Booze for Books (and Pearlclutching for Pessimists)

If you’re a fan of a good cause (or a person who is drawn to librarian controversy like a moth to a flame), then check out the YALSA’s “Booze for Books” fundraiser on April 12th. It’s raising money in support of the Books for Teens cause which (in their words) seek to “empower the nation’s at-risk teens to achieve more by providing them with free high quality, new, age-appropriate books.” Aside from the use of the word “empower”, it seems like a decent enough concept to support and one worthy of the backing of YALSA.

The pearl clutching starts at the first word of this fundraiser with the term “booze”. Despite the passage clearly stating the nature of the fundraiser is up to the individual (thus actual booze in not a requirement for participation), the mere mention of the Liquid Devil is enough to rile up the people in the comments about how this name is in poor taste, tarnish the image of librarians, or the dangers of alcohol.

I’ll concede on the poor taste aspect since personal taste is subjective, but I have to wonder what sort of commitment that represents to the underlying cause being supported here. If you’re not going to donate or participate because of an objection to a name, then I’m guessing you really weren’t going to help out in the first place; I can’t imagine that the name represents the sum total of the tipping point of this equation. You can hate the name, but don’t let that stop you from helping out a good cause.

As to the tarnishing the image of librarians, I will rue the day when someone cites their librarian as the reason why they drank, smoked, did drugs, committed crimes, or punched a kitten in the face. That story will get linked, retweeted, and shared to the point where it will be the only thing I can find on my various social media outlets. I can understand the need for some librarians to be a role model to teens, but it should not come at the exclusion of carrying out perfectly legal and socially acceptable adult activities. As the profession expounds on the rights of adults to access all kinds of material, it seems odd that people should be slamming another legal activity to which the participants make their own decisions.

I’m not sure if there is anyone younger than forty who is unaware of the dangers of alcohol. The risks and dangers of consumption were part of health classes as far back as I can remember. I come from a family where alcoholism and addiction issues run on both sides. I’ve never had to battle with that demon, but I’ve had family members who have. I’ve seen what it does. But for that to be a reason to stop a fundraiser like this is foolish. We’d have to stop any at-risk activity simply because someone had a history with it. What would be left? For every activity I can think of, I’m sure there is someone out there who can think of a horrible accident or tragedy that could with it. (“Sorry, the fundraiser ‘Knitting for Novels’ has been cancelled. Someone’s relative was killed an attacker wielding a pair of knitting needles.”)

Whether this is your cup of tea or not, please do consider giving to Books for Teens. It’s a worthy cause that needs your support. And if you really, really hate the whole “Booze for Books” idea, here’s my suggestion: come up with your own fundraising idea and outraise the YALSA one. If you are going to demand alternatives, you should be willing to offer to do one. In any case, I’ll be looking to raise a pint on April 12th either by myself or in the company of my peers. So I hope you’ll join me, either in spirit or in person.

If Libraries are More than Just Books, Then Where are All the Damn Technology Awards?

The first draft title for this post was “If Libraries are More than Just Books, then Why Are There So Many Damn Book Awards?” but I figured that some humorless literal folks would see it as a challenge to giving out book awards. I don’t have any qualms about recognizing authors and illustrators for their fine efforts and I’d rather not get bogged down sidetracked with the elaborate interworkings of the book awards world. However, if the case is being made that libraries are more than just books and then the largest and most visible library association in the United States (the ALA) hands out awards mainly to people who create books, then there is some sort of dissonance afoot.

In looking through the Awards and Grants page on the ALA website, the first section entitled “Books, Print, & Media awards” has thirty eight awards of which only three are for non-book accomplishments (ABC-CLIO Online History Award, Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, and the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production). Two of these are duplicated “Youth Media Awards” which lists seventeen awards. None of these are for the creation, development, and/or use of technology in the library (although there could be a very muddled argument for the ABC-CLIO one).

