Friday, February 22, 2008

Project Play: podcasting for libraries

This week was an interesting assignment. I already subscribe to a number of podcasts, getting some, such as the Onion and weekly sermons from my church, on my iPod. I have RSS feeds for newspaper stories and Chuck Tomasi's Technorama in my Bloglines feed aggregator.

I've been following library podcasts for awhile, by the simple expedient of searching "libraries"in the podcast section of the iTunes store. I can see several potentially worthwhile uses, depending on services of the library and the interests of staff to do the legwork:

  • program information
  • general library news
  • book reviews
  • as a technology learning opportunity for teens
Not all of these are for everyone, and podcasting is not for everyone. But it's certainly easy to do. Gabcast makes it a snap, but for this exercise I decided to try something I've been putting off: I downloaded and installed Audacity, a very nice freeware sound editing program.

Audacity made it pretty simple to add a musical intro, record a narrative, edit out a couple of "um, ah"s, and mix the whole thing to an .mp3 file. A quick Youtube search found a lot of Audacity and podcasting tutorials, but the Audacity documentation is pretty good on its own. I then signed up for a free account at Podbean and posted my podcast. Podbean also allows for making podcasts available as RSS feeds or through iTunes.

This is probably not something I will do on a regular basis, but it's nice to find out how easy it is. Thanks to Ellen Jepson for the info about Audacity and Podbean.

When a genius is an idiot

As reported in the New York Times, Apple guru Steve Jobs, asked about the Amazon Kindle at Macworld Expo, replied:

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.
Now, this is just silly, but at least it explains why it's so difficult to put books into my iPod. But another article in the Times reports:

Last year, a survey for the Associated Press found that a much smaller number — 27 percent — had not read a book lately, which means nearly three-in-four have read a book. Steve Jobs may be many things – maestro, visionary, demi-god – but he apparently isn’t a careful reader of certain market reports.

The more compelling statistic was rarely mentioned in news accounts of the A.P. story: the survey found that another 27 percent of Americans had read 15 or more books a year. That report documents a national celebration.

Most companies would kill for a market like that – more than one-fourth of the world’s biggest consumer market buying 15 or more of its items a year. And half the population bought nearly 6 books a year. If only Apple were so lucky.
Our library staff certainly knows people are still reading. We checked out:
  • 647,000 books in 2005
  • 705,000 books in 2006
  • 750,000 books in 2007
"...people don’t read anymore"? Hardly! Thanks to Tasha Saecker for pointing out these stories!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

Over the next four months, our library will be doing a facility study. We received a $10,000 grant from the Appleton Library Foundation for this purpose, and $40,000 in our 2008 City budget. The study will look at library facility needs of the community in the short and long term.

In December, we sent out nearly fifty copies of an RFP (request for proposals) to building consultants and architects with significant library experience. We received ten proposals in response, and our evaluation team reviewed these, interviewed two firms and made a recommendation to our Library Board. On February 18, the Board resolved to go with Durrant as our partner to do the study.

Durrant, which is the firm that designed our 1996 addition, will work with Himmel & Wilson Library Consultants for library & community input and Linda Miller as technology consultant. There will be staff focus groups, community focus groups, surveys, interviews with library staff and community leaders, and lots of meetings. There should be many opportunities for a variety of input: we want lots of ideas to be included, heard and weighed.

In this process there are no foregone conclusions, except that we want to find the best way to meet the community’s future library service needs. Do we know that it's a good idea for the public library to be near the center of downtown? Do we know that it would cost more to operate additional facilities, such as branches, than it would to expand on our current site? We surely do know these things.

But that doesn't tell us what's best for the long-term library service delivery in this community. What is the added value that a different location or additional locations offer our service population? What operational economies might there be in a building designed for twenty-first century technology and use patterns? What organizations or neighboring communities might wish to partner with us in providing library spaces? What are the opportunities and needs for change in our current building, designed almost thirty years ago? We have to take an open-minded, unprejudiced look at the questions and issues. We have to consider lots of factors and ask lots of people, then present some clear choices and recommendations to the decision-makers: the Library Board, Mayor and Council.

