Monday, March 24, 2008

Project Play: monkeys with typewriters

Our final assignment in our Library 2.0 curriculum is to watch and comment on a video of Seth Godin discussing curiosity. This one is easy, because I watched the video and posted it in this blog two months ago. But this assignment calls for a few more comments.

Godin lifts up: "a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope you're interested in" and this is very much to the point of Project Play, to the point of why we need to keep pushing our own envelopes, and being curious about our users and ways to deliver our services.

The final point of the videographer is that curiosity is not something we can do, but something that comes from beyond our cleverness. I'd agree, curiosity is inherent: cats have it and so do us apes. Those of us who work in public libraries rely on curiosity to bring people into our doors. I think most children tend to have a natural curiosity -- if it's not trained out of them -- and that's part of the joy of working in library children's services.

Some people come to us merely for comfort and entertainment; there's nothing wrong with that. But some walk in the door wanting to learn, to understand, with a desire to make something better. We try to give them tools, such as literacy and access to information and ideas. We want to encourage curiosity; it behooves us to be curious as well, to keep trying to understand our users' changing needs and our own options to meet those needs.

What I love about Project Play is that it encourages us to develop our own natural curiosity and mess around with some technological toys and tools to think up -- and discuss -- new ways to deliver services. The world keeps changing: we need all our curiosity to keep learning and all the worthwhile tools we can find to keep our libraries changing with community needs.

Or in the words of Bob Dylan:
He not busy being born is busy dying
Even monkeys using typewriters might write the works of Shakespeare . . . library folk with 2.0 tools ought to be able to do some worthwhile things.

Hmong Elders -- Wii bowling

I would not have predicted this one. I know that Wii bowling has been popular with seniors, but our programming staff has not found much interests among the group that comes to the library for adult game days. But somehow we wound up with a visiting group of Hmong elders who came to try Wii bowling. Staff reports those attending enjoyed themselves greatly, and then adjourned upstairs to see our new Hmong Resource Center, currently in development.

Facility study presentation

Here's a PowerPoint I gave to our library staff at our monthly meeting March 21, 2008. It covers the background and process for the facility study underway. Yes, it's one of those boring non-dynamic PowerPoints (mostly written on my Palm Treo during the Four Shillings Short concert at the library the night before), but it conveys the basic info.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Project Play: mash-ups

There is a lot of good potential for libraries here, and I loved some of the examples our instructors gave us. I thought the Hot Titles Carousel and the Barns of Winnebago County particularly good. To really shine at implementing these would seem to take a mixture of creativity and savvy a bit beyond me, nonetheless, I was able to use Mapbuilder to create a Fox Cities Movie Map.

It's not real slick, but it was fun to do and learn a bit. Once I started looking at getting a Google map API to really make it nice, I thought "well, I could do this, but do I really have the time and motivation? Is it worth it?" But if I were really trying to do it for the library web site, it would be.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Project Play: YouTube

I love YouTube. It took me awhile to "get it", and I'm still kind of regretful that I showed my wife how to find Johnny Depp clips. Once she gets to the Springsteen and Leonard Cohen music videos, I may never see her again.

So, is it coincidental that all the Internet access in our library network slows down in later afternoons? That our library system needs to devote ever greater resources to buying bandwidth? Apparently, it's true: if you build it, they will come. And they'll download streaming media.

The New York Times reported last week:

For months there has been a rising chorus of alarm about the surging growth in the amount of data flying across the Internet. The threat, according to some industry groups, analysts and researchers, stems mainly from the increasing visual richness of online communications and entertainment — video clips and movies, social networks and multiplayer games.

Moving images, far more than words or sounds, are hefty rivers of digital bits as they traverse the Internet’s pipes and gateways, requiring, in industry parlance, more bandwidth. Last year, by one estimate, the video site YouTube, owned by Google, consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet did in 2000.

What does this mean for libraries? Continued investment in bandwidth for one thing, and paying attention to how our electronically-delivered services are impacted. OTOH, YouTube-hosted videos are off-site for a library: we put library instruction on YouTube's servers, a patron watches it in the office or at home -- it's no bandwidth off our nose.

