ALA Virtual Conference 2011

Just a quick plug for the presentation that the lovely and talented Nancy Dowd and I are going to do at the ALA Virtual Conference this coming Thursday at 11:30am. Here’s the teaser for our talk:

“Advocacy Awakening: The Revolution in Recognition”

Are you tired of reporters only asking for quotes when a library closes? Do you wish they would call you about issues like copyright laws, eBooks and book banning? Are you fed up with people telling you they didn’t know libraries do more than lend books and DVDs? Pulling your hair out when you hear the stereotypes of librarians portrayed over and over again? We think its time for a revolution! Somewhere between passive and aggressive methods are ways for librarians to awaken their communities to the value they and their libraries provide. Andy Woodworth and Nancy Dowd will discuss esoteric ideas and practical ways for librarians to become rock stars and deal makers of advocacy.

I’ll be making the case for rock stars and Nancy will be giving the lowdown on what it takes to be a deal maker. I’m excited to be presenting and especially on this concept!

Yes, I can hear the sounds of eyes being rolled at the mere mention of the term ‘rock star’. But I encourage you to hear me out on this one. I think you’ll appreciate what I have to say on this… or you’ll get plenty of blog/Twitter/Facebook/Google+ ammo to blast away at me for even broaching the subject.

Looking forward to (virtually) seeing you there!

Are You a Library Scientist or a Library Artist?

“Are you a library scientist or a library artist?”

No, I’m not going to offer a definition of what each means. I’m leaving that up to you as part of posting an answer. But I’m going to guess that you know whether you approach your library work as a scientist or an artist. We have our own internal definitions as those terms; I’m just wondering how people see themselves when presented with this question.

Don’t think on it too much. Just go with the first answer that popped into your head. And if you are going to quibble and say both, then you really have to explain yourself.

Commence commenting, please!

“We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.”

A couple of days ago, the last space shuttle launch took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As someone who grew up only knowing the space shuttle program, it was truly the end of an era. I certainly wasn’t the only one who got misty eyed to watch Atlantis lift from the launch pad and start its eight minute journey to orbit. From reading my various social media outlets, there were some strong feelings about the ending of the program and what the future of space exploration would entail. Later that night, the Science Channel had a special on the launch and everything that goes into making it possible; thus, the misty eyes returned once more.

Though I am now a long ways from being one, I shared the same dream as many other children my age did to be an astronaut, gliding high above the Earth right at the edge of a great vast beyond. Since then, I’ve traded one space for another, one of stars and planets for one of information and data. But that still doesn’t stop the sense of adventure and curiosity of wanting to go up and see, even as I harbor a well self-fabricated fear of flying. The desire for visceral tangible adventure is the product of the sensory creatures that human beings are; it is one that cannot be achieved through the online existence that many have settled for having.

It’s a pity that the majority of my memories around the space program come from the disasters associated with it. I remember where I was for the Challenger disaster (third grade and the fortune not seeing it live on television; I would see it later on the news that night). I remember where I was for the Columbia disaster (at home in my apartment in Delaware watching CNN on the tiny television that was in the bedroom). In between, there were launches and space walks, talk of space stations (first Mir and then current International one), and the transient interest of television reporters talking about budget cuts to the space program. Even now, the next generation of space telescopes is at risk of being shelved. And I feel frustrated once more.

I do wonder if the kids in elementary school now will still want to be astronauts when they grow up. I would hope so. And I would hope that our generation would be working on the next step of space travel to make that possible for them. What is it to dream big if we deny them all of the wonders that lay beyond the clouds? There must always be the promise and hope of space; it rests with us to make it possible.

[The title is a quote from the television series Firefly.]

Open Thread Thursday: Google vs The Public Library

I was reading Ned Potter’s post about being happy to never read another Google/library comparison again and it reminded me of something I had realized awhile back.

I used to wonder and worry about Google. How much of their work intrudes on the mission of libraries? What does it mean for the future of public libraries? Will I have a job in twenty years? Will technology and Google become so ubiquitous that the public library will be relegated to a niche support role in society? I’d lay in bed at night, unable to shut down my brain from this death spiral of thinking. But then I came to my own realization.

Libraries are not in competition with Google. Google is a tool. You do not get into fights with the equipment you use. That is like challenging a hammer to a nail pounding fight. It lets us look up the easy stuff faster so we can move onto the harder stuff. Who at a service desk wouldn’t want a tool like that? Librarians have dreamed about something that could put ready reference at one’s fingertips. Now that we have it, there is a perception of a threat. What gives?

