Guns, Porn, and Library Makerspaces

A few months back, the story that a 3D printer created a working (albeit fragile and limited) plastic gun shot around the news in libraryland. As I recall, the reaction in my social circles was swift and decidedly against allowing library 3D printers for such a purpose, despite the fine print about the economics and viability of the guns. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of how some librarians can be in love with the First Amendment and abandon the Second as if the Bill of Rights was a buffet. The argument could made that words and ideas are far more dangerous than guns, but this post isn’t about that.

In thinking about 3D printers and what kind of limits should be imposed on them, I started wondering about the other big makerspace setup in libraries: digital media labs. While I can see weapons being restricted or banned on library 3D printers (whether it is reasonable or not is another matter), what kinds of limits would librarians place on media creation? What kinds of limits exist already? Could a person record a music track that has violent and/or sexual content? What about visual art with the same content? Granted, some of these examples are well within the boundaries of the librarian free speech ideals, but here’s the question I’m leading up to:

Could someone use a library digital media lab to create and/or edit a pornographic movie?

On one hand, limitations against this kind of material are already established. Most public libraries don’t have a subscription to Playboy (the gold standard of pornography in libraries) and have generally avoided sexual materials due to theft and vandalism. Another rationale is that it would be more trouble than its worth, a case in which the public policy trumps the First Amendment and freedom of expression. There’s nothing wrong with picking your battles, especially in the long game of public relations and budgeting.

On the other hand, there have been steps taken to allow people to view pornography on the computers at the library. Why would the creation of it be any different? This might be some of my libertarian roots showing, but what consenting adults do is their business. (I’m sure this point can be bogged down by a million ‘what ifs’, so I’ll concede that it’s not a blanket pass on all content.) If we allow people to put sexual content in their music and visual art, why not be able to make an amateur adult film in our digital media labs?

Like many grey areas in libraryland, I’m sure there is going to be a diverse reaction to this end of freedom of expression. Just like some libraries ban guns and others welcome them, I’m sure there will be a similar dichotomy when it comes to restrictions (or lack thereof) on creating adult content, be it music, art, or film.

My hope is that that libraries will side on the less restrictive side, favoring the freedoms (expression, intellectual) that we hold so dear. Libraries should be the organization that gives people permission to be themselves, no matter what the prevailing societal and cultural winds dictate. It’s in our very nature to collect and protect material that which is deemed unsavory; this ideal should be extended to the individual.

Facebook, Libraries, and Post Promotions

If your library has a Facebook page and uses it for outreach, you need to read this article from the Dangerous Minds website. There really isn’t a good quote to pull out the meaning, so take a moment to go and read it. The basics revolve around Facebook monetizing page promotion while simultaneously throttling the amount of people who can see a post from a Facebook page. In short, if you want your page posts to reach your entire audience, you have to pay.

The free ride is over.

I can’t really fault Facebook for making a change like this; their investors want dividends and what drives that is revenue. The amount of things you can do with Facebook for free still makes it valuable for other purposes like keeping in touch with far away family members and friends. It does, however, feel slightly at odds with the ‘power to share’ sentiment from Mark Zuckerberg’s IPO letter seemed to be aiming towards. It reframes it into “I want you to share but only a limited audience will see it unless you pay up” which really doesn’t seem as much of a lofty world-changing dream anymore. 

The basic promise to ensure that all of your followers see a post brings up the old sentiment as to whether that is effective or not. I watch the “Skip this ad in X seconds” counter in the bottom corner of a YouTube video more than the moving pictures of the ads that are attached to the video. I couldn’t tell you what the last couple of companies were because, frankly, I don’t care. It’ll probably be true for the promoted Facebook post at the top of my news feed, especially if it is something that one of my friends or family has “liked”.

Given that some pages have a very local element to them (for example, pretty much every library that has a Facebook page), I’m figuring that promoted posts will end up missing the mark by inserting themselves into feeds of people who aren’t local. The New York Public Library has roughly 70,000 likes, but how many of them are local? Judging from my 45 friends who like the NYPL, it seems to be about 50/50. Is it worthwhile to pay to promote a post when it’s not going the audience you want it to reach (constituents)? What if some of those likes are pushing it into a higher promotion post cost bracket? Given the number of times I’ve seen pleas for people to ‘like’ their libraries page, I think this is a possibility.

