For All the Content in the World…

From the Monkey See blog at NPR:

You used to have a limited number of reasonably practical choices presented to you, based on what bookstores carried, what your local newspaper reviewed, or what you heard on the radio, or what was taught in college by a particular English department. There was a huge amount of selection that took place above the consumer level. (And here, I don’t mean "consumer" in the crass sense of consumerism, but in the sense of one who devours, as you do a book or a film you love.)

Now, everything gets dropped into our laps, and there are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender.

It’s an excellent read and a reminder of the increasing stream of content that is generated and available on the market. With the barriers to content creation (and more importantly distribution) falling, there is less interaction with a middle man to complete a transaction. That, in essence, the content stream will only get bigger as time goes on.

I think the post also invokes the notion that, as a library, not only can we not purchase every piece of content that comes out (nor be able to store it if we could) but it places an importance on collecting that which matters to our patron communities. For all the books, music, newspapers, journals, magazines, and sheer data that is created on a daily basis, it’s up to librarians to make the most sense of it for their patrons. That is something that will matter more as time goes by.

(h/t: Daily Dish)

Roadtrip!

Today, I went up to the Darien Public Library in Darien, Connecticut on a roadtrip. I had been invited by my fellow 2010 Mover & Shaker Gretchen Caserotti to come up and see the library (and when you throw in lunch, well, I’m no fool). I got the full-on tour of the place from the study rooms on the top floor to the fabled materials management system on the bottom floor.

The word that I would use to describe this library is ‘intimate’; I mean it in the warm, cozy sense. There was something about the arrangement of the rooms and spaces that made it feel like whatever I was looking for was nearby or a place to sit was close at hand. That each room was the place to be. (I might not be conveying the feeling very well, but it’s one of those nuances that may not translate this time around.)

I will say that there is a great pleasure in visiting other libraries. Mainly, I like to steal their ideas. And by steal, I mean gloriously rip off and use at my own library to my own great delight. Although, if I was a better thief, perhaps I wouldn’t given attribution to the people I had stolen from when asked about things I’ve used; perhaps I’m more of a Creative Commons style of bandit. I left Darien with some ideas for my own library and I’m looking forward to giving them a go at my own library.

I’d like to thank the Darien staff for their time and hospitality; I’d especially like to thank Louise, Alan, John, Sally, and Alex for an afternoon of library conversations that touched on just about everything. And, last but not least, to Gretchen for her generous invitation that brought me from southern New Jersey to that part of Connecticut that I used to skip by taking the Merritt Parkway.

In exchange for the tour and lunch, I brought a tray of home made chocolate chip cookies. Based on my experiences today, I think this might be an excellent way to get more invitations to tour other libraries. So, I’ll make this offer:

You invite me to your library and if I come I will bring you cookies (chocolate chip, from scratch).

cookies

Yep. Those can be yours.

Once again, thanks to Gretchen and the Darien staff for a great day.

Murder by the Numbers

support_your_local_library

The graphic to the right was passed around the online library world during the recent National Library Week. My reaction to the infographic was a bit different than others; specifically, I was a bit perturbed. While it is pleasant to look at and certainly has good design to it, it’s the data represented that made me wonder why anyone would think that this was a ‘good’ library support graphic.

I’ll explain it in sections.

image

First, take a look at the list of most popular topics. Then, take a look at program topics at your local public library. Or you can do what I did and take a very non-scientific randomly chosen look at the programs being offered in the public libraries of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Denver. With cooking as the #1 most popular topic, only Los Angeles had anything with cooking in it consisting of three programs with two of aimed at younger audiences. I personally only know of one other library that has done cooking programs and that’s the Princeton Public Library. For a topic that two-thirds of the public say they are interested in, we are missing the programming boat on this one.

Health or medicine is a hit-or-miss affair as well, depending on the topics covered. There were at least a handful of programs ranging from finding health information online to children and mental health to (I’m not kidding) ancient secrets to looking & feeling younger. For my own library, we’ve had flu shot clinics and occasional programs for health and well being but the attendance for that is sporadic. As to politics and current events, I can’t find any events whatsoever. (Given how charged the political atmosphere is and the proclivity of librarians to think that it is a professional obligation to be politically neutral, I’m not really too shocked on this one.)

