Library 101

Michael Porter and David Lee King unveiled their highly anticipated Library 101 video at the Internet Librarian conference this past week.

Like many of my peers, I submitted something for inclusion in the video. I was thrilled to see that they used it* and really wished that I had seen the unveiling at the conference. What really makes me smile about this video is that Michael and David are having fun, a word not commonly attributed to libraries, librarians, or the field in general. (Something, I believe, that we should work on changing in the future.) Not to be missed are the essays on Library 101 as well as the 101 RTK (101 Resources & Things to Know), which I will be enjoying over the next couple of days.

Kudos to David and Michael for a job well done!


* The video of the ocean washing away “101” at the 0:36-0:39 mark, which they ran in reverse. My three seconds (0.7%) of contribution! =D

Lending Materials of a Different Sort

About six months ago, I read about an organization called Kiva that makes microloans to groups and individuals in economically disadvantaged countries all over the world. These loans, ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand, represent people trying to improve their business and lives. Microloans are a great way to provide capital to small businesses that are otherwise ignored by financial institutions. (Read about the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh; this Nobel Peace Prize winning organization started lending to the poor in Bangladesh.) Over time, the loans are repaid to your account; you can take the money out or you can re-loan it to other applicants. It is not without its risk. For myself, it’s a worthwhile calculated risk. At best I get paid back so I can make another loan; at worst, I tried and it didn’t work.

The reason for this post is not simply to sing the praises of a remarkable organization and their lofty goals, but I was delighted to find out about a lending team called Lending Librarians. I’ve joined the team and I’d like to encourage others to join as well. It doesn’t have to be much ($25 is the minimum), but that $25 can literally make a world of difference in someone’s life. You choose who you can lend to; by joining the team, you can give credit to the team. Also, team members can post about who they are lending to, so we can throw our support behind someone who may be a few bucks short.

Give it a whirl. I’m glad I’m did. And it’s nice to find something new to lend that can change their lives forever.

“Huge Discussion” Triage

Through my Google Reader, there is a “huge discussion” among school librarians that has been brought to my attention. (Starts here, goes here and here, and onwards to here, and a nice summary of it all here). In talking with Buffy (The Unquiet Librarian) about it, I am now going to probably stick my nose into a debate I probably shouldn’t get involved in. However, I hope this offers the participants an objective third party assessment of the discussion.

I think the one thing that both sides of the argument should do is concede to two specific certain points.

First, there are school librarians who will (for whatever reason) not incorporate technology into their instruction and library environment. Their passion for books and their profession is not without merit, but it is not valid rationale in the current school library setting. It does not behoove the present educational parameters of teachers nor prepare students for their academic research future. They do their more technological colleagues no service by continuing to carry their educational Luddite ways. These librarians should take it upon themselves to find other library employment or be gently bumped from the field.

I’m sure some people will read this point as harsh and, well, it is. I’m sorry, but the people who hold this concept of school librarianship are in the wrong library field. School librarians have instructional access to students in their academic formative years, a crucial time in this information technology age, and it cannot (and should not) be wasted. It is not the unusual request of any parent that their child receive an education that prepares them for the world, including web tools and computer based research techniques. Today, such knowledge is a life skill of modern civilization.

(For those still not convinced, let me ask this same issue another way: exactly how out of date would you like the treatments and techniques of your personal health care professionals to be at any given point in time? I’m going to guess they don’t all have to be cutting edge, but there is an expectation that they at least stay current.)

Second, there are school librarians who are ready and willing to learn but have not been able. Despite the vast amount of contact points (e.g. training, online, social sites, list servs, etc.), they have not been able to connect to the resources. Call it bad luck, bad karma, bad timing, missed chances, no opportunity to take advantage, lack of funding, lack of support; it just has not happened for these individuals. There might be some incredulity to such an assertion, but there must be a willingness to accept that these individuals have been lagging behind through no fault of their own. (From Blue Skunk Blog, I know there are people who are just trying to maintain order, nevermind teaching anything. My heart goes out to them and suggest they take a page from Joe Clark.)  In order to reach these librarians, it will involve a continuously widening publicity net and the unconditioned acceptance of these ‘lost sheep’ librarians. Bring them in, get them going with toolkits and how-to guides, and guide them through to the 2.0 promised land.