To be fair, there are probably technology based awards in the Professional Recognition section; I only scanned the list for any that sounded promisingly and didn’t click on all of them. I will concede that there are probably some technology awards hidden in there that I just didn’t discover. But my counterargument would be that those professional awards don’t share the same stature as a Newbery or Caldecott or Printz accolades. They aren’t public facing nor further a idea that the library is collaborative learning space or internet and information access location.  

I will also concede that the awards I have mentioned specifically predate the digital age and are the product of years of reputation building. There is a lot to be said about the continued tradition of recognition in this aspect and I fully support the continuation of such awards. However, given the movement towards digital and technology integration into the modern library, shouldn’t there be national library association awards to reflect the innovations and efforts of individuals and industries that exemplify that?

Somebody call Bill Gates. He’s a fan of libraries and seems to know a thing or two about the digital age. He might just like the sound of the “Bill Gates Library Technology Award” complete with his face in a bronze medallion. Traditions start somewhere and this one should begin with recognizing the people who make library technology and information retrieval possible at a national level. If libraries are more than just books, then this would be a start to acknowledging it as part of our own professional culture.

[Unsolicited] Advice to the 2012 ALA Emerging Leaders

Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

– Polonius, Hamlet, Act I Scene III

During my vacation last week, the participants of the ALA 2012 Emerging Leaders program were announced. I wanted to offer congratulations to those who were chosen for this year’s class as well as consolations to my friends who applied and were not picked. I’m looking forward to hearing about the projects that will be undertaken by this year’s class; I think those projects are a good general indication for the different schools of thought and direction as to what issues are priorities within the ALA organization. From the number of EL graduates that I’ve met over the years, I certainly hope that it is a program that I could try out for someday. (Although, upon mentioning this interest to a friend, she responded simply, “I think you’ve already emerged, babe.” Point taken.)

As those seventy-seven librarians ready themselves for the Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, I write this in the hope of bending one or more of their ears to some advice from someone in the blogosphere. (Interpret that last statement as you will.) I hope this advice is considered in the spirit in which it is meant; to offer a few additional thoughts and considerations for those involved in the program.

So, without further ado:

Listen. This is not simply limited to the words that people are saying, but to underlying body language and phrasing. If you are doing this to increase your involvement in the ALA organization, then figuring out the relationships between members and member committees is important. Every organization has dysfunction; this is the time to figure out what it is for the chapter, division, or roundtable that you are interested in. In identifying the dysfunction, it should be noted that not all types are fatal to further involvement. Personality conflicts, bureaucratic meandering, ineffective communication, or poor work organization; these are all potential obstacles with potential solutions. An assessment allows you to figure out if you can fix it, circumvent it, or ignore it; what it would take to fix (if anything) in terms of time and energy; and whether it is worth your effort at all. Listen, assess, and analyze what is presented to you.

Question. Or at least do not be afraid to. As you are seen as students of the organization, this is the opportunity to inquire and explore. If anything, question anyone who talks about ‘change’ or ‘leadership’ in libraries without offering some specifics. Those two terms are part of an ongoing meme in library thinking in which people like to use those terms without defining them or what their impact would be. Too often, they are actually code words used to express discontent while masking what the real problem that the speaker wants to get at. While I can’t say that I’m not guilty of doing this myself in the past, I hope you will join with me in working to make certain it does not carry on into the future.

Socialize. As noted elsewhere, there aren’t many times when librarians get together face-to-face. While our relationships through social media can further conversations and friendships, there is nothing that beats time spent physically together. It’s part of our undeniable nature as human beings; we thrive on our senses in order to better experience the world we live in. The networking opportunities presented from the Emerging Leader program have the capability of allowing you to make connections across specialties, library types and sizes. In my estimation, these are the relationships that will foster a greater understanding and perception of the entire library spectrum. It is my belief that these relationships will be valued and necessary as the institution of the library evolves in the different roles it plays within society.

Finally, I’d like to offer one last bit of advice: pace yourself. In reflecting on the last year of professional projects that I’ve been involved with, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough down time to recharge. It is not simply a matter of time or effort, but there is a (for lack of a better term) psychic energy cost to these projects. It’s a test of willpower, a use of personal bandwidth, and a trial of endurance to create, implement, and maintain some projects. Be certain to figure out what your projects cost you in these terms. And while I express caution at overloading yourself, I am curious as to what projects or efforts that the Emerging Leaders will undertake after they have completed their projects. What will you do with your Emerging Leader skills after graduation?

Once again, congratulations to the 2012 Emerging Leaders. Knock ‘em dead!

ALA Virtual Conference 2011

Just a quick plug for the presentation that the lovely and talented Nancy Dowd and I are going to do at the ALA Virtual Conference this coming Thursday at 11:30am. Here’s the teaser for our talk:

“Advocacy Awakening: The Revolution in Recognition”

Are you tired of reporters only asking for quotes when a library closes? Do you wish they would call you about issues like copyright laws, eBooks and book banning? Are you fed up with people telling you they didn’t know libraries do more than lend books and DVDs? Pulling your hair out when you hear the stereotypes of librarians portrayed over and over again? We think its time for a revolution! Somewhere between passive and aggressive methods are ways for librarians to awaken their communities to the value they and their libraries provide. Andy Woodworth and Nancy Dowd will discuss esoteric ideas and practical ways for librarians to become rock stars and deal makers of advocacy.

I’ll be making the case for rock stars and Nancy will be giving the lowdown on what it takes to be a deal maker. I’m excited to be presenting and especially on this concept!

Yes, I can hear the sounds of eyes being rolled at the mere mention of the term ‘rock star’. But I encourage you to hear me out on this one. I think you’ll appreciate what I have to say on this… or you’ll get plenty of blog/Twitter/Facebook/Google+ ammo to blast away at me for even broaching the subject.

Looking forward to (virtually) seeing you there!

Future of ALA?

A friend was nice enough to send me a copy of this interesting document from the ALA Council meeting on Sunday. It’s the report from the the ALA’s Future Perfect Presidential Task Force, a group that was charged with the following question:

If there were no governing body currently in place, what structure would you envision that reflects ALA’s goal of an engaged and collaborative membership, the effective use of new technologies, and the changes in outlook and expectations occurring with the new generation of people working in libraries?

They came up with these five proposed changes.

  1. Revising requirements and member options associated with conferences
  2. Merging council and the executive board
  3. Committing to diversity through resource allocation and structural change
  4. Integrating ALA with its state chapters
  5. Increasing transparency, accessibility, and open communication
  6. Legitimizing governance by increasing voting percentages and member engagement

It’s worth taking the time to read since it talks about a lot of different possibilities for future governance of the organization. I’m going to think about it for a couple of days, but I thought people who are away from the conference might like a look as well.

eBooks at Another Milestone

Between ALA Annual in New Orleans and TEDxLibrariansTO in Toronto, I feel I am missing out on two important librarian gatherings going on right now. In my perspective, the importance is in their timing in the scheme of things.

[Originally, this was one post talking about both ALA and TEDx. Upon review, I broke it out to two separate posts. You can read the other part here. -A]

For Annual, I think another eBook milepost has been reached. With the announcement of Baker & Taylor and Barnes & Noble joining forces, the offical emergence of 3M onto the eBook scene, and the announcement of a Freegal-like eBook lending service, there is a corner being turned here. Thus begins an era of different lending models and pricing schemes where librarians will be choosing which models they want and which they do not. This point cannot be stressed enough; this will be a time when librarians can pick which lending models they are comfortable with them.

My concern is that this power will be cast aside in favor of the blind “costs be damned” mantra of providing content to patrons because they demand it. Also, there is still a lack of ownership or collection control being offered from the major players. (If I recall correctly from Computers in Libraries 2011, there are companies that offer eBook ownership, but damned if I can remember which. I just know it’s not any of the major fiction groups.) There continues to be a movement towards licensing or leasing without an ownership alternative.

The idea that really concerns me is the movement towards a “buy it now” option offered next to the lending option. Would libraries see any of this money? Would we be purchasing the license for an eBook just to lose out when the patron opts to buy it when they see the length of the wait? Will libraries become another advertising platform for eBook vendors to reach customers? The idea of libraries purchasing eBook licenses on platforms that simultaneously encourage people not to use the library for borrowing but to purchase instead seems like a big loss for libraries.

While some may argue that libraries will be able to provide a means for patrons to purchase titles they like (something they can’t do with print), I would say that the current eBook lending and licensing model stacks the deck towards making a sale more so than with print books. The instant gratification of eBooks delivery lowers the bar compared to print books along with a (generally) lower price point. It provides the ingredients to easily create frustration while providing a quick and relatively cheap remedy. (“You don’t want to go through the hassle of borrowing when you can go through the ease of buying, do you?”)

My question for this kind of move is this: where does it leave libraries in their role in society? What kind of future does it offer? I’m not in complete opposition to it, but I don’t see how it furthers the core mission.

Four Out of Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote, Cont.

One of the blog posts I’ve been anticipating for awhile has finally come to pass. Oleg Kagan released the results of his ALA non-voter election survey this week; the purpose of this exercise was to investigate as to why there is a low turnout in ALA elections. It’s a long post but I enjoyed Oleg’s insights and the yeoman’s work he put into arranging the data and writing up an analysis.

One of the bigger discoveries to emerge from the survey is that of the unfamiliarity of the candidates inhibiting people from voting. To be more specific, non-voters felt that it was hard to get an idea of what the candidates stood for, the difference between positions from their statements (which some judged as “worthless”), and that the sheer number of candidates made it hard to figure out who might be the best candidate for people to choose. Or, in my opinion, they got walloped with information overload. (There is some irony to this.)

Since reading Oleg’s analysis (which if you haven’t done yet, you should do now; I’ll wait), I’ve been thinking about how to condense and present the ballot so that people can be able to make judgments on a hierarchy of information points. (Brief aside: I have no idea what the voting interface looks like; I’m just imagining how a sample ballot or election page might look.)

Here’s what I would suggest:

[Name]

[Memberships][Committees]

[Priority Issues, numbered #1 through #5]

[One line personal statement which links to personal statement that has both a short ~200 word position paragraph and a longer unlimited word statement]

So it would look like this:

Andy Woodworth

PLA, LITA, RUSA, YALSA, AASL. Chair, Volcano Worshipper’s Roundtable.

Priority issues: Advocacy, Organizational Transparency, eBook/eContent, Small Libraries, MLS accreditation 

“I believe public libraries change people’s lives everyday”

(embedded link to short and longer statements)

My thinking approach in presenting it this way is to put association involvement first and foremost to give people an idea if the person is doing anything in the organization. I would imagine that, in electing counselors, some display of experience or commitment might be seen as a desirable quality.

As to the inclusion of ranking priority issues, this could originate from either a predetermined master list of issues that ALA creates or given over to the candidates to formulate for themselves. It would force the candidates to prioritize their issues in a way in which that people could draw differences between them at a glance. As a voter, if you are looking for someone who make certain issues a priority, this would allow you to cut to the chase in terms of offering support for certain candidates. It’s another way of pulling out differences from the candidates and possibly allow for voters to examine similar groups of candidates on a spreadsheet more easily.

With the one line personal statement linking to the longer ones, it allows voters who want more information to seek it out. By including a 200 word personal statement, it gives a sample of what they stand for and their reasoning. The candidates can use the unlimited statement space to make any and all points, plans, or promises that they are willing to offer voters.

I know there are other ideas zipping around about how to address the non-voting issue so I hope this adds to the conversation. I hope that this suggestion can be put to use by the membership in order to make the voting process a bit more friendly by allowing people to base their decision on an ever increasing amount of information offered.

If you have other ideas for how to make the ballot better, comment away!

Four in Five Librarians Do Not Rock the Vote

One in five.

That’s how many ALA members voted in this year’s annual elections for positions ranging from President to Council. One in five is also the ratio of voters to non-voters for the previous year’s election. For a profession that likes to reach back and quote individuals going back to the Founders about the importance of information in a democracy, it falls a bit short for its own professional organization.

To get some insight into this phenomena, Oleg Kagan has created a ALA Non-Voter’s Survey for the four in five members to fill out. It offers a range of explanations to choose from as well as providing space for people to type in their own. Participation in the survey is anonymous, so please take a moment to add your explanation if you did not vote.

In looking at the excuses, my own personal guess would be between “forgot” and “I don’t know enough about the candidates to vote for one”. I’d also be curious as to how the number of voters compared to the number of people committees, roundtables, task forces, Council, etc. (aka people who are actively involved in the organization at present.) 

If you voted, how did you make your decision as to who to vote for? If you didn’t vote (and you want to share), why didn’t you vote? And how can the organization get more people to vote?

(h/t: Patrick Sweeney)

ALA T-Shirt Contest Finale!

With 551 entries, I have chosen the five winners randomly using the website Random.org. 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!

Blatant Berry Bloviating

In this month’s Library Journal, John Berry’s latest editorial speaks about the role of ALA in the issues of society. Specifically, the now somewhat infamous ALA Council email list discussion regarding the new Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the new body scan devices. The short version is a member contacted a Council member regarding the new regulations and if ALA had an opinion on the matter. From there, the situation evolved into one in which there were people on Council who are wondering why ALA is talking about this topic and there are people on Council who are, well, talking about this topic. From the closing of Mr. Berry’s piece:

I [was] ready to run out and do battle with ALA’s conservatives who would tightly bind the ALA agenda to issues they define as “directly related to libraries.” This debate resurfaces frequently.

Most issues fit the description. Consider the billions we are spending on a war in Afghanistan, billions more in Iraq, billions to bail out Wall Street, the auto industry, and to build infrastructure. You can’t tell me that there wouldn’t be more for libraries if those costs of government were lower. You can’t tell me that libraries and librarians will not be safer if we can make our country more secure. You can’t tell me that one candidate for local, state, or federal office would not be better for libraries than another. Despite that fatuous debate over TSA scanning, I still believe, as I have since I first joined ALA, that every issue is a library issue.

(Emphasis mine.)

I would ask a reconciliation between the first sentence and the last sentence of that highlighted paragraph, for one sentiment would appear to usurp the other. And in lieu of a long winded post about what constitutes a library issue, I’d rather embrace the latter sentiment and encourage the ALA councilors who read my blog (I know who some of you are!) to take up a list of issues I have compiled off the top of my head.

  • Arsenic based life forms (how should libraries deal with life forms that have substituted some basic elements for other kinds?)
  • Pluto as a planet (as the ALA represents catalogers, I think it is only fair to the profession that we get this sucker properly classified)
  • The BP oil spill (just like emerging information technologies, no one knows what the long term impact will be but seem to agree that it will be bad)
  • Mine regulation in the United States (because libraries and mining companies have one thing in common: we both have heavy interests in search technology)
  • LeBron James joining the Miami Heat (it’s just like Ranganathan said: ‘every reader his book’. Just substitute the word ‘reader’ with ‘basketball franchise player’ and the word ‘book’ with ‘multi-million dollar sports contract.)
  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (a military policy that is commonly confused with the approach many libraries have to advocacy and marketing)

I eagerly await discussions and resolutions on all of these issues. I’d mention Wikileaks and the global digital information distribution, net neutrality as it relates to the Netflix v. Comcast debacle, and pretty much anything that has to do with ebooks, but I don’t want to fill up the Council’s agenda with too many “library issues”.