The four major public libraries turn the corner when it comes to business and careers. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a job resume class or business plan assistance. Finally, a topic we can say that we are addressing even if it only covers one-third of those people polled. The same can’t be said for travel/vacation and self-help/psychology programs which simply drop off the chart. (Not that we should consider dabbling in the self-help area given our basic difficulties helping ourselves to take action on a number of topics.)

Back to the question at hand: are public libraries actually in touch with the topics of interest? Our programming doesn’t reflect the interests as collected by the survey. While I will concede that a cooking program could require equipment not generally found in libraries, I would counter and say that either the equipment can be brought in or consider reaching out to the community and finding a kitchen (restaurant, culinary college program, or otherwise) that could host a cooking program. It’s just a matter of some ingenuity to start matching our programming to the topics that patrons are most interested in.

image

Second, this section of the graph leaves me a bit perplexed. Is it a cut of 56% from the 2009 number? Or is it a 56% total cut from a year not shown (presumably when funding was at a high point)? If I was to read this literally from left to right, it’s a 40% cut of the 2008 allocation followed by a 56.4% cut of the 2009 allocation followed by 62% cut of 2010’s. (Translated: If 2008 was $100 million, then 2009’s cut would leave $60 million, 2008’s cut would leave $26.16 million, and 2011’s cut would leave $9.9 million or 1/10th of what allocated in 2008. This cannot be.)

Also, where are the actual dollar numbers? While percentages are nice, numbers give a better sense of context to the cut. Otherwise, this looks like a USA Today bar chart graphic.

image

*sigh* And now we arrive at the 30 Helens Agree* section of the graphic.

Third, to me this graphic section represents a disconnect between statements and action. I am guessing I could get the same high agreement numbers with phrases like “Birthdays should be fun” and “As an adult, I should be allowed to eat Oreos for breakfast”. Everyone might agree to these statements, but I don’t see these numbers translating into political support. Hence, there is a disconnect between these saccharine sweet statements (“I love puppies!”) and getting these so-called library supporters to call their school board, administration, or town or state officials.

Considering the high amount of agreement, you would imagine that some budget decision makers fall into that overwhelming majority (whether they are superintendents, deans, or politicians). The advocacy job should be easy in theory, but across the country librarians and their supporters are getting pounded at the decision making level. While some have been able to rally support for ballot questions for public libraries, that’s not a slam dunk either as the agreement percentages might suggest. I can’t think of any school libraries that have been saved due to the belief that “school library programs are an essential part of the educational experience because they provide resources to students and teachers”. Although, you could nuance it and say that the statement references school library programs and not school librarians. (If someone has evidence to contradict this last point, please share. I’d rather like to be proven wrong on this one and that school librarians have been saved because of this or a similar belief.)

Considering how abstract the context of the statements are (so, how much tax money would it take?), it’s hard not to agree with them. It goes to prove that people like libraries in theory, they just aren’t thrilled when they get the bill. To me that represents a dangerous area for touting those agreement percentages for it lulls library advocates into a false sense of security when it comes to drumming up actual financial support for the library. People will agree to a statement like that but it doesn’t mean they’ll actually carry out the steps required to support it.

And, I have to wonder aloud, who are these people who disagree with these statements? Are they the ones who were just honest enough to say “No, I disagree” by actually thinking about what would be required? Are these the same one out of six dentists who say that you don’t need to brush after every meal? They can’t all be old cranks whose idea of government spending is “anything so long as it is on me”. Who are these people? They walk among us!

 

So, there we have it: our program offerings do not match those topics which are the most interest to our patrons, the numbers just tell us that we are down from where we were before, and that flowery pro-library statements are nice for people to agree to. I can’t hold the infographic creator Archives.com entirely responsible for this since the data is coming from our own sources (Library Journal, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and ALA). But rather than simply passing a feel good pretty graphic, a little consideration should be given to the contents. It might have more than what it appears to say.

 

* 30 Helens Agree was a recurring sketch by the comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall. Here’s a clip that will get 30 librarians to agree.

Salem Press Blog Awards 2011

This year, I will be a judge for the Salem Press Blog Awards. I won First Prize for Best Public Library blog last year and I was thrilled when Peter and Mirela asked me to judge the contest this year. I look forward seeing the nominees (as well as adding them to my ever increasing Google Reader feeds).