I like the creative uses of YouTube by libraries, including library instruction, marketing contests (like the recent InfoSoup video contest), etc. I've found it easy to embed YouTube videos in blog posts here, as witness these examples.

Finally, here's a YouTube video embarassing for all concerned , shot at a meeting of our system's library directors: it's a bit of Lucie's farewell party, with video shot on my phone. Prime stuff.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marathon County again

Oops, I'm making trouble. Without even trying.

The Wausau Herald reports that the husband of one of the librarians whose position was demoted attended a library board meeting and:
stood to read a post from the Wausau Daily Herald’s Web site on the matter, in spite of the fact that the agenda does not allow for public comment.

The post was by Appleton Public Library director Terry Dawson. In it he said the public deserves better information ahead of board decisions. He also criticizes a Daily Herald editorial for stating that fewer people rely on high-level librarians for research because of the Internet.

Board chairwoman Gina Cornell adjourned the meeting when Furrer refused to stop.

Deputy County Administrator Brad Karger said it’s up to the board chairperson whether to allow time for public comment on a meeting agenda, and that traditionally the library board has not.

Cornell said that in the case of the library board, the appropriate way for the public to contribute is through a board member.
OK ... for the record, I don't know that much about what's happening in Wausau. I wasn't there, but I would surely understand the Board not wanting to enter into a debate with family members of employees.

Nonetheless, I think it's a good idea to allow public comments -- this is the general practice for City of Appleton Council committees, and our Library Board includes "public participation" on the agenda of every full Board meeting. Public bodies need to provide reasonable assurance for opportunity for public input. Obviously this wouldn't work in Congress, but even our state legislature regularly holds public hearings on issues. On the scale of a local library board, it's a good idea -- public statements can be reasonably limited in time and relevance to the agenda. Not providing a venue for public comments to public bodies can increase frustration and confrontation.

And I'll stand by my original points:
  • library boards should be advocates not only for taxpayers but for libraries and the profession
  • library boards should make their decisions in an open way so that the public understands the alternatives and why any given choice -- especially the tough ones -- are the best for library service and the community
What is happening in Marathon County is not clear from media accounts and emails, but I hope the public and library staff can have confidence that their board and administration are doing the best they can do.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Gaming at APL

We had a great conversation about gaming at this week's meeting of our Library Board. Noting that attendance at our young adult programs has dramatically increased, the Board had a good conversation with strong contributions by Ryan Nelson, our teen Board member, on the value of gaming to bring YAs to the library. We started this a couple months ago by borrowing gaming systems bought by OWLS with an LSTA grant. Now Paula, our YA Librarian, has just applied to our Foundation to purchase our own gaming systems -- that didn't take long!

Shifted Librarian Jenny Levine has posted a PDF version of her recent Gaming and Libraries presentations at several conferences. At 121 slides, it's an extensive presentation with lots of good links.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Read a swimsuit ad -- go to jail

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that a Saukville librarian contacted the Department of Corrections to report that a patron was using the Internet to look at pictures of models wearing hosiery and swimsuits. The patron, James Lala, was sentenced to three years for his library Internet use.

The patron was to go to trial on child pornography charges, and was already on probation after serving time on other child pornography. He was violating the terms of his probation, a condition of which was that he not go on the Internet. A key sentence in the article:
The librarian was familiar with Lala because he had been kicked out of the Saukville and Port Washington libraries numerous times after patrons complained of him viewing objectionable material.
Unfortunate, but this was the right thing to do; patron privacy doesn't extend to the right to defy the law -- even to look at a swimsuit ad. I'm surprised they even let him into the library.

Librarians past and future

Meredith Farkas has posted an interesting and provocative piece on "Building 21st century librarians AND libraries", discussing about "the growing necessity to have tech-savvy people in public services positions." While her focus is on large academic libraries, many of her thoughts are useful here in a medium-sized public library.