Personally, I’m hoping that Facebook considers cutting a price break for non-profits and education related institutions. It’s one thing to charge corporations like Coca Cola and Comcast for post promotion, it’s another when you’re charging the local library. Alternatively, now would be the time to find other online outreach platforms.  

The New Jersey Library Roadshow is Coming!

nj-roadshow-full-logo

This coming Wednesday, Sophie Brookover from LibraryLinkNJ and I will be hitting the road to do a version of the Great Library Roadshow here in New Jersey. We have finalized our schedule and will be visiting three very different libraries: Atlantic City Free Public Library, Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly, and the Nilsa Cruz-Perez Branch within the Paul Robeson Library of Rutgers in Camden. We’ll be taking in the archives that fuel the look of the HBO Series Boardwalk Empire, a high school working with the latest technologies, and an academic-public cooperative library. We are stoked at the complete variety of libraries we’ll be visiting and all the great things they have going on.

This smaller scale version of the Great Library Roadshow came about after a conversation with Josh Hadro at Library Journal at the Public Library Association Conference back in March. Having just marshaled Patrick Sweeney and Lisa Carlucci Thomas up the East Coast, he had expressed the hope that other people would take up their own road trips and document them as well.

Challenge accepted, Josh.

While Sophie and I will not embark on a multi-day multi-state trip, we will be going from the Shore to the Delaware. Between locations, we’ll be tweeting and tumbling New Jersey trivia and pictures along the way. It will be more about New Jersey than you ever thought you’d know; and if you’re a native like me, it might have some things you never knew!

Here’s how you can follow along in our travels.

Twitter:

Sophie Brookover (@librarylinknj)

Andy Woodworth (@wawoodworth)

Hashtags: #njsd12, #NJlibraryroadshow

Tumblr:

NJ Library Roadshow

Everyone is encouraged to ask Sophie and/or me questions and we’ll be answering them as the day goes on using the #NJlibraryroadshow hastag. If you’re not on Twitter, you can ask us on the Tumblr site. We will get back to you (eventually). Promise!

We won’t be the only teams out on the road. The New Jersey State Library will be sending out people to visit libraries in the northern end of New Jersey. We couldn’t possibly cover it all in one day and remain sane. They will be posting to the Tumblr account as well so there will be a ton of content going up over the course of the day.

If you’re a New Jersey librarian and your library is not participating yet, it’s easy! Here’s how!

Tor and DRM and Libraries

In the midst of my illness laden life a week ago, I managed to catch the announcement that Tor was going to drop DRM from its books starting in July. Perhaps it was the fever, but it seemed to generate a lot of buzz and speculation about whether this would be the beginning of the end for eBook DRM. It was wrapped up in optimism as to which publishers would follow suit and when, as if it was a logical conclusion.

In following up on it for this post, the first thing I noticed in the BBC article is that Macmillan called it an “experiment”. This phrase alone raises enough flags to starts its own color guard. Sure, it’s a fancier term for “trying something out”, but it means there are metrics that are being followed and measured closely. For myself, this raises a few more questions to ponder. What kind of timeline is this experiment going to run? Months? Years? What are the variables that are being tracked? Sales? Bit torrent file movements? Just how big a dataset are we talking here?

Like other recent moves in publishing, I have a hunch that this is going to be watched by the other publishers before making their own move. This isn’t something for the short term, it’s going to be for the long term; however, it does mean that attitudes are shifting within the industry. But in the meantime, I highly advise against holding your breath.

In the meantime, I don’t believe DRM is going anywhere. The fear of piracy is such an emotional trigger that anything that appears to make it easier will have a hard time offering a logical argument for removing a barrier. It’s a very human response to overestimate risks that involve an emotional aspect when the actual facts and statistics prove that the risk is low or non-existent. Consider the fear of dying from an act of terrorism (extremely low) versus dying from a car accident (statistically much more likely). The former kept us from flying commercially for a year after 9/11 while fatal car accidents can be found in the news nearly everyday. After years of sensational news stories about file sharing and bit torrents, it’s hard not to imagine that the first reaction to any discussion about eBooks and DRM is not an emotional one.