If we knew the answers ahead of time, we wouldn't need to do a study. But we need to look at options and make some decisions about the future. We need to know we can deliver the services people want in the most effective way. And we need to understand technology options and costs, as well as how we might implement short-term solutions before long-term actions are taken.

Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” What shape do you want our library to be in over the next decades? This will be a lot of work, but worthwhile and exciting!

[podcast version of this post]

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wikiality exalted & politicized

Public libraries, among other things, are all about free access to ideas. Thus this story on Slashdot "Wikileaks under fire" is of interest:

The transparency group WikiLeaks.org currently seems to be under heavy fire. The main WikiLeaks.org DNS entry is unavailable, reportedly due to a restraining order relating to a series of articles and documents released by WikiLeaks about off-shore trust structures in the Cayman Islands. The WikiLeaks whistle blower, allegedly former vice president of the Cayman Islands branch of swiss bank Julius Baer, states in the WikiLeaks documents that the bank supported tax evasion and money laundering by its clients from around the world. WikiLeaks alternate names remained available until Saturday, when there seems to have been a heavy DDoS attack and a fire at the ISP. The documents in question are still available on other WikiLeaks sites, such as wikileaks.be, and are also mirrored on Cryptome. Details of the court documents have also been made available.
A wiki for whistle blowing? Can it survive and be credible?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Social Networks, part 4 "Is MySpace Good for Society?"

Steven Cohen on Library Stuff links to an interesting post on the Freakonomics Blog at the New York Times. Author Steven Dubner brings together a panel of experts to discuss the impact of social networks. He asks:

Has social networking technology (blog-friendly phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) made us better or worse off as a society, either from an economic, psychological, or sociological perspective?
And there's a mixed bag of responses worth reading, but they all accept the powerful force that social networks have become. Sometimes it's hard to look at change as good or bad. It just is what it is, and you work with it.

But I still don't get Twitter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Social Networks, part 3 (Project Play assignment)

This week's assignment from Project Play:

1. Visit any 3 (suggested) library MySpace pages.
2. Note the ways libraries are “surfacing” library services.
3. Reflect on the place of libraries in social networking.
4. Post your thoughts about why or why not you would want to create a MySpace page for your library.

If your library already has a MySpace or Facebook page, also consider using your blog to share any tips & advice you might have...

OK, I looked at MySpace pages for Denver (teen page with rap music to annoy old people away), Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (garishly colored with no musc teen page), Arapahoe (funky teen page, with Paramores' "Crushcrushcrush", kinda nice emo -- this old guy liked it, so they're doing something wrong). By golly, all the ones I looked at are teen pages; or almost all: Oshkosh appears age-neutral. Facebook is more staid.

But beyond appearances, all three are "surfacing" library services. Delivering and linking to them, even. Typical offerings include library event info, teen blogs, reader's advisory, popular media info and homework resources. Mostly, this appears to be good marketing -- you build your network by establishing a point. of presence where your users are. You link from your website to your MySpace page and vice versa.

As to whether my library had a MySpace page, I'm pretty neutral. If your YA staff and Teen Board wanted to do it, fine. If they don't want to, fine. It doesn't appeal to me that much. And anything you create has to be maintained, or the value can degrade quickly.

I do have a Facebook page and created one for our library, just to try it out. I mainly created my page to stay in touch with the next younger generation of family. But I quickly found I had a lot of real friends on Facebook and a number of professional colleagues. It's a fun way to stay in touch. That being said, I have not yet found it real productive: there seems to be a lot of people asking you to play games and take quizzes. It seems like a lot of applications are marketing themselves virally on Facebook.

But there are opportunities for book & movie reviews and discussions. There are network and organization pages worth checking out. I think the potential is there. I'm networking not only with a long-lost cousin, but with my library school alumni group.

But the waste potential is there too, and the pretension. Katie Scullion notes:
... the amount of effort that goes into updating and these profiles will most likely go unnoticed after a few months ... fads move from site to site as one becomes more annoying/ad-dense than the other. ... social networking maniacs will spend much of their time compulsively checking other people's profiles, prowling through picture galleries, and updating their own. It seems more of a vanity than a communication tool ...
She makes some good points, and links to a hilarious video from Colbert, providing a good perspective.