Among her points:
  • difficult for public services staff to implement new technologies
  • people in public services don’t have skills to implement their ideas
  • organizational structures create barriers
Part of this is skill-related, and while one aspect of this relates to academic preparation, another is the challenge of developing and funding effective continuing education for current staff. Farkas has also posted a useful list of "Skills for the 21st Century Librarian". These include:
  • Basic Tech Competencies
    • Ability to embrace change
    • Comfort in the online medium
    • Ability to troubleshoot new technologies
    • Ability to easily learn new technologies
    • Ability to keep up with new ideas in technology and librarianship (enthusiasm for learning)
  • Higher Level Competencies
    • Project management skills:
    • Ability to question and evaluate library services
    • Ability to evaluate the needs of all stakeholders
    • Vision to translate traditional library services into the online medium
    • Critical of technologies and ability to compare technologies
    • Ability to sell ideas/library services
Encouraging participation in Project Play (Wisconsin's "23 things") is one way we're addressing these concerns, giving all staff members the opportunity to become exposed a variety of technologies, play with them, discuss and write critically about opportunities. A complementary effort is our staff technology task force, the plan they developed, and the work to support tech competencies for a large and diverse staff.

But organizational structure issues can be thornier and more political. It's essential for libraries to retain authority over their own technology decisions, but easy to lose this authority to external IT decision-makers. We sometimes pay in availability of resources for the privilege of retaining authority. The challenge extends to giving staff the ability to implement service ideas; management prerogatives shouldn't stand in the way of service, but budgets often do. Managers need to keep listening and finding ways to empower staff to grow, learn and implement their good ideas.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Project Play: screencasting

For sure, screencasting is spiffy; I can envision many library uses -- the ones listed in the Project Play posting are good examples. As we spend a lot of time showing people how to use the catalog and other services on the computer, screencasting could help a lot. I know that folks on our staff are already playing with Camtasia, and doing rather more sophisticated things than one can do with the freeware.

Alas that I didn't think of anything worthwhile I would screencast. I played with Screencast-O-Matic just to try it, but thought the result was pretty dull. Were I a practicing reference librarian, OTOH, I might have more readily thought of some useful instructional demos. In order to be worthwhile, a screencast should be done for a good reason, and thoughtfully prepared with good planning and at least of smidge of creativity.

Marathon County - the debate continues

I just posted this comment in the online forum of the Wausau Daily Herald, in response to yesterday's editorial "Opinion: Libary made right move in the wrong way":
The Herald is very to correct to state: "In the future, the Library Board should make an extra effort to inform its customers about its challenges in advance of substantial changes in either its services or its staffing."

The is one crux of the matter: in Wisconsin, Library Boards are not primarily accountable to County boards, County Executives, Mayors or City Councils. Library Boards are accountable to citizens, the community as a whole and library users in particular. Boards have a positive duty to share concerns and get feedback from the community, in an open way.

The Herald, however, compounds another error by blandly invoking "the reality that the Internet has become a widely used resource, not only to find information but also to locate publications available for checkout. It's true that fewer of us rely on high-level librarians to conduct our research or steer us to the proper aisle."

Maybe this is true in Wausau, but it's scarcely true everywhere. And to make such an uncritical statement of a complex reality only encourages irresponsible comments like: "The internet has everything the library has." Anyone who would make such a remark only demonstrates remarkable ignorance of the Internet, libraries and intellectual property law. If librarians are looking up fewer quick facts and book call numbers, they are spending more time developing databases, building heavily used collections, coordinating community programs, and doing Internet instruction. Public librarians have never much liked conducting your research for you, but we're happy to help you learn how to do it -- and that's gotten considerably more complex.

In many communities, heavy Internet use has made libraries more important and increased the workload of professional librarians. If Marathon County needs to make tough decisions, they will do what they have to. Just don't justify it by disparaging an entire institution and profession.
Tasha at Sites and Soundbytes provides this link to the discussion on the WISPUBLIB mailing list. And she reminds us: "Letters must be sent, our protests must be heard and we must stand together to say that such attitudes towards our profession cannot be tolerated." I can only add that our voices may not be heard, but it should not be due to our failure to speak up.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Innovate or die?

