Open Thread Thursdays: Thought Leaders?

This is the first time I’ve been able to put fingers to a keyboard in any meaningful non-work fashion all week. Having spent the last few evenings visiting the good librarians of SLA at their conference in Philadelphia, the face-to-face socializing has taken precedence over the social media monitoring. My Google Reader is pushing the 1000+ count, my email is full of neglected correspondences, and Twitter is all but forgotten.

But the message from the TEDxLibrariansTO people I got a couple days back has been sitting on the top of this pile as they have been asking for videos discussing their theme for the conference which is “librarians as thought leaders”. As I tackle the question myself, I thought I’d toss it out there.

Are librarians thought leaders? If so, why? If not, why not? And feel free to narrow the context and scope of your answer.

As always, while I’ve given a starter topic, this is an open thread. Post what you feel and anonymous replies are welcome.

Way Down in the Hole

Awhile back, my brother lent me his copies of season 1 and 2 of the HBO series The Wire. You’d really have to be living under a pop culture rock not to have at least heard of this series as it is commonly cited as the best television series ever. (The emphasis does not originate from me.) I never got a chance to watch them on DVD, but when the HBO GO app became available for the iPad, I started watching the series.

“Give it three episodes,” my brother said. “If you don’t like it after that, then you can give up on it.” It’s a pretty reasonable time frame, the same way Nancy Pearl advises that you give books a certain number of pages before you can put them down for not liking them. I lost interest in The Sopranos after a season and a half so it’s not the first time I’ve given up on a series with critical acclaim. (The Sopranos is just part of hundreds of partially watched series that I’ve managed to collect over the years.)

I ended up watching Season 1 over the course of two days. Season 2 was more spaced out over a week. I just completed Season 3 last night with a marathon session at the end for the last four episodes stretching into the wee hours of the morning. I’m looking forward to starting Season 4, but I always wonder when I watch one episode if something is going to compel me to watch one or two or five after that. I have to be careful!

For myself, the series hits all the notes I look for in a television show: good acting, good plot, interesting characters, and (most important) a story arc that has an end to it. I want to emphasize the last part because as someone who watched a lot of television in the 1990’s there were so many series that just went on and on with no end in sight. The idea that “we’ll keep making them so long as people keep watching them” left me with no sense of actual closure to the series. And when I mean closure, I mean in the sense of “this is the end of the story, even if there are some questions that remain unanswered”. I’m sure you can think of a long running series that had to finish up because it was cancelled; I just hate when that happens.

My question to you is this: what do you look for in a story series? (Be it books, television, movies, or whatnot.) What’s your je ne sais quoi that makes things worth following? What makes you not follow a series?

Open Thread Thursday: Advance Token to GO

This past week the big news was EBSCO’s acquisition of H.W. Wilson. With this move, it raises some old concerns and fears about having a small number of companies with a large amount of subscription content. I don’t believe I’d have to go too far to find a disgruntled story about bad dealings with database vendors when it comes to subscription bundles and pricing. I’m not suggest that is the case here (time will certainly tell), but when the number of companies providing major amounts of databases grows smaller, it creates a smaller marketplace.

So, here’s the question for the thread: should librarians be concerned about this merger? Or is it just business as usual in the (relatively) free market? What should the profession be looking for when library vendors buy out or merge with their competition?

Reminder: this is an open thread. You can take the suggested topic or toss out something else on your mind. Anonymous posts are still accepted.

On Freedom and eBooks

From CNet:

Richard Stallman, who bridles to see the idealistic purity of his free-software philosophy debased into the more pragmatic open-source movement, can be a prickly character. But I find myself agreeing with some of his concerns about e-books.

In a piece titled "The Danger of E-books" (PDF), Stallman bemoans the e-book’s loss of freedoms that most of us take for granted with physical books and places the blame on corporate powers.

"Technologies that could have empowered us are used to chain us instead," he said. "We must reject e-books until they respect our freedom…E-books need not attack our freedom, but they will if companies get to decide. It’s up to us to stop them."

This sounds like a good supporting piece for the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights even if it takes the extreme vantage point.  I’ve been thinking about that piece lately; it’s been about four months since Sarah and I released it upon the internet. It got a lot of coverage within the online librarian community and managed to hop outside it in a couple of places (BoingBoing being one of the bigger hops out). But, while it had initial spark, it has failed to catch on in larger continuing conversations regarding eBooks. Perhaps it is a bit too radical in its reach; perhaps it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the larger cultural and societal attitudes towards the treatment of electronic content.

I guess it boils down to who do we as a society trust with written content. From the manuscript to the final product to the marketplace, there are many current barriers in existence that can prevent a book from reaching its final destination in the hands of the reader. Is it only when it reaches the final step, in the hands of the consumer by right of the First Sale Doctrine or the licensing agreement of eBook sellers, that is the true point of controversy? Will there be an “ownership awakening” in which consumers will reject licensing and demand ownership rights or else? Perhaps not, but certain food for thought for your comments.

