Library Word of the Year

I did a quick #andypoll today and asked people what they thought the Library Word of the Year should be. I collected all the results, put them into Inkscape, and made my own Wordle out of the results. (Thanks to Bradley Shipps for the Wordle idea!)

On that note, I’m going back into blogging hibernation. See people in the new year!

You Told Us *Nothing*

I realize that I had put myself into blogvacation, but this latest entry from the well known pseudonymous librarian at Library Journal pulled me from my writing hibernation. If you can hold your nose and read it, do so. If not, it is basically a rehashing of a old canard in which library videos are the public image villains that will kill the library. The premise is that videos such as ‘Library 101’, ‘Kickass Librarian’, and ‘Libraries will survive’ present a clear and present danger to the image of libraries and librarians that it will result in their eventual closing wherever these videos can be viewed on the planet Earth.

The title to this post is ‘I Told You So’ and the superficial explanation offered is that these kinds of library videos are a detriment to the institution and the profession. It is imagined that those with control over the library budget were sitting on the fence about the library funding when, SUDDENLY, they saw one of these videos. That the real reason for this particular library closing is not local budget woes, a bad economy, or the decline of tax ratables, but that video. The leap of logic to connect these two items is nothing short of breathtaking in the asinine lengths one person will go to bash another.

The real underlying message of the Annoyed Librarian in this post (and perhaps the last year’s worth of blog posts) is “creativity kills libraries”. Period. Do not do anything that could be considered outside of the norm. The profession cannot possibly risk the embarrassment due to the imaginative endeavors of a few. That anyone would have the initiative to tweak the public perception of a librarian is something that should be quelled or smothered. And if you must be expressive, then there are certain strict standards that must be met; the first of these is that when viewed from any angle, it cannot possibly detract from the reputation of the library, librarians, or the field of library science.

Color within the lines, dammit.

Furthermore, in this topsy-turvy demented viewpoint, all advocacy will be seen as a joke and any expressions of humor will be considered deadly serious. Nevermind what the library does for its community. Nevermind the programs, materials, and services that are provided. Nevermind the average return of investment for every dollar spent on the library. Nevermind the importance of information access in a digital knowledge economy. It’s a comical video that made the difference in deciding to close the library. It’s akin to telling a crime victim that the reason they were assaulted and robbed is not because they were in the wrong place at the wrong place, that the assailant has a history of such attacks, or that it was a crime of opportunity, but it happened because they are a bad person.

This kind of reasoning is why we can’t have a library renaissance during the greatest revolution of communication, information, and computation in the history of mankind. In an era that has seen the rise of the knowledge economy, the expansion of educational opportunities to every corner of the planet, and when information can be beamed into a personal handheld device, there is a cornucopia of carping and self doubt that is nothing short of staggering. In an age of potential, the conversation about the library is still controlled by the hyperactive risk adverse. It is one thing to take such risks into the overall calculation; it is another to say that any risk factors are fatal errors to the computation. I think this passage from the Seth Godin blog post, Fear of Bad Ideas, sums up the underlying issue perfectly:

A few people are afraid of good ideas, ideas that make a difference or contribute in some way. Good ideas bring change, that’s frightening.

But many people are petrified of bad ideas. Ideas that make us look stupid or waste time or money or create some sort of backlash.

The problem is that you can’t have good ideas unless you’re willing to generate a lot of bad ones.

(Emphasis mine.)

The other point that Mr. Godin makes in his post is that it takes a lot of bad ideas before a good one will emerge. That an idea may go through many generations, refined and rethought, before it emerges through the development process. Should people be allowed to examine these ideas or concepts and offer their critiques? Absolutely. But where it crosses the line is when this criticism is not given in good faith nor acts as a partner in the process.

The Annoyed Librarian is destructive hyperbole masquerading around as dissent. That’s not the tragedy in this instance. The tragedy is that this person is just one of many in the profession who engage in this sort of discourse. So enamored by their own self righteous banality, they seek to tear down the concepts and ideas of others long before they prove their worth or merit. They are the bane of innovation, the scourge of experimentation, and a foe of creation. They are not the voices of well reasoned doubt or Devil’s advocate; they are schadenfreude parasites on any meaningful discourse.

They tell us nothing for they offer nothing.

If parts of this entry sounds familiar, it is because it goes back to my second lesson learned in 2010. The balance between caution and risk has swung too far in the direction of the former. The vocal risk adverse minority are squeezing out the thinkers, creators, explorers, and adventurers within the profession on the basis of their biases and fears. The profession will not meet the challenges of this new century when any attempts at progress are smothered in the cradle. It simply won’t. The time has come to stand up to these bullies and announce them for what they offer the profession: nothing.

