecessary because of ebooks" can really take off easily on communication platforms like the internet. Perception is so key these days that librarians really need to step

I don’t want this to be too negative so let’s talk positives – Andy, you are passionate about your job and your profession, what is the thing that most excites you about your job, day-to-day?

Service is what gets me going during the day. I love helping people. There’s nothing comparable to it. There aren’t many occupations where you can say, "I help people improve their daily lives" and mean it. My friend Peter Bromberg gave a keynote at the 2010 ALA Annual conference in which he said "reference saves lives" and I firmly believe that. It’s not obvious in the same way as a doctor or police officer, but the subtle way in which you can change a person’s day can make the difference. It reminds me of the saying that starts with "For want of a nail, a shoe was lost". Librarians can make that tiny difference that sets people onto whole new paths. This I firmly believe to be true and what makes me excited to be at my job.

Future trends – what are the developments on the horizon which will change the way we work, or just generally make things cooler?

The rapidly descending price of e-reader devices will put ebooks as the new major collection edition of the next five years. I predicted at a dinner at ALA 2010 that Amazon will be *giving* the Kindle away within five years when you buy a certain number of books online. With the price drop to under $200 and heading towards $100, I stand by that prediction.

Of course, this will bring up other issues concerning US copyright, the rights of publishers and authors to control their content and where it can appear, and the digital divide. But I can’t wait to see where it goes.

I really liked that #inatweet meme on Twitter – is there a particular platform or piece of technology you find really useful that you’d like to share with others?

I think the most powerful tool right now for librarians is the "Share" button on stories. Whether you put it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Livejournal, WordPress, email, or wherever you are in contact with other professionals, sharing truly is caring.

[Note: David Lee King has a nice little blog post about #inatweet. -A]

Is there a single achievement, or event, or change, of which you are most proud in your career?

I am very proud to be named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. To be nominated by my friends is quite an honor and I’m in excellent professional company. I daresay it has emboldened me to take confidence in what I write in my blog, to reach out to others in the profession, and to try new things.

The Future of Digital Speech

This commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education is about speech controls in the hands of business (specifically, companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and the bulk of social media), but I cannot help but think of how it relates to other challenges to collection materials that libraries in general receive over time. The United States government is (generally) not the source of censorship; it is the private interests (either individual, group, business, etc.) that represent the bulk of challenges to free speech and expression. From the article:

Americans, who have long mistrusted government, are acutely aware of and sensitive to public censorship—more so, perhaps, than any other nation. There is a strong First Amendment tradition in the courts. But Americans tend to be much less concerned with the danger of private censorship. That’s too bad, because the greatest dangers to free speech in the future will come not from government interference but from speech monopolists. That has been true for much of the 20th century, and while it seems hard to imagine now, it could become the fate of the Internet.

Back during Banned Books week this year, Stephen Abrams made a comment in his posting of my Banned Book video. He said:

Now if libraryland could only just be more outspoken about banned websites and e-resources. If most books, magazines, video and other materials go digital, then who’s going to speak out for freedom? What about the blocking of certain whole categories like streaming video, social networks, etc.? Will the systemic banning of certain e-items be water under the bridge and standard practice by the time we all notice and want to do something about it?

With a digital future looming on the horizon, the importance of speaking out and securing free speech online is rapidly becoming paramount. There cannot be a free speech equivalent of the digital divide where the physical items are defended for their content and the digital versions are not. (This is another way in which I differ with Dean Marney. At his libraries, why can I pick up a book on sex education and yet be potentially denied access to a website with the same information? My post on his article here.) There cannot be a gap in material availability by medium lest we spend our days arguing about how something is worthy of defending in print over digital or vice versa. There has to be a universal defense made for the materials.

Stephen is right: why isn’t libraryland more outspoken for those sites that find themselves on the wrong side of the filter or the business prerogative?

The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Etextbook!

Picture by goXunuReviews/Flickr

Via Chronicle of Higher Education:

For years observers have predicted a coming wave of e-textbooks. But so far it just hasn’t happened. One explanation for the delay is that while music fans were eager to try a new, more portable form of entertainment, students tend to be more conservative when choosing required materials for their studies. For a real disruption in the textbook market, students may have to be forced to change.

That’s exactly what some companies and college leaders are now proposing. They’re saying that e-textbooks should be required reading and that colleges should be the ones charging for them. It is the best way to control skyrocketing costs and may actually save the textbook industry from digital piracy, they claim. Major players like the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson, and John Wiley & Sons are getting involved.

To understand what a radical shift that would be, think about the current textbook model. Every professor expects students to have ready access to required texts, but technically, purchasing them is optional. So over the years students have improvised a range of ways to dodge buying a new copy—picking up a used textbook, borrowing a copy from the library, sharing with a roommate, renting one, downloading an illegal version, or simply going without. Publishers collect a fee only when students buy new books, giving the companies a financial impetus to crank out updated editions whether the content needs refreshing or not.

It’s that last sentence that really grabbed me and was the underlying rationale for writing this post. To me, it totally screams “We need you to sustain our business models!” They can’t make students buy their textbooks, so they are going to roll them into a fee instead. I realize that it solves a legitimate problem (students who cannot afford textbooks) while thwarting a industry concern (pirated copies of textbooks), but I’m having a hard time weighing those aspects against a blanket fee that could not be avoided. I’m wondering if students would be allowed to keep their textbooks from semester to semester, since some can act as a resource for advanced topcis.

(For the efforts of full disclosure, I did borrow a textbook rather than buy it for a class one semester.)

The questions I have are whether college and university libraries would be given the option of adding either the electronic copy and/or the physical book to their collections. That idea may seem rather inane under this model, but I’m looking at it from the angle of historical progression; as in, how people’s thoughts and theories on subjects changed over time through different textbooks and editions. It’s the preservation of the logical progression of the thinking of a subject. I expect to be controverted on this point; I can see academic librarians reading this and saying to themselves, “We have enough old crap as it is, we certainly don’t need old textbooks as it is.” So, I’m sure someone will be happy to set me straight.

Moreover, I would be curious to hear reactions from academic librarians. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Or just a thing? How does it impact you?

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.)