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.

The Reports of Our Professional Deaths Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Outside Observer Edition

This article entitled “Digital Underclass: What Happens When the Libraries Die?” by Jason Perlow at ZDNet caught my attention last week. The gist of the article is that libraries are in danger of extinction due to the change in format of one of our cornerstone collection pieces, the book. In moving from physical print to an ebook, Mr. Perlow makes the case that libraries will slowly face away into the past as the demand for physical print diminishes.

While this notion is not a new one that has been fired over the bow of the library ship (and is rebutted by issues of internet access and the increasing importance of bibliographic instruction in an information tsunami world), Mr. Perlow does make an excellent point in regards to the creation of a “Digital Underclass”: that is, those people who will be unable to access ebooks due to poverty. Specifically, when it comes to the rights of those who cannot afford such device:

It means that we need to guarantee that citizens have access, even if they are poor. It means each citizen needs access to free bandwidth to get books and they need devices to read the material on. We can assume that everyone in 10 years will be able to afford a smartphone or a super-inexpensive tablet device with inexpensive Internet connectivity, but that’s an awful big assumption.

And assuming that we aren’t going to cede the distribution of all electronic books to the Amazons of the world, then we need to start thinking about how we build that Digital Public Library infrastructure. Does it make sense to build datacenters at the state or county level with huge e-book/e-media repositories?

The other point Mr. Perlow makes is one that is currently at issue within the library world: the lending of ebooks. Or rather, the lack of such opportunities right now. I found it very refreshing to find someone outside of the library community who has concerns about this situation. It reinforces the importance of education the non-librarian public about what is going on with DRM, copyright, proprietary software, and what it will mean for them in the future if changes are not made now.

Another writer on ZDnet answered Mr. Perlow’s article with one of his own, challenging the idea that the public library would die and that what is needed is a reboot. In “Digital Underclass? Only if we allow it”, Chris Dawson articulates the point that libraries are the great equalizer for information access. Because it is an institution that provides materials and services to a community, the library continues to play an important part in our new information future. What is integral to the future of the library is that it “reboots” itself and morphs into a new institution that can handle the access and availability issues of the 21st century. For me, it is encouraging to hear some of the same arguments that librarians have been trying to make coming from outside observers.

I wrote a response to Mr. Perlow that evening, the first of which I will reprint below.

In reading your article, “Digital Underclass: What Happens When the Libraries Die?”, I wish to disagree with your assessment of the future of libraries. The short answer is that funding cuts will kill libraries, not technology. As a fellow New Jersey resident, you might have noticed that state funding to libraries was initially cut by 74% in the Governor’s first budget proposal. The final draft was a slightly less 43%, enough to keep federal matching funds for programs and some vital state wide library programs. A good number of libraries cut staff, hours, and even closed. None of this was technology related; it was all due to funding cuts not because the library was unnecessary, but was seen as a community luxury. In the depths of the recession, library visits were up, library usage was up, and NJ libraries saw increases in computer use generally across the board.

My longer answer is that libraries will not close so long as there is a digital divide (the proverbial technology ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’). So long as there is a digital divide, the need for print will continue. I will concede to a reduced demand and different printing schemes, but an all digital content world risks creating too large a gap that will stifle further development. I’m not simply talking about within the United States, but around the world. While cellular technology adaptation is rapidly gaining footholds in the developing worlds, they still lack an incredible amount of infrastructure to support that kind of reading. Furthermore, even with a suitable network system in place, ebooks cannot not replicate certain interactivity aspects of children’s books, the flip-flop of reading and checking the index of college textbooks, and remain under proprietary software and DRM issues.

And now I’m going to give you the third degree for your description of the library. Have you BEEN in a library lately? The card catalog is quite dead, my fellow New Jerseyian. It has been ever since the first OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) graced the entrance of the library. And while we do have shelves of books (a staple), we also have shelves full of music, movies, audio books, and video games along with rows of public computers. The quiet is not what it used to be with collaborative spaces and tapping of laptop keyboards. In a fully digital society, there will be public libraries and people will need them. They will need them for bibliographic assistance, technology classes, and other things that cannot be gleaned from downloading or opening the box.

Will the library be the place that it was twenty years ago? No, absolutely not. The advances in communication and computing have turned the data landscape from (to borrow the phrase from another librarian blogger) an information desert to an information jungle. Librarians are no longer the gatekeepers to knowledge, we are reinventing ourselves as guides. The amount of data created this year will equal the amount of data ever created in the history of man. This mountain of data expressed in petabytes, a one with a scary amount of zeros behind it, and they are looking for names for the next set up the chart. It’s an information future and there will always be a need for someone who can find their way through to the information that people are seeking.