In closing, I want to share a quote by Dr. David Lankes that I think really nails the main issue for the profession:

“What will kill this profession is not ebooks, amazon, or Google. It will be a lack of imagination. An inability to see not what is, but what could be. To see only how we are viewed now, but not how that is only a platform for greatness… It [librarianship] only survives if we, librarians and the communities we serve, take it up, renew, refresh it, and constantly engage in what is next.”

(Excerpted from here.)

(I must give credit for some inspiration for this post to Karen Schneider and her post, The Devil Needs No Advocate. In my opinion, it’s a ‘must read’ post.)

End of the Year

After a few days of starting and stopping, I’ve decided to declare a holiday from blogging till after the New Year. There are some offline things that have been really grabbing for my attention and I want to give them some time in the sun (so to speak). My blogging pace has increased a lot over the past couple months, so I should recognize that some rest is in order. I’ll just put anything I want to comment on until after the new year.

You can still follow me on Twitter and/or my Facebook Author page. People can contact me there if there are problems with the Secret Santa. Also, the View From Your Desk Tumblr blog is still accepting your library work space pictures. And be sure to get yourself a Endangered Species t-shirt if you didn’t happen to win one!

Blundering the Bundling of Ebooks

From Teleread:

If you’re going to bundle a code for a free e-book copy with a print book (and charge a little extra for the deal, as with these DVDs), you’d darned well better honor that code for as long as you’re publishing that edition of the book.

[…] e-books aren’t milk. There’s no earthly reason they should have a sell-by date.

While this Teleread article mainly talks about DVDs, the ending has implications for bundling an ebook with a physical book. Specifically, this is the idea that the publisher would offer a book/ebook bundle at a higher price with a limited time offer on the ebook end of the deal. Beyond the idea that there would be a time limit on a redeemable code for the ebook, I can only imagine that there would be an issue with people attempting to re-download the book for whatever reason and being denied the opportunity to do so. While I do like the promise of such a bundle as someone who owns an ereader, there are some outstanding logistical questions that remain to be seen.

Four Lessons of 2010

I’ve been asked by a couple of good friends for my thoughts as to what lessons I have learned in 2010. So, without further ago, here we go.

Lesson #1: “The Library is Dead, Long Live the Library”

Forget what libraries are doing here in the United States and other modern technological countries and look at the new libraries they are building in countries that have never had a community library. In building and placing a library into these communities, it begs the question, “what is the most basic and important function a library should serve in a community?” For me, these new libraries offer two answers to this basic query: literacy (through books) and information/educational opportunities (through instruction, books, and internet access). It represents the importance of the quality of information that is available as well as information access. As the world’s output of data (raw data, moreover) increases at rate that is nothing short of staggering, there is a rising need to ensure that people are literate in the information that they receive as well as creating and maintaining unfettered access to it. In building libraries in Bhutan, it is a reminder of the importance of the fundamental mission of the library in the digitized world.

This is a not a rejection of the other services and materials that libraries currently offer; in fact, it is meant to embrace them as the tools to further these goals. The world interacts in so many ways in this digital age that there are a plethora of communication channels to utilize. There are more webtools and software that can be used to make that remote connection between the library and the patron. It is a cliché but when it comes to reaching out to our patrons the only limitations we have are the ones we place on ourselves. We have the means and the skills to reach our patrons in the spaces outside of the library walls on any budget or staff size. While funding is a overt concern, the constant truth is that you can get around most obstacles with a little ingenuity, some proverbial elbow grease, and the determination to make it.

On the other side of this coin, it is a matter of looking for other engaging ways to bring patrons into the library building. It is a synthesis of crafting the user experience in tandem with a constant self-challenge as to what constitutes the optimal collection for the patron community. It is a shifting mindset that continues to consider the kinds of programs that interest patrons, which lending materials will bring in different patron types, and how everything that the library offers can be used over time to convert people into a lifelong users and advocates. In my thoughts for the road ahead, there must always be a destination, a place for people to go to come together and explore the world together. That place can be the library, but it is a destiny that will not be given but must be taken by the current and future generations of professions.

Lesson #2: “There is no spoon.”