Now that we’ve eliminated the top and bottom groups in this conversation, the real debate for the center begins. This middle group of librarians, in various states of acceptance of training, technology, and implementation, are truly the ones at stake in this discussion. These are the librarians where the majority effort needs to be placed; and they also raise the most important questions in the discussion. Such as:

  • What will it take to get these middle people on board?
  • What will it take to get those board to be able to train, use, and instruct 2.0?
  • Do they have the support (“the buy-in”) from administration and faculty to make it work?
  • How can I encourage them to go the next step and use [insert whatever 2.0 thing]?
  • Is there an acceptable level of 2.0 use? (In other words, what’s a reasonable amount of web tools and resources that a school librarian should be offering to students.)
  • What is a fair amount of time for school librarians to catch up? (You can’t do this forever. There has to be a cutoff point.

(This last portion of questioning is more artfully covered by Carolyn Foote’s post, but I have the sinister ‘dooms day’ question at the end.)

Ghosts of Prisons Past

As I have the day off since I work tomorrow, my friend Jen and I went to visit Eastern State Penitentiary today. We’re both history buffs so this was a great place to spend a nice gray day. This partially dilapidated historical monument to the first serious but tragic attempt at prisoner rehabilitation sits not too far from the famous Philadelphia Art Museum, rising up like a castle in the middle of a modern neighborhood. The tall ramparts obscure the many prison buildings and cellblocks that lay behind it, trapped in the grip of slow deterioration. Its presence is imposing, its history is gritty and uncomfortable, but what remains is a glimpse into another world in a previous time. (You can read about it here, here, and here.)

I’ve never been through the prison grounds before so this was my first chance to walk through all of the structures. The first thing that hits you is the state of dilapidation that twenty years of abandonment have wrecked upon it. For all of their current efforts (which are very good), the walls show their age through sheer peeling. Looking up at the ceiling reveals whatever materials they used for when that cellblock was built; brick, plaster, beams, and whatnot. Every cell door is tiny, covering a door that made me duck every time. Not only duck, but cross over a wide threshold, making me feel even smaller. You can follow the ideas and the passage of time through how the cellblocks were constructed as well as the cell amenities. For whatever reason, each generation of the prison is hard to imagine for me; from the silent stoic days in the 1830’s to the overcrowded hustle and bustle of the prison in the late 1960’s. The emptiness now belies any of the daily activities that the history markers or tour guides told us.

In touring the prison, I took a lot of pictures and shot a few short videos. And in having a sudden bout of 2.0 inspiration, I uploaded everything to Flickr, scanned a prison map, and made a note that corresponds to each photo taken. Check it out, I hope you enjoy it. And if you’re in the Philly region, go see it.

I’ll even come with you. =D

Obligatory Google Wave Post

In the middle of last week, I got my coveted Google Wave invite. Ever since it had been announced, I had been excited for the September 30th open preview invite. While I didn’t get invited on the first round of invites, my proverbial Golden Ticket came a week after. I had just gotten in at the library that morning when I saw the “wave-noreply” in my Gmail.

There was to be no work done that day.

Indeed, I got into the interface and bounced around the boxes like a six year old on a sugar rush. What’s this do? What’s that do? I made a wave and started trying out all of the headers and extensions (those are the little programs you can add to your toolbar inside of wave). It was symphony of button mashing orchestrating a flurry of trial and error. As people came on, the discoveries continued to abound. (“I can see you typing!” “I can see you typing too!”) Over the last couple of days, people have been dragging files into waves and trying out applications and more extensions. I’ve been watching waves build up to over 100 members and options being added left and right. But, as there are many posts and write-ups about every aspect of Google Wave, I will go a different route to describe my ultimate impression.

While I don’t have the experience of fatherhood behind this, I have heard the story of new parents looking down at their baby laying in the crib the first night and thinking to themselves, “This child can grow up to be anything.”  It is the feeling of being in the humbling presence of raw potential. And it is this brilliant potential that makes me excited for its applications to services and scenarios in the library world.

An application like Google Wave means that every library in the country can now offer excellent free internet reference service. It means that colleagues within a library and across systems, library associations, and the country can collaborate on projects. It can be used to create teen spaces, more interactive homework guides, and to serve as virtual book clubs and other community projects. In my opinion, it is the best platform for electronically exchanging ideas at present. It’s potential is only limited by its developers and users. Take that statement at its face value. I can’t say whether it will be big or small, but it has the potential for both. It is an excellent next step application; now we have to see how it pans out.

A Mighty Wind

This is an amazing interview clip. Take the eight minutes to watch it. My comments on it are afterward (and might make more sense after viewing the clip than without).
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “ AMighty Wind“, posted with vodpod

It’s a great story about a young man who found something at the library that set off a chain of events that changed his village. It’s also a great story for librarians as an example of the importance of information access. Without access, our collections mean virtually little or nothing. Even with William’s limited access to library materials, he was able to find a piece of information that was of interest to him.