Consider this thought: whether it knows it or not, Google wants public libraries. No, scratch that: it needs public libraries. We are the de facto in person customer support for Google. Public libraries are well positioned all over the US, staffed by friendly knowledgeable folks, and Google doesn’t have to pay our salaries. You think they want to get the customer service calls we get? That’s a negative.

Given the amount of internet service provided to the population, the continuation of the public library is in the best interests of any internet company that relies on the activity of its users to generate its revenue streams: Facebook, Twitter, Huffington Post, Big Government, every news or magazine or other site that relies on sharing to get its word out. I think there is a viable national scale advocacy effort in this as well. The existence of the public libraries allows people to use their services; as their services work around straight advertising and data mining, the less people with access to the internet means smaller data sets overall. I could make the connection to smaller revenues, but I don’t think it has an immediate cause-and-effect relationship since it is a matter of how that data is used.

Bottom line: Google (and other companies) are not competition for public libraries; they are tools to be used by libraries in the service of their communities. And they still need libraries.

(The same thing can be said for Wikipedia as I see it.)

What do you think? Is Google a threat? Or a tool? Or both?

This is an open(ish) thread. You can answer this thought or start your own.

"Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success."

From Inc.:

Winning Best New Mistake is a signal distinction at SurePayroll, a $23 million online payroll-processing company based in Glenview, Illinois. The company, which was recently acquired by Paychex, celebrates the end of its busy season with a ceremony called the SureChoice Awards, of which Best New Mistake is the breathlessly awaited culmination. Employees nominate themselves; management receives about 40 proud admissions of error each year. There are three winners (gold, silver, and bronze), and the perpetrator of the gold gaffe receives $400—twice as much as do winners of the company’s other, more traditional, awards.

"We underline the new part," says SurePayroll’s president, Michael Alter. "There’s no award for making the same mistake twice." Last year’s winner tried to streamline a process for customers and ended up frustrating them instead.

Alter dreamed up Best New Mistake to remind staff that, in a culture of innovation, failure is always an option. "If you don’t encourage people to take risks, then you end up with incrementalism forever," says Alter. "Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success."

(Emphasis mine)

The article relates to corporate awards, but the passage above is what got my attention. Here is a company that offers to reward earnest mistakes, risks and actions taken with the best intention that resulted in disaster. It creates an interesting dialogue between employees and management in which they can be honest about their mistakes. In rewarding company oriented risk taking, employees can focus their creative energies without fearing reprisals.

How can libraries reward risk taking in their employees? Do we have a culture of innovation? If so, how? If not, why not?

Another Step Closer to The Matrix

This has been sitting in my bookmarks till I just noticed it today. Oops!

From Gizmodo:

[A] group of scientists lead by Dr. Theodore Berger […] have built a prosthetic chip that uses electrodes to enhance and expand their memory abilities. The chip is capable of storing neural signals, basically functioning as an electronic memory, allowing rats to learn more and keep it in the devices.

“Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget [...] These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes.”

I will admit that one of my first thoughts was, “If publishers hate the idea of perpetual access of digital content to libraries, then they are really going to hate this.” Granted, this is a microchip that remembers how to perform a skill, not re-live an experience. We are more on The Matrix end of crazy brain interface technology rather than the Strange Days “watch and feel it through someone else’s eyes” neural interface. There is also certainly a good argument for someone experiencing the book for themselves rather than using someone else’s, but that’s something much further down the line.

In looking at the ascent of Ebooks, I’m wondering if something like this “infochip” (my term for purposes of this thought exercise) would follow a similar pattern. It starts with the people who can afford the device and the infochips; an affluent group of early adopters since I suspect this will not premiere at around $400 like the Kindle did. Eventually, the price of the equipment and infochips comes down for the middle group of adopters, thus reaching a tipping point for use, cost, and acceptance.

Certainly, the bigger conversations are not around the technology itself, but the implications of the information ownership, sharing, and dissemination. Will there be a tension between companies wanting to sell you how to change your oil or recite Shakespeare and the internet that will seek to copy, share, and torrent this same knowledge for free? It might just result in an incredible showdown between the rapidly expanding sharing portion of society versus the content creators (both individual and corporate). Who can say what the price of a skill or an experience would cost? Who has ultimate control over it?

What do you think?

(Please, please, please don’t think of this as a question about the future of libraries and librarians. I think that would be rather limiting in light of the possibilities present here.)