Library Renewal Guest Post

Michael Porter asked me if I would be interested in making a guest post for the Library Renewal blog awhile back. I had an idea for a post that would take a very objective look at digital collections with an eye towards the future. You can read it here on their blog.

I hope it acts as a conversation starter (or re-starter, for that matter) for examining the breadth and depth of digital collections and what they will actually entail to create, collect, and maintain. Because as much as people want to own digital content, I don’t think everyone has a grasp of the implications of what that statement means. Also, I think there might be good cases for renting or licensing digital content which people should consider.

(In other news, I’m working on a post that talks about the HarperCollins petition which just passed 60,000 signatures. Thanks to everyone who has sent me messages about that!)

Open Thread Thursday: 641 Edition

At lunch on Tuesday at the conference, the conversation was dominated by cooking. Perhaps it is only natural to be that hungry and wanting nothing more than to talk about food, perhaps it was the tasty Greek food we were going to devour. It wasn’t so much a recipe swap as it was about cooking philosophy and what foods people love. Hell, the conference even had a session called “Recipe Reference 101”. It might be my own hunger right now as I get ready for work that is guiding this topic right now, but I think something a bit on the lighter side (no pun intended) would be good.

For myself, I take the Anthony Bourdain approach as I read it in his book, Kitchen Confidential: simple, good ingredients. Not too many, just enough to bring out the flavors that you are looking for. I’ve taken this approach to heart by picking up The Flavor Bible and using that as my starting point for cooking. I’ve discovered many simple and fun flavor pairings while doing my own experimenting. It turns the cooking experience into a creative experience.

So, do you cook? If so, what do you love to cook? If not, what food moves your soul?

As always, this is an open thread. That’s the starter topic, but if you have something else in mind, go for it.

NJLA Conference

I’ll be gone for the next couple of days attending the New Jersey Library Association annual conference. Last year, I was co-presenter of the Information Technology section “Tech Lounge”, a gadget and gaming petting zoo. Attendees can come get hands on time with different game systems and a variety of gadgets (iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nooks, and whatnot). It was a success last year and I’m hoping to duplicate it again this year.

In addition, we schedule people to hang around the Tech Lounge to answer specific questions about different topics. This year, I’m happy to once again have Justin and JP from 8bitlibrary who will be answering questions about teen gaming, gaming programs, and video game collections on Tuesday between 1pm to 3pm. Doug Baldwin will be there on Wednesday at 12pm about alternate reality games and the very cool mystery game his library did with patrons. Karen Klapperstuck and Cynthia Lambert will be doing hands on eBook demonstrations (as in, how to download it to various devices) on Wednesday from 2pm to the start of Battledecks. I’m also very pleased to announce that Kenley Neufeld will be spending an hour at the Tech Lounge on Wednesday from 1pm to 2pm to talk about social media platforms. The talks allow attendees to ask additional questions and have longer conversations about certain topics; it was a great success this year and we have a variety of people this year. I’m looking forward to it once again.

In mentioning Battledecks, I am the slidemaster for this year’s competition. I have some truly wonderfully bad decks made for the contestants. I look forward to seeing how everyone does, considering how many random internet image searches it took to get all the pictures that I needed. I’m also thinking that the better description is “PowerPoint Improv” rather than “PowerPoint Karaoke”, since karaoke implies that they know the tune ahead of time.

I may or may not be able to squeeze out some blog posts (I’m leaving the laptop at home), so I’ll leave you with the official Battledeck competition design that I made with GIMP and Inkscape.

 u mad?

Behold it in all its terrible glory.

The Wonderful Awful World Online


There isn’t a subtle way of putting this: pornography in the public library is an awful quagmire issue. I’m not talking about the illegal variety since that is actually rather easy to resolve. (Step 1: Call police.) It is the rest of it, the legal variety, that is rather loathsome in its ability to shape and skew conversations about internet access at the library.

On the one hand (no pun intended), it is a legally protected speech. As repugnant as it is to some people, it is permissible for an adult to be viewing the non-obscene sexual content. Non-obscene is a key word that sentence since obscenity is something that the government is empowered to curtail or prohibit and obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. How is something determined to be obscene? This is done by the Miller test, a three part criteria established by the Supreme Court to determine whether an expression can be labeled obscene. It reads:

  • Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  • Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law,
  • Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

While the first two parts are apply at the local level, the third is tested at a national level. The idea is that the third criteria acts as a balance to the first two; in other words, one local community cannot make something obscene for the rest of the country except for the most egregious of content that would reach a national consensus. It should be noted that the Miller test was established in 1973, long before the rise of the internet as a common social ground. However, current Supreme Court rulings have supported the test as it currently appears.

On the other hand, despite falling into the minority of computer use at the library, it can create an awkward social environment at the library. Even under the most permissible of computer use policies, there are going to be other adults who are bothered by this kind of computer use. Whether they are angered at their tax dollars being used that way, upset by the sexual acts being depicted on the screen, or offended that such expression is protected by the First Amendment, it creates an conflicting issue at the library. Although correct in certain ways, the reply akin to “just don’t look” or a recitation of the internet usage policy does not assuage what that offended patron is feeling or experiencing. Granted, an explanation of the First Amendment and the Miller test might not also go over well either, but this can be a chance to find a better solution that allows people to view protected expression while also minimizing exposure to those who are offended by it.

For myself, there are questions that this kind of conversation always brings up in mind when it comes to permissible content. For the people who oppose this kind of content being viewed in public, is that the sum total of the limits? Is it just sexual content?

What about violence? Should violence be considered obscene? Could I watch raw war footage? Videos of IEDs blowing up American soldiers or the execution of Daniel Pearl? Depictions of being committing suicide (either people jumping off the World Trade towers during 9/11, the Golden Gate bridge, or the Bud Dwyer shooting himself during a press conference)? Video captures of domestic violence or organized street fights?

What about hate expressions? Could I watch a Ku Klux Klan rally?  Or Neo Nazi meetings? Could I watch that same rally or meeting with my child sitting on my lap? (And, for the sake of argument, none of these rallies are calling for violence towards minorities, just the superiority of their belief systems.) I do realize that hate speech has a longer history of being protected, but I have simply included it as another form of speech that creates conflict.

For the people who support this kind of content being viewed in public, I have my own questions. What can be done to accommodate the viewer while offering some shielding to outside observers? Can we as librarians make changes in order to limit conflict? When and where are privacy screens or blinders appropriate? (And for those who say that those don’t work, it’s not a silver bullet solution. None of these are.) How can we better explain and work with people on both sides of this equation?