But, let’s be realistic about this: access to library materials in the United States is not a big issue. I concede there are some communities (both regional and demographic) that are underserved in this country; I concede that there are people who wish to remove materials from the library (as written about in a previous post); and I will concede that there are (especially this year) many libraries that suffer from funding gaps. But this doesn’t hold a candle to some of the information access obstacles that people face around the world (with an emphasis on developing nations and those with oppressive regimes). While we are quibbling here about what books can be read and how much funding equates to how many hours of operation, there are people out there who simply go without basic library-type services.

While it is not an equivalent evil of the denial of water or nourishment, it is a consumption tragedy of a different sort: food for thought. Yes, you can live without the library, but we cannot truly advance as a planetary population under unequal information footing. Library access falls under the much broader umbrella of world-wide education, a proven tonic for the ailments of poverty, intolerance, and oppression. And, more importantly, I believe it is something that within our collective grasp with the funding and the desire to work for it.

And that, as Shakespeare would say, is the rub; I haven’t a clue as to where the former aspect would come from nor the level of work that the latter would include. I’ve written this entry without much due diligence of checking to see if there are organizations or NGOs that work towards this issue. However, I do have a direction and that’s a start. I will try not to think about it the next time a customer argues about a $2 fine on an overdue book, resisting the urge to tell them that they are lucky to have this sort of access to materials in the first place (I never liked it when my parents told me to finish my plate because there are people starving in the world), but it will remind me to keep working towards it. And with movement in the right direction, hopefully, comes motion towards greater change.

Edit: William’s TedTalk. Pretty awesome as well.

To Boldly Go…

Image by darkmatter/Flickr Last month, there was the widely reported story about a private school in Massachusetts that removed all of its books from its library. (I’ve written about it before here.) Later, it became clear that other departments had the chance to take books from the collection before the rest were removed. There was a lot of discussion in the online library community about the move and brought up the integral question: can a library exist without books?

For those who can’t imagine a library without books, that kind of future has already been visualized. This was my recent epiphany watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Sci-Fi (I refuse to call it SyFy). As I watched the crew of the Enterprise deal with the episode’s problem, I could not help but notice the use of handheld devices, people reading nearly exclusively from monitors during their down time, and a computer system of near infinite cultural material storage and retrieval. And so here it was on the screen in front of me: a popular, highly regarded vision of a future space based society and nary a book to be found. The few books that do appear are highly prized personal possessions described by their owner as having been passed down from other family members or some other sentimental reason. No one ever appears to use their fabulous replicator technology to have a book created. They are content to use their view screens or handheld devices to do any reading. There is no ship library nor librarian nor even a information officer on a space ship that was reported to carry over 1,000 people. It simply did not exist within the confines of the Star Trek universe. And yet, it is an advanced and complex thriving intellectual and curious society that continues to push the boundaries of knowledge.

Of course, it’s a science fiction series, not an actual depiction of the future. But what may seem depressing to some who read this, I see the ultimate in information interfaces. Upon second glance, this future meets some of the very needs that we want for our customers now. Information is instant, free, and on demand. The computer acts as a reference librarian with a vast database of all forms of knowledge; a person can make factual inquiries as well as user defined analytical requests as well. The holodecks take visual learning and content immersion to a whole new level of information presentation. The closest we get to this future vision is the handheld reading devices of the 1987 series that have an eerie resemblance to the modern handheld e-reader devices. And I would guess that someone has to program the computer and instruct it how to store and organize information lest the whole system become too unwieldy.

The truth of this future vision is that the entity of the library has wholly integrated itself into the daily lives of society. (Or, to take the line from that awesome library video, “everywhere is here”.) There is no need for a library as its own space when access is universal at the personal level. Effectively, in this future vision, librarians have been put out of business by a society that has realized the goals that we strive for now. Can this presentation of the 23rd century be any more of a positive reinforcement of the principles and goals of librarianship?

While I was writing this, I couldn’t help but think about Steven Bell’s article on the Library Journal website, “We need a new Sputnik”. While he was addressing the future research function in academic libraries, it really got me thinking about the types of changes that should be considered for the future public library. I’m going to think about it for now since it deserves its own post. But it has certainly lit my imagination afire with the promise and potential. How can we go from where we are now to make this aspect of a future vision a reality?