If there is one group that will not see the end of DRM anytime soon (if ever), that would be libraries. Given the current apprehension to eBook lending, DRM is the only assurance that companies like Overdrive can give to publishers to ensure that these eBooks don’t virtually walk on them. It will be the ‘friction’ that publishers want to ensure that the retail transaction is smoother than the library one and to offer a non-existent guarantee that a book does not overstay in someone’s device. With eBooks, purchasing will always be encouraged over lending, whether it is from the library or one person to the next.

And so it begins, the long wait while the Tor experiment runs its course. DRM is not dead, it’s just in a transitional period; it is especially not dead for libraries.

Do Libraries Only Use 10% of Your Brain?

There’s an old yet hilariously inaccurate saying that people only use ten percent of their brains, but I’d like to suggest that it may have some merit in regard to library usage. Not that library members only use ten percent of their brains, but that the average material holdings of a library only stimulate ten percent of people’s brains. In other words, rather than be supportive of the entire brain, the library focuses on a much smaller portion of it.

The relatively short neuroscience lesson is that there are three major areas that are used for reading: Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area, and the inferior parietal lobule. While current understanding indicates that the nerve impulses from reading are sent out to other areas of the brain, it still represents a small portion of the overall brain that is being activated. Consider these images of brain scans to the right taken in profile; reading is at the top. (The front of the brain is to the left. Click to embiggen.) From the color activity map, the major activity is focused towards the back of the brain where the visual information is received and processed. While there are some some spots of activity elsewhere, the brain is otherwise largely inactive.

Perhaps it is not mathematical equivalent to ten percent (lest someone gets stuck on that little detail), but to me it feels that the oft stated mission and goal of the library (literacy and reading) focus on just one particular part of the brain to the detriment of all the other wonderful senses and functions that have evolved from our primate ancestors.

I can’t say that the average public library completely ignores these other brain areas, but I do think we give up on them over the course of the life of an individual. If we were to examine at the average program offerings of public libraries across the United States, I would surmise that the pattern you would see is that early childhood and kids programs represent the most brain stimulating programs with crafts, songs, body movements, and things to hear, touch, see, and possibly smell and taste. But once people age out of that early stage of development, the programs shift away from those deeply interactive offerings. Adult programming moves to the more passive activities like book clubs and computer instruction with a lesser offering of crafting and other creation based programs. To me it feels like a sad and perplexing narrowing of the focus from body and mind combined to simply the mind with only limited (if any) jaunts to the body. It’s as if getting old meant you were beyond anything but intellectual activities. Why is this so?

As much as it is said that libraries are gateways to other worlds through the books that they carry, there is still a very real world that people want to experience with all of their senses and emotions. These are brains (and bodies) that are looking for more stimulation than just the printed word. If public libraries want to reflect life in their communities, a true reflection means more than just passive intellectual pursuits. It means having bodies in motion, multiple senses engaged, and reaching towards those other areas of the brain.

What do you think?

Bikes, Branding, and Bellyaching

The other day I read this post by Phil Davis on Scholarly Kitchen:

Libraries take scholarship seriously, and its profession ensures it. Most academic libraries in the United States require MLS degrees or some equivalent. Many librarians have second Master’s degrees, and a good number even have doctorates. The institutional culture of librarianship respects scholarly behavior, and most librarians are required to go through tenure or similar academic review process. While they may not have teaching or research responsibilities, librarians view themselves as academics.

But this is not what the patron sees.

Patrons generally are unable to distinguish information assistants (or paraprofessionals) from professional librarians. The person checking out your book, pointing you to the restroom, helping you with a reference question, pulling an espresso, and now checking out your bike lock and helmet is, from the perspective of the patron, a librarian. When you are 18 or 19 years old, anyone with graying temples and bifocals is a librarian. Experience and professional status is only something that colleagues see.

At first glance, it reminded me of the quagmire that was my post “The Master’s Degree Misperception” which elicited a very strong response both for and against the points I was making there. The lesson that I’ve learned from that post is the same one that I’ve learned from teaching basic computer classes: no one gives a damn so long as it works. And when it works, it might just be you and your staff that knows what is actually going on in terms of who has what duty and what title. From the outside, patrons might not know what is going on; from the inside, you know how the organization model shakes down. I’ve come to terms with it by looking at it that way and keeping on eye on the final product: customer service, materials, and a place for people to get help.