Librarians & Human Rights

From the Atlantic Wire:

The United Nations counts internet access as a basic human right in a report that bears implications both to on-going events in the Arab Spring and to the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers. Acting as special rapporteur, a human rights watchdog role appointed by the UN Secretary General, Frank La Rue takes a hard line on the importance of the internet as "an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress."

Great. Now when public librarians kick people off the computer, they’ll be calling it a violation of their human rights. Soon public librarians will be occupied by a blue helmeted multi-national force in order to ensure people’s human rights aren’t being violated. Ok, maybe not. But it also hits on the digital divide.

La Rue acknowledges the logistical barriers that some nations face when it comes to delivering internet service. Without the proper infrastructure, some nations simply can’t engage the internet as the "revolutionary" and "interactive medium" it’s proven itself to be. However, all nations should make plans to offer universal access and also maintain policy that won’t limit access for political purposes.

And there we have it: a written declaration of the right to digital information access. I fully acknowledge that there is a vast gulp between the words and their realization; it’s not even a matter of governmental interference (that’s a concern in and of itself) but lack of national infrastructure in some of the poorest countries in the world.

It’s a step in the right direction, for certain. Is it something libraries could capitalize on? I think so in nations that still lack for them; it is a pairing of print and computing that mimics what currently passes for a modern library. In more modern countries, my hunch is to think it might turn into computer centers rather than libraries.

Internet access as a human right: what do you think?

#hcod on the radio

I did an interview for the local news radio station here in Philadelphia. Local is a relative term here since the station (KYW) covers the Delaware Valley region and gets some of the highest listening shares (over a million people) out of the Philadelphia radio market. I hope it brings the issue to more people outside of the library world.

(I’ll confess that I haven’t listened to it because I really don’t like to hear myself; same thing goes for videos of myself.)

It’s Pretty Dark in a Closed Mind

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal that is making its way around the Young Adult (YA) and librarian Twittersphere right now, even invoking its own hashtag #YAsaves. The gist of the article is that current YA literature is too dark, too violent, too graphic, and address topics far too dark for teen literature. It starts off with an anecdote about a mother who went to a bookstore and found nothing in the YA area that she felt was appropriate for her daughter; it was the equivalent of turning on the TV, flipping through a dozen channels out of the hundreds offered, and then declaring that there was nothing on worth watching. It certainly falls into the “isn’t the first time, won’t be the last time” critique of young adult literature (or any literature, for that matter).

For all the emphasis on the books and the subjects that they cover, there is little mention as to what is driving authors to write books that cover topics such as rape, self-mutilation, incest, homosexuality, drug abuse, and sex. From the article, it would sound as if the YA authors, publishers, and librarians of the world had formed a triad in order to promote these topics, parents and moralists be damned. The blame is placed on these groups for writing, publishing, and promoting it, even though it is the teens themselves or their parents who are purchasing or borrowing the content. If readers did not care for books like “Shine”, “Rage”, or “Speak”, then those books would live out their lives on the shelves in bookstores and libraries untouched and unnoticed. The almighty dollar dictates what kinds of books are going to be produced; even the Wall Street Journal should understand that the demand drives the market, not the supply, especially when it comes to literature.

I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed at the feeling of a need to rush to the defense of this literature by my fellow librarians. Too often I think it provides unnecessary validation to the opposing argument and frames the issue as a matter of what librarians consider appropriate or important. It should not be about us; it should be about the (mythical) standards that objectors wish to impose. To me, this is a time for some argument jujitsu and it starts with a question: so, what do you think is inappropriate and why? From there, just start objectively breaking down their answers. Is there a book they would consider to be appropriate? How much is too much sex, violence, drug use, etc.? Because if they want book selection to follow a criterion, let them attempt to define it. It’s really a trick question; there is no way they can define it in a meaningful and objective way. Let their words destroy their own arguments; they don’t need our help.

As it appears in others articles regarding objections to literature, there is the standard lament about how those objections are not readily sympathetic. As if it wasn’t enough in their own minds to be right, but they want their viewpoint to be popular as well. It’s a strange brew of arrogance and ignorance that goes into that sentiment. The arrogance of attempting to define standards based on personal subjective viewpoints, an “I know best for everyone else” idea that is neither original nor surprising in the long scope of history. But to never ask oneself why such objections are not popular, why they don’t receive wide support, and why people react to them negatively is just breathtaking. There is no examination or analysis of the counterpoint, a willful continuation of ignorance that just further perpetuates the vilification of the opposing party. (Don’t worry, I’m not excluding my fellow librarians from this either. It annoys the hell out of me when it happens.) Perhaps, upon some reflection, those who object to books or art might realize why there is strenuous opposition to their objections; for a society that values freedom of expression, it might be unpopular when it is felt to be curtailed.

The topics that these YA books address may be dark, but not as dark as adopting a worldview that doesn’t extend beyond oneself.


[Another good take is this post by Liz Burns, “There’s Dark Things In Them There Books!”]