Banned Book Bullshit

Photo by DML East's Branch/Flickr This past week was Banned Book Week, a time for the library community to celebrate intellectual freedom and the right to read and explore topics. In terms of library traditions, it has the same feel as Black History Month; once a year, there is an extra emphasis placed on those who would seek to move or remove materials from the library and the people who defend against such challenges. Librarians hang “Police Line – Do Not Cross” tape like Christmas garland on displays of books that have been seen, at various periods of time, as immoral, despicable, corrupting, blasphemous, and/or indecent. The stories are retold of the books of the past that were challenged, on what grounds they were objected to, and what books are the current target of challenges. Librarians as a whole take stock as to how to meet these challenges and identify where the points of controversy lay. Overall, it is the essence of a very noble cause to defend the views of others for the sake of freedom of expression.

Right at the start of Banned Books week, this opinion article from the Wall Street Journal came across my Google Reader. It begs the question that I have had for awhile: is a book truly banned when it available by other means? While it may be removed from a school or public library, the advent of online book sellers have made all titles widely accessible. What the author fails to consider is that this whole event would not exist without people taking their self censorship and applying it others. Librarians only really care when someone or something gets between a person and their ability to select materials. But the author is correct in pointing out that books are rarely completely removed from the shelves of libraries. Even the collected statistics by the ALA have shown that most book challenges fail to remove a book from the shelves in the documented challenges. (By their own research, the ALA thinks that for every challenge reported, there are four to five that go unreported. So, for last year (2008), there were 517 challenges (1.4 per day), meaning they estimate 2,068 to 2,585 challenges (5.6 to 7 per day) went unreported. To me, that seems a bit high or making the definition of ‘challenge’ too encompassing, but I’m not privy to the research they are citing yet do not provide.)

But that’s not the point,” one might retort. “This is about the principles of intellectual freedom.” Then, my question would be this: why vilify the challengers? Not every challenge is a motion to remove; some are for reconsideration of location. And even for the challenge to remove, it presents an excellent opportunity to educate the meaning of banning and censorship, the First Amendment, and how the mission of the library to provide all with equal access (even for those ideas that we do not agree with). We should not only be grateful for book challenges, we should welcome them.

Challenges to library materials should be seen for what they are: a win-win scenario. First, they bring publicity and attention to the library in question. Nothing like a good controversy to bring people into the library to see what all the trouble is about. While they are in the library, we can show them all of the “good and decent” materials we have for those who support the challenge and all the “naughty and awful” stuff we have for those who oppose the challenge. There is no such thing as bad publicity! In fact, I would go a step further and demand that a universal symbol of a book challenge being developed that we can post in the window, hang on the flagpole, or otherwise display in a prominent location. Something that just screams (possibly literally) that “Hey, there is a book challenge here and you should come and see what all the fuss is about!”. It’s the ultimate in book discussion groups; not only can you talk about the context, the themes, and the characters presented, the outcome of the group can potentially change things in the library. And I bet dollars to donuts you can fill up your program room with people who will want to say something on the matter.

Second, it brings attention to the material in question. You know what happens to books that are challenged? Their sales and checkouts go through the roof as people, being the curious creatures that they are, want to find out what the big deal is about (or show their support for the book by buying it). I cackle with glee over this simple irony: book challenges push greater awareness for a library title and create a result that is opposite what the book challenger generally intends. I would even lower the bar for how a book can be challenged just to invite more attention to books that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Third, as the expression goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant. What we can bring out into the open allows for more transparency in the discussion and the process. This is about respecting viewpoints that are contrary to our own and extending the same courtesy to those who feel strongly enough about a piece of library material to ask that it be re-evaluated. We cannot hope to have someone recognize the right of others to intellectual freedom while engaging in basic name calling by referring to the challengers as bigots, zealots, or otherwise ignorant. While the calmness of the rational mind is not always forthcoming from a book challenge, it is here where we can make our case for materials easily over loud and ill conceived challenges made with little or no objective merit or support. For those with well reasoned grievances, we can provide an equally well reasoned rebuttal where we consider the scope and magnitude of all potential outcomes.

Fourth, there is nothing to fear from a challenge. We may not win them all, but on a long enough timeline, the books that have been banned or challenged in the past have endured. Whether they are classics or contemporary, their presence in collections have outlived those who would see them censored. They have never been truly gone, only temporarily removed. Librarians need to look at this on a longer timeline than their tenure. History has proven that it is a matter of time, so like in other aspects of our lives, patience will see us through.

For whatever reason, this reminds me of the Edward R. Murrow quotation talking about Senator McCarthy and his hearings on communism.

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

Good night and good luck.