Does it really matter if people think that the library assistants are actually librarians? Absolutely not, in my mind. Their mistaken identity doesn’t cheapen what I do.

But I understand that Phil and I are in different library settings. While my overall brand is service to the public, his brand is academic scholarship. He pines for students to gush about the quality of the scholarly assistance they received at the college library rather than the quality of the coffee or gaming program or even bicycle borrowing. (I would surmise he might raise an eyebrow at the lending of a therapy dog as the Yale Law School library is doing.) From Phil’s post, anything that distracts or takes away from that brand is an issue that has be addressed.

Personally, I don’t see the issue with these extraneous activities and amenities. They will be the first to go with budget cuts as the library will rally around its core mission: providing academic support and materials to faculty and students. If there is a problem with how the provost or dean perceives the library, that’s a failure to inform those individuals about the big picture. Too often it seems (and this goes for all types of libraries) there is a mindset that one can simply prove their value through practice without taking meaningful steps to contact and educate decision makers about everything that the library brings to the table. A bike renting program or coffee bar or gaming program would be a footnote on a report containing statistics, testimonials, and other evidence of value that would show how the library is serving their academic community. It does not carry equal weight to the service and materials of the core mission; it’s a reasonable luxury that makes student life just a bit easier and fun.

My question to Phil would be this: what is it that you are doing now that doesn’t promote the academic and scholarly value of the library? The bike program is just a scapegoat if you’re not articulating these values in the first place. If you are having trouble competing against coffee as a reason to go to the library, it’s not something that getting rid of these kinds of amenities will solve either.

(And, for the record, this might be the first time I’ve read that someone has singled out comfortable seating as an unwelcome trend on the basis of how a minority of students use it. Really? That’s an issue? I’d say it’s a bit draconian, but only because I have Game of Thrones on the brain.) 

Libraries and Amazon

Libraries and Amazon. Not exactly two words that are spoken in the same sentence without being to the detriment to the latter. Especially when the latter is also one of the largest book retailers in the world with a popular ereader that is heavy on the DRM and (most notably) currently incompatible for library ebook vendors. 

But libraries working as Amazon Associates?

By the time I got home today, the Butler Public Library had removed the banner on their home screen announcing their partnership with Amazon (hence, no screenshot). You can still see the text indicating that if people click on the link and buy things from Amazon that the library can receive up to 15% of the price. At face value, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me. It’s a way to generate some additional funding without additional work by library staff and gives library supporters a way to give to the library as part of any online shopping they do with Amazon.

(It’s also not the only case of this type of partnership; this other example being from about four years ago now.) 

Even as I typed the words of the last two sentences of the preceding paragraph, I can hear the chaffing of a thousand hands wringing from librarians coast-to-coast. Oh, we can’t get involved with a retail operation. That wouldn’t be right for the image of the library to be seen as endorsing one merchant. This kind of association pulls us away from our mission of information and education to that of retail and endorsement. We can’t possibly assist a corporation that could be the demise of libraries. And we certainly cannot partner with a company that is stodgy regarding copyright and takes a dim view of content.

Ok, that last sentence is one to which I would concede the point.  But I would press on and say that there are other points to consider. First, this type of arrangement places libraries in a unique ‘try before you buy’ position that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You liked the book or movie you borrowed? You can buy it here. Don’t want to miss an issue of the newspaper? Try a trial home subscription and see if you want to subscribe. Same thing for magazines. It creates a dynamic in which you can borrow it from one place (the library) or buy it from another (Amazon). And if you decide you were going to buy it anyway, why not do it through the library and give them a piece of the sale? There is an upside to positioning the library in line with Amazon.

Second, it knocks down the notion that Amazon and libraries are in competition or at odds with one another. Only if you squint and declare that both are involved in handling the same sort of materials could they actually be perceived as competing institutions. Amazon is a retailer, trying to put as many products into the hands of consumers as humanly possible. They sell stuff. They do not answer people on how to find information unless that information is how to buy more stuff. They will not help you with your resume (unless you want to buy a resume book), they will not help you learn how to use a computer (unless you want to buy a computer book), and they will not tell you where the bathroom is (maybe if you went to one of their centers, but probably not). The library is a public institution with a mission of literacy, education, and information. The library’s commodity is service in this goal. It won’t sell you the stuff within its walls (unless it happens to be on the book sale), but it can tell you where to find it. We will help you with your resume, how to use a computer, and, yes, where the bathroom is. Libraries and Amazon are simply not in the same business; the goals and aims of the organizations do not collide. There is no conflict of interest or intent.

