Friday, March 30, 2007

The Library 2.0 Anti-Massacree Movement

Noticed that the number one popular news items at the Wired Magazine site today is "Public Library Geeks Take Web 2.0 to the Stacks", essentially an article about PLCMC's "Learning 2.0" program.

Since our own library system will using Learning 2.0 as the basis for a curriculum later this year, it's both timely and unsurprising to have mainstream tech media notice how numerous libraries are taking advantage of this curriculum and toolset. Other efforts, such as "Five Weeks to a Social Library (the first free, grassroots, completely online course devoted to teaching librarians about social software and how to use it in their libraries)", currently being explored by our reference staff, are close relations to PLCMC's effort.

To anyone curious about what's happening in library technology, these tools are a gift. You don't have to wait for somebody to tell you what to do or where to look. It's worth recapitulating the goals of PLCMC's technology director Helene Blowers:

  • exposing staff to new tools
  • encouraging play
  • empowering individuals
  • expanding the knowledge toolbox
  • eliminating fear
And its worth noting that its great if your boss offers you an MP3 player to do this. But you don't have to wait. These free teaching programs offer us a model for delivering educational content at no cost to the end user, using free off-the-shelf tools. Go play!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Shift happens? Did you know...?

Yeah, you probably did. Still, an interesting collection of factoids, with implications about needs for future library service and staff training in this globalizing world. Nice fiddle music.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Diversity letter to UW Law

The Toward Community Board last week directed their chair (yours truly) to send a letter to the UW regarding the situation that occurred as a result of comments by one Professor Kaplan (or at least the way in which his comments were perceived) in a class at UW. While very likely a misunderstanding, whether innocent or insensitive, Hmong students at the UW Law School now feel they are living in a more hostile climate and need to air their differences with the prof. Thye have been unable to get a meeting and the statewide Hmong community is looking for broader support, this the involvement by Toward Community.
March 26, 2007

Dean Kenneth Davis, Jr.
University of Wisconsin Law School
975 Bascom Mall
Madison WI 53706

Dear Dean Davis:

I am writing you on behalf of Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, a grass-roots membership organization in the Fox Cities for the past fourteen years. Our group has consistently spoken out on diversity and justice issues. We are concerned about events in your school that have created some divisive issues respecting Prof. Kaplan and Hmong students.

We encourage you to take a leadership role in facilitating a settlement of these issues. This unfortunate situation can be addressed by intentionally creating opportunities for meaningful dialog. A controlled setting with a mediated discussion can assure that feelings and issues will be explored in ways that seek to reduce, rather than promote, conflict. This situation requires opportunities for healing and closure that such discussion could provide.

We believe there is no inherent conflict between academic freedom and diversity. Indeed, mutual respect and acceptance of diversity are essential for intellectual freedom to flourish. People in Wisconsin look to the UW Law School as an exemplar of justice in our state, and your issues and actions can create statewide ripples.

On our behalf, we hope that you will "encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found." You have our best wishes and support in seeking an equitable solution that will address the needs of all parties.


Terry Dawson
Chair, Toward Community: Unity in Diversity
Just as universities need to be sensitive to diversity issues consistent with academic freedom, public libraries need to support diversity in their communities. This isn't a matter of political correctness, it's a matter of sensitivity and mutual support.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Art at the library

Our local chamber of commerce's leadership development class lunched at the library last week as part of their "arts" day, and after lunch had an opportunity to view our public art collections. Or maybe check their email -- but I was asked to give them a quick speech about art at the library.

So why do we have art at the library? We certainly have art materials at the library: books and videos about art history; books and videos about techniques and tools for artists; examples of other arts in our extensive music CD collection and our film DVD collections.

We have art because we communicate the cultural record and we're a community center. If we have books with pictures of sculpture and painting, why wouldn't we have sculpture and painting?