If you want to see the winners from last year (as well as the other blogs nominated), Salem Press has left them up on their site. You can also see who else was nominated in the various categories.

Not to co-opt this post with another contest, but TED is having auditions for TED talks. You need to create a one minute video to start (due April 25th) and they are looking for crazy fun uses of technology. So, take your chances with either/both!

Libraries & The Cloud

Earlier last week this article appeared in PC Magazine discussing the end of content ownership with the offering of cloud computing:

For the majority of consumers, however, they will come to fully trust the cloud and believe in subscription pricing for everything. Ownership will become an anathema as consumers realize they don’t want to risk losing content as they switch services, and they tire of finding requisite space on their own local storage for all those digital files. The benchmark for a good service will be based on the richness of each library. Consumers will pay companies like Amazon, a fixed amount for full-boat, yearly access.

In reading this article, I feel a bit divided. There are things about cloud computing and access that really speak to me; it’s the availability of content from wherever you are. Untethered from a location, it exists where you are. It is a promise of ubiquitous content access, a powerful notion that is quite compelling in its potential.

Where I feel a deviation is at the notion of subscription pricing for everything. My specific concern is if subscription pricing takes the place of content ownership. While I can imagine people signing up for subscriptions for eBooks in the same way that Rhapsody works, the idea that it would be the only model on the market bothers me to no end. I believe in the power of the end user to control their content; this doesn’t happen under a subscription model. It’s the concentration of power over content into relatively few hands that is a concern (although, to be fair, with the cloud and the internet, it creates other pathways to content).

Also, what would it means for book challenges? Could the groups that targeted books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian picket corporations into getting it removed? As opposed to a single school district, it means that it could be removed for entire swaths of the population. While I would hope that it would not come to that, it is a potential scenario.

Overarching this is the digital divide, for cloud computing and content doesn’t really matter if people cannot get internet access. Could it lower the bar to access though if they did not have to concern themselves with how to store content locally? Perhaps, since the costs of devices continue to drop (whether it is a Kindle or cell phone or other device). But in the end, if people can’t access it, then it doesn’t really matter.

Now, here’s the question: should libraries start looking to the cloud as the next step of information access? While we should retain physical locations (since providing internet access and printing services still requires computers at a location as well as programming and information literacy classes), how much could we push out into the cloud for the benefit of the communities that we serve?

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

SunSpec: Inspiration

I have to confess something. I woke up this morning after passing out very early last night and realized that I had not written a Sunday blog post. And while my first thought was to skip it this week (as I have accidentally done in the past), I know that keeping a posting schedule is one of those things I need to do. Otherwise, I just drop out of the habit completely.

Determined to write something, I got out my iPad and decided I was going to write it on that as opposed to my laptop. This would allow me to stay in bed (my laptop is one of those huge 17″ ones) and be able to tap one out while remaining under nice warm blankets. Although typing on the iPad is not as easy as the keyboard and raises concerns about the legendary autocorrect changes, I decided to risk it in the name of comfort.

Then, it hit me. I really don’t know what I want to write about. The blank page and flashing cursor sat in front of me like a crew awaiting orders. As the theme of the Sunday posts are about speculating on something, I could not think of anything I wanted to ponder on. I sat there, staring around the room as if the answer was written on a piece of furniture or a wall. I don’t know how many other bloggers get that feeling, but I’m willing to guess it’s a majority. It is one of those topics you don’t write about… except when you are looking for something to write about.

For myself, inspiration can be a hit or miss thing. Some stories or topics that I come across lend themselves to commentary; I want to share the story and add my own thoughts to it. Other times, the words fight me as I get them from the brain to the page. I know the point I want to make, but the translation from thought to coherent writing becomes a slog. There are some outs; I can just opt to share the story on Twitter and be done with it. Or just write” a brief thought on it and publish it rather unadorned. But usually I try to put something together, an entry of substance even if it feels far too brief.

For those who write as well (either blogging or otherwise), where do you find your inspiration? What helps you in putting thoughts to screen or paper? What are your frustrations?

The Five Laws of Library Staff Meetings

1) Meetings are for use(ful purposes)

The underlying purpose of a meeting is to bring people together when all other possible and potential avenues of communication and decision making are deemed ineffective or inefficient by comparison. In creating a gathering of people (both physically and through technology such as phone, voice chat, or video), it should be a silent acknowledgement that this is the best way for a decision to be reached, an issue or topic to be addressed, or information to be disseminated. 