An article in yesterday's Times demonstrates again that public library concerns are similar worldwide.

Culture Secretary Margaret Hodge addressed the Association of London Chief Librarians with a number of well-received suggestions for innovative services and marketing. Hodge said:
“And yet another thing I know is that keeping centre stage with an increasingly discerning and demanding population might require some innovative customer measures.”
The challenge, as in the U.S., is to increase use, become more cost-effective, but not dumb down services nor lose the essential qualities that make libraries and the library profession valuable to communities.

Dumbing down?

I'm probably the last blogger around to comment on John Berry's Feb. 15 Library Journal column "The Vanishing Librarians", but it's become timely because of this week's controversies here in Wisconsin about staffing changes at the Marathon County Public Library and in a job opening at the Mequon/Thiensville Public Library.

In the case of Marathon County, four professional positions were recently reclassified/demoted with a $10,000 annual salary reduction.

Berry writes:
It looks like the “transformation” we seek for libraries and librarianship may turn out to be more of a “deskilling” of library jobs than an enhancement of the profession. More and more working librarians are “managed” by a new breed of library leader. Their model for the new public library is that dehumanized supermarket or the chaotic disorganization of the largest Barnes & Noble.
While the Marathon County Library Board President says:

the reduced amount of work requiring a master's degree is a direct result of increased electronic access to information they previously provided. ... This seems to be a trend based on increasing access to the Internet. This movement is taking place all over the country, causing many libraries to re-examine and restructure how information services are being provided by library staff.
Which would have been more palatable had she not tarred us all with the same Internet brush: Marathon County may have seen a significant drop in the number and complexity of reference questions, but not all of us have. Had she only said: "the money was gone and we had to make difficult choices", there would be more sympathy.

For my part, I consider this to be completely separate question from the value of the MLS degree. There are people at all levels, with and without degrees, in libraries large and small, doing good professional work. But we are increasingly challenged to demonstrate the value of that work to decision makers.

The Annoyed Librarian has posted about this in some detail. For my part, I don't know feel I enough about Marathon County to join the new Facebook group: Marathon County Public Libraries Demotion of Librarians Stinks OH SO BAD!, but I understand where they're coming from.

In the case of Mequon/Thiensville, state librarians and library educators are warning that in a high income community, the librarian salary is well below standards that are several years old. Clearly another case where library professionalism is under-valued.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Best Free Software

Catching up with reading, I found this very useful list, with links, in last month's PC Magazine. A nice compendium for many Library 2.0 uses, as well as for sharing with patrons.

Buildings and future libraries

A good discussion point for libraries and architects: Slashdot reports on a slideshow on Slate addressing the question: "What sort of public library does the 'digital world' of Google, Wikipedia, and Kindle require?"

The very title of the article calls us to remember that libraries live partially in a digital world, but also in a world of story hours, face-to-face discussions, Brownie troops, senior citizens, parents and children. We live in community. Slate notes:
Ross Dawson, a business consultant who tracks different customs, devices, and institutions on what he calls an Extinction Timeline, predicts that libraries will disappear in 2019. He's probably right as far as the function of the library as a civic monument, or as a public repository for books, is concerned. On the other hand, in its mutating role as urban hangout, meeting place, and arbiter of information, the public library seems far from spent. This has less to do with the digital world—or the digital word—than with the age-old need for human contact.
Ross Dawson is no relation that I would claim... I, for one, have hardly an interest in our being a monument, and not much interest in being a warehouse. I'm very interested in community development, child development, economic development, in education, information, sharing stories and propagating culture. In 2019, libraries will continue to be vital, though possibly types of libraries (public, academic and special) may become more divergent via technology adoption and relationships to their several communities. I haven't seen Google, Wikipedia, and Kindle reduce public library effectiveness in these spheres. On the contrary, we can use them to do the things we need to do.

Well, maybe not the Kindle...