If you’d like to know more about ebooks and libraries, here’s a reading list for you:

Ebook Sanity (and the 3 articles that are immediately linked to it)
Ebook Summit: Our Ebook Challenge
The New Librarianship in the Age of the Ebooks
The World Without Public Libraries (from this blog)

There are other sources out there as well. To be fair, I can see the reason that people come to libraries changing, but right now, I don’t foresee public libraries in danger from media changes. Libraries have been cut out of the ebook scene for a long time, but we as a profession are working to make our own inroads.

He was gracious enough to offer me the chance to write a proper letter to the editor. I drafted another letter that is more on point to the issues raised in his article. You can read my Letter to the Editor here at ZDNet.

In reflecting on this experience, it shows that the profession does have some distance to go in educating people about funding, information access, the role of libraries and ebooks, and the overarching concerns about DRM and copyright. However, it is posts like this that grant us the chance to create a teachable moment. These are opportunities to reach out and advocate on behalf of the library on platforms that reach non-librarians. These are the chances that matter and we should endeavor to seek them out.

If we are going to taut that the library of the future is about connections, then we need to start making some ourselves to the non-librarian world.

Quick Note on Advocacy

As mentioned in a previous post, there are things afoot in response to the devastating 74% state funding cut to libraries in New Jersey. After starting the Facebook group, I’ve been looking for new and additional ways to spread the message and get people active in saving their libraries. In gearing up for this fight, there are some things that have caught my attention.

First, while the fight is statewide, the real efforts are local. As in, being able to explain to my patrons what the cuts means to them. Overall, my library system is not in bad shape; these cuts will not result in shorter service hours, layoffs, or other reduction in quality of service. The real cut is that our materials budget will be reduced by 25% along with finding money to replace the databases. My colleagues and I are working on the best way to portray that to the public in order to make our case. As the saying goes, “All politics are local”; so here we are in a position to show our patron what the cuts mean to them. It’s hard to ignore how this will negatively affect other libraries beyond my county (since the cuts felt will be more dramatic), but that’s a secondary case to be made.

Second, for a group of people who can make recommendations for materials and services, we really don’t seem to be comfortable with making a case for our own continued existence. I’m not sure what the deal is, whether it is a case of modesty or sense of political neutrality, but when it comes to articulating why libraries are essential to communities in an age of information (and the information economy), we seem to get all tied up in knots. Perhaps it is because we as an institution have never really been put to this sort of test. In any event, I certainly hope that people can get over their hang-ups and begin to speak up.

For myself, I try to make the case for libraries with each patron. It may sound silly, but I try to treat every request as being the utmost importance. I think of it this way: they have taken time out of their day to come to the library so it’s my job to make it a good experience. Sure, it doesn’t always work, and not everyone leaves with a smile, but I try to make their time at the library worthwhile. It’s something no publicity campaign can really do for us; it’s all about the individual and making that time spent in our walls valuable.

What more can librarians do?

Saint Crispin’s Day

This was at the top of an email from NJLA I got last week.

TO: NJ LISTSERV MEMBERS

FROM:  PAT Tumulty, Executive Director

RE: Updates-Advocacy

DATE: March 18, 2010

1. NJLA ADVOCACY RESPONSE

Make no mistake, if the current proposals affecting state and local library funding pass, NJ libraries will have to close their doors.

Gov. Christie’s budget calls for a 74% decrease in funding for statewide library services.  This cut includes the elimination of all statewide library programs and services.  What does this mean to NJ residents?

250 of the state’s 302 libraries will lose access to the Internet on July 1st

130 libraries will lose email service July 1st

124 libraries will lose their websites or access to them July 1st

Statewide interlibrary loan and delivery of library materials will cease on July 1st

The Talking Book and Braille Center (known as the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) will close on July 1st

NJ resident’s access to electronic databases such as RefUSA and EBSCO will cease on July 1st

Group contracts which bring down the cost of other electronic resources purchased by libraries will cease on July 1st

In addition, libraries will lose $3 million in state aid

At the same time the state is eliminating funding for library programs. Assemblyman John DiMaio has introduced A2555 which eliminates the minimum local funding requirement for municipal public libraries.

This assault on libraries must be stopped!  Here is what you need to know:

170,000 people enter a NJ library every day

The library programs eliminated from the Governor’s budget represent little more than $1 per capita in state funds.  And since library programs have been flat funded for 20 years it is hard to believe these programs have caused the state’s current fiscal crisis.

Local library funding targeted in A2555 typically represents less than 3% of local property taxes.

That’s a hell of a way to start a Wednesday.