While this quote refers to a line about the nature of the universe in the movie The Matrix, for myself it is an important lesson as to what can be accomplished in this new communication and networking reality. There are few if any barriers to broadcasting, collaborating, or connecting with others to facilitate the dreams, designs, and ideas that one has. The Library Journal article started as an email; the t-shirt idea started as a Facebook message; and the chance to present at ALA came from a chat message from a friend who passed on the opportunity. I’ve been lucky enough that some of my personal library heroes have taken to reading my blog (and even commenting) while getting some notice in AL Direct as well as some blogs that I admire greatly. Just like there is no spoon, there is no longer a set path for one’s professional ambitions and inclinations. The bottom line: if you have the urge to create, work, or collaborate on something professionally, there is essentially nothing stopping you from doing so.

I think this is an important lesson as to encourage people to try out their ideas, especially in this profession. As I look around as a relative newcomer to the library field (this is my third year working), the feeling I get from the professional literature and blogosphere is that we (the royal ‘we’) mercilessly squander the creativity of our peers. The opportunities to flourish, to explore, and to innovate are limited, whether it is by funding or lack of administrative will. And for those who do rise to these positions on the creative edge, they are subjected to a torrent of proverbial slings and arrows that nip and pick at their creations. Not simply a matter of constructive criticism (a perfectly acceptable, expected, and anticipated reaction), but a full blown storm of cynicism borne out of self-doubt and (inexplicable to me) self-loathing that makes all but the strongest of thinkers question as to why they would dare to share their visions. It’s a shame, it’s a real damn shame, and it needs to stop.

Rather than leave this lesson on that note, I will simply finish by saying that it is a glorious age to think, experiment, and create in the library world now. Now, go forth and prove it.

Lesson #3: “███████████████████”

█████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████

█████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████████████


One day, I will redact this passage. But today is not that day.

Lesson #4: “All Together Now”

For myself, the other bookend to this year has been the publishing of my Backtalk piece, “We Need Big Tent Librarianship”. After watching the library funding crisis in New Jersey play out from a front row seat, public libraries got some money back, academic libraries got some programs and funding back, and school libraries completely got screwed. It does not take an extensive leap of logic to figure out where the loss of the school library is going to be taken up; it will be in the public library for research and projects, more instruction required at the academic level, or worse a generation that does not utilize either. It is Jim Rettig’s “library ecosystem” concept where the demise of one part has ripple effects on the other parts. Librarians cannot pretend that it is anything less than this shared bond between all types of libraries.

Comprehensive library advocacy needs to become a shared purpose across the profession. Not simply for your type of library, but for any library that needs a voice. When the disappearance of one library in your community will have an effect on another library in the same community, it matters. And it needs to be treated as such. And as we move into 2011, I have one thing on my mind:

Advocacy is an ‘all in’ prospect.

ALA T-Shirt Contest Finale!

With 551 entries, I have chosen the five winners randomly using the website They have been contacted by email, so give a little look in your spam folder to make certain. I’d like to thank everyone for entering; I wish I had more t-shirts to give away. For those who didn’t win, you can always buy the shirt from ALA. It raises money for advocacy efforts and we will certainly need that in 2011.

In other news, I’m happy to say that the Secret Santa has begun with a smooth start. There are about 50 people this year, down from last year, but I’m already writing notes about using DrawnNames for next year. So far, so good, so here’s hoping for a smooth Secret Santa!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday Speculation: Book Removal Awards

When I was reading about the NCAC “Celebration of Free Speech and Its Defenders” awards in School Library Journal, I got to wondering this question:

Why don’t they have awards for people who have successfully gotten books removed from libraries? 

If a person petitions the library to remove a book out of a legitimate concern for the well being of the children or the community or whatever, why not give out awards for it? If people feel that the removal of a library material is for the best interests of another, why not celebrate it? I mean, if they are doing a good deed, a moral act, a step towards the bettering of their neighbors and families, then why not acknowledge it? There are plenty of recognitions for people who work to improve the lives of others. Take a little pride in the accomplishment!

You might think I’m joking, but I assure you that I am dead serious. If you are someone who believes in their heart that they are doing the right thing by asking for a library to remove a book, that what you are doing is important, that removing this book is the best action for the community as a whole, why not stand proudly and take credit for this success? If anything, you’ve earned it considering the usual ruckus that can be associated with a book challenge. Speak with the same surety and conviction in your voice when you declare, “Yes, I am responsible for the removal of a book at the library because it was unsuitable for [insert your rationale here]!” It really doesn’t matter what other people think if you are being true to yourself, to your beliefs, and to the action that was taken. Isn’t that what is most important in the end?

I realize some people might have a problem with this idea, but my question still remains: why not give out awards for book challenges? And if there was book challenge awards, what should they be called?