Our art falls into several categories:

  1. Donations from our library foundation to enhance the facility. This includes a couple of dozen items selected by staff. Almost all of it is by local artists, and a number of pieces have a local history theme.
  2. The Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Print series.
  3. Paper sculpture at entrance -- a huge work we commissioned, created by local paper artist Tom Grade, working with school children and funded by multiple grant sources
  4. Publicly donated pieces, including two memorial sculptures as well as other paintings, fabric and paper art.
  5. Exhibits from local artists in different areas of the building
  6. Displays, including several display cases around the building -- used for library programs, collector displays, or art and craft displays suitable for the cases. As needed display cases are sometimes used with exhibit panels of hanging art.
Of course, all the donations have to be accepted by the Library Board, according to policy. This gives staff an opportunity to work with donors and artists to ensure any proposed pieces are a good fit. But it's great to have public art, reinforce the library's role as a community center and provide an outlet for creativity.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Librarian / Geek / Musician

This is probably somewhere between cool and pathetic.

It was St. Patrick's Day, and our band, Celtic Knot, was a couple hours into a long evening of music at a crowded supper club. Several people in the audience started calling for "The Unicorn Song." Plaintively. Insistently.

Celtic Knot does not do the "Unicorn Song", or we never had. For one thing, it's not exactly a traditional Irish song -- it's a Canadian-Irish emigre band's version of a Shel Silverstein poem. It was just something we've never even practiced. Nevertheless, people really wanted to hear it. As we're taking a break, Gary, the guitar player, says "Gee, that's too bad. I know how to play it -- I just don't know the verses.

So during the break, out comes the trusty Treo. A quick trip into Google produced the song lyrics, and after the break Gary and I found a key. Then he played and I sang it by scrolling through the website and reading it off the screen, since there wasn't enough time to transcribe it. Fortunately, Pete on bass can quickly pick up most things and we all mostly knew the choruses. People loved it enough that we had to do it again an hour later. Plus they tipped us nicely. The "Unicorn Song" has now been added to the repetoire.

I know -- a true geek would have blogged it real time while playing music. The really scary thing is that I've now watched a bunch of people do the dance that goes along with the "Unicorn Song."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Poverty, exclusion & library behavior

Connect these dots -- what picture emerges?
  • Hunger Homelessness & Poverty Task Force - a website for a task force of ALA's Social Responsibilities Round Table, says: "U.S. libraries have been slow to adopt the social-exclusion framework for public service ... Librarians who are seeking community-building models can benefit tremendously from projects launched in Great Britain and Canada ... Through national campaigns, these countries promote relationships between library staff and traditionally excluded groups. The resulting collaborations create more useful programs and services and more cohesive communities." A Canadian model is detailed in the document Breaking Barriers: Libraries and Socially Excluded Communities.
  • There was a 2006 lawsuit against Worcester, Mass library for restricting circulation to homeless people. The suit was settled out of court, but the library had to remove its restrictions.
  • Project Promise is our collaborative effort with other organizations to address problems of poverty in the Fox Cities. So far, we're talking the talk -- and its a worthwhile conversation, with our community read of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel & Dimed at the core of it. But after we talk, how do we walk the walk? Obviously, this is bigger than the library, but what's our piece of it? Do we just talk about books, or do we need to think about how we provide library service?
  • We just held a poverty simulation exercise at the library with 45 community participants and 15 volunteers. During the course of the two-hour simulation, participants get a small taste of the frustration of people who, for a variety of reasons, can't quite make ends meet. Just simulating these situations can leave you angry and questioning your own ethics. It gives me some sympathy for how those in real poverty must deal with repeated frustration and authority which can seem arbitrary. This makes me reflect on our own library and how we provide service.
  • Homeless and poverty are rising faster in our community than nationally and our downtown feels increasingly urban. . Some people in the community feel the library or the library neighborhood is unsafe. We need to gain more insight into this perception. We see increasing public dissatisfaction with safety in the library neighborhood and to some extent in the library, as expressed in a October, 2006 survey. A major root of this is widely held to be loiterers at the edge of our parking lot. This situation was exacerbated by the City's smoking ordinance, which pretty much requires all bus passengers to leave the bus depot area and stand near the library if they want to smoke while waiting for a bus. This in turn has created a mini community center for street people, with a lot of litter, profanity, harassment of women, destruction of plantings. Library staff and Police have not been able to address the situation so as to eliminate the problem. In a free country, people are allowed to stand on the sidewalk and even to cuss publicly. But it creates an unfriendly feeling.
  • A librarian reported a family that had apparently been using the library with their children and experiencing no problems, abruptly leaving. The father, observing another patron who was minding his own business, loudly announced that they were never coming back to the library again, because he had seen at least two or three former inmates or felons here. The family left before staff could engage him -- he didn't want to discuss his concern, he just wanted to announce his unhappiness publicly.