This point is asking the question “Is a meeting the best course of action?” This is not meant to discourage meetings, but to ponder whether it is the best use of organizational time and resources in the face of alternatives.

2) Every staff member, the right meetings

Are staff members attending the meetings that they need to be in? As in, does it immediately pertain to their purpose within the organization? Is their presence (real or virtual) essential to the purpose and scope of the meeting? Which meetings can they just get the minutes or a summary?

This point is about the proper management of the staff member by making sure they are involved in the relevant loops and aren’t being sidetracked by things outside their purview.

3) Every meeting, the right staff members

Who needs to be at the meeting? How does each staff member attending relate to the issues on the agenda or the purpose of the committee? Is there anyone who should be at the meeting but isn’t?

This point is about having all the right people in the meeting. These are the people who can make decisions, move the conversations, and/or take or direct action on the issues.

4) Save the time of the attendee

Time management in meetings goes in many directions. It can be about moving through agenda items at a reasonable pace; it can be about limiting the amount of time of the meeting since it takes the staff member away from their other duties. It’s the “all muscle, no fat” approach to conducting a meeting; time is a valuable commodity.

This point is about recognizing that time spent by staff members attending the meetings is important. Make it count by having it be time well spent.

5) The meeting is a growing organization.

You can always add or subtract people. You can always add or subtract agenda items. You can always manage a meeting to be more open and conversational or more rigid and contained. You can always add or subtract meeting time on the basis of keeping it brief or letting thoughts take a more relaxed path. The thing that you cannot do is make up time that is wasted when the wrong people attend, have items that can handled better in another venue, or are not empowered to take action or make decisions.

This point is about the mutable nature of meetings and how they can (and should be changed over time); the only thing that cannot is waste due to time and resource inefficiencies.

***

I’m sure people can think of additional rules or modifications to the ones I have written. Share them in the comments.

About that EQUACC Interim Report…

The ALA’s Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) Task Force released its interim report today. The group is examining the challenges and potential solutions to “access, use, distribution and preservation” of digital content. The whole report is on the Library Renewal site. A couple of passages popped out at me.

5. Model Projects (Working Group: Linda Crowe, Mark Stoffan, Jamie LaRue)

The Task Force believes that librarians should be encouraged in testing new models for acquiring and providing access to e-content. These experiments will identify successful and do-able projects that will shape the e-content marketplace, reader interest, and carve out new roles for libraries such as publishing. (Emphasis mine.)

I was pleasantly surprised at that idea; why not get involved in content creation? I would be interested in hearing more of the pros and cons of such an endeavor.

EQUACC’s next steps are contingent, in part, on approval from Council as well as the need for additional funding. In that vein, the Washington Office submitted a proposal for 2015 funding on behalf of the Task Force.

Ok, I guess this is where my understanding of organizational bureaucracy, budgets, and funding gets hazy, so I’ll need someone to gently explain this to me. Because my gut reaction is to wonder what happens between now (2011) and then (2015). I’m sure it’s not as awful as my first impression felt, but a little education would be greatly appreciated on this one. 

Overall, I really liked the report. It was a good progress update on the Task Force as well as a succinct overview of all the issues that they are looking at. I wasn’t expecting any solutions to arise from it, but I did feel like the final report will be an excellent survey for current and future digital content issues.

At the same time this report was being posted, Cindy Orr posted an entry in her blog at Overdrive. As pleased as I was with the Task Force interim report, I cannot say the same for Mrs. Orr’s blog entry. The trouble for me starts halfway through. (Emphasis on the parts that really annoyed the hell out of me.)

On behalf of the Task Force, I would like to suggest that librarians study the issues, articulate what we would realistically like to see happen in this arena, and resist the urge to overreact. As Christopher Harris, one of my colleagues on the committee, says in a recent School Library Journal article, what we need is to discuss and talk through these issues, not lash out in rage. Librarians historically get their facts straight and check their sources carefully. We also uphold copyright law.

I would like to add that we need to educate ourselves and act within the arena that exists right now while we plan for, and try to influence the future. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work to revise copyright law, or try to negotiate new models, or change anything else, but it’s fruitless to argue that all works should be available to the public for free regardless of their copyright status.