Selling Myself. Literally. Part III

I am  overdue for an update on ongoing experiment. This screenshot is a good starting point for it.

Click to embiggen

This is a snapshot of the advertising performance from the beginning up to today. With the change of the audience targeting on December 9th, everything changes. The number of social impressions (ads that run with “X likes this” where X is a friend), the number of clicks (self explanatory), and the number of conversions (people who end up choosing to ‘like’) have risen significantly. So, for the same number of ads, there is a distinctive difference in the results across the board. In focusing on people who ‘like’ the American Library Association, it looks like I’m reaching a more receptive audience.

Now, even with this improvement, the numbers are still relatively small. It’s nice to see a positive change but it’s not very compelling for a continued campaign. However, as this is just a way to test it out and for my own curiosity, it’s still a pretty cheap expense for some hands on experience.

I may fiddle with the ad once more to see if I can improve the numbers. I don’t know if I would change the target interest or like but maybe try to tighten the wording on the ad itself or change the picture. If anything, I think this will be my middle ongoing post about it. The next post will be a complete rundown of the results plus all the data I’ve gotten from it.

Reference Je Ne Sais Quoi

There was a thread on the Library Society of the World Friendfeed today that got me thinking this evening while I was driving around the area. Molly Westerman was asking for materials in regards to reference and instruction for her new job. (By the way, congratulations on getting the job, Molly!) While I stand by my initial answer to her about going into an environment ‘Bear Grylls style’ with only your training and thus avoiding certain predetermined expectations as to what to expect from the reference desk, my second thoughts on her question have lead me in a different direction.

It is my belief that one of the aspects that separates a good reference librarian from a great reference librarian is the ability to make the patron feel like they have the librarian’s undivided attention. It’s the sense that they have the full focus and engagement of the librarian at that particular point in time. I’d relate it to a first date; you want to know that the person across the table is in the present with you, not checking out other people, more interested in the menu than your small talk, or otherwise thinking about work or things they need to buy on the way home that night. It’s the ability to convey this social focus from one person to the next, whether they are asking whether a book or movie is checked in or trying to get help on a complicated genealogy or educational assignment.

A simplistic explanation would be to make the person feel special in the interaction, but I feel that it sidesteps the purpose of encounter which is to make that brief yet total social connection with the patron. I realize that there are limiting factors to such an aspect (not all question require such intense engagement nor is it always feasible when balancing a busy reference desk), but I believe that as a service occupation it represents one of the best qualities of a reference librarian.

People come to the library for all sorts of assistance. This reference je ne sais quoi is what turns a good reference interaction into a great one by giving the person what they hope for: full and undivided attention for the inquiry that they bring. It is this type of engagement between the staff and patrons that foster the relationships that will bolster the library in the coming years. I wouldn’t say that someone couldn’t learn to do it, but for some it would take more effort than others. However, I’d say it is a highly recommended skill to acquire for anyone at the reference desk.

Best Book Prognostication EVER

From Terribleminds:

You know what the future of publishing is? The book. The motherfucking book. With pages and words and shit. And no, I don’t mean the e-book. I mean the kind of book that you can use to pound a nail, hit a bear, break a window. The physical object.

The book is never going away.

The book is an icon. The book is a treasured object. It is equal parts totem, fetish, decoration, and hand-me-down. It is a container of permanent wisdom and knowledge (or, in the case of some books, a container of permanent bullshit, but hey, that can be just as awesome).

I said it before and I’ll say it again: the fact that anybody still wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol.

Books are magic. Books are love. Books are infinity times two.

I’m not saying the audiences won’t shrink. I’m not suggesting that publishing won’t be changing its models. I’m not saying that publishing books will remain the most stable industry.

But the book, she ain’t going nowhere. Because the book is a thing. I don’t mean “thing as physical object,” I mean, “thing as thing, as cultural bulwark, as obelisk and idol.”

I was introduced to author Chuck Wendig by my brother who has written some guest posts for his blog. Remarkably insightful and delightfully profane, Mr. Wendig rarely disappoints in his posts about life as a writer, the writing process, and the rollercoaster that is the life of a freelancer. In taking on the current constant hand wringing regarding the future of the book and the e-book, he serves a fresh reminder as to the place of the book in regards to culture and society, both as a physical object and as a container for the contents within. It’s probably one of the best takes I’ve read on the future of books and not just because I was giggling through most of it.

If your work filters can tolerate it, go and read the whole thing right now. Bask in the unholy glory of one author’s take on the future of publishing.