Third, if you still have a problem with Amazon, you can take that kind of arrangement and work out a deal with local businesses. Imagine if a patron took their checkout receipt to the store and purchased the item on it; in return, the store gives a portion of the sale to the library. It recreates the same arrangement with Amazon and keeps the sale within the local economy. For whatever the library offers, there can be a benefit offered through a mutually beneficial arrangement with a similar business or service. The limitations are only the ones you put in place. 

And lastly, in a financial environment that could simply be described as ‘arid’, the capability of libraries to raise money from an assortment of sources is imperative. The idea that one source of income is somehow less desirable than others due to the point of origin (retail) is a bit absurd considering how readily libraries will compete for prizes offered by vendors. If you have any remaining doubts on this particular point, open up any state or national library conference program and take note of corporate sponsorships of events, awards, or even ice cream giveaways. Librarians and libraries don’t have a problem taking money from these sources nor should they. When one is trying to keep the doors open, any income is still income. And while some may think that it is better to close than to sell out, I doubt the surrounding community would feel the same way.

Certainly, it’s a touchy subject for a library to partner with a corporation such as Amazon in that capacity. However, in my estimation, the pros outweigh the cons. It generates revenue for the library, it positions the library to offer a ways for patrons to purchase items as well as donate the library, and it can be modified to work for local businesses. Not every business that is involved with the same materials is a competition for libraries; in fact, it behooves libraries to find more of these types of partnerships in order to survive and thrive. There are business and corporate partners who have an eye towards doing good things for communities. All it takes is a little outreach on the part of the library to make it happen.

So, go on. Click on that link without guilt. It’s going to a good cause.

The Case for the Great Good Place, Ctd.

From Walk You Home:

One of the most important parts of library advocacy at the moment seems to be setting the record straight; explaining to people where they’ve got the wrong impression of libraries (be that because they’ve had a bad and unrepresentative experience and/or because they haven’t used a library in many years).

[…]

It’s been suggested that we should just ignore the naysayers and leave them to their ignorance. This is not an option! It’s really tiring to argue against all the misconceptions and misunderstandings of public libraries, but we have to. And it’s worth it.

In Lauren’s post, she goes through the comment sections of different online articles that talk about library funding. It’s a task I do not envy in the slightest, but her post is an excellent listing of typical comments with some excellent rebuttals. I just really like the fact that she took the time to find the comments and research answers to them.

As I said before in the LIS Syllabus post, advocacy is the new norm. It’s up to the profession to push back on comments that are misguided or wrong. We’d never let someone leave the library knowing that they had the wrong information, so why let public commenters have their words go unanswered?

This is not to say that you should fight all the internet trolls you see, but be on the active lookout for where you can make a mark in an online discussion forum. This will not result in a spontaneous conversion of the masses, but if it can change one person, then that’s one person more than we had before.

(H/t: Patrick Sweeney)

From Across the Pond, Ctd.

From the Guardian UK:

Without libraries, another campaigner predicts, many of the uneducated, unemployed and otherwise forgotten former users will end up needing much costlier help, further down the line, inside job centres, doctors’ surgeries, advice centres, housing offices. But a more pressing problem is that "community-run" can only, where it is divorced from the prevailing library service, be a euphemism for permanently trashed.

Supposing every devolved library were to be taken over by a group which was, by chance, composed of kindly, discreet book-lovers with no family commitments, willing to travel and with a gift for incessant fundraising and building maintenance, there would still be no way customers – or beneficiaries – could depend upon it. How do users complain when the library is shut during advertised opening hours?

While I don’t know all of the nuances when it comes to British politics and their political scene, it’s a shame that over two hundred and fifty libraries are earmarked for closure. I’m really hoping one of my UK peers can shed some light on this commentary and give it the proper perspective. It sounds like the decision for closing is going to be regional, there is something about volunteers taking over, and it sounds like non-responsive politicians.

At any rate, take a look at the commentary and then scan the comments. Does every library funding article have the same kind of comments, or is it just me?

(h/t: Neil Gaiman)

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.