Here's the picture I see:

  • Our public library needs to be, and to be perceived as, "a safe place for everyone" -- and the operative words here are:
    • safe: people need to feel comfortable, for themselves and their children, that this is an OK place to be
    • everyone: we cannot abandon the promise of public libraries as a provider of universal educational opportunity and community gathering place. We need to moderate inclusiveness for all legitimate users. Nobody gets to drive other types of people out. It's not about who you are, it's not about how you look, it's about how you behave – and everyone is responsible for their own actions. Being poor, mentally ill or having a criminal record is neither an excuse for bad behavior nor a reason to be disrespected or excluded.
  • Everyone involved in the library needs to be invested and empowered to make this real
  • Library staff needs tools to deal with these concerns -- how we collectively do this has room for lots of discussion! Tools include:
    • policies & procedures
    • well-designed spaces
    • sufficient staff
    • training
    • backup & support
    • technology for communication & documentation as needed
There are a lot of forces in our society which mitigate against the growth or funding of library services. They can point fingers and trivialize what we do. But a thoughtful look at public libraries reveals the value of information, self-determination and education that we provide. It's good that we bridge the digital divide and its good that we provide bestsellers in many media. But the good thing is not to increase library use of popular services, the good thing is to bring people closer to the rich variety of opportunities we offer -- for everyone.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Karen Schneider's "Dear Library of Congress"

Karen G. Schneider, the Free Range Librarian, has posted an important statement on the ALA Techsource Blog. Her post "Dear Library of Congress" is complex, hastily written, a bit technical in spots, but worth reading for anyone concerned about where we are or where we're going.

I don't know that I agree with everything she says, but its all worth consideration. Excerpts:

  • that on close inspection do little more than serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras, bold days when we saw our central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage.
  • We have moved from the librarian as information artisan—a professional creating and using tools to manage information—to the librarian as surrogate vendor, facilitating what is essentially the offshoring of thousands of years of information into private hands.
  • ... we are behaving like the train companies, who thought they were in the train business, not the transportation business, and like them, there are already signs that the “train business” we do is on artificial life support....
  • Libraries across the country are increasingly asked to justify their existence in order to receive continued funding, and some have been unable to do so.
  • ... the concept of library as “place,” and the remarkable public commons that have arisen, should not obscure the increasing difficulty of explaining why this “place” needs to be library-based to begin with.
  • But in the end, after we conclude that the user is not broken, and that the tools we design must reflect this fact, and before the train pulls away forever... can we also agree that the first commitment to ease of access needs to include the right—forever, and always—to read?
I would strongly encourage anyone in our library staff or Board to read and discuss. What business are we in? What does this mean relative to our own planning? To our relationships with our library system and vendors?

One thought is that our catalog & ILS is a durn sight better than something to "serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras." My other comments on the Techsource Blog:

A good and worthwhile piece, which bears re-reading. Couple thoughts, perhaps naive:
  • maybe 'central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage' are not entirely bygone
  • 'the increasing difficulty of explaining why this “place” needs to be library-based' doesn't seem that difficult to me, because of our commitment to access and reading and learning for everyone.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

NEWfasa the Lion - community synergy

The library just received our lion -- and immediately he became a center of attention and attraction for all ages. Though not ours to keep, NEWfasa will be living outside our front door for the next few months as part of the "Lions of the Valley" public art project. The project features the work of 65 local artists, 50 lions and 21 lion cubs on display around the Fox Cities, coordinated by by the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in conjunction with the Lion King musical later this spring.
NEWfasa, designed by Coalesce Marketing, was sponsored by McCarty Law LLP to commemorate the NEW North regional economic development organization. Since libraries are also economic development organizations and promoters of the arts, this is a natural for us. And little children, who will not know or care about law firms, marketing firms or regional economic development, will still love seeing the library's lion.
Terry Dawson and NEWfasa pose with sponsor Alyce Dumke of McCarty Law LLC

photos by Michael Kenney, APL Marketing & Development Coordinator

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Too much data man!