Here, within these budgetary apocalyptic pronouncements, lay the very instruments to test the mettle of any librarian. We proclaim ourselves champions of information access, intellectual freedom, and a providers of materials and services to all who cross our threshold regardless of politics, economics, or social standing. Yet here, laid bare in tomes of numbers and figures, the value of such ideals has been coldly calculated by our fellow citizens within the Office of the Governor. This is no mere indictment by a passing critic of the machinations of government spending; no, dear friends, these are individuals of equal intelligence and a shared conviction for public service. Though these traits we share, what one thing we possess over them is our understanding of the far-reaching implications of the vastly expanding information universe.  In this grand age of information, the closing of a library is not simply a denial of the modern world of knowledge, but a denial of the modern world. This is the deeper potency of the communication revolution, the removal of barriers for the sharing of information and information resources. This is our shared professional frontier, the culmination of generations of predecessors, and our home.

We are but a number now, zeroed out on a buried budget sheet, but in the days ahead it is our charge to bring context to those lines. It is up to librarians, all of us, and any and all who read the words written herein, to take up this cause now. That now is the time to educate budget makers as to our return of investment; now is the time to demonstrate to the voters the breadth and width of the offerings of the modern library; that now is the time to raise our voices and make ourselves known for what the institution has become:

That libraries are a lynchpin of valuable public services, universal information access, and shared community commitment to the betterment of our friends, our neighbors, and ourselves.

***

For inspiration in days ahead, I suggest this from the Bard of Avon.

What can you do? (This is a continuation of the email above.)

  • Become a Library Champion (NJ residents)
  • Join the Facebook group Save NJ Libraries
  • Watch Capwiz for NJLA’s call to send a message to your Senator and Assembly representatives opposing the elimination of statewide library programs and A2555. 
  • Get Trustee Boards, Town Councils, County Library Commissioners, Friends groups, community organizations and School Boards to pass resolutions in opposition to these cuts (schools rely on these databases too – and the cuts to school libraries are already going to be bad).

Andy-W-Library-Poster-copy

Re: Nothing is the Future, ctd.

Some of the commenters to Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s post “Nothing is the Future” seem to be under the odd impression that his post is an response to Library 2.0/101. It could be one till you get to the last paragraph of his post.

I’ve used "mobile" just as one example. The same could be said of various service or organization models. You can plug in any term you want, and know that when anyone tells you that thing is "the future," they’re wrong. And to be clear, my criticism isn’t of any particular services or trends. If there’s a new, popular way for librarians to communicate with or reach out to library users, by all means librarians should adopt it, or at least experiment with it. My criticism is the hype and the reductionism, and the implied claim that some librarians really know what the future holds, and that it just happens to be centered around whatever they happen to like at the moment. Maybe they’re convincing themselves, but they’re not convincing me.

(Emphasis mine.)

From the bolded text, Mr. Bivens-Tatum is addressing all forms of library future hyperbole. While Library 2.0/101 make an excellent target for such criticism, the logic presented also makes an excellent case for the librarians who are overly cautious and/or completely rejecting minor changes to the practice and profession (e.g. the people who make the overzealous argument that rejects any new service, program, event, material, web tool, or website based on their own biases without patron consideration or input). It’s a dangerous, dismissive, and ultimately untenable position to maintain in this information-communication revolution. It’s antithetical of the evolution of knowledge and ultimately critical of anyone working on better content delivery, regardless of their means and methods. If the zealotry of the web 2.0 techno-narcissists with their grand prophetic-like innovation announcements is bad, then their counterpart in the sneering cynical criticisms of pompous ludbrarians[1] rejecting deviance from the status quo is equally harmful for rational forward looking discourse.

(To provide a visualization of how I am seeing this, I made up a simple chart.)

4327174388_3031ab946b_b[1]

I count myself in the middle of this chart, perhaps with a leaning towards the right end. The middle sentence between the two bolded ones in the quotation holds more of the essence of the “change in the library” conversation that I’m interested in. It is about watching and listening to what patrons are doing and saying and then providing materials and services that work towards or meet their expressed needs. If I can provide both a low tech or a high tech solution, who gives a damn which is used so long as there is a solution? I am beholden to the end result (patron with need satisfied), not the process that achieved it.

Tim Spalding in the Thingology blog makes an excellent concluding point in his reply to the Academic Librarian post, stating:

It says something that hasn’t been said before as well. But if it prompts librarians to dismiss technology’s impact on the future of libraries, it will do great harm. Instead, I hope people use your essay as a way to "kick it up a notch" intellectually, get past the small stuff and confront the very real changes ahead.

(Emphasis mine.)

I couldn’t agree more. It’s really time to get past the crap, get over our hang-ups, and talk like adults. This divisiveness that has been generated is really beneath a profession who values the free exchange of ideas. Let’s start acting like it.

[1] Luddite + Librarian = Ludbrarians.