It also means recognizing that, no matter what we’d like the facts to be, in most cases we don’t own electronic works, but license them. We also need to consider the reality that authors and publishers and wholesalers need to be paid or they will go out of business.

[…]

While venting anger at HarperColliins may feel good, we should try to remember that they were one of the very first large publishers to agree to take a chance on libraries. They have stated that they consider this 26 checkout model to be a “work in progress.”

I hope that we can remember that things in the digital world are still evolving quickly. Models will develop. New publishers will sign on. We’ll work it out if we stick to our principles of doing our homework, following the law, and advocating for a realistic solution in order to assure equitable access for readers now and in the future.

Wow. I think the most unfortunate part of that condescending passage is how it starts off, “On behalf of the Task Force…” So, is what I am reading in this blog entry what the Task Force really wanted to say to the librarian community? If I was to go all Freud on you, the interim report comes across as the superego and this blog post sounds like the id. Everybody calm down! We need to talk more! You don’t have all the facts! You’re lashing out! You’re not connected to reality!

After punching through all the straw man arguments (no one is arguing for free content, authors not getting paid, or circumvention of copyright), I’m wondering what the point of this blog entry was. It feels somewhere between a plea to give Overdrive (and by association, HarperCollins) a break and an admonishment for people moving forward and taking action on the situation.

As to the former, my perspective is that people seem very restrained; the majority of action taken is against HarperCollins eBook purchasing with only few going for a full boycott. The tone is rather civil, the explanations are clear and rational, and it is being carried out in a respectful manner. Overdrive seems to have a free pass on this one, a lucky break for a middleman company in this interchange.

As to the latter, there’s a pretty standard complaint about ALA not taking action quickly. If people take action in their own hands, then more power to them. To me, this call for doing more homework, more dialogue, and more study of the issue begs the question, “How much more time, talk, and information do you need?” For an direct assertion that people are missing important facts, there is no follow up as to what information they are specifically missing that would dramatically impact their decisions. A simple mention about a link to online resources does not make the case. (And for a group charged with examining digital content access issues for sensory and physically impaired, having resources only available online brings its own issues of the digital divide and online vs. offline librarians into the mix. Just sayin’.)

Overall, I’m interested to see the EQUAAC report when it’s done. I hope that it will be a good and comprehensive overview of the digital content issues. It should be the real “hot read” of the annual conference. Of course, who knows what the situation will look like when June rolls around?

Open Thread Thursday: Vendors

I was reading Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post about Freegal* this evening when it reminded me of the wiki/website that Sarah Glassmeyer had set up called LISvendor.info. The idea is to make vendor transactions a bit more transparent and the capability of comparing notes about pricing and practices. This is a bold move considering that some vendors ask for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as part of the price negotiation. But in terms of making better decisions on behalf of our communities (whether it be taxpayers, student fee payers, corporate backers, or school boards), it’s an excellent idea to show additional financial responsibility for the money that we spend.

Personally, I haven’t had any issues with the sales reps and vendors that I’ve had the chance to meet either at conferences or in trainings. They’ve all been outwardly cheery people even when I tell them about my lack of buying power. (I have stopped saying that I can relay whatever they have to someone who does since that’s like saying, “I’m not going to go out with you, but I have a friend who might be interested but probably not.”) Most tales I hear are either first or second hand accounts with a skew towards the negative ones. (Which, let’s face it, tend to be more interesting than all but the most positive stories.)

So, this week’s open thread is on vendors. Good stuff, bad stuff, excellent stuff, mediocre stuff. Share with the crowd (and LISVendor.info, while you are at it).

(*Note: Brian Downing from Library Ideas, LLC, the owner of Freegal, has posted a reply to Sarah’s entry.)

MARC Madness: We have a Champion

With a rout of a vote tally of 148-65, I’m proud to declare a clear winner to the 1st (and possibly last) MARC Madness Tournament of Library Terminology. And now, without further ado, our champion is metadata.

The final bracket:

marc-madness-champion

Congratulations, metadata. You are the ultimate library term!

I’d like to thank everyone who voted, tweeted the contest, endured my multiple social media sharing, and otherwise contributed. A thank you to the Library Society of the World for the catalyst to get this together and doing it. It’s been a long haul and I hope people had fun.

I think the right ending is the 1985 Live Aid version of Queen’s We Are The Champions. Thanks again and maybe do this again next year.