Wired Magazine reports a study by the IDC research firm:
...determined that the world generated 161 billion gigabytes - 161 exabytes - of digital information last year.

That's like 12 stacks of books that each reach from the Earth to the sun. Or you might think of it as 3 million times the information in all the books ever written, according to IDC. You'd need more than 2 billion of the most capacious iPods on the market to get 161 exabytes.

... IDC estimates that by 2010, about 70 percent of the world's digital data will be created by individuals.

...the study has intriguing implications. Among them: We'll need better technologies to help secure, parse, find and recover usable material in this universe of data.

And presumably, people to assist others in navigating all this data and these technologies. People like librarians.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Things are the same all over this small world

Posted on in Beijing:
2007年03月01日15:19 [我来说两句] [字号:大 中 小]

  题目:Contain public libraries is a waste of money, because computer technology is already replaced its function. Do you agree or disagree?

  范文:While this statement is true for most of generations as they are easy to find relevant web articles, they do need the knowledge for goofing (internet surfing) to be able to search the information in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. However, imagine that one neither have computer skill nor IT knowledge, this statement may be too harsh for them.

  The main purpose for a public library is not only borrowing books but also to serve the community’s needs, such as, book club, read hard copy of magazines and newspapers, senior’s getting together. This benefit provides by the public libraries in our society should not be underestimated.

  The computer technology has no doubt at all replaced most of function, that is, we can read books from the academic database; newspapers and publishes from almost everywhere, this means that we do not need many hard copies and environment friendly for the earth. However I am not so much convinced that public libraries can replace other functions that we need other than providing information or books.

  The important issue we need to recognize is that there are not many population who can use computer to serve their needs, and even may not afford to own a computer. Some of them are using the public libraries for reading the large print books; others are coming to relax for reading magazines with friends; and the others may just come for a cool spot in a hot summer.

  Governments in the world are trying to improve nations’ lifestyle in every aspects, in this case, how can it be satisfactory to say that take away a public library by replacing a computer is improving our quality life. (282 words)

Hmm... Netflix for books

Library Stuff has a posting on a new service set to start this month that promises to be a Netflix-like service offering book rentals.

BookSwim intends to launch this month, offering three books at a time for $15 a month with free shipping.

The company, which is still soliciting investors on its site, is also looking to the library market:

W h a t A b o u t L i b r a r i e s ?
We love the library and have NO INTENTION of replacing your local public library system. In fact, we'd like to help out libraries by extending our books to library patrons, effectively supplementing limited inventory resources. If you represent a library, email us to discuss our services...
Of course, its a bit soon to tell if this will fly, but in looking at the haves vs. the have-nots in our customer base, this could be one more reason for those who can afford such things to (wrongly!) proclaim us obsolete.

I remember when our system offered books by mail to rural residents, and I remember when they phased it out as a marginal service because people preferred to come to the library. But that was pre-Netflix & Amazon: everything old is new again.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Goals for the Director

Tasha Saecker on Sites & Soundbytes has posted an excellent think piece on "Library Director 2.0". The piece bears reading in full, and contemplation.

Highlights -- each of which Tasha thoughtfully elucidates:
  • Less hierarchy more flexibility
  • Trust staff – no micromanagement
  • Transparency
  • Involve all levels of staff in conversation
  • Explain decisions fully and honestly
  • Create a structure that supports quick decision making and implementation
  • Train staff and encourage them to learn and share knowledge
  • Allow play time with technology
  • Offer structures for feedback; staff blogs, department forums, etc.
There are lots of things here for me to work on! Many of them are "2.0" mostly by virtue of renewed interest and visibility of interactive processes under the 2.0 paradigm. But back in the day, we called a lot of this "participatory management" or "Theory X." Nonetheless, in this job one needs frequent management self-examinations and reality checks. This is a good one.