On the other hand, the "fun extra" assignment this week encourages us to try the Simpsomaker, but I prefer Simpsonize me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Social Networks, part 2

Coincidentally or not, Tasha Saecker in Sites & Soundbytes recently posted a link to a great article from the Readership Institute, "Build a network, not a destination."

Although the article is focussed on newspaper websites, it speaks strongly to my sense of issues we're addressing in developing our library site and electronic services. More to the point, it speaks to why we should be paying attention to social networks.

Points raised include:

  • Link out -- a lot
  • Link, especially, to blogs
  • Link IN -- to related content of your own
  • Open up the archives
  • Use Web technologies intelligently
  • Cultivate conversations about your content
  • Distribute your content widely
  • Partner with the portals
  • Build your own social networks
  • Encourage use of ranking/rating sites
  • Build shortcuts across the Web
Tasha annotates this with some notes for library application. The reader's digest version of her summary:
  • Link, link, link
  • Cultivate conversations
  • Build shortcuts to information
Both the orginal article and Tasha's take on it speak strongly to the importance of networks, social networks and how we implement library websites.

We've seen for years the concern that everybody wants to be THE portal. We can't be all things to all people, so the question becomes: how do we translate our service offerings into a valuable node in our users' network?

Social Networks, part 1 (Project Play)

Social Networking in Plain English - a video from the good folks at Common Craft -- who produce a lot of interesting instructional materials -- courtesy of Project Play. My first reaction was "no, no, we're running a library, not looking for jobs, friends, or partners." But this is limiting thinking. Libraries need friends and partners, and we not only hire people, but we help people look for jobs.

So maybe there is something to the social network thing and library service. More to follow!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Grace for the library

Rev. Will Bloedow asked for grace at our annual "I Love My Library" foundation fund raising dinner:

God of Creation,

We gather together on this cold night to to warm our lives in the presence of each other, to fill our mouths and ears with words of conversation.

To fill our hearts with joy and give thanks for the gift of a library which encourages all to fill their lives with knowledge and a sense of community.

We gather mindful of the past, excited in the present and anticipating a future which promises the passing on of knowledge and understanding to those who follow after us.

Yet especially on this cold night we are mindful of those who are cold, hungry and alone and suffering an emptiness of knowledge and spirit. May we, who are lovers of libraries and people, give welcome and hope and meaning to all who enter the library to open a book, a newspaper or a computer screen ... so that they may reach the heights of their potential.

Bless our time together, our food and our lives as we continue to serve humankind.

Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Web 3.0? Not so fast, there!

Some of my favorite bloggers are sounding cautionary notes. Amid recent concerns about Library 2.0 from folks like John Blyberg, Jeff Scott and Rochelle Hartman, there are new concerns from Tasha Saecker and growing affirmations of slow reading and slow library.

Blyberg notes that Library 2.0 "represents technology that is inherently disruptive on many levels" and that it can "undermine notions of authority and control." These concerns were discussed here recently. Hey, in a 2.0 world. we can read lots of reviews on Amazon -- let's cancel that Booklist subscription. And Tasha's concern about the personalized web 3.0 is right on:

...perhaps our strength is that instead of having a faceless computer ... making suggestions, we have REAL LIVE PEOPLE who can do it. And do it well.

Honestly, let's use our technology knowledge to blog, tweet, post, comment, shout that we already do this. Let's offer the service online to make it shiny and new, but let's not forget that LIBRARIANS RULE in this arena already. And let's keep on making sure that we are the human face of information, of recommendations. "
I dearly love InfoSoup, our consortial catalog, as a great library tool. I want to continue developing our online resources in an interactive 2.0 way. But I'm concerned if patrons identify more strongly with online resources than with the physical library. Call me old-fashioned (maybe just old), but I think we need to mindfully maintain high touch as well as high tech. That means library as place and librarians as face-to-face. It means marketing the value of our staff expertise and our reference services as well as library programs.

I remember my colleague Barbara Kelly, twenty years ago having an argument in correspondence with Alfred Glossbrenner, author of How to Look It Up Online. At that time Barbara and I were the apostles of online service at our library, but in the emerging Internet, we were already concerned with the downside of disintermediation which Glossbrenner was touting. Yes, you can look it up for yourself, but the information you find will be presented without authority -- or with anonymous authority. Is it surprising that not long ago, I found myself in a meeting where a community was debating building a library and a high school teacher publicly declared that the Internet had made libraries obsolete? We hear that misperception too often, but we need to be careful how we feed it. As Tasha notes, our role as mediators has value.

In a self-check, instant message world where people google for information, we need to think about how we build connections and community, how we turn information into education, and why people should pay taxes to ensure we keep doing it. If the library is a growing organism, we need to promote growth for our users and communities -- in a balanced way, online and in person. We need to connect. Or we could turn into Amazon and Netflix.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

BlogJunction: 10 Ways to Make Your Library Great

I've been enjoying BlogJunction's series of ten postings following up on the "10 Ways to Make Your Library Great in 2008" webinar. The postings and original presentation are from Ed Rossman, Interim Branch Manager for the Bertram Woods branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library and author of Castles Against Ignorance: How to Make Libraries Great Educational Environments. Good ideas, some tips on 2.0 tools -- worth reading and discussing.

Resolutions:

  1. Use Technology
  2. Continuously Train
  3. Polish Your Comportment
  4. Reduce Clutter (yeah, I know)
  5. Handle Noise
  6. Handle Conflict - a good follow-up to our recent "Black Belt Librarians" discussion
  7. Have a Plan
  8. Develop Partnerships
  9. Create Great Programming
  10. Build Staff Camaraderie

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Librarian Song: don't sit there with your mouth open...

Singer Joe Uveges thinks librarians are so fine.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Black Belt Librarians

Thanks to OWLS, our library system, and an LSTA grant, we’re having two days of Black Belt Librarian training with Warren Graham, the author and library security consultant. An unsolicited endorsement: he gives a terrific presentation, entertaining, full of common sense wisdom and useful ideas. Feedback from dozens of staff is uniformly enthusiastic.

Graham describes library security in broad contexts: library staff and users are human, with all the inherent strengths and weaknesses. He teaches us to approach problems by understanding ourselves, being self-affirming not self-defeating, and responding than reacting. He teaches good communication techniques and ways to keep improving. He shares good ideas about using our organizational structure to make our organizations and our libraries better places to be. He teaches how to be "all about communication, rather than confrontation".

Listening to Warren talk, I had to think about pros and cons of current practice at our library.

Things we’re doing right:

  • We have a security policy and procedures -- developed with staff input
  • We have communication mechanisms, we document problems
  • We use progressive discipline and ban people from the library when we need to
  • We orient new staff to security concerns, policies & procedures and specifically tell them:
    • There’s nothing more important than the safety of users and staff
    • Anyone on staff is authorized to call the police any time – you won’t be wrong
    • Anyone on staff is authorized to throw people out of the library
    • Every one of us is responsible for maintaining the library environment

Things we might improve:

  • Some of our procedures are a bit black and white. But in a gray world, our rules will never cover every problem, so maybe we should have fewer rules
  • Some staff areas need locking doors, and it’s possible we need to do some construction work to build a doorway or two
  • We need to keep talking about the security gate / book alarm and how we respond. Much of this is driven by our space design and how materials are processed in other libraries before we get them. Nonetheless, more talk is in order.
  • We should talk about visibility and mirrors in out of the way corners.
  • We should have a security review process – we’ve done this with Police and we’ve done it with staff, but we need to plan to keep doing it.
To people not in our area, I strongly recommend getting Warren Graham to do a presentation. This would make a great preconference program for a state association. Or at least read his book

To APL staff, trustees, friends, whether or not you made it to Warren’s program – let me know what you think – comment here or drop me an email. A program like this does not resolve issues